Tagged / Prevent strategy

HE policy update for the w/e 25th March 2021

Welcome to your catch-up edition of the policy update. We bring you all the news from last week and from this week so far – it’s doom and gloom for research funding.

Parliament rises for Easter recess on 25 March so the Policy Update will be back to its regular slot from w/c 19 April. If there are major HE happenings during recess we’ll bring you a short Easter special!

Research

There’s been a lot of research news in the last ten days. The biggest announcements follow.

FUNDING

The House of Commons Library have a useful research briefing: The future of research and development funding; the webpage also summarises the recent Government funding commitments and announcements made in relation to research funding.

Aid funded projects: Previously UKRI stated most of its aid-funded research projects are unlikely to be funded beyond 31 July as a result of the Government slashing its overseas aid development budget (from 0.7% to 0.5% of gross national income (BNI) exacerbated by a fall in GNI as a result of the pandemic). UKRI wrote to universities with further details about the impact of its £120m budget shortfall. The letter appears to confirm that grants which have been awarded but not started will be cancelled.

Dods report: Christopher Smith, UKRI’s international champion, wrote that the funder will work with the institutions “to maximise the benefits from the limited funding we have available” but that it is “unavoidable that some grants will need to be terminated”. He also said that by reprofiling and reducing grants, UKRI would look for ongoing longer-term awards to remain active. But the situation looks bleak for a many grant holders. “It is our current assessment that we would be unable to provide funding for the majority of awards beyond the amount currently agreed up to 31 July 2021,” Smith wrote, adding that UKRI “will not be liable for the cost of new activities entered into after receipt of this letter”. “The reduction in Official Development Assistance spend also means that we are unable to initiate any new awards where proposals have been submitted but have not reached the grant award stage,” Smith added.

Even the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), which provides ODA funding for UKRI, had its allocation halved by the foreign secretary Dominic Raab, from £1.4bn in 2020-21 to £706m for 2021-22. UKRI’s allocation has been almost halved to £125m for the upcoming financial year, despite Raab saying R&D funding is ringfenced. The cuts will also affect large numbers of researchers and project staff overseas who collaborate with UK institutions on ODA-funded projects.

The full UKRI ODA letter is here.

Research Professional report that 10 more UK R&D funders will also see their aid budgets slashed, including:

  • Royal Society
  • Academy of Medical Sciences
  • Royal Academy of Engineering
  • British Academy
  • British Council
  • UK Space Agency
  • Met Office

QR funding: Research Professional report that quality related (QR) funding will be cut by £60 million. This is in addition to the cuts to the research relating to the aid budget and the uncertainties surrounding how Horizon association will be funded. See this RP article for far more detail on the various cuts, changes and uncertainties to research related funding streams.

Funding cuts overall:  Greg Clark, ex-BEIS Secretary of State and the current Commons Science and Technology Select Committee Chair, has written to the PM expressing his concern over the funding cuts to scientific research. He states that it is deeply concerning that at the very moment when the whole country recognises the importance of scientific research and when a Government has been elected with a promise to double the budget for research, that the science budget should be facing immediate and substantial cuts involving the cancellation of current research.

He states that leading scientists have expressed alarm at the consequences of:

  • The suggestion that Horizon Europe (£2 billion per year) will be funded from the BEIS science budget instead of additional to the budget as it was whilst the UK was a member of the EU. He highlights it would reduce the UKRI budget to a quarter which would reverse two years of intended increases and mean that the ambition for Britain to be a Science Superpower would be deferred for much of this Parliament
  • The reduction of the ODA budget and that this would have whole-system impacts in the UK and overseas
  • The lack of support for medical research charities suffering fundraising income falls of 41% as a result of the pandemic (other non-research frontline charities have received Government support). He states: It is clearly of huge public importance that medical research that can save millions of lives should not have to be cancelled. The Association of Medical Research Charities proposed a Life Sciences-Charity Partnership Fund to use the Government’s existing commitments to increase science funding to allow these research programmes to continue, but the Government has not yet taken this or something similar forward.

He concludes: In the midst of a global pandemic, where we owe so much to science, and at a time when the Government has rightly chosen to double our national commitment to science, it would be paradoxical if science funding were cut. Knowing how personally important the UK’s strength in science is to you and to the Government, and at this moment of maximum recognition of its impact, I would appreciate your personal attention to resolving this urgent situation.

2.4% GDP research funding target will be missed: Dods: The UK is likely to miss its target of spending 2.4% of GDP on research and development by 2027, analysts have warned, as funding cuts cast doubt on a key pillar of the government’s strategy to rebuild the post-pandemic economy.  A new study published today, accompanied by a blog from the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) has shown that governments consistently fail to hit R&D targets linked to GDP and suggested economic uncertainty and progress so far showed the UK was on course to do the same.

BEIS Oral Questions – a non-update on research funding but telling in its own manner. At Oral Questions both Carol Monaghan (SNP Spokesperson for Education) and Chi Onwurah (Shadow Minister for Science, Research and Digital) asked when the UKRI budget would be confirmed, and if funding for association with Horizon Europe would come out of this budget, or a separate pot. Minister for Science, Research and Innovation, Amanda Solloway, stated that details would be announced “in due course”.

Research Bureaucracy

The Government launched a new independent review into UK research bureaucracy aiming to identify new ways to free up researchers to pursue world-class research by removing unnecessary red tape that wastes the time of UK researchers. It will look to identify practical solutions to bureaucratic issues faced by researcher such as overly complicated grant forms that quire in-depth factual knowledge, a lack of clarity over funding available to researchers, and having to provide the same data multiple time in different formats to different funders. The review will be led by Professor Adam Tickell, VC at University of Sussex. The system-wide review will conclude by early 2022, with interim findings due to be published in autumn 2021. It will involve broad engagement with the whole UK research community, with a particular focus being placed on research undertaken in higher education institutions. Tickell has stated that he is open minded about the outcomes of the review but he does not expect it to result in the abolition of the Research Excellence Framework (REF). We anticipate a call for evidence will be issued as part of the review process. Here are the review’s terms of reference.

Research Professional dive in with their usual welcome irreverent analysis and unpicking of the review details in greater depth here. Their piece begins: Sophocles’s tragedy of Oedipus is the story of a man who sets out to discover who committed the terrible crime that has brought misery to his city, only to find that he was the perpetrator of the deed. The Westminster government has announced a review of university research bureaucracy—could it be about to discover that excess bureaucracy might have something to do with the party that has been in government for the past 10 years? Read on here.

Amanda Solloway, Science & Research Minister, said: As we build back better by unleashing innovation, it’s crucial that we create a research environment that harnesses this same scientific speed and endeavour. This review will identify how we can free up our brightest minds from unnecessary red tape so they can continue making cutting edge discoveries, while cementing UK’s status as a science superpower. The Minister’s words are interesting as they sound more suited to the ARIA announcements.

Ottoline Leyser, CEO of UKRI, commented with warm words too: UKRI welcomes this independent and system-wide review to enable a reduction in unnecessary research bureaucracy, wherever it is found. The goal is to free up time for researchers and innovators to devote to their many vital roles at work and outside it. We are already making strides within our Simpler and Better Funding programme, which aims to make the funding process as user-friendly as possible for applicants, peer reviewers and awardees, as well as those who work with them. We look forward to supporting BEIS in delivering this review and working with them to create a research and innovation system that delivers for everyone.

Professor Julia Buckingham, President of UUK: We very much welcome the opportunity to challenge the parts of the research system which can restrict university staff and students from delivering impactful research.

ARIA: The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has published the rationale and intended purpose for the Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA) outlining its design principles and financial backing. The new funding agency aims to cement the UK’s position as a science superpower. The full report is available here. The ARIA bill will travel through 3 more hurdles of parliamentary detail before you read this update (there’s even a Library paper summarising the Bill). And the Government means to see this one through as they have even tabled a carry-over motion which would allow the Bill to be carried over to the next parliamentary session if not completed in this session (Parliament is due to be prorogued due to the local elections). So far ARIA has received its second reading and will now be scrutinised line by line at a Public Bill Committee. A shorter summary can be read here.  The Committee will report by 27 April 2021. The Government have not announced where the new agency will be located.

Well worth a read is Wonkhe’s reading-between-the-lines content analysis on what was said during Dominic Cumming’s appearance before the select committee during their examination of ARIA last week. And former science and universities minister Chris Skidmore writes in ConservativeHome advocating for the high-risk-high-reward ARIA model and stating that the shift in the UK’s research model is overdue. He says that projects will undoubtedly fail and there will be accusations of money being wasted, but that these are crucial for the UK’s advancement toward being a science superpower

It is clear that MPs from both sides are broadly supportive of ARIA but questioning where the cost (cuts) will come from to fund the new agency. Research Professional have succinct pithy coverage of this, excerpts: Ed Miliband (Shadow Business Secretary): “[Dominic Cummings, former chief adviser to the prime minister] was also at the select committee meeting…saying that Aria would solve the problems of civilisation. That is all very well, but I fear that these cuts seem to be coming right here, right now; and we cannot launch a successful moonshot if we cut off the power supply to the space station.” And: “We support Aria but it deserves clarity. These are people’s jobs. This is incredibly important work and I hope he is fighting with his friends in the Treasury as hard as he can to give people that clarity and avoid the cuts.”

Clinical research: Matt Hancock announced the Government’s vision for the future of clinical research delivery. The NHS will be encouraged to put delivery of research at the heart of everything they do, making it an essential and rewarding part of effective patient care. This means building a culture across the NHS and all health and care settings that is positive about research, where all staff feel empowered and supported to take part in clinical research delivery as part of their job.

More detail here.

Mobility

Welsh Erasmus: The Welsh Government has announced plans for their own new scheme to replace Erasmus+. The new International Learning Exchange will start next year and aims to enable 15,000 participants from Wales to go overseas over the first four years, with 10,000 reciprocal participants coming to study or work in Wales. The Welsh Government is backing the scheme with a £65 million investment starting in academic year 2022/23 with commitment to 2027. The scheme will be developed by Cardiff University in collaboration with education and youth sector partners ahead of its launch. The Welsh programme is intended to:

  • Enable reciprocal exchanges (whether based on physical mobility or co-operation remotely) between educational and training institutions as well as youth work settings in Wales and internationally
  • Support, as far as possible, the entire range of activities which have been available to learners in Wales under the EU’s Erasmus+ programme 2014 – 2020
  • Build on the success of Global Wales in developing links with priority countries across the world, including the US, Vietnam and India, and supporting an ambitious range of scholarships that will attract the best and brightest students from across the world to study in Wales;
  • Ensure that opportunities are available to the widest range of learners and young people, including underrepresented groups, those with additional learning needs and protected characteristics
  • Include additional flexibilities, notably allowing for shorter exchanges involving higher education and support the capacity building necessary to facilitate a wide range of participation.
  • Potentially, it will also support exploratory exchanges to broker international research partnerships
  • Align closely with the Welsh International Strategy

The full written statement from the Welsh Government is here.

So while Welsh institutions will be able to participate in the Turing Scheme in 2021-22, they will also continue to benefit from Erasmus+ exchanges deferred from last year due to the pandemic and the new scheme. The Welsh Government said its scheme would fill the gaps Turing leaves. There is a comparison of the schemes on Twitter which makes the similarities and contrasts stark. Of course Scotland has been particularly vocal in their consternation of the Turing scheme and has been campaigning to rejoin the EU Erasmus+ programme. However, the EU appear to have turned Scotland’s hopes away  with Commission president Ursula Von Der Leyen stating that as a “constituent nation” of the UK, Scotland could not associate independently with the scheme.

The BBC, the Guardian and the Independent cover the Welsh scheme, and Wonkhe have a blog –  replacement for Erasmus puts Welsh higher education firmly on the map.

Turing Troubles

The Friday before last the window for institutions to apply for funding for 2021/22 through the Turing scheme opened up. The programme guide is here. Grumbles abound for the financial (lack) of coverage for the scheme – see the Independent, and the latest programme guidance from the Government notes that there may be less financial support overall through Turing than there was through Erasmus.

Meanwhile last week English universities floundered at the complexities involved in drawing down the Turing funding within the very short window of opportunity – this Research Professional article highlights the difficulties:

  • [After the release of information and webinars]…leaving just 16 days to complete the form, including one weekend and the Easter holidays—it’s actually nine working days, including the day of submission.
  • Only one submission can be made per institution. The application form requires some poor soul to list every single student exchange activity across every discipline in their university for the next 12 months. So, for example, if one student in geography is heading out to Prague in October, that has to be logged alongside the cohort of 40 engineers heading to Toulouse in December. It all has to be based upon projections—including coming up with a number for how many disadvantaged students will be involved—and will be subject to revision during reporting of how many of those engineering students actually made it on to the plane.
  • It would be fair to say that there were more questions than answers at the webinars. As one clearly frustrated participant posted in the Teams chat: “The whole application seems like an enormous amount of work. The word count for the first section is 8,500 words, plus 500 words for every month students start, plus a breakdown by country. This was advertised as less administratively burdensome than Erasmus, but that doesn’t seem to have been the outcome.”
  • … Apart from the obvious weakness in the scheme—it does not have much of the functionality of Erasmus and will fund fewer people—the rollout of the scheme is proving to be both a rushed job and a burden for universities.
  • That is not unexpected. It is an obvious outcome of trying to replace a genuinely ‘world-class’ international exchange scheme with a cut-price domestic alternative in three months

Turing is not the popular replacement scheme the Government intended.

Parliamentary News

New Shadow Universities Minister: Research Professional (RP) have interviewed new shadow universities minister Matt Western. Confirming the job offer was a surprise and acknowledging his lack of professional HE prior focus. However, RP state they see evidence of passion from the shadow universities minister. Read the interview in more depth here. Some excerpts:

  • “I have a real concern about where this government wants to take the higher education sector,” he says. “The question is: What is their ideology? What is the belief about the value of higher education?
  • He questions the recent research cuts – I’m extremely worried about it, because we have a sector which is not just regarded globally as excellent but which actually has huge scientific research, cultural and social value—and which makes a massive contribution to us as a nation. In all those senses, it’s something we should be building on, not cutting,” he says. And goes on to confirm support for ARIA but fears a zero sum game: “The government wants to put money into the Aria scheme, which I’m not against—actually, I’m positive about the Aria scheme—but my concern is that this is going to be a substitutional [investment] and the money is going to be found from elsewhere.”
  • He criticises the Government’s obsession with free speech on campus as poor prioritisation: “This is a government that seems to be unable to get its priorities right, other than making attacks on ideology,” Western says. “[Williamson] is a secretary of state in a government that has no appreciation of the value of our universities and has decided to go on the attack in some sort of culture war.”

The article states Western is cognizant of student concerns (Warwick University and many students reside within his constituency) and he wrote to private landlords to urge leniency in rent rebates (to no effect), is a supporter of the blended learning approach universities have provided throughout the pandemic, worries for student mental health and believes more hardship funding should be provided by the Government. He confirms Labour’s manifesto position to abolish tuition fees.

On Turing: “The Turing scheme sounds…like not even a half-baked idea at the moment,” he says. “The amount of coordination and work that needs to go in to deliver it…It is almost as if the government has deliberately designed it so that they’ll get very few people taking up the scheme.” And on Turing’s short deadlines: “How on earth you’re supposed to turn that round in [such a short time], goodness only knows,” Western says. “Just the administration and bureaucracy of it will, I think, impact very negatively and you could see very few people taking it up as a result—and I think that is shocking.”

Adult Skills & Learning Response: The Education Committee  published the Government response to its report on adult skills and lifelong learning (A plan for an adult skills and lifelong learning revolution).  The Committee called for an ambitious and long-term strategy and identified four key pillars to revolutionise the adult education system. In short, the Government response mainly defers to the Skills for Jobs White Paper, and Lifetime Skills Guarantee. Big recommendations, such as retaining the Union Learning Fund, or removing restrictions on ELQ funding were a ‘no’.

Augar: Research Professional:

  • The government has published letters exchanged late last year between the Council for Science and Technology and prime minister Boris Johnson on implementing the 2019 review of post-18 education and funding.
  • The letter from the council, signed by its co-chairs Patrick Vallance and Nancy Rothwell, declines to comment on the funding aspect of the review but notes that any reduction in funding would “seriously damage the government’s important goals in research and development” and warns against “unintended consequences”.
  • It suggests the government should focus on building incentives that support greater diversity and coherence in the education system. “The government should aim for complementarity and mobility between the further and higher education sectors,” it says, with “well-aligned pathways” that are easy for students to navigate and employers to understand.
  • Johnson responds by saying the government wants higher education to “focus relentlessly on outcomes for the individual, on skills for the nation and on rigorous academic standards”.

Admissions

The OfS have published stern words on admissions and confirmed that unconditional offers are still banned:

  • We expect universities and colleges to do their part to admit and support the most disadvantaged students by continuing to meet commitments in their access and participation plans. In some cases, this will mean looking beyond grades to identify potential by understanding the context in which those grades have been achieved.
  • All prospective students should be able to make decisions that are right for them. Last year we banned ‘conditional unconditional’ offers – offers which only become unconditional once an applicant accepts them as their firm choice instead of offers from other institutions. This was to ensure that students were not being put under unfair pressure to accept offers which may not be in their best interests. Universities have started making offers to students who will start courses in the autumn and this ban remains in place for this year’s admissions cycle.
  • We have already seen potential evidence that some universities and colleges may not be complying. For example, cases have been drawn to our attention where large numbers of unconditional offers are being made or where offers are based solely on predicted grades – rather than the grades students go on to achieve. We will be investigating these instances further and have powers to impose fines where our rules have been breached. I welcome the update Universities UK has made to their agreement on fair admissionspractices which will help guide universities and colleges in this admissions cycle.
  • Most importantly, it is vital that students starting this autumn do not face further disappointment because the quality of their course is reduced by over-recruitment and poor organisation. Universities and colleges need to plan wisely to ensure that all students have a high-quality experience. The Office for Students (OfS) will also use its powers to step in where this is not the case.
  • The burgeoning demand for higher education is a vote of confidence from students in the potentially life-changing benefits that – at their best – universities and colleges can provide. Universities and colleges must not abuse this trust by sacrificing quality for inflated intakes. 

There is a trap in here for universities, not linked to unconditional offers but more generally.  We mustn’t be “swamped” at the cost of quality, but we must also make sure that we admit high potential disadvantaged students who might not get the grades.  In other words, if the Government’s policy on exams this year again results in disadvantaged students getting lower grades and privileged ones getting higher grades, it will be the sector’s fault if we don’t somehow stop that playing out in university admissions.

Wonkhe writes:

  • Office for Students (OfS) chief executive Nicola Dandridge has written to inform the sector that the regulator still keeps a gimlet eye on admissions practice. There have been reports of an increase in unconditional offers made to avoid the coming examnishambles 2.0, and some naughty providers are making offers based on barely moderated teacher-generated predicted grades available in January rather than unmoderated teacher-generated actual grades available in June. You may well laugh, but OfS can and will intervene. Jim Dickinson got into the detailon Wonk Corner.
  • The forced removal of the all-important final level 3 exams would, in a normal world, have prompted serious questions about the seemingly inevitable march of post-qualification admissions of some sort. Deciding to put all of our admissions eggs in a single basket is a curious choice in a year when the basket is on fire. Last week also saw an important intervention from the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), in the form of a collection of essays that cast doubt on the simplistic idea that post-qualification admissions would solve equality problems. And, in the OfS board papers, we learned that the OfS consultation on admissions could yet be reanimated.

You can read the HEPI essays here.

Research Professional expand on the OfS Board papers element: board papers from the Office for Students have revealed that 67 institutions asked for extra cash to help them cope with an increase in student numbers following the exam results chaos last summer. Wonkhe have a helpful short dissection of the recent board papers here.

More generally on admissions Research Professional also have a blog from a vice-chancellor which argues that shifting university admissions to be based on actual rather than predicted grades is likely to be impossible in the window between A-level results day and the start of term. He states A-levels  “simply don’t work” as a university entrance system—should be replaced with an SAT-style system, involving studying more subjects and being assessed at more points throughout the course than with A-levels. This would give students more time for learning and offer greater breadth and depth than A-levels. What is needed is a bolder approach which would transform learning, assessment and university admissions.

In the meantime, UCAS have published a report on the latest admissions cycle “Where next?  What influences the choices schools leavers make?”.  The executive summary sets out some conclusions:

  • The age at which students start thinking about HE varies: One in three applicants report first thinking about HE at primary school. Disadvantaged students are more likely to consider HE later, which can limit their choices, especially for more selective subjects and higher tariff providers. This suggests that careers information, advice and guidance (CIAG) should be embedded within primary education.
  • Students choose their degree subject before they think about the university or college they want to attend: 83% of students told us they decided on their degree subject before their university or college. This highlights the role of subject-specific outreach.
  • Decisions are most influenced by enjoyment, but employability is increasingly important post-COVID: 99% of students report making choices at school based on their enjoyment of a subject, and this is also the primary driver of degree choice. Over 50% report that high graduate employment rates have become more important to them since the start of the pandemic. Understanding what is important to individuals will help improve support for their decision-making.
  • Some HE subjects require more forethought than others: One in five students report they could not study an HE subject that interested them because they did not have the relevant subjects for entry – with medicine the most commonly cited. Students should be made aware of how choices made in school can affect later options.
  • Post-16 choices strongly influence students’ futures: 49% of English 18 year olds with post-16 vocational qualifications enter HE, but are significantly less likely to attend higher tariff providers than those with general qualifications (entry rate of 3% vs. 27%). As the roll-out of T Levels accelerates, it is vital that students know where all pathways lead when making choices in school.
  • There is a need for earlier, broader, and personalised careers information, advice and guidance (CIAG): Two in five students believe more information and advice would have led to them making better choices, and almost one in three students report not receiving any information about apprenticeships from their school.

There is a set of recommendations too.

2022 Exams: In Wales, changes will be made to how A-levels, AS and GCSEs are assessed next year, but Qualifications Wales say they hope exams can go ahead in summer 2022.

Access & Participation

Wonkhe: The Disabled Students’ Commission published a guide for disabled students on applying for postgraduate courses in the UK. The guidance covers decisions over where to study, how to pre-empt barriers students may face in applying, and provides information on available funding to ease transition into postgraduate study. For successful applicants, there is also guidance on providing information on a students’ condition, help for assessments, and advice on maintaining good mental wellbeing.

Wonkhe also talk technology in outreach: …the impact of widening participation initiatives driven by the use of technology. An attempt to support local schools around Lancaster by providing laptops and internet connectivity only started to bear fruit after schools began to provide wrap-around support services including technical support. Before this, school participation rates – as monitored by the University of Lancaster – stayed at the same rate, and only a quarter of mobile internet connections were set up.

Nik Marsdin at Lancaster and Alex Blower at Portsmouth conclude that moving outreach work to online workshops failed to take into account the disparity in digital participation. They found that work based on an understanding of community needs should support student ambassadors to provide support to help young people get online, and partnership working with other organisations can help to offer wrap-around support. Their blog: technology is not a simple fix for complex societal needs, and does not benefit participation by itself.

Mental Health

UUK describe how university mental health services are plugging the gaps that the NHS doesn’t address. Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said:

  • Universities have worked extremely hard to transform support services to meet the challenges of the pandemic, moving counselling and advice online, building digital communities and developing new services to meet new needs. However we are continuing to see significant increases in demand for university-funded support services, which were already plugging the gaps resulting from the lack of NHS resources and funding.
  • The differing level of mental health support for students depending on their location remains a concern. We need a substantive focus on students’ mental health and wellbeing from the government, alongside student-facing NHS services to match the commitment made in the NHS Long Term Plan.

Prevent

The Government have published the new Terms of Reference for the Independent Review of Prevent.

William Shawcross, Independent Reviewer of Prevent, said:

  • These Terms of Reference will enable me to lead a collaborative and evidence-based examination of the Prevent programme to help ensure we have a robust and effective strategy to protect vulnerable people from being drawn into terrorism. I am grateful to those who commented on the previous terms of reference. Those views are reflected in these new Terms of Reference.
  • I want to find out whether there are any parts of the Prevent strategy that need particular focus or change, and I want to ensure this Review is both broad and non-partisan and engages a wide range of opinion. I look forward to assessing how Prevent works, what impact it has, and what can be done better – or differently – to safeguard individuals from all forms of terrorist influence. I look forward to hearing from many voices, particularly those who have had experience of Prevent in practice.

There is opportunity for colleagues working in this area to comment on the review.

Industrial Strategy

While the current Government are stepping away from the Industrial Strategy developed under Theresa May’s premiership it still remains influential among some parliamentarians.

Immigration

The Home Office published their New Plan for Immigration and invited views on their proposals through a consultation. The proposals include the asylum system, modern slavery, and addressing the criminal networks behind people smuggling. Dods have a short summary including Priti Patel’s introductory statement in the Commons.

Transnational Education

The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) have published the new handbook for the enhancement of the quality of UK transnational education (TNE).

QAA also confirmed that the three countries participating in the QE-TNE programme for the 2021/22 academic year will be the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Germany. These countries were selected based on criteria stipulated in the new handbook including factors such as the existing strong links they have with UK universities, as well as the size or growth of their higher education systems.

Fundamental to the new method is collaboration between QAA and local HE bodies. The approach to the quality evaluation and enhancement of UK TNE provision outlined in the handbook applies to all degree-awarding bodies across the UK on a voluntary basis and operates over the academic years 2021/22 to 2025/26.

The method maintains a UK-wide approach to the quality enhancement of TNE and supports the UK Government’s International Education Strategy, which seeks to grow the opportunity and support available to UK TNE as a key UK export.

Cyber Security Workforce

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) published Understanding the Cyber Security Recruitment Pool research report, which quantifies and explores the supply of cyber skills in the UK. It covers:

  • The size and geographic location of the recruitment pool
  • The types of skills and experience that are prevalent in the pool
  • Recommendations on how employers can effectively recruit from the pool

DCMS also published Cyber Security Skills in the UK Labour Market 2021. The report explores the nature and extent of cyber security skills gaps (people lacking appropriate skills), skills shortages (a lack of people available to work in cyber security job roles) and job vacancies in the UK.

You can read a summary of the key findings and recommendations for both reports here.

Parliamentary Questions

Many of the parliamentary questions over the last two weeks repeat the same themes we’ve brought you recently with no new answers. Here are those we promised you answers on previously:

Academic Engagement in Policy

The International Public Policy Observatory (IPPO) is advertising for topic specialists for their new social impact observatory. They hope to develop a network of topic specialists who can advise on, review and author IPPO’s various content streams – ranging from blogs and ‘rapid answers’ to in-depth evidence briefs and systematic reviews. If you wish to join the IPPO topic specialist network, or sign up for its newsletter and other communications, colleagues should fill in this very short survey  by 30 April.

The IPPO is a collaboration of UK academic institutions and other global networks, established to help policymakers throughout the UK address the social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Other Opportunities

  • International Conference on Science Advice to Governments (30 Aug – 2 September). Register for this virtual and free event here.
  • BEIS Consultation survey– Get your voice heard on energy policy – BEIS are keen to understand how to more effectively engage experts and stakeholders in policy making process.
  • 27 April – Universities Policy Engagement Event: Academic engagement with UK Legislatures – register here. The event will be based on a report by Dr Marc Geddes and Dr Danielle Beswick on Evaluating Academic Engagement with UK legislatures, and supported by the University of Edinburgh.
  • The latest select committee inquiries are here. Colleagues are asked to engage with the policy team when preparing their response to a select committee inquiry.

Blog: The hard labour of connecting research to policy during COVID-19 (LSE Impact Blog) – Professor Annette Boaz and Dr Kathryn Oliver. Read

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

LEO data: the Department for Education have published the Longitudinal Education Outcomes data for 2015 to 2016

Nurses: The DHSC announced a £25m investment in nurse training, for a new national critical care qualification for nurses and expanded virtual training:

  • Up to £15m will go to universities to invest in new simulated training facilities and technology. This will be in the form of virtual reality technology, manikins, computers and tablets, all to help nursing students practice clinical skills.
  • £10m will go to help develop a new, nationally recognised critical care qualification for qualified nurses. This will be rolled out immediately so to increase the number of people able to work in critical care.

Minister for Care Helen Whately said: We are committed to training more nurses for the NHS and supporting professional development, and this £25 million investment will provide more innovative training opportunities for nurses. Whilst there is no substitute for face to face training on wards, simulated training is a vital part of the curriculum and provides a safe space for students to develop their skills. Thanks to our investment, more nursing and other healthcare students will be able to benefit from the latest innovations and new technologies to better support their learning at this time. The funding will also recognise our critical care nurses, who have played a crucial role during this pandemic, with a new nationally recognised qualification.

Student Protests: Jim Dickinson (Wonkhe) reviews the threats to student protest posed by the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.

Harassment: Research Professional’s blog Harassment at home considers the erosion of professional boundaries that can occur through online teaching.

UUK: Professor Steve West has been elected as the next President of Universities UK (UUK) following a members ballot. Professor West has been the Vice-Chancellor of UWE Bristol since 2008. He will succeed the current President, Professor Julia Buckingham CBE, Vice-Chancellor of Brunel University London, from 1 August 2021 and will hold the post for two years. Alongside being a vice-chancellor, Professor West has served on the Boards of HEFCE, UUK and the Office for Students, and Chaired the University Alliance, South-West CBI, West of England Academic Health Science Network and West of England Local Enterprise Partnership. He has chaired UUK’s Health Policy Network and continues to champion the sector’s work to address a wide range of mental health and wellbeing issues as chair of UUK’s mental health in higher education advisory group.

OfS Board Papers: Wonkhe provide real insight into the OfS Board papers in a very short and digestible form.

Wonkfest: A virtual Wonkfest is taking place on 9-10 June, colleagues planning to attend should be aware they are eligible for the lower Wonkhe Plus/partner rate. Please let us know if you are planning to attend! Here’s the blurb: We’ll have sessions about the changes that universities have had to make at speed – what’s worked, what hasn’t and what we want to keep after the pandemic. From the leadership challenge, to the digital pivot to the many innovations in teaching. Inspired by our amazing community, we’ll learn from some of the best ideas that have already shaped universities for the better this year, despite the circumstances. We’ll have journalists and politicians from outside the sector to help put it all in context. We’ll look to the next several years of higher education policy – from skills to fees to quality and try and work out what’s going to happen and how to influence it. And much, much more besides.

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

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

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

Online teaching continues

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

Parliamentary News

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

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

Tuition Fees & Student Loans:

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

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

Research

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

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

Dods summarise the responses:

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

You can read all the responses in detail here.

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

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

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

On moving forward the report finds:

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

Dr Joe Marshall, Chief Executive of NCUB said:

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

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

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

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

Quick News

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

Prevent

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

Industrial Strategy

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

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

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

Access & Participation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parliamentary Questions

International

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

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

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

You can read the full Research Professional article here.

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

More on last week’s announcements

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

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

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

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

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

And some of the solutions?

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

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

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

Students

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2019/20 student statistics

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

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

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

Grades Achieved

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

Science Subjects

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

Qualifications by level

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

Numbers

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

Protected Characteristics

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

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

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

 Student Experience

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

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

The ONS provide some context:

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

Specifically on dissatisfaction:

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

Parliamentary Questions

Health care

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

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

Regulatory

Students

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 16th July 2020

This week we have more from the Universities Minister as the post-Covid policy direction becomes clearer, as well as that speech from the Secretary of State abandoning (again) the 50% target for HE participation , some Committee views on the impact of the virus and what to do about it, and in case you have forgotten about Brexit and the new points-based immigration system, we had more detail this week.  There is the NSS  and some other survey news too.  Brace yourself – it’s another bumper edition.

The Universities Minster speaks

A two-for-one offer this week.  Below we will talk about Gavin Williamson’s speech on FE (and related attack on HE).  But before we get to that, we want to share Michelle Donelan’s latest on 15th July when she was questioned by the Education Select Committee.

As we write this the transcript of the session isn’t available, but there is plenty of media coverage.

You should read the Research Professional article in full, but in case you don’t have time we offer some highlights:

  • Donelan was answering a question from Conservative committee member Caroline Johnson, who wanted to know which groups of young people were least likely to go to university, why that might be and what was being done to encourage them.
  • “First of all I want to say that we don’t necessarily want everyone to go to university—that was very much the essence of the secretary of state’s speech last week,” she said [see below for our summary of that]
  • …Whether you are advantaged or disadvantaged, higher education is not necessarily the best route to get to where you want to go in life,” Donelan said. “I really think we need to move away from this focus of how many students get to university because it is such a blunt instrument that isn’t actually very accurate in terms of social mobility,” she added. “If a student gets to university and drops out after year one and has a year’s debt, what does that achieve for their social mobility? Nothing. In fact, it sets them back in life. “It is about them completing high-quality, academically rigorous courses that then lead to graduate jobs—and that is the important measure we should be looking at.”
  • Johnson did not miss the fact that the universities minister had not really addressed her question, so she went back in for a second go. “The question was: Which groups are currently least likely to go to university and is there much talk about helping those groups…to consider it as a career [choice]?” she said.
  • Donelan trotted out the well-worn line about “record numbers of disadvantaged students going to university” (missing out the word “young”, which is crucial here given the decimation of the mature student body) but acknowledged that there were “still challenges within different sections of society, including white working-class students”. “But I actually don’t think it is a good measure to look at,” the minister continued. “It is the wrong question, if you don’t mind me saying, because it doesn’t matter about looking at which groups don’t get to university. It is about making sure that those groups that do go complete, that [their course will] lead to graduate jobs, but also looking at what is in that student’s best interests.”
  • …Donelan’s declaration that this “doesn’t matter” will be confusing for the great many people who work in widening participation. Johnson seemed taken aback, too. “Does that mean no university will be required to have a target of any particular demographic of student?” she asked.
  • Donelan’s response that universities were “individually accountable” for their access and participation plans, and that there were “different issues in terms of demographics” for different universities, will not do much to address that confusion. Nor will her repeated message that “access and participation is not just about getting the student in; it is about making sure they can complete their course” and then go on to get a graduate job.
  • “We need the sector to actually look at their offer…and their messages to prospective students, because they do tend to promote courses too much that don’t offer those graduate outcomes,” the minister concluded.

Jim Dickinson has also done a summary for Wonkhe and we pick out some different points although of course he includes the access and participation stuff too:

  • Remember all that stuff about bite-size, modular learning in Augar? It sounds like that will make it into the response in the Autumn. Donelan said: “Some of the work I’m doing at the moment is looking at potential for modular learning and how we can expand the part time offer as part of our response to Augar, which we will be responding to in line with the spending review.” Whether that Augar response will tackle the widespread disbelief this time last year that the SLC would be able to handle the complexity of loans for tuition and maintenance at module level remains to be seen.
  • That “other half” of the bailout – the “restructuring regime” yin to the research funding yang, if you will, is coming. And we got a preview of the length and thickness of the strings that will be attached here: “So I can’t obviously pre-empt a report that’s going to come out. But what I can say is the driving force behind all of my work and all of the department’s work in HE is to prioritize quality provision that is fit for purpose and that unlocks opportunities for individuals that are making, at the end of the day, a massive investment in their future and one that they do want to see pay off in some form or another. I think too long we’ve let far too many students down by pushing and promoting courses that don’t have that value, don’t lead to those graduate outcomes and jobs. But at the same time, get them into tens of thousands of debt, which I just don’t think is good enough.”  Any funding from DfE would surely have to come through OfS, which was already busy with a funding review and a look at its minimum thresholds for quality. 
  • Lots of people have been concerned about student hardship during the pandemic, and so were the committee. Here the minister stretched credibility beyond all usual limits in her framing of the ability to spend some student premium in a slightly different way – an issue we’ve picked Donelan up beforeon the site: “Students have been affected by the pandemic in terms of finances, that’s undeniable. So most institutions have their own hardship funds and assistance already. And then they receive money every month for access and participation, which we worked with the Office for Students to remove the restrictions around so that they could unlock twenty three million pounds per month for April, May, June and July.  So 23 million pounds each, which is a considerable amount of money that they were able to then access to top up their hardship funds. And we promoted the use of that for things like accommodation, technology costs, system connectivity costs, all of these things. And that’s had a really fantastic impact in terms of trying to direct that support. I think it was right that we channelled that through universities who had these relationships and could identify those students most in need.”  We’re very much looking forward to seeing the evidence for the claim for the “a really fantastic impact” line, which surely must be coming given how much we all like to focus on “what works” and “outcomes” these days.

Levelling up and higher technical education

On Thursday last week Gavin Williamson gave a speech with the Social Market Foundation and then on Tuesday this week, a press release with more of the detail.

The speech set out the Government’s intentions to refocus FE, raising its profile and establishing the higher technical route as a genuine alternative to a degree. The announcement was well trailed in advance as the sector anticipated that the government would abandon Tony Blair’s target for 50% attending university (of course this wasn’t actually the target and it had already been dropped – Blair’s target was not about universities and l technical education for people under 30, as explained by former Minister Chris Skidmore here ). Given we have had several weeks (months?) of anti-HE rhetoric we had an impending sense of doom as we waited for Williamson’s speech. However, while there are the usual digs, it focussed enough on FE to be balanced.  And there is an opportunity for universities. For years the Government has urged HE institutions to work with their local schools and FE provision and received a lukewarm response, and universities will be able to access the higher technical qualification funding in collaboration with FE providers.

There was lots of interesting content in the speech, browse through the below, summarised in places to shorten it:

  • There is so much right with our education system but when it comes to further education, too many people here don’t value it as much as they should.
  • It exasperates me that there is still an inbuilt snobbishness about higher being somehow better than further, when really, they are both just different paths to fulfilling and skilled employment. Especially when the evidence demonstrates that further education can open the doors to greater opportunity, better prospects and transform lives. We must never forget that the purpose of education is to give people the skills they need to get a good and meaningful job.

The Minister mentioned the following sources of financial support mentioned in the budget last week (read more in our update from last week).

  • When I first came into this job, I was firmly of the belief that there needed to be a major shift in how we treat further education. Not just because of its importance in levelling up. But because further education is vital if we want our country to grow economically and our productivity to improve. We need fundamental change, not just tinkering around the edges.
  • …Further education is central to our mission of levelling up the nation. Or quite simply, giving people the skills that they need to get the jobs that they want. If you want to transform many of our left-behind towns and regions, you don’t do it by investing more money solely in universities. You invest in the local college – the beating hearts of so many of our towns.
  • But unfortunately, we’ve not been providing as many of our young people with this opportunity as we should….Since becoming Education Secretary, I was shocked to discover that while the number of people going to university has increased, the total number of adults in education has actually fallen.
  • So what’s driven that fall?… There has been a systemic decline in higher technical qualifications… Within Higher Education Institutes, foundation degrees have declined from a high of 81,000, to approximately 30,000. Undergraduate part-time study in higher education has also fallen significantly, from nearly 250,000 in 2010 to under 100,000. Together, these more than outweigh the increase in young people going to university. And for those who haven’t achieved the equivalent of A-Levels by age 18, the chances of proceeding to higher levels of qualifications is, as Philip Augar’s report puts it, ‘virtually non-existent.’… Only 10% of all adults aged 18-65 hold a Higher Technical Qualification as their highest qualification. This compares to around 20% of adults in Germany and as much as 34% in Canada…We’re writing off people who have a tremendous potential to contribute to our society.
  • For decades, we have failed to give further education the investment it deserves. Of course, we know universities have an important role to play in our economy, society and culture. But it’s clear that there are limits to what can be achieved by sending ever more people to university, which is not always what the individual or our nation needs. 
  • In February I got sent a copy of the Oxford Review of Education’s special edition, about Higher Education and the labour market…Consistently across countries, there is evidence of filtering down in the labour market. That means that graduates are competing for jobs that used to be – and could still be – done by non-graduates. And a significant proportion of graduates fail to gain much advantage from going to university at all…It reinforces what we already know…that 34% of our graduates are in non-graduate jobs, more than any other countries in Europe except for Ireland and the Czech Republic. And employers say that too often, graduates don’t have the skills they need, whether that’s practical know-how or basic numeracy and literacy. [Here you may wish to read Wonkhe’s alternative take on the 34% underemployed.]
  • ….Skilled trade and professional occupations, in sectors such as manufacturing and construction, report some of the highest skills shortages. Many of these occupations require intermediate or higher technical qualifications – precisely the things that we are not teaching. Simply as a nation we seem to have given up on them when these are the skills we need most to have a chance of competing against other nations.
  • And let’s not pretend these qualifications are in any way inferior to a degree. The outcomes speak for themselves. Five years after completion, the average Higher Technical Apprentice earns more than the average graduate. I’d like to pause on that point just for a moment. A work-based, technical apprenticeship, lasting around 2 years, gives greater returns than the typical three year bachelor’s degree. For too long, we’ve been training people for jobs that don’t exist. We need to train them for the jobs that do exist and will exist in the future. We have to end the focus on qualifications for qualifications sake. We need fundamental reform: a wholesale rebalancing towards further and technical education. And across our entire post-16 sector, we need a much stronger alignment with the economic and societal needs of the nation.
  • My personal commitment is to put further and technical education at the heart of our post-16 education system. Like the Prime Minister, I believe that talent and genius are expressed as much by the hand and by the eye as they are in a spreadsheet or an essay.
  • We need to create and support opportunities for those who don’t want to go to university, not write them off – or drive them down a path that, can all too often, end with graduates not having the skills they need to find meaningful work.

The Minister states these reforms as successes (!):

  • Apprenticeship level and move to employer-led standards
  • Introduction of T levels
  • But, we need to go further, we need to go further and we need to go faster: to remove qualifications that are just not fit for purpose; to tackle low quality higher education; and to give colleges the powers and resources that they need to truly drive change.

Germany…

  • This autumn I will be publishing a White Paper that will set out our plans to build a world-class, German-style further education system in Britain, and level up skills and opportunities. This will not be about incremental change, but a comprehensive plan to change the fundamentals of England’s further education landscape, inspired by the best models from around the world.
  • It will be centred upon two things. Firstly, high quality qualifications based on employer-led standards. All apprenticeships starts will be based on those standards from August this year and we will be looking to place such standards at the heart of our whole technical education system. Secondly, colleges playing a leading role in developing skills in their areas, driving an ambitious agenda that responds to local economic need and acting as centres for businesses and their development.

The Minister pledged to review the 12,000 level 3 qualifications simplifying the system into a consistently high-quality set of choices with a clear line of sight to study at higher levels.

  • …following our consultation last year we will be bringing forward plans to reverse the decline in higher technical education so that we can begin once more to train people for the jobs that the economy actually needs…And we want to do much more to open up more flexible ways of studying, including better support for modular learning.
  • Reforming and growing higher technical education will be a long-term endeavour. We want to see our great further education colleges expanding their higher technical provision. And although this speech is about further education, universities can be an important part of the solution, if they are willing to significantly step up their provision of higher technical qualifications.
  • Of course, qualifications are only half of the picture. Equally important is where they are taught…how our colleges should look in the future…They should be led by great leaders and governors who are drawn from local communities and businesses, and teaching staff who have already have experience working in and with industry…They should have industry-grade equipment and modern buildings which are great places to learn in and which act as centres for business development and innovation…They should deliver courses that are of the highest quality and which are tailored to the needs of employers and their local economies…They should work with small, local businesses to support the introduction of new technology and processes, and offer training in emerging skills….And there should be a robust system of governance so that every college is financially secure, flexible and dynamic. [That’ll keep the Government/ESFA busy then!]
  • We are also driving forward our network of Institutes of Technology. They will lead the way on delivering higher technical skills in science, technology, engineering, and maths – skills that will give this country a competitive edge not just in the industries of today, but, just as importantly, those of tomorrow. The first 12 are being rolled out across the country, ready to deliver the next generation of technicians and engineers, and more will follow soon. [Later this year the government plans to launch a competition to ensure that all of England is covered by an Institute of Technology.]

I think a lot of thought went into Williamson’s speech as he even attempts to change the rhetoric:

  • Some people say that further education and apprenticeships are for other people’s children. Let me be clear: I don’t. I’d be delighted if my children went to college or did an apprenticeship.
  • …No longer can we persist in the view that university is the silver bullet for everyone and everything. The revolution and need for change is long overdue. Education’s purpose is to unlock an individual’s potential so they can get the job and career that they crave. If it fails to do that then education itself has let them down. Today I have laid down a marker for change. A commitment to stand for the forgotten 50%. [You may recall that it was Ed Miliband who first coined the ‘forgotten 50%’ phrase in this context.]

Responses

The Guardian have an article from Berlin Bureau Chief – Philip Oltermann –  Importing Germany’s dual education system is easier said than done stating the German set up is fundamentally different to the UK (for a start it’s a federal nation, and a lot bigger) but also because it has the same ‘issue’ with HE being a preferred option. The Guardian states:

  • it involves complex coordination between the different actors, which the UK would at present struggle to reproduce, but also because it is threatened by the same cultural factors that have made universities so popular in the UK.  
  • ..the German dual system requires a high level of complex coordination between the employers who pay the trainee’s wages, the federal states that fund vocational training schools tailored to the needs of local industry, the unions that feed into the curriculum, and the chambers of trade and industry that carry out the exams at the end.
  • Previous British attempts to build up German-style dual systems – New Labour’s “14-19 Diplomas” and David Cameron’s ambitious apprenticeship targets – struggled to build up the educational infrastructure required to go with it.
  • Most British unions don’t have the capacity to feed expertise into training programmes… there isn’t an equivalent tradition of employers’ umbrella organisations developing training programmes for their entire sector.
  • In addition, not just Britain but Germany too is experiencing a gravitational pull that draws more and more young people towards universities rather than apprenticeships.

And the key point is this –

  • One reason for the trend, labour market experts speculate, is that academic degrees promise more flexibility, which is one of the downsides of the dual system.
  • While Germany’s dual training programmes produce highly specialised workers that can be perfectly matched to a sector’s current needs, they can struggle when digitalisation or globalisation throws that sector into crisis, as German printers, tailors or photo laboratory technicians have discovered in recent years.

Williamson’s speech is all about training young people to fit within specific fields of work, particularly addressing skills gaps – but those gaps will close and educational programmes take longer to respond. Flexibility really is the key here as people expect to need to change professions 5-7 times during their working span (Careers advice online, Financial Times, although this source takes issue with the ‘job hopping millennial’).

Before the Minister made his speech ex-Universities Minister Chris Skidmore wrote for Conservative Home agreeing with Williamson’s speech but also using his piece to remind about:

  • Step-on, step off, credit based learning, that allows for a personalised education for the 100 per cent, not one that seeks to divide between two systems.
  • we should not turn the clock back – but equally let’s make sure we give everyone, regardless of background, an equal chance to learn. More part-time, flexible learning for adults of every age can help achieve this.
  • My greatest objection to the 50 per cent headline grabbing figure is that it masks some of the truly horrifying, persistent divisions in our country. Still just nine per cent of white boys on free school meals living in the North East access higher education; only six per cent of pupils who have been in care will do so. These divisions are even more acute when the type of university institution is taken into account. In 2018, 17 per cent of students who were eligible for free school meals entered higher education in the UK. Yet only 2.7 per cent of them enrolled at high-tariff providers.
  • It is not acceptable for money to be handed over to institutions without delivering the necessary qualification. So called ‘non-completions’ are an unacceptable waste of talent and resource – which is why we need to create a learning system that prevents young people from dropping through the net.

In what will likely be an interesting summer for policy twists e should not dismiss Skidmore’s remarks simply because he is a backbencher. Currently Donelan is overshadowed by her two predecessors and their recent frequent media pieces…’ as if they are trying to influence from the side lines as they scent the change on the wind.

On the speech Wonkhe say: There are also serious doubts about the government’s capability and capacity to deliver meaningful reform in this area. It seems perennially confused about what it wants from higher education… And the fact that ministers can’t seem to support further education without attacking universities has left many on both sides of the old tertiary divide scratching their heads.

Wonkhe also sum up some of the media and sector responses for us: Greg Walker, CEO of MillionPlus said that some of the rhetoric in the speech missed the mark “as it appears to see HE and FE as alternatives, which they are clearly not”. University Alliance CEO Vanessa Wilson added that it was wrong to suggest that higher education “rarely offers technical qualifications and training”. The speech is covered by the BBC, the Times, the Financial Times, the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Independenti News, the Spectator, the Mirror, the Mail. The Spectator also runs an opinion piece from the Social Market Foundation’s Director, James Kirkup, on the “genuinely important” speech, while the Guardian’s Education editor muses on what might come of Williamson’s education “revolution”.

Writing before the speech was released Research Professional made some good points:

  • How the government will actually stop school leavers choosing “popular-sounding courses”, as Donelan put it, remains to be seen.
  • Scarcity of places and repurposing the course offer of universities that get into financial trouble are two tools available, but they are unlikely to have much impact in the short and medium term while the demographic of 18-year-olds in England is at its lowest for several decades and supply outstrips demand.
  • It would seem that not even the coronavirus can dim the desire of young people to go to university, or of their parents to see them there. So what makes the government think it can do what Covid-19 cannot?
  • Even after the government has trebled tuition fees, cut grants and created a market of alternative providers, young people still want to go to university in numbers that continue to grow. The expansion of university participation is driven by the desires of students and their parents, not by irresponsible vice-chancellors looking to put bums on seats, as a former universities minister once put it.
  • …Williamson may rail today against a previous emphasis on increased entry to university, while on the other hand this government might end up making good on New Labour’s 50 per cent participation pledge. That target … was always supposed to include students experiencing higher education on HND and HNC courses. An investment in further education, with a push on lower-level qualifications, might just result in the Conservatives finally realising the ambition of Tony Blair’s government.
  • A canny education secretary who wanted to get things done would incentivise higher education in a further education setting and enable partnerships between universities and local colleges. An education secretary hidebound by ideology will seek to erect obstacles to university attendance, which will prove to be ineffective and counterproductive in the long run.
  • How Williamson chooses to pivot in his speech today will tell us a lot about what the legacy of this government will be for universities. Will it be five years of lobbying against restrictive measures or will it be a period of contributing to national recovery through joined-up thinking across the education system?

Post-speech Research Professional focus on the poor state of the FE sector and suggest that the Government’s reforms are the reason for the numbers decline within the mature population.

Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of The Sutton Trust, said:

  • Further educationandapprenticeshipshave a crucial role to play in widening opportunity … We would also like to see many more degree and degree-levelapprenticeshipsavailable to young people. They offer a powerful combination of on the job learning and academic work, enabling young people to earn while they learn, graduate with little or no debt and with the skills the marketplace wants. 

Tim Thomas, Make UK Director of Labour Market and Skills Policy said:

  • This is a welcome move to parity between academic and vocational education. For too long vocational education has been seen as the second class option for those who don’t make it to university. An employer-led vocational training system is the only way that we will meet the skills needs of the future and properly train the next generation with the future skills needed by business.
  • High quality engineering apprenticeships can offer better careers than university education and are often seen by employers as a better source of talent and supplying the right skills required by business. We look forward to working with government on their white paper and producing the fundamental changes need to our vocational trading system needed to make these objectives a reality for employers and learners alike.

So what does it all mean?

On Tuesday Gavin Williamson announced the detail of the plans.

Higher technical quals consist of HNCs (Higher National Certificates, level 4) and HND (Higher National Diplomas, level 5) effectively plugging the levels between A level (level 3) and Degree (level 6). Unlike A levels and degrees they usually have a technical focus and the Minister intends for them to focus on the skilled professions particular where the UK needs additional manpower to service industry gaps. The Government intend to:

  • Introduce new higher technical qualifications from as early as September 2022 [digital quals in Sept 2022, health science and construction in 2023] with a Government branded quality mark certifying the qualification as delivering the skills employers need (and using the same occupational standards as T levels and apprenticeships will sit within).
  • Work with Ofsted and the OfS to ensure the course quality is consistently high across HE and FE providers and building on the Institutes of Technology. Wonkhe speculate that the regulatory role will sit with the OfS as the original consultation highlighted an assurance role for the Office for Students that focused more on inputs than outputs – we’re expecting to see a move away from that level of active intervention to a reliance on existing OfS registration requirements in the full announcement.
  • Raise public awareness through a national campaign supported by employers and careers advisers to showcase the benefits and the wide range of opportunities that studying a higher technical qualification can open up and making sure students get the right information, advice and guidance to make informed choices. Also: we will raise the profile and understanding of the best higher technical education courses through a government-backed brand, a communications campaign and improvements to information, advice and guidance.

The written ministerial statement added some additional context.

The Government certainly means business with the speed they intend to introduce the new qualifications. Many complained that T levels are not ready, and they had a far longer lead time and are being introduced piecemeal. The higher technical qualifications will continue  the Government’s vocational and technical route after T levels, alongside the intended expansion of the Institutes of Technology.

It is expected that the new higher technical quals will focus on STEM and manufacturing at first. What haven’t been mentioned are degree apprenticeships nor topping up a HND to a full degree. It is somewhat conspicuous by its absence as this has always been the focus of previous Government efforts. However, given the current rhetoric about degrees and criticism of the cost of the degree apprenticeships, the absence isn’t surprising. Yet it does create a hole between the Government’s ideal for more applied research to take place in situ within businesses and industry, including PhDs, which need that top up to the full degree and the advanced research skills often learnt on the level 6 top up.

The biggest question is what fee regime the higher technical qualifications will be subject to.

Finally the Government’s press release states the measure announced today will complement the Government’s review of post-18 education to ensure the system is joined up, accessible and encourages the development of the skills the country needs. The Government did review the higher technical level 4 & 5 space last year (it bumbled along quietly against the tertiary education and funding review). The Augar review was Theresa May’s baby and the Government has delayed its response and forthcoming changes for an embarrassingly long while. The Government may also think the lure of the technical route will result in a drop in degree applications – that remains to be seen, particularly given points made earlier about young people wanting flexibility over career choices rather than being channelled into a particular skill set and there is the forthcoming young population boom to accommodate.

Wonkhe have an interactive chart showing where the existing higher technical courses are offered. It describes approximately 1,000 courses currently exist with FE colleges delivering slightly more than HE institutions. Sadly it doesn’t geographically map where these courses are to show national coverage or patchiness, although you can browse through the provider names to get a feel for the national distribution.

There was a parliamentary question on difficulty for young people travelling to their T level placements from rural areas. The Government responds on increased funding to sources that could support the individual.

Finally, Mary Curnock Cook (ex UCAS CEO) blogs for HEPI stating that the technical curriculum needs to be on offer at secondary level too. Excerpt:

  • while I support the government’s aims to overhaul tertiary education options I fear their current approach will further divide society, lethally levelling up the already privileged middle-classes while sorting off the less well off, lower-attaining rest into what will forever seem like poorer options in lesser occupations. If levelling up is the aim, then we need to create broader and meaningful technical and skills pathways for all students, not just for those that do less well at academic GCSEs.

Admissions – use of calculated grades

Much of this week’s education-related parliamentary chatter has been about the use of predicted grades to determine GCSE and A level results. It is slightly surprising it has taken until now – given one of the main reasons for considering an alternative to HE admissions are concerns over the inaccuracy of predicted grades, particularly that disadvantaged students may be underpredicted (reducing their chances of reaching a higher tariff provider), BAME bias may result in underprediction, and SEN children can perform higher than expected in final exams (and mocks may not have incorporated the adjustments they would expect in the finals).

The Education Committee’s latest report Getting the grades they’ve earned: Covid-19: the cancellation of exams and ‘calculated’ grades addresses the issue. 

  • We consider exams to be the fairest form of assessment, and any alternative will inevitably be an imperfect replacement. Ofqual has stepped up to the immense challenge of devising these exceptional arrangements,
  • We have concerns that the system described by Ofqual as the “fairest possible in the circumstances” could be unfair for groups including disadvantaged pupils, BAME pupils, children looked after, and pupils with SEND.
  • …We believe it is reasonable to remain aware that the potential for human bias in predicted grades may be replicated in the calculated grade system. We note that teachers and support staff themselves appear sceptical of the fairness of this year’s system of awarding grades
  • We are unconvinced that safeguards—such as additional guidance and practical recommendations—put in place by Ofqual will be sufficient to protect against bias and inaccuracy in calculated grades. In particular, given research evidence on unconscious bias, we are concerned that groups including pupils from low-income families, BAME pupils, pupils with SEND, and children looked after could be disadvantaged by calculated grades.
  • We raised our concerns about fairness for pupils with special educational needs to Ofqual, emphasising the importance of ensuring SEND specialists feed into calculated grades. We are pleased that Ofqual produced guidance on considering evidence from SEND specialists during the calculated grade process. We are concerned, however, that there was no accountability mechanism for ensuring this happened consistently
  • Given the potential risks of bias in calculated grades, it is clear that standardisation will be a crucial part of ensuring fairness. We are extremely concerned that Ofqual’s standardisation model does not appear to include any mechanism to identify whether groups such as BAME pupils, FSM eligible pupils, children looked after, and pupils with SEND have been systematically disadvantaged by calculated grades. Ofqual must identify whether there is evidence that groups…have been systematically disadvantaged by calculated grades. If this is the case, Ofqual’s standardisation model must adjust the grades of the pupils affected upwards.

On appeals the report says:

  • We took evidence on the system Ofqual has devised for appealing grades. Sally Collier assured us that Ofqual has “spent many hours with very many people trying to come up with the fairest possible appeal system in the circumstances”. Tom Bewick told us that given the circumstances, the 2020 system “is effectively the least worst option”.
  • We are extremely concerned that pupils will require evidence of bias or discrimination to raise a complaint about their grades. It is unrealistic and unfair to put the onus on pupils to have, or to be able to gather, evidence of bias or discrimination. Such a system also favours more affluent pupils and families with resources and knowledge of the system.

Recommendations:

  • We call on Ofqual to make a transparency guarantee—a commitment to publishing details of its standardisation model immediately to allow time for scrutiny. Ofqual should not be afraid of scrutiny or open debate over whether its model offers the fairest outcome for every pupil and provider
  • Ofqual must identify whether there is evidence that groups such as BAME pupils, pupils with SEND, children looked after, and FSM eligible pupils have been systematically disadvantaged by calculated grades. If this is the case, Ofqual’s standardisation model must adjust the grades of the pupils affected upwards. The Government must extend catch-up funding to include disadvantaged post-16 pupils to ensure this is not a lost generation. This should be done by doubling the disadvantage element in the 16–19 funding formula for pupils in Year 12, for at least the next year.
  • Ofqual’s evaluation must include comprehensive data on attainment, by characteristics including gender, ethnicity, SEND, children looked after, and FSM eligibility, providing full transparency on whether there are statistically significant differences between attainment this year compared with previous years.
  • It is right that pupils should be able to appeal their grade if they believe bias or discrimination has occurred, but Ofqual has not given enough thought on how to make this route accessible to all pupils. [The section within the report on appeals states The appeals process: a process for the well-heeled and sharp-elbowed?] …Without support, proving bias or discrimination would be an almost impossible threshold for any pupil to evidence. Disadvantaged pupils, and those without family resources or wider support, risk being shut out of this route. Ofqual must urgently publish the evidence thresholds for proving bias and discrimination, clearly setting out what evidence will be required. AND Ofqual must collect and publish anonymised data at the conclusion of the appeals process on where it received appeals from, including, as a minimum, type of school attended, region, gender, ethnicity, SEND status, children looked after (including children supported by virtual schools), and FSM eligibility
  • Ofqual must ensure gold-standard advice and support is easily accessible for all pupils unhappy with their grades. Both the helplines provided by Ofqual and the National Careers Service must be freephone lines. These must both be staffed by dedicated professionals with the training to provide sound and impartial step-by-step advice and support on options and appeals.

Paragraphs 30 onwards tackles calculated grades for vocational and technical qualifications.

A HEPI blog, Halfon is right: Ofqual has more to do, agrees with the Education Committee’s outcomes and urges for action to be taken. It make interesting points about the autumn exams too:

  • In the understandable rush to introduce a completely new system, after the Secretary of State’s announcement on 20 March, it probably seemed reasonable at first to invent a system in which dissatisfaction could be tackled by an opportunity to take an autumn examination. Over time this choice has unravelled. If initial results match the allowed national distribution and autumn exam candidates succeed in achieving higher grades, then grade inflation is bound to follow – unless other candidates are downgraded, which is unthinkable. Are autumn exam candidates being set up to fail? Or will the August results be scaled down to allow some headroom in the national distribution?
  • Furthermore, students sitting autumn exams face a compulsory gap year, because the exams will be too late for a 2020-2021 start. This in itself may be discriminatory, especially for disadvantaged students. The impact of autumn-awarded grades on admission prospects for 2021 is uncertain. Some universities are refusing deferred entry for 2021, others will honour offers but with added conditions. The competition for 2021 entry is likely to be much more intense as 2020 students reapply, a larger 2021 cohort apply for the first time, and international students from 2020 and 2021 return in much larger numbers.

Admissions – numbers up

UCAS announced a rise in application numbers last week – up 1.6% on last year and is the highest figure in four years. They state a record 40.5% of all UK 18 year olds have applied to HE (last year – 38.9%) despite there being 1.5% fewer in the population because of the birth dip. (And 2020 is the bottom point in the population dip.) Just over a quarter of young applicants were from disadvantaged backgrounds (25.4%) using the participation measure. There is a small drop in EU student applications (down 2%).  And UCAS highlight that nursing applications (between January and June only) was 63% higher than the same period last year. Universities will be keen to ensure these applicants convert into enrolments once the results are out.

Clare Marchant, UCAS’ Chief Executive, said: At this moment, we’re seeing an encouraging picture emerge out of national lockdown, with currently more applicants than last year keen to expand their mind, stretch themselves, and seize the opportunities that higher education can offer.

Research Professional comment: This is great news for universities because it suggests that in the teeth of a fierce recession and with the prospect of gap-year travel off the table, even the model of blended learning on offer in institutions next year is proving to be more appealing to young people than continuing to be locked down with mum and dad.

Nursing

Every week the Government receive several parliamentary questions urging for leniency on nursing tuition fees both to cut tuition moving forward and refunds as a response to the coronavirus support work they undertook in hospitals. The House of Commons Library have published a briefing paper exploring the current funding systems for healthcare students, plus medicine, dentistry and paramedics. The nursing section includes the recent impacts on applications to study and the September 2020 new bursary offers. The Government also issued a press release to celebrate that applications to nursing courses are up by 16% (at end of June) and that the NHS is currently employing a record number of nurses and midwives (the largest ever annual increase):

  • Around 18,370 more nurses, midwives and nursing associates are now on the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s permanent register to work in the UK compared to a year ago, bringing the total number to 716,607 by 31 March 2020. The number of people trained in the UK leaving the register has also fallen to a five-year low.

 On Studying nursing the press release states:

  • This is the second year in a row that applicant numbers have risen. In 2019 there was a 6.4% increase in people accepted onto nursing and midwifery courses in England compared to 2018.

However, the Royal College of Nursing responded to the increase in nursing applications stating a much larger increase is required if the government is to come anywhere close to its commitment of having 50,000 more nurses in the NHS in England by the end of this Parliament.

Mike Adams, RCN Director for England said:

  • “Application numbers for the nursing degree in England have reduced by 17.4% since 2016, the final year of the bursary. This means even if the all of the latest applications are turned into acceptances and ultimately registered nurses, the large workforce gap will still not close.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on the contribution that nurses, and in particular student nurses, make to the entire health and care system. The effort they have shown has to be met with investment in our future nurses.
  • The government must invest properly in our domestic nursing supply and ensure patient need is met in the long term. To achieve this, it must wipe the debt of those who’ve had to take this on to study, provide full tuition fee support for all students and ensure maintenance support reflects students’ actual living costs.
  • The government should aim for an oversupply of nurses to strengthen our profession and keep patients safe.

Tuition fee refunds

Remember that mass petition for tuition fee refunds that was reopened by the Petitions Committee in Parliament? The Committee heard oral evidence and engaged 28,000 students through a survey and online forum (wider inquiry details here). The Committee has reported (key findings here) concluding that there should not be a universal reimbursement but that individuals can claim refunds on an individual basis in certain circumstances. The Committee stated:

  • While students do have a right to seek a refund or to repeat part of their course if the service provided by their university is substandard, we do not believe that there should be a universal refund or reimbursement of tuition fees to all university students.

However, as the Guardian reports, Catherine McKinnell, the Labour MP who chairs the petitions committee, said:

  • “Despite the hard work of lecturers and support staff, some universities have been unable to provide courses in a way that students feel is good value for money. Therefore, while we do not consider that a blanket refund for all students is necessarily required, we believe that the government has a role in ensuring any student whose university experience has fallen short is compensated.”
  • The report calls for refund procedures to be streamlined and better publicised, saying the existing complaints process or use of the courts places too much of a burden on individual students and are likely to be overwhelmed by a flood of cases.
  • The MPs also said the government should pay for tuition fee refunds this year, “given the importance of the higher education sector to the UK economy, and the exceptional circumstances”.

Wonkhe have a blog it starts: Should students get a refund? Some should, says a committee – but they won’t. The House of Commons petitions committee is clueless on consumer law and student rights.

The Petitions Committee report recommends that the Government should:

  • work with universities, the Office for Students, and Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education to produce guidance on when current and future university students may be entitled to seek a refund or to repeat part of their course;
  • establish a new system which enables all students to easily seek a full or partial refund of their tuition fees, or to repeat part of their course;
  • ensure that all students are advised of their consumer rights and are given clear guidance on how to avail themselves of these if they feel their university has failed to provide an adequate standard of education;
  • consider providing additional funding to universities to enable them to pay any refunds university students are entitled to as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak;
  • consider alternative means for reimbursing students, where an independent process has found that they are entitled to a refund;
  • consider making additional funding available to students who might want to extend their education after the outbreak, and to provide ongoing employment advice and support beyond graduation in what is likely to be an extremely challenging employment market.

NUS responded to the Committee’s recommendations:

  • NUS has been calling for the Government to provide a Student Safety Net since the scale of the impact on students became clear. The Petitions Committee’s recommendations would go a long way in achieving this aim, with targeted fee reimbursements and debt write-offs. We also welcome the references to support for further study or to redo elements of the course.
  • Although the report highlights some of our key asks for education leavers, the recent Treasury announcements for graduates do not go far enough and we would like to see an extended economic support package put in place.
  • Covid-19 has exposed and exacerbated the cracks in a broken higher education system, and hit students from disadvantaged and underrepresented communities the hardest. It is critical that the Government acts on these suggestions, but they must also go further. We are calling for universal compensation, and for the Government to protect our education sector from the failed project of marketisation before they lose the faith of millions of students.

The Office of the Independent Adjudicator has been on the ball throughout this process and in light of this week’s announcement they have blogged for Wonkhe:

  • We think it’s reasonable to expect providers to try to agree any significant changes with students as this is in everyone’s best interests. Where this is not possible, it’s important to explain to students what their options are. From our perspective, we would not be prescriptive about what this looks like in practice but we would look at whether the provider has taken reasonable steps to consult with students and enable them to make informed decisions.
  • Now that providers have had some time to plan for the longer-term effects of the pandemic, it is in our view unlikely to be reasonable for providers to rely on exclusion clauses that allow the provider to make significant changes to what it has promised, or not to deliver it at all, in the new year.
  • Where it’s not possible to deliver something that is at least broadly equivalent to what was promised, or to meet an individual students’ needs, the provider will need to think about how to put that right. It’s best to do this proactively without waiting for formal complaints to be raised.
  • There are groups of students whose studies are particularly badly affected by Covid-19 disruption and where significant changes are needed to their courses. It’s important to identify those groups and try to address their issues.
  • Providers will also be aware of and looking out for students who are vulnerable or less able to access replacement provision. Some of these students too may feel unable to continue with their studies, for example because their personal circumstances have changed, or they are shielding or very anxious.
  • In such extraordinary times we think it’s reasonable for students to be considering deferring or interrupting their studies, although this may not be their best option. We think providers should be considering requests sympathetically, helping students to understand their options, and should be ready to depart from their normal policy where it is reasonable to do so.
  • We don’t think it’s reasonable to have blanket policies such as refusing to give tuition fee refunds in any circumstances or refusing all requests for deferral, or not engaging with individual students’ concerns. We have already seen a worrying example of this among the first coronavirus-related complaints that have reached us. 
  • When we review a student’s complaint we look at whether the provider has followed fair procedures, and whether it has acted reasonably in the circumstances. We always take into account relevant legislation and guidance… A student’s contractual terms and conditions are important but we look more widely than that, at what is fair.

Research Professional have a short article on the Petitions Committee decision mainly focusing on restitution for students such as a tuition fee loan refund.

International Students

The UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) published a roadmap for a world-class international student experience. It calls for further visa flexibility, delaying the immigration health surcharge, and aims to build a stronger evidence base of current international students’ experiences, to drive future policy development and support policy asks. UKCISA also hopes to develop an International Student Charter.

Research Professional report on a survey suggesting that a fifth of potential EU students who considered studying in the UK plan to start their course earlier than they originally intended because of the tuition fee changes (the removal of home status).

Pinsent Masons (legal firm) run through all the recent Visa status changes. The Tier 4 content is just below halfway on this link.

Scotland have confirmed they will also end the free tuition for EU students from 2021. HE Minister Richard Lochhead explained it as a Brexit decision made with a heavy heart. He stated the £19 million  (per year) EU fee saving would be retained within Scotland to support more Scottish residents to attend University. To support Scottish universities internationalisation he aims to put a scholarship programme in place to continue to attract EU talent.

Despite last week’s urging from ex-Universities Minister Jo Johnson and Shadow HE Minister Emma Hardy the Government’s response to the international students in the US (who will have their visa rescinded due to their institution offering online study only during the pandemic) will not take a proactive stance. Current Universities Minister Michelle Donelan simply reiterated all the ‘welcoming’ measures for international students that are already in place such as the online study visa exemption and the post study work visa system. No attractive marketing campaign will be launched. This isn’t surprising from the viewpoint of international relations with an America determined to take offence at slights, however, given how well the Government’s aides have been listening and responding to sector chatter recently a warmer response might have been anticipated.

The second half of this Research Professional article gives the perspective of a German student who is anticipating their visa will be cancelled. It reminds that there is more to it than an undergraduate student forced to choose between deferral or switching countries of study:

  • simply studying online at a US institution from Germany is not feasible for many who had plans to stay in the United States for an extended period of time and have made arrangements accordingly, including uprooting family. 
  • “Anyone who—sometimes accompanied by relatives—is completing or planning a stay of several years in the United States, and has temporarily given up his or her centre of life in Germany for this purpose, is faced with existential questions.”

Happily for those international students the point is now moot. Following immense pressure from the Harvard and MIT law suit (which was joined by the tech giants, e.g. Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and the US Chamber of Commerce) President Trump has dropped the visa cancellation.

Whether international students will be exempt from the mandatory C-19 quarantine period of 2 weeks.  Whereas this IDP Connect survey suggests 77% of international students would happily quarantine if it meant a quicker return to face to face on campus teaching.

Points-based Immigration System

A policy paper on the points-based immigration system was published this week with more detail on the Student, Graduate and Skilled Worker route. There are lots of items with a little more detail, however, the key points remain as we’ve mentioned in previous policy updates. For those with an interest you can read the main elements here. One key change is that universities will need to do more than just monitor attendance – they will need to confirm (keep records as evidence) that international students have fully engaged with the course. Research Professional have a short write up here.

Graduate Outcomes

HESA released the next set of Graduate Outcomes experimental statistics data, this time looking at graduates’ subjective wellbeing. They asked about how anxious/happy the respondent felt, whether they felt the things they do in their life are worthwhile, and whether they are satisfied with their life. The charts are here. The second set of charts examines the above questions by subject studied. Education and subjects allied to medicine stand out as happiest/most pleased with their life currently.

The third chart shows that there isn’t a lot of difference on the questions from students across the range of degree outcomes from pass to first. The fourth chart looks at gender differences – females stated more anxiety but also rate high on the worthwhileness of their life. You can also cut the data by domicile in the final chart.

Wonkhe’s data guru interprets the findings further in a specific blog.

Social Mobility Commission

Sandra Wallace (lawyer) and Steven Cooper (banking) have been appointed as interim chairs of the Social Mobility Commission on a job share basis. Both currently serve on the Commission and will fill the role temporarily until a substantive chair can be appointed. You can read more on the appointees background and the details of the appointments in the Government’s press release.

Bailout push

YouGov have undertaken a poll examining the 30 marginal constituencies (those which swing between parties at the election and aren’t a safe seat) which all have a (10%+) student population and a university within their catchment. The results of the poll aren’t publicly available (currently) so we rely on the reporting in the UCU press release for details. UCU report that voters in these constituencies support additional Government funding to protect their university from the financial insecurity caused by the pandemic. These constituencies MPs include PM Boris Johnson and Science Minister Amanda Solloway. The bottom of the press release contains a table detailing the constituencies and their elected MPs.

  • 76% felt their local university was important in creating local jobs
  • 79% felt the university was important to the local economy
  • 72% university is key in brining in outside investment to the local area
  • 75% the university supplies key skilled staff for local services such as schools and hospitals
  • 33% of those polled who were employed stated the university was important to their own job
  • 42% knew someone studying or working at the university
  • 66% believe there would be a negative impact on the local economy if student numbers dropped at their university due to C-19
  • 75% were concerned of a negative local impact if their university went bust
  • 55% supported a temporary increase in Government financial support for their university to maintain courses and jobs (20% opposed the idea). [Hardy overwhelming support for this question!]
  • 43% want their local MPs to campaign for increased support for universities

NSS Analysis

The OfS have issued a press release on the 2020 National Student Survey additional analysis which examined the impact of the coronavirus on the results. They state that student satisfaction is stable and students continue to be discontented with course organisation and communication of changes.

  • The additional analysis acknowledges variations across the data but no evidence the results have been significantly impacted by the pandemic: The OfS used a statistical model to determine whether there is a significant difference between responses made before and after the 11 March (an ’11 March effect’) when other factors are taken into account. The model found that there is a difference for the majority of questions, but similar variations are also present in 2018 and 2019, so cannot be attributed solely to the pandemic.
  • 83% of students are satisfied with their course (2019 was 84%)
  • 67% feel their course is well organised and run smoothly (2019 = 70%; 2018 = 69%)
  • 62% felt students’ course feedback had been acted on (but only 49% of part time students did)
  • 2020 response levels were lower than in 2019 and 2018
  • Overall comparing against 2019 there is a small negative shift in the agreement rate for some questions.

Nicola Dandridge, OfS Chief Executive, said:

  • This academic year has come with unprecedented challenges for both universities and colleges, and their students. Notwithstanding the impact of both industrial action and the coronavirus pandemic on the students responding to the survey, the results remain remarkably positive.
  • However, for several years, students have reported comparatively lower satisfaction with the organisation and management of their courses, and how effectively changes are communicated. Now more than ever, the survey results demonstrate how important it is for universities to communicate changes effectively, run courses as smoothly as possible, and listen carefully to student feedback. This is even more important in the context of the coronavirus pandemic …

 Student Number Controls

This week Jo Johnson writes for the Evening Standard. The piece tackles how student number controls and, reading between the lines, possible changes to the funding of certain degree programmes that the Government might be considering (remember Jo himself was in favour of differential fees and tried to bring in through the HERA legislation linked to the quality of the TEF judgement – but the Lords protested) could negatively impact on arts programmes.

  • Up until the Coronavirus struck, they [the creative industries] were growing at five times the rate of the economy and generating around 15 per cent of national gross value-added. Enabling historic palaces, museums, galleries, live music and independent cinema to access emergency grants and loans while their doors are closed is a no-brainer.
  • For policy to be fully joined up, however, the Department for Education must take care over how it operates recently re-imposed domestic student number controls. This risks turning into a crude process to allocate places – and therefore funding – on the basis of flawed measures of graduate earnings. This would unfairly penalise creative arts courses already in the cross-hairs of higher education sceptics in Parliament fired up by Gavin Williamson’s denunciation of the Blair-era target for 50 per cent of young people to go to university. If we have learnt anything lately, it is to value socially useful but lower-earning professions.
  • It would be incoherent to open the door to international talent to work across our economy, while restricting opportunities for domestic students to prepare themselves for careers in the arts. An economic nonsense too: the creative industries were generating £13 million for the economy every hour before Covid-19 – enough to repay the subsidy to arts courses in the student loan book many times over.
  • Our creative industries will only recover if we supply them with the skills and talent vital for their success.

Research

  • A parliamentary question asking whether HE institutions can combine all the sources of Government support.
  • Covid-19 researchers will receive visa relaxation measures.
  • An answer to a parliamentary question we mentioned last week has revealed that UKRI administers 70% of the research public funding (UK sources).
  • Establishing an effective coordination and oversight mechanism to serve the R&D spectrum in the UK – a Science for the Justice System Advisory Group has been established working with UKRI to coordinate forensic science in the UK.
  • Direct air capture R&D funding
  • Institutions eligible for research funding (influence of REF award)
  • Wellcome have a new blog – How could COVID-19 change research culture for the better?
  • Research Professional (RP) report that participation in Horizon Europe is dead in all but name – there are concerns over the terms on which the UK could associate with the EU’s research funding schemes and the cost of the joining fee plus the operational contribution is described as eye-watering. Cost estimates range from 600 million Euros to 12 billion Euros – way beyond the costs UK researchers could win back in funding. The article states that Kurt Deketelaere, Secretary-General of the League of European Research Universities, said EU academia remains firmly behind UK association, and said British institutions must pile pressure on their government. If you’re not going to push anymore, nobody is. And that the European Commission has clearly indicated that this [terms/contribution] is still up for negotiation. Deketelaere implies it is the UK Government who are balking at joining Horizon Europe not the European Commission. However, there are question marks over the joining charge – the UK’s fee is being set out whereas it is unclear if the EU will charge other non-EU countries for association. RP report that the Treasury also expect the costs to come out of existing research budgets (previously it was going to be in addition to the science budget) because of the generous sums announced recently (and due to the cost of the pandemic for the Government). RP state:  Government sources now question whether the UK research community will be willing to blow a multibillion-pound hole in research budgets for the sake of access to the prestigious European Research Council and Marie Skłodowska-Curie Awards.

RP continue:

  • While there are now clouds on the horizon for the UK’s participation in EU research schemes, all of this is subject to the caveat that negotiations over both a Brexit trade deal and the terms of Horizon Europe are still ongoing. Everything could change, but all available evidence suggests that the UK government is now preparing an exit strategy and has its excuse lined up already.
  • Playbook suspects that as Brexit trade deal talks intensify after the summer, UK universities will be presented with a choice between paying over the odds to play in Europe or settling for beefed-up domestic schemes administered by UK Research and Innovation. For vice-chancellors, the wallet will say UKRI although the heart may say EU—is it a price worth paying?
  • But, in the end, this is not a decision that will be made in universities.

PQs

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

Disadvantage: The OfS has published their latest briefing note which considers outreach to disadvantaged students during the coronavirus. It describes online outreach including two case studies of a blended summer school type model, and other approaches targeted towards BAME, Gypsy, Roma and Traveller families, mature learners, and other vulnerable or underrepresented groups.

HE Sector Financial Health: The House of Commons Library have published a briefing Coronavirus: Financial impact on HE. It covers the financial health of the sector, the impact of reduced international student numbers, the Government support packages (fee payments and research funding) and the R&D roadmap.

Student Loans: The SLC have launched a new online repayment service – it calculates a student’s up to date remaining loan balance. It aims to avoid over payments as students near the end of their repayments.

Prevent: Wonkhe report on the latest report reviewing Prevent. Wonkhe say:

  • The government’s Prevent strategy has led to the persistence of negative stereotypes of Muslims and “a culture of mutual suspicion and surveillance” on campus, according to a new reportled by Alison Scott-Bauman at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). “Islam and Muslims on UK University Campuses: perceptions and challenges” recommends that there is a “strong argument” for Prevent to be discontinued in its current form, having curbed freedoms of speech and expression on campus.
  • Though there is ample evidence of widespread tolerance for all forms of religious activity among staff and students (with 88.1 per cent of students agreeing that “The experience of university encourages respect and mutual understanding among people who have different perspectives on life”), the research found a close link between belief in a “narrative of suspicion” about Islam, support for Prevent, and patterns of Islamophobia. The report recommends building awareness of Islamophobia via training and development, consultation, representation, and the encouragement of interfaith dialogue via free and frank debate based on the principle of mutual respect. The report is covered by the Guardian(along with an opinion piece by the report’s author) and the Telegraph.

Research Professional also cover Prevent.

Chinese relations: HEPI published UK Universities and China a series of essays on the challenges and complexities of the relationship between UK universities and China. It includes self-censorship; the importance of UK-China scientific research; and the recruitment and integration of Chinese students

Separately there is a recent YouGov poll which asks about UK/Chineses relationships. The interactive version of the chart is here.

Not just Brexit: Nick Hillman (HEPI Director) writes for UKandEU.com –  Universities and Brexit: past, present and future. It doesn’t just cover Brexit, but highlights that UK students get far less out of Erasmus than the incoming EU students studying in the UK, it even mentions this week’s bingo winner – the Blair 50% target. A longer read and some interesting points.

Student Experience: Pearson and Wonkhe have collaborated to examine students’ experience of learning during C-19 and their expectations for next year (shorter blog here).

  • 41% struggled to manage their wellbeing without in person contact with friends and university staff.
  • 34% found the new ways of learning challenging.
  • 34% struggled to manage their time without an enforced timetable.
  • 29% found the isolation difficult.
  • 34% struggled with lack of space or a quiet enough environment to study within.
  • 49% felt less confident to progress to their next step in their education or career –
    • with 13% of the 49% attributing this to external (non-university) factors (economy, jobs, research funding).
    • The factors relating to university were loss of industry experience, loss of practical skills development, lack of academic contact time, a lower sense of quality of learning experience.
  • 43% (of current students) plan to defer the next academic year to take a year out or look for work experience
  • 20% plan to leave education entirely (its unclear whether these were already final year students)
  • Of those planning to defer/leave 28% was because they didn’t want another semester of online study or the loss of practical experience reduced the value of their degree or because the logistics of travel, accommodation and teaching were too uncertain.
  • 47% of those who felt they had missed out (e.g. lab or studio based work) believe they should receive a fee reduction or refund as compensation. However, a quarter want to make up the missed experience at a safer later date, and 15% were willing to experience online. 10% didn’t feel it was the university’s responsibility to atone for the loss of experience.
  • On welfare the blog states:

One key message from the survey is that while students are clear that their wellbeing is suffering, the action they want universities to take is in the teaching and learning domain, rather than the welfare domain. Responses throughout the survey suggest that wellbeing issues are not simply the result of students being at home and the concerns over Covid-19, but that the way that universities have managed interactions and online learning has increased their anxiety, and had a negative impact on their wellbeing. It’s not simply about putting support mechanisms in place to help students with their wellbeing; it’s about stopping the causes.

  • 59% want universities to offer high quality online teaching as their priority for September rather than social interaction, well being support or access to learning resources.

Graduate outlook: Wonkhe report that research from Adunza finds that the number of graduate jobs available this summer has fallen by 73 per cent since the start of the year. Because larger employers are delaying graduate schemes due to the pandemic just 3,993 jobs are currently available, meaning that 100 graduates could be competing for each available job. FE news has the story.

HE Student Numbers: The House of Commons Library have published a paper on HE student numbers. It states: Headline student numbers have increased to new record levels in recent years following a short dip related to the 2012 reforms in the sector. There have been continued increases in entry rates for different groups of students, including those from disadvantaged areas/backgrounds where rates have also hit new record levels. However, headline numbers tend to focus on full-time undergraduates and there are ongoing concerns about student numbers outside this group where trends have not been so positive. This includes part-time undergraduates, particularly those not studying first degrees, some postgraduates students, overseas students from some countries, especially Nigeria and Malaysia, mature students and some disadvantaged groups.

There is also considerable concern about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and student numbers, particularly those from overseas and uncertainty about the impact of Brexit on EU student numbers

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 20th December 2019

It’s our last update until the New Year – we give you the Queen’s speech (not that one, the one at the State opening) and the OfS annual review, to get you ready for what will be coming in the New Year. At the time of writing MPs are expected to pass the second reading of the EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill, paving the way for the more detailed third reading stage in January.

Happy Christmas and a happy new year to all our readers, and thank you for your patience in what has been a very interesting year!

Queen’s speech (again)

You can read the Queen’s Speech here along with the PM’s introduction and briefing notes about all the legislation etc. The Executive Summary in this briefing document sets out the legislative programme clearly.

This Queen’s Speech will deliver Brexit on 31 January and allow the Government to deliver on people’s priorities and unleash the country’s potential. The Government’s first priority is to deliver Brexit on 31 January and to negotiate an ambitious free trade agreement with the EU that benefits the whole country This Queen’s Speech sets out how we will seize the opportunities created by Brexit:

  • The European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill will ratify the deal secured by the Government in October, delivering Brexit.
  • The Agriculture Bill will reform UK agriculture by improving environmental protections and strengthening transparency and fairness in the supply chain.
  • The Fisheries Bill will enable us to reclaim control over our waters, ensuring the sustainability of our marine life and environment.
  • The Trade Bill will establish the Trade Remedies Authority to protect UK industry from unfair trading practices.
  • We will end free movement and pave the way for a modern, fairer points based immigration system.

You will remember that “The Home Secretary has commissioned the Migration Advisory Committee (the MAC) to consider points-based systems, including the Australian immigration system and other international comparators. The MAC is due to report in January 2020.”

And this from the more detailed briefing:

Our new single system will allocate points on a range of criteria in three broad categories and it will be focused on skills and talents, not nationality:

  • Migrants who have received world-leading awards or otherwise demonstrated exceptional talent and sponsored entrepreneurs setting up a new business or investors.
  • Skilled workers who meet the criteria of the points-based system and have a job offer.
  • Sector-specific workers who enter on schemes for low-skilled work, youth mobility or short-term visits. These provide no route to permanent settlement and will be revised on an ongoing basis based on expert advice from the MAC.

Although it isn’t mentioned in the briefing, this was the October 2019 briefing on graduate employment rights

  • A Private International Law (Implementation of Agreements) Bill will provide a clear framework for cross-border resolutions for individuals, families and UK businesses involved in international legal disputes.
  • We will provide certainty, stability and new opportunities for the financial services sector.

The Speech sets out a number of proposals to invest in and support our public services:

  • Legislation will enshrine in law the largest cash settlement in the NHS’s history and we will deliver the NHS Long Term Plan in England to ensure our health service is fit for the future.
  • A Medicines and Medical Devices Bill will ensure that our NHS and patients can have faster access to innovative medicines, while supporting the growth of our domestic sector.
  • We will also pursue reforms to make the NHS safer for patients.
  • We will provide extra funding for social care and will urgently seek cross-party consensus for much needed long-term reform so that nobody needing care should be forced to sell their home to pay for it.
  • We will continue work to modernise and reform the Mental Health Act to ensure people get the support they need, with a much greater say in their care.
  • We will increase levels of funding per pupil to ensure all children can access a high quality education.

This is from the more detailed briefing on education

  • The Government is giving schools a multi-billion pound boost, investing a total of £14 billion more over three years, on top of £5 billion for teacher’s pensions. Overall, that translates to £150 million a week. The core schools budget will be £7.1 billion higher in 2022-23 compared to this year.
  • Every school will have more money for every child and we will level up minimum per-pupil funding for secondary schools to £5,000, and primary schools to £3,750 next year, and £4,000 the year after.
  • From next year, we will legally require all local authorities to deliver the minimum per-pupil funding in their local area. And that will be an important first step towards delivering this funding directly to schools, through a single national formula, so that it is fair and equitable for every school in the country.
  • It is vital we ensure that the pay offer for teachers is positioned at the top of the graduate labour market – ensuring we recruit and retain a world class profession – and that is why we have announced plans to significantly raise starting pay to £30,000 nationally by September 2022.
  • The Government will also continue to expand the successful free schools programme, promoting choice, innovation and higher standards to kick-start wider improvement.
  • The Government wants to bring renewed focus to further and technical education, and will ensure our post-16 education system enables young people and adults to gain the skills required for success and to help the economy.
  • This means an extra £400 million for 16-19 year-old education next year, an increase of 7 per cent overall in 16-19 year-old funding and the biggest injection of new money in a single year since 2010.
  • There will also be additional investment in T Levels, supporting continued preparation for these courses with the first three starting from September 2020.
  • The Government will invest an additional £3 billion over the course of this Parliament to support the creation of a ‘National Skills Fund’.
  • The Government will invest £8 billion over five years in a rebuilding programme to upgrade the entire further education college estate.
  • The Government are also planning to establish 20 Institutes of Technology across England- unique collaborations between further education colleges, universities, and employers –– offering higher technical education and training in science, technology, engineering and maths subjects, to give people the skills they need for key sectors such as digital, construction, advanced manufacturing and engineering.
  • The Government is committed to making sure higher education funding reflects a sustainable model that supports high quality provision, maintaining our world-leading reputation for higher education and delivering value for money for both students and the taxpayer.
  • The Government will ensure that our universities are places where free speech can thrive, and will strengthen academic freedoms.
  • The Government wants to ensure we deliver better value for students in post- 18 education, have more options that offer the right education for each individual, and remove barriers to access for disadvantaged young people.
  • The Government is considering the thoughtful recommendations made in the Augar Review carefully.
  • The Government will boost Ofsted inspection so that parents can be confident they have the fullest picture of quality at their child’s school. We will consult on lifting the inspection exemption so that outstanding schools are inspected routinely.
  • To ensure children are getting an active start to life, The Government will invest in primary school PE teaching and ensure that it is being properly delivered. The Government wants to do more to help schools make good use of their sports facilities and to promote physical literacy and competitive sport.

The Speech sets out a variety of measures to support workers and families:

  • An Employment Bill will enhance workers’ rights, supporting flexible working, extending unpaid carers’ entitlement to leave and ensure workers keep their hard earned tips.
  • A Renters’ Reform Bill will enhance renters’ security and improve protections for short-term tenants by abolishing “no-fault” evictions and introducing a lifetime deposit.
  • To ensure residents are safe in their homes, we will bring forward measures to implement the most urgent recommendations from the first phase of the Grenfell Tower Public Inquiry. We will also publish a draft Building Safety Bill to implement the recommendations of Dame Judith Hackitt’s review of building regulations.
  • Recognising our commitment to making the UK the safest place to be online, we will continue to develop an Online Harms Bill.
  • The Pension Schemes Bill will enable people to better plan their saving for later life and improve the protection of people’s pensions, strengthening the regulator’s powers to tackle irresponsible management of pension schemes.
  • We will reduce the cost of living, including through increases to the National Insurance threshold and the National Living Wage.

The Speech reaffirms our commitment to strengthening the criminal justice system, ensuring it keeps people safe:

  • A Counter Terrorism (Sentencing and Release) Bill will ensure the most serious and dangerous terrorist offenders stay in prison for longer.
  • A Sentencing Bill will ensure the most serious and violent offenders serve more of their sentences in custody.
  • A Serious Violence Bill will place a duty on public bodies to work together to identify and tackle early factors that can lead to crime and ensure the police can more easily stop and search habitual knife carriers.
  • A Police Powers and Protection Bill will establish a Police Covenant and ensure the police are able to fully conduct their duties by providing them with additional support and protection.
  • Recognising the pain felt by victims and their families when offenders refuse to disclose certain information about their crimes, the Prisoners (Disclosure of Information about Victims) Bill will require the Parole Board to take this into account – a version of “Helen’s Law”.
  • The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill will remove unnecessary conflict during the divorce process, in which children are so often caught up, while ensuring that divorce remains a carefully considered decision.
  • We will re-introduce the Domestic Abuse Bill, strengthening protections for victims and providing new enforcement mechanisms.
  • The Extradition (Provisional Arrest) Bill will empower police officers to immediately arrest someone wanted for a serious crime committed in a trusted country, without having to apply to a court for a warrant first.
  • We will consider proposals to deal more effectively with foreign national offenders, including increasing the maximum penalty for those who return to the UK in breach of a deportation order.
  • We will set up a Royal Commission to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the criminal justice process.

The Speech sets out how we will improve our infrastructure and level up opportunity across the country:

  • We will invest in public services and infrastructure while keeping borrowing and debt under control and will publish a National Instructure Strategy.
  • We will accelerate the delivery of fast, reliable and secure broadband networks to millions of homes, with legislation to make it easier for telecoms companies to install digital infrastructure and to ensure all new homes are built with reliable and fast internet.
  • The Air Traffic Management and Unmanned Aircraft Bill, will maintain our position as a world-leader in aviation by modernising our airspace, making journeys quicker, quieter and cleaner whilst also tackling the unlawful use of unmanned aircraft (drones).
  • Legislation will be brought forward to ensure that minimum levels of service are maintained during transport strikes so that hard-working commuters can still get to work.
  • We will develop measures to ensure people can get home quickly when an airline goes bust.
  • In response to the Williams Review, we will publish a White Paper containing reforms that address passengers needs while providing value for the taxpayer and delivering economic benefits across the UK.
  • A draft National Security and Investment Bill will strengthen the Government’s powers to investigate and intervene in business transactions (takeovers and mergers) to protect national security.
  • To maintain the UK’s position as a global science superpower, we will boost public R&D funding, launch a comprehensive UK Space Strategy and develop proposals for a new funding agency.

The detailed note says:

To build on our world-leading excellence in science and deliver solutions to some of the world’s greatest challenges we are:

  • Setting out plans to significantly boost public R&D funding.
  • Backing a new approach to funding high-risk, high-payoff research in emerging fields of research and technology. The Government will work with industry and academics to finalise this proposal.
  • Introducing a new fast-track immigration scheme for the best and brightest scientists and researchers.
  • Reducing bureaucracy in research funding to ensure our brilliant scientists are able to spend as much time as possible creating new ideas.
  • Establishing a new National Space Council and launching a comprehensive UK Space Strategy.
  • The R&D funding plans the Government will unveil will help accelerate our ambition to reach 2.4 per cent of GDP spent on R&D by 2027. This boost in funding will allow the UK to invest strategically in cutting-edge science, while encouraging the world’s most innovative businesses to invest in the UK.
  • Under our new funding plans the Government will prioritise investment in industries of the future where the UK can take a commanding lead – such as life sciences, clean energy, space, design, computing, robotics and artificial intelligence. The Government will drive forward development of these technologies by investing in hubs around world-leading universities.
  • Some of this new R&D spending will go towards a new approach to funding emerging fields of research and technology. It will provide long term funding to support visionary high-risk, high-pay off scientific, engineering, and technology ideas, and will complement the UK’s existing world class research system.
  • The Government will increase the tax credit rate to 13 per cent and review what R&D-related costs qualify for tax credits, so that important investments in cloud computing and data, which boost productivity and innovation, are also incentivised.
  • Removing unnecessary bureaucracy in the science funding system will help ensure all UK investments have the greatest possible impact by cutting the time wasted by scientists filling out forms.
  • The UK’s new fast-track immigration scheme for top scientists and researchers will help significantly enhance the intellectual and knowledge base of the UK. The changes to the immigration system will:
  • Abolish the cap on numbers under the Tier 1 Exceptional Talent Visas;
  • Expand the pool of UK research institutes and universities able to endorse candidates; and
  • Create criteria that confer automatic endorsement, subject to immigration checks.
  • Under the current Tier 1 Visa system, the immigration system already:
  • Ensures dependents have full access to the labour market;
  • Removes the need to hold an offer of employment before arriving; and
  • Provides an accelerated path to settlement.
  • This new immigration scheme will support our world-leading research by ensuring that UK teams can recruit the best skills and talent from abroad. We will continue to collaborate internationally and with the EU on scientific research, including with the EU through Horizon.
  • The Government will unlock long-term capital in pension funds to invest in and commercialise our scientific discoveries, creating a vibrant science-based economy post-Brexit.

 

  • We will publish a White Paper to reiterate our commitment to levelling up opportunities and investment in the regions across England.
  • We will reform business rates to protect high streets and communities from excessive tax hikes and keep town centres vibrant. We will bring forward the next business rates revaluation and make future revaluations in England more frequent.

This Queen’s Speech deepens our commitment to safeguarding the natural environment for future generations:

  • Our landmark Environment Bill will protect and preserve the planet for generations to come. It will establish a new Office for Environmental Protection, increase local powers to tackle air pollution, introduce charges for specified single use plastic items, and ban exports of polluting plastic waste to non-OECD countries.
  • We will also continue to take steps to meet the world-leading target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
  • We will introduce legislation to promote and protect animal welfare, including measures to increase maximum sentences for animal cruelty, to ensure animals are recognised as sentient beings, and ban the import and export of trophies from endangered animals.

The Government will continue to work to strengthen the bonds between the different parts of the UK and to safeguard its constitution and democratic processes:

  • We will continue to uphold the constitutional integrity of the UK, working constructively with the devolved administrations and their legislatures to ensure our Union continues to flourish.
  • We will urgently pursue the restoration of the devolved power-sharing government at Stormont to ensure the people of Northern Ireland have the political leadership of their elected local representatives.
  • We will set up a Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission to consider the relationship between Government, Parliament and the courts and to explore whether the checks and balances in our constitution are working for everyone.
  • We will take forward work to repeal the Fixed-term Parliaments Act.
  • We will protect the integrity of our democracy and elections, tackling electoral fraud through the introduction of voter ID and banning postal vote harvesting.

The Speech confirms our determination to celebrate and support the work of our courageous armed forces and to retain and enhance the UK’s global status and reach as we leave the EU:

  • We will continue to invest in our Armed Forces and honour the Armed Forces Covenant.
  • We will continue to uphold the NATO commitment to spend at least two per cent of national income on defence.
  • We will legislate to bring an end to the unfair pursuit of our Armed Forces through vexatious legislation.
  • We will seek the prompt implementation of the Stormont House Agreement to provide both reconciliation for victims of the Troubles in Northern Ireland and greater certainty for military veterans.
  • The Prime Minister will undertake an Integrated Defence, Security and Foreign Policy Review – the deepest review of these issues since the end of the Cold War.
  • We will secure ambitious new trade deals with our international partners across the world.
  • We will take forward our commitment to ban public bodies from imposing their own direct or indirect boycotts, divestment or sanctions campaigns against foreign countries.
  • Finally, this Government will champion Conservative values and put a strong United Kingdom front and centre in the world. We will champion the UK’s interests and uphold our values of the rule of law, freedom of expression, and the importance of human rights on the international stage. We will continue to work alongside our international partners to tackle the most pressing global challenges, including terrorism and climate change.

Research funding

We have mentioned the government’s promises on research funding above. Wonkhe have done some analysis

  • The ten-year science and innovation investment framework launched to much fanfare in 2004 made a similar promise, but ultimately didn’t deliver. Given 2.4 per cent is a “whole economy” target, i.e. made up of both public and private sector spending, we’d argue that what really counts this time is the pledge made by the Prime Minister during the election that a returning Conservative government would increase its annual investment in research and development to £18 billion by 2024/25.
  • Clearly that level of investment will need to ramp up over time to address capacity issues in the research sector: the UK will need thousands more research workers in universities, businesses and research institutes and the wider public sector.
  • Interestingly, the Conservatives’ costings document appears to only indicate a rise to just over £14 billion public investment in research and development by 2023/24, so these pledges will also need ongoing scrutiny. And we will need a strategic plan to deliver this level of change and that plan will need to show how the government will leverage private investment, alongside its own, to deliver on the GDP target as soon as possible.

Office for Students Annual Review

The Office for Students have issued an annual review which defends their approach to date and sets out some continuing and  new frontiers for intervention in the sector. The headline lets you know what is coming: England’s universities world class, but pockets of poor provision letting students down.

Before we get stuck into the detail, there is some analysis of this and the OfS board papers from Wonkhe – Jim Dickinson on plans for student protection:

  • The interesting question here is what students actually expect in each of those areas, where they get those expectations from, and what happens if the expectation doesn’t match the reality.
  • For example – a university website that boasts ”there’s lots of support available to you… no problem is too big or no worry too small for our team of experts, and there are plenty of services so you can choose the one that’s best for you” might not be setting an appropriate expectation of its waiting lists to access these services are over a term long.
  • Similarly, a university boasting that “students experience an open, informal study environment with teachers and students usually on a first-name basis… a more collaborative approach, where students are respected as junior colleagues and their opinions valued and encouraged by more experienced peers” sounds great, but may be hard to access if there’s 300 people on all your modules.
  • A student enrolled at a university whose assessment policy says that “you will normally receive work back within three weeks” and claims “you will be allocated a supportive personal tutor” might reasonably have rights to redress if all their marks take six weeks to appear, and if they get to their final year having never met their personal tutor.
  • Much of this sort of stuff isn’t in contracts now, but is certainly implied in prospectuses or university policies – and what this probably points to is providers having to be much more specific about the nature, quality and level of service on offer – both to help students compare, and enable them to enforce their rights if it doesn’t materialise.

And David Kernohan on the OfS board papers – he has a whole advent calendar full of points (26) but we’ve pulled out a few

  • 13) More publications on the way. There’ll be more guidance on value for money transparency expectations in early 2020, which may include a consultation (and thus, we guess, changes to the regulatory framework)
  • 14) We’ll be getting the results of a survey of students and graduates about VfM views in March 2020.
  • 15) There’s a consultation coming very soon, which may mean changes to the regulatory framework to help tackle harassment and sexual misconduct.
  • 19) The Student panel have been getting stuck into TEF, and they reckon the purpose of TEF should be to “incentivise continuous improvement” within providers rather than to guide student choice, which tells its own story. They don’t like the current stratification of awards (Bronze can still mean bad), but they do fancy an increased number of awards to identify providers with greater precision.
  • 20) The panel also “appreciated the level of student engagement” included within the subject-level pilot and supported “increasing the level of direct engagement and introducing more qualitative data to TEF”. There was even support for “less reliance on NSS data” as there was a feeling that “it could be gamed” and that low response rates “can lead to unreliable data which then can’t be used”.

So back to the Review.  Nicola Dandridge says:

  • ‘It is simply wrong to suggest that criticism of poor-quality provision and poor outcomes for students, when appropriate and evidenced, amounts to disloyalty that will damage the reputation of English higher education. Indeed, the reality is exactly the opposite: saying that everything is perfect in every university and college, when it plainly is not, is dishonest and corrosive, and ultimately will do more damage by undermining trust and confidence.
  • ‘More to the point, it is not in the interest of students. The OfS seeks to be honest about the experience students receive, however uncomfortable that may be. That is our job. In this, we take our cue from the principles that underpin the institutions we regulate: universities are places of intellectual exploration and, above all, honest enquiry. By drawing attention to the evidence, and to areas of concern as well as outstanding strength, we aim to offer challenge, support and opportunity for improvement that will make our exceptionally strong higher education sector even stronger

The blog summarises the areas of focus:

  • Within the OfS’s broad agenda, Ms Dandridge highlights three key issues that the OfS will pay particular attention to in the year ahead: admissions and recruitment, the quality of information for prospective students, and improving the quality of teaching and courses. To address the first of these issues, the OfS plans to launch a review of the admissions system. Ms Dandridge says:
  • ‘To the extent that the existing system is not serving students’ needs in a fair, transparent and inclusive way, it must change, and we will consult widely with students, schools, providers and others to understand their views and perspectives.
  • ‘We will also consider ways of addressing increasing concerns about some student recruitment practices. Students can be offered enticements and inducements which are often not in their best interests, at a time when they may be especially vulnerable. In particular, we will continue closely to monitor the impact of the damaging growth of ‘conditional unconditional’ offers that require students to commit to a particular course.’
  • Reforming admissions practices is one way of addressing entrenched gaps in access and participation in higher education which, historically, universities and colleges have been too slow to address. Ms Dandridge continues:
  • ‘What we have seen in the past is ‘slow but steady’ improvement. The trouble is that slow and steady is too slow when people’s livelihoods and opportunities are at stake. That is why we are now looking for a radical improvement in progress.
  • ‘There is work to do to dispel wider, persistent myths and misperceptions about access and participation: that universities and colleges cannot be expected to compensate for poor schooling and wider social inequalities; that contextual admissions are unfair; that disadvantaged students will always do less well in their degrees. Research shows that if students from disadvantaged backgrounds are helped to make the right choice of what and where to study, and given the support that they need during their time in higher education, they can end up performing just as well as, if not better than, their more privileged peers.’
  • The second of three issues identified by Ms Dandridge as priorities for the year ahead is improving the quality and reliability of information available for prospective students:
  • ‘Providers registered with the OfS must demonstrate that the information on their websites and marketing materials is accurate and accessible. At a time when questions are being asked, and concerns raised, about the value of a higher education degree, it is more important than ever that students are able to make informed choices about what and where to study based on clear, correct information. There can be no place for false and misleading advertising in how universities sell themselves to prospective students, or a lack of clarity about their rights.
  • ‘We cannot have a situation where students’ expectations are raised unrealistically before they go to university, only to be dashed when they get there. Such marketing is clearly within the scope of consumer protection law, and we will act swiftly and decisively where we find evidence of breach.’
  • The third priority identified is how universities, colleges and other higher education providers address concerns identified by the new regulatory system – particularly the quality of teaching. Ms Dandridge says:
  • ‘As our attention turns to regulating the providers we have now registered, we now plan to use our regulatory tools to support improved quality of teaching and courses. We plan to consult on whether our requirements for quality are sufficiently demanding to ensure that all students receive a good education.
  • ‘We set numerical baselines for indicators such as continuation, completion and employment as part of our assessment of the outcomes delivered for students. Our view is that a minimum level of performance should be delivered for all students, regardless of their background or what and where they study. We will consult on raising these baselines so that they are progressively more demanding and using our regulatory powers to require providers to improve pockets of weak provision.’

In the main document, there are some interesting points:

Registration:

  • Over 500 applications were received from higher education providers to join the OfS register.
  • A total of 387 providers were registered.
  • Eight providers were refused registration
  • The majority of applications (446) and registrations (330) were for the ‘Approved (fee cap)’ category, which allows providers to charge tuition fees up to the higher limit.
  • The majority of providers on the Register (373) had been regulated under the previous higher education regulatory systems. 14 providers not regulated under the previous systems have been registered

And the process has not been without challenges:

  • The vast majority of registered providers have had some form of regulatory intervention imposed. Some have had more than one intervention applied to them. Only 12 providers had no interventions as part of the registration decision. The total number of interventions applied as of 23 October 2019 was 1,109.
  • Most interventions (615) took the form of a formal communication. There were 464 requirements for enhanced monitoring, and 30 specific ongoing conditions were imposed.
  • As Table 1 on page 23 shows, interventions have been imposed across all of the conditions of registration. The majority relate to the first condition, on access and participation plans. This is in large part a reflection of our level of ambition and challenge in relation to access and participation.
  • Fair access and participation is an important OfS objective, and there is an expectation of continuous improvement in reducing the gaps between the most and least advantaged students in access, student success and progression into further study and employment. Many providers not considered to be at increased risk for other conditions of registration were judged to be at increased risk for this condition. The greatest number of interventions (229) have been made to improve progress on access and participation by those universities and colleges that wish to charge higher tuition fees. 

And what does the future hold:

  • There are notable gaps in the data we collect on students’ wellbeing. We are developing ways of capturing more data and as a first step have produced experimental statistics on background characteristics including sexuality and gender identity, which will cover mental health.
  • We intend to publish a consultation document laying out our expectations for universities and colleges in terms of preventing harassment and sexual misconduct, and dealing appropriately and effectively with reports of infringements
  • We will work to improve the quality of the academic and pastoral experience of students, using our powers of monitoring and intervention where appropriate.
  • We will:
  • Explore expanding the NSS survey to cover all years of a student’s course.
  • Continue to fund and evaluate priority areas such as mental health.
  • Set out our expectations of universities and colleges in preventing and dealing with incidents of harassment and sexual misconduct.
  • Following the outcomes of the independent review of the TEF, develop the scheme to increase its future role in securing high-quality teaching and learning in the sector.
  • To ensure we fully understand students’ ideas about value for money, and to maintain pressure on universities and colleges to deliver it in the future, we will:
  • Consider putting a question in the NSS about value for money.
  • Encourage universities and colleges to be more transparent in their value for money plans about how student fees are spent.
  • Continue to monitor the pay of senior staff, and consider taking action if it is unjustified.

On 20th December, Nicola Dandridge published a blog with similar themes:

  • …students reported valuing the quality of teaching and the learning environment above everything else. This chimes with the discussions I have had with students over the past 18 months, during which the quality of their courses and the academic support on offer was raised again and again – but not always in complimentary terms. Addressing poor quality provision, where it exists, has been one of our top priorities and will continue to be into the future
  • In particular, we are deeply concerned that some students – disproportionately from disadvantaged backgrounds – are recruited inappropriately on to poor quality courses and left to flounder without the support they need to succeed. Many end up dropping out altogether – a terrible waste of talent.
  • Over the course of the next year, we will champion areas where universities and colleges are doing great things. Where there are examples of good practice from which others can learn, we will promote them. We want to get the balance right between promoting good practice where we can, while never shying away from identifying and addressing poor practice and speaking openly about what we are doing

Prevent statistics

From Wonkhe: The Home Office has published statistics on individuals referred to and supported through the Prevent programme for April 2018 to March 2019. Of 1,887 cases reported by the education sector (the largest single sector in terms of referrals), only 324 linked explicitly to Islamic extremism – 530 cases specified right wing extremism. David Kernohan asks if we should be thinking again.

Nursing bursaries are back

In an announcement trailed in the Conservative manifesto the government has confirmed the reintroduction of maintenance support for nursing (and other healthcare) under=graduates, with more details to follow in the New Year.

Students will receive at least £5,000 a year, with up to £3,000 further funding available for eligible students, including for:

  • specialist disciplines that struggle to recruit, including mental health
  • an additional childcare allowance, on top of the £1,000 already on offer
  • areas of the country which have seen a decrease in people accepted on some nursing, midwifery and allied health courses over the past year

This means that some students could be eligible for up to £8,000 per year, with everyone getting at least £5,000. The funding will be available from next year. Further details on who can access the support will be available in early 2020.

The funding will not have to be repaid by recipients. Students will also be able to continue to access funding for tuition and maintenance loans from the Student Loans Company.

What about the Youthquake?

The day of the election, twitter was full of pictures of long queues of students at University polling stations waiting to vote. Students were encouraged by the Labour party to vote tactically.  HEPI have a blog about the impact and David Kernohan of Wonkhe did some more intensive analysis.

Nick Hillman says:

  • The embers of Labour’s defeat are now being pored over for clues on how they might do better next time. It would be wrong to assume that appealing even more to students is likely to boost Labour significantly at the next election, at least with regard to these seats. This is because, despite the general swing away from Labour, Labour held on to all 18 out of 20 that they already held, with the two Scottish seats staying in the hands of the SNP. When you already hold 90 per cent of the most student-dominated seats, there isn’t much further room for improvement.
  • Indeed, if anything, our tentative results support the idea that Labour’s problem is among less well-educated older people than it is more well-educated younger people.

David asks:

  • Are constituencies with universities in likely to see changes in the size of the majority of the winning party, or changes in voter turnout?
  • Turnout is down on 2017 (with a wet December day certainly playing a part in this trend). Intriguingly, turnout fell more in seats now held by Labour, and less in seats held by the SNP. SNP seats, too, saw a polarisation effect – the majority is higher for the winning party on a higher turn out. Conservative seats tended towards a falling turnout and a rise in polarisation.
  • But there was no way of associating “university seats” with these trends. Behavior was indistinguishable from non-university seats. More generally, if you are looking for an “anyone but the tories” get-the-vote-out pattern in any seat in England you will look in vain. Like other elections before it, 2019 was not the tactical voting election.

Updated UCAS data

UCAS issued more data about the 2019 admissions cycle. There were headlines about unconditional offers (they went up) with some faux outrage associated with it (the bit Ministerial assault on conditional unconditionals came too late for any institution to change its policy for 2019.

From the UCAS reports – main report

  • Clearing acceptances have been on the rise for several years. This continues into 2019. Over 34,000 UK 18 year olds secured a place through Clearing – the highest number on record. This figure accounts for 14% of all placed UK 18 year old applicants.
  • On A level results day this year, almost all UK universities and colleges had courses available in Clearing. This covered over 30,000 courses.
  • Clearing covers a broad range of subject areas. This includes typically highly selective courses, such as preclinical medicine (over 400 placed through Clearing, comprising 7.9% of all UK 18 year old acceptances to this subject) and mathematics (over 600 placed through Clearing – 14% of acceptances to this subject).
  • 2019 also brought the highest ever proportion of places secured through Clearing at higher tariff providers – 9.8%, compared with 8.3% in 2018.
  • New in 2019 was the option for placed applicants to ‘self-release’ online into Clearing. Nearly 16,000 UK 18 year olds with main scheme places took advantage of this option, with over 11,000 of these placed on a new course.

On unconditional offers:

  • In 2019, 20.6% of these applicants selected their conditional unconditional offer as their first choice, compared to 25.6% in 2014. Despite applicants needing to select their conditional unconditional offer as their first choice if they wish it to become unconditional, they are now only marginally more likely (1.3 percentage points) to select their conditional unconditional offer as their first choice than any of their other offers individually.
  • Applicants with unconditional offers were less likely to report feeling stressed when waiting for their exam results. In 2019, over 30,000 English, Welsh, and Northern Irish 18 year old applicants told us how they felt whilst waiting for their exam results. Figure 3 shows applicants with an unconditional offer at their first choice were less likely to feel stressed, worried or uncertain while waiting for results, and more likely to feel calm.
  • Men receiving an unconditional offer are, on average, 15.5 percentage points more likely to miss their predicted attainment by three or more grades than if they had received a conditional offer.
  • Women are, on average, 9 percentage points more likely than if they had received a conditional offer.
  • However, men with conditional offers are less likely to miss their predicted attainment by three or more grades than women with conditional offers. The net effect of the above is that men and women with an unconditional offer have similar attainment relative to predicted grades.
  • Overall, POLAR4 quintile 5 applicants are least likely to miss their predicted attainment by three or more grades (and quintile 1 most likely).
  • However, modelling did not show a significant difference between POLAR4 quintiles in the impact of an unconditional offer on attainment.
  • When the OfS talk about incentives, this is what they mean – UCAS have some data:
    • Based on responses from over 30,000 applicants in 2019, 54% of 18 year old applicants in England, Northern Ireland, and Wales reported receiving an offer with an incentive to select the provider as their first choice.
    • Of those:
    • 56% reported receiving an offer where the provider would change the conditional offer to unconditional (a conditional unconditional offer)
    • 30% reported receiving an offer promising a guaranteed place in university halls
    • 17% reported receiving an offer which would include a scholarship, bursary or cash payment
    • The biggest change in the responses to this question was in the promise of a lower grade offer or entry requirement as an incentive for selecting the provider as their first choice. In 2018, 23% reported receiving this type of offer. In 2019, this proportion has risen to 36%.
    • UCAS’ terms of engagement require providers to communicate their offers through the UCAS system. This promotes transparency and provides consistency in experience for applicants.
    • However, survey data suggests 30% of applicants who received any type of incentivised offer only received them directly from the provider – via post or email.
    • When looking at applicants who received an offer which would be changed from conditional to unconditional if selected as their first choice, 26% reported only receiving it via post or email, and that it was not mentioned in their offer conditions.

    All very interesting stuff for the OfS when doing their review of admissions.

    Wonkhe have an article

    • With only one in five 18 year olds meeting or exceeding their predicted grades in 2019, there are clearly questions to be asked
    • However the margin of error is highly predictable – predictions generally lie within 2-3 points above the actual grades, and this year’s figure is 2.35 points. There are differences based on attainment – higher predicted grades are likely to mean a smaller average difference – and more likelihood that an applicant would meet or exceed predicted grades.
    • ….The emphasis in guidance and reporting is that predicted grades should be seen as one part of a holistic system – a nod to more contextual approaches to admissions playing a wider role. Intriguingly there has been a rise in the acceptance rates for applicants holding three E grades over last year.

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    JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

    Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

HE Policy update for the w/e 14th December 2018

A busy week in politics, and for policy too.  Not looking any quieter as we approach the end of the year, either.  We will do a short update next week because the ONS report on student loan accounting is due and there are likely to be interesting reflections on that through the week.

Student loans and accounting

Ahead of the big ONS announcement on Monday about accounting for student loans, there is a House of Commons library report: Student loans and the Government’s deficit

Following concerns from parliamentary committees, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) is re-examining how student loans are recorded in the Government’s deficit (which is the difference between the Government’s spending and its revenues from tax receipts and other sources). The ONS will announce its decision on 17 December 2018. (more…)

HE Policy update for the w/e 13th July 2018

You can’t have missed this

Dominic Raab has been appointed as the new Brexit Secretary. Previously he was the Minister of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government (Kit Malthouse (North West Hampshire) now holds the Housing role). Dominic’s political interests are civil liberties, human rights, industrial relations, and the economy. Alongside Dominic Chris Heaton-Harris MP (Daventry) has been appointed as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Exiting the European Union.

Boris Johnson resigned as Secretary of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on Monday (Politics Home covered his resignation). Local MP Conor Burns (Bournemouth West) has resigned his position as Parliamentary Private Secretary to Boris Johnson at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Boris is replaced by Jeremy Hunt.

As the reshuffle ripples outwards Matt Hancock (previously digital) has been appointed as Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, with Jeremy Wright QC appointed as Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. Geoffrey Cox QC MP (Torridge and West Devon) has been appointed as Attorney General.

Dame Martina Milburn has been confirmed as the Chair of the Social Mobility Commission. She is expected to set out her priorities and strategy for improving the impact of the Commission and championing social justice shortly. Her remit states she should avoid duplicating the work of other organisations and think tanks. The Dame is known to support vocational education and apprenticeships.

Brexit – There has been no escaping Brexit this week with the high profile resignations and the Brexit white paper. UUK International’s response to the white paper to focus on research:

  • “It is encouraging to see that the importance of attracting world class researchers and international students has been acknowledged. We also welcome the UK’s proposed participation in Horizon Europe and the next Erasmus programme, which will benefit EU member states as well as the UK.
  • We urge the government and the EU to engage and reach agreement on these matters as quickly as possible to provide the certainty that university students and staff need on opportunities to study abroad and collaborate in research.” (Vivienne Stern, UUK International)

MillionPlus weren’t quite so magnanimous:

  • The labour mobility proposals in the White Paper indicate a clearer direction of travel from the government but reference to researcher mobility with the EU as ‘temporary’ and without any supporting detail will not reassure many. Maintaining the UK’s world class strengths in science and research will require a comprehensive and ongoing agreement concerning the mobility of academic and research staff. Other key concerns have gone unanswered in the White Paper, such as reciprocal agreement on university fees for EU students post-Brexit. This is a matter that should be a priority for the government, not an also-ran issue.
  • With so much time already lost, it will be challenging for agreement to be reached on the final shape of Brexit in time for the European Council in October. Any delay beyond this would be deeply problematic and expose the UK to a greater risk of ‘crashing out’ of the EU in March 2019. Such an eventuality could bring hugely damaging consequences for UK universities, their staff and students.”                                                                                                             (Greg Walker, MillionPlus)

The Creative Industries Federation stated:

  • “…we need to see stronger commitments on participation in Creative Europe and broadcasting, and more details on intellectual property, the definition of “major events” for the temporary movement of goods, the mobility framework and future immigration rules. It is one thing to permit people to come to the UK, but it is quite another to ensure they are valued and able to contribute to our creative industries.”

There was also an immigration parliamentary question focussed on the Creative Industries this week:

Q – Dr Lisa Cameron: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, if he will take steps as part of the negotiations for the UK leaving the EU to seek the creation of a visa system between the UK and EU countries to meet the needs of the creative sector.

A – Caroline Nokes:

  • The Government is considering a range of options for the future immigration system. We will build a comprehensive picture of the needs and interests of all parts of the UK, including different sectors, businesses and communities, and look to develop a system that works for all. We will make decisions on the future immigration system based on evidence and engagement. That is why we have asked the independent Migration Advisory Committee to advise on the economic and social impacts of the UK’s exit from the EU. When building the new system, various aspects including the creative sector will be taken into account, to ensure the future immigration system works for sectors. We will set out proposals later this year.

This week’s Brexit/Research parliamentary question is:

Q – Tom Brake: To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, whether UK (a) companies and (b) institutions will be able to participate in EU research and development projects after 2020.

A – Sam Gyimah:

  • As part of our future partnership with the EU, the UK will look to establish an ambitious future agreement on science and innovation that ensures the valuable research links between us continue to grow.
  • The UK would like to participate in EU research and development projects after 2020 and would like the option to fully associate to the excellence-based European research and innovation programmes, including Horizon Europe (the successor to Horizon 2020) and Euratom Research and Training.

Such an association would involve an appropriate UK financial contribution linked to a suitable level of influence in line with the contribution and benefits the UK brings. The UK looks forward to discussing the detail of any future UK participation with the European Commission.

The Government also published their response to the Science and Technology Committee’s second report into Brexit, Science and Innovation this week.

Admissions

UCAS published their analysis of the national picture of full-time undergraduate applications made by end June 2018 (2018 cycle entrants). Key points:

  • In England, a record 38.1% of the 18 year old population have applied (0.2% up on this point in 2017). This is despite a 2.3% drop in total number of 18 year olds in England.
  • In Northern Ireland and Scotland the applications have dropped slights and Wales is also up by 0.2% against this point in 2017.
  • However, across all ages, there are now 511,460 UK applicants, a 3% decline on this point in 2017. Overall applicants are down across all of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. In England there were 421,610 applicants (a decrease of 4%).
  • The number of EU applicants has risen 2% to 50,130.
  • There are a record number of students from outside the EU – 75,380 students applied to study (an increase of 6%).
  • Overall, 636,960 people applied in the current application cycle – a 2% decrease from 2017.
  • Nursing applications continue to drop – there were 48,170 applicants (9% down on last year). The picture for England only is worse – 35,260 applicants – 12% drop against 2017.

It’s likely that nursing applications have fallen so far because of the double whammy of reducing numbers of mature students accessing HE and the removal of the NHS bursary. The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has noted that applications to nursing courses have dropped by one third in the two year since the bursary has been removed. They go on to note

  • the independent NHS Pay Review Body (PRB) warned this workforce gap could persist until 2027 unless immediate action is taken, jeopardising patient care for much of the next decade. In the official report to Government last month, the PRB told ministers the removal of the nursing bursary had resulted in a marked drop in applications.

The news on the poor recruitment is a blow for NHS England’s nurse recruitment campaign (launched last week).  The RCN have stated:

  • “We urgently need financial incentives to attract more students into the profession, and nursing students must be encouraged and supported. Our health and social care system is crying out for more nurses and recruitment should be the number one priority for the new Health Secretary.”

Research Integrity

The Science and Technology Committee continue their inquiry into research integrity and published their latest report this week (follow this link  to access a more readable pdf version of the report). The inquiry aims to investigate trends and developments in fraud, misconduct and mistakes in research and the publication of research results.  The recent report looks at problems arising from errors, questionable practices, fraud in research, and what can be done to ensure that problems are handled appropriately. Findings include:

  • Despite a commitment in the 2012 Concordat to Support Research Integrity, a quarter of universities are not producing an annual report on research integrity.
  • This lack of consistent transparency in reporting data on the number of misconduct investigations, and inconsistency in the way the information is recorded, means it is difficult to calculate the scale of research misconduct in the UK.
  • While compliance with Concordat is technically a prerequisite for receiving research and higher education council funding, non-compliance has not led to any funding actions against institutions.
  • There has been a lack of co-ordinated leadership in implementing the Concordat’s recommendations in universities.

The Committee issued this press release: Quarter of universities not reporting on potential malpractice

Norman Lamb, Chair of the Science and Technology Committee, said:

  • “Research can help tackle some of the world’s great challenges including as disease, climate change and global inequality. The UK is a world leader in research, and our universities are at the forefront of the many of the world’s great scientific breakthroughs. The importance of public confidence in research can’t be overstated.
  • While most universities publish an annual report on research integrity, six years from signing a Concordat which recommends doing so it is not yet consistent across the sector. It’s not a good look for the research community to be dragging its heels on this, particularly given research fraud can quite literally become a matter of life and death.
  • We need an approach to transparency which recognises that error, poor uses of statistics and even fraud are possible in any human endeavour, and a clear demonstration that universities look for problems and tackle them when they arise.”

Plagiarism

A parliamentary question on plagiarism this week:

Q – Tonia Antoniazzi: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps his Department is taking to tackle (a) contract cheating services and (b) essay mills in Universities.

And: whether his Department is undertaking a review to establish the extent to which the practices of companies offering (a) essay writing and (b) other cheat services to students in the UK are illegal.

And: if he will bring forward legislative proposals to make it illegal for third party companies to provide exam answers to students.

A – Sam Gyimah: [Same answer to all of Tonia’s questions]

  • Cheating is unacceptable – it undermines the reputation of the sector, and devalues the hard work of those succeeding on their own merit.
  • I welcome the swift action YouTube took to remove videos containing adverts promoting the EduBirdie essay-writing service, in response to recent the BBC Trending investigation on academic cheating, in which I made it very clear that YouTube had a moral responsibility to take action.
  • We are currently focusing on non-legislative options, but remain open to the future need for legislation, and will investigate all options available. We should only legislate where it is absolutely necessary. The government’s preferred approach is to tackle this issue through a sector-led initiative, which is why the department has worked with the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA), Universities UK (UUK) and the National Union of Students to publish guidance last October for all UK Universities on how best to tackle contract cheating.
  • Time is needed to fully evaluate the effectiveness of the new guidance and this is underway. The QAA is running a series of seminars to evaluate how the sector is using the guidance.
  • Universities themselves are already taking action, and it is right that they should do so, as it is their own reputations and that of the higher education sector that are on the line. UUK played a key role in developing the new guidance.
  • In England, through the Higher Education and Research Act 2017, we have brought forward legislation that gives the new Office for Students (OfS) the power to take action if providers are complicit, which including imposing fines or ultimately de-registration of providers, the highest possible punishment.
  • My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State’s first ever strategic guidance letter to the OfS made it clear that it is a priority for the OfS to work with the QAA to improve and ensure confidence in the quality and standards of higher education. The OfS has an obligation to report to the Secretary of State, and the department will monitor progress closely.

Contextual Admissions

The Fair Education Alliance (FEA) released Putting fairness in context: using data to widen access to higher education which summarises the full research that they commissioned from the University of Exeter’s Centre for Social Mobility. The FEA state the report

  • seeks to shine a light on how contextual data is used in practice at highly selective universities, and to make recommendations on how to ensure that institutions have access to and use contextual data in ways that will make access to higher education in the UK fairer.

The FEA go on to state:

  • While [contextual admissions] has become more accepted, it is applied in a wealth of ways across HEIs and it is often unclear (particularly for applicants) exactly which practices are undertaken. We believe this is impeding the spread of good practice, and is creating an unacceptable position for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds whereby it is likely they will be considered a ‘contextual’ applicant at some HEIs, and not at others, and will have no way of knowing which universities will take their background into account.

The report goes on to explore how to improve the use of contextualised admissions, the role of data within admissions and current practices.

For a quick read the FEA’s press release covers the main points and background to the report.

Chris Millward (Office for Students Director of Fair Access and Participation) spoke at the launch of the report to urge universities to be more ambitious and extend their contextual admissions practice.  He stated:

  • “We are a long way from equality of opportunity in relation to access to higher education. So in the coming years, I will be expecting universities and colleges to set more ambitious targets in their access and participation plans to narrow the gaps. This will include measures to increase the pool of applicants with the high levels of attainment needed to enter many universities. But if we wait the years this will take to achieve, we will fail the next generation of students.
  • An ambitious approach to contextual admissions must be central to our strategy if we are going to make progress on access at the scale and pace necessary to meet the expectations of government, students and the wider public. A level grades can only be considered to be a robust measure of potential if they are considered alongside the context in which they are achieved.
  • I do not believe that the inequality of access we see currently can reflect a lack of potential, and promoting equality of opportunity must be concerned with unlocking potential for students from all backgrounds.”

Research Professional wrote:

  • Millward will no doubt understand from the experience of his predecessor Les Ebdon that the real power of a regulator lies in the threat to use the sanctions at its disposal, rather than actually implementing them. It will be interesting to see if the new regime at the OfS is prepared to make an example of a university on this topic. Higher education institutions cannot say they have not been warned.

Further media coverage courtesy of Wonkhe:

Researchers’ use of personal data

It’s fines for Facebook and the publication of the Information Commissioner’s report into the Cambridge Analytica scandal (Investigation into the use of data analytics in political campaigns). One of the report recommendations is

  • that Universities UK work with all universities to consider the risks arising from use of personal data by academics in a university research capacity and where they work with their own private companies or other third parties.

Universities UK have confirmed they will undertake this review of how researchers use personal data, collaborating with the Information Commissioner. Research Professional state:

  • Only yesterday…we urged universities to get ahead of the curve on public perceptions of research integrity. Whoops! Too late. Now every university in the country will be subject to a review brought as a result of a single high-profile case in which it would seem there was insufficient oversight. This is not just any old higher education front-page story—we have become blasé about those. This is a story that involves the vote to leave the European Union and the election of the 45th president of the United States. It makes vice-chancellors’ salaries look like chickenfeed.

Research Professional continue:

  • The commission seems to feel that if this can happen in Cambridge then it can happen anywhere. The report is cutting: “What is clear is that there is room for improvement in how higher education institutions overall handle data in the context of academic research and whilst well-established structures exist in relation to the ethical issues that arise from research, similar structures do not appear to exist in relation to data protection.”

Brain Drain

Last week a study by Grant Thornton UK regions struggling to retain young talent – considered the brain drain student retention crisis across the UK. It found that certain regions struggle to retain their best and brightest young graduates and illustrated a regional divide on whether university students stay or leave the area after graduating. Unsurprisingly London doesn’t struggle to retain its graduates – 69% want to stay and work in London after graduating – more than twice the number of any other region. Next best performing was Scotland (32%) and the North West (28%).

The study also found disparity between the regions when it comes to whether young people choose to go to university close to home or further afield. Again London performed well – 57% chose to stay in London to go to university. The South West had the lowest result of the whole country. Less than one in four young people elected to go to university in the region. While the number of young people from the South West  choosing to move to London was more than double most of the other UK regions.

The research also explored what matters most to students when it comes to choosing where they want to live and work post-graduation. It wasn’t career opportunities or higher pay but having a good work-life balance that was considered the biggest motivator (48% of respondents) – mirroring the trend that’s already being seen across the Millennial and Generation Z workforce. This was followed closely by being somewhere with family and friends nearby (47%).

Time spent travelling (43%), housing affordability (43%), career development (42%) and job availability (42%) also ranked highly, while housing availability (7%), being able to start or grow a business (8%) and, surprisingly, living in a diverse place (13%) or one with a sense of community (14%) were rated as the least important factors.

Students were asked what businesses could do to encourage them to stay in or move to London after graduation, rather than to somewhere in the UK, or abroad. They responded:

  • Financial support – whether to pay for housing, daily essentials or to pay off student loans –ranked highly.
  • ‘Softer’ benefits and support was considered important.
  • Leisure benefits such as gym memberships or tickets to cultural events were seen as worthy contributions from businesses to young talent.
  • The ability to work flexibly also ranked highly, with nearly a quarter of those surveyed believing this would influence their decision about where to live and work.

Grant Thornton stated:

  • “There’s…a clear role for higher education institutions to play in tackling this problem. Universities around the country need to be proactive in fostering stronger links with local businesses and creating a viable and attractive pathway for departing students to enter the local economy. This is especially important with tuition fees being where they are and universities needing to add as much value as possible for students.”

Parliamentary Questions

Scholarships & WP

Q – Jim Shannon: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what discussions he has had with representatives of universities on ensuring that (a) scholarships are made available and (b) those scholarships are all taken up; and if he will make a statement.

A – Sam Gyimah:

  • Providers of higher education are autonomous institutions, and whether to offer scholarships is a matter for each individual provider to decide.
  • Where providers use scholarships and other forms of financial support to help widen access, we have said in our guidance to the Office for Students (OfS), that we expect such financial support to be backed up by evidence that shows the investment is proportionate to the contribution it is expected to make towards widening access. Any provider wishing to charge higher fees has to have an access and participation plan agreed with the OfS, setting out the measures and expenditure it intends to make to widen the access and success of disadvantaged students in higher education.

Gender Pay Gap

Q – Dan Carden: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what estimate his Department has made of the gender pay gap in the higher education sector.

A – Sam Gyimah:

  • The data on the gender pay gap in the higher education sector can be found here. The Higher Education Funding Council for England, which preceded the OfS, commissioned a project that aims to equalise the gender balance and ethnic diversity of higher education governing bodies. This work will include establishing an online exchange to recruit board members. [Response edited, view longer response here]

Please note Parliament updated this response from Sam Gyimah to correct inaccuracies.

T-Levels

Q – Ben Bradley: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of technical education provision for secondary school pupils.

A – Anne Milton:

  • There are currently thousands of technical qualifications available to students at post-16, but some are not of sufficiently high quality. This makes technical qualification options confusing for both students and employers and is why we are introducing new T Levels. Alongside reformed apprenticeships, T Levels will give students a genuine, high quality alternative to A levels. They will give students the skills they need to secure a good job, as well as the knowledge and behaviours that employers value. We are making excellent progress with their development, and recently announced the selected providers who will deliver the first three T Level programmes from September 2020.
  • Students at key stage 4 in any type of school are able to take up to three Technical Awards alongside GCSEs that will count towards their school’s Progress 8 and Attainment 8 scores. Technical Awards focus on the applied study of a particular sector or occupational group, and include the acquisition of associate practical or technical skills where appropriate. Each Technical Award is equivalent to a GCSE in robustness and challenge.

Consultations

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

Other news

  • Alternative providers: The HE leavers statistics from alternative providers from 2016/17 has been published by HESA here.
  • Prevent: 97% of HE have satisfied the OfS on the Prevent duty in 2016/17 (news article here).
  • Engaging parents: King College London have published a report on how universities should work with parents to increase access to university. The report finds 95% of parents are concerned about their children attending university because of debt, living costs, support available to the child and employment prospects.

Subscribe!

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

JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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