Tagged / post qualification applications

HE Policy Update for the w/e 7th May 2021

We’re a little bit late this week, but we hope you enjoy the latest update.  If anything exciting crops up in the Queen’s Speech on Tuesday we will let you know.  In the meantime we are all looking forward to the next set of Covid announcements  – with hugging!

Queen’s Speech speculation: Free Speech

You’ll have noted the policy team enjoy a good Commons or Lords Library briefing. This week’s offering from the Lords Library explores the education announcements that may be made through next week’s Queen’s Speech. The Queen’s Speech sets the tone and the agenda for the Parliamentary session. For HE there isn’t expected to be much (the really big things like fees and funding are being saved for the Spending Review in the Autumn).  But we can expect announcements on the skills agenda, which is directly not about HE, but is relevant to us – partly because it is about the government focus on alternatives to HE.  Otherwise the most relevant content is likely to be announcements on free speech.

Dods have their own little speculation on the free speech Government agenda:

  • Looking ahead, the briefing predicts what I’ve already been hearing from sources: First, that there will be something substantial around higher education, with a particular focus on freedom of speech. Second, that the Government will legislate for skills provision, based on the blueprint laid out in the recent White Paper.
  • The second option is more likely to make it into a full Bill, due to its prominence within Whitehall and as part of the post-pandemic recovery. The HE changes are more likely to take the form of amendments to the existing HERA and other legislation, although we shouldn’t rule out a HE Bill either. It all depends how much political capital the Government are willing to use on what is becoming known as ‘culture war’ moves, such as the free speech champion.

If the free speech agenda doesn’t float your boat you can read the speculative briefings on a myriad of other areas too – justice, digital, housing, biodiversity, alcohol harm, international development, NHS staffing, LGBTI+ and much more. The topics are displayed across multiple pages so keep clicking through to find out what is coming up in your interest area.

Meanwhile Wonkhe tell us that Conservative Home has an opinion piece, which argues that instead of creating additional legislation to protect freedom of speech in universities, the government should instead review the harassment provision within the Equality Act 2010.

Neither the Student Loans (Debt Discharge) Bill nor the Higher Education Cheating Services Prohibition Bill completed the parliamentary process before Parliament was prorogued last Thursday and were not “carried over”. This mean both Bills have been dropped and would have to be reintroduced (not as easy as it sounds) and start from scratch in the new Parliament to proceed. Neither Bill had made much progress through the stages which highlights both the little time available for private members bills and that they were not of great interest to the Government.   We’re not expecting them to be in the Queen’s Speech.

Levelling Up White Paper

The Government announced they will publish a Levelling Up White Paper later this year. It will articulate how new policy interventions will improve opportunity and boost livelihoods across the country as we recover from the pandemic. Despite the challenges of Covid-19, levelling up and ensuring that the whole UK can benefit from the same access to opportunities remains core to the Government’s vision. The Prime Minister intends to lead on the White Paper and has set up a new No 10 Cabinets Office Unit and appointed Neil O’Brien MP as his Levelling Up Adviser. The proposed policies will focus on challenges including improving living standards, growing the private sector and increasing and spreading opportunity. Also work being undertaken to repair the damage done by Covid to public services, with backlogs in hospitals and courts prioritised alongside school catch ups and jobs.

Neil O’Brien MP said: Levelling up has been a real passion of mine for many years, and I’m incredibly excited by the Prime Minister’s agenda. After such a challenging year, there has never been a better time to unite and level up the country. It’s absolutely crucial that we bring opportunity to every single part of the UK by making sure our spending, tax, investment and regeneration priorities bring about meaningful change.

Wonkhe have a blog: Downing Street has announced a new white paper on the levelling up agenda. Jim Dickinson asks if the MP leading the work can define it, explain it and achieve it.

Research

Industrial Strategy Challenges – The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee published a report on UK Research & Innovation’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. The Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) was set up to help address some of the complex issues the UK economy faces, including long-term low productivity and living standards. It was designed around four ‘grand challenges’: future mobility; clean growth; artificial intelligence and data; and the ageing society. Below are a summary of conclusions and recommendations within the report, compiled by Dods.

  1. UKRI’s Challenge Fund is insufficiently focused on what it is expected to deliver in terms of benefit to the UK. Recommendation: UKRI, working with the Department, should clearly set out, by October 2021, what it expects the Fund to deliver. This should include its impact on jobs and economic impact in the short, medium and long term.
  2. We are not convinced that UKRI’s and the Department’s approach to intellectual property generated by the Fund adequately protects taxpayers’ interests. Recommendation: UKRI should re-examine its current approach of not holding a claim on intellectual property generated through the Fund. It should write to the Committee by July 2021 setting out the results of its review and explain how it intends to best protect the taxpayers’ interests and maximise the value from taxpayer investment in the future.
  3. The Department has not yet made clear how it will make sure the UK will meet the target to spend 2.4% of its GDP on R&D by 2027. Recommendation: The Department should develop, and then publish, by October 2021, its plan setting out the steps it will take to meet the 2.4% spending target by 2027.
  4. Despite its focus on collaboration between companies of different sizes, the proportion of smaller companies benefiting from the Fund has declined. Recommendation: UKRI should, by October 2021, set out how it will increase SMEs involvement in the next wave of support from the Fund.
  5. UKRI is not doing enough to make sure the Fund is attracting successful bids from across the country. Recommendation: The Department and UKRI should, by October 2021, set out: the factors that are inhibiting more widespread participation in the Fund; and the steps they are taking to attract more interest in the Fund from across the UK.
  6. The elongated time taken by the Department and UKRI to provide funding to successful bidders risks putting off businesses from applying for the programme. Recommendation: The Department, HM Treasury and UKRI should set out by October 2021 how they intend to speed up the time taken to approve challenges and projects.
  7. Powers currently delegated by the Department and HM Treasury to UKRI do not strike the right balance between the governance necessary to support efficient decision making and unnecessary bureaucracy. Recommendation: The Department and HM Treasury should, by July 2021, review the conditions they place on UKRI to manage the Fund with a view to supporting more efficient decision making.
  8. The Department and HM Treasury should write to the Committee to explain the changes they have introduced together with their intended impact.

Research Culture – The Russell Group published Realising Our Potential – Backing Talent and Strengthening UK Research Culture and Environment – a report examining the current UK academic research culture and environment, including the system drivers and incentives which can create challenges and unintended consequences for researchers.  The Russell Group’s report is here

Through interviews with researchers and case studies of their own universities, the Group have compiled a Research Culture and Environment Toolkit containing practical suggestions. The report highlights the need for a more stable, long-term funding system for research. This, it says, will enable researchers to focus on what they do best: tackling challenges such as net zero, improving health and social outcomes across the UK and translating research into innovative new solutions with business. To foster ambitious, creative and innovative research the report says universities need a well-resourced and supportive research culture and environment which:

  1. Provides stable and appealing career paths, with equality of opportunity for all
  2. Values rigorous and open research, delivered through high-quality methods and high standards of research integrity
  3. Recognises and rewards the wide range of activities that contribute to an internationally excellent research environment
  4. Provides an inclusive, respectful and collegial environment in which researchers feel supported through their relationships with colleagues
  5. Prevents and addresses negative and unacceptable behaviours fairly and efficiently where they occur, including bullying and harassment.

The report is accompanied by a toolkit of practical ideas for universities, funders and publishers, including:

  • Improving long-term contractual job security for researchers, including through boosting quality-related ‘QR’ block grant funding for universities (and its equivalents in the devolved nations), and considering options to lengthen research grant funding periods and academic contracts.
  • Support for career progression, recognition and reward, including sufficient time for professional development, improving feedback provided by managers, funders and publishers, preparation for a range of career options, and ensuring evaluation, recognition and reward systems consider the wide range of activities that contribute to an internationally excellent research environment.
  • Enhancing the experience of working in research, including more recognition from funders and employers for management and leadership skills, reduced bureaucracy for researchers, access to support networks, and involving early career researchers more actively in decision making.
  • Creating inclusive and respectful environments, including dedicated schemes for those from underrepresented backgrounds and appropriate EDI-related training for decision makers, transparent reporting and investigation processes, and trialling alternative models of research groups with flatter structures.

There’s a blog on Wonkhe by Grace Gottlieb, co-author, excerpt:  A recurring theme in the interviews was the importance of broadening what we value in research. There’s a growing appetite to recognise the rich variety of contributions that individuals make to the research endeavour – hiring, promotion, and grant criteria are a good place to start. The Principal Investigator who puts supporting colleagues before publishing papers deserves recognition. The PhD student who has ideas for how to make the institution work better should be listened to. The postdoc who gains experience in another sector should be celebrated.

Amanda Solloway, minister for science, research and innovation, welcomed the new report, saying:

  • R&D will be crucial to helping the UK build back better after the effects of the pandemic and in building a bolder and brighter future for everyone. Therefore, it is vital that those seeking rewarding careers in working on the most important global challenges, feel empowered and enthusiastic about doing so.
  • The government has made R&D a key priority and as part of the R&D Roadmap committed to developing a People and Culture strategy that will look to ensure the UK is the best place in the world for scientists, researchers and innovators.
  • That is why I am really pleased to see the Russell Group are taking steps to look at how we create conditions for researchers to thrive, to collaborate, and to succeed – making sure the UK continues to lead the world in research and innovation.

Research Professional explore the Russell Group report. The article is worth a quick peruse. Snippet: …it seems to bear little resemblance to the lived reality of being a precariously employed researcher in the fiercely competitive environment of a research-intensive university, beset by the need to publish and capture grant income, create impact and keep ahead of the paperwork, while simultaneously seeking long-term career opportunities driven by cycles of the Research Excellence Framework..

Appointments

  • Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has announced the appointment of Indro Mukerjee as the new CEO of Innovate UK. Mukerjee is described as “a highly experienced technology executive and business leader with a track record of leading innovation and technology commercialisation at businesses of all sizes across the world – from publicly listed and multinational corporations to new venture and private equity backed technology companies. He will take up the post immediately and will be tasked with transitioning Innovate UK from a grant funding body to an agency focused on driving economic growth by working with companies to de-risk, enable and support innovation, while unleashing private sector investment into research and development. As part of this, he will develop and implement strategies for investments that promote the UK as a global leader in R&D and technologies of the future, while cementing the UK’s place as a global science superpower. More info and a biography is available in the Government’s press release.
  • Chris Grigg has been appointed as Chair of the new UK Infrastructure Bank, which will launch in an interim form on 17 May 2021. Grigg will lead the Bank’s board and set the strategic direction of the organisation during an initial three-year term. The UK Infrastructure Bank (UKIB) – headquartered in Leeds – will receive an initial £12 billion of capital and £10 billion of government guarantees, which will enable it to unlock more than £40 billion of financing for key projects across the UK. It will prioritise investment in projects that help tackle climate change to help the UK to meet its net zero target by 2050, and level up the country by supporting regional and local economic growth.
  • The Prime Minister appointed Lord Browne of Madingley to the Council for Science and Technology (CST) as its new independent Co-Chair. The CST is the government’s highest-level advisory body on science and technology, advising on issues that cut across the full range of the government’s responsibilities. Members of the council are leading figures in the science and technology community, including representation from academia and key high-tech businesses. Presidents from the national academies and the Chief Executive of UKRI participate as ex-officio members. Lord Browne will co-chair the council alongside the Government Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance.
  • Dr Alison Cave joins the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) as Chief Safety Officer. Alison is a pharmacologist with a PhD in biochemistry. Her long career includes significant academic and regulatory experience, the latter initially at the Medicines Control Agency and then in senior roles within the Vigilance and Risk Management of Medicine Group at the MHRA and the European Medicines Agency (EMA). Most recently she was an Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund Director at UK Research and Innovation.
  • Professor Trevor McMillian, Vice-Chancellor of Keele University, has been announced as the new chair of Midlands Innovation (MI). MI is a partnership of eight of the region’s research-intensive universities that collaborate on research, development and innovation.

ARIA – The Public Bill Committee finished its scrutiny of the ARIA Bill and has reported without amendment. The Bill will be carried over into the next Session of Parliament.

Admissions

PQA: the Department for Education consultation closes this week and we preparing to submit our response.

Exams – Ofqual confirmed that students who receive a teacher assessed grade this summer will be eligible to take GCSE, AS or A level exams in the same subject in autumn 2021.

  • exam boards will have to offer exams in all GCSE and A level subjects and AS exams in biology, chemistry, further maths, maths and physics; exam boards will be able to offer AS exams in other subjects if they wish exams will be in their normal format, with no adaptations made
  • grades will be determined by a student’s performance in an exam for all subjects, except for art and design qualifications
  • AS and A level exams will be held in October, while GCSE exams will take place in November
  • For Vocational and Technical and Other General Qualifications Ofqual has confirmed the details of the framework, which will require awarding organisations that normally provide assessment opportunities between September and January, to make those assessments available to learners who were eligible to receive a result through a teacher assessed grade if they wish to improve on it.
  • as assessments, progression and grades (including requests for additional consideration).

And another blog: Wonkhe: Demand for higher education is up. But with so much uncertainty surrounding this year’s exam cycle, how can universities select students in a way that’s fair? Mark Corver runs the numbers.

Work Experience

Luminate & Prospects published the Early Careers Survey 2021: Work Experience During a Crisis  report highlighting that work experience has been scarce during the pandemic and students undertaking opportunities are more likely to have been unpaid and worked in person.

  • Since a quarter of students lost their work experience opportunity as a result of the pandemic, just 17% of students have undertaken work experience in the last year.
  • University students said that the biggest barrier to finding work has been having the required work experience for the vacancies they were interested in.
  • Internships were most likely to have been face-to-face (44%) while 21% were blended (virtual and in person) and 35% solely online.
  • Nearly two-thirds (59%) of students said they had not been paid for their work experience with 83% of sixth form/college students working unpaid compared to 52% of university students. Female and BAME students were more likely to work unpaid.
  • More than half (51%) of unpaid work experience lasted for at least four weeks and one in six worked without pay for more than six months.
  • Students are being asked to work for longer lengths of time without pay. Sixty two per cent of university students worked unpaid for more than four weeks in 2020/21 compared to 41% in the 2018 survey. The trend was similar in the sixth form/college group with 27% compared to 18% in 2018.
  • Despite the majority of students finding work experience useful for developing skills, how programmes are delivered, the duration and whether they are paid have an impact on how much value students get out of them with paid, face-to-face opportunities the most useful. Generally, the longer a student spends on a programme the more value they deem it to be for developing skills.

Research Professional give a more detailed description on the report.

  • Surprisingly, despite the pandemic and despite many employers moving online, when students did manage to secure work experience, much of it was face to face. This was particularly true for first-generation students: 43 per cent of these students worked in person, compared with only 36 per cent of those with two graduate parents—a finding that the report suggests could be to do with digital poverty.
  • But what really concerned the report’s authors was that most work experience was unpaid. This was true for 52 per cent of university students who responded and was particularly the case for women and students from Black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds.
  • Comparing the data with stats from 2018 also suggests that students are being asked to work for longer periods without pay. Some 62 per cent of university students worked unpaid for more than four weeks in 2020-21, compared with 41 per cent in the 2018 survey. One in six students worked unpaid for more than six months.
  • As the report points out, this raises ethical and legal questions about asking young people to work for free (particularly face to face during a pandemic), as well as concerns about fairness. When work experience opportunities are particularly hard to come by and particularly important for a graduate jobs market that looks likely to be tighter than ever, should they really be open only to those able to work for free?
  • It is especially worrying since students from low-income backgrounds are also less likely to take part in other extracurricular activities that are seen as helpful for boosting employability, as two reports from the social mobility charity the Sutton Trust revealed earlier this year. The charity called on universities to offer bursaries to fund work experience and offer more employability skills as part of their courses.
  • Pressure on universities to do more in this area is likely to increase as attention turns from online learning to what students have missed out on more broadly and how to make it up to them—and deter them from demanding refunds as they make the kind of links between their higher education experience and job and salary prospects that this government has long encouraged.

Research Professional continue by exploring what employers value:

  • …another piece of research on work experience—with a smaller sample size—published by Prospects and carried out by the University of Edinburgh’s careers service.
  • This found that employers valued long-term and varied extracurricular activities and cited work experience as one of the most important factors in recruiting, while students reported that their work experience had enabled them to test out different work environments and to clarify their personal values and career aspirations. The past year will have lessened these benefits for both sides.
  • But the report also found that employers valued creativity, problem solving and critical thinking, and they cited self-management, flexibility and resilience as key attributes. In many cases, these attributes will have been strengthened rather than weakened by the challenging year just gone. Crucially, though, the report identified the importance for students of reflecting upon what they had learned from their experiences.
  • It may be that universities could help mitigate some of the losses in opportunities that students have had this year by developing ways for them to reflect on the different experiences they have had during the pandemic.

A parliamentary question on graduate career support: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to introduce an employment support scheme for recent university graduates.

Access & Participation

The Equality Hub has begun recruitment for the new Chair of the Social Mobility Commission (SMC). The interim co-chairs, Sandra Wallace and Steven Cooper, will cease their cover role by October 2021 at the latest. The chair will lead the SMC in promoting social mobility both within and outside Government, oversee work to strengthen the evidence base and improve public understanding of how opportunity is created and made accessible to all. We can expect an announcement on the appointment of the new chair by the summer.

Catch up: Figures released in response to Parliamentary questions reveal that just 93,000 pupils across England have started to receive tutoring under the Government’s catch up programme (equivalent to just 1% of school pupils). Among those eligible for pupil premium, who are most likely to have struggled to learn remotely during lockdown, 41,850 are receiving tutoring – equivalent to just 2% of those eligible for pupil premium. The figures also show that just one in 8,277 pupils are being supported by an academic mentor under the scheme, with mentor support so far reaching just 23,000 children.

International

Colleagues with an eye on the international situation may wish to follow the APPG for International Students meeting next Wednesday, 12 May.

Graham Stuart MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for International Trade, and the Minister responsible for the International Education Strategy, will update the APPG on the Government’s progress

HEPI

You can read the latest HEPI blogs here, or follow the selected links below:

Student Loan Overpayments

The Guardian reports that the Student Loans Company is sitting on more than £18m in overpayments by nearly 60,000 graduates and other former students since 2015. The SLC has said it cannot make refunds without correct contact details. But the Higher Education Policy Institute says responsibility to avoid overpayment should not fall on graduates.

The short version is that SLC rely on graduates to repay by direct debit in the final stages of repayment, otherwise they overpay. Once overpaid the SLC struggle to reach the graduate to repay the sum as contact information is out of date.

Research Professional provide the in depth version:

  • Thousands of graduates are still owed millions of pounds after overpaying their student loans…Overpaying is one thing…The scandal, though, is that so much of the overpaid money has not been refunded to its rightful owner.
  • Two years ago, Research Professional News revealed the extent of the problem in England. According to data we eventually obtained on appeal after our initial freedom of information request had been rejected, more than £28 million in overpaid student loans had accumulated in government bank accounts between 2009 and 2018, unclaimed by its rightful owners.
  • Our investigation was followed by two years of reform at the SLC—including the launch of an online repayment service designed to make it easier for customers to manage their student loan and to help avoid over-repayment. So have the changes worked? The short answer is probably ‘sort of’. But there is still much to do. 
  • in the two years since our last investigation, a further £5.45m in unclaimed overpayments has amassed in government bank accounts. This is not exactly what success looks like. …What the data tell us is that the SLC has steadily improved in terms of the amount it is collecting in overpayments per person. For example, the 26,840 people who are owed a refund after overpaying in 2019-20 are due an average of £78. In contrast, the 7,650 people who have had unclaimed overpayments resting in government accounts since 2015-16 are owed an average of £671 each. The average amount owed declines each year for which we have information.
  • The unfortunate reality is that many people will never be reunited with their money. For example, two years ago, our figures showed there was £6.3m in unrefunded overpayments made in the year 2015-16. This year’s data show that £5.1m—or 81 per cent—of that money remains unclaimed. 
  • Likewise, data from two years ago showed that £5.9m of overpayments made in 2016-17 had not been refunded. That amount is now down to £4.4m—meaning that three-quarters of the money from 2016-17 that lay unclaimed in 2019 is still sitting in government bank accounts. 
  • Clearly, all of this money is not going to be returned to its owners. Because loans can take years to pay off, and the overpayments are taken at the end of the repayment process, the SLC simply does not know how to get in touch with the people owed the money. Say it takes 15 years to repay a loan. How often did you change your home address, email address and phone number in the 15 years after you graduated? Did you tell the SLC each time? 
  • A spokesman for the SLC told Playbook that improvements made in the past two years had “resulted in a 38 per cent drop in the amount over-repaid since 2018”. He added that the SLC was contacting “every customer two years prior to the end of their loan [to] urge them to switch their repayments to direct debit during this period”, which reduces the risk of overpayment.  
  • “In addition, we now automatically refund customers, and last year we automatically refunded £3.5m, but we can only do so if we hold up-to-date contact information,” the spokesman added.

Covid

The Office for National Statistics have published the latest experimental statistics from the Student Covid-19 Insights Survey which explores the pandemic impact on HE students. This data relates to the period 15 April to 22 April 2021.

  • The proportion of students who reported reducing the number of people they met with statistically significantly decreased from 94% in March 2021 to 56% in April 2021; as lockdown restrictions had been eased in England.
  • More students left their accommodation to go to the shops for something other than groceries or the pharmacy (61%), to spend time outdoors for recreational purposes or exercise (81%), to travel to different areas (34%) and to study indoors (27%) compared with previous months
  • Average life satisfaction scores among students continued to improve, increasing from 5.2 (out of 10) in March 2021 to 5.8 in April 2021; however average scores still remained statistically significantly lower than the adult population in Great Britain (6.9 out of 10).
  • The proportion of students reporting a worsening in their mental health and well-being since the start of the autumn term 2020 continued to fall, decreasing from 63% in March 2021 to just over half (53%) in April 2021.
  • The proportion of students reporting feeling lonely decreased to 22% in April 2021; however, this is still greater than the 6% of the adult population in Great Britain reporting the same over a similar period.
  • Almost half of students (48%) reported they had met up with family or friends they don’t live with indoors; this was more than double who reported the same in March 2021 (21%).
  • The proportion of students who were living at the same address as they were at the start of the autumn term 2020 increased from 76% in March 2021 to 82% in April 2021; the number of students who said they were currently living with their parents dropped between March 2021 (41%) and April 2021 (36%).

Student Complaints

The Independent Adjudicator for HE published their annual report on student complaints.

Complaint numbers and outcomes

  • Received 2,604 new complaints in 2020, 10% more than in 2019 (2,371) and their highest ever number.
  • Closed more than 75% of cases within six months of receipt.
  • In total, 25% of cases were justified (5%), partly justified (10%), or settled in favour of the student (10%). This is slightly higher than in recent years.
  • The remaining 75% of cases were either not justified (42%), not eligible (19%) or withdrawn (14%).
  • In addition to the practical remedies recommended, the OIA made Recommendations or settled cases with financial remedies totalling £742,132.
  • They also made Recommendations totalling £264,142 on complaints arising from the closure of GSM London, which are recorded separately. The highest single amount recommended was just over £30,500.

Complaints received by domicile

  • 67% were from Home students and 9% were from EU students
  • 24% were from non-EU students

Complaints received by level of study

  • 56% were from Undergraduates
  • 36% were from Postgraduates and 7% were from PhD students
  • Despite PG and PhD students making up 25% of the student population, they accounted for 43% of complaints

Nature of complaints

  • Complaints about service issues increased significantly (43% of complaints received compared with 29% in 2019) – these related to issues such as facilities, course delivery, teaching hours and research supervision, and included complaints about disruption caused by industrial action and the Covid-19 pandemic.

Received fewer complaints about academic appeals (33% compared with 48% in 2019). This is likely to be largely due to the use of “no detriment” or safety net policies during the pandemic. This category includes complaints about academic matters such

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

Mature students: Advance HE published the article What mature-age students need from online higher education it has an Australian focus so we’ve not included the statistics here but it is worth a very quick read.

EPI comparison: EPI research A comparison of school institutions and policies across the UK compares schools policies in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, analysing major changes since devolution.

  • School spending per pupil is currently greatest in Scotland (£7,300), followed by England and Wales (£6,100), and Northern Ireland (£5,800) – with Scotland’s higher level driven by a recent boost to teacher pay.
  • England has the highest level of funding for disadvantaged pupils of the UK nations through its Pupil Premium policy.
  • Schools with more disadvantaged pupils in Wales are most likely to struggle with resources.
  • Pupil-teacher ratios are lowest in Scotland, at just 16 pupils to every one primary teacher, compared to 21 pupils per primary teacher in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
  • While in theory schools in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have more power to shape their own curriculum with less government involvement, in practice schools in England report the least government involvement.
  • Devolution has generated significant benefits for the UK nations – but researchers warn the continued divergence also presents challenges for comparing education systems, and could put pupils moving between countries at a disadvantage.  

Changing health: Future Health report How the healthcare sector can support the UK economic recovery has a series of recommendations on how the Government should shift the healthcare policy environment post-Covid. The recommendations have implications for R&D investment, skills and apprenticeships.

  • The Covid vaccine development and rollout is testament to the strong UK life sciences and health innovation base built up over successive Governments.
  • Recommendation 1: The Government should refresh the life sciences strategy post Covid and Brexit to set out an ambitious, co-ordinated future healthcare and life science sector strategy to attract inward investment, growth and jobs to the UK
  • Recommendation 2: The Government should explore expanding and reforming R&D tax credits to ensure that the UK remains competitive with other global markets in life sciences
  • Recommendation 3: The Government should increase the national proportions of R&D investment in centres of healthcare research excellence across the UK; seeing these centres as hubs for regional growth and playing a central role in levelling up. It should also look at incentives to attract private sector investment into the UK’s regions that supports the healthcare sector
  • Recommendation 4: Government should set ambitions within accountability frameworks for public services to demonstrate an active role in the delivery of economic growth in their areas
  • Recommendation 5: The Government should run a well-funded ‘Armed Forces style’ campaign to inform and encourage people into the full range of healthcare sector careers. The NHS should be able to hold the apprenticeship levy at a regional level to invest flexibly in apprenticeships, skills and training opportunities for healthcare sector staff
  • Recommendation 6: The Government should utilise the new ONS Health Index to set targets for delivering on its ambitions for improving healthy life expectancy
  • Recommendation 7: Central funds assigned for ‘levelling up’ should include a role for the healthcare sector and have an ambition to improve the nation’s health and reduce regional health disparities
  • Recommendation 8: Changes to Public Health England should be used to create a co-ordinated and dynamic health and wealth agenda within Government that seeks to unlock the potential of the healthcare sector to drive economic growth and reduce population health inequalities

Schools: Education Minister responds to Petitions Committee request for more information on diversity in the curriculum

Online: Times Higher has a collection on safe and ethical online teaching offers advice on responsible data handling and learning analytics as well as on ensuring respectful conduct online and providing help to students from a distance. And a contribution from BU’s Andy Phippen on why cybersecurity should be taught across universities.

Tender success: Research Professional report that the firm owned by the peer embroiled in Boris Johnson’s flat redecoration row won a Student Loans Company tender.

Civic Universities: Research Professional – how to spot a civic university.

Quack: And if you’ve had ‘one of those weeks’ here’s a story about a HE big duck.

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HE Policy Update w/e 30 April 2021

Parliament has prorogued at close of business on Thursday, returning for the State Opening of Parliament on Tuesday 11 May. Despite this it is likely the news will continue apace particularly with the post qualification admissions consultation responses coming in thick and fast. This week’s policy update has NEON’s admissions response. HEPI have a paper out on student sexual consent, and there was significant parliamentary activity in the HE sphere with oral questions, topicals and the Universities Minister in front of the Education Committee.

Government Direction for HE

Michelle Donelan, Universities Minister, was questioned in the regular accountability session by the Education Committee this week. The committee examined the Government response to the Covid challenges for HE, particularly learning, job-seeking and mental health. They questioned the minister on antisemitism, race hate and Islamophobia in universities. They also heard the Government’s plans for widening the scope of HE and their programmes to tackle levelling up. A summary of Donelan’s responses, prepared by Dods, is here. The session was illuminating when reading between the lines to see which policies the Government’s ardour for has cooled, which they’re in a pickle about (but determined to continue to intervene), and which they will continue to push.

In short (topics in bold so you can pick out your interest areas):

  • Donelan refused to consider student compensation for the Covid changes to their educational experience.
  • Donelan would not state whether the Opportunity Areas would continue after 2021. However, on the contentious matter whereby some of the most deprived areas of the country were not selected as opportunity areas she responded that these areas would get investment and other initiatives dedicated to them, not just from the DfE but from other Government departments. Wonkhe say the Opportunity Areas announcement will be made between May and the summer.
  • Careers support – the DfE is preparing a package of measures (developed in conjunction with universities) for the Covid graduates facing a hostile job market.
  • Donelan also stated that employers would take into account that graduates had missed out on placements and course content when making their hiring decisions.
  • Donelan evaded a response on whether Access and Participation Plan funding should be contingent on universities offering degree apprenticeships but assured the committee that there would be more on offer across the country.
  • Sector stability – Donelan said that no institution was “imminently about to go into financial liquidation” and “not one single university” had accessed the Government’s “restructuring regime” safety net.
  • Donelan provided a woolly response on post qualification admissions: she acknowledged that there were different opinions on the efficacy of the initiative and encouraged everybody to get involved with the consultation before it closed on 13 May 2021 because the Government wanted to engage with people to make sure they got this right.
  • On free speech Dods summarise the exchange:
  • Hunt cited research by Policy Exchange that had said “almost 50 per cent of right-leaning academics in non-STEM subjects self-censored their work” because of pressure and asked what the Government meant to do to ensure these academics felt comfortable to conduct their research.
  • Donelan agreed this was a concern not just for academics but also for students and visiting speakers and said that the Government had recently published a paper on this which had proposed creating “a champion of free speech” and establishing “a statutory tort”.
  • Citing a 2018 OfS board paper that had found “no evidence of free speech being systematically suppressed” in universities, Kim Johnson suggested this creation of a free speech champion was just “an intensification of Tory culture wars”. Donelan did not agree and insisted this was a measure to encourage free speech for all students and academics.
  • Kim Johnson asked Donelan to explain why it was appropriate for someone in her position to describe “decolonising the curriculum” as “a Soviet Union-style censoring of history” and asked if she would apologise for her remarks. Donelan replied that she was happy to email Johnson the podcast of her comments and defended her position.
  • On Universities who do not wish to sign up to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism Donelan stated the DfE would “continue to urge all universities to sign up to this” and said that the Government was looking at whether it should be “potentially mandating universities to publish incidences” to “highlight whether the definition is having an impact on the ground”. Sacking individual academics who did not conform to the definition was also discussed.
  • Wonkhe reported that Halfon (Committee Chair) discussing the University of Bristol antisemitism investigation into an academic’s comments asked Donelan: Why would you not intervene, to deal with this and tell Bristol, the Vice Chancellor that enough is enough, and that we’re not living in 1930s Germany, and that they should deal with this problem and make sure that Bristol University is not a hostile environment to Jewish students.” Wonkhe’s daily briefing also stated the heated language fuelled stories in several newspapers…The Guardiani News, the Telegraph, the Evening Standard, and the Mailreport on the call for greater consequences for universities failing to tackle antisemitism.

Wonkhe also have a good blog delving into the accountability session which is worth a read. It begins:

  • Maybe there was never a golden era of select committee scrutiny, when members had actually read up on their brief and held ministers to actual account for their promises. Either way, much of the session felt surface-level and shouty – eminently clippable for Twitter, but not actually serving the public in any meaningful way.
  • The committee never really got close to exploring some of the potentially uncomfortable contradictions inherent in the government’s free speech agenda and its views on antisemitism, but it did at least get near to a related issue – that the government is intending to legislate over free speech (where there are already specific legal and regulatory duties) but is not intending to legislate over campus racial and sexual harassment and misconduct (where there are no specific legal and regulatory duties).
  • Underpinning the whole discussion – from an antisemitism perspective, a mental health perspective and from a gender based violence perspective – is the ongoing, undefined sense that universities have a “duty” to provide a safe environment and a “duty” of care over students – without ever properly establishing those duties, or providing sanctions for those that don’t exercise them.
  • Contrast that with the agenda over freedom of speech. Both Tom Hunt and Jonathon Gullis highlighted, exaggerated and embellished some of the dodgier stats from that Policy Exchange report, with the latter demanding to know why the “woke mob” is “ruining higher education”…
  • It was left to Fleur Anderson (Lab, Putney) to gently point out some of the potential contradictions:
  • You mentioned that you would be considering or actually bringing in free speech work as to be tied to universities’ registration conditions. But before when we were talking about the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, and about sexual harassment conditions, you said you wouldn’t be bringing that in as to tie that into universities’ registration conditions, and you’d be waiting for consultations and seeing how it goes – why is it that you would bring it in for free speech, but not for those two other areas of high concern for students?”
  • Ian Mearns (Lab, Gateshead) wanted to know why there’s not been an immediate inquiry – given that in schools there is to be an urgent review of the situation:
  • Why don’t you mirror that in universities and where, in universities victims of harassment and assault often complain of being left in the dark about the outcome or the progress of university investigations and quite often feel that their disclosure has been a waste of time, traumatising, but fruitless? So is it not requiring more urgent ministerial action than a statement of expectations from the Office for students?”
  • Donelan said that UUK will be publishing a report and that she’d be meeting with OfS, which does make you think her theory of change might be faulty.

Minimum entry requirements to HE: Finally Wonkhe’s data guru, David Kernohan, provides modelling to demonstrate that there’s a clear relationship…demonstrating that a minimum entry qualification rule would disproportionately affect young people from disadvantaged backgrounds (no levelling up here!) and that we have a problem in retaining students from disadvantaged backgrounds anyway.

Research

Advanced Research and Invention Agency – here’s the latest progress on ARIA.

  • The grouped amendments to the Bill have been published.
  • The Bill has now completed the Committee stage and will be returning to the Commons for its Report stage and Third Reading. No date is currently scheduled but it will be during the new parliamentary session as Parliament will prorogue at close of play on Thursday.

Government response – Meanwhile the Commons Science and Technology Committee published the government response to their report on the proposed new high-risk, high-reward research funding agency (now known as ARIA).

Wonkhe summarise:

  • It sees further push back on the idea that ARIA should have “explicitly defined ‘missions’ or ‘challenges’ … set by central government”, confirming that the new agency will see the research focus set by programme managers rather than ministers.
  • It is revealed that these programme managers will be paid outside of usual public pay restrictions, pending approval with HMT. The response demonstrates further commitment to the wording on the face of the bill on a separation from UKRI – I went through the bill (almost) line by line at the time. The response also covers work underway to examine any “bureaucratic constraints” on UKRI.

Hancock Speech: Matt Hancock spoke at the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry annual conference. He spoke of the UK becoming a life sciences superpower and stated three things the Government and, separately, industry could do to realise this ambition.

Government

  1. Examine regulation and trial design: “research and clinical research and regulation, how it’s regulated, making sure that it is dynamic, modern, fit for purpose, where we have a big role to keep constantly making sure that we regulate for science and safety, and not for bureaucracy”.
  2. Get investment right: through the likes of the Life Sciences Investment Programme
  3. Developing skills: noted the Life Sciences 2030 skills strategy

 Industry

  1. Manufacturing and the location of manufacturing: Spoke about the importance of fostering homegrown manufacturing capabilities. The Government has established a new Manufacturing Transformation Fund as an incentive; and Hancock has asked the Life Sciences Council to lead on this work.
  2. Backing genomics: The Government has asked the Medical Research Council to develop a proposal for a UK Functional Genomics Initiative, through this initiative Gov want to make the UK a world leader in new approaches to understanding how genetic changes cause disease, and through that, the validation of drugs targets, later this year they’ll be launching our genome UK Implementation Plan.
  3. Clinical research: wants to make the UK the most advanced and data-enabled clinical research environment in the world. Said he set out the next steps with a £20m investment in the new data-driven Find, Recruit, and Follow-Up service for clinical trials.

Funding Cuts – here are some excerpts from oral questions with Universities Minister Donelan which bring home the impact of the Official Development Assistance budget cuts:

  • Kirsten Oswald: The Universities of Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle and Coventry have all been leaders in the global challenges research fund. With the cuts to ODA, they are now having to find additional seven-figure funding to keep life-saving research going. Is this really the Tories’ fabled levelling-up agenda?
  • Michelle Donelan: The Government recognise the importance of supporting international research partnerships and the UK research sector, especially our universities. Our commitment to research and innovation was clearly demonstrated by the recent Budget announcement that we are increasing investment in research and development to £14.6 billion. International collaboration is central to a healthy and productive R&D sector and, as a result of the policies of this Government, UK scientists will have access to more public funding than ever before.
  • Stuart C. McDonald: Twelve flagship research hubs were supposed to run projects lasting five to 10 years in support of the sustainable development goals. Some of those projects are midway through clinical trials on humans but, thanks to the recent cuts, might not be able to continue, thereby jeopardising both the research and research jobs. How on earth can the Government justify funding cuts to research projects in the middle of human clinical trials, in clear violation of medical ethics?
  • Michelle Donelan: The hon. Gentleman might like to take up his question with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, which is ultimately responsible for research. On 1 April, BEIS set out an additional £250 million of funding for R&D—as a result of which, as I have said, UK scientists will have access to more public funding than ever before—taking the total Government investment in R&D to £14.9 billion in 2021-22, despite what the Opposition would have the public believe.
  • Alan Brown: Because of the ODA cuts, universities have reported that research contracts have been terminated, sometimes with just a few hours’ notice. This has undermined trust between researchers, universities and UK Research and Innovation, and it also means that research commissioners now require a risk assessment on the UK Government’s ability to honour contracts. Why does the Minister think it is acceptable that the UK Government’s promises mean so little that they need to be risk assessed?
  • Michelle Donelan: On the actual ODA allocations, BEIS is currently working with UKRI, all global challenge research funds and its Newton fund delivery partners to manage the financial year 2021-22, including by determining which projects will go ahead. Its delivery partners have been communicated with, and award holders will set out the next stages of the review of ODA funding next year and explore the options available for individual programmes.

Separately, Wonkhe report: The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee has written to Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak to urge action on government funding cuts to scientific research. The committee recommends that the government ensures adequate funding for UK’s participation in Horizon Europe, maintains funding for research in developing countries, and recommits to spending £22bn on research and development by 2024-25.

Parliamentary Questions

Racial harassment

This week there was a BBC3 documentary on racism in universities with interviews with students who experienced racial incidents or harassment whilst at university.

Wonkhe tell us:

  • The programme explored the students’ experiences of making a complaint to their institution, suggesting that none had found that the process offered the redress they were hoping for.
  • David Richardson, vice chancellor of the University of East Anglia and chair of the Universities UK advisory group on tackling racial harassment, who was interviewed for the show, put the view that universities are systemically and institutionally racist, and invited Adey [the documentary journalist] to follow up in the summer of 2022 when Universities UK plans to review progress on its racial harassment work. His comments are coveredin the Guardian. The documentary received reviews from the Guardian, the Telegraph, and i News.

Also there is a Wonkhe blog from November 2020 – David Richardson explained why he believes universities are institutionally racist – and what can be done about it.

Sex and Relationships

HEPI published a new poll and a report on sex and relationships among students (shorter content here). Dods provided a summary of the report – contact us if you wish to access this. Or read on for excerpts from Research Professional’s coverage here and here:

  • Hepi surveyed just over 1,000 students, 58 per cent of whom strongly (26 per cent) or slightly (32 per cent) agreed that students should have to pass a quiz on sexual consent before beginning their studies.
  • Some 59 per cent of students asked said they were “very confident” about what constituted sexual consent, but just 30 per cent said they were confident in navigating consent issues after drinking alcohol. Only 6 per cent of students said they strongly agreed that their previous education had “prepared them for the reality of sex and relationships in higher education”.
  • The findings of the research are split into three sections: knowledge and attitudes; experiences and behaviours; and other issues.
  • It is a wide-ranging report that covers freshers’ attitudes to sex (“Only 16 per cent of students say: ‘When first going to university, I was excited about having sex’”); the challenges of higher study (40 per cent of female students “report that symptoms of their periods may have stopped them from doing their best effort in academic assignments”); and safety (36 per cent are only “fairly confident” about “who and how to contact someone” if they are concerned about an aspect of sex such as bullying, coercion or regret).
  • universities are under pressure to improve how they tackle complaints of sexual harassment…Recently, the Everyone’s Invited website, which publishes accounts of sexual harassment in education, released the names of more than 100 universitieswhere students alleged they were sexually harassed or abused.
  • On our news pages yesterday, we also carried comments from Jess Phillips, shadow minister for domestic violence and safeguarding. Speaking at a Westminster Higher Education Forum event earlier this week, Phillips raised concerns that institutional autonomy had left a “patchwork of provision for victims”, and that national standards and guidance were needed to tackle sexual harassment in higher education.
  • During the conference, Phillips, Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley, called on universities to make sure they were offering “proper support and care” to victims. She said they also needed to explore “how we actively prevent perpetration in our institutions and how we deal with perpetrators”.

The Times Higher also covers the consent test.

HEPI blog: The Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report and disaggregating BAME in higher education

Admissions

report, published by the University and College Union (UCU) and National Education Opportunities Network (NEON) ,says “a move to post-qualifications applications (PQA) is essential in creating a fairer, student centred university admissions system. It also shows how the move could lower excessive workloads for school, college and university staff.”

Wonkhe: DK has taken a look on Wonk Corner.

Dods explain the thinking further: the case for PQA is presented as three-fold:

  1. Enabling widening access by removing application via predicted grades: Over 80% of these grades are incorrect leading to students being potentially ‘under-matched’ to courses they could apply to.
  2. Enhanced performance of students at Level 3: Removing unconditional offers and predicted grades will enable teachers and students to focus more clearly on Level 3 studies.
  3. Improving graduate outcomes and the student experience: Nearly half of all students who enter HE via clearing or who are from a BAME background are unhappy with their choice of course or institution. This level of dissatisfaction is unacceptable and shows that reform of how students make HE choices is required.

The student-centred PQA model describes HE admissions as a three-phase process. Drawing on the evidence regarding how young students make HE choices, admissions is defined as beginning significantly earlier than in the PQA models outlined in the government consultation document. These three phases are:

  1. Supporting choice: Year 10 to A-Level/Level 3 examination results announced
  2. Application and decision making: HE application week early August to end September
  3. Entry in HE: From the first to the final week of October when term starts for year 1 students

The student-centred model has 7 distinctive features that address the challenges associated with moving to post-qualifications applications:

  1. Strengthened information, advice and guidance (IAG) on HE
  • Fundamental to making a PQ applications model feasible is a significant strengthening in the IAG offered to learners before they apply to HE.
  • It is proposed in the report that this strengthening would have five elements:
  • an entitlement to 10 hours per year of HE IAG from year 10
    • in addition to the entitlement, a national student futures week at the end of year 12 when students would focus solely on learning about future post-compulsory education options through visits to HE, sessions with students etc
    • revising the present Gatsby Good Career Guidance benchmarks related to HE IAG
    • a national collaborative outreach project such as the Uni-Connect programme
    • a ‘study choice check’ where students undertake online course focused questionnaires to better understand course(s) they have expressed an interest in and their fit with them.
  1. Expression of interest point to engage students/HEIs pre-application
  • A strength of the current system is that students need to engage with HE choices whilst in school/college in order to apply for HE.
  • To retain this strength students would, via UCAS, ‘express interest’ in up to five courses in the January of the year of examinations. This information would be passed onto HE providers.
  • Expression of interest would meet the following challenges in a post qualifications applications system:
  • Completion of the application form accurately by students – at this point students would register with UCAS and upload personal statement, reference and background information reducing the need for support in HE application week.
  • HEIs understanding future course demand – this will give valuable information to HEIs on potential course demand which they can then use in their planning.
  • HEIs engaging with students who wish to enter their institutions – enabling greater support for potential applicants in particular those from specific groups e.g. disabled students and refugee/asylum seekers.
  • Making A Levels a less ‘high stakes’ examination – transparent use of other assessment mechanisms including references, personal statements and interviews/tests will help alleviate the focus on examinations only that may be heightened in a PQA system.
  1. Flexibility to allow interviews/auditions before application
  • Delivering interviews/undertaking auditions is seen as a major challenge in a post-qualifications applications system due to the compressed window available for this activity.
  • This report shows there are at least six options available for HEIs wishing to deliver interviews/ auditions in a post-qualifications applications system. These include:
    • delivering interviews/auditions for all students who express an interest in before examination results are announced
    • delivering interviews/auditions utilising digital technology after examination results
    • using admission tests to either replace interviews or to enable filtering of students who can then be interviewed before examination results are announced. Such additional testing is common in other countries.
  • For those institutions/courses where interviews are deemed essential, the report illustrates that it is still possible to deliver these before examination results are announced.
  • The report does discuss though the need for a more in-depth discussion regarding the role of interviews in HE admission and the extent to which they may undermine attempts to contextualise admission to high-demand courses.
  • Another option discussed for policymakers here is to reintroduce AS Levels which to allow prior potential to be gauged more accurately and hence enable filtering for high demand courses
  1. A greater focus on transparency
  • At present the HE admission system does not meet the principle of transparency which is one of the five principles from the 2005 Schwartz review of fair admissions to HE.
  • Students are not systematically informed of the relative importance placed on the different forms of assessment of their potential used by HEIs.
  • In the SC model students would be told exactly what weight is placed on references, personal statement, interviews/tests/auditions and examination grades in percentage terms by HEIs in deciding whether to offer a place to a candidate.
  1. More targeted support for widening access students in HE application week
  • The risks that additional burdens would fall upon schools/colleges to support students, in particular from widening access backgrounds, at the point of final application are real and must be addressed.
  • Improved IAG and the expression of interest point would help but greater support for students from widening access backgrounds is required.
  • This support could come via an enhanced Uni-Connect programme, personalised contact via email/letter/face-to-face and HEIs using the experience they have gained from delivering clearing to offer support during the final application and decision phase.
  1. Fewer course applications processed to improve efficiency and choice
  • In 2019 in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland there were:
    • 1,965,090 applications made to HE providers via the UCAS main scheme
    • 1,444,795 offers made to students
    • 428,610 acceptances.
    • Of these applicants 73.6% of students accepted the offer from their first choice provider.
  • There are over 1.5 million applications that do not lead to any productive outcome in a system where the vast majority of students enter their first choice provider.
  • For administrative efficiency and to aid students in their decision making, in the SC model the number of applications released to HEIs could be reduced to three from the five applications, with the other two only released if candidates are not placed via their first three choices. Alternatively, they could be just reduced to three.
  1. More flexibility in when the academic year begins
  • At present the timing of the academic year is not uniform. It can begin from mid-September to mid-October depending on the provider and can finish from late May to early July.
  • The timing of the academic year should remain the decision of HEIs. It is feasible though, as shown in the report, to deliver the academic year beginning with an induction week that starts in late October and finishes mid- June.
  • A late October start is therefore a possible option for HEIs to explore in a post-qualifications applications model to give greater time for HEIs to process applications and students to prepare for HE entry

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: After years of campaigning by UCU and others, we are finally on the cusp of tackling the unfairness in university admissions. But too many organisations seem wary of the bold reform that will end the use of unfair predicted grades. This report shows the blight of predicted grades must end if we are to remove the disadvantages students currently face. It also shows the impact of changes to the admissions cycle on universities and staff can be easily overcome, and highlights the benefits to both staff and students that a post-qualifications applications system will bring. The time has come for a truly student centred approach to university admissions, and we must not settle for half measures.

NEON director Graeme Atherton said: A post-qualifications applications system is a gateway reform that can assist in widening access to higher education, improving graduate outcomes and providing the impetus for a long overdue focus on the information, advice and guidance that students receive on their journey to higher education. The report outlines a roadmap to how we build this new system.

We’ll see more commenting on post qualification admissions over the next few weeks as the consultation on the topic is set to close on 13 May.

HEPI blogs:

Access & Participation

Hardship Funding: Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan, has written to the OfS to provide guidance on the distribution of hardship funding. She writes that the OfS should use the existing student premium funding mechanism to distribute the funding, taking into account the following priorities:

  • That funding is targeted towards those providers who recruit and support high numbers of disadvantaged students, reflecting where this funding is needed most to enable students to continue with their courses and achieve successful outcomes.
  • That full-time and part-time students will both be at risk of experiencing hardship resulting from the pandemic, but full-time students may be particularly affected, e.g., due to changes in their location of study.

Donelan also outlines details of payment, terms and conditions, and monitoring, e.g. the funding must be fully spent this academic year.

COSMO Study: A new study to follow the outcomes – educational, career and wellbeing – for 12,000 year 11 students across England will be the largest study of its kind to find out how the pandemic has affected them.  The study, called the COVID Social Mobility and Opportunities (COSMO) Study, will receive £4.6 million from the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). It will be led by researchers from the UCL Centre for Education Policy & Equalising Opportunities and the Sutton Trust.

The Sutton Trust has commissioned an additional sample of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds who showed academic potential before the pandemic, to look in more depth at the impact on their chances for social mobility. This work will be funded by XTX Markets.

Quick News: Published a few weeks ago – a description of the constant adjustment a first in family student experiences.

Turing

On Monday oral questions covered an exchange on the Turing scheme. It shows the Government as steadfast in their decisions and unmoved by the reduction in funding available under the scheme:

  • Carol Monaghan (Glasgow North West) (SNP): The Government have stated that they want more disadvantaged students to participate in Turing, so how does the Secretary of State assess the success of this scheme for disadvantaged students, and will he commit to an annual report to Parliament on these figures?
  • Gavin Williamson (SoS Education, Conservative): We have already seen a really high level of interest from both institutions and, most importantly, students in the new Turing scheme. They recognise that they want to seize the opportunities on a global scale as against being constrained by the European Union. That is why I have every confidence that we will have such an enormous success with the Turing scheme and it will be truly transformative to young people’s lives.
  • Matt Western (Shadow Universities Minister, Labour, Warwick and Leamington): This is a Government of illusion. The Prime Minister said that there was no risk to Erasmus, then it was gone, replaced with the Turing scheme, which Ministers said would improve opportunities. But a quick look at the scheme shows that for cost of living, Turing offers just £490 of support—£140 less than Erasmus—while for travel costs, only a fraction of students are now eligible whereas under Erasmus+ all students were eligible for up to £1,300. In tuition fees, there is no support, whereas it was guaranteed under Erasmus for free. Could the Secretary of State just be straight with students and confirm that Turing equals Erasmus minus?
  • Gavin Williamson: I am afraid the hon. Gentleman obviously is not very familiar with the scheme. Actually, there are a number of slight inaccuracies in what he stated. I would be happy to send him the details so that he can undertake some homework and understand it a little bit better in future.

Exchange: Turing+ (Erasmus): Prior to this, on Sunday, Chris Skidmore wrote for Research Professional to turn the tables and put the onus on universities to find solutions to the Erasmus demise. He writes:

  • Higher education does not have to wait for the government to step in. It should flex its autonomy by demonstrating its ability to create an exchange scheme—not in the mould of Erasmus+, but one that will allow European or international students to study for, perhaps, a term rather than a year. The creation of modular-based provision should help, although such a scheme still needs to be financed.
  • There are two options worth exploring. The first is to use the Turing scheme almost as a down payment on establishing reciprocal agreements with universities abroad that admit Turing students, so that UK universities act in return as host institutions for their students, creating, in effect, a Turing+. The second, possibly more radical, option would be to explore how an exchange scheme might be created together with industry, so that students from abroad could come to the UK to study first for a term or a fixed period before taking up a placement in a company. The company might then help fund the cost of the exchange.
  • Many details would need to be worked through and many barriers overcome to deliver this, but the idea is worth exploring. After all, how did the Erasmus scheme begin?
  • UK universities have the chance to be bold rather than wait timidly for the government to deliver. After all, what is autonomy for if not to benefit students and teachers?

Skidmore also offers to work with any university to create such a scheme, and states: I’ve already had conversations with several academics and understand that, with final Erasmus+ funding ceasing by 2022, an exchange scheme would be needed from September 2022. This gives time to begin creating a pilot scheme. After all, Erasmus started small and so could a new scheme that allows for inbound mobility. If its success is proved, and companies are able to come on board, who knows where it might lead?

International

A QS poll reported in the Guardian finds 47% of prospective international students would choose to  study in the UK because of the rate of vaccinations in the country. 17% of respondents said they thought the government was handling the rollout better than anywhere else; the UK was more popular than the US, Canada, Australia and Germany. 17% also stated the vaccine had made them bring forward their plans to study abroad, while more than half (56%) said they were focusing their search on countries in which a successful vaccine programme was being implemented. However, 45% didn’t believe the UK had handled its broader pandemic response effectively.

  • Nearly two-thirds (58%) of the students also thought the UK was becoming more welcoming to international students thanks to the reintroduction of post-study work visas, following several years of immigration policies seen as hostile to overseas students. However, European students perceived the UK to be less welcoming since they will have to pay higher international fees from September as a result of Brexit.

Wonkhe: The fourth instalment of the IDP Connect International Student Crossroads research finds that of the more than 6,000 prospective international students polled 64 per cent are prepared to comply with a requirement for a vaccine passport, but 30 per cent say they want more information before making a decision. 29 per cent would be prepared to pay the full cost of quarantine, and 43 per cent to pay some of the cost.

Research Professional have more details on the QS poll.

Universities to manage red list quarantine push: The Government avoided responding to concerns raised in oral questions over the quarantining of international students at high cost: International students are hugely important to our universities. With India added to the red list, there is real concern that the cost of hotel quarantine will be a deal breaker for some. Can the Minister tell us whether universities will be allowed to manage the quarantine system for themselves, which they are well qualified to do, and how soon could that be resolved? If not, who or what is the obstacle? Instead Donelan stated that international students are eligible for hardship funding.

Following this the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary University Group, Daniel Zeichner has written to Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan, on government plans to allow individual universities that have the capacity and capability to manage the mandatory quarantine of international students arriving from red list countries to do so, and whether this has been discussed with colleagues in the Department for Health and Social Care. Wonkhe summarise:  Zeichner expresses concerns that requiring these students to self-isolate in hotels will reduce capacity in the wider quarantine system and affect the student experience of students arriving in the UK, who might be better served self-isolating in university owned accommodation.

Wonkhe summarise: i News says that universities in Scotland are in talks to pilot a hotel quarantine scheme to allow international students from red list countries to self-isolate upon their arrival to the UK while also reporting that many students from India are cancelling their flights to the UK due to the cost of hotel quarantine.

Also a parliamentary question asks what plans the Government has to support international students enrolling onto HE courses at the start of the 2021-22 academic year within the covid-international travel framework.

Another question asks whether Red list incoming international students can quarantine in their university accommodation. The Government have issued a holding response stating it isn’t possible to answer this within the allotted timescale. The final answer will pop up on the same link once it is released.

China: Wonkhe: The think tank Civitas has published a report on the relationship between the UK and China and the challenges posed by China’s growing centrality in world affairs. Noting the economic reliance of the UK and others on Chinese exports across a range of industries, the report points out China’s aspiration to remodel its economy around major high tech industries. The report cites concerns that the Chinese state engages in intellectual property theft and warns that UK universities may be producing research that is of use to Chinese military. Recommendations include that the UK makes science and technology a core policy priority, screening of Chinese foreign investment, and more robust protections against research abuses and intellectual property theft

 Quick News

Covid

The Government have released new HE provider data on coronavirus reporting for the Autumn and Spring 2020/21 academic terms. There were a total of 75,546 confirmed coronavirus cases from 1 August 2020 to 7 April 2021 (estimate: autumn = 59,596 cases; spring = 16,950)

  • Of the total 67,571 were confirmed student cases (estimate: autumn = 55, 291; spring = 12,352)
  • 8,975 confirmed staff cases (estimate: autumn = 4,377; spring = 4,598)
  • In the week to 13 January, there were 2,854 confirmed student cases and 1,227 confirmed staff cases.
  • In the week to 7 April, there were 71 confirmed student and 21 confirmed staff cases, representing falls of 98% for both staff and students compared to the week to 13 January.

Questions

A parliamentary question confirmed that students planning to study abroad in 2021-22 will not be prioritised for the vaccine and will have to wait for their age group to be vaccinated. This week’s topical questions tentatively touched on whether students are wise to expect to be resident at universities from the new academic year starting in September:

  • Dr Luke Evans (Bosworth) (Con): Although I do not have a university in my constituency, I do have many young people who travel to universities up and down the country. They are concerned—financial concerns, accommodation, freshers’ and concerns—about going back to university in September and October. What are the Government doing to ensure that there is a smooth return for those who have already attended and a welcome for those who are new to university?
  • Gavin Williamson (SoS Education, Conservative): I think we are all very much looking forward to welcoming all university students back, and we very much expect to be seeing that as part of the next step. I would like to thank universities for the work they have been doing to ensure that universities are covid-secure, including extensive testing of students in universities and the greater availability of the home testing kits that we have been able to deliver on. We will continue to work with Universities UK, the Russell Group and the whole sector to ensure that students are able to return to university safely at the earliest possible moment and that we are able to welcome a new cohort of students in September.

Empathy: Wonkhe: Ben Vulliamy interrogates social media commentary on the student experience during the pandemic and concludes we should try to understand, rather than just react.

AI in Education

Jisc published AI in tertiary education – A summary of the current state of play. The report aims to summarise the types of AI applications that are available in education today and provides impact case studies. It also considers legal and ethical issues and briefly speculates on what AI applications might be available in the near future. Press release here.

The National Centre for Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Tertiary Education also launched this week. It seeks to embed immersive technologies in university and college education. The initiative – which has been welcomed by global technology companies including Amazon Web Services, Google, and Microsoft – is led by Jisc and supported by innovation-focused universities and colleges throughout the UK. It will initially be staffed by a dedicated team of seven AI experts, plus consultants and partners from industry and education.  The National Centre aims to deliver AI solutions at 60 colleges and 30 universities within five years, (supporting the Government’s AI strategy) as announced by Digital Secretary, Oliver Dowden, in March.

Jisc’s Director of Edtech, Andy McGregor, says: Universities and colleges are at a critical juncture. COVID showed the possibilities technology offers in delivering courses remotely. AI offers the chance to help every student reach their highest potential by offering highly personalised education. However, this will only work if AI is used to augment the important role teachers play in education, and if ethics are at the forefront of implementing AI tools.

Parliamentary Questions

  • Quality: What steps the Office for Students (OfS) has taken since the Secretary of State for Education wrote stating that the OfS should not hesitate to use the full range of its powers and sanctions where quality of provision is not high enough”.
  • Nursing: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what support is planned to provide to universities to meet the additional (a) educational workforce and (b) physical capacity requirements that will result from the increased number of students embarking on nursing degrees in the 2021-22 academic year. Donelan responded that they proposed to reform the Strategic Priorities Grant for 2021/22 to ensure that more of taxpayers’ money is spent on supporting higher education provision which aligns with national priorities. This includes the reprioritisation of funding towards the provision of high-cost subjects that support the NHS and wider healthcare policy (which includes nursing), high-cost STEM subjects, and subjects meeting specific labour market needs. Specifically on capital funding, we want to be assured that capital funding is adding real value and that investment is focused on key government priorities, such as nursing, and supports provision with excellent student outcomes. In 2021/22, this funding will be allocated through a bidding process that will target specific high-impact projects and activities that offer better value for money for students and taxpayers

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

Field studies: The QAA has published updated guidance on the ongoing implications of the pandemic for placements and practice-based courses to include field work.

G7: the UK, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the US and European Union have agreed to the G7 Digital and Technology Ministerial Declaration and Annexes which set out the G7’s commitment to working together across: Internet Safety; Data Free Flow with Trust; Electronic Transferable Records; Digital Technical Standards; Digital Competition and critical digital, telecoms, and ICT supply chains.

Knowledge Exchange: Evaluating academic engagement with UK legislatures was a recent event offered as part of the universities policy engagement network. You can read the report here.

Essay Mills: A slightly shocking Wonkhe blog – Essay corruption on an industrial scale – about the 1000 essay mills that are available to students!

Graduate prospects: Wonkhe –  The Institute of Student Employers has declared that graduate recruitment is bouncing back, as it released the results of a survey of graduate employers, which found that the majority of top recruiters have either stabilised or increased their recruitment in 2021. Of the 135 employers surveyed, 48 per cent are recruiting at the level as last year, while 36 per cent have increased their hiring.  Research Professional tell us: There is, however, “considerable shrinkage” at retail and consumer goods employers, with 38 per cent cutting graduate recruitment in the aftermath of a year of on-and-off lockdowns.

Mental Health: Advance HE has been commissioned by Student Minds, the UK’s student mental health charity, to design an impact evaluation framework for the new University Mental Health Charter Programme.

  • The Charter framework was created with thousands of staff and students to support universities across the UK to adopt a whole-university approach to mental health and wellbeing. The Charter Programme brings together universities committed to university mental health to share practice and create cultural change.
  • Advance HE’s impact evaluation seeks to capture and review the perceived outcomes, process and experience of participating in an intervention encouraging settings-based approaches to improving mental health and wellbeing. The framework will detail an overarching strategy for assessing the long-term impact of the Charter, and will translate the impact at individual universities into an index of impact at programme level.
  • In addition to the impact evaluation framework, Advance HE is conducting a baseline assessment of those interested in participating in the Charter programme and Award, to understand their views and perceptions of the Charter, and to identify within areas such as university culture, policies, process and practice where change is likely to happen.

Prosperity Plan: The Covid Recovery Commission, which consists of the UK’s leading business figures, has published the report –  ‘Ambition 2030: A Partnership for Growth’ – which sets out a blueprint for a National Prosperity Plan. The Plan is designed to help create globally competitive industries in every part of the UK, deliver on the government’s net zero commitments and reduce the economic and social inequalities that have been widened as a result of the pandemic. Key to the Prosperity Plan is the creation of a National Prosperity Scorecard. This would set specific metrics against the Government’s ‘levelling up’ plans to assess and track progress on a key set of social as well as economic indicators including employment and benefit dependency rates as well as health and educational outcomes. Local leaders would also be tasked with developing their own Local Prosperity Plans to help drive growth in every part of the UK

Influencing Policy: A great blog on why influencing policy means a different way of working to academia.

Civic Universities: Colleagues can access this (free) conference by the Civic University Network on 18-20 May.

HEPI also have their usual prolific offering of blogs. Including:

Queen’s Awards: The winners of the Queen’s awards for Enterprise have been announced. These are businesses, not universities, but interesting due to the categories of:

  • innovation
  • international trade
  • sustainable development, and
  • promoting opportunity (through social mobility).

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

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

New OfS Chair

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

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

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

Research Professional also cover the story here:

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

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

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

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

Research

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

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

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

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

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

ARPA

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

JISC – Support research & innovation 2021-23

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

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

Quick News update

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

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

Parliamentary Questions

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

Admissions

There was UCAS data released on 4th February.

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

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

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

Key findings and trends:

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

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

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

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

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

Free Speech

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

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

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

The Minister speaks (and writes, to everyone)

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

Universities Minister Michelle Donelan said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Access & Participation

Social Mobility Commission

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Disability – price fixing

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

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

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

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

Lost learning

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

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

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

Students in the pandemic

Financial woes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parliamentary Questions: No detriment

Student Experience – retaining some online learning

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

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

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

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

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

In the blog Pearson say:

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

And on a quality experience:

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

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

Moving forward – continuing to teach remotely during Covid

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

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

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

Pearson say:

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

Parliamentary Questions

Regulatory

Programmes

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

Augar

Inquiries and Consultations

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

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

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

Other news

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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HE policy update for the w/e 20th September 2019

With Parliament suspended until 14th October (despite calls for a recall, pending the outcome of this week’s Supreme Court hearing on the lawfulness or otherwise of the prorogation), things are a little quieter in policy circles, although there is likely to be plenty of news from the Labour and Conservative party conferences over the next couple of weeks  Labour kick off first, and the Tories next week.

Two things struck us this week – a much bigger interest than usual in the Lib Dem conference, with the national press streaming lovely views of the Bournemouth sea front all week, and the level of blow by blow coverage of the Supreme court hearing. With an election now inevitable, probably before Christmas, and a Lib Dem surge predicted, the first isn’t surprising, and the second is just the latest in the Brexit/Boris soap opera. We are taking a break from making predictions about what will happen on Hallowe’en. It’s all too difficult to call.

 OfS urged to act on ‘quality’ matters

Secretary of State Education, Gavin Williamson, has written to the OfS setting out his priorities and giving support for the OfS to use a big stick to push for progress (e.g. on the attainment gap) and curb unpopular practices (e.g. conditional unconditional offers). The letter is a very long wish list (including the kitchen sink) in which the Minister basically asks the OfS to solve all perceived ills in the name of safeguarding the sector’s reputation and encourages them (in bold type) to use their regulatory sharp stick boldly.

The Government press release has the Minister urging the OfS to: “set as high a bar as possible on quality in the sector, so universities are focused on reducing dropout rates and ensuring the best possible value for money. We have to fight to keep the public trust and respect in our world-leading universities and to me that means a relentless focus on quality. That’s why I want the OfS to go even further on this, developing more rigorous and demanding quality requirements, and I give my full backing to boldly use its powers to ensure value for money.”

Excerpts from the letter (use of bold type reflects the letter, a new style approach in these letters):

  • Value for money – OfS must attach “the highest priority to this work” and make sure that it is reflected in its forthcoming value for money strategy.
  • Exercise your powers boldly to ensure you are an effective regulator. Refers to refusals to register,  Suggests using powers where there are “courses and providers that are not delivering value for students”, such as “unacceptable levels of drop-out rates or failure to equip students with qualifications that are recognised and valued by employers, falling short of what is required…under the registration conditions”…
  • Develop “even more rigorous and demanding quality requirements”. This means apparently, raising current baseline requirements to ensure that providers deliver successful outcomes for all students.  Supports the “OfS intention to revisit the minimum baselines”…
  • Be ambitious for the TEF in both scope and timing. That means publishing subject level TEF in 2021 alongside the implementation of a new TEF following the Pearce review.  Those hoping that subject level was going to be abandoned will be disappointed, and presumably subject level will also be continued in the “new model” otherwise it would an orphaned measure with weird reputational consequences.
  • Consider running a further provider level TEF assessment with results published in 2020.  If they are going to do that, having already said everyone’s TEF is extended and we don’t have to, they need to get on with it.
  • Refers to the “injudicious use of unconditional offers” and other inducements “that could have an adverse impact on the access and success of students in HE”.  Other than the OfS working with the CMA on enforcement of consumer law, no particular action here.
  • “Prioritise work supporting students as empowered consumers” – complaints, Ts and Cs, free speech, harassment, etc. The OfS are to review current practice and consider standard contractual templates by Feb 2020. He commends their plans on student protection and urges “action in this area to be as ambitious as possible”
  • Focus on part-time and flexible learning, mature learners, “regulatory and funding arrangements surrounding flexible provision” (including how performance metrics support and incentivise flexible provision) – plan by end Nov 2019 and interim report by end of March 2020. Also a Challenge Competition for that.
  • Raising awareness of accelerated degrees.
  • Monitoring schemes and arrangements for student transfer –institutions to develop a plan for how they will use regulatory powers to promote greater student choice.
  • Explore how international students can be better supported and integrated, in line with Global Britain’s efforts to strengthen relationships around the world.

The Sec of State also tasked the OfS Review of Admissions to fully consider a Post Qualification Applications system (note application not admission – so students would apply after their level 3 results).

The TEF stuff has caused a little stir – there is not supposed to be a TEF this year, and the idea of running a subject level TEF in 2021 alongside the development of a new TEF seems like a lot of work to produce a set of outcomes that would not be very useful for anyone, as they would not be comparable with what has gone before or what will come after. As there is no link to fees etc. (yet, we still think that this might re-emerge as one outcome from the Post-18 Review), and students are not using TEF, what is the point? See Wonkhe on this.

Access, Participation & Success

HEPI have published The white elephant in the room: ideas for reducing racial inequality in HE. It consists of a series of essays by national HE figures recommending how to reduce a range of racial inequalities including the attainment gap. Some recommendations:

  • All Higher Education Institutions should participate in the Race Equality Charter (56 are members). Funding bodies should consider creating financial incentives behind them doing so – such as making research grants conditional on participation. This proved effective when applications for the gender equality focused Athena SWAN Charter went up 400% after the British Medical Research Council made funding conditional on holding a Silver Athena Swan Award.

Kalwant Bhopal, Professor of Education and Social Justice, University of Birmingham: ‘Work on gender is seen as worthwhile and contributing to an equalities agenda. Race, on the other hand has always been seen as a secondary priority. If higher education is serious about social justice, then race equality must be seen as a priority – linking the Race Equality Charter to research funding would be a good start.’

  • Do groundwork to facilitate conversations about race within institutions. Do not underestimate the obstacles faced in doing this and the need for ground rules.

Professor Shân Waring, DVC, London South Bank University: ‘In a room of people talking about race, there will be people confused about which words are okay and which are not. And there will be people in the room who will not join in the conversation, for fear of appearing racist, of being called racist, and perhaps of finding out when it comes down to it, they are racist.’

  • Make sure that work done by BME staff and students to tackle racial inequalities is recognised and rewarded. Being an informal mentor to BME students, or giving up time to help with racial equality initiatives, should not become another form of disadvantage.

Amatey Doku, former Vice President for Higher Education at the National Union of Students: ‘Universities are under more pressure than ever to address the 14% attainment gap between BME and white students. Some universities are responding positively, but end up putting a disproportionate burden on BME staff and students. Ultimately it is the institutions themselves that need to fix the problem.”

  • Academic faculties should look to their curricula and to other ways of addressing inequalities in their subject, such as Studentships for BME candidates.

Margot Finn, President of the Royal Historical Society: ‘A third of black and minority ethnic historians have faced discrimination or abuse – twice as many as for white historians. That tends to shock white historians, but it has never surprised BME historians with whom that I’ve shared our findings.’

  • Diversity practitioners within institutions need senior management diversity champions to rely upon. For instance, inclusion networks should be sure they have the resources and the remit to make changes. (Sanchia Alasia)
  • Avoid well-meaning but vague actions which are unlikely to effect change. For instance, implicit bias training should be used in a targeted way to map how biases are playing out in an organisation and to tackle specific issues. (Srabrani Sen)

Access Gap – FE news have published a news article by UCAS highlighting that 20.4% of students from the most disadvantaged communities (polar 4 quintile 1) have a confirmed HE place. The Daily Mail have coverage too.

Brexit and Parliament

Apart from the battle over prorogation and the focus on who said what to the Queen when (which is getting David Cameron as well as Boris Johnson into trouble this week), there is ongoing speculation about what will happen in October.

An interesting YouGov poll revealed that 52% of Leave voters believe the PM should break the law by refusing to ask the EU to extend the Brexit deadline. 28% believe Boris should follow the law despite his ongoing insistence personal campaign that the 31 October exit deadline is non-negotiable, with 21% undecided.

Speaker Predictions – YouGov have also reported that according to a Jan 2019 poll Lindsay Hoyle (current deputy speaker) is the MP’s favourite candidate for the next Speaker of The House of Commons. YouGov state:

He [Lindsay] was the only potential successor nominated by a substantive number of MPs, with a further 41% saying they didn’t know who the next Speaker should be. Hoyle’s fellow Deputy Speaker, the Conservative MP Eleanor Laing, came in a distant second on just 6%, with former Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman in third on 5%. Both have announced that they will run for the Speakership.

4 year study in only 3 years leave to remain – Gavin Williamson tackled the conundrum of EU students who are studying 4 year courses (e.g. in Scotland) but will only be afforded 36 months of temporary leave to remain post Brexit. The Education secretary saidthe UK Government would find a solution”.

Education Spending

There is a new Institute for Fiscal Studies report on education spending.

The HE highlights are (our emphasis added):

  • Universities currently receive £27,500 per full-time undergraduate student to fund the cost of teaching for the full course of their studies (usually three years). This has fallen by 5% since 2012, but is about 50% higher than at its low point during the mid 1990s.
  • While per-student funding is similar today to its early 1990s levels, total resources for teaching undergraduate students have doubled in real terms over that period. This was driven by a near-doubling in student numbers. The nature of that funding has changed significantly, with it now coming primarily through tuition fees rather than through teaching grants.
  • The overall cost of the current system is about £17 billion per cohort entering higher education. More than half of the cost is expected to be paid for through graduate contributions (£9.0 billion), particularly from higher-earning graduates. The long-run cost to government is expected to be about £8.0 billion, about £7.4 billion through unrepaid student loans and £700 million in up-front grants.
  • The Augar Review proposed cutting fees to £7,500, reintroducing maintenance grants and changing the terms of repayment. This would give policymakers greater control of spending on different subjects, which they have little control over at present due to funding being dominated by tuition fees and to a lack of controls on student numbers. The proposals would reduce repayments amongst higher earners and increase repayments amongst mainly middle earners. But there is no good reason to say the current distribution of repayments and incentives is the ‘correct’ one.
  • Labour’s policies of abolishing fees altogether and bringing back maintenance grants would come at a cost to the public finances of just over £6 billion per cohort of full-time students over the long run. This policy would give the government even more control over the distribution of spending on certain subjects or institutions, but would benefit the highest-earning graduates substantially. The policy is significantly cheaper now as a result of the 2017 increase in the repayment threshold on student loans from £21,000 to £25,000. 
  • Considering part-time students adds approximately another £1 billion to the cost of Labour’s proposals at current student numbers. However, the cost of this policy could increase rapidly if the large decline in part-time student numbers since 2010 were reversed.

 

Inquiries and Consultations

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Other news

Graduate Outcomes: The Telegraph has an interactive comparator to accompany their article stating that Oxbridge doesn’t always result in the highest salaries, and that some subjects at ‘lesser known institutions’. Engineering, computer science and business graduates ‘from a wide variety of universities’ are said as ‘punching above their weight’.

Money Mules: The phenomenon of targeting students to act as money mules has been around for several years but the Telegraph has teamed up with Barclays to publish an article warning what to watch out for. Staff working directly with students may be interested in reading about this fraud scam.

Arts & Heritage: The Taking Part 2018/19 survey statistics have been released. It is a continuous face to face household survey of adults and children in England providing reliable national estimates of engagement with the arts, heritage, museums, libraries, digital and social networking. It is a key evidence source for DCMS. In 2018/19:

  • 77.4% of adults had engaged with the arts at least once in the last year. The rate of adults engaged in the arts has remained relatively stable since 2005/06.
  • 72.4% of adults reported having visited a heritage site in the last 12 months, similar to 2017/18, and an increase from 69.9% in 2005/06.
  • 50.2% of adults reported having visited a museum or gallery in the last year. This is similar to 2017/18 and a significant increase from 2005/06 (42.3%).
  • 59% of adults reported being aware of UK events to commemorate the Centenary of the First World War. This represents a significant increase from 2017/18 (50.5%).
  • 35.2% of adults had used a public library service in the last year for any purpose, similar to 2017/18 and 32.9% had used a public library service in the last year for voluntary work or in their own time, this is similar to 2017/18 but a decrease from 2005/06 (48.2%).

Marketisation: HEPI have a new blog – Changes to student entry quality in a marketised English higher education system. It concludes Universities appear to have been adopting different strategies with many focusing on growth in volume, at the expense of entry points, and a smaller number prioritising quality. 

Trading Up: iNews have an interesting article regarding students who undertake a foundation year (and therefore an extra year of debt) with the aim of completing it successfully and transferring (‘upgrading’) to another university. The article carries the tone that this is a risky manoeuvre and Geoff Barton, Association of School and College Leaders, said “we advise students against trying to use foundation years to ‘trade up’.” Instead the advice is that it is cheaper to retake their A levels. The article is interesting because while the Government is very keen that universities support students and proactively facilitate transfers to another institution they didn’t have this in mind – yet the young population seem to have found their own solution. There was also recent negativity stating that universities were capitalising on Foundation Years (because of the fee income received) and that students would be better off taking Access to HE courses. Despite this, foundation courses have increased in popularity in recent years. Perhaps, not least because of the different way in which students are treated and expected to learn between FE and HE. Furthermore, retaking A levels suggests failure, whereas a foundation year allows the individual to move away, be independent, and experience and learn the skills needed to succeed in HE study.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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