Tagged / research bureaucracy

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

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

Government support for universities in the pandemic

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

Research Professional report on the report:

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

Fees and funding

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

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

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

Research Professional continue:

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

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

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

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

Skidmore points out the problems with the new approach:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Research

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

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

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

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

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

Quick News

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

Parliamentary News

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

Labour confirmed their shadow line up for Education:

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

Here is the new Scottish Government Cabinet:

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

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More OfS priorities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(d) any other such factor. …

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

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

And so to bureaucracy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Proceed: Graduate Prospects Measure

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

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

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

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

The accompanying press release notes:

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

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

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

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

Hardship

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

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

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

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

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

Free Speech

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

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

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

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

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

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

Donelan’s pickle

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

Smita Jamdar wrote about the legal issues on Wonkhe.

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

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

Access & Participation

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

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

Dods present the key findings:

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

Recommendations:

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

International

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

Parliamentary Questions

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

Parliamentary Questions

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

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                              Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

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

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

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

Research

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

FUNDING

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

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

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

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

The full UKRI ODA letter is here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Research Bureaucracy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More detail here.

Mobility

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

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

The full written statement from the Welsh Government is here.

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

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

Turing Troubles

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

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

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

Turing is not the popular replacement scheme the Government intended.

Parliamentary News

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

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

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

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

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

Augar: Research Professional:

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

Admissions

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

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

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

Wonkhe writes:

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

You can read the HEPI essays here.

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

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

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

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

There is a set of recommendations too.

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

Access & Participation

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

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

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

Mental Health

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

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

Prevent

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

William Shawcross, Independent Reviewer of Prevent, said:

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

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

Industrial Strategy

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

Immigration

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

Transnational Education

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

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

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

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

Cyber Security Workforce

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

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

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

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

Parliamentary Questions

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

Academic Engagement in Policy

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

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

Other Opportunities

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

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

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 31 January 2020

A bumper edition covering lot of news across all the HE interest areas. We have also done a special edition on this week’s big OfS’ report analysing the future of HE Access and Participation.

 Parliamentary News

Select Committee elections were held on Wednesday with some big names being elected. Here are the Chairs of the Committees most relevant to BU’s interests.

  • Education – Robert Halfon (unopposed). Robert was the Chair of the Education Select Committee under the previous Parliament. He has a wealth of experience within Education and is willing to speak out to challenge and push agendas. Most recently he has been a strong supporter for FE to receive more funding and for technical education to become a mainstream alternative to the academic route with equal parity of esteem.
  • Science and Technology – Greg Clark. Greg has a wealth of related experience. He was Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (which Science sits within) from 2016-19, Minister of State for Universities and Science 2014-15, and a list of other related junior minister roles as long as his speeches. He was also did a stint in Opposition as Shadow Minister for energy and climate change in 2008-10.
  • Health and Social Care – Jeremy Hunt. Jeremy was the Minister for Health from 2012-2018. His ministerial period saw several bold and controversial decisions putting him at odds with the Royal College of Nursing and other major stakeholders. He stated that his role as Health Minister was “likely to be my last big job in politics” during the protests over the junior doctor contracts. He also stated he felt he was doing the “right thing” and “making difficult decisions to have better care for patients and deliver [the] manifesto commitments”.
  • Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy -Rachel Reeves (unopposed). Rachel is a Labour MP and chaired this Committee under the previous Parliament since 2017. She was an economist in her pre-political career.
  • Digital, Culture, Media and Sports – Julian Knight. Julian fought off Damian Collins for the Chairmanship. Damian was the previous  Chair of this Committee since 2016.
  • Defence  – Tobias Ellwood. Local MP Tobias was a Defence Minister under Theresa May’s government. During this period he handled the responses to defence parliamentary questions and lead several areas of defence policy.
  • International Development – Sarah Champion
  • International Trade – Angus MacNeil
  • Foreign Affairs – Tom Tugendhat
  • Environmental Audit – Philip Dunne
  • Environment, Food and Rural Affairs -Neil Parish (unopposed)
  • Exiting the EU – Hilary Benn (unopposed)
  • Home Affairs – Yvette Cooper (unopposed)
  • Housing, Communities and Local Government – Clive Betts (unopposed)
  • Northern Ireland Affairs – Simon Hoare (North Dorset MP, continues his Chairmanship of this Committee which commenced in 2019).
  • Justice – Bob Neill
  • Transport – Huw Merriman
  • Treasury – Mel Stride (unopposed)
  • Welsh Affairs – Stephen Crabb (unopposed)
  • Women and Equalities – Caroline Nokes (unopposed)
  • Work and Pensions – Stephen Timms

Global Talent Visa and other immigration news

The new fast tracked visa scheme aiming to attract scientists, researchers and mathematicians opens on 20th February. The bespoke Global Talent route will have no cap on the number of people able to come to the UK, replacing the Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) route. UKRI are to endorse applicants from the scientific and research community.

The route aims to:

  • Enable UK-based research projects that have received recognised prestigious grants and awards to recruit top global talent, benefitting HEIs, research institutes and eligible public sector research establishments
  • Double the number of eligible fellowships, such as Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions, the European Research Council and Human Frontier Science, which also enable individuals to be fast tracked.
  • Continue to ensure dependents have full access to the labour market.
  • Preserve the route’s flexibility by not requiring an individual to hold an offer of employment before arriving or tying them to one specific job.
  • Provide an accelerated path to settlement for all scientists and researchers who are endorsed on the route.
  • Provide for an exemption from our absences rules for researchers, and their dependants, where they are required overseas for work-related purposes, ensuring they are not penalised when they apply for settlement.

Home Secretary, Priti Patel, said: The UK is a world leader in science, with research and innovation that changes lives being undertaken every day in this country. To keep the UK at the forefront of innovation, we are taking decisive action to maximise the number of individuals using the Global Talent route including world-class scientists and top researchers who can benefit from fast-tracked entry into the UK.

Business and Energy Secretary Andrea Leadsom commented: Leaving the EU gives us new freedom to strengthen research and build the foundations for the new industries of tomorrow. By attracting more leading international scientists and providing major investment in mathematics, we can make the UK a global science superpower and level up our country.

Professor Julia Buckingham, President of Universities UK stated: We share the Prime Minister’s vision to position the UK as a magnet for global science and research talent. The Global Talent visa is a positive step towards this for UK universities…Universities are globally connected and this announcement signals that the UK remains open to talent from around the world. Our universities carry out life-changing research and our knowledge base, economy, and wider society will benefit from the international staff we can attract through this visa route.

Immigration – salary threshold recommendations

In June 2019 the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) was tasked to review immigration related salary threshold levels, the threshold calculation mechanism, exemptions, and whether there should be regional salary thresholds. By September the requirement to consider how an Australian-style points-based immigration system could be introduced in the UK, with the aim of strengthening the UK labour market was added onto their task list. They were asked to consider how additional flexibility could be added to the operation of salary thresholds by awarding points for migrants’ attributes and whether these points should be tradeable (i.e. allowing points for some attributes to make up for a lack of points for others), which migrant characteristics should be prioritised and what lessons can be learnt from international comparators. The Chair of the MAC, Professor Alan Manning, has written to the Home Secretary to introduce the Committee’s findings. Manning will continue as Chair of the MAC until the end of February 2020 to ensure continuity during this key period. Here is the full report – A points-Based System and Salary Threshold for Immigration. Or if you don’t fancy wading through the 278 pages the summary at pages 5-11 gives the key points.

Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of UUK, responded to the report:

  • Some of the MAC recommendations are a step in the right direction, recognising the importance of employer demand but concluding the skilled entry route needs reform. While there is welcome recognition that the salary threshold of £30k was too high, there should be a further reduction to attract the diverse workforce, including lab technicians and language assistants, who are vital to supporting the success of our universities. We are also concerned that standard salary levels in higher education sectors would no longer be recognised, meaning it will be harder to attract international talent into key lecturer roles. Our recent polling showed the British public overwhelmingly believe that immigrants should be welcomed into the country on the strength of their skills and potential and not be judged on their salary alone.
  • Combined with the recently announced changes to Tier 1 a package of positive immigration reforms is developing but needs further improvement. The Government must ensure that new immigration arrangements avoid potential unintended negative consequences for the ability of universities to attract the brightest talent with minimal barriers and to continue our world leading research and teaching.

Research news

Maths

The new global talent route is accompanied by £60m funding available per year to double funding for new mathematical sciences PhDs, as well as boost the number of maths fellowships and research projects. This is part of the Government’s ambitions to considerably boost R&D spending.

  • “Also announced by the Prime Minister was a significant boost to the UK’s world-leading mathematical sciences community, increasing support for this key discipline and expanding the pool of trained mathematicians.
  • Up to £300 million of additional funding will more than double the current funding for the mathematical sciences delivered by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)”.

Research Professional say:

  • It is also “subject to business case”, so it might never see the light of day. Nonetheless, the £60m commitment in principle is to be welcomed, and will provide £19m of additional funding for PhD studentships (double the existing funding, ministers say). There is also £34m of additional funding for “career pathways and new research projects”, and £7m a year extra to be shared between Bristol’s Heilbronn Institute for Mathematical Research, the Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences in Cambridge and the International Centre for Mathematical Sciences in Edinburgh.

Reduction of research bureaucracy

  • “In line with the commitment to reduce administration for researchers and innovators, UKRI has also announced that applicants to UKRI will no longer be required to provide a ‘Pathways to Impact’ plan or complete an ‘Impact Summary’ within grant applications from 1 March 2020.
  • The impact agenda remains incredibly important and UKRI exists to fund the researchers who generate the knowledge that society needs, and the innovators who can turn this knowledge into public benefit.
  • Pathways to Impact has been in place for over a decade and we recognise the research and innovation landscape has changed since its implementation and impact is now a core consideration throughout the grant application process.
  • The move supports UKRI’s ambition to create a stronger research and innovation environment that is focussed on supporting talented people and realising the full potential of their work.”

Research Integrity paper: See the paper here.

Research Professional say:

  • Universities should be doing more to ensure the integrity of their research and to retain the trust of society at large, says a paper from League of European Research Universities.
  • The Leru paper published on 24 January is co-authored by Antoine Hol, a law professor at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, and Inge Lerouge, an ethics and integrity coordinator at KU Leuven in Belgium, with an input from its thematic group on the issue.
  • “Universities should be at the forefront of developing and implementing new approaches to research integrity that will maintain and strengthen the confidence of the public, governments, research funders and end users,” say Hol and Lerouge in the paper.
  • Among their recommendations are that universities should devise and share research integrity guidelines, appoint specialist personnel on the issue, and make integrity education mandatory for students.

Chris Skidmore speech on research and innovation (24th Jan)

  • I have, as science and research minister, commissioned UKRI to publish new data today on how their investments are balanced across the regions. This is a first step on the way to greater transparency of where our money is going
  • …Because it will be crucial, if we are to level up R&D funding, that we not only strengthen existing capacity in every corner of the UK, but also that we can support emerging excellence in universities and institutions that are growing their research capability. We are determined to provide the funding and support to achieve this.
  • Already I have announced a record increase to Higher Education Innovation Funding, bringing it to £250 million per year, which will turbocharge universities’ knowledge exchange activities. We have launched the first round of the Expanding Excellence in England Fund, we’ve got the first phase of the Connecting Capabilities Fund up and running, and we’re already well into the second round of the Strength in Places Fund.
  • We are embarking on the largest ever expansion of university R&D right across the UK.
  • And when it comes to supporting and growing excellent university research departments all over the country, I fully recognise the value of QR. Perhaps in the past, our focus on challenge-led funds masked a decline in that important mainstream of basic, curiosity-driven research.
  • But this isn’t about picking one type of research over another. All should be lifted if we are to succeed. Already last year I worked to deliver the first real terms increase in QR in England for over a decade. And I want to do so again this year. But I also want to ensure that we are ‘levelling up’ university departments right across the country. Not just making it easier and quicker to apply for funding.
  • But critically, we need to think very carefully about how all of our schemes, including QR, can benefit existing institutions in all regions. I am determined to support existing institutions, right across the country, to work with you to foster and build networks. We can already see how universities are working together in networks like the N8 group of research-intensive institutions in the North, or Midlands Innovation, or GW4 in the South West. I want us to build on these partnerships, to develop new alliances between existing universities, driving up collaboration, developing deeper partnerships with industry, and working together at scale.
  • ….Because universities are not just engines of growth, or producers of skilled human capital. They are complex organisations, with complex relationships with those around them. Relationships that need to be nurtured, developed and brought to bear for the benefit of us all.
  • And it’s why it was so important that Research England published the next steps on the Knowledge Exchange Framework last week. It is hard to overstate the importance of this – it is a huge step on the journey towards levelling up. The KEF will provide universities with that all-important strategic driver, putting knowledge exchange right at the heart of universities’ missions, on a par with their teaching and research. Let me be clear – the KEF will not be some meaningless, bureaucratic, tick-box exercise. It is about empowering institutions to shift up to a higher gear, not just in commercialisation or technology transfer, but elevating their entire purpose as institutions – institutions that have such extraordinary potential to make a positive difference to their towns, cities and regions.
  • And our review of HEIF will help us take this even further.
  • …And when it comes to improving academic life, I am committed to working with you to improve your working conditions, to address the issues raised by Wellcome Trust in their report on research culture last week, and again by UCU in their report earlier this week. I want to work with you on developing a Research People Strategy for the next decade, a new overarching approach to transforming research practice and culture.
  • I want more research – but I also want better research. For I want our investment to ensure our R&D landscape is above all sustainable for the future. And that means investing sustainably in people. This is of course about building the pipeline of talent. But I also want to recognise and reward best practice in how research is being administered. So in return for increasing funding, I want to see research departments equally commit to transforming their environments. Not just by reducing bureaucracy, and fully embracing networked and open research. But also by improving reward and recognition for staff. Supporting and nurturing early career researchers who need time and space to develop, but also those with significant experience and wisdom. Giving our backing to initiatives like the Declaration on Research Assessment. And the UKRI committee on research integrity. Adopting modern approaches to knowledge exchange and technology transfer. And tackling long-standing issues around bullying and harassment.

Regional Context

A Place Strategy for UK R&D will be published in the summer, aiming to ensure funding builds on strengths of the regions. And the government will examine how the UK’s catapult centres can strengthen R&D capacity in local areas, improving productivity and contributing to greater prosperity across the UK.

Read the full UKRI data – Regional distribution of funding for research and business.

Research – Future Frameworks

A parliamentary question on the future frameworks

Q – Lord Fox: To ask Her Majesty’s Government when they intend to respond to the report by Professor Adrian Smith and Professor Graeme Reid Changes and choices: advice on future frameworks for international collaboration on research and innovation, published on 5 November 2019. [HL453]

A – Lord Duncan Of Springbank:

  • Sir Adrian and Professor Reid’s report ‘Changes and Choices’ makes overarching recommendations which highlight the importance of stabilising and building on the UK capability, it presents opportunities for the future funding landscape of UK research and innovation globally, and it also provides options should the UK decide not to associate to Horizon Europe.
  • The Government is carefully considering the recommendations including how this might inform future policy and plans to publish a response in due course.

Engineering & Construction

The Engineering and Construction Industry Training Board (ECITB)  have launched a new Graduate Development Grant programme costing £5 million. It will support the key leadership and management skills through an apprenticeship style training scheme for graduates embarking on engineering construction careers. It is planned to support at least 150 individuals each year with each graduate receiving £12,000 over three years. The new scheme is part of the ECITB’s new business plan, is in line with employers’ October 2019 decision to raise the industrial training levy, and will help tackle the major challenges facing the engineering construction industry. This includes the need to deliver £600 billion worth of major infrastructure projects over the next decade, replace an ageing industry workforce, and supporting the transition to a net zero carbon economy. The high-level postgraduate apprenticeship style programme is interesting because, while the Government is committed to technical education to deliver Britain’s industrial strategy priorities, there has been criticism that apprenticeship levy funds have been too often used for higher level training at the expense of the level 2 and 3 apprenticeships. However, in this case skills gaps and employer support for the training runs contrary to the sector criticism

Chris Claydon, Chief Executive of the ECITB, said: “Across the engineering construction industry there is both a need to recruit and train the highly skilled workforce of the future and also to round off individuals’ academic learning with the soft skills required by employers. We have listened to calls from industry employers to fund graduate training in a similar way to apprenticeships and we are proud to support the investment employers make in their new recruits.”

Languages

Languages have been of interest for a third week running. This week the British Council have published a report on gender differences in language learning and how some schools have trialled methods to close the gender gap. The report was compiled by EPI and finds that boys’ entry and performance in GCSE languages is persistently lower than girls, with a pupil’s gender a stronger predictor of outcomes than a pupil’s level of disadvantage. These trends are salient because overall entries for languages have significantly declined in recent years. Key findings: 

  • There is a significant gender gap in GCSE modern foreign languages: girls are more than twice (2.17 times) as likely as boys to achieve a pass (Level 4).
  • Just 38% of boys sat GCSE languages in the 2018 cohort, compared to half (50%) of all girls.
  • The gap is so pronounced that gender is a stronger predictor of success in languages than a pupil’s level of disadvantage: a female pupil from a poorer background is more likely to outperform a male pupil from a more affluent background.
  • While nationally the gender gap in entry and attainment is wide, there are a number of schools in England that have ‘beaten the odds’, by successfully boosting the participation and performance of boys at GCSE level. These are schools that would be expected to have lower than the average language attainment for boys, given their context, but in practice have performed well. You can read what worked in the full report from page 31 onwards and there are useful charts on pages 37 and 38 illustrating some of the approaches that were successful with boys in 31 schools.

One of the recommendations in the report is that Ofqual should continue to address the difficulty of the assessment of language GCSEs to enable more inclusive language learning for all abilities. It should monitor the impact of its recent intervention to adjust French and German grading, and consider whether similar adjustments are needed for other languages.

David Laws, Executive Chairman, Education Policy Institute, said: Progress on the uptake of languages in schools has lagged. Our Language Trends research shows that the more disadvantaged you are, the less likely you are to learn a language at school (Language Trends 2019)… Strikingly, once we control for a range of pupil characteristics, including disadvantage and prior attainment, girls are over twice as likely as boys to enter and achieve at least a grade 4 (equivalent to the old “C” grade) in a language GCSE.

 Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: Gender stereotypes limit opportunities for both boys and girls. While schools do a great deal to provide all students with a broad and balanced curriculum, as this report shows, gender continues to shape the subjects chosen by pupils at GCSE . Girls are more likely to study languages, boys more likely to study physics – and this gender bias limits life chances for both. Schools can open up those horizons for both sexes, however Government policy is in many cases a barrier to this.

The Value of HE

HEPI has published a series of blogs on the value of HE.

Rachel Hewitt from HEPI wrote about 2020 being the year of value:

  • “Already this year, however, there has been a bigger drive in this area, with the Office for Students releasing a consultation on the money they distribute through teaching grants due to the Department for Education setting out a reduction of £58 million. The Secretary of State for Education and the Office for Students are therefore making judgements about the value of higher education in deciding where to allocate the more limited resources.
  • With the Conservative manifesto commitment to ‘tackle the problem of low value courses’ in mind, this feels like the first step in a process over the next year. This year will see the outcomes of the independent review of the Teaching Excellence Framework published and the Government’s response to the Augar review, providing plenty of opportunities to consider ways to identify courses not believed to be up to scratch – or providing good enough returns to the taxpayer. With significant spending pledges made elsewhere throughout the election campaign, this may be the beginning of university’s own period of austerity.
  • While the Government might be less likely to let a university go under than their rhetoric implies, they may be quite happy to let plenty of courses they do not see as important or cost-effective go to the wall. Instead of universities needing to make the case for why their funding should not be cut, the sector will need a strong argument for why the courses they are offering the government are high quality and high value to both students and the taxpayer. And if they do not want the methods of doing this to be LEO data or TEF, they should be thinking closely of what alternatives they can offer.”

Kim Ansell (from AdvanceHE) wrote about articulating value:

  • “Following a successful pilot project to test and evaluate a different way of understanding, reporting and demonstrating value, Advance HE built on work by the British Universities Finance Directors Group (BUFDG) and engaged mission groups and a small group of institutions in Let’s Talk Value, which looks at value through the lens of integrated thinking and reporting. This is a principles-based framework which helps organisations to think and report holistically considering all the resources or ‘capitals’ at their disposal, beyond just financial capital – for example, intellectual capital and human capital. This approach promotes a mature discussion about performance, provides transparent and authentic board oversight and helps a whole institution connect to a purpose and strategy.
  • So what does it mean for universities in practice?

o   It develops a collective vision of what value means for an institution, framed around its purpose and taking into account external factors.

o   It re-defines reporting as a tool to tell a consistent story to stakeholders about the unique value proposition of an institution.

o   It enables an understanding of the value of all resources and how they work together to create value by using strategic resources more holistically (such as people, knowledge and relationships and social capital).”

The latest (by Nick Hillman) is about taxpayer contribution:

  • “The many changes to student funding in England over the past 20-odd years have created a system in which it is thought that taxpayers cover around 45% of the costs and students / graduates around 55%. Of course, this is a guess incorporating some heroic assumptions: you cannot know for certain until we know how well graduates will do financially in coming decades, plus we don’t know if the repayment terms will be changed again.
  • However, if public funding should reflect the scale of public benefits, then we possibly have it about right, at close to 50:50 – though some might say we should slightly rebalance the burden towards taxpayers a bit, so that they pay a little more than half rather than a little under half.
  • Yet, intriguingly, despite calling for big changes to student funding, the Augar panel did not envisage a shift in the proportions paid from public and private sources. Their review called for a shift in public funding from loans to grants. But they still envisaged taxpayers picking up half the tab and students / graduates picking up the other half.
  • And as the wheels in Whitehall and Westminster grind slowly on, we should consider this: the overall idea that working out the split between public and private benefits and then charging taxpayers accordingly is unlikely to convince many people in the corridors of power…..The argument can seem overly insular and naïve, as well as unpersuasive, to public funders for three reasons.
    • First, it ignores the almost limitless demands of taxpayers – which will be uppermost in the minds of policymakers as we approach the spending review. Some of these might be educational (like early years’ provision or primary school class sizes) and others might have little direct link to education (like A&E waiting lists and better transport infrastructure). Whether they actually want to or not, many students and graduates seem willing to pay more than half of the costs of their higher education, given the proportion of school leavers moving on to higher education has gone up despite the increases in cost. Asking them to continue doing paying (or even to pay more through higher fees or tougher repayment terms) frees up resources for other things in education and elsewhere, including items which are generally deemed more urgent priorities by voters.
    • Secondly, we don’t apply the argument that public funding should reflect the ratio of public and private benefits to other areas of public policy. We don’t generally say, for example, that many of the benefits of healthcare are personal and thus seek to charge individuals accordingly for them – indeed, we don’t even try to recover the costs from progressive income-contingent repayments. Nor on the other hand, do we tend to argue that because some benefits of, say, private schooling are public (think of all those extra Olympic medalsOscars and Nobel Prizes that we win), then the state should fill independent school coffers. (Although I look forward to hearing if this claim is made at today’s HMC / IDPE / AGBIS conference on independent school bursaries.)
    • Thirdly, arguing that public funding should reflect public benefit plays into the hands of those policymakers who want to defund courses that look like they have particularly low financial returns – deemed low quality courses’ in the 2019 Tory manifesto. If we argue public funding of courses should match the public value of those courses, then we also have to accept that public funding should be low when the public value is low.
  • This is not an argument for less public funding of higher education. I have often written of:

Admissions

Coverage of UCAS data released this week suggests that at this early stage the number of conditional unconditional offers is declining. Wonkhe report that 75% of providers who currently use the dreaded “conditional unconditional offers” predicted to no longer do so in 2020. The data isn’t publically released until 6 Feb and Wonkhe’s blog is useful because it contains a tableau chart through which we can gain more hints. The UCAS prediction that conditional unconditional offers are decreasing is based on the number of early offers (but it is really too soon to tell)

Conditional unconditional offers are where a provider turns a standard offer dependent on the student achieving certain grades into an unconditional offer where they can enter the institution without reaching those grades if they agree to make the provider their first choice of institution.  The Government, and schools, are vehemently opposed to this practice. They state it causes pupils to perform more poorly in their exams and sways their choice away from other institutions (particularly higher tariff institutions) where the individual might be better placed or have better long term prospects.

Research Professional (RP) write that the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, is considering whether conditional unconditionals are breaching students’ consumer rights: “students are being let down by the universities that are using these offers to get students through the door”.  Moreover, Gavin is in favour of a full admissions overhaul describing it as an opportunity for the sector to get its house in order. Today he committed to: “Under no circumstances are ‘conditional unconditional’ offers justified and I will write to all universities continuing them asking them to end this practice.”

RP report that according to the UCAS end-of-cycle data there were:

  • 33 providers whose conditional unconditional offers accounted for 1% or more of their total offers made last year, up from 29 providers in 2018.
  • At 17 providers, conditional unconditional offers accounted for 20% or more of their total offers made—a net increase of two providers compared with 2018.

There were seven providers where conditional unconditional offers made up more than 50% of the total offers made to students, compared with two providers in 2018: Falmouth University (68%); Canterbury Christ Church University (66%);  the University of Lincoln (59%); Birmingham City University (56%); Bournemouth University (56%; and De Montfort University (55%). Four (including BU) have confirmed they will not make conditional unconditional offers for the 2020 recruitment cycle.

RP continue:

According to UCAS Medium-tariff providers (as determined by the average number of UCAS points required to get onto a course) are most likely to make a conditional unconditional offer..

  • In 2019, 13.7% made by medium tariff providers were conditional unconditional (up 1.3% on 2018)
  • It was 9.4% lower-tariff and 3.3%t for higher-tariff institutions.

Clare Marchant, Chief Executive of UCAS, stated: “Early indications point very strongly to a behaviour change in 2020. We forecast as many as 75% of universities and colleges which made conditional unconditional offers in the 2019 cycle will no longer make these in 2020.

Whilst we predict a fall in these types of offers, we will likely see universities and colleges deploy other offer-making strategies, including direct unconditionals, in this competitive market.”

Research Professional make a tongue in cheek response:  As Playbook has said before, it could be considered harsh for the political powers that be to introduce a more marketised higher education and then get annoyed when universities start competing like they are in a market. 

OfS welcomed the predicted decline in these types of offers and reminded the sector that their review of the HE Admissions system, including considering a post-qualification admissions system would begin soon. Nicola Dandridge stated: We will shortly be launching a review of England’s admissions system, working with partners from across education to ensure that we have a system of admissions which is fair, easy to understand, and allows students to demonstrate their achievement and potential. This review will build further evidence about unconditional offers and their impact in the context of the entire admissions system.

Equality Data

The UCAS end of cycle data also highlights that:

  • more students in receipt of free school meals (fsm) are attending high-tariff universities – the between fsm students (18.9%) and other students (35.6) is at a record low.
  • Students from a less advantaged background are more likely to study closer to home

And Wonkhe’s David Kernohan has a more nuanced delve into the offer making data here (scroll down to the bottom half of the email).

Student Accommodation

The Minister for Universities gave a speech on students accommodation this week, raising a number of concerns and outlining some possible solutions.

  • As your Universities Minister, I am keen to ensure that no student is exposed to the types of issues we sometimes see in the news; no student should be left in the lurch due to late completion, priced out of adequate accommodation or end up in a building with too few social spaces that can leave them feeling isolated or lonely.
  • Tackling these awful and disappointing issues will require sustained collaborative effort. That’s why I called together students, sector bodies, universities, PBSA providers and regulators just before Christmas, to make sure their voices are heard on how we work together to identify solutions in this new decade.
  • I’ve had a chance to reflect on the fascinating insights that came out of this summit, and I am struck by the opportunity student involvement can pose for developers and universities.
  • Meaningful consultation with students in the design of rent structures can help ensure timely rent payments while easing money worries and boosting wellbeing. Involving students, universities and local authorities at the design stage of new accommodation allows individual places to ensure they have the right mix of rooms and spaces for their specific student population, and makes sure students are happy with what they’re paying for.
  • Some messages were not as positive. It is not right that accessible accommodation is often the most expensive option available to students; if disabled students are forced to pay premium prices for suitable rooms, this is tantamount to a tax on disability, and cannot be allowed to continue.
  • Speaking to some of you in the sector, I have been impressed by the real-life benefits that have been realised through partnership-working. There are so many positive examples of this; I want to continue to see PBSA suppliers notifying universities early of construction delays so impacts on students can be minimised, and of accommodation managers developing information sharing arrangements to deliver support to struggling students.
  • … We also need to look at what the latest updates to the Unipol and UUK accommodation codes should be. I want us to consider not only what we can do to strengthen compliance with them, but also to hit developers hard in the pocket if they refuse to seek code accreditation.
  • We all need to think hard about the quality and availability of accommodation information to students and their families, including its costs and where the profits go. Students must have access to the right facts to be able to make the right choices – they have consumer rights. And I want us to think about what the best-practice models of PBSA provision are and how we ensure the sector adopts them.

Fee changes

A statutory instrument (SI) with implications for HE was laid in the House of Commons on the 24th January: The Education (Student Fees, Awards and Support etc.) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2020.  The regulatory changes will become law on 13th February 2020 although there is an objection period window ending on 12th March 2020. You can read all the changes here, below are the most relevant changes:

  • To provide that a student who has been granted indefinite leave to remain in the United Kingdom as a victim of domestic violence or domestic abuse is eligible to receive funding in respect of a further education course, an undergraduate higher education course, a master’s degree course or doctoral degree course, or a course at the European University Institute
  • To provide that a student who transfers from a full-time course which started before 1st August 2019 to an accelerated course which started on or after 1st August 2019 will be entitled to apply for a fee loan for their accelerated course up to the higher limits that apply for an accelerated course starting on or after 1st August 2019 and grants and loans for living and other costs.
  • Makes provision in circumstances where a student’s household income is based on the incomes of both parents, or a student’s parent and the parent’s partner. In these circumstances, where the parents’, or parent and partner’s, income falls by 15% or more compared to either the “prior financial year”, or the previous financial year, the Secretary of State may assess the parent’s, or parent’s partner’s, income for the current financial year.
  • In relation to a course which begins on or after 1st August 2020, to provide that a student who has previously received a grant under regulation 33(1) of the Education (Student Support) Postgraduate Master’s Degrees (Wales) Regulations 2019 is not eligible for a master’s degree loan.
  • To provide that when a student repeats a module or similar unit of work forming part of a master’s degree, that repeat study is not funded.
  • In relation to a course which begins on or after 1st August 2020, to provide that a student who is in receipt of funding under the Educational Psychology Funded Training scheme is not eligible for a doctoral degree loan.
  • To increase the maximum amounts of master’s degree and doctoral degree loans for students beginning those courses on or after 1st August 2020.

Social Mobility

We’ve done a special feature on this week’s big news – the OfS report which analyses the future of HE Access And Participation by amalgamating all the HE providers’ Access and Participation Plan targets to create a national change picture. Read it here.

Other news

Merchandise: Brexit will be a major historical event. The Conservatives are celebrating Brexit with some thoroughly British official merchandise. The tea towel is my favourite!

Student health: Derek Thomas MP used Prime Minster’s Questions to highlight that 40% of students haven’t seen a dentist in the last year. He asked whether the PM would meet with him to resolve this inequality, Boris agreed.

Antisemitism: The Government has announced new funding to help universities tackle antisemitism.
The new funding will enable 450 student leaders, journalists and academics to be taken to Auschwitz over the next three years. They will be expected to educate tens of thousands of students on their return. Specifically, students will participate in a seminar which will deal explicitly with campus-specific issues and how to identify and tackle antisemitism. The student programme will be delivered by the Holocaust Educational Trust in partnership with the Union of Jewish Students, following a successful scheme ran in 2018-19. To drive engagement amongst the student population, the programme is planned to work with influential student publications and media, as well as student leaders and networks to disseminate the messages they have heard first hand to tens of thousands of students across the country. Alongside the announcement Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick is urging all universities and Local Authorities to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism.

Fire Safety: A Parliamentary question on university fire safety –

Q – Steve Reed (Croydon North): To ask the Secretary of State for Education, how many university vice-chancellors have replied to his letter of November 2019 on the issue of fire safety procedures and safeguards across university residential, teaching and research accommodation. [5444]

A – Chris Skidmore (Kingswood): We are pleased to see that the engagement with the letter of 18 November… to all 138 higher education institutions has had a 100% response rate. The safety of pupils, students and staff remains ministers’ highest priority. Since the Grenfell fire, the department has worked closely with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, as part of the cross government programme to remediate buildings with potentially dangerous cladding, including student accommodation. That approach will continue, and we welcome the package of measures to improve building safety standards announced on 20 January by my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government. We are already looking at ways to ensure the education estate complies fully with the updated advice to building owners, announced as part of that package, on actions they should take in relation to cladding.

MATHS Resit: Mathematics in Education and Industry have published a report investigating the feasibility of a new maths GCSE curriculum for post-16 resit students which tackles a recommendation from the Smith review – “In view of the low GCSE resit success rates and new GCSE requirements the DfE  should review its 16-18 resit policy with the aim that a greater proportion of students…attain appropriate mathematical understanding by age 18. The report outlines a curriculum for a new qualification that focuses on the maths needed for everyday life and work, which also has sufficient rigour to meet the requirements of a GCSE qualification. It recommends that such a post-16 maths GCSE qualification should be developed and that it should have the same status as GCSE Mathematics at the same grade.

Maintenance Grants: This Parliamentary Question gives no hints on the Augar Review outcomes the sector is waiting for

Q – Caroline Lucas: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what recent assessment he has made of the potential merits of introducing non-repayable maintenance grant funding in (a) further and (b) higher education. [5382]

A – Chris Skidmore: The independent panel’s report on the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding was published in May 2019. The government is considering the recommendations made in the report, including those relating to maintenance support for higher education and further education students. The government will conclude the review alongside the next spending review.

Overseas Campus: If you ever wondered how universities with an overseas campus are monitored here is your answer:

Q – Lord Storey: To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they inspect the overseas campuses of UK universities. [HL478]

A – Baroness Berridge: UK higher education providers with degree-awarding powers are responsible for the academic standards of their awards and for the quality of provision, irrespective of where or how courses are delivered or who delivers them. The external review of Transnational Education (TNE) has been carried out by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) on behalf of funders, regulators and UK providers since it was established in 1997. As higher education is a devolved matter, each nation of the UK will deliver quality assurance of TNE according to the process adopted for higher education institutions within its jurisdiction.

Historically, QAA has carried out TNE reviews, which have included a range of activities including overseas campus inspection, scrutiny of partnerships from the UK end including video conferences with providers, and the analysis of data on TNE provision.

The process for carrying out TNE review activity for UK higher education institutions has been the subject of a recent consultation which ended in January 2020, carried out by Universities UK International, Guild HE and QAA.

The consultation responses are currently being considered and the future model of TNE review, including overseas campus inspection, will be decided through this process and the consulting organisations will jointly analyse the responses and develop an action plan.

Micro aggressions:

Q – Dr Julian Lewis: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, whether he plans to take steps in response to proposals by Sheffield university to pay some students to monitor and report on statements made by other students which might be regarded as micro-aggressions; what progress he has made on bringing forward proposals to safeguard free speech in colleges and universities; and if he will draw the lessons of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four to the attention of college and university staff during this 70th anniversary year of the author’s death. [5319]

A – Chris Skidmore: This government will ensure that our universities are places where free speech can thrive and work to strengthen academic freedoms. The freedom to express views openly, challenge ideas and engage in robust debate is crucial to the student experience and to democracy. Lawful freedom of speech and the right to discuss all kinds of issues is an integral part of our higher education system.

Under the Education (No 2) Act (1986), higher education providers have a specific duty to take reasonably practicable steps to secure freedom of speech within the law for staff, students and visiting speakers. Higher education providers also have clear responsibilities under the Equality Act (2010).

Higher education providers should discharge their responsibilities fully and have robust policies and procedures in place to comply with the law and to investigate and address incidents reported to them. Universities, as autonomous bodies regulated by the Office for Students, should ensure that they are balancing their legal duties carefully and proportionately.

The government worked with the Equality and Human Rights Commission, who published clear guidance in February 2019 on freedom of speech in higher education to support higher education providers and students’ unions in delivering their duties.

The government will be looking closely at how well higher education providers are meeting their obligations and will consider whether further action is needed, working with a range of partners.

Schools: There was a written ministerial statement on the new application system for initial teacher training and the pilot scheme being trialled in the South West. Education Minister Gavin Williamson announced £24 million investment for North East schools to tackle challenges in the region through extra teacher training and greater access to employers and universities for young people.

Equality Charters:

Q – Caroline Lucas: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, if he will take steps to ensure that universities use universally accessible (a) student surveys and (b) data collection processes to monitor university compliance with equality charters; and if he will make a statement. [6062]

A – Chris Skidmore: Higher education providers (HEPs) are independent and autonomous institutions. While we recognise the work of Advance HE and the value that both the Race Equality and Athena Swan charters bring to the sector the government does not compel HEPs to participate in equality charters.

However, progress on addressing both gender and racial equality in HE has been unacceptably slow, particularly for minority ethnic staff securing senior university leadership positions. It is essential that HEPs urgently address those institutional and cultural barriers standing in the way of women and minority ethnic staff and students so that everyone who has the potential to thrive at university, does so.

The government has brought forward sweeping reforms of higher education to tackle equality of opportunity through the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 (HERA). This includes a mandatory condition of registration which, for the first time, requires all higher education providers registered with the Office for Students (OfS) to publish data including the number of applications for admissions, offers made and acceptance rates broken down by gender, ethnicity and socio-economic background. The OfS has issued guidance to higher education providers on how to comply with the transparency condition.

The OfS has also made available online an interactive dashboard of data, which will help to evaluate access and participation at specific universities and colleges. The dashboard can be used to compare different student groups (for example, disabled students or students by their ethnic background) and their peers, and reveal gaps in access, continuation, success and progression. More information is available at the link.

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