Tagged / QAA

HE Policy Update w/e 18th January 2021

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

The Minister takes to Twitter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Admissions

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

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

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

Consultation: GCSEs, AS and A Levels

The Secretary of State’s letter says:

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

 Consultation detail:

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

Consultation: Vocational and Technical Qualifications (VQTs)

The Secretary of State’s letter says:

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

Consultation:

The proposed new alternative regulatory arrangements would:

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

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

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

A selection of this week’s coverage:

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

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

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

Research

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

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

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

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

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

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

Research Professional also published these articles:

Parliamentary Questions:

Student Concerns

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

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

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

BBC – students have pledged a rent strike over unused rooms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A selection of parliamentary questions on tuition fees…

And parliamentary questions on other student matters:

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

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

Professional Registration

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

QAA Chief Executive, Douglas Blackstock said:

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

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

Will he stay or will he go?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Graduate Wellbeing Analysis

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

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

Education Policy – research / curriculum development

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

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

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

Access & Participation

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

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

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

The report recommends several steps that universities should take including:

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

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

Parliamentary Questions:

International & Mobility

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

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

Parliamentary Questions

Parliamentary Questions

Sir John Hayes supports the alternatives to HE agenda:

Regulatory

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

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

Poverty report: The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has published its annual report on the nature and scale of poverty across the UK. It covers investment in skills and the retraining agenda.

Mental health: The Government have announced they will reform mental health laws.

T levels: The Government announced a £135 million capital fund for T level providers to bid into. The Government press release states: the multi-million pound investment will ensure T Level students have access to the world class facilities and cutting-edge equipment they need to get ahead.

Tech access for disadvantaged pupils: Commenting on the Department for Education’s supply of laptops and other equipment to enable disadvantaged students to access remote learning, Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: It is not credible for Boris Johnson or Gavin Williamson to claim that their priority under Covid is to protect the very same disadvantaged students they have so routinely let down. It is a stain on the Government’s record that they have failed disadvantaged students so badly. The immense disruption in autumn half term, with so many absent from school due to self-isolation or close contact with those in their bubble who were having to self-isolate, was a clear warning that the education secretary needed to properly build the groundwork for a continuity and equity of education for all students. But the warning went unheeded, and in Gavin Williamson ‘s recent announcements on laptop and data roll-out it is abundantly clear he is still weeks away from anything like an adequate response. Schools have been kept waiting for equipment that has been promised to them throughout the pandemic, with last minute delays, changes or retractions of the kit they need becoming an alarmingly normalised response from the Department for Education.  It is surely a no-brainer that schools should be compensated for having to plug the gaps, which are entirely due to governmental sloth. Every child must have access to the equipment they need to ensure they can learn safely from home. When will the government take their responsibility towards these children seriously?  However, speaking at the Education Committee on Wednesday Gavin Williamson painted a very different picture stating the equipment had been sent to schools and some were in line to receive additional items.

Islamophobia: Research Professional published this article Universities fail to see ‘insidious nature’ of campus Islamophobia stating that the report finds improvements are needed by institutions.

EdTech Boom: FE News report that lockdown measures and mandatory school closures in 2020 led to a 71.5% growth of the UK educational technology (EdTech) sector – despite a -11% contraction in GDP overall. Over the course of the pandemic, schools, colleges and universities have had to move lessons online, and many educators, organisations and businesses have developed smarter ways to deliver remote learning. The growth puts the value of the UK EdTech market at almost £3.5bn – with EdTech exports pre-crisis bringing in £170m to the economy, now expected to have topped £292m.

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 3rd December 2020

The Government has announced the requirements for universities to prepare plans for students to return to campus safely in January, flexibilities for 2021 level 2/3 exams have been confirmed, there’s a new report about higher technical education, and the attainment and continuation gap for estranged students is of concern.

Parliamentary News

Local Rebels: The Government experienced a rocky ride as Parliament passed the Covid tier legislation on Tuesday. The Conservative rebels that voted against the Government can be seen here. Notably several local MPs voted against or abstained from the vote. Chope and Drax voted against, Syms said he would vote against (but was unable to vote as he acted as a teller for the no votes), Tobias Ellwood abstained.

WMS – Skills Bootcamps: The DfE published a Written Ministerial Statement from Gavin Williamson (Education SoS) giving an update on the Lifetime Skills Guarantee. It announced the extension of the skills boot camps including to the ‘Heart of the South West’ covering digital skills (software development, digital marketing, and data analytics) and technical skills training such as welding, engineering, and construction. A further £43m will be invested through the National Skills Fund to extend Skills Bootcamps further across the country in 2021.

January Restart

The DfE released the January restart guidance explaining the rules and priorities universities should adhere to for the safe return of students. (Press release here)

  • The return of students should be staggered over 5 weeks – this is to minimise transmission risks from the mass movement of students
  • There is a priority order for students to return with medical, practical and placement students returning first (4 to 22 January) to access their essential face to face tuition. Those with external (e.g. professional body) exams that cannot be moved are also permitted to return.
  • Other students will receive online tuition and return to campus in a staggered manner between 25 January and 5 February. The Government set out a priority order for those in the second phase of return e.g. postgraduates first, new starters last.
  • All students should be offered (the asymptomatic) testing on return to university before tuition recommences, social contact to be curtailed whilst awaiting the results of both tests (3 days apart)
  • Students who returned home over the winter break should not be encouraged to return to their term-time accommodation until their face-to-face teaching is scheduled to resume
  • Students who remained in their term time accommodation over the winter break or those for whom an early return is essential (e.g. those without study space or connectivity within their domicile, international students, students without other suitable accommodation, those who need to return sooner for health reasons). Students who return early due to these reasons and commuter students are expected to be able to access campus facilities such as the library during the period.
  • International students returning from outside of a travel corridor must self-isolate for 14 days, although they can pay for a private test which if negative will reduce the isolation to 5 days.
  • Students who spend the winter break within tier 3 should take a test before they travel, if this is available locally.

In her letter to Vice-Chancellors Donelan stated:

  • We do not underestimate the work that will need to be done to accommodate this plan including moving exams or putting them online and creating more online materials and lessons.
  • This plan is the best way to ensure all students can return and blended learning can resume whilst reducing the risks of mass movement and also ensuring all students can be tested.
  • We continue to support the blended learning model that universities have been using and still consider you, in collaboration with local public health teams, to be best-placed in determining the proportion of online/in-person teaching working that works for your setting. However, where it is deemed safe to do so, we would encourage as much face-to-face learning as possible, recognising the benefits this brings to student experience.

Financial Hardship: The Minister also announced there would be £20 million allocated on a one-off basis to support those that need it most, particularly disadvantaged students. They will work with OfS to produce the detail on this.

One shot: Earlier in the week the Government stated that students would be counted within the ‘home’ household numbers for calculating visitor numbers during the Christmas window. It also confirmed that students are only permitted one visit home between 3 December 2020 and 8 February 2021.

Wonkhe have a blog delving into the detail of the Government’s statutory instrument which covers the student related aspects here.

No plans to cancel A-levels  in 2021 in England

On Thursday Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced extra measures to support students during the 2021 exams:

Students sitting exams and other assessments next year will benefit from a package of exceptional measures to make them as fair as possible and manage the disruption caused by Covid-19

In recognition of the challenges faced by students this year, grades will be more generous, students will be given advance notice of some topic areas, and steps will be taken to ensure every student receives a grade, even if they miss a paper due to self-isolation or illness.

  • exam aids – like formula sheets – provided in some exams giving students more confidence and reducing the amount of information they need to memorise;
  • additional exams to give students a second chance to sit a paper if the main exams or assessments are missed due to illness or self-isolation; and
  • a new expert group to look at differential learning and monitor the variation in the impact of the pandemic on students across the country.

Students taking vocational and technical qualifications will also see adaptations to ensure parity between general and vocational qualifications

Where a student has a legitimate reason to miss all their papers, then a validated teacher informed assessment can be used, only once all chances to sit an exam have passed

Test and exam results will not be included in performance tables this year, and instead will be replaced by attendance information, and student destinations and the subjects taken at key stage 4 and 5

And on remote education within schools and colleges there are updated expectations:

  • Primary schools are expected to provide a minimum of three hours a day on average; secondary schools expected to provide at least four hours’ worth
  • Similar expectations will apply for colleges and other further education providers which take into account the sector’s role in delivering both academic and technical provision

A Government news story tells us that the Social Mobility Commission is contributing to DfE planning process for the 2021 exams. They have recommended the Government:

  • Suspend school performance tables for 2021, as they fail to take account of the disproportionate learning loss experienced by students in areas of deprivation.
  • Work with schools and colleges to develop a clear and consistent system for collecting centre assessed grades that can be used as a contingency measure if individual students are unable to take exams.
  • Offer students the opportunity to take exams in Autumn 2021, without this being considered a ‘resit’. The results would need to be made available in time for UCAS applications for 2022 entry.
  • Support schools with extra resources, such as additional staff and venues, so that they can provide Covid-secure examination environments.
  • Mitigations in content and structure of exams benefit all candidates, and so do not address gaps between those who have struggled with remote learning due to home circumstance and those who have not. As such, while some adjustment (like the reduction in content of English Literature) may be practically necessary and useful, it should not be regarded as a solution.
  • Generosity in grading for 2021 should aim for a midpoint between 2019 and 2020, but following a normal mathematical distribution, rather than replicating the anomalies of 2020.
  • Arrangements for students isolating at the time of exams have to take into account the vast difference in personal and socio-economic circumstances. Home invigilation should be avoided.

For the students progressing to university:

  • Arrangements providing grants and opportunities for gap years for those with fewer familial resources should be retained.
  • At the moment, some courses prejudice those who have done an extra year, and some institutions struggle to accommodate retakes of years because of funding reductions for older students – this could easily be addressed.

Their recommendations aim to ensure equity in the 2021 exam system: Most recognise that there is a widening achievement gap in the nation’s schools and that the impact of coronavirus has disproportionally hit pupils in areas of deprivation.

The Social Mobility Commission statement included:

  • Schools must not ambushed at the last minute on this – they need time to adjust their teaching and their focus in ways that allow them to provide an effective education for the most vulnerable…We must also not fall into the trap of thinking that solutions that benefit all students will address the widening achievement gap. In a competitive exam system like ours, the key worry is that disadvantaged students will be outperformed by their peers whose experience of lockdown has been far smoother and more productive.
  • The key question the commission has considered in setting out our advice is ‘What constitutes a good outcome for the students who have been most disadvantaged this year? Are they better with weaker grades in more subjects, or better grades in the subjects they need?’ We firmly believe that if we can free up schools by taking away some of the pressure of performance tables that we think are unlikely to tell us anything useful about the system this year, then we can allow deprived students who have often suffered the most to be given tailored solutions.

The Government’s invitation to the Social Mobility Commission sits a little awkwardly with the outcomes of Ofqual’s analysis of the 2020 GCSE and A level awards (published late last week) which and concluded that there was “no evidence” that the system systematically disadvantaged poorer pupils or those with protected characteristics. However, the report suggests that there was “some evidence that some 6,300 GCSE entries by low prior attainers with unknown socioeconomic status (most of whom are at independent schools) may have received disproportionately overestimated grades.” The same effect was not seen for A levels.

Ofqual also pointed out that although poorer pupils saw a bigger drop in grades B to E as a result of standardisation, the proportion achieving A* and A grades actually fell by less than it did for pupils from better-off backgrounds.

The new report looked at the centre-assessment grades, calculated grades and final grades issued to pupils. It found that had calculated grades been issued, the results would have been more closely in line with the established relationships between student characteristics and outcomes seen in previous results.

Admissions

A Wonkhe blog explains Ireland’s university admissions system: The CAO [Central Applications Office] is best understood as an application clearing house, rather than a strict comparator to UCAS. The system in Ireland is what the UK is now terming PQO: post qualification offers. 

  • …With up to 20 choices to play with, however, students can choose to be very ambitious with some of their choices
  • Students applying to university will have a sense of what they may achieve in the Leaving Certificate, and thus can apply to courses that cover this range, though predicted grades don’t exist in the Irish system…there’s very little penalty to being speculative.
  • …points mean places. Rather than being entry requirements, they specify the lowest points score that gained a place in the previous cycle. When looking at options, students thus need to be aware that this grade can vary wildly from year to year, as the process is based on supply and demand. 

It’s not quite that simple… The nature of the supply and demand system means that the order of preference becomes all important. In Round One, students will be given a place on the course that ranks highest on their list of preferences, with all places below automatically denied. Then, as the rounds progress throughout August and early September, students can be made offers from their higher-ranked preferences, if they open up based on the decisions of other students.

There’s a blog on the Australian system here.

Parliamentary Questions: Universities expected to be flexible in admissions at high ranking institutions so students don’t miss out on places due to Covid related schooling disruption

HE Student Experience

HEPI published the policy note – Students’ views on the impact of Coronavirus on their higher education experience in 2020/21. Findings show students’ increasing satisfaction with online learning and positivity with how institutions ensure the Covid risks are minimised. The survey also shows that some students are spending the majority of their time in their accommodation the majority of students have experienced a decline in their mental wellbeing since the outset of the pandemic.

  • 59% UG students satisfied with online learning (was 42% June 2020, 49% March 2020)
  • 58% of students report poorer mental health than at the beginning of the pandemic (14% better mental health, 28% report no change to their mental health state)
  • 42% of students are satisfied with the university’s mental health services, 16% are unsatisfied
  • 50% are satisfied with the HEI’s other (non-mental health) support services, e.g. careers support.
  • 44% satisfied with student union support
  • 56% happy with how the institution has handled outbreaks of the coronavirus
  • 79% say their HEI experience feels safe (see chart below)
  • 33% of students spend all or most of their time in their accommodation. (Note 51% of students are receiving some face to face teaching nationally.)
  • 60% understand the (Government’s) end of term & Christmas travel window guidance
  • 54% have concerns about the return to university in January 2021

There are colourful charts in the full policy note.

No detriment: Nationally students have been calling for no detriment policies to apply in 20/2021. Wonkhe have a blog. Snippet:

  • I can see a growing number of students signing petitions and commenting on SU forums that they are amazed that “no detriment” policies have generally not survived the summer, and are angry that poor performance this term might end up framed in institutional terms as something that is individual – and somehow their fault.
  • When we say we are maintaining “quality and standards” we may be hiding debates – about whether we mean the standard of that which universities might reasonably provide during a massively disruptive global pandemic, or the standard of attainment we might reasonably expect students to achieve during a massively disruptive global pandemic.
  • …What’s very clear is that the comments from students on the forums and petitions should be seen as coalmine canaries – cries for help and exhortations for some empathy. Complex procedures to address individual failure caused by specific circumstances increasingly look tone deaf to a cohort whose only real shared experience is how miserable it’s all been.
  • Pure “No Detriment” policies may well not fit the bill if there’s not enough pre-pandemic academic performance evidence to establish a floor over. But we’re going to need something…

There’s the usual parliamentary question and response on HE student mental health. And the Universities Minister confirms the Government anticipates using mass testing as students return to university in January.

Research

HEPI have a new blog written by a PhD student who experienced burn out. To support PhD students well-being she recommends:

  • Fostering cohesive online cohorts
  • Strong dedicated representation (Students Union) systems to raise and address issues
  • Hands on training (not virtual) to improve access to and experience of a range of career pathways beyond academia

The blog concludes: PhD funders need to recognise that, with the current financial provision, increasing mental health support services won’t stop the pressures that undermine researcher wellbeing.

£61m boost for Europe’s largest ‘flying lab’

  • Facility for Airborne Atmospheric Measurements (FAAM) have been awarded £61m by the NERC
  • Spread over 10 years, the funding will help to uncover causes behind rising methane in the Arctic, understanding the effect of biomass burning and monitor volcanic gases
  • The Airborne Laboratory will provide ‘world-class’ measurements for the benefit of the UK government, businesses and research community

EoI: Manufacturing Made Smarter innovation hub

  • The Digital Supply Chain Innovation Hub should focus on manufacturing supply chains, looking to digitally optimise and integrate these supply chains from end to end. UK registered businesses and research organisations can apply for up to £10m from ISCF to set up and run a digital supply chain innovation hub

UK-German collaborative research projects announced – the AHRC and German Research Foundation have announced 18 collaborative research projects, bringing together arts and humanities researchers to conduct outstanding research projects which span a wide range of subjects. UK budget of £4.8m matched by €5m for research teams in Germany. Projects will start in early 2021 and are expected to run for at least three years until 2023

UKRI Global coronavirus research and innovation network pre-announcement

  • Individuals of lecturer level (or equivalent) can apply to establish a single international network for research into coronavirus. The network may run for up to 4 years
  • The total fund and maximum grant are £500,000. Applicationsopen on 4 January 2021, and close on 23 February 2021.

Improving health in low and middle income countries pre-announcement – no size or funding limited, proposals that combine expertise from more than one sector to meet a global health challenge particularly welcome. Applications open on 1 February 2021, and close on 8 April 2021.

UKRI formally recognises the contributions of reviewers

  • UKRI will be the first funder to formally credit contributions of reviewers through the Orcid system
  • Reviewers will be issues with a ‘review credit’, which will be publicly displayed in their Orcid profiles

Concerns over future of international development research. In the Spending Review, Sunak said they will reduce the aid budget to 0.5% of GNI from 0.7%. Concerns have been raised that this could represent a missing £4bn a year

Medical Research Council calls for more collaboration to get the most out of key research opportunities. The call comes following the MRC’s independent review

Changing the UK’s intellectual property regime to attract investment in life sciences.

Research Professional writes that just one more formal three-way talk among the European Union institutions should be enough to reach an agreement on the remaining parts of the legislation for Horizon Europe

Withdrawals

The Student Loans Company published in-year statistics on the number of notifications of student withdrawals.

  • The Student Loans Company (SLC) does not routinely publish data on the withdrawal notifications it receives from Higher Education Providers (HEPs). However, during Academic Year (AY) 2020/21 to date, there has been significant public interest in this data in order to contribute towards an understanding of how the COVID-19 pandemic may be impacting students. Therefore, SLC has taken the decision to publish this on an ad hoc basis as experimental statistics.
  • Based on this data, SLC has not seen any increase in student withdrawal notifications for the purpose of student finance in this academic year, compared to the previous two years. In this respect, withdrawal notifications are currently slightly lower than the previous two years for UK & EU students funded by Student Finance England, Student Finance Wales and Student Finance Northern Ireland. Some of this reduction may be explained by the irregular start to the current academic year.

Access & Participation

Estranged students: The OfS released a report at the end of last week highlighting that estranged students are less likely to be awarded a first or 2:1 and more likely to drop out during their first year of studies. Around 3,000 students are classed as estranged when they enter HE each year.

According to the data:

  • The continuation rate of entrants in 2017-18 who were estranged from their parents was 8.2% lower than students who were not estranged – though this gap has reduced from 11.2% in 2014-15.
  • The attainment rate (achieving a first or 2:1) of estranged students in 2018-19 was 13% lower than students who were not estranged.
  • Care experienced students are more likely to drop out and less likely to achieve a first or a 2:1. In 2017-18 the continuation rate of care experienced students was 5.6% lower than that for students who have not been in care. In 2018-19 the attainment rate (achieving a first or 2:1) of care experienced students was 12.1% lower than the attainment rate of students who have not been in care.
  • Students starting in 2017-18 who were eligible for free school meals were more likely to drop out than those who were not – data showing a 5.4% gap. For students graduating in 2018-19, the rate achieving a first or 2:1 was 13% lower for students who were eligible for free school meals compared with those who were not.

There is an OfS blog which addresses the gaps.

Chris Millward, Director for Fair Access and Participation at the OfS, said: We expect universities and colleges to identify and tackle the barriers to success for the student groups identified in this data, so it will help them to develop their access and participation plans during the coming year. 

Care Leavers: Wonkhe: The National Network for the Education of Care Leavers, along with a number of other campaigning and support groups with an interest in care leavers, has written a “message to all vice chancellors and principals”. The message sets out recommendations on key ways to support the academic, social, and mental health needs of care leavers remaining on campus over Christmas.

White Disadvantaged Pupils: The Education Committee continued with their inquiry into left behind white disadvantaged pupils. Dods have provided a summary here. Place and the impact of the family were key facets of the meeting. Excerpts:

  • was important to look at educational underachievement not through the lenses of ethnicity but through the characteristics of the place.
  • …the pandemic did not bring forward new ways of deprivation, but it exacerbated existing ones…On the issue of families, he spoke about a report that came out two weeks ago which found that children had regressed during the time of the pandemic. In his view, this was not solely because of deprivation levels, but also depended on the support structures in the homes.

Level 4/5 and Technical Provision

Assessing performance: With the current Government’s favour for bite sized provision, technical and skills alternatives to the traditional degree, and favouring level 4/5 provision there is a great blog here that considers all the past versions of these. It starts out: As sometimes happens with HE policy, we’ve been here before. Several times. And also comments: In terms of level, a qualification that goes beyond that expected of 18 year olds (level 3) but stays at level 4/5, is a holy grail – which is odd because the problem is that it’s the thing that people aren’t seeking enough. At its worst, it’s the solution that people propose for other people’s children.

It quickly runs through the best and worst covering DipHE, Associate Degree, Foundation Degree, HND, HTQs, and problems with the word ‘technical’.

Gatsby Review Follow Up: The Gatsby Foundation were commissioned by the Government to review level 4 and 5 technical education in England. The review looked at the development of higher technical education in England since the 1944 Education Act, and how it compares with the experience of other countries. (The review was actually published in December 2018.) The original report concluded that England has a very small higher technical sector by international standards – the ‘missing middle’. In the 1960s and 70s, the rapid expansion in university education following the Robbins report privileged full-time degree level study, while many professions increasingly expected degree-level qualifications from new entrants. The Foundation Degree was seen as successful in filling the gap and the decline of part-time student numbers impacted higher technical enrolments. The report describes other countries that embrace a larger role for higher technical education, and agrees with the Secretary of State’s ambition for England to learn from international experience as it builds the technical education system. This week the Gatsby Foundation published Beyond the Missing Middle: Developing Higher Technical Education – a follow up report that they commissioned which explores the international success stories.

The report calls for

  • …further development in the higher technical system – allowing for recognition of prior learning, drawing on workbased learning, and built from modular components.
  • The framework would offer alternative routes, tailored to the needs of different students, to occupational competence. Not only would this approach be well adapted to the needs of adults who are already the prime candidates for HTE qualifications, it would also compete very effectively with most higher education degrees, which rarely offer these flexibilities.

Recognition of prior learning is often a slippery beast. The report suggests: While many countries have sought to develop special procedures for assessing and granting credit for prior learning, these procedures can be cumbersome. An alternative approach, used extensively in different countries, is to grant adults with relevant work experience direct access to the final examinations for a qualification without going through a required programme of study. This allows students themselves to prepare for the examination in a manner tailored to their existing knowledge and skills

Workbased learning is also emphasised and the author argues for apprenticeship style end point assessments to be applied.

There is lots more detail in the full document and Wonkhe have a blog.  Research Professional cover the report too.

International

Dods tell us:

  • Reports suggest that first-year EU students face £800 Brexit bill if not in UK before 2021.  
  • The Home Office said they will not qualify for EU pre-settled status if they arrive after the end of the transition period, even though they have been unable to relocate because of Covid. It potentially means tens of thousands of students will have to pay £348 in application fees for a visa with £470 a year in health charges, both new post-Brexit costs. One issue for EU students who have not started their education in the UK before the end of the transition period is that they cannot evidence their residency with rent receipts, utility bills or bank accounts.
  • According to Home Office rules published on the government website, students only need to provide one document dated in the last six months in order to be granted pre-settled status, including a “passport stamp confirming entry at the UK border” or “a used travel ticket confirming you entered the UK from another country”.
  • In a section entitled “evidence that covers shorter periods of time”,the Home Office states: “these documents count as evidence for one month if they have a single date on” suggesting a short trip to the UK up to and including New Year’s Eve is enough to evince free movement rights.

Parliamentary Questions: Course/professional qualifications admissibility to graduate immigration route not confirmed yet

OfS Annual Review

The OfS published their 2020 annual review. Key points:

  • HEIs are urged to radically improve digital teaching and learning as they continue to negotiate the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Concerns are levied as the pandemic has ‘exacerbated’ existing inequalities – especially those impacted by digital poverty. Certain groups of students are vulnerable – international students, postgraduates and students who are vulnerable by reason of disability or for other reasons
  • The report on digital teaching and learning will look at how high-quality digital provision can be continued and delivered at scale; consider the impact of digital poverty; and explore how digital technology has been used to deliver remote education since the pandemic started.
  • Greater demand for adults to retrain at HE level is expected during 2021. 2021 should be a year when we look more seriously at how courses could be made more attractive and responsive to mature students, and a year when more adults are encouraged to take up such opportunities

Quality (and the OfS current consultation):

  • Poor-quality courses should be improved or no longer offered – the OfS consultation on this is mentioned: [it] proposes a series of measures to define, monitor and take action regarding the quality and standards of courses that do not reach minimum requirements
  • Our proposals would ensure that providers that recruit students from underrepresented groups and with protected characteristics are held to the same minimum level of performance as other providers, and would see consideration given to outcomes at subject level within providers, as well as at the level of the whole provider

The OfS set out actions they plan to take during 2021:

Fair admissions and recruitment

  • Following the update of Discover Uni in autumn 2020, which involved a new look and feel and improved course pages, further content and functionality is planned, including a new and improved compare and search functionality for courses, and more content for international students and mature students.
  • We will continue to be vigilant in monitoring the impacts of the pandemic to take action to support fair admissions.
  • We will work closely with the Department for Education, UCAS and UUK on the next phase of their work. In doing so, we will consider whether there is a case for further investigation of the issues identified in our admissions review, in light of the proposals that emerge during the coming year. In particular, we will consider the extent to which any proposed reforms consider the experiences of part-time, mature, international and postgraduate students. If there is a case to relaunch our review of admissions with a more focused set of considerations, then we will do so.

Ensuring high-quality teaching and learning

  • Conclude our online teaching and learning review.
  • Publish the findings of our consultation on quality.
  • Consult on our future approach to the TEF.
  • Conclude our review of the NSS and publish the findings.

Supporting all students to success

  • Develop further regulatory and funding incentives for mature student participation.
  • Continue collaborating with Uni Connect programmes to build on innovative delivery during the pandemic to support diverse pathways for students applying next year and beyond, including local progression from further education colleges.
  • Work with Student Minds to mitigate the mental health effects of the pandemic.
  • Relaunch the consultation on how universities and colleges should prevent and respond to incidents of harassment.
  • Deepen our understanding of student populations, including the intersections between different groups, through the access and participation dataset and a new Associations Between Characteristics measure.
  • Track student progress from outreach through to higher education and into employment, through the Higher Education Access Tracker and similar services.
  • Develop evaluation practice and the use of evaluation findings through the OfS-funded ‘what works’ centre, Transforming Access and Student Outcomes in Higher Education.

Graduate skills and prospects in the pandemic

  • Evaluate the support for local graduates through our funding, working with further education colleges and universities.
  • Ensure universities and colleges are closing attainment gaps and securing equitable graduate outcomes.
  • Continue to fund courses that provide graduates for industries, such as certain science, technology, engineering and maths subjects, and health and medical subjects.

Research Professional have a short article covering the OfS annual review here.

Anti-Semitism

The Guardian has an opinion piece – The government should not impose a faulty definition of antisemitism on universities.

  • [Education SoS Williamson] threatens to remove funding and the power to award degrees from universities that do not share his faith in the efficacy of the IHRA working definition.
  • This is misguided, for a number of reasons. First, it misconceives the task universities face…structural racism in universities is profound, and racial harassment on campus is widespread. These are problems that universities must address. The imposed adoption of the IHRA working definition will not meet this challenge. It will, however, privilege one group over others by giving them additional protections, and in doing so will divide minorities against each other. For this reason alone, Williamson should pause and consider how best to protect students and university staff from racism broadly as well as from antisemitism.
  • The IHRA working definition is anything but straightforward, and universities already have some tools to deal with antisemitism.

The article goes on to suggest that adopting the definition is symbolic and it is linked with the Labour party’s initial rejection of the definition. It also discusses the pros and cons of the working definition and states: Universities, like everyone else, are sorely in need of good and clear guidance on when speech on Israel or Zionism becomes antisemitic. Sadly, this is not what the working definition provides. In these circumstances, its imposition by the secretary of state appears reckless and brings real dangers.

It concludes: Antisemitism on campus comprises one part of a mosaic of harms and harassment suffered by racial and religious minorities. Jewish students and staff deserve protection, but imposing the working definition will add nothing useful to secure it. 

There was a parliamentary question on what legislative options the Government is considering for HEIs that do not sign up to the definition. Excerpt: officials are exploring how best to ensure that providers are tackling antisemitism, with robust measures in place to address issues when they arise. Options identified by my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Education in the letter include directing the Office for Students to impose a new regulatory condition of registration, and suspending funding streams for universities at which antisemitic incidents occur and which have not signed up to the definition.

QAA

Douglas Blackstock, Chief Executive of the Quality Assurance Agency, has announced he will retire during 2021. Research Professional have coverage (scroll down to ‘Early Bath’) mentioning HERA, TEF and QAA’s move to a subscription body. The article highlights:

  • With Michael Barber on the way out at the Office for Students, the imminent departure of Blackstock provides the government with another opportunity to influence an appointment that could reshape the higher education debate. Such appointments tend to last longer than the ministers that make them.
  • …The QAA has always had a piquant relationship with the Office for Students, at least since the dying days of the old regime at the Higher Education Funding Council for England. It is not so much one of open hostility: it is more like two kids sitting beside one another at the pantomime, passive-aggressively competing over who gets to plant their elbow on the arm rest.
  • The Higher Education and Research Act left responsibility for quality shared between a designated agency and the regulator, but the boundaries were not clearly defined and have become more blurred over time. The Office for Students’ consultation on standards and value hints at a potential external inspection regime for universities, something the QAA might rightly have assumed to be its job.
  • To be accepted on the register of the Office for Students, providers must be in good standing with the QAA. But it has never been clear what store the regulator puts by QAA assessments.
  • The Higher Education and Research Act also requires the Office for Students to work in tandem with Research England, a collaboration that has not always been as proactive as some involved might have hoped. These relationships are the loose ends in the fabric of higher education left by the 2017 reforms. Playbook is only thinking aloud when it asks whether this government might be minded to tidy them up almost five years after Jo Johnson first published his white paper.

 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

Online learning: The BBC looks at whether online degrees will become more ‘legitimate’.

Diversity and inclusion: Dods report that The Office for Students (OfS) have recently published two insightful articles on the implications digital skills and data science courses on diversity and inclusion within the HE sector. In their article on Friday, they reported how the OfS-funded Institute for Coding is finding the flexible, modular, digital skills education can improve diversity in learner cohorts and in the tech workforce overall. They note that demand for talent has grown by 150 percent in the digital tech sector over the past four years, and the implications this has for future learning demand.

Referencing the ‘Digital Skills for the Workplace’ course collection, they note that within the participants:

  • 47% of learners surveyed were women
  • More than half of surveyed learners were over the age of 25
  • 19% of surveyed learners were unemployed or looking for work
  • 48% were working full-time, part-time or are self-employed

The Government’s Digital Strategy has also estimated that, within 20 year, 90 percent of jobs will require some element of digital skills.

In their article, the OfS also discussed new data for AI and data science postgraduate conversion courses, which have shown greater diversity in cohorts, including high admission from Black students, women and students with disabilities. Most importantly, they note that the lack of diversity within these fields can lead to entrenched dataset biases, and that a lack of representative testing in AI “creates an artificial world.”

Both articles highlight the benefits of flexible and modular learning – drawing attention to platforms such as FutureLearn, as well as online courses offered by partner universities on these ventures.

EdTech Start Ups: Jisc and Emerge Education relaunched their step up initiative, which aims to transform higher and further education by matching EdTech start-ups with colleges and universities to solve their biggest challenges. They’ve published a top list of recommended start-ups – new ventures ready to tackle the sector’s five biggest challenges of digital learning, assessment, employability, wellbeing and recruitment. The full list and more details are here.

Back to ‘normal’: An SRHE blog drops a pin in the July 2021 calendar for end of pandemic in the UK with a normal teaching programme resuming in autumn 2021.

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HE policy update for the w/e 10th September 2020

We thought it might be a quiet week, this week, but we were wrong.  The DfE has started the new academic year with a bang, and the Ofs are going to be busy.

So we are back properly to our weekly schedule although with a bit of flexibility on days of the week.

International student visas

The Home Office have made an announcement about student visas.  The new international student immigration route is opening early, from 5th October to allow the “best and brightest” to apply for a visa under the new points based system.  That includes EU students.  This will mean that “as a result of coronavirus, some overseas students are choosing to defer their entry onto courses in the UK until the spring semester of 2021. Introducing these new routes now means that students will be able to benefit from the new streamlined process whilst still giving sponsors time to adapt after their autumn intake”.

The Secretary of State and the Minister for Universities speak

Gavin Williamson has been speaking to UUK.  He starts with a bouquet of praise and thanks for the sector and almost an apology for the extra work on admissions this year, although not quite.  There was always going to be a “but…”.

First he wanted to “land three key messages” related to the pandemic:

  • Keep going – and he looks forward to working with us all as the situation evolves over the autumn term
  • The importance of collaboration – specifically with local authorities.
  • And to stay alert, which includes comms to students and keeping them at uni rather than sending them home if there are local restrictions

And then the “but”.  It starts nicely:

  • Too often, there can be an implicit narrative that every university needs to measure itself against Oxbridge. That if a university isn’t winning Nobel prizes and taking in triple A students it is somehow second rate.
  • In reality, it is the diversity of our sector which will drive the levelling up agenda that is central to everything this Government does.

But…

  • There are still pockets of low quality. One only has to look at the Guardian subject league tables to see there are too many courses where well under 50% of students proceed to graduate employment.
  • But more fundamentally, in order to create a fairer, more prosperous and more productive country, we need to reverse the generational decline in higher technical education.
  • We have already announced that, over the next few years, we will be establishing a system of higher technical education where learners and employers can have confidence in high-quality courses that provide the skills they need to succeed in the workplace, whether they are taught in a further education college, a university or an independent training provider.
  • Of course, a large proportion of this will be delivered in our great further education colleges, but what I also want to see is for universities to end their preoccupation with three-year bachelors’ degrees and offer far more higher technical qualifications and apprenticeships. These would be more occupation focused and provide a better targeted route for some students, and benefit employers and the economy.

Again, none of this is new, he has been completely consistent.  It will be interesting to see how the sector responds.

Michelle Donelan

There was a double act at UUK this morning, as the Universities Minister also spoke.

Again, lots of thanks and different examples too.  I want to say a special thank you. Thank you for bending over backwards to unlock the dreams and opportunities of this year’s cohort.

Her speech is mostly about the bureaucracy reduction announcements set out below.  But in return for this her speech also has a “but”.  Her but is also consistent with what we have heard before.  She wants:

  • readily accessible bitesized learning for people looking to upskill and reskill…. and also foster a culture of lifelong learning”.

And it comes with a carrot – or a stick – hard to tell which:

  • You will remember that the Augar review looked in detail at flexible learning and argued for widespread changes to the organisation and funding of higher education to enable that flexibility. And we will respond in parallel with the Spending Review. Rest assured, the global pandemic has not and will not throw us off course.”

Her last point was about mental health, and the need for on-going support.

Bonfire of the metrics (and general reduction of bureaucracy)

The OfS were due to review the NSS this year, and of course we are also waiting (and have been waiting for ever, it seems) for the government response to the Pearce review of the TEF.  But the DfE have gone early.  In a move which confirms what we and everyone else has been saying all summer, the DFE have confirmed that they only really care about outcomes (and continuation) and asked the OfS to do a serious review of the NSS by the end of the year.

The announcement is here.  It is much broader than just the NSS, and there are some really interesting developments, so we will set them all out by area.

Starting with the Office for Students

The measures outlined below are a combination of decisions taken by the OfS to help achieve those aims, and changes that DfE would like the OfS to implement. DfE will be following up this policy document with strategic guidance to the OfS,”

  • Enhanced monitoring – the OfS intends to report to the DfE within 3 months on how it is reducing its use of enhanced monitoring
  • Data futures – OfS has agreed to review the proposed termly data collection to make sure it is proportionate – also looking at making data collection more timely. Due by end October with final decisions alongside an OfS data strategy in April.
  • Random sampling – the OfS has suspended this
  • No further regulatory action on student transfers – this was a “big issue” in the original Jo Johnson Green/White Paper – students were being prevented or discouraged from transferring, apparently. The OfS has decided to review their current requirements for monitoring and consult on changes – but the headline suggests they won’t get more onerous.
  • The announcement welcomes the already announced decision to make estates and non-academic data collected by HESA optional.
  • Review of TRAC (T). The Transparent Approach to Costing for Teaching.  This data was used by Augar to attack fees and the announcement recognises that the government have used it to look at efficiency.  The OfS have been asked to review it because the sector have said that it is “disproportionately burdensome”.  This year’s return has been cancelled.  A “way forward” for the review is due by October alongside the UKRI review of the other stream of TRAC (see below).
  • Review of the transparency condition – this is the monitoring data provided to the OfS relating to offers and acceptable, completion and outcomes, including by gender, ethnicity and background. The OfS have said that they will explore if the amount of information requested can be reduced and replaced by other sources, and the DfE are “pleased” with that.  Due by end October.
  • Reduction in OfS fees – the OfS have to review their own efficiency with a view to reducing fees, and to help them along the government’s review of fees (which are set by the Secretary of State) will take place this Autumn instead of next year. The QAA and HESA are expected to reduce their fees too.

So, the NSS.  Hold on to your hats – these statements are bold!

  • We have asked the OfS to undertake a radical, root and branch review of the National Student Survey (NSS)…..Since its inception in 2005, the NSS has exerted a downwards pressure on standards within our higher education system, and there have been consistent calls for it to be reformed. There is valid concern from some in the sector that good scores can more easily be achieved through dumbing down and spoon-feeding students, rather than pursuing high standards and embedding the subject knowledge and intellectual skills needed to succeed in the modern workplace. These concerns have been driven by both the survey’s current structure and its usage in developing sector league tables and rankings. While government acknowledges that the NSS can be a helpful tool for providers and regulators, we believe its benefits are currently outweighed by these concerns. Further, its results do not correlate well with other, more robust, measures of quality, with some of the worst courses in the country, in terms of drop-out rates and progression to highly skilled employment, receiving high NSS scores. Accordingly, the extensive use of the NSS in league tables may cause some students to choose courses that are easy and entertaining, rather than robust and rigorous.
  • The government shares concerns raised by some in the sector that, in its current form, the NSS is open to gaming, with reports of some institutions deliberately encouraging their final year students to answer positively with incentives or messaging about their future career prospects. Academics have also criticised the cost and bureaucracy the NSS creates, arguing that the level of activity it generates can be a distraction from more important teaching and research activities. There is a sense that the level of activity it drives in universities and colleges has become excessive and inefficient. For example, we are aware that some providers employ analysts to drill down into NSS performance, in some cases at module level, and investigate any sub-par performance.
  • Student perspectives do play a valuable role in boosting quality and value across the sector, but there is concern that the benefits of this survey are currently outweighed by the negative behaviours and inefficiencies it drives. Universities must be empowered to have the confidence to educate their students to high standards rather than simply to seek ‘satisfaction’.

Now, many people will agree with at least some of that.  The sector blows hot and cold on the NSS – heavily critiquing its use in the TEF, then worrying that there was no voice for students when it was diluted in later iterations.  Many have criticised it for being subjective and unhelpful (so not so much a criticism of the survey as a tool for driving improvements, as a criticism of its inclusion in the TEF and league tables) – but that was a case of the TEF using the metrics that they had, because there wasn’t anything else.  Lots of people have criticised the methodology, despite the reviews that have been carried out before.  Some universities have had consistent boycotts (Oxbridge).

But don’t think that abolishing it will mean that we can stop worrying about the underlying issues.  The OfS have been asked (by the end of the calendar year!) to:

…undertake a radical, root and branch review of the NSS, which:

  • reduces the bureaucratic burden it places on providers
  • ensures it does not drive the lowering of standards or grade inflation
  • provides reliable data on the student perspective at an appropriate level, without depending on a universal annual sample
  • examines the extent to which data from the NSS should be made public
  • ensures the OfS has the data it needs to regulate quality effectively
  • will stand the test of time and can be adapted and refined periodically to prevent gaming

Expectations are high.  No annual survey and yet reliable data….that reduces the bureaucratic burden, and prevents gaming and avoids lowering standards and grade inflation.  Notably there are no positive suggestions about what a new approach actually will achieve other than “reliable data on the student perspective”.  You might ask perspective on what?  Not satisfaction, it seems, or even experience, but “quality and value”.   It sounds like getting rid of it completely is on the table, replacing it with something else that isn’t a survey at all.  But what?  So this is your moment.  What is the best way to get “reliable data on the student perspective”.  We look forward to engaging with staff across BU on the inevitable OfS call for evidence.

Obviously the OfS have responded to all this.  They seem to think that they will be keeping the survey.  Maybe the requirement to avoid an annual universal sample means just that – not annual, not everyone, just a sample?

  • ‘On the NSS, our review will seek to reduce any unnecessary bureaucracy, prevent any unintended consequences and gaming of the survey, whilst ensuring that the NSS stands the test of time as an important indicator of students’ opinions and experiences at every level.

UKRI and BEIS

UKRI are being asked to make a lot of changes

Selection

  • simplify eligibility criteria for bidding
  • streamline grant schemes
  • streamlined two stage application process for grants – only necessary information provided at each stage
  • single format for CVs
  • “brand new, fully digital, user-designed, applicant-focused and streamlined grants application system with the first pilot launched in August”
  • single information document for a call rather than lots

Assurance and outcomes

  • harmonising reporting
  • reducing the number of questions and making it “minimally demanding”
  • enhance risk based funding assurance approach to reduce the burden and assure an organisation not individual projects
  • review end of award reporting

Other things

  • provide additional independent challenge (on costs and bureaucracy)
  • Stop multiple asks for information that already exists
  • review TRAC (as mentioned above)

NIHR

The NIHR are congratulated for already taking a number of steps to reduce the burden on researchers.  Now there are a set of new commitments to take this further.

  • Will consider ways of making peer review more proportionate
  • “will immediately delete clauses which place obligations on research institutions which add limited value to the general research endeavour and end user from the standard NIHR contract”
  • “review eligibility criteria for all funding streams including requirements for compliance with charters and concordats”
  • Will drop the requirement for Silver Athena Swan – but instead “We will expect organisations that apply for any NIHR funding to be able to demonstrate their commitment to tackling disadvantage and discrimination in respect of the nine protected characteristics set out in the Equality Act (2010). These are: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage or civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation” [that sounds like more not less bureaucracy….]
  • “NIHR currently obliges researchers, through a standard contractual provision, to notify DHSC of all publications associated with their research. ….This contractual clause will be deleted for almost all new contracts from 1st August 2020 “

Reductions in providers’ internal bureaucracy

What could this mean?  Well:

  • We …expect providers to ensure reductions in government or regulator imposed regulatory activity are not replaced with internal bureaucracy. In addition, we want them to go even further to enable academics to focus on front line teaching and research: stripping out their existing unnecessary internal bureaucracy, layers of management and management processes. [now that interesting, we flagged it a few weeks ago because it featured in the introduction to the financial restructuring document as an objective…but it is still unclear how this should be implemented – and one person’s internal bureaucracy is another person’s sensible internal control measure]
  • There are a wide variety of organisations which offer voluntary membership awards or other forms of recognition to support or validate an organisation’s performance in particular areas. …. Such schemes can be helpful but can also generate large volumes of bureaucracy and result in a high cumulative cost of subscriptions. Where a university believes that membership of such schemes are genuinely the best way of addressing a matter, it is of course free to do so, but in general universities should feel confident in their ability to address such matters themselves and not feel pressured to take part in such initiatives to demonstrate their support for the cause the scheme addresses. [from the points made above, that probably includes Athena Swan – what else?]
  • We will engage with the sector, and in partnership with research funding bodies across the UK, to tackle the broader issues that are often causes of unnecessary bureaucracy. [Like what?]
  • This is also an opportunity to shift the research sector to more modern methods of research, which will help cut red tape too. This means embracing modern methods of peer review and evaluation. It also means tackling the problematic uses of metrics in research and driving up the integrity and reproducibility of research. Crucially, we must embrace the potential of open research practices.

David Kernohan was quick to respond on Wonkhe.  One thing he points out is that the government are correct that the NSS does not correlate with highly skilled employment or outcomes.  But he points out that the government’s favourite two metrics don’t correlate with each other either  – and of course why would they.

Brexit

Have you missed it?

As you know, the trade deal with the EU has to be done by the end of the year because that is when the transitional period ends.  It could have been extended, but the deadline to request an extension was 30th June 2020 – and there was no way this government (with its large majority all signed up to a possible no deal Brexit) was going to ask for an extension.

The deadline for a deal has similarly been a bit flexible – of course, and despite all the talk of dates, the most real deadline is 31st December.  Originally it had been suggested that the deal needed to be done by July to allow for ratification – now both sides are saying that the EU leaders’ meeting on 15th October is the deadline.  But no-one will really be surprised if it carries on after that.  The withdrawal agreement was sorted in October last year, as you will remember and was then approved by Parliament in December 2020, receiving royal assent in January, just days before the UK left the EU on 31st January.  It was close.  The draft legislation wasn’t even published during all the backwards and forwards before the election, because it was such a hostage to fortune for the May government.  Then Boris negotiated changes to the withdrawal agreement and “got it done”, just in time.

So, the government are getting ahead.  Hence all the fuss about the new draft bill. Press coverage has been very excitable, especially as the NI Secretary confirmed in Parliament before it was published that the new law will “breach international law in a specific and limited way”.  As many are saying, that is not usually a defence (“sorry officer, but I only [insert criminal offence of choice here] in a specific and limited way”).  You can read the Hansard extracts here.

The Internal Markets Bill was published yesterday.  If you want to read it, it is here, which is where you will also find all the amendments etc. as it goes through.

The Institute for Government have a short blog here:

  • The bill would give ministers powers to make regulations about state aid and customs procedures for trade from Northern Ireland to Great Britain, and would allow ministers to make regulations inconsistent with the UK’s obligations under the Withdrawal Agreement.
  • The existence of those powers is a breach of Article 4 of the Withdrawal Agreement, which provides that the UK must use primary legislation to give full effect to the Withdrawal Agreement in domestic law.
  • However, unless the powers were actually used, the UK would not be in breach of the state aid and customs provisions of the Northern Ireland protocol.

So that answers that question.

And also:

  • Perhaps more extraordinary than the bill’s provisions on international law are those on domestic law. Under s45(4)(g) of the bill, regulations made by the minister on state aid or customs declarations would have legal effect notwithstanding their incompatibility with “any rule of international or domestic law whatsoever”.
  • This appears to be an attempt to oust the jurisdiction of the courts to review the legality of ministerial decisions under these powers at all.
  • Such clauses are rare, and they rarely work. The courts have repeatedly found ways of reviewing government decisions even where similar clauses have tried to keep them out of the picture.
  • That is because the judges consider them an affront both to the rule of law and to parliamentary sovereignty. “It is a necessary corollary of the sovereignty of Parliament,” the Supreme Court said in a case on this issue last year, “that there should exist an authoritative and independent body which can interpret and mediate legislation made by Parliament.”
  • Section 45 of this bill will make uncomfortable reading for anyone who believes in the principle that governments are subject to the law, at home and abroad. It requires careful scrutiny in parliament.

The other concerns are about timing.  We can look forward to the arguments being aired in full over the next two weeks.

So what is the issue?

From the BBC:

  • The UK and EU settled on the Northern Ireland Protocol. This would see Northern Ireland continue to follow some EU customs rules after the transition period – meaning customs declarations would be needed for goods moving from Northern Ireland to Great Britain, as well as some new checks on goods going from Great Britain into Northern Ireland.
  • It was unpopular with some sections of the Tory backbenches and Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party – which had been supporting the government until that point. But the agreement was passed through Parliament and the Northern Ireland Protocol became part of the international treaty.

You will remember all this, because the PM said there would be no checks, and then the government said well actually there would, etc…..

From the BBC again:

  • Downing Street said one thing it would do is allow ministers to unilaterally decide what particular goods were “at risk” of entering the EU when passing between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and therefore subject to EU tariffs.
  • The law would also give ministers the powers to scrap export declarations on goods moving from Northern Ireland to Great Britain and would make it clear that EU state aid requirements – where governments give financial support to homegrown businesses – would only apply in Northern Ireland.
  • But the government insists the bill only introduces “limited and reasonable steps” to “remove ambiguity” – not “overriding” the withdrawal agreement, as government sources had suggested on Sunday.

We will see.  Maybe they are just making sure that there is time for proper Parliamentary scrutiny this time, by publishing something technical in good time rather than waiting for October when the deal is finalised and there is no time to discuss it properly.  Or maybe it is sabre rattling.  And why might they need to sabre-rattle?  Because, apart from the NI border issue, there are also a couple of (unsurprising) issues outstanding in the main trade deal negotiations with the EU.

One is fishing rights, which was always going to be tricky.  You will recall that at one point it nearly derailed the discussions last year when France and Spain demanded extra concessions at the last minute.  There is an Institute for Government article from March and a  Guardian article (from June).

And the other issue is state aid – the rules about supporting domestic businesses, which are seen as anti-competitive.  There is an FT article on that.

We can expect a lot more rhetoric, bitterness, and positioning over the next few weeks.  It is clear that the deal won’t be done until it is done, and also that all the other bits, like research collaboration and participation in Erasmus, are dependent on there being a deal at all.  So we’ll just have to wait and see.

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HE policy update for the w/e 29th March 2018

Industrial Strategy

The Creative Industries Sector Deal has been announced.  You can read the document here.

The press release says:

  • As part of a Creative Industries Sector Deal, to be announced today by the Digital and Culture Secretary Matt Hancock, Business Secretary Greg Clark and Co-Chair of the CIC, Nicola Mendelsohn, more than £150 million is being jointly invested by government and industry to help cultural and creative businesses across Britain thrive.
  • A Cultural Development Fund will also be launched for cities and towns to bid for a share of £20 million to invest in creative and cultural initiatives. The power of culture and creative industries to boost economic growth is evident across the country…[NB Bournemouth is identified as high growth]
  • The Sector Deal aims to double Britain’s share of the global creative immersive content market by 2025, which is expected to be worth over £30 billion by 2025. To seize on the opportunity of this expanding market, government is investing over £33 million in immersive technologies such as virtual reality video games, interactive art shows and augmented reality experiences in tourism.
  • Britain is already leading the way in developing immersive technologies. PWC has predicted that the UK’s virtual reality industry will grow at a faster rate than any other entertainment and media industry between 2016 to 2021, reaching £801 million in value, and that by 2021 there will be 16 million virtual reality headsets in use in the UK.
  • Improving the nations skills is at the heart of the government’s modern Industrial Strategy and to ensure the industry has the skilled workers it needs to deliver this, up to £2 million will be made available to kickstart an industry-led skills package, including a creative careers programme which will reach at least 2,000 schools and 600,000 pupils in 2 years. A new London Screen Academy, with places for up to 1000 students, will also open in 2019.

New Quality Code published

After a consultation proposing changes to the UK Quality Code for HE, (you can read BU’s response here) the QAA have published the new, very short Code. There’s some commentary on Wonkhe here.   It really is short – in a 7 page document there is only one real page of content – but there is more guidance to come.

HE Review

To inform our BU response to the HE Review all staff and students are invited to consider the issues in this (anonymous) 5-minute survey. Please take a look at the survey questions as we’d like to hear from as many staff and students as possible. You don’t have to answer all the questions! The major review of HE will shape the HE system, including how universities are funded for years to come. The survey will be available to staff and students until Friday 20th April.

The Department for Education also published a research report by Youthsight on the influence of finance on higher education decision making

Amongst its findings:

  • University was the only option considered by the majority of applicants (75 per cent), especially those applying to the higher-tariff universities (78 per cent). This was consistent across socio-economic backgrounds. Getting a job and travelling were the main alternatives considered by applicants
  • Financial factors were not the biggest influence on the final decision to apply to university. The most important factors were the desires to be more employable, to achieve the qualification and to pursue an interest in a subject. This was the case for applicants from both the higher and the lower socio-economic groups.
    • Lower socio-economic group applicants placed a higher importance on grants, bursaries and living costs than applicants from higher socio-economic groups, although finance still remained a secondary influence on their decision to apply to university.
    • The course offered (82 per cent of applicants), university reputation (58 per cent), and potential for high future earnings (41 per cent) were the most commonly cited major influences on applicants’ choices about where to study.
    • Differences in bursaries offered, tuition fees charged and the ability to continue living at home were secondary factors when choosing where to study. These factors accounted for three of the bottom four of eleven factors tested that might influence which university to choose. However, they were more important for lower socio-economic group applicants.
  • The maintenance loan, repayment threshold and particularly maintenance grants and university assistance were more important to members of the lower socio-economic group than the higher socio-economic group in alleviating cost concerns.

And the government have published the outcomes of their 2014/15 student income and expenditure survey.  There is a lot of data and there are lots of interesting charts, including figure 2.6 (the influence of financial support on my decisions), table 3.7 (what support English domiciled students received by mode of study), figure 4.3 (breakdown of total student expenditure (this one excludes the tuition fee but there is also a chart that includes it),  figure 4.4 (total expenditure and housing costs).

The data from both these reports will be pored over to support responses to the HE review.

Freedom of speech

The Joint Committee on Human Rights has published its report into free speech in universities. The Committee has also published its own guidance for universities and students:

Charity Commission Response: Charity Commission responds to Joint Committee on Human Rights

The Committee don’t identify many actual cases of free speech having been prevented but note a “chilling effect” (it’s hard to prove a negative, of course). The report identifies factors that potentially limit free speech in universities:

  • regulatory complexity
  • intolerant attitudes, often incorrectly using the banner of “no-platforming” and “safe-space” policies
  • incidents of unacceptable intimidating behaviour by protestors intent on preventing free speech and debate
  • student Unions being overly cautious for fear of breaking the rules
  • unnecessary bureaucracy imposed on those organising events
  • fear and confusion over what the Prevent Duty entails
  • unduly complicated and cautious guidance from the Charity Commission.

Recommendations

  • That an independent review of the Prevent policy is necessary to assess what impact it is having on students and free speech, after evidence the Committee took demonstrated an adverse effect on events with student faith groups
  • That the Charity Commission, which regulates student unions as registered charities, review its approach and guidance, and that its actions are proportionate and are adequately explained to student unions and don’t unnecessarily limit free speech
  • That the Office for Students should ensure university policies proactively secure lawful free speech and are not overly burdensome
  • That student societies should not stop other student societies from holding their meetings.  They have the right to protest but must not seek to stop events entirely
  • That while there must be opportunities for genuinely sensitive discussions, and that the whole of the university cannot be a “safe space.” Universities must be places where open debate can take place so that students can develop their own opinions on unpopular, controversial or provocative ideas
  • Groups or individuals holding unpopular opinions which are within the law should not be shut down nor be subject to undue additional scrutiny by student unions or universities.

Chair of the Committee, Harriet Harman MP, said:

  • “Freedom of speech within the law should mean just that – and it is vital in universities. Evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights showed that there is a problem of inhibition of free speech in universities. While media reporting has focussed on students inhibiting free speech – and in our report we urge universities to take action to prevent that – free speech is also inhibited by university bureaucracy and restrictive guidance from the Charity Commission. We want students themselves to know their rights to free speech and that’s why we’ve issued a guide for students today.”

Some particular points to note:

  • 41 The imposition of unreasonable conditions is an interference on free speech rights. We do not, for example, consider it a reasonable condition that, if a speaker gives an assurance that their speech will be lawful, they be required to submit a copy or outline of their speech in advance.
  • 42 In our view, freedom of expression is unduly interfered with:
    • when protests become so disruptive that they prevent the speakers from speaking or intimidate those attending;
    • if student groups are unable to invite speakers purely because other groups protest and oppose their appearance; and
    • if students are deterred from inviting speakers by complicated processes and bureaucratic procedures.
      It is clear that, although not widespread, all these problems do occur and they should not be tolerated.
  • 60 Whilst there must be opportunities for genuinely sensitive and confidential discussions in university settings, and whilst the original intention behind safe space policies may have been to ensure that minority or vulnerable groups can feel secure, in practice the concept of safe spaces has proved problematic, often marginalising the views of minority groups. They need to co-exist with and respect free speech. They cannot cover the whole of the university or university life without impinging on rights to free speech under Article 10. When that happens, people are moving from the need to have a “safe space” to seeking to prevent the free speech of those whose views they disagree with. Minority groups or individuals holding unpopular opinions which are within the law should not be shut down nor be subject to undue additional scrutiny by student unions or universities.
  • 91 Universities must strike a balance to ensure they respect both their legal duty to protect free speech and their other legal duties to ensure that speech is lawful, to comply with equalities legislation and to safeguard students. It is clearly easier to achieve this if debate is carried out in a respectful and open way. But the right to free speech goes beyond this, and universities need to give it proper emphasis. Indeed, unless it is clearly understood that those exercising their rights to free speech within the law will not be shut down, there will be no incentive for their opponents to engage them in the debate and therefore to bring the challenge that is needed to develop mutual understanding and maybe even to change attitudes.
  • 93 It is reasonable for there to be some basic processes in place so that student unions and universities know about external speakers. Codes of practice on freedom of speech should facilitate freedom of speech, as was their original purpose, and not unduly restrict it. Universities should not surround requests for external speaker meetings with undue bureaucracy. Nor should unreasonable conditions be imposed by universities or student unions on external speakers, such as a requirement to submit their speeches in advance, if they give an assurance these will be lawful.

Migration Advisory Committee report on EEA and non EEA workers

The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) has published its interim update on the impact of EEA and non-EEA workers in UK labour market. This is the first MAC inquiry of two – the second one is the one about students, this was more general and about workers across all sectors.

The update sets out a summary of the views expressed by employers and of the regional issues raised. They add that “these themes seem the best way of summarising the views expressed to us but should not be taken to imply that the MAC endorses a sectoral and/or regional approach to post-Brexit migration policy.” The MAC has also published the responses to their call for evidence, broken down by sector.

The report includes the following findings:

  • The vast majority of employers do not deliberately seek to fill vacancies with migrant workers. They seek the best available candidate.
  • Employers often reported skill shortages as one reason for employing EEA migrants.
  • Many EEA workers are in jobs requiring a high level of skill that take years to acquire. But, some of the claims about necessary skill levels seemed exaggerated.
  • Within occupations, EEA migrants are better educated than their UK-born counterparts.
  • The MAC view is that, from the economic perspective this does amount to saying that it is sometimes possible to hire a given quality of worker for lower wages if they are an EEA migrant than if they are UK-born.
  • To the extent that EEA migrants are paid lower wages than the UK-born this may result in lower prices, benefitting UK consumers. Our final report will also consider these possible impacts.
  • Many responses argued that a more restrictive migration policy would lead to large numbers of unfilled vacancies. The MAC view is that this is unlikely in anything other than the short-term.
  • The MAC view is that it is important to be clear about what the consequences of restricting migration would be.

Research bodies update

This week is the launch of UKRI – it is worth looking at their objectives.

.The Council for Innovate UK has been announced. The members are:

  • Sir Harpal Kumar, who will serve as Senior Independent Member through his role as UK Research and Innovation’s Innovation Champion and work closely with the board
  • Dr Arnab Basu MBE, Chief Executive, Kromek Group plc
  • Baroness Brown of Cambridge DBE FREng FRS (Julia King)
  • Professor Juliet Davenport OBE, Chief Executive, Good Energy
  • Dr John Fingleton, Chief Executive, Fingleton Associates
  • Priya Guha, Ecosystem General Manager, RocketSpace UK
  • Dr Elaine Jones, Vice President, Pfizer Ventures
  • Professor John Latham, Vice-Chancellor of Coventry University
  • Sir William Sargent, Chief Executive, Framestore
  • Stephen Welton, Chief Executive, Business Growth Fund

The REF panels have also been announced – follow this link to see the lists.

Parliamentary Questions

Q Andrew Percy MP

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, whether his Department is taking steps to ensure that prospective undergraduates understand the potential effect of their choice of course on their prospects post-graduation.

  • A Sam Gyimah MP The department is working to make destinations and outcomes data more accessible to prospective students, to help them compare opportunities and make informed choices about where and what to study.
  • On the 12 March 2018, I announced an Open Data Competition. It will use government data on higher education providers so that tech companies and coders can create websites to help prospective students decide where to apply. This competition will build on the government’s Longitudinal Educational Outcomes (LEO) dataset, which gives information on employment and salaries after graduation.
  • Alongside this, my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State has requested that the Office for Students include LEO data on the Unistats website as soon as possible.

Q Angela Rayner MP To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what estimate his Department has made of the value of plan 1 student loans that will not be repaid.

  • A: Sam Gyimah MP: It is estimated that the value of the plan 1 student loan book that will not be repaid was £13.1 billion as at 31 March 2017, when future repayments are valued in present terms. The face value of the plan 1 student loan book was £42.8 billion at this time. This information is in the public domain and published on page 155 of the Department for Education’s 2016-17 Annual Report and Accounts which can be found at:
  • https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/dfe-consolidated-annual-report-and-accounts-2016-to-2017.

Q Angela Rayner MP: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, with reference to the written ministerial statement of 31 October 2017 on government asset sale, HCWS205, what methodology his Department used to decide which loans from the plan 1 loan book would be sold.

  • A Sam Gyimah MP: The loans sold in December 2017 were a selection of loans from the plan 1 loan book issued by English Local Authorities that entered repayment between 2002 and 2006.
  • These loans had the longest history of repayments, the longest servicing history and the most accurate data on borrowers’ historic earnings. This information allowed the government to most accurately value these loans for sale.
  • The government’s objective when issuing loans to students is to allow them to pursue their education regardless of their personal financial situation. Once this objective has been met, however, retaining the loans on the government’s balance sheet serves no policy purpose. These loans could be sold precisely because they have achieved their original policy objective of supporting students to access higher education.
  • Pursuant to Section 4 of the Sale of Student Loans Act 2008, a report on the sale arrangements was deposited in the House libraries on 7 December 2017 (deposit reference DEP2017-0778): https://www.parliament.uk/depositedpapers.

Q: Angela Rayner MP: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, with reference to the written statement of 6 December 2017 on Government Asset Sake, HCWS317, what assessment he has made of the net fiscal effect of the sale of the student loan book after accounting for reduced income arising from lost repayments.

  • A: Sam Gyimah MP: The government only sells assets when it can secure value for money for taxpayers from doing so. In assessing the value for money of the sale, the government took into account repayments foregone on the loans sold. In executing the sale, we achieved a price that exceeded the retention value of the loans sold, calculated in line with standard HM Treasury green book methodology.
  • Selling financial assets, like student loans, where there is no policy reason to retain them, where value for money can be secured and where borrowers are not impacted is sound asset management. The sale ensures government resources are being put to best use and is an important part of our plan to repair public finances.
  • Pursuant to Section 4 of the Sale of Student Loans Act 2008, a report on the sale arrangements was deposited in the House libraries on 7 December 2017 (deposit reference DEP2017-0778): https://www.parliament.uk/depositedpapers.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

New QAA Chapter on Research Degrees Published

Following its recent consultation exercise, the QAA has published the UK Quality Code for Higher Education – Chapter B11: Research Degrees.

This Chapter of the UK Quality Code for Higher Education (the Quality Code) sets out the expectation that research degrees are awarded in a research environment that provides a secure academic standard for doing research and learning about research approaches, methods, procedures and protocols. This environment offers students equality of opportunity and the support they need to achieve successful academic, personal and professional outcomes from research degrees. It is informed by a wider context in which UK research degrees are offered, including an environment of continuous improvement and the desire to learn from others’ experiences in research education. It replaces Section 1 of the Code of Practice: Postgraduate research programmes, published in 2004.

The BU Code of Practice for Research Degrees reflects the best practice set out in this Chapter and the version for 2012/13 is currently being updated to reflect the enhanced expectations set out in this new Chapter B11:  Research Degrees.

The chapter includes references to the Vitae Researcher Development Statement/Framework (www.vitae.ac.uk/rdf; www.vitae.ac.uk/rds) and the Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers. The Vitae Researcher Development Framework represents a major new approach to researcher development and provides a unique professional development framework for researchers in higher education.  Vitae welcomes the aspects of the Quality Code relating to career and personal development of students undertaking doctoral and research master’s degrees. In particular, the guidance to the following sections makes reference to the Vitae Researcher Development Statement/Framework:

  • The research environment
  • Selection, admission and induction of students
  • Supervision
  • Development of research and other skills

The Graduate School is working closely with Academic Schools to develop a comprehensive framework of generic and subject specific development opportunities for PGR students in 2012/13.