Tagged / post-qualification admissions

HE Policy Update for the w/e 29th June 2020

The government are apparently planning a radical overhaul of admissions (maybe), they have found some funding for research support, EU students will face higher fees in 2021/22, Education Questions in the Commons kept the Ministers on their toes, there’s the latest on student complaints, a brief mention of the B word and the sun has been shining.

University research support package

In coverage of the so called bailout deal announced earlier in the lockdown – which consisted of bringing the second instalment of student loan payments to universities forward by a few months and vaguely threatening proposals for a fund for restructuring universities that fail – it was made clear that no more would be forthcoming. But the government have reached down behind the sofa cushions and found a bit of extra money to support research, although like the additional student numbers (more on that later), it is limited and strings are attached. It was announced late on Friday night so made for a busy Saturday for pundits. You can read David Kernohan’s piece for Wonkhe here, Research Professional here, and THE cover it here.

There will be grant extensions to cover researchers’ salaries and other running costs for UKRI and some other grants, which will be very welcome, as there has been great concern about covering extensions to projects with no extra money. More details are still to be announced.

The main announcement, however, was of a new package of support for research-active universities. It looks odd on the face of it, to those outside the sector and unfamiliar with the weird cross subsidies that exist in the HE market:

  • low-interest loans with long pay-back periods, supplemented by a small amount of government grants. In sharing responsibility for the future of science and research with our world-leading university system the government will cover up to 80% of a university’s income losses from international students for the academic year 20/21, up to the value of non-publicly funded research activity in that university.

So if you have a lot of international students who aren’t coming this year, you can get a loan or a grant (maybe) to cover your income loss, capped by how much funding you normally get from sources other than the government, i.e. businesses and charities as well as the university itself. Complicated?  Yes.  Targeted at a very particular small number of universities, yes, indeed.  This sentence demonstrates the strangeness  “Support is also capped at the level of an institution’s non-publicly funded research to ensure that funds are being directed towards universities conducting research.”  What it is really saying is that there will be support for universities who fund their own research from the fees paid by international students, or from businesses or charities who won’t have any money this year.  That’s not quite the same thing as “universities who do research”.

  • So this: The international student metric when combined with the measure of ‘non-publicly funded research’ is a good proxy for overall Covid-19 losses to research revenue. In return for support, Government will be asking for universities to demonstrate how funds are being utilised to sustain research in areas typically funded by charities and business. We will also take into account the income HEIsreceive from business and charity research.
  • And there is a catch: Universities will be required to demonstrate that funds are being spent on research and on retaining research talent. Universities will be expected to show they are taking their own steps to make efficiencies, in line with the rest of the economy, to protect their research bases. Precise metrics and outputs/outcomes will be developed as we develop the details of the policy over the next few weeks. There will be separate requirements for grant extension proposals.

Some universities will have limits on their borrowing.

And for the institutions (that the information calls “teaching intensive”) who don’t qualify – we’re back to the vaguely threatening restricting fund:

  • The DfERestructuring Regime will look to support teaching intensive institutions where there is a case to do so and where intervention is possible and appropriate. The Government recognises the important role that higher education providers make to regional and local economies through the provision of high-quality courses aligned with local, regional and national economic and societal requirements. This will be within scope of the decision making process for intervention. Further detail on the Restructuring Regime will be announced in due course. 

Radical overhaul of admissions?

Saturday’s Guardian had a headline about a leaked draft report on admissions changes.  As the OfS have recently confirmed that they will be restarting their normal activity, presumably with the “paused” admissions review near the top of their list, it is not surprising that options are being considered.

The Guardian said: The models include:

  • Exams results published in August as is currently the case, but with university and college terms starting in January, allowing five months for processing applications.
  • Moving exam results forward into July and the start of the university term back into mid-October, allowing a 12-week window for students to apply.
  • An unchanged timetable, with only a five-week window for the application process to run between exam results in August and the start of the university term in September, as now.
  • University applications made before A-level results are received, but offers of places to students not released until after results are published, with no change to current timings.

Potential A level exam delay: Consistent with the story above in last Monday’s Oral Education Questions it was confirmed that the DfE is discussing moving A level exams to July 2021 to accommodate some of the C-19 disruption. The BBC and the Times covered the story. The Times noted:

  • some head teachers suggested that a delay risked creating more difficulties. “It would mean either exam boards having a narrower window in which to mark millions of scripts, or results being published later, which would potentially run into the autumn term,” Geoff Barton, general secretary of the ASCL union, said. “This would affect progression to further and higher education. It’s important that the approach to next year’s exams supports pupils without creating more problems than it solves…” 

The article goes on to note the Government have confirmed full funding for the virtual Oak National Academy suggesting that it is preparing for some disruption in the full return of pupils to ‘normal’ schooling. It also highlights that some of the support funding usually available has been cut (e.g. the year 7 catch up in English and Maths for weaker pupils). Alongside the announcements last week of the £1 billion funding programme to help schools support initiatives to bring children back on track after the home schooling disruption to their normal studies. There are likely to be implications for some disadvantaged children in the cuts alongside sharing the newly funded initiatives amongst a wider pool of pupils. It is raising further concerns for an access disadvantaged generation.

Admissions Report

Recently EDSK (a think tank) published Admitting Mistakes: creating a new model for university admissions calling for a fair, transparent and equitable admissions process. It takes issue with the current system:

  • This admissions system has remained almost unchanged for the past three decades, but this inertia should not necessarily be interpreted as an indication that the UCAS system is working well.
  • Politicians from both major parties have raised serious concerns in recent months about university admissions practices, while the Office for Students (OfS) has launched a review of the entire admissions process in its capacity as regulator of the Higher Education (HE) sector. Given this intense pressure, maintaining the status quo is no longer an option. The new rules on admissions proposed by the OfS last month to ensure that universities demonstrate a ‘socially responsible approach’ during the COVID-19 crisis shows that it is perfectly feasible to change the admissions system – even at short notice. It is now simply a question of which changes ministers and regulators wish to make once the crisis subsides.

It also takes issue with the current practices tackling the use of predicted grades for university applications; the growth of ‘unconditional offers’ from universities; and the barriers facing disadvantaged students.

It concludes:

  • In recent months, both the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson and the OfS have referred to the importance of ‘trust’ in the context of university admissions because they realise how crucial it is that students, parents and teachers trust the admissions process when so much money and so many hopes and aspirations rest on its shoulders. In light of this, it is deeply concerning how wealth and privilege continue to unduly influence who gets accepted onto university degrees, particularly at the most prestigious institutions. This inevitably results in an overwhelming sense of unfairness as well as risking a catastrophic loss of trust – not just in the admissions process, but in the education system as a whole.
  • The reduction in autonomy over admissions proposed by the OfS in response to the outbreak of COVID-19 is intended to prevent universities from undermining students’ interests and threatening the stability of the HE sector during the crisis, yet the protection of students and maintaining the stability of the sector should be permanent features of our admissions system rather than temporary measures. A fundamental change is therefore needed to make sure that the admissions system prioritises the interests of students, not universities, after the current crisis is over. To this end, it is necessary for universities to give up some of the autonomy they have in relation to how they attract and select applicants each year.

Finally it recommends that in return for the financial support that they are receiving from government to mitigate the impact of COVID-19…universities should be required to accept a new model for the whole admissions cycle. It seems the authors are under the impression that the C-19 financial support is a sufficiently worthwhile and substantial enticement.

While the aggressive language in the press release may rile some in the sector many of its recommendations such as a national contextual offer are already being discussed. The difficulty with such blanket policies is that some students still fall through the cracks as drawing thresholds always results in winners and losers. For example, the report’s recommendation 5 doesn’t include student carers within their definition of greatest disadvantage, and there is little mention of ethnicity throughout the report.

Nevertheless they proposed a nuanced version of post qualification admissions. No predicted grades will be submitted to institutions (although presumably level 3 teachers will still have to produce them) and prospective students instead chose 10 degrees ranked in preference order. On results day students achieving the required (fixed) grade level are automatically placed based on preference order. Where courses are oversubscribed all applicants who are eligible are entered into a lottery. Where courses are undersubscribed still only those who reach the level will be admitted. It sounds simple but when you sit quietly with the concept for a moment you begin to realise it the cracks, for example removing the choice for a student to change their mind – or trade up if they perform better than their teacher predicted (which itself has long been a disadvantage conundrum). There’s also the gaming of the system – if you want that place on that popular oversubscribed course and you’re certain of the grades there will be ways to maximise your likelihood of achieving it based on your preferences…and who will advise prospective students on the game – parents, social networks, teachers and careers staff (again resources which some disadvantaged students lack). The report isn’t to be dismissed and provides a welcome interjection on the admissions system which is due for overhaul in some shape or form, however, it doesn’t offer all the answers it claims to. Perhaps because there isn’t a system which is flawless and which can guarantee equity, particularly for those prospective students with the least support and resources.

Wonkhe have a good blog on the report considering it fairly and offering critique where they see holes. The comments at the end are worth a read too, while most establish serious points Sarah smiled at this one: Think tanks are supposed to think from outside the box.

Diversity in HE

UCAS have highlighted that

  • nursing and social work degrees have the most diverse pool of applicants compared to other major undergraduate subject areas. Health and social care courses are among the subjects attracting the highest proportion of applications and acceptances from black applicants, mature students, and young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Other key facts:

  • For all subjects allied to medicine, 16% of acceptances are from students from the black ethnic group (the highest proportion for any wider subject group), followed by social studies courses, with 13%.
  • 42% of students accepted onto social work courses are aged over 30, the highest proportion of any subject. Nursing courses are second, with 29% of acceptances from students in this age group.
  • Social work is the only subject (with more than 150 applicants) that has more students from disadvantaged backgrounds applying (1,055 applicants), than from the most advantaged backgrounds (1,000 applicants). This a ratio of just 0.94 applicants from advantaged backgrounds for each disadvantaged applicant – the lowest ratio of all subjects.
  • Nursing follows with a ratio of 1.12, with 2,100 applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds, alongside 2,350 from the most advantaged backgrounds. Both subjects have similar patterns of accepting students from a wide range of backgrounds.
  • While male applicants remain in the minority, the number of men applying for nursing grew by 8.5% to 5,370, with the number of acceptances also growing (by 7.1% to 2,700).

UCAS are using the welcome news on diversity to urge more prospective students to apply for autumn 2020 entry. They state Around 40% of adult nursing and social work courses are still accepting applications…with some universities having up to 50 places available. The vacancy level seems slightly surprising on several counts. First the Government are offering bursaries for specified courses, second they are employment gap areas (and the Government has an additional 5,000 places not yet allocated to institutions), third the positive and high profile PR generated for key services such as nursing through the pandemic was predicted to increase demand for nursing, finally demand from mature students (who make up a bigger proportion of the cohort) could be expected to increase if lockdown has prompted a career re-evaluation. UCAS do note that mature student apply later in the summer months than school leavers and that at January nursing applications were up by 6%.

Postgraduate BAME data: The UK Council for Graduate Education have published a policy briefing summarising the access and participation of Black, Asian and minority ethnicities in UK postgraduate research. Key points:

  • BAME students participate in postgraduate research at a lower level that those enrolled in undergraduate studies.
  • Between 2016/17 – 2018/19 the proportion of BAME postgraduate research students (PGRs) grew by 0.13% however, this rate of growth means it would take 51.8 years for BAME participation in postgraduate research to reach the equivalent proportion at undergraduate level.
  • 15% more white PGRs received financial contributions for their tuition fee than BAME PGRs
  • More white PGRs (19%) qualified in 2018/19 than BAME PGRs (16%)

Disadvantage:

Wonkhe have two blogs on access and disadvantage:

There is also the promised report from the Social Mobility Commission: Apprenticeships and social mobility: fulfilling potential. It raises concerns over the structural barriers within apprenticeships and concludes that they are not fulfilling their social climbing potential.

Key points:

the introduction of the (2017) apprenticeship levy led to a “collapse in overall apprenticeship starts that hit disadvantaged learners hardest”

  • a 36% decline in apprenticeship starts by people from disadvantaged backgrounds, compared with 23% for others
  • just 13% of degree-level apprenticeships, the fastest growing and most expensive apprenticeship option, goes to apprentices from disadvantaged backgrounds
  • more than 80% of apprenticeships undertaken by learners from disadvantaged backgrounds are in enterprises in the services, health, education or public administration sectors
  • on average, apprentices from disadvantaged backgrounds earn less than apprentices from more privileged backgrounds
  • there is a 16% boost to wages for learners from disadvantaged backgrounds who complete their training, compared with 10% for others

The report calls on the Government to address concerns and channel resources directly where it can have the greatest social benefit.

There was also a slight FE emphasis in one of Donelan’s PQ answers (reminding us the FE remains an underfunded sector and the Government has plans, even if they aren’t sharing them yet):

Q – Mohammad Yasin: In addition to maintaining current commitments to widen participation and extend bursaries for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, will the Minister make sure that the necessary extra funding is provided so that universities such as the University of Bedfordshire can play a key role in retraining and reskilling young and mature students to meet the serious employment challenges ahead?

A – Michelle Donelan:

  • The hon. Gentleman is quite right to say that access and participation are key priorities for this Government, and the Office for Students has launched access and participation measures for every institution. Higher education plays a key role in filling the skills needs of the economy, but so does further education, and our priority is to ensure quality provision and that students can make informed choices that are in the best interests of their career destinations.

EU Student Fees Decision

Very unsurprisingly, Michelle Donelan issued a written ministerial statement confirming that EU, EEA and Swiss national students will no longer be eligible for home fee status or Student Finance England financial support from 2021/22. The rules also apply to FE and apprenticeships. EU students starting in 2020/21 will continue to be classed as home students. Irish nationals will be preserved as home student status under the Common Travel Area arrangement.

The announcement may encourage some EU students to take up UK study in September (despite online blended provision being the main method on offer). Likewise the sector anticipates a drop in EU student numbers from 2021/22.

Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of Universities UK, responded to the announcement:

  • Universities would have preferred the certainty of current arrangements for EU students in England being extended for those starting courses in 2021/22. However, it is important to note that EU students starting courses in autumn 2020 will continue to pay home fees for the duration of their course and be eligible for the UK’s EU settlement scheme if they arrived before the end of this year.
  • The government’s new Graduate Route – starting next summer – also means that students who are not eligible for the settlement scheme will have the opportunity to stay and work in the UK for two years after completing their studies. This will apply to those who initially have to study by distance or blended learning because they are unable to travel to the UK to start in autumn due to Covid-19. Universities are committed to working with government on further measures to support international students to study at UK universities.
  • Our message to international students is that UK universities are ready to welcome and support you through your studies. Whether you choose to study in the UK this year, or in the future, you will receive a high-quality education and learn skills that will benefit you for years to come.

Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI, puts it plainly:

  • Today’s announcement will be seen as bad news inside universities. To date, EU students have benefited from lower fees and access to student loans that are subsidised by UK taxpayers. Together, these have lowered the financial obstacles to studying in the UK. My message to any EU citizen wishing to benefit from the current arrangements is that it is not too late to apply for entry in 2020, before the new rules come into force next year.
  • In the past, we have shown that higher fees and no more access to student loans could risk a decline of around 60% in the number of EU students coming to the UK to study. If that happens, our universities will be less diverse and less open to influences from other countries.
  • However, it is morally and legally difficult to continue charging lower fees to EU citizens than we already charge to people from the rest of the world once Brexit has taken full effect. So today’s decision is not a huge surprise. Moreover, history suggests that the education on offer in our universities is something people are willing to pay for. So, if we adopt sensible post-Brexit migration rules and if universities work very hard to recruit from other EU nations, it is likely that many of our fellow Europeans will still wish to study here.
  • Above all, we need to make it abundantly clear to people from the EU and beyond that our universities remain open to all.

Research Professional have a write up on the fee changes.

Michelle Donelan also answered oral questions specifically on international students describing her

  • two-tier covid response to attract international students: first, by working across government to remove and reduce the logistical barriers faced by students, including visa issues; and secondly, by communicating that the UK is open for business via advertising and open letters to international students, our embassies, and international media.

She also reminded Parliament about the International Education Champion appointment.

Since the parliamentary question session Donelan (and her devolved counterparts) have composed a 6 page letter to international students. It sings the praises of a British education, urges them to apply for the 2020/21 recruitment round (for which visas will be ready in time) and reminds them of their eligibility for the 2-year graduate visa. Excerpts:

  • Although admissions processes and modes of teaching might look slightly different this year, the UK’s world-class universities are continuing to recruit international students and you are encouraged to apply even if you are unable to travel to the UK to meet usual timelines. Universities will be flexible in accommodating your circumstances where possible, including if you are unable to travel to the UK in time for the start of the academic year. We have seen some fantastic and innovative examples of high-quality online learning being delivered by institutions across the UK, and the sector is already working hard to prepare learning materials for the summer and autumn terms.
  • The UK cares immensely about the health and wellbeing of international students, and ensuring they are safe is our number one priority… To keep number of transmissions in the UK as low as possible, and to protect UK residents and international students in the UK, all international arrivals are now required to supply their contact and accommodation information and self-isolate in their accommodation for fourteen days on arrival into the UK. We have been clear that universities are responsible for, and must support their students on arrival to the UK. We are proud that UK universities are already demonstrating how seriously they are taking this responsibility, in ensuring that their students are safe and well cared for both upon arrival and for the duration of their stay.
  • In addition to support from their universities, NHS services are available to both domestic and international students. International students will always be able to access treatment that clinicians consider is immediately necessary or urgent at no upfront cost. No charges apply to testing for coronavirus…

Graduate Outcomes

The second batch of data from the 2017/18 Graduate Outcomes survey has been released, there is even more to come on 9 July. The tables are interactive allowing you to look at employment rates for different qualification levels (e.g. undergraduates, foundation degrees, doctoral research, taught masters and all the others) at HE or FE, full or part time.

There are also salary bands that are adjustable to look at the characteristics of the students within them. For example the below looks at pay levels by subject studied in HE institutions. It shows a clear salary gain in the high skilled roles but little difference in pay between low and medium skilled jobs.

The pay bands can be examined by age, ethnicity, gender, and disability. Below demonstrates the impact of gender for undergraduates, the postgraduate picture shows more clustering at the higher pay bands. No matter which level of qualification is selected males always number more than females earning the highest pay band.

There is a chart illustrating the proportions of students who are satisfied with their current activity, its fit with their future plans, and whether they are using what they learnt. It varies greatly when you adjust for low medium or high skilled roles, with the low skilled employees feeling least satisfied. And this page breaks down the three elements of satisfaction (meaningful, fit future, useful) even further looking at it by degree subject area, degree classification, salary and by provider.

And at the bottom of the page you can view BU’s student opinion on meaningful, fit for future plans, and useful (it is too large to display here). BU had a response rate of 51%, with higher numbers of postgraduate research students responding.

All the tables are interactive and able to be cut by different parameters – go ahead and have a play!

Wonkhe have a good blog digging into and interpreting meaning from the latest data.

In Parliamentary Questions, Graduate outcomes also received a mention with the stock answer referring to T levels and promoting technical routes. Also:

Q – Neil O’Brien: The Institute for Fiscal Studies found that for 30% of students, the economic return on their degree was negative both for them and for taxpayers. Surely with such clear economic evidence that so many young people would be better off if they took a different route, it is time to rebalance from just higher education to a stronger technical education system?

A – Michelle Donelan:

  • It is important that students make as informed choices as possible from a range of high-quality courses, and university is not the only or the best route for certain careers. Some students may be better placed if they do higher technical qualifications or apprenticeships. That is why the Secretary of State is spearheading a revolution in further education in this country, including the introduction of T-levels.

Research

HEPI have published PhD Life: The UK student experience. It highlights that for UK students:

  • the average PhD student works 47 hours per week, which is over 50% more than the average undergraduate and three hours less than the average academic
  • meaning PhD students earn less than the minimum wage (if they are on the basic Research Council stipend)
  • 78% of PhD students are satisfied with their degree of independence
  • 63% of PhD students see their supervisor for less than one hour per-week
  • 23% of PhD students would change their supervisor if they were starting their PhD again now
  • 80% of PhD students believe a career in research can be lonely and isolating
  • over one-third (37%) of PhD students have sought help for anxiety or depression caused by PhD study
  • one-quarter (25%) of PhD students feel they have been bullied and 47% believe they have witnessed bullying, and
  • one-fifth (20%) of PhD students feel they have been discriminated against and 34% believe they have witnessed discrimination.

The data informing the report is based on two surveys taking place between June and November 2019 by the Wellcome trust and Nature.

The report includes testimonials capturing PhD students’ perspectives on their situation:

  • Due to being [funded] by a stipend and not through student finance, and not technically being employed by the university means that I am not eligible for childcare funding. The cost of childcare is around £11,000 per year, my stipend is £14,200.
  • ..almost all the staff I meet from different universities are “pals from [insert elitist uni here]”. As such they have very little understanding of the challenges someone from a “normal” or disadvantaged background faces, especially financially, giving the overwhelming impression that your skills are secondary to your class.
  • The higher up you go, the more male and white-dominated the environment becomes. There’s only one full female professor in my whole institute, and I have genuinely never met a black PI [Principal Investigator] or professor since starting my PhD.

Nick Hillman, HEPI Director, commented:

  • Too often, people taking PhDs are regarded as neither one thing nor the other. They are not seen as students the way undergraduates are and they are not seen as staff the way academics are. Sometimes, PhD students receive excellent support but, too often, they fall through the cracks, making them demoralised and unhappy. When that happens, we all lose because the world desperately needs people who push forward the frontiers of knowledge.
  • We know far more about undergraduates than we used to and we now need similar levels of research on the student experience of postgraduates to help policymakers, regulators and funders improve their lives.

In the Foreword to the new report, Dr Katie Wheat, Head of Engagement and Policy at Vitae, said:

  • This report makes an important contribution to current debates on research culture by presenting the views of doctoral researchers in the UK extracted from the recent Wellcome Trust and Nature reports. It highlights several areas of concern, including working conditions, wellbeing, supervision and incidents of bullying and harassment…The findings chime with growing recognition of the need to improve research culture.

Student Numbers Cap

The deadline for universities to apply for additional places expired on Friday.

Emma Hardy questions the reasoning behind the threshold levels set for continuation and graduate outcome rates which determine whether a provider can bid for some of the 5,000 non-healthcare course additional places for the 2020/21 recruitment round. She also asks why these indicators were chosen rather than using the TEF, whether an equalities impact assessment was undertaken, and if the DfE considered a HEIs social intake and the communities served when setting the rates (because they appear to discriminate against certain types of provider).

The additional 5,000 biddable places within the student numbers cap restrictions allow the Government to exert a small measure of control over which courses they wish to see more (or less) of within the UK. In this vein Research Professional had an interesting narrative on Monday covering Australia who intend to more than double tuition fees for some arts subjects, raise fees for business and law, and lowered fees for some in-demand courses which contribute to national gap and growth needs. The reforms will be implemented in 2021 – if they pass the parliamentary hurdles.

The increase/decreases:

  • +28% law and commerce studies
  • +113% arts and humanities (making a three year degree roughly £24,150 in UK terms)
  • -62% maths and agriculture
  • -46% teaching, nursing, clinical psychology, and languages (including English)
  • -20% science, health, architecture, environmental science, IT and engineering
  • 0% (no change) for medicine, dental and veterinary

The price rises are per unit of study so it encourages students who might study history to also consider teaching too, or to add in a language.

The changes are designed to incentive students to follow the career growth areas that Australia needs. They aiming to get 39,000 students on skills shortage courses by 2023 and 100,000 by 2030 to produce the ‘job ready graduates’ that Australia needs.

The Australian Government also intends to increase support for rural and indigenous students through the reforms. They will direct fund universities to run bespoke programmes with local significance to attract indigenous students from the lowest participation rate areas and guarantee a place at public universities. Other reforms include a $48.8m research grants programme for regional universities to collaborate with industry, and $21m to set up more regional university study centres to provide tutoring and IT support for students in remote areas.

Research Professional highlight that the UK Government could utilise the LEO data to set price variation in the levels of student loan that would be offered to priority and non-priority courses. Also that if more students took courses with higher salaries the repayment levels of loans would be higher – ultimately saving the public purse. Although one does wonder whether so many of these high paid roles are standing vacant or whether such a policy increasing the volume of graduates following some programmes would simply displace the current holders of such posts. Nethertheless, it is food for thought for the Government who love a decent worked example from elsewhere. Particularly with the response to the Augar report (which advocated cutting humanities tuition fee/loans down to £7,500) not due until the spending review.

Ant Bagshaw (ex-Wonkhe, now working in Australia) has a blog on the proposals and what this might mean for UK HE. As ever there are some interesting comments to the blog. And the Guardian have an opinion piece taking issue with the Australian proposal for job ready graduates.

Returning to the UK student numbers cap there is an interesting piece from a specialist institution explaining how the student number controls will reduce access for those from certain disadvantaged backgrounds.

The Government has also released the latest information on how the student number cap will be run. Wonkhe summarise it:

  • It suggests that the controls will apply to fee-loan and self-funded full time undergraduates, with exemptions for new providers and students retaking A levels in the autumn. Franchised provision will count towards the cap of the registering institution, and this will not change if the agreement is terminated. It appears that number restrictions will apply to providers that do not recruit via UCAS, though we get little information as to how this will work in practice.
  • According to the same document, the list of specified subjects for additional places will not be changed, and includes subjects which relate to skills or professions at risk of shortage in the economy, or that “generate positive economic returns for the individual and the taxpayer”. This marks the first time longitudinal salary data has been used in higher education policymaking.

Student Complaints

The Office of the Independent Adjudicator has published a second briefing note on their approach to complaints arising from C-19. These excerpts make their approach to complaints clear:

  • Consumer protection legislation has not been suspended for students. This means that providers still need to deliver learning and other services that are consistent with students’ reasonable expectations. 
  • What students can reasonably expect, and what providers can reasonably be expected to deliver, is likely to change and evolve as circumstances change and evolve, especially if restrictions are tightened again. But providers should be planning to deliver what was promised – or something at least broadly equivalent to it – and to ensure that learning outcomes can be met. It’s unlikely to be reasonable not to do that, especially now the initial crisis period has passed.
  • Where providers have not or decide they cannot deliver what was promised they will need to consider how to put that right. A blanket refusal to consider tuition fee refunds in any circumstances is not reasonable. There may be groups of students that are particularly affected, and providers should take steps to identify those groups and address their issues. But they also need to consider concerns raised by students about their individual circumstances.
  • Some students may feel unable to continue with their studies because the way their course will be delivered has changed materially, their personal circumstances have changed, or they are shielding or are very anxious. Providers should consider requests for deferrals sympathetically and should be ready to depart from their normal policy where it is reasonable to do so. [This is interesting in light of recent media reports that second or third year students wish to defer for a year rather than continue with online teaching in subjects such as theatre studies.]
  • We can look at complaints about what was promised and what was delivered, but we can’t look at concerns that involve academic judgment such as the quality of academic provision.
  • We can consider (for example) a complaint that a provider did not cover subject areas that it said it would; that a student’s supervisor was unavailable; that a student didn’t benefit from teaching because they could not access it, or the delivery method did not work for them; that a provider did not support its students adequately; or that the provider did not follow a reasonable assessment process.
  • But an assessment of the quality of what has been delivered is likely to involve academic judgment, which we can’t look at…This means that we can’t look at a complaint that teaching was not of an adequate academic standard; that an online teaching session was just not as good as it would have been face to face; that the student’s work was worth a higher mark; or that a postgraduate student did not get the right academic guidance from their supervisor.
  • We will look at whether what the provider has done is reasonable in the circumstances – so reasonable delivery in the middle of lockdown is likely to look different to reasonable delivery in a more managed and planned environment.

The lack of judgement over quality of academic delivery slams the door on the Universities Minister’s claims to contact the ombudsmen if students aren’t able to resolve concerns directly with their provider.

There is also clear emphasis on individual student differences:

  • Some students are more seriously affected than others…Arrangements that might work well for many students may not work for all and providers should be proactive about identifying and supporting students who may need additional help. Students are likely to encounter all sorts of accessibility issues. Online teaching arrangements may not work for some students with learning or processing differences. Some students will be shielding or have caring responsibilities that continue even after lockdown restrictions are eased. Some will have poor internet connection – some will not have access to IT equipment at all. Some will simply not be able to work effectively from the space they are living in.
  • Careful thought and planning is needed to address these issues in advance, whenever possible. Planning that starts with meeting the needs of those likely to have accessibility issues is more likely to result in arrangements that work for everyone.

And a pro-active approach is urged:

  • Providers also need to seek out students who are not engaging with online delivery, and those whom they know may find it difficult because of their individual circumstances.
  • Some students such as those who had planned to study abroad or take up industry placements may be facing additional uncertainties. Providers may need to give those students more support and advice, for example on accommodation and financial issues.
  • A rigid adherence to regulations and processes is unlikely to be fair: empathy and flexibility are key.

Mass Action

Meanwhile the NHS is encouraging students to join their mass action complaint chain to win the chance to REDO, REIMBURSE, WRITE-OFF  (compensation funding for reimbursements, a debt write-off, or the chance to redo the year at no extra cost). Research Professional report that

  • the NUS estimates that around 20 per cent of students have been unable to access their learning at all during the pandemic and 33 per cent do not believe it to have been good quality. Particularly badly affected, the union says, are the many disabled students who have not received reasonable adjustments remotely, those who have lost access to studio, lab or workshop space, and students on placements.

Claire Sosienski Smith, VP HE at NUS, stated:

  • We know the scale of the disruption has been so vast that we need a national sector-wide response from government for this, including funding from Westminster… even if students complain to their individual institutions, how will universities afford it when the UK government haven’t announced a single penny of additional funding to support them? Our plea to the UK government is clear: you must offer tangible help to students who can’t access their education right now.

On the Government’s insistence that students individually take up their complaint with the Office of the Independent Adjudicator Zamzam Ibrahim, NUS President, said:

  • We were told students were going to be ‘empowered consumers’ but actually, when something like this happens, we feel we’ve got less rights than if we’d booked an Airbnb. The UK government are desperate to reduce this to a series of individual problems. It’s a total betrayal of trust to the thousands of students who are now facing lifelong debts for a once-in-a-lifetime education they haven’t received.

Online learning

HEPI have a guest blog – Learning from lockdown: harnessing tech to improve the student experience. It begins:

  • The recent transition to online learning has been as rapidas it has been impressive. Many universities have put very large elements of their curricula and assessments online in just a few short weeks.
  • Things that would previously have taken years to plan and execute have been designed, developed and implemented with alacrity. In short, there has been a huge amount of digital acceleration in universities since the advent of the pandemic.
  • However, let’s not kid ourselves; what has been achieved recently is mostly basicand will be largely ephemeral. I’ve heard it said that the transition is more about remote learning than online learning – about adding new tools to old pedagogy, rather than digitally enabling education across the board.

Next it considers the levels at which universities engage most fully with online learning. It concludes with a plug for Jisc and states:

  • The big effort that many universities are embarking on this summer is to develop more extensive, robust and higher quality online learning experiences for their students. Those that created a digital strategy a few years ago and invested in digital infrastructure, skills, content and applications must be feeling a little smug – and relieved. But it’s never too late to start on technology enablement and now is an ‘opportune’ time.
  • I suggest that there is more than enough technology and written experience out there about what works well. Universities need to harness both to capitalise on the newfound energy and goodwill among staff and students.

OfS

It has been a season of high-profile step downs. The latest is Sir Michael Barber who will not seek a second term as Chair of the OfS, meaning he will step down in March 2021. Like most of those relinquishing roles he still has a parliamentary to do list before he can return to his garden and long walks – he has agreed to lead a review into digital learning. The review will consider how universities and other higher education providers can continue to enhance online teaching and learning for the new academic year, and explore longer term opportunities for digital teaching and learning.

The Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, commented on Sir Michael’s decision to step down:

  • I have hugely valued Sir Michael’s leadership, insight and advice during his time as Chair and I have enjoyed our working relationship.
  • I am very thankful to him for his work leading the set up and transformation of the OfS, and particularly for his work tackling unconditional offers, senior executive pay and grade inflation.
  • As the higher education sector emerges from the pandemic, I look forward to the findings of the review into ways of enhancing the quality of online learning and driving innovation, which will be critical for the future of the sector.

Let’s hope Sir Michael’s review receives ministerial attention quicker than that of the TEF or the Augar reports.

Brexit

We haven’t mentioned the ‘B’ word more than in passing recently. However, we’re halfway through the transition period and the Government is adamant it will end without extension on 31 December. Little progress has been made in talks and businesses are fearful of no deal particularly following the economic downturn associated with the pandemic. Dods have a Brexit briefing examining the key areas of contention in the talks, the possibility of an extension, and the implementation hurdles that need to be overcome before the end of the year.

Easing Lockdown

The House of Commons Library have issued a briefing paper on the impact of easing lockdown restrictions within the FE & HE sectors (in England). The paper covers the expected issues including re-opening campuses, prospective student numbers (2020/21), and temporary student number controls.

Parliamentary Updates

APPG Universities: Ex-universities minister Chris Skidmore has been appointed co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary interest group for Universities. Daniel Zeichner continues to also co-chair the APPG.  Chris states: I look forward to continuing to make the case for why our world leading UK universities can drive innovation, lift social mobility and regenerate local economies- and why they deserve support. Chris has also committed to a monthly spot writing for Research Professional too. Between Chris and Jo Johnson it seems Michelle Donelan’s time in the spotlight will be harried by two ex-Ministers who are willing to speak out. This is likely good news for the sector (for now) as Donelan has been keen to stick closely to the party line to date.

Parliamentary Questions

Contract Cheating; If you’ve been following this topic in the policy update for a while you’ll be aware that Lord Storey continues his campaign to stamp out essay mills and academic cheat services. He often asks nuanced parliamentary questions on the topic and this week he got an encouraging answer. Here it is in full:

Q – Lord Storey: Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact on academic performance in those countries who have banned contract cheating services; and what plans they have, if any, to adopt similar policies. [HL5328]

A – Baroness Berridge:

  • The government is aware that legislation has been introduced in several countries to ban contract cheating services, including in New Zealand, several states in the USA and, most recently, Ireland. It should also be noted that a bill was introduced in Australia in December which, if passed, would make it an offence to provide or advertise academic ‘contract cheating’ services in higher education.
  • We would be willing to consider supporting any legislation, including a Private Members’ Bill, that is workable and that contains measures that would eliminate essay mills in ways that cannot be delivered through other means, provided that the Parliamentary time permitted.
  • Ministers have called on universities, sector bodies, educational technology companies and online platforms to do everything in their power to help eradicate academic cheating of any kind from our world-class higher education sector. We have set a clear expectation that the Office for Students (OfS) should take a visible lead in challenging the sector to eliminate the use of essay mills. We expect the OfS to work with the members of the UK Standing Committee for Quality Assessment to ensure that the sector has the support it needs and that it is taking firm and robust action to ensure that this threat to the integrity of the higher education system is being tackled.

Other Questions

  • Financial and educational support for postgraduate students whose education is now online.
  • This question is about schools rather than HE but it reminds us that young/student carers may be more disadvantaged as they may have had to self-isolate throughout lockdown to protect the vulnerable condition of those they care for.

Oral questions in the House of Commons on Further and Higher Education covered a range of topics this week (no new news). Some are covered in other sections.  The student number cap, international students, support for students and the economy all featured.

Research Professional cover all the major HE oral questions and add a little entertainment value in their descriptions.

Inquiries and Consultations

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

There aren’t any new HE consultations or inquiries this week. However, if you are interested in the bigger picture you may like to be aware that:

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

 

 

HE policy update for the w/e 23rd August 2019

A quieter week for HE policy, however, there’s news on the KEF and lots of other relevant content.

STEM for Britain

As a member of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee BU’s early career researchers and PhD and post-doc researchers all have the opportunity for exposure of their work through the annual poster competition. Posters are being accepted for the following areas:

  • Biological and Biomedical Sciences
  • Chemistry
  • Engineering
  • Mathematical Sciences
  • Physics

Prizes will be awarded for the posters presented in each discipline which best communicate high level science, engineering or mathematics to a lay audience.

Please share this information with ECR, PhD and PDR colleagues and those who work directly with them. This is a rare opportunity to showcase work within parliament at this level. All the shortlisted posters will be shared during a parliamentary reception in March 2020 and there will be the opportunity to talk about the research directly with policy makers.

The poster competition is open now please contact Lisa Andrews, RDS Research Facilitator, for more details and to enter.

www.stemforbritain.org.uk

Mental Health

The House of Commons library has a briefing paper setting out data on the prevalence of mental health conditions in higher education students in England and outlines the action higher education providers, the government and the Office for Students are taking to help students with mental health issues. It also flags up how students can get support.

From the briefing:

  • Student mental health has been the subject of a number of reports as students are increasingly declaring mental conditions and reporting issues with stress and poor mental wellbeing. It has been suggested that student mental health is in ‘crisis’.
  • The proportion of students who disclosed a mental health condition to their university has increased rapidly in recent years.
  • Surveys of students have found much higher rates of mental ill health than those disclosed to universities. A recent survey found that 21.5% had a current mental health diagnosis and 33.9% had experienced a serious psychological issue for which they felt they needed professional help. Survey responses are confidential and are likely to give a better idea of the full extent of mental ill health.
  • Many factors have been suggested as contributing to the rise in cases of mental ill health among higher education students – work pressures, moving away from home, financial worries, or more generally higher education institutions are said to be feeling the impact of the rise in metal health conditions among the 16-25 age population.
  • The effect of mental health issues on students can be serious and can lead to consequences such as: academic failure, dropping out of education, poorer career prospects and in the worst cases suicide.
  • Concern has been expressed about the availability of support for students with mental health conditions and the response of universities and higher education institutions.
  • In 2017 Universities UK, published Stepchange Mental health in higher education. Stepchange provides a framework to help higher education providers embed good mental health across all university activities.

Placement Premium

A Chartered Management Institute commissioned survey finds 3 in 4 parents believe that qualifications that combine with work experience and study are the best way to prepare young people for the workplace.

With record numbers of young people going through university clearing, the survey also shows that:

  • Parents rate degree programmes that combine work and study over traditional university degrees.
  • Nearly two thirds of parents (64%) favoured a degree apprenticeship with a major company like Rolls-Royce over a degree at Oxford or Cambridge (36%).
  • Nearly three quarters (73%) rated a degree that combines full-time work with study over a traditional 3 year university degree based on lectures and seminars alone (27%).
  • 71% of parents also wanted all graduates to have the opportunity to develop management, enterprise and leadership skills.

Rob Wall, Head of Policy at CMI said: “Innovations like degree apprenticeships – which bring together work and study, and allow apprentices to apply their learning in the workplace – are hugely attractive to employers. Our survey shows that they are now increasingly popular with parents, with the vast majority rating a degree apprenticeship with a FTSE 100 corporate over a traditional 3 year degree at a top university. Our message to all those young people receiving their GCSE results this week is that, whatever your results and whatever path you take next, developing those employability skills like self-management and leadership will always give you an edge in a competitive jobs market.”

 FE Funding Push

The Association of Colleges are capitalising on the recent announcement that there will be an accelerated spending round by the end of September. They have issued a paper to the Treasury and the DfE making recommendations for tertiary education. In headline their proposals cover the full remit of college work and request a one-off cash injection of £1,114m in revenue and £240m in capital. The paper capitalises on the Augar Review which discussed the lower funding rates and investment in FE education. It covers the items you would expect such as a higher funding rate for all FE provision, better pay and status for FE teachers. It also suggests a ten year funding plan for education. A larger adult education budget to support retraining, improve skills and develop lifelong learning (at a one-year cost of £250 million).

Of relevance to HE are the apprenticeship funding reforms they suggest (at a one year cost of £200m).

  • Increase funding for non-levy employers and for young people. The non-levy budget should increase by £200 million and all 16-to18 year olds should be funded through the education budget to guarantee their training opportunities.
  • The increase in degree apprenticeship numbers is a concern because these involve high costs and because it appears that obligations previously covered by tuition fees have been shifted onto the apprenticeship budget. It would seem more appropriate for apprenticeships at level 6 and above to be funded from the higher education teaching budget, regulated by the Office for Students and operated with the same rules on equivalent and lower qualifications as loan-supported programmes.

They also suggest a development fund for higher technical education (one year cost of £40m).

  • For students, it would be simple to offer the same tuition fee cap, student finance rules and teaching grant funding as offered for degree-level study. For colleges there needs to be a modest fund to support set-up costs which precede the relevant income because enrolments take time to build.

On regulating to protect students and employers while maximising impact:

  • Colleges spend a growing and disproportionate share of their budgets on administration and compliance and account for themselves to two different parts of the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA), to the Office for Student (OfS), to Ofsted, to local enterprise partnerships and combined authorities, to the Home Office, to lenders, pension funds and any other funding organisation. Some complexity is unavoidable but there is a case for the DfE group to consider whether there are ways to focus regulation more clearly on activities that benefit students and employers, to cut compliance costs and to place simpler duties on college governing bodies to account for the public investment they receive.

David Hughes, Chief Executive, Association of Colleges, said:  After making great efficiencies over the last decade, there is a strong consensus now that colleges need major investment to put them in a position to be able to thrive and from that position to be able to maximise the impact they can have. The UK’s industrial strategy identifies skills as an issue across a range of priority sectors and the need for action to avoid shortages. Without thriving colleges, this priority will not be met.

  • Total expenditure on 16-19 education fell by 17.5% in real terms between 2010-11 and 2016-17, while the funding allocated to 16-19 education fell by 13% in real terms between 2013-14 and 2017-18.
  • The funding rate for students aged 16 and 17 in education in 2018-19 has been frozen at £4,000 since 2013-14, while the funding rate for students who are already aged 18 has been frozen at £3,300 since it was cut by 17.5 % in 2014.
  • The government is currently consulting on ambitions to build a “new generation” of higher technical qualifications at levels 4 and 5 for T-level students to progress onto. The introduction date of 2022 has been set to fit with the first cohort of T-level students, who will start their two-year level 3 qualification in 2020.

Labour’s Education Policies

Recent news has detailed Jeremy Corbyn’s efforts to amalgamate enough support that should the autumn vote of no confidence succeed he may be able to form a temporary caretaker Government. Labour are hoping for an early General Election and Wonkhe have covered all their recent Education related announcements into one blog.

KEF

Research England have published the outcomes of the Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF) consultation and pilot exercise. Final decisions on the KEF will follow later in 2019.

  • 72% of responses agreed the KEF should be an annual, institutional-level, metrics driven exercise.
  • The respondents commented on the balance between running a low burden exercise at the expense of losing valuable detail.
  • Significant themes within the report were noted as:
    • The (mostly) output metrics do not necessarily capture the quality of knowledge exchange activity
    • Varied responses on how often the KEF should take place, although the report notes the majority favoured an annual exercise.

Below follow the main points picked out of the KEF report narrative

Clusters The KEF clusters institutions together, BU is in cluster E.

  • “The conceptual framework underpinning the analysis and the variables and methods employed were broadly well received, with the majority of respondents somewhat agreeing or agreeing with these aspects, and the resulting composition of the clusters. There was less consensus on whether the clusters would help fulfil the stated aims of the KEF (Q6.4), and the purpose of allowing fair comparison. Although a majority agreed to some extent, there was a higher level of ‘disagree’ responses than for Q6.1-6.3.”
  • “In regard to the overall approach to clustering (Q6.4) it is worth noting that the majority of negative responses were ‘somewhat disagree’. This is borne out by the associated commentary, with the most common response (105 respondents) welcoming the clustering approach, with only 10 respondents making critical comments on the overall concept. Respondents indicating an overall ‘slightly disagree’ or ‘disagree’ tended to be for very specific reasons. For example, while broadly welcoming the concept of clustering they disagreed with the range of variables used. Other more negative responses were driven by consideration of whether clustering helped the KEF meet its aims (and how businesses and other users might use or interpret them), with more agreement on their positive role in enabling fair comparison between HEIs.”

“There were a substantial number of points in the commentary focussing on the descriptions and presentation of the clusters:

  • There were a significant number of comments relating to the cluster descriptions – e.g. describing a cluster as having HEIs with ‘limited world leading research’ could be seen as negative in itself, and that it may be better to frame cluster descriptions on what the institution does do, rather than what it doesn’t.
  • Multiple requests to provide a brief introduction into what the clustering is for, how the descriptors work and how the cluster names (which are random letters) were assigned. It was noted that this was particularly important for external audiences.
  • Approximately 15% of responses suggested clusters may be confusing for businesses and other users or they suggested that there should be flexibility for users to be able to group institutions in different ways that were more relevant to them.
  • There was some concern that whatever the intent, the clusters will be seen as a hierarchy in their own right (10%).
  • That there is still too much variation within clusters (although we would argue that the KEF proposals include further steps to normalise for size, and the scaling of metrics mitigates this).
  • That specialist institutions are difficult to place in clusters, but most respondents making this point stated that this approach was still preferable to not using clustering or a comparable method to aid fair comparison.”

“There were also multiple comments and suggestions on the variables used to create the clusters, including on the role of professional services staff not being represented, concerns that variables were too heavily skewed towards research activities, and that 3* (as well as 4*) REF outputs should be used.

 “Overall, there was no clear consensus from the responses received on a course of action that would satisfy all and no appropriate alternative models were proposed that would meet the requirements of providing a means of fair comparison. Given that the concept of clustering was well received for those in the main clusters, it is unlikely the fundamental approach to this aspect of the KEF proposals will change….

Perspectives and metrics

“For the proposed perspectives and associated metrics, we asked for feedback on both the overall range and balance, and also views on the metrics proposed under each perspective.

  • A majority agreed that a sufficiently broad range of KE activity was captured (72%), although a sizeable minority of 26% disagreed to some extent”
  • The range of perspectives were welcome with around 40% of responses agreeing that they broadly captured a sufficient variety of KE activity. However, around 15% of responses felt that the individual metrics within the perspectives were too narrow to adequately capture the full range of KE activities undertaken by HEIs.”

“The majority of recommendations for KE activities that could be considered for inclusion in the KEF fell into four key areas:

  • Contribution to public policy
  • International partnerships
  • Partnerships with SMEs
  • HEI-HEI collaboration

Other common themes expressed in the commentary related to:

  • The timing of the HE-BCI review and the subsequent impact on the KEF. …
  • How the quality and sustainability of partnerships with business can be captured e.g. regular student placements, repeat business, voice of the customer.”

On working with business:

“A significant number of responses considered there was a disconnect between the broad nature of the perspective title ‘Working with business’ and the proposed income metrics. The metrics were considered by over a quarter of respondees to be very narrow, and not reflective of the full breadth of knowledge exchange activities undertaken in HEIs. In particular 15% of respondees felt that income from use of specialist facilities and equipment should be included as a useful indicator of interactions with business.”

“The nature of the metrics as income measures brought feedback across a number of points:

  • Some argued that income is not an appropriate proxy for impact and does not well reflect the quality of the interactions. A number of alternative metric areas were suggested such as repeat business, length of relationships or nature or number of strategic partnerships.
  • The opportunities for undertaking consultancy and contract research and the income value of that activity will be impacted by the local economic context, particularly for some types of interactions e.g. with SMEs.
  • Across all disciplines, but especially in the public and third sectors, it was considered that a significant proportion of knowledge exchange activity is not monetised and so not well reflected in the metrics.
  • The role of students is seen as significant by about 10% of respondents, either through the close relationships developed with businesses through degree apprenticeships or placement work, or directly by supervised services delivered as part of their course or extra curricula activity.

About a fifth of respondees provided feedback on the use of ‘academic FTE’ as the denominator for two of the metrics. While 4% expressed support for the use of academic FTE to account for the size of the institution, 10% considered it to be misleading to restrict it to academic staff when a signification proportion of knowledge exchange activity is undertaken by professional services staff or students. Some 5% requested a clearer definition of who is included in ‘academic FTE’ and 2% felt that it would be more relevant to restrict it to research active academic staff.”

On local growth and regeneration:

“We recognise that this metric on its own does not sufficiently capture the breadth of activity in this area and therefore have proposed the use of additional narrative. The feedback from respondents verified this view, with over a quarter expressing support for the use of narrative. The primary areas of concern expressed for the proposed metric were:

  • The metric was considered by over 20% of respondees as unhelpfully focused on income, it was felt that this is a less effective proxy for impact within local growth and regeneration.
  • Around 14% of respondees noted that the metric was very narrow as a standalone metric and needed to be part of a wider basket of metrics. A further 5% of respondees felt that the metric was too poor to be used at all and suggested that the perspective should be ‘greyed out’ until additional metrics could be identified. It was considered that the forthcoming HESA review of the HE-BCI survey may be an opportunity to find additional metrics. …
  • Inconsistency of returns to the HE-BCI survey were believed to impact this metric in particular, ….
  • A small number of respondees felt the use of academic FTE as a denominator was inappropriate, with a wide variety of reasons cited.

A number of alternative or additional metric areas were suggested by respondees:

  • The investment that individual institutions make to their local areas, either through the local supply chain, direct regeneration investment in cash or in kind was viewed by over 10% of respondees as a helpful addition.
  • While 9% suggested that activity and income related to local industrial strategies and related government funding such as city deals, regional growth funds or local growth funds should be included.

A small proportion of respondees (4%) also looked to create links to the strategies and action plans being developed by institutions who have signed up to the Civic University Commission’s Civic University Agreements.”

On IP and commercialisation:

“A wide range of comments concerned timeframes around these metrics including:

  • The concentrated nature of income-generating commercialisation activity within relatively few institutions and its ‘lumpy’ nature (i.e. that volumes vary significantly year-to-year) means the metrics in this perspective may not be relevant to some institutions, and that it would be hard for external audiences to draw conclusions from them (18% of respondees).
  • Whether the proposed three year time series and normalisation by research income was appropriate for measuring spin-out performance, given the long time-lags involved. Would a longer time series of 10+ years be more appropriate?
  • The time lags between research being undertaken and spin-out creation was seen as particularly problematic for the metric of ‘research resource per spin-out’. Several respondees also expressed concern that given the relative ease of creating a spinout that this metric may create a perverse incentive to incorporate spin-out companies too early, or where a more appropriate exploitation route existed.

This question also elicited specific suggestions for new metrics based on other areas of the HE-BCI collection:

  • In addition to licensing income, nearly 10% of respondees argued that the numbers of licenses granted (whether or not they generate income) may also give a useful indication of performance. Numbers of free licenses could (subject to a rigorous treatment that differentiated end-user licenses from other forms) indicate active exploitation of IP (the licensee having gone to the effort to enter a formal agreement) where impact rather than income generation was the primary driver.
  • Other common suggestions focused on proportions of patents or licenses generating income (indicating active exploitation), rates of disclosures, or ratios of disclosures to patents and IP income (indicating effective translation of disclosures).
  • There was also a group of suggestions for metrics which focused less on income and more on capturing results from enterprise structures and IP exploitation strategies that do not focus on income generation, such as social enterprises, open innovation strategies or open source products and software.”

On public and community engagement

‘Public and community engagement’ received the lowest average score when participants were asked to rate their percentage agreement…while the inclusion of the perspective in the KEF was broadly welcomed, there was also a clear message that the metric did not adequately capture the range of activities undertaken by HEIs in this area.

  • Around 17% of respondees suggested that the current metric of time per FTE was not adequate to capture performance or quality of the events recorded, with an additional 12% of respondees suggesting that this risked the role of professional services staff being overlooked.
  • The consistency of reporting in Table 5 of the HE-BCI return (Social, community and cultural engagement: designated public events) was a concern for 15% of respondees, highlighting the need for clearer guidance on how this information should be recorded across the sector.
  • The inclusion of narrative was welcome, but 10% of respondees raised the concern that it was not assessed and would therefore not be viewed as of equal value to metric element of the perspective.

Additional metrics that were suggested included:

  • The number of times that university assets are opened up to the community in some way
  • HEI investment in brokerage
  • Public involvement in research
  • Metrics collected by public relations and marketing departments e.g. the number of academics/professional staff blogging on external sites, social media interactions, media appearances by academics, or coverage of research
  • Number of performances or events and the associated number of attendees.”

Use of Narratives:

The NCCPE concluded that there is strong rationale for adopting and adapting the approach to narrative within the KEF. Whilst the proposed template delivers some effective prompts that elicited useful information, there was considerable variety in the level of specificity and supporting evidence provided in the pilot drafts.

The NCCPE have provided specific recommendations to Research England on how the templates and use of narrative could be improved to draw out more relevant and consistent information. Alongside the consultation responses these recommendations are informing the development of the KEF.

Respondees showed an exceptionally strong preference for the provision of an overarching institutional statement being provided by the HEI with 89% agreeing to some extent (and almost half strongly agreeing). 101. This was echoed through the written responses which expressed the broad view that an overarching narrative would be beneficial and that it should be provided by the institutions themselves. There was also a strong articulation that the local economic context needs to be considered to place knowledge exchange activities in context, and that it may be appropriate for Research England to provide this data in a standardised format

A number of respondees felt that an overarching statement could also be a useful tool to demonstrate an institution’s overall strategic goals in relation the perspectives. This may help mitigate any perceptions of relative ‘poor’ performance in areas that were not of strategic importance to a particular HEI. However, it was recognised that this would be difficult to achieve through the visualisation. Other voices expressed concern that the statements could become marketing tools with little added value.

And finally: We note the concerns expressed in both the consultation and pilot regarding timing of implementation and potential overlaps with the REF and TEF. We will pay regard to this when agreeing implementation timescales.

You can read the report in detail here.

Widening Participation and Access

  • National Care Leavers Week will be held on 24-31 October 2019.
  • Estranged Students Solidarity Week is 25-29 November 2019
  • Former Prime Minister Theresa May recently announced plans for a new body, the Office for Tackling Injustices (OfTI), to monitor government efforts to tackle “deep-seated societal injustice”.

Inquiries and Consultations

Click here to view the updated 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: Lords inquiry in Ageing: Science, Technology and Healthy Living

Other news

Arts rise: The DfE published information on GCSE entries on results day. It highlights that entries to arts subjects have risen by 3.2% to 320,000. The DfE see this as positive new because previously the EBacc was criticised as squeezing these subjects out of the curriculum because of the opportunity to select them was less than other curriculum models. The news sits alongside a 3.7% rise in entries to EBacc subjects and an increase in foreign language entries (particularly Spanish and French). For more detail, including the key stats for other subjects click here.

T levels: The House of Commons Library have one of their helpful briefing papers on T Levels: Reforms to Technical Education which provides an overview of the proposals to reform the technical education system.

Student Debt Sanctions: the CMA have taken action causing the University of Liverpool to change their student debt penalty policy. They will no longer issue academic sanctions – such as the as the removal of library or email access – for students who have debts which are unrelated to their fees. Susan Lapworth, Director for Competition and Registration, at the Office for Students, said: “We welcome today’s announcement that, following CMA action, the University of Liverpool has formally committed to drop academic sanctions for students with debts, for example for accommodation costs, that are not related to their tuition fees. The fair treatment of students is important to us as a regulator. All universities and other higher education providers should be mindful of today’s CMA announcement and ensure that their debt collection policies comply with consumer law. Our own regulatory framework sets out the need for universities to demonstrate they are complying with consumer protection law, and we will continue to support the important work of the CMA on these issues.”

AI job displacement scheme: On Tuesday new Education Minister, Kemi Badenoch, announced an extension in the roll out of a pilot programme aiming to help adults whose jobs may change due to new technologies – such as automation and AI – to retrain and get on the path to a new career. The Get Help to Retrain digital service will now be rolled out to the West Midlands and the North East following success in Liverpool City during the summer.

Student Grants: The Student Loan Company are raising awareness of their practitioners’ page. They are also sharing information on their grants –  Childcare Grant; the Adult Dependants’ Grant; and the Parents’ Learning Allowance – to ensure those eligible apply for the funds.

Market Signalling: HEPI have a new blog exploring the marketisation of HE alongside the Augar Review and institutional autonomy.

Unconditional Admissions: The most effective and fairest admissions system continues to be debated this week. A provocative Wonkhe article makes the barest nod to grades asking what if all university offers were unconditional? The comments at the end are well worth a read too as sector colleagues suggest other alternatives and admissions tweaks, primarily moving away from the overreliance on A level grades. And The Guardian have an article which suggests social class is a barrier to good A level/exam performance.

PQA: Post qualification admissions. Mary Curnock Cook, ex-CEO of UCAS, explains the factors that made her turn from determined to implement post qualification admissions to remaining with the current system.

OfS Student Tool: The OfS have a new online tool for prospective students which launches in September: Discovering Uni: planning your HE journey.

NEETS: Office for National Statistics published the quarterly stats on 16-24 year olds who are classified as NEET (not in education, employment or training).

  • There were 792,000 young people in the UK who were NEET; this number increased by 28,000 from January to March 2019 and was up 14,000 when compared with April to June 2018.
  • The percentage of all young people in the UK who were NEET was 11.5%; the proportion was up 0.4 percentage points from January to March 2019 and up 0.3 percentage points from April to June 2018.
  • Of all young people in the UK who were NEET, 41.6% were looking for, and available for, work and therefore classified as unemployed; the remainder were either not looking for work and/or not available for work and therefore classified as economically inactive.

The report details examples of specialist projects (Medway, Southwark, Blackpool) which have effectively decreased the NEET population.

Schools Funding: One of Boris’ campaigning objectives was his pledge to increase the minimum per pupil funding level for English schools – this House of Commons Insight Guide has an interactive mechanism which checks which schools within a constituency area will see an increase against the £4k (primary) and £5k (secondary) proposed thresholds.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

 

 

HE policy update for the w/e 16th August 2019

Welcome to a bumper update catching you on the last two weeks in policy land plus Sarah has taken a special in-depth look at post-qualification admissions as it is the hot topic of the week.

Post-qualification Admissions

Labour reinvigorated the post-qualification admissions debate on Wednesday when they declared they would reform the HE system and scrap predicted grades to implement a ‘new fairer system of post-qualification admissions’. Talk of post-qualification admissions (PQA) has been around for a long while, (Schwartz review, 2003; UCAS 2011), and quite recently the UCU have been pushing for PQA because they believe it penalises disadvantaged students. The claim is that capable disadvantaged students are penalised because they may receive under-predicted grades than their stronger, higher grade performance in their final exams. Lower predicted grades restrict their ability to apply to and secure a university place at the most competitive institutions. A focus on ensuring access for disadvantaged students to the highest tariff institutions was championed by Sam Gyimah, (HE Minister of 10 months, 2 Ministers ago) who pressurised Oxbridge to radically improve the number of disadvantaged students they accept and challenged students to think big and trade up to the most competitive institutions (claiming it leads to higher employability returns).  So it is interesting to see a Conservative and Labour policy align, even if they have different solutions.

Labour’s plans would see students applying for their HE place after receiving their A level/other results so they can select the “best” institution that their actual grades will qualify them for. They also address another political hot potato– unconditional offers – Labour want to see an end to unconditional offers and, of course, a PQA system where offers aren’t made in advance has no place for them (more on this below). It also means the end of clearing. Labour say that it will enable students to make better, more accurate decisions, and mean that are not pressurised into accepting an unconditional offer from a lower tariff university.

The last reason that is always trotted out for PQA is that England is the only country where a pre-qualifications admission system is used.

There would be significant practical challenges in implementing a PQA system. Universities are usually criticised as blocking such changes for their own convenience.

Universities have autonomy in this area with control over their admissions processes and the right to choose whom they admit. The Higher Education and Research Act (2017), states: ‘“the institutional autonomy of English higher education providers” means … the freedom of English higher education providers … to determine the criteria for the admission of students and apply those criteria in particular cases’.

We explore the complexities below, but first, is there evidence that disadvantaged students are under predicted? It seems there is:

  • Analysis carried out by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (2011) found black students were the most likely to have their grades under-predicted.
  • The Sutton Trust states that poorer students are more likely to have their grades under-predicted than their wealthier peers.
  • UCL’s Institute of Education found that nearly one in four disadvantaged students who go on to achieve AAB or better in A-Level have predicted grades lower than their final results.

So while there is clearly an issue, what about those grey areas? HEPI have a useful blog. It highlights that if students wish, they can already apply after receiving your grades [and increasing numbers are, although that feels like a risky business especially in future when the demographic dip reverses] Students can also hedge their bets by accepting a firm choice, and then declining this offer to trade up to a better place. So it is possible, but it is complicated and it is unclear whether students really know how to make the system work for them. It is easier to just accept the place you had originally chosen (mere-exposure effect).

What about other countries?

If the UK is an international outlier and comparator countries all have PQA systems, are we missing a trick? They answer is our systems and intentions are quite different. In the British system the majority of students travel away from their home to attend the institution which they believe is most attractive – for all sorts of reasons (not just prestige/ranking of the university) – the programme content, type of course (accelerated, sandwich, traditional), employer links and employability outcomes, institutional prestige, and the desirability of the wider rounded offer and university environment. Students choose and universities select students they believe will thrive. Even if we changed to a PQA system this established cultural approach to student choice and the meritocracy would not immediately change. So how does it work in other countries?

France – students apply post-qualification. All those achieving a pass in the baccalaureate are entitled to go, and most do. Most stay locally. Fees are low.  University is an automatic right and universities have to accept all those that achieve the pass, shutting their doors only when full (and that means really full). Non-continuation rates are huge with many students dropping out during the first year because university just isn’t for them, not to mention the enormous class sizes and relatively poor student experience.    Application processes are generally on-line, anonymous and impersonal.  Universities do not need to sell themselves to students and there is no selection except for a small number of very exclusive universities.

Australia – school leavers apply before they have their results ranking their preferences for their preferred institutions. When they results are known they are converted to a common score (ATAR) and the universities consider the score achieved by the students that have ranked them top and then decide a cut off for acceptances. Students below the threshold repeat the process with their second ranked choice, and so on down the list. However, it is not working well. Those with lower scores struggle to obtain places and universities are starting to move away from relying on their score based system.

America – it’s complicated, drawn out, highly selective, and stressful. First there are fee distinctions between public and private institutions, and they types of degree they issue. The application process itself has multiple steps and deadlines. Separate applications are sent to each institution (although they can use the Common Application process for certain institutions). On four year degree programmes, once accepted, students may be assigned to the entire college, not a particular department or major (focal programme). Entry to the top institutions is fiercely competitive. Students choosing the two-year county and community college route have a less complicated system than the four-year degree schools, as this usually only requires a high school transcript or minimum test score. And the provision of high school counsellors (who help with careers and HE advice) is patchy – private schools often have a dedicated full time post, only 1 in 4 public schools have the equivalent level of resource. Transfers between institutions are more frequent than, currently occurs in the UK too.

UCU have a summary table for 30 countries (see pages 7-8).

So how could the system work? There are two main options. HEPI:

  • The differences between Post-Qualification Applications (when you applyfor a place after receiving your results) [this is Labour’s ideal process] and,
  • Post-Qualification Admissions (where the places are handed out after the results but in which you might have applied, as now, before you know how you have done). [Australian model]

HEPI continue: The oddity of our system is not so much that people apply before receiving their results; the oddity is that huge weight is put on predicted grades, which are notoriously unreliable. Either version of PQA could tackle this, but they are different from one another and it is not always clear which one PQA advocates want.

Exams of prime importance

Whether it is post qualification applications or admissions, changing the system would increase the focus on exam results. Last year there were calls to reduce the reliance on grades as the sole or most major determinant of accepting an applicant (including peripheral interest in comprehensive universities). And many universities acknowledge that grades alone cannot represent an individual’s range of desirable skills and attributes, nor their ability to thrive and achieve on a particular course at a particular institution. So a system which places more emphasis on grades could be a retrograde step. Plus the reality of a post-qualification application process means a more pressurised, shorter, decision turnaround with less time to consider alternatives such as interviews, portfolios, personal statements, and applicant’s background circumstances.

What about those students who have over-predicted provisional grades? They will have applied to a higher tariff institution, which post-qualification may well still accept them (given market pressures). Much of the rhetoric for PQA surrounds extending the aspirations of the most capable disadvantaged students. Yet the mid-ability disadvantaged deserve to secure a place at a good institution, just as their more affluent peers do. Of course this is where contextual admissions could come into play.

Contextual Admissions

Contextual admissions could [and should] still exist in a post-qualification system. However, to truly support social mobility aims they would need to be far more transparent. Disadvantaged students can only aspire to a ‘reach’ university if they know their actual grades plus the contextual leniency that will be applied.  Without this they likely will self-select to a less competitive institution. Students also need assurance that universities value this information and do not use the contextual ‘tick’ to filter out applications.

Universities would need to clearly spell out which disadvantage factors they accept and what grade/points reduction they adjust the advertised tariff by, including any further leniency due to double disadvantage or intersectionality. Providers would need to provide online checkers so a student can input their data and check if they are eligible for a reduced offer. And this needs to be transparent, available not only on the institution’s own website but clear and accessible through the UCAS application process (pre or post qualification).

This suggests a clearer but more automated approach to contextual admissions. However, there may be other important factors that some universities check outside of the standard criteria to provide a further adjusted offer, or an offer that doesn’t decrease the standard tariff but provides other alternatives. Of course, if contextual admissions are more ‘automated’ the process could be national – a standard set of criteria by which a defined reduced was applied cross-institution. However, this is may be a step too far. It is right that universities retain their autonomy to determine what contextual reduction or alternatives can be provided. And this isn’t about ‘bums on seats’, universities have different remits with some experienced in taking very high proportions of disadvantaged students with a strong support infrastructure.  And in some cases this is determined by regional characteristics.

Speed is of the essence

The aspect that strikes me most when considering UCU’s table of countries with post qualification admissions is that the time between application and acceptance is a matter of days or weeks. This is just not possible in the UK if there is to be an element of selection. Either the process becomes more automated with less attention to personal factors (which really does feel like ‘bums on seats’, and would less selection increase drop out?) or the start date for foundation and first year courses is delayed (or A level exams are taken earlier/marked quicker). None of these options are attractive. In particular extending the time between school/exam finish and commencing degree/alternative study is counter to Government aims for a productive workforce (and accelerated degrees).

The knock on effect potentially also polarises choice between degree and other alternative skills/study programmes. Imagine a student unsure whether to choose a traditional degree programme (with confirmation of place mid-September) and an apprenticeship option which commences early September. The timing for post-level 3 options needs to match.

Intensive Careers Support Period

Careers advice came up a lot in the press this week. In a PQA system where students still apply to HE institutions while studying at level 3 (but aren’t accepted until their results are known) students can still access careers support and HE advice through their educational provider. However, in a post qualification application system schools or other agencies would need to be available to guide choices and support with personal statements during the summer closure periods, or early autumn.

Capacity would be an issue – far more staff would be needed to cover all the students needing the same support all at once within a short period. And in a system where students apply before results are known provisional grades are still likely to be used by the institution as an indicator. Even though they’ll only be used internally by the school and the individual they will still be unreliable and have the same effect Labour are trying to curb – they’ll restrict the disadvantaged students’ choice of institution based on what they believe they can attain, negating the intention of changing to a PQA system. Of course there is a watered down hybrid approach whereby careers support and statement preparation would be done while studying the level 3 (and this would work for a system of post-qualification admissions rather than applications). This isn’t really student focussed though, it just makes things easier for schools, and internal predicted grades will still bias the student’s initial choices.

Is it really the end for Clearing?

Labour stated clearing wouldn’t exist. However, this seems dangerous as if students applied with their results and none of their institutions accepted them then they are left without a safety net to rethink their possibilities. A PQA system actually creates more uncertainty for the student. Even if they have the grades they cannot be certain their preferred institution will take them, and everything hinges on results day for the process to even start. Really PQA is one giant clearing round, and as such stages would be required. If we were truly joined up vocational and apprenticeship options would all be part of one giant post qualification application system. Wouldn’t that be an enormous feat!

Unconditional Offers

Labour are also opposed to unconditional offers.  Schools are pressuring the Government to clamp down on unconditional offers as they claim that some students ‘take their foot off the gas’ and underperform when they hold an unconditional offer. Politicians also believe the overuse of unconditional offers is a misuse of recruitment simply aiming to lock students into attending the institution ‘bums on seats’ and doesn’t represent ‘value for money’.  Unconditional offers were introduced to support certain disadvantaged groups, such as providing basic security for care leavers who often have to give up their accommodation before their university place is confirmed. More recently, they have been accepted as valid to support those with proven mental health or additional needs who may underperform at final exam. The point of these unconditional offers is that they provide security and access for the underrepresented groups whose lives are characterised by precarity and who, without the unconditional place, who not access HE or consider a ‘reach’ university.  In cases of accepted or demonstrated need it is feasible that these could still form an early application element, even in a post-results system. Or if that was too unpalatable we could follow the Scottish example and provide some form of guaranteed offer (link).

How would it work in practice – the nitty gritty

Everyone has their own theory about how PQA could work in practice. Universities could commence later, schools or a national careers service could advise during the post-exam crunch periods, campus visits could be undertaken during the year or in the summer period (or virtually). However, don’t all these aspects have an impact on the disadvantaged student? A later degree start means either less/more intensive tuition (less period for adjustment – those coming from poor schools need time to level up, some need time to emotionally settle) or that tuition will finish later in the first year summer (impacting on access to the paid summer jobs needed to top up the student loans). Careers advice depends on the quality of the school and dedicated resources – deprived schools may not have the same resource to spend on careers as a private institution. The cost of campus visits may be prohibitive – and why undertake them pre-results if you are unsure where you might end up? Plus with a squeezed acceptance period would there be time for student’s to visit multiple institutions to experience whether they feel it would be a good fit?

Of course there are implications for the University too. Pre-qualification applications form a large part of the end recruitment picture, and HE institutions are essentially reliant on fee income to function. Particularly in today’s marketised competitive environment. Could no visibility as to recruitment levels make ‘bums on seats’ worse? It also doesn’t provide enough lead time to free up extra resource for unexpectedly popular courses. And, timetabling (groan) unpredictable recruitment levels are a timetabling headache. Plus certain widening access groups, such as parents and carers, need to know their timetable well in advance of the start of the programme so they can arrange alternative care.

At the other end of the spectrum how would universities deal with oversupply? Too many students with the required grade level all wish to attend the university. Would universities have less choice over who they take (French model)? Would the university then have to rely on the personal statement (time issues)? Could unconscious bias come into play? Could oversupply pave the way for the three D’s cut-off grade threshold to be introduced?

There could be a first come, first served model, but this has a hidden equality bias. Disadvantaged students may need more guidance in choice of institution or be slower to apply due to personal circumstances. Would there still be an ‘application’ or decision deadline post results?

In the balance…

Many of the reasons offered for a post qualification admissions system are aspects which need tackling anyway. Furthermore, the Government wants to see more choice and variability in the HE market (accelerated degrees, part time and flexible options) alongside prestigious alternative technical and degree apprenticeship routes. A PQA system swaps the unpredictability of predicted grades for the unpredictability of exam performance, which may still not be a reliable predictor of an individual’s sustained capability.

Commentary

  • Angela Rayner MP, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Education, said: “The higher education admissions system isn’t working for students, and radical action is needed to change that…Predicted grades are wrong in the vast majority of cases, and disadvantaged students in particular are losing out on opportunities on the basis of those inaccurate predictions. No one should be left out of our education system just because of their background, yet with grants scrapped and fees tripled, the system is now deeply unfair…We will work with schools, colleges, and universities to design and implement the new system, and continue to develop our plans to make higher education genuinely accessible to all.”
  • Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: “The Labour party is right to look at overhauling the university admissions system. The current system is based on students’ predicted grades which are wrong most of the time. Moving to a system of post-qualification applications would empower the student to make the best university choice for them. We’d also like to see a greater use of contextual data in the admissions process, as well as a review of the personal statement to see how it could be improved.”
  • Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “It is a good idea to look at moving to a system of post-qualification admissions for university, but it would represent a significant and complex change to our current admissions systems. t would be extremely difficult to manage the entire applications process in the few weeks between A-level results in mid-August and the beginning of university terms in September or October, and it is likely that we would need to rethink the entire calendar. It might be simpler to return to a system in which AS levels counted towards the first year of the full A-level as this allowed universities to use actual results in considering applications, and for universities to stop the practice of so-called ‘conditional unconditional’ offers – which are unconditional as long as the student makes the university their first choice – simply to put bums on seats.”

Damian Hinds, the previous Education Secretary, announced a review of admissions practices on 5 April 2019. The OfS is expected to launch the review in the autumn. The House of Commons Library has issued a briefing paper on the key issues surrounding admissions. Meanwhile UUK launched their own pre-emptive admissions review on 22 July.

A Level Results

DfE Statistics published on Thursday, A Level results day, showed:

  • Entries to STEM subjects increased for both male and females – overall a 26.2% rise since 2010;
  • More girls now do science subjects – biology, chemistry and physics combined – than boys and overall science entries are up by 7.4%, despite the fall in the population;
  • Entries to Spanish have risen making it the most popular language at A level while there has been a relative increase in entries to German for the first time since 2007;
  • Maths remains the most popular subject at A level;
  • Since 2010, total entries in mathematics and further mathematics have increased by 20.0%, despite a 10.7% fall in the A level cohort population in the period;
  • Entries to both history and geography have increased;
  • Girls narrowly outperform boys at A and A* combined, reversing last year’s trend, but boys did better than girls at A*;
  • The North East has the highest overall pass rate and the biggest percentage improvement at A and A* grades;
  • A drop in the proportion of A-level results at the top grades to the lowest level in more than a decade.
  • There has been a rise in non-EU students coming to the country to study; and
  • A rise in nursing admissions – bucking a recent trend.
  • The gap between boys and girls increased this year with 73.3% of male students achieving a C grade or above compared with 77.2% of females.
  • The gap between boys and girls increased this year with 73.3% of male students achieving a C grade or above compared with 77.2% of females.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: I congratulate everyone receiving their A level results today. The new government will do all we can to improve funding for education and to give schools the powers they need to deal with bad behaviour and bullying so that pupils can learn. We also must focus much more attention on providing great apprenticeships for all those who do not go to university.

The new Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, also spoke on A level results day.

Angela Rayner MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, stated: Congratulations to everyone receiving their A-Level results today. And thank you to parents and carers, education leaders and teachers for their hard work in supporting young people through their education. We need to give more support to our students, so Labour will abolish predicted grades and implement post-qualification admissions. This will allow those studying to make informed choices, and reduce the stress of the transition to higher education. Students should be proud of what they have achieved today, and we are proud of them.”

The Office for Students has A level day commentary and coverage. Among the links are Sir Michael Barber speaking on information, advice and guidance plus fair access. Nicola Dandridge on unconditional offers (iNews picks up on this too, and the Telegraph states the OfS are ‘poised to intervene’ on the issue quoting Dandridge as saying “we can and we will” use regulatory powers to crack down on the worst offenders.)  Dandridge is also covered in the Times on improving the ease for students to transfer between institutions.

The Telegraph report on the busiest clearing even in: More students go straight to clearing as Russell Group universities drop grades to take extra applicants. The Telegraphy also have an article by Universities Minister, Jo Johnson, who returns to ‘bums on seats’ mode in Results day is not a chance to simply get students through the door.

There is always press about exams being too easy or too hard on A level results day. The Financial Times started a day early highlight leaks that A grades for maths, biology and physics would be awarded by some Boards to students achieving 55-59%.

Fans of Wonkhe’s David Kernohan will be delighted with his latest analysis:

  • The Sunday Times splashed on the idea that 48 per cent of (essay-based) A level results are “wrong” – which prompted a delightful correctionfrom Ofqual that could only really be improved if it was written in red ink. For many subjects, marking is based on qualitative criteria that rely on academic judgement. There will be variation, though a well argued and well constructed essay will always win out.
  • And The Times’ Sian Griffiths reportedthat some students would get the highest grade without achieving a particularly high percentage mark. As we all know this is due to the Ofqual quest for “comparable outcomes” if you change the assessment method to one that gives students more trouble, the average marks for each grade will be lower assuming the population taking the exam has broadly the same characteristics. The whole set of boundaries leaked yesterday on social media to generalised merriment.
  • Away from A level performance, the classic “Mickey Mouse” courses articlecame from the Mail this year – an annual failure to understand the idea of niche courses serving a specific local needs, the need to widen participation, and the limited utility of A levels in solving either issue. And – yes – there’s a “Campaign for Real Education” quote.

Which leaves us only with one question – why in today’s digital world is results coverage still depicted by a shock horror/happy face supposedly examining their results on a piece of paper?! (Exhibit A and B!)

Results Day Records: UCAS has welcomed ‘a record number of disadvantaged young people going to university’:

  • A record 17.3% of 18 year olds (18,900 students, which is also the highest on A level results day) from the most disadvantaged backgrounds in England have been accepted (a rise of 0.8% on 2018). This slightly narrows the gap between the most and least advantaged groups. Both Wales and Northern Ireland have new highs in disadvantage acceptances too.
  • Across the UK, 28.2% of all 18 year olds have been accepted through UCAS, also a new record for results day (last year’s figure on A level results day was 27.7%).
  • A new high of 33,630 international students from outside the EU have been accepted, driven by a 32% rise in accepted applicants from China.
  • 26,440 EU students have been accepted to study in the UK, a small rise compared to the 2018 results day.

Clearing: Last year nationally 15,000 students were placed through Clearing on the day after the A level results came out, with 39,000 placed within the first five days. Updates on the national picture of applicants and acceptances is regularly updated through UCAS’ daily clearing analysis page. We wish all BU staff involved in Clearing resilience and fortitude during this busy period!

Widening Access

Scotland are proactively tackling social mobility by guaranteeing offers for care experienced and the most deprived students. Scotland’s 18 higher education institutions have set out a new commitment that care experienced applicants who meet minimum entry requirements will be guaranteed an offer of an undergraduate place from autumn 2020. The move aims to drive a significant increase in the number of care experienced people going to university. This guaranteed offer is crucial because in Scotland, partially because of the funding system, demand for places outstrips supply – on average, only half of applications are likely to result in an offer even for students who meet standard entry requirements. The guaranteed offer is informed by the universities belief in the importance of recognising the context in which care experienced applicants have achieved the entry qualifications needed for university.

Most pioneering is that Scotland has defined ‘care experienced’ without limits. It includes anyone who has been or is currently in care or from a looked after background at any stage of their life, no matter how short, including adopted children who were previously looked after. Different forms of care settings are included (e.g. residential care, foster care, kinship care, or looked after at home with a supervision requirement) and there are no age restrictions (so an adult who was in care 40 years ago can also benefit). The guaranteed offer also applies to people living in the 20% most deprived Scottish areas, known as SIMD20.

Professor Sally Mapstone, Principal of the University of St Andrews said: “This is a decisive and, I hope, catalytic step jointly taken by Scotland’s universities. It gives due recognition to the substantial achievement of people with experience of care who are successful in getting the grades for university having overcome very challenging circumstances at a young age. We hope it will enable more people with care experience to feel confident applying to university, knowing that their application is encouraged and will be supported. It is important that all of Scotland’s universities have made this guarantee together. That should provide the greatest possible clarity and visibility of this change to people with care experience wherever they live in Scotland and wherever they want to study.

It’s hoped that that universities’ guaranteed offer of a place based on new minimum entry requirements exclusive to care experienced and MD20 applicants, will be a prove to be a powerful combination of both action and words that together signal the commitment universities have to creating opportunities for those with care experience and encourage a rise in applicants.”

Disability & Disadvantage

The APPG Assistive Technology has published a report into the disabled students’ allowance finding the £200 charge is a significant deterrent for new students. The £200 contribution was introduced by the Government as a fair contribution towards the price of a high powered laptop that is capable of running resource-intensive assistive software. However, students often make do with their existing lower-tech computing equipment and forgo the disability support package of software. Furthermore, the APPG state the cost of the disability assessment is wasted and borne by the taxpayer as the student doesn’t take the package up. The report calls on the government to remove upfront assistive technology costs and open a public consultation on all financial barriers associated with the Disabled Students’ Allowance. Policy Connect, who  publish the report on behalf of the APPG, state:

The increasing number of disabled people reaching university is a major step forward for inclusion and social mobility. More disabled people rightly see university as an option for them and the growing culture of disability inclusion within the UK has encouraged more students to disclose their impairments. Yet when disabled students get to university they still face a persistent gap in experience and outcomes compared to their non-disabled peers.

Policy Connect also manage the HE Commission who are undertaking an inquiry into the university experience of disabled students. It focuses on the three strands of student life: teaching and learning; living and social; and transition and employment. It aims to explore the challenges faced by disabled students and whether current interventions are good practice and effective. Disabled students are less likely to complete their course, are lower paid as graduates and are more likely to experience loneliness. Working age adults with a disability also access university in lower numbers than expected – less than 17.5% of working age adults with a disability access university. The Commission will hold a parliamentary oral evidence session in September. The report is due early in 2020.

The  National Deaf Children’s Society  has published  analysis on deaf children falling behind at school

Social Justice: FACE have a blog establishing that ECRs (Early Career Researchers) are deeply interested in social justice, social mobility and improving the student experience – despite this being primarily outside of their ECR roles. The article talks of how to offer ECRs greater involvement within social solutions for students through their evaluation expertise.

Immigration

Within days of Boris taking the reins he dropped the net migration target and began pursuing a more internationally friendly policy than Theresa May. And this week the one millionth person was granted settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme.

International STEM talent: The Home Office has launched a fast-track immigration STEM talent scheme building on the existing Tier 1 Exceptional Talent visa route.  The new scheme will provide eligible individuals with a three-year visa, during which they can come and go from the UK at will. At the end of three years, those on the scheme would be able apply for indefinite leave to remain (giving a permanent right to reside in the UK and access to benefits and healthcare on the same basis as British citizens). The scheme does not have a minimum salary requirement and individuals do not need to secure a job before arriving in the UK (unlike the existing Tier 2 route for skilled workers). Individuals will be able to bring dependants (spouses/partners and children) and they will be able to work or study while here. Visa fees that are commensurate with existing immigration fees will be charged. A review of funding the immigration system, including fees charged will take place in the future. The talent scheme aims to ensure that those with specialist skills in STEM subjects can come to the UK and make an important contribution to our leading science and research sectors, significantly enhancing the intellectual and knowledge base of the UK. The entire Tier 1 Exceptional Talent route is earmarked for revamp and rebranding over the new parliamentary period.

UK post-study work visa comparison

The Scottish Government have published a comparative report on how the UK’s post-study work offer compares with competitor countries.

  • The popularity of international education continues to grow, and the volume of student mobility is at an all-time high. In 2015, there were an estimated 4.6 million globally mobile higher education students, a massive increase from the 2.1 million students who went abroad in 2001.
  • The US, the UK, China, France, and Australia rank as top host destinations of international students worldwide and collectively host an estimated two thirds of all international students. In terms of student numbers, the US is the global leader for international students with 971,000 students in 2016, followed by the UK which had 432,000 international students in the same year. At the same time, however, international students comprised only 5% of the total student population in the US as compared to 18% in the UK.

The following factors are significant in student destination choice:

  • The academic offer and the international reputation of a given university or a given country’s education system more generally, as well as language of instruction/official language of the country.
  • Ease of meeting formal requirements (fulfilling university recruitment and visa requirements).
  • Finances: affordability of studying and living in the host country; sponsorship opportunities in host country.
  • Presence of networks in the host country; general atmosphere in a given country: attitudes towards international students (and immigrants in general), lifestyle.
  • Work opportunities during and after studies.
  • For those looking to emigrate permanently – the country’s immigration policy and pathways to settlement post-study.

The report concludes that to improve its global competitiveness in terms of attracting and retaining international students, the UK should:

  • Introduce a more competitive post-study work offer taking into consideration ease of application and application timescales, programme length, work entitlement, and opportunities for applying to the programme after leaving the UK.
  • Implement additional measures supporting the longer term retention of international students, such as: language and employability support; integration programmes; provision of information and advice on conditions of stay, employment opportunities, and life in the UK; creating opportunities for establishing professional networks.
  • Ensure systematic monitoring of the programme and its implementation to prevent its potential misuse (and evaluate its effectiveness).

Visa Checking Dissatisfaction

International students are unable to access the visa checking services they are entitled to and are resorting to paying additional fees to gain appointments. Sopra Steria holds the contract for the UK Visa and Citizenship Application services to enrol and check the biometric information on visa applications. UUK are campaigning for Sopra Steria to immediately improve the service they are offering. Currently students are unable to get checking appointments, the online service isn’t accessible or compatible with the use of assistive technology, there are further problems with the online service and an exorbitant telephone support line charge to resolve these problems. Students have resorted to paying additional charges to fast track their appointments and traveling a distance away from their university to attend these. UUK is calling on the company to resolve these issues quickly before the September ‘student surge’ when 40,000+ students will need to register their biometric details.

Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said: Despite constructive engagement between the Home Office, UKVI and universities, the current capacity and level of service being offered by Sopra Steria remains unacceptable. Students and universities cannot be expected to pay to address Sopra Steria’s broken system. We are calling on Sopra Steria to fully address these concerns before the September surge of students so that students can start their courses with the visas they need. International students make a huge cultural and economic contribution to the UK. Sopra Steria should be helping to send a more welcoming message to international students, signalling that the UK is open to talented individuals from around the world, as is the case at our universities.

Elisa Calcagni, a PhD student from Chile studying at the University of Cambridge, thought the service she received from Sopra Steria was very disappointing:  As a non-EEA national I was required to enrol my biometrics through Sopra Steria. I had not expected any additional charges but I found it virtually impossible to find a free appointment. The time window for bookings on the online system only covers two weeks and there were no free appointments available, or any appointments at all in Cambridge. I called the Sopra Steria support line and they suggested to keep checking the website for cancelled appointments. I didn’t want the uncertainty of constantly checking the system with no guarantee of an appointment becoming available, so I selected to pay £100 for an appointment in Croydon, two hours away. Despite booking a timed appointment, there was a waiting time of an hour and then the system wasn’t working properly leading to further delays.

Khalid Elkhereiji, a student at the University of Southampton, said: “I use a screen reader which reads on-screen text aloud. Trying to login in to my UKVCAS account to book the appointment I needed for my visa was very frustrating as none of the screen readers I used were able to detect the checkbox which must be selected to confirm the person logging in is not a robot. I spent hours trying to do this, carefully repeating the same steps as it was not possible to identify the issue. This is not a problem that I face with other websites and it meant I was not able to login without the assistance of a sighted person…I have explained my concerns with the accessibility of the service to Sopra Steria and I believe it is a relatively simple issue to fix, however I have not had any further updates from Sopra Steria and there has been no confirmation that their website is inclusive and accessible to everyone.

HEPI have published Two sides of the same coin? Brexit and future student demand. The report concludes that the best available evidence points in opposite direction for student demand predictions. Nick Hillman, summarises:

  • There is a broad consensus that says Brexit will mean far less demand for UK higher education. When EU students are no longer entitled to taxpayer-subsidised tuition fee loans and face much higher international fees, they are likely to look elsewhere or stay at home. Research we published back in 2017 suggested the number of students who come from the EU could halve.
  • But there is an important historical precedent that tells a rather different story. Until the early 1980s, all international students coming to the UK were subsidised by taxpayers. At the time, the consensus said their numbers would fall off a cliff. In fact, the end of the subsidy laid the foundations for what eventually became a big expansion in international students. Universities realised they could charge fees high enough to cover the full costs of teaching and more. When international students subsidise other activities, such as underfunded research programmes, there is a strong incentive to recruit more of them.
  • No one knows for certain whether the pessimistic economic modelling or the optimistic historical precedent is the better guide to the future. Perhaps the impact of Brexit on student numbers will end up lying somewhere between these two extremes. What happens will depend, to some extent, on whether the new crop of Ministers decide to roll out the red carpet for international students – for example, by streamlining visa procedures, improving post-study work rules and clarifying the rules for EU students after Brexit. It will also depend on how institutions choose to respond to Brexit

Headline Estimates/Findings:

  • 31,000 fewer incoming EU students each year (-57%), representing a loss of fee income of £40 million, as a result of the changes to fee and loan entitlements;
  • 20,000 more non-EU students (+9%) and EU students (+10%) each year, representing an increase in fee income of over £225 million, as a result of the change in the value of the pound.
  • a net drop of roughly 11,000 incoming students but over £185 million more fee income for institutions, as all incoming students would then be paying the full international fees.
  • Institutions foresee the considerable growth of students from non-EU countries continuing, collectively forecasting an increase of over 56,000 by 2022, or 20% (although the Chair of the Office for Students has complained about ‘over-optimistic student recruitment forecasts’)

Policy Takeaways:

  • The best modelling that has been undertaken on changes to fees and loans suggests there will be a big drop in the number of EU students coming to the UK after Brexit.
  • Changes to the value of the pound are also likely to determine the degree to which institutions are affected.
  • Ending subsidies for students from other countries can sometimes provide new financial incentives on institutions to enrol them.

Parliament

We have a refreshed Cabinet (here is a link to a lovely wall chart!) and here is a reminder of Labour’s shadow cabinet.

  • Universities Minister is Jo Johnson, for his second stint in the role, he remains with joint lines of responsibility to both the Department for Education and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). His reappointment to the Universities role has prompted much speculation about unfinished business in the BU policy office and is interesting when taken in context with the new Education appointees, some of which are tough characters or old hands. For the first time ever the Universities Minister will attend Cabinet too.  Jo’s BEIS responsibilities have been set as: science and research, innovation, intellectual property, space, agri-tech, technology.
  • Heading up Education is Gavin Williamson (yes he who was ousted by Theresa May for leaking while he was SoS for Defence) in the chief role of Secretary of State for Education. His responsibilities cover early years, children’s social care, teachers’ pay, school curriculum, school improvement, academies and free schools, further education, higher education, apprenticeships and skills. He has no previous experience in an education role, nor in his non-political career.
  • Nick Gibb is Minister of State (Minister for School Standards) and holds a wide school responsibility remit. He has held an education role almost continually since 2005 both in Government and the shadow cabinet, including school reform and school standards before a brief stint as Equalities Minister (2017-2018). Nick retained this, his previous role, in the Boris reshuffle.
  • Kemi Badenoch is a Parliamentary Under Secretary of State and Minister for Children and Families. Among her responsibilities are social care, SEN, race disparity audit, disadvantaged pupils, social mobility and opportunity areas. She has no previous ministerial experience, was only elected to the Commons in 2017, and is heavily pregnant (you can see her views on MP motherhood here).
  • Lord Agnew has an unpaid role as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State and Minister for the School System. His responsibilities include university technical colleges. Within the Lords, since 2017, he held position as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the School System and Government Spokesperson. He was also a non-executive Director within DfE (2010-15).  Lord Agnew retained this, his previous role in the Boris reshuffle.
  • Engineer and running fanatic Chris Green is the team PPS (Parliamentary Private Secretary). He has an interest in education and plethora of relevant APPG memberships including artificial intelligence, life sciences, medical research (and medical devices), engineering, health, youth employment, digital skills and he was a member of the Science and Technology Select Committee (2015-2017).

The Apprenticeships and Skills Minister (Anne Milton’s old role) has been removed. SoS Gavin Williamson has assumed these responsibilities into his brief, with Ministerial support from the new Children’s Minister, Kemi Badenoch. A DfE spokesperson stated: As the Prime Minister has said, further education and skills will be a priority for this government – and the Education Secretary taking the lead for this vital work is a reflection of that commitment.

Previous Universities Minister, Chris Skidmore, is now Minister of State for Health and Social Care.

In local news Conor Burns (who was Boris’ PPS) has been promoted to Minister of State for International Trade. Tobias Ellwood has stepped down from his two year stint within the Minister of Defence. And Simon Hoare retains his post as Chair of the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs.

Humanities bias within Cabinet: It is unsurprising to note that 67% of the new Cabinet attended a Russell Group university (45% at Oxbridge). However, what is perhaps slightly surprising, given the negative rhetoric and rumblings about downgrading the fee level for certain subjects, is that 87% of the Cabinet studied programmes within the humanities and social sciences field. For more on who studied what and where see this HEPI blog.

UUK lobby new PM:  UUK call on Boris to take action in 5 areas to maximise the role of universities within his domestic and global ambitions:

  1. Recommit to the 2.4% of GDP investment in research and development by 2027. Plus immigration system favourable to bring in the most talented global researchers.
  2. Back the two-year post-study work visa amendment within the Immigration Bill, alongside lowering the salary threshold for international workers to obtain a high-skilled work visa to £21,000.
  3. For domestic success including regional growth, skills workforce, equality of opportunity and social mobility UUK call for secure long term and sustainable funding for universities and students. Including reintroducing maintenance grants and cutting the on-programme interest rate on the loans. Overhauling so students better understand the student finance system.
  4. Acknowledge the importance of the university experience – support mental health, widening access and end the BAME attainment gap.
  5. Avoid no-deal Brexit, retain Horizon Europe and Erasmus+.

And it seems Boris was listening (or more likely had already decided):

Education featured as a core element within a speech Boris made in late July:

  1. We will give every child the world class education they deserve. Which is why we will increase the minimum level of per pupil funding in primary and secondary schools and return education funding to previous levels by the end of this parliament.
  2. And we cannot afford the chronic under-funding of our brilliant FE colleges, which do so much to support young people’s skills and our economy. We have a world class university sector; in fact it is one of the biggest concentrations of higher education anywhere in Europe right here in this city – why should we not aspire to the same status for our further education institutions, to allow people to express their talents?
  3. We will double down on our investment in R&D, we will accelerate the talks on those free trade deals… If we unite our country, with better education, better infrastructure, with an emphasis on new technology, then this really can be a new golden age for the UK.

Other new Education related appointees

  • Ofsted – Julie Kirkbride, Hamid Patel, Martin Spencer, Carole Stott and Baroness Wyld appointed as board members, and John Cridland and Vanessa Wilms reappointed.
  • Ofqual – Susan Barratt, Matt Tee and Mike Thompson appointed as board members, and Roger Taylor reappointed as Chair.
  • Migration Advisory Committee – Madeleine Sumption reappointed as Chair for a further three years. (Relevant because the MAC are looking at the immigration thresholds for post-study work visas.)
  • Royal College of Midwives – Sasha Wells, Neil Tomlin, Natalie Linder, Dee Davies, Keelie Barrett, Janet Ballintine, Sarah Jones have been elected to the Board as members.

Brexit

On Tuesday Parliamentarians hoping to stop a no-deal Brexit through the courts will get a chance to make their case in September. A Scottish judge agree Friday 6 September for the legal case aimed at curbing the Prime Minister’s ability to prorogue Parliament in order to push a no-deal exit past MPs will be heard. The legal bid has been backed by more than 70 MPs and peers, and seeks to get the Court of Session in Edinburgh – which, unlike English courts, sits throughout the summer – to rule that suspending Parliament would be “unlawful and unconstitutional”.  Papers lodged with the court say: “Seeking to use the power to prorogue Parliament to avoid further parliamentary participation in the withdrawal of the UK from the EU is both unlawful and unconstitutional.” Judge Lord Doherty on Tuesday confirmed that a full hearing for the legal petition would now take place on 6 September, just days after MPs return from the summer recess.

However, a poll suggests that Boris Johnson would be backed by a majority of the public if he shut down Parliament in order to achieve Brexit. A ComRes study for The Telegraph  found that 44% of the public agree that the Prime Minister “needs to deliver Brexit by any means, including suspending Parliament if necessary, in order to prevent MPs from stopping it”.  37% of the public were opposed to the move, while 19% said they did not know. Boris has repeatedly refused to rule out the controversial move,  sparking an outcry from MPs  and warnings it would prompt a constitutional crisis.

No Deal

Political monitoring consultants, Dods, set out seven scenarios by which Parliamentary alliances could prevent a no-deal exit (scroll to page 8). This is a mid-July document, the scenarios are still valid and simply explain the constitutional complexities and assess the likelihood of stopping no deal.

As time progresses and the likelihood of the UK leaving the EU without a deal increases the commentary and analysis of the no deal scenario has proliferated. The House of Commons Library have produced a briefing paper giving links to a range of 2019 publications by private sector organisations, think tanks, research institutes and other academic institutions on a no-deal exit from the EU. The papers consider the general political, constitutional and economic implications of a no-deal Brexit rather than its effects in particular sectors.

And you won’t have missed Corbyn’s bold move to cement no deal opposition by seizing power for a care taking Government to prevent crashing out of the EU, followed closely by a general election.

Trade Deals: Two day visit by John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, has set out that America is keen to make post-Brexit trade deals with the UK. The deals are likely to be piecemeal starting with key quick win sectors and progressively continuing on to encompass other areas.

Degree Apprenticeships

Degree apprenticeships are four years old and the OfS conducted research to find out what motivated these earlier adopters to choose a degree apprenticeship instead of the traditional full time undergraduate study route. Their report finds:

  • Achieving a degree whilst earning a salary was the most motivating factor for 90% of level 6 and 92% of level 7 students. The OfS believe this is because degree apprenticeships represent value for money and are a kickback to the cost and level of student debt accrued through the traditional route.
  • 38% of level 6 students would have undertaken the traditional degree if they hadn’t chosen the apprenticeship. OfS state this demonstrates degree apprenticeships are seen as an alternative to traditional HE degrees by many. Two thirds of students (at both levels) determined for themselves that degree apprenticeships would be the best fit for their needs.
  • 90% (L6) and 78% (L7) believe the degree apprenticeship boosted their career by advancing them more quickly than a traditional degree could.
  • Level 6 and 7 respondents have different educational and employment backgrounds and different motivational drivers
    • Level 6 learners tended to be younger, often recently joining the labour market and typically described the degree apprenticeship as a way to kick start their careers. It was also seen as a good route to achieve self-employment.
    • Level 7 respondents tended to be older and were more likely to have different motivations behind attaining a degree apprenticeship, such as retraining to keep pace with the general labour market skill level and achieving career progression.
  • The Level 7 respondents found that the employer was pivotal in providing information on degree apprenticeships but also advice and support. [Interesting given the claims that current careers support signposts to a traditional degree route rather than alternatives.] Whereas Level 6 respondents relied on their friends and family for advice and support. [It seems reasonable that the age profile difference is a factor in where the student sought advice from here.]However, the OfS believe this access to advice reinforces the assumption that workforce development and retraining are important motivators among Level 7 respondents where Level 6 apprentices view it as a way into employment.

The report concluded: With 31% of Level 6 respondents coming to degree apprenticeships directly from schools, sixth form colleges and other education routes there must be information and guidance on degree apprenticeships here as well. This will help to ensure learners understand the available options so maximising the potential of degree apprenticeships. Expanding the number of employers who support degree apprenticeships is also important to not only the supply of degree apprenticeships, but also to ensure this source of information is able to adequately promote degree apprenticeships among potential learners.

Young Aspirations

More recently, the Sutton Trust and Ipsos Mori have published a report following their survey into 11-16 year olds’ University Aspirations and Attitudes to HE.

Almost two-thirds (64%) of young people said they’d be interested in doing an apprenticeship rather than going to university, if one was available for a job they wanted to do. Meanwhile, just under two-thirds (65%) said they think it’s important to go to university. This has fallen from a high of 86% in 2013, with the proportion who feel that going to university is not important rising from 11% in 2013 to 20% in 2019.

Key Findings:

  • Almost nine out of 10 (85%) said it’s important to be confident to do well and get on in life. Three quarters felt that having connections was crucial, with 75% saying that ‘knowing the right people’ is important for success in life.
  • University was deemed less important for young people from the least affluent families (61% compared with 67% in ‘high affluence’ households), and white pupils (62% compared with 75% of young people from a BME background).
  • Three-quarters (77%) of young people think they’re likely to go on to higher education after school. This is a similar rate to the past few years, but slightly below the high of 81% in 2013.
  • Of the young people who said it was unlikely they would go into higher education, the most common set of reasons (62%) was they don’t like the idea or don’t enjoy learning or studying. 43% cited a financial reason, while 41% said that they weren’t clever enough or wouldn’t get good enough exam results to get in.
  • Two-fifths (40%) of young people who are likely to go to university or who aren’t sure either way yet, are worried about the cost of higher education, down from 46% in 2018. However, money worries continue to be pronounced for young people from the least affluent families (50% compared with 32% in ‘high affluence’ households) and for girls over boys (44% vs 36%).

Sutton Trust make the following recommendations:

  • All pupils should receive a guaranteed level of careers advice from professional impartial advisers.
  • Maintenance grants, abolished in 2016, should be restored
  • The government should introduce a system of means-tested fees which waives fees entirely for those from low income background
  • There should be more higher and degree apprenticeships, targeted at younger age groups, to give young people a platform for progression to higher level learning and careers, including through university.

Gordon Marsden MP, Labour’s Shadow Higher Education Minister, responding to the downturn in HE aspirations, stating:

These figures show how badly this government has failed young people. As a result, more students are expressing doubts about higher education. Young people are paying the price for a system that burdens them with debt, and doesn’t provide the guidance and support they need. We need to support young people. That’s why Labour will restore EMA, and scrap fees for college and university. We’ll also scrap university offers based on predicted grades and implement a new fairer system of post-qualification admissions.

Labour’s Education Proposals

In addition to stimulating the post qualification admissions debate earlier this month Labour published their interim Lifelong Learning Commission report which informs the Party’s proposals for a national education service from cradle to grave. Interesting are the points they identify as inadequate in the current education and funding system. It mainly picks up on the same themes as the Conservatives have highlighted – FE, disadvantage, retraining due to fourth industrial revolution job changes, and part time students – albeit with stronger emphasis on FE and more flexible/shorter study models. A major departure from Government thinking is their criticism of apprenticeships:

Apprenticeships and Further Education Reforms: The push toward apprenticeships as the primary choice for training has been at the expense of shorter, more flexible modes of training. Not all adults are in a position to be able to commit to the minimum duration required by an apprenticeship, and apprenticeships are often not the most appropriate form of learning for adults who already have substantial employment experience. 

Student Loans

Paula Sussex, the (relatively) new CEO of the Student Loans Company, made an interesting speech to a NUS Conference. It has a clear tone of doing better by their ‘customers’ and explains recent changes made to improve the service and make it more digitally enabled.

Loan Debt

The Labour Party have analysed Government projects and estimate that graduate student debt interest will rise by £4.2bn to £8.6bn by 2024.  DfE figures show this rise is due to the post-2012 undergraduate loans 6.3% interest charge. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has estimated that less than 20% of graduate will fully pay back their student loans.

According to the House of Commons Library, the cash value of loans has increased from below £6 billion (2011-12) to £15 billion (2017-18) and is forecast to reach in excess of £20 billion in 2023-24. This increase is driven primarily by higher fees from 2012, but also replacing grants with loans and expansion of loans to part-time and postgraduate students. The ultimate cost to taxpayer is currently thought to be around 47% of the loan value.

What affect could the intentions of the Augar review have on this?

The Augar Review recommended a headline cut to tuition fees, the return to maintenance grants and a cut to interest during study to RPI + 0%. It also suggested a cut to the repayment threshold from £25,000 to £23,000 in today’s money, and an increase in the repayment term from 30 to 40 years. The final change recommended by Augar was a repayment cap equal to 1.2 times the value of the loan.

The IFS estimate that the full package of these reforms would overall create a system that was considerably less “leaky”, with roughly 50% of graduates paying off their loans under the Augar model compared to less than 20% under the current system.

The proposed Augar system has mixed effects for social demographics:

  • Highest earners would see reductions in their repayments of around £30,000 in today’s money (and we know disadvantaged students struggle to access the top paying jobs).
  • Middle earners would see increases of around £15,000.
  • The biggest winners would be those in the top 10% of lifetime earners who grew up in low income households qualifying them for the full maintenance grant; those people could expect to see reductions in lifetime repayments of approximately £40,000

Augar – University funding

The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee have published Science research funding in universities considering the Augar Review’s implications for Science Research Funding within HE. The report criticises the Augar review for failing to take a holistic approach to the funding of universities and recognises that the current research system is being cross-subsided by other areas of funding in the higher education ecosystem, including international student fees. The report recommends that if the Government follows any of the recommendations of the review relating to tuition fees, it must implement them as a full financial package, including increasing the teaching grant to cover the loss of tuition fees, to ensure that universities are no worse off than they are now. The report expresses concern that the proposals would erode the autonomy of universities. In particular, the proposal that the Office for Students should determine the value of teaching grant awarded to individual institutions for different subjects.

Funding/Augar:

  • QR funding is vital in allowing universities to cover the full economic cost of research, and in helping universities to fund research infrastructure which is often not covered by other sources of funding. QR funding must rise by at least the rate of inflation and the deficit that has been created since 2010 should be addressed.
  • Reducing the tuition fee cap in England to £7,500 without compensating universities for this loss in full by increasing the teaching grant will result in significant financial consequences for universities. The immediate casualties of such a reduction in income will likely be widening-participation programmes, student experience, infrastructure maintenance and repair, and the hands-on elements of courses.
  • The Augar Review recommends that the social and economic value of different subjects be determined by the Office for Students, taking account of the subject’s relative importance with respect to alignment with the Government’s Industrial Strategy and a range of other factors such as the financial viability of the university and its contribution to the local economy. This recommended process is far from straightforward and is certain to be controversial. We are concerned that it will be fraught with difficulties and that it will remove autonomy from universities.
  • Whoever has the responsibility for determining the value of teaching grant awards must do so using clear metrics to assess the impact on the research base. Given the complex nature of the cross-subsidies universities employ in managing their finances, seemingly small disruptions to inputs could have significant unintended consequences for research.

Brexit:

  • We urge the Government to associate the UK with Horizon Europe as soon as possible, to ensure certainty and stability for researchers in universities and industry.
  • Public funding for research in universities after Brexit should seek to replace not just the amount of funding but the areas it supports, like discovery research and scientific infrastructure and facilities. It is important to the scientific community that the basis for awarding funding is research excellence.
  • Retaining the mobility of researchers after Brexit is vital to ensuring the UK can continue to attract the best researchers and meet its research and development goals. The Government must ensure post-Brexit immigration laws do not hinder the ability of UK universities to recruit and retain the scientific staff they require, including technicians earning below the recommended salary threshold. In doing so the Government must also give consideration to amending immigration laws relating to families and dependants of those scientific staff.

With Jo Johnson back in the Universities Minister hot seat the implementation of (elements of) Augar will be closely watched. Jo was resistant to the review in the first place, often urging the sector to ‘pipe down’ and not call for the HE Review to take place. His refusal to support the review was one of the factors in his step down from the Ministerial responsibilities.  Upon publication Jo remained opposed to the outcome of Augar tweeting: “Looks like Augar (as predicted) will destabilise uni finances, imperil many courses & reverse progress in widening access. Reducing fees to £7.5k will leave funding hole HMT won’t fill + benefit only highest earning grads at expense of general taxpayer. Bad policy, bad politics”.

Changes to fees and loans

The Department for Education has published a Written Ministerial Statement on Higher Education Student Finance:  https://bit.ly/2LAO5cn  Made by: Chris Skidmore (The Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation) (The Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation).

Key Points:

  • Maximum tuition fees for the 2020/21 academic year in England will be maintained at the levels that apply in the 2019/20 academic year, the third year in succession that fees have been frozen. This means that the maximum level of tuition fees for a standard full-time course will remain at £9,250 for the 2020/21 academic year.
  • Maximum undergraduate loans for living costs will be increased by forecast inflation (2.9%) in 2020/21. And the same increase will apply to maximum disabled students’ allowances for students with disabilities undertaking full-time and part-time undergraduate courses in 2020/21.
  • Maximum loans for students starting master’s degree and doctoral degree courses from 1 August 2020 onwards will be increased by forecast inflation (2.9%) in 2020/21. And the same increase will apply to the maximum disabled students’ allowance for postgraduate students with disabilities in 2020/21.
  • I expect to lay regulations implementing changes to student finance for undergraduates and postgraduates for 2020/21 late in 2019 or early in 2020. These regulations will be subject to Parliamentary scrutiny.
  • The Government will consider the recommendations of the independent panel to the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding, published on 30 May 2019, and will conclude the review at the Spending Review later this year.

Inquiries and Consultations

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

New business this week:

Did you know you can view all of BU’s older inquiries and consultation responses here?

Other news

AI: The Financial Times have two interesting articles on AI. First using AI for legal mediation and a second future focussed article which considers implants chips into a young brain to mimic thoughts and behaviour and learn how to simulate the biological brain by adulthood.

Foundation Years: A HEPI blog explores all that is valuable and good for students choosing to undertake a Foundation Year before commencing their degree level study. The blog responds to the dismissive tone of the Augar report which suggested universities were using this extra year to line their pockets at the expense of the student and taxpayers.

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