Tagged / research culture

HE policy update for the w/e 18th September 2020

Hi all, there is very much of a “what will the new academic year hold” feel about this week.  Will there be another national lockdown?  Is the rise in virus cases a second wave or a small bounce?  What will university students do when they are not learning or socialising online?  In the “find someone to blame for everything” environment that is so prevalent (and so disheartening), students are the latest group to be targeted for vilification.  But there is other news too…

Research news

The Minister speaks

Science Minister Amanda Solloway spoke this week to promote researcher wellbeing and push for changes in the sharing and evaluation of research.

The Minister spoke of the barriers to sticking with a research career – little chance of secure permanent employment, a hamster wheel of short-term funding alongside publishing in the ‘right’ journals, alongside a focus on bullying and harassment. The Minister said:

  • it was an enormous shock… to learn that nearly two-thirds of researchers have witnessed bullying or harassment at work, and almost half have experienced it themselves…. As government, it is our duty not to condone the behaviour of bullies, no matter how talented they may be as individuals.
  • Institutions with widespread bullying and harassment problems should not benefit from the taxpayer’s support.

Career Path

  • we should make sure that we create real longevity in careers. Employers should provide clear career paths, and the stable employment contracts to match… for those that wish to pursue a career in R&D, we should provide clear routes to progression, including routes between academia and other places, and between technical and research roles
  • Having a casualised research workforce where the vast majority of people can’t develop a proper career is no way to build our status as a science superpower.
  • Because research is inherently creative – it’s about finding out new things, taking risks and venturing into the unknown. Nobody should live in fear that, if they don’t play exactly the same game as everyone else, according to the same narrow set of rules, they’ll lose their jobs.

Funding System

  • we must do whatever we can to put diversity at the heart of everything we do… promoting diversity should never simply be reduced to a tick-box exercise – just one more thing you have to demonstrate to win funding.
  • We must look seriously at whether the system of short-term grants for projects is really working… Or whether it’s instead promoting a monoculture of bureaucracy and risk aversion.
  • This means supporting sustainable and well-funded teams, units and institutions. With support for everyone involved in our R&D vision – from top scientists to postdocs to PhD students and doctoral apprentices, from technicians to professional support staff. From leaders, managers, governors, and people working in our funding agencies. To people interested in science, engaging with research, or considering a future in research for themselves or their children. Our R&D People and Culture Strategy should support the whole system – backing everyone to do their best.
  • And when we do provide funding, we should do it properly and sustainably.

Evaluation & Access to Research

  • it’s so baffling to me that scientists and researchers seem to evaluate each other in such strange ways – by obsessing over spurious metrics or narrow indicators of prestige…the pressure you feel from things like grant income targets or the impending Research Excellence Framework (REF)… I of course recognise that the ‘publish or perish’ culture in research is not unique to the UK
  • So I have today written to science ministers across the world, to invite them to join me in looking closely at this dependence on publications and to find out what we can collectively do about it….an outdated [reliance on]… closed-access journals which locks scientific discoveries away, tragically curtailing their usefulness. An important part of the solution must be to make research more openly available.
  • So let me restate this government’s commitment to full and immediate open access to all publicly funded research. And let me give my full backing to UKRI for the work they are doing to develop a new open access policy, working alongside international partners.
  • We should embrace, and encourage, new ways to share research – the exciting, diverse ways to communicate research… We should value datasets, code and open methods, just as much as we value books, journals and conferences… let’s celebrate the exhibition, the performance, the roadshow, the website and the wiki. The television programme, the community engagements, the patient involvement and the citizen science programme.

UKRI

New UKRI Chief Executive Ottoline Leyser presents her Viewpoint blog: We must reshape the system so it genuinely values and supports difference. It begins:

  • The data are clear. There are pervasive problems with equality, diversity and inclusion in research and innovation, which impoverish the system, stifle creativity and deny opportunity to people who have so much to contribute.
  • It is equally clear that there is huge appetite for change. We have reached a turning point in the debate…

Research Parliamentary Questions

  • When and how regularly the Government plans to publish diversity statistics for the UK’s research sector. (The next harmonised diversity data release is due early 2021.)
  • UKRI also committed to expanding their data collection and analysis capabilities including Innovate UK grants. And that they would publish other diversity data more regularly, e.g. the detailed ethnicity analysis of grant applications.
  • Whether BEIS plan to reform the REF to reduce admin, incentive collaboration, and focus on assessing groupings and teams. Answer – the Government will examine the mechanisms and agree a set of reforms – it is worth reading the full response
  • What assessment they have made of the reduction in research funding available to universities as a result of reduced charitable giving during the COVID-19 pandemic; and what plans they have to increase funding to compensate for any such reduction. (Answer references the SURE fund.)

The Lords Science & Technology Committee held a session debate on the report into Science research funding in Universities late last week. Excerpts:

  • The Committee registered surprise that the Augar review did not consider the impact the  recommendations  would have on universities’ ability to conduct science research—one of the key roles of universities: if  Augar  recommendations are implemented, it will seriously affect the Government’s ambition to make UK a science superpower …  Stagnation in QR funding for over a decade, a decrease in full economic costs to 70% from funders and a shortfall in support funding from government in relation to charities’ research grants leaves universities to have to cross-subsidise costs, mainly from international student fees. Added to these ongoing funding issues, there is now the significant and unknown effect of Covid-19 on university finances and research…The biggest threat to universities from the reduction in funding is a reduction in research talent. (Lord Patel)
  • On the Government’s response, Lord Patel noted it was positive but did not go far enough: The Government R & D road map sets out the framework, but now it needs the Government to engage with the university sector to get the details right.  
  • The issues of a decrease in funding and the long-term impacts this may have on R&D and medical advances were discussed.
  • Lord Willetts (Con), argued it would be a mistake to think that we can get anywhere near 2.4% if our research activities are concentrated in a small number of elite universities.
  • Lords from across the Chamber agreed that Scientific Research across HE needed to be prioritised.
  • Lord Callanan stated that the future global talent visa would help this skilled cohort of individuals to access the UK, empowering them to significantly enhance our knowledge base and make critical contributions to scientific and medical research.  And: Research, innovation and knowledge are the drivers of our global competitiveness and a key source of economic advantage. I assure noble Lords that we remain committed to maintaining the UK’s position as a global science superpower, and that we will continue to invest in our universities and in the science and research that will deliver the long-term economic growth and societal benefits.

The Secretary of State speaks

In Tuesday’s Education Committee accountability session Gavin Williamson answered questions on Covid related disruption of school and exams including a focus on grades and the system selected. There was no HE specific content. If you have an interest in the topic but do not wish to view the full session contact Sarah for a summary (ref: Thurs D1502).

International (Visas)

The House of Commons Education Committee has published the letter from the Minister for Future Borders and Immigration on the changes to the points-based student immigration routes. We mentioned this in last week’s update; here is all the detail from the letter:

  • The Government welcomes international students and places no limit on their number. This will not change under the points-based system. We are committed to increasing the number of international higher education students in the UK to 600,000 by 2030 and the new Student route will support us in achieving this aim.
  • From 5 October, all prospective international students, including those from the EU, coming to study in the UK after the end of the transition period will need to apply to the Student route before coming to UK. To help prepare EU students who will need to apply through the points-based immigration system in order to commence their studies here from January 2021, we have created tailored guidance, which can be found
  • The main differences between the new Student route and the previous Tier 4 are outlined below:
    • EEA nationals will be incorporated into a global application system. EEA nationals will be required to meet the same requirements to study within the UK as non-EEA nationals and will need to apply under the Student rules;
    • There will be a new set of simplified Immigration Rules for the Student and Child Student routes, in line with the recommendations made by the Law Commission;
    • Students will be able to apply for permission to come to the UK six months before they plan to travel;
    • There are increased switching permissions within the Student route and increased switching between routes within the new points-based immigration system. Students will be able to apply for further permission from within the UK, provided they meet the academic progression requirement and the new course of study commences within 28 days of the expiry of the current leave. This enables clearer pathways for students studying at all levels;
    • The eight-year time limit on studying courses at postgraduate level has been removed. There is no longer a limit on the time an individual can spend studying postgraduate courses;
    • Those applying for permission to stay in the UK on the Student route will not need to demonstrate funds if they have already been here with valid permission for 12 months or longer at the point they apply;
    • Students applying for leave as a Student Union Sabbatical Officer or to study on a recognised Foundation Programme will not be required to prove evidence of maintenance funds, as it is accepted these individuals will be earning an income during the validity of their visas;
    • Students at higher education providers with a track record of compliance will not routinely be required to provide evidence of academic qualifications used to obtain the offer of sponsorship;
    • Students who have passed relevant qualifications in English language or literature in the UK whilst studying under the age of 18 will be able to meet the English language requirement; and
    • EEA and Swiss nationals, and nationals of the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Singapore and South Korea, will be exempted from having to apply for an Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS) certificate to study certain sensitive subjects in the UK.
  • To recruit international students, educational institutions must have a Home Office approved sponsor licence. Institutions who are already Tier 4 sponsors will automatically become Student sponsors.
  • To retain the brightest and the best students to continue to contribute to the UK post-study, we will launch the Graduate route in Summer 2021. This new route will allow those who have completed a degree at a UK higher education provider, with a track record of compliance, to stay in the UK for two years (three years for PhD graduates) and work at any skill level, and to switch into work routes if they find a suitable job.
  • There will be new rules on how applicants meet English language and finance requirements in immigration applications. These rules will only apply to the Student and Child Student routes initially, but will in time apply to all immigration routes. Guidance will be published in the near future.

The Commons Public Accounts Committee published a report on Immigration enforcement this week.

International Parliamentary Questions

Graduate work visa: The potential merits of extending the duration of the graduate work visa. Answer – no:

  • We believe that 2 years (3 years for PhD graduates) is a fair and generous amount of time to allow international graduates to have unrestricted access to the UK labour market, enabling them to gain valuable work experience and to kick-start their careers. We also believe this will help to ensure that the UK continues to be an attractive destination for international students. We will of course keep the operation of the graduate route under review once it has been implemented.

Recruitment: What discussions have been held with the British Council on the number of international students expected to enrol in UK universities during academic years (a) 2020-21, (b) 2021-22, (c) 2022-23; and what support his Department has offered to the British Council to help attract international students for the academic year 2020-21.

The Secret Life of Students

Wonkhe ran a two day event – The Secret Life of Students – this week. Nicola Dandridge (OfS) presented and included some news:

  • The admissions review that was launched before lockdown is to remain on pause to allow universities to deliver the 2021 cycle first (and tackle any difficulties that arise). So while it is possible that the government will want a new approach (PQ offer making?), they are not going to try and inflict it on us straight away – especially as there may be challenges next year from delayed exams or further waves of the pandemic.
  • Whether the NSS will run during 2021 will be decided shortly. Communication to the sector is expected after the next OfS Board meeting. ICYMI we covered the government’s plans for NSS in last week’s update.
  • The anticipated consultation on student outcomes will follow very soon. This will be an important set of changes because it is strongly linked to the government’s agenda on value and quality.
  • An OfS and Research England joint funding competition addressing diversity will be announced presently.

Wonkhe’s weekly podcast (The Wonkhe Show) promises to cover the highlights from the two day event. Info on how to subscribe to the podcast is here.

Digital Teaching & Learning

Research Professional report on a Jisc survey (mainly carried out pre-lockdown) in which 23% of students stated their digital teaching and learning was poor quality. 28% also said the university didn’t facilitate access to online systems from any location. Michael Barber, Chair of the OfS, is conducting a review into digital teaching and learning for the OfS before he steps down from the Chair’s role.

  • The survey also revealed that only around half of students said they receive guidance on digital skills from their university, which Jisc said showed “the higher education sector must up its game to deliver the high-quality experiences students deserve, and the skills they need to thrive”.
  • While 93 per cent of students said they had access to a laptop, Jisc said the fact that many universities had offered laptops or bursaries to students when lockdown began “implies that the devices some students owned did not meet their requirements”.
  • Sarah Knight, head of data and digital capability at Jisc, said the pandemic had “has highlighted the urgent need to address digital poverty” among students as more teaching is carried out online.
  • “Universities and colleges must do what they can to ensure all students have an equitable experience, whether they’re learning face-to-face, remotely, or through a blended approach,” she added.

You can read more on the OfS Digital Review in this Research Professional article and this is the OfS’ call for evidence.

Returning students – Covid concerns

With a nationwide jump in Covid cases attention continues to focus on students who begin to travel to their universities. Wonkhe have a series of articles discussing the latest:

The time for a nationally coordinated response for higher education to Covid-19 has passed – what matters now is how well organisations collaborate locally.  What might need to be in place to make that happen?

With the R number back above 1 in England, what data is useful for responding to C-19 risks?

As the UK cracks down on socialising will a heavy-handed interpretation damage students’ education and community safety?

The government has published its guidance for universities in England on reopening campuses but is it too little, too late?

Slightly off topic but related Wonkhe have a blog asking if league tables are pointless given they will rely on data collected during the pandemic – Has C-19 infected university league tables?

And from Research Professional (RP): several UK universities are launching their own efforts to test their students and staff for Covid-19, rather than relying on the highly criticised national system.

RP also cover the University of Bergen which has shutdown following 230 students contracting Covid.

University Wales have a joint statement setting out the shared responsibility to keep communities safe.

Wonkhe report that: The Department of Health has urged universities to prepare for the NHS Covid-19 app – due to launch on 24 September – by creating and displaying NHS QR posters from a government website. The app will automate checking in to a location, and the notification process where an outbreak has been reported.

Politics Home has an article stating Universities are launching their own C-19 testing regimes because the Government test and trace programme is descending into a shambles.

Some parliamentary questions:

Finally Wonkhe cover the Public Health England blog –

  • Student life in the time of Covid-19 advising students that their “household” will consist of housemates or flatmates who share a student home, or if living in university halls “your university will let you know what makes up your household”. Framing all students as people who live in student accommodation, it says that student housing “will be a key part of how you will be able to socialise” and indicates that opportunities to meet new people outside a household and socialise safely at university can still take place under social distancing rules – adding further confusion for universities who are working through the implications of the new “rule of six” for student social activity.

Free Speech Legislation targeted at Students’ Unions

Times Higher have an article stating the Government is considering legislating on free speech within universities with students’ unions under the microscope through extended statutory duties and threatening fines. Excerpts from the article:

  • Speaking in the House of Commons last week, Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, said the government was “exploring a range of legislative and non-legislative options” to protect free speech on campuses, following the Conservative manifesto pledge to “strengthen academic freedom and free speech in universities”. 
  • There have been discussions in the government about teeing up the issue of campus free speech in the further education White Paper, expected this autumn, then introducing legislation subsequently that would extend statutory free speech duties – already imposed on those who run universities – to students’ unions, sources told THE.
  • The Department for Education is also believed to be examining the system of block grants directed by universities to students’ unions.

HNCs & HNDs – in partnership with FE only?

EDSK (a thinktank) have published Further Consideration: Creating a new role, purpose and direction for the FE sector. The report focuses on the 16-19, FE and Institute of Technology sector and gets behind the Government’s current passion for FE with the aspiration that vocational and technical routes be of equal prestige as university academic studies. Its sets out a number of recommendations of how this could be delivered in practice. Including that:

  • Higher-level technical qualifications should be funded by government if they are publicly endorsed by employers, professional bodies or Institutes of Technology. Each awarding organisation should also be restricted to offering one qualification per level in each subject. (Recommendation 12)
  • Aside from the approvals process for technical qualifications, there is a longstanding issue regarding the institutions that are responsible for providing qualifications at Levels 4 and 5. FECs deliver just over half of the qualifications at these levels, with Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) such as universities delivering about a third of them. The list of qualifications available at Levels 4 and 5 is a mixture of academic and vocational courses of different sizes and with different purposes, such as Foundation Degrees, Higher National Certificates and various Awards, Certificates and Diplomas offered by a wide range of AOs that can last anything from a matter of hours up to two years. The problem is that HEIs currently compete with colleges to offer technical qualifications such as HNCs and HNDs, leaving learners and employers uncertain about who to engage with should they wish to pursue a higher technical pathway.
  • To reflect this report’s calls for greater collaboration among education providers within each locality, it is counterproductive for HEIs to be able to colonise the higher-level technical education space without any regard for similar provision available at nearby FECs. As discussed throughout this report, the advent of new ‘Technology Colleges’ will put the FE sector in a strong position to drive forward skills development and economic growth in their local areas, but this will only be possible if they become a ‘hub’ for higher technical courses that employers recognise and utilise.

And coordinating provision in a local area quickly moves to not permitting HEI’s to deliver these qualifications independently:

  • The provision of Level 4 and 5 technical qualifications should be led in future by Technology Colleges. This means that HE providers such as universities should not be allowed to offer these qualifications unless they deliver them in partnership with local FE institutions. (Recommendation 13)

Of course where there is partnership there is also top slicing as each institution attempts to cover some of the admin and quality assurance costs on top of the actual delivery and associated student services.

Recommendation 15 gives a (perhaps unintentional) nod to Labour and the Liberal Democrats repeated calls for individual learner accounts:

  • All learners should be given access to a new ‘lifetime loan limit’ of £75,000, which they can use to engage in education and training at any time throughout their career after the initial funds in their IEB have been used up. This lifetime loan system would cover both tuition and maintenance costs for university, college and apprenticeships.

So if you go to a University which charges higher fees you are looking at a one time hit. Of course, this is the case now for most learners, with only certain courses in key areas (such as STEM) which mean a student can access funding to study a second degree/equivalent level course.

The EDSK report reminds that there will be a white paper published in the autumn expected to address FE and particularly the technical skills agenda modelled on the admired German system.

HE Code of Governance

The Committee of University Chairs has published the Higher Education Code of Governance. It aims to identify the key values and elements that form an effective governance framework. Yet is also recognises that good governance practice is complex and goes beyond the adoption of the Code; that it requires an organisational culture which gives freedom to act; establishes authorities and accountabilities; and at its core fosters relationships based on mutual respect, trust and honesty.

The Code’s objectives are to:

  • determine, drive and deliver the institution’s mission and success in a sustainable way (financial, social and environmental)
  • protect and promote the collective student interest and the importance of a high-quality student experience
  • ensure student outcomes reflect good social, economic and environmental value; and effectively manage opportunities and mitigate risks to protect the reputation of the institution, ensuring financial sustainability and accountability for public funding
  • promote and develop a positive culture which supports ethical behaviour and equal, diverse and inclusive practices
  • promote excellence in learning, teaching and research, monitoring institutional and governing body performance
  • publish accurate and transparent information which is widely accessible
  • lead by example, being flexible and adaptable to create a resilient future
  • ensure arrangements are in place for meaningful engagement with relevant stakeholders (especially students and staff) locally, regionally, nationally and globally

How lucrative is postgraduate study?

The DfE and IFS have published The earnings return to postgraduate degrees in the UK. It analyses the earnings of postgraduate students by subject and institution type using LEO data and controlling for individual and background differences (including prior attainment). They compared the postgraduates’ earning against a control group who didn’t undertake further study. The study compared earnings by age 35 (to give sufficient time for employment and labour market experience post-qualification).

Page 6 gives interesting facts and figures on who undertakes a postgraduate degree and what they are studying

Here are the key points on earnings:

  • For both men and women, masters and PhD graduates earn more on average than those with only an undergraduate degree, while PGCE graduates earn less on average. In particular for men this last gap is large, with PGCE graduates earning around £38,000 on average at age 35 compared to nearly £51,000 for those with only an undergraduate degree. For both genders earnings growth through the thirties is largest among undergraduates and PhD graduates and smallest for PGCE graduates.
  • Earnings inequality varies widely across qualification groups, with very few PGCE graduates experiencing very high earnings, but also many fewer experiencing low earnings compared to those who left education after their undergraduate degree. As a result, despite the large differences in mean earnings, median earnings of PGCE graduates are very similar for men, and even somewhat higher for women, than those of undergraduates.
  • Once we control for differences between students, the earnings gap between undergraduate and masters and PhD graduates drops significantly: we estimate returns of 2% (women) and -2% (men) for masters and 8% (women) and -9% (men) for PhDs.
  • Our estimated returns for postgraduate degree are considerably smaller than previous estimates from the UK, which have been consistently positive. We believe this is because we have much richer data than has previously been available which allows us to much better control for differences between postgraduates and undergraduates.
  • PGCEs are a relatively ‘safe’ choice for both women and men: they reduce the chances of not being in employment, as well as earning less than £30k, but decrease the probability of earning more than £40k. We see quite similar patterns for PhD degrees, as well as for masters degrees for women. Perhaps this is because these degrees tend to result in people pursuing specific interests, such as research, where salaries are reasonable, but which are not necessarily the most exceptionally lucrative careers. For men masters degrees do not offer this insurance value.

Page 8 summarises how the returns vary by subject, institution and prior qualification. In short the return varies across subjects (see PhDs in maths and psychology – it’s not what you might expect); the institution means a difference between a negative and positive effect for masters (but its tangled up with subject choice too), prior study remains an effect with better returns when the masters subject diversifies away from the UG choice (except for high pay areas – law, economics, etc).

The report concludes:

Masters

  • The most striking finding, perhaps, is that while masters graduates on 55 8 average have higher earnings than graduates without postgraduate qualifications, once we account for differences in attainment and background characteristics we estimate a very low average return for women (1.5%) and even a small negative return for men (-2.3%). This average result masks important variation… Masters degrees in law, economics and business are particularly lucrative.
  • For students, the average returns to postgraduate degrees are perhaps less rosy than previously thought. However, more positively, for virtually all students there are some masters options they can do given their undergraduate subject that lead to positive earnings returns.

PhD

  • Our returns estimates suggest that PhD degrees boost earnings for women by around 7.5%, but reduce earnings for men by 9% [except for business]. One important point about the returns for PhD degrees is that there is some evidence that the returns continue to grow after age 35, as individuals gain more work experience. This suggests that the outlook might be more positive (especially for men) at later points in the life cycle. More generally, future research should consider the full life-cycle effects of postgraduate degrees.

And on disadvantage:

  • We also investigate access to postgraduate study and find that while large raw participation gaps do indeed exist, these are almost entirely explained away by prior attainment. This does not necessarily mean that if prior attainment were to improve amongst students from disadvantaged backgrounds then postgraduate fees would not generate barriers to access; it simply suggests that, currently, gaps in attainment in school and undergraduate degrees seem to be the binding constraint in terms of access to postgraduate courses among students from less well-off backgrounds.

Students as consumers

You may recall the student petition calling for a tuition fee refund due to Covid-19 disruption to their education and university experience. The Government dismissed it, however, it was reopened by the Petitions Committee and ran an inquiry to investigate the impact on students, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds and those from ‘hands on’ courses (the Committee’s report here). The Government have now responded to the Committee’s report (as they are required to do).

The Government’s response stated students have rights under consumer law but the exact circumstances in which a student might receive redress are not clear. This is because the question of whether an individual student is entitled to redress will depend in part on the specific contractual arrangements between them and their provider. It will also depend on the student’s individual circumstances, given that the move to online tuition will have been different for students on different courses and at different universities. The result is that each student’s situation is unique, and each case will depend on particular facts…. It is a matter for providers to determine whether a refund is appropriate and, if so, how such refunds should be paid. In other situations, including compensation paid in response to complaints arising from industrial action at universities, this has taken place via direct refund. Any refund is a matter for providers, so the Government is not considering writing off or reducing tuition fee loans.

The Government also refused to coordinate the matter: due to the individualised nature of student contracts and student circumstances, a new centralised system to support students seeking tuition fee refunds is not a preferred option at this time. Any such system would risk depriving institutions of the opportunity for early resolution of complaints with students, in situations where remedies other than refunds would be more helpful or beneficial to a student. Any centralised system would also be unlikely to be able to sufficiently take into account the circumstances an individual student has faced without detailed input from their institution, thereby replicating the first step in the established process for complaints – students in England and Wales first follow their institutional complaints process, and if they are not satisfied with the outcome can take their complaint forward to the OIA.

They also agreed students should be aware of their rights and how to make a complaint and… The Government is working closely with external stakeholders including UUK, NUS, OfS, CMA and OIA to explore existing communications channels and how these could be used to improve students’ understanding of their consumer rights…. More must be done to ensure that students know their rights and can play an active part in holding their provider to account, to ensure that they are receiving the value for money which should be expected of our world-leading universities.

In short, there has been no real change.

Wonkhe report that The Department for Education has set up a working group to consider whether existing guidance on consumer rights can be brought together or added to. They also discuss the Government’s response in this blog.

HEPI – student voting

HEPI has released another report on student voting, from another nuanced angle. This one looks at student voting within the last 4 general elections (2010, 2015, 2017 and 2019) asking Student voters: Did they make a difference? Focussing only on the 25 constituencies where well time students constitute at least 17.5% of the voting electorate. Nick Hillman (HEPI Director) states:

  • Our research confirms that student seats lean left, though perhaps to an even greater degree than previously thought. In constituencies in England with lots of students, Labour scored 25 percentage points more, while the Conservatives scored 25 percentage points less. The student vote has proved decisive in seats like Portsmouth South, Leeds North West, Canterbury and Coventry South. Labour also outperform the Conservatives in student seats in Wales and Scotland, though it is the SNP that tends to win in student areas in Scotland.
  • Our research highlights some common fallacies. For example, minor parties, such as the Green Party, have not generally done particularly well in student seats. Moreover, the common idea that the voice of students will be louder if they vote at their term-time address rather than their home address is often wrong – as students can sometimes just help stack up even bigger majorities in safe seats. While the Liberal Democrats struggled to maintain their previous performance after entering Government in 2010, they continued to do better in seats with lots of students than in England as a whole until 2019.

Nick also speaks directly to students:

  • As the new academic year begins, I urge students who move away to study to keep their options open by making sure they are registered to vote in their place of study as well as at their home address.

…and to and parliamentary candidates:

  • I would also urge policymakers not to take the student vote for granted. While students are interested in so-called “student issues”, such as student finance, they are also motivated by other issues, such as climate change, the state of the NHS and the UK’s place in the world.
  • We also all need to avoid the simplistic assumption that going to university makes people left-wing, as this idea is increasingly being challenged by academics with hard evidence.

The NUS have responded to the report:

The report confirms many things that NUS have previously asserted including:

  • Students have a significant impact in General Elections and should be considered as a key voter group
  • Students care about so-called ‘student issues’ such as student finance, but are also motivated by other issues such as climate change, the NHS and the UK’s place in the world
  • Whilst student seats lean left, it’s also important to remember that students are not a homogeneous group and students hold a wide range of political beliefs

The report comes at an important time as students prepare to organise around key issues for the 2021 May local elections and national elections in Wales and Scotland.

Social Mobility Commission

The Social Mobility Commission have released The long shadow of deprivation – research carried out by IFS, the UCL Centre into areas with the lowest social mobility. It links educational data and HMRC earnings information to identify young sons from disadvantaged families (entitled to free school meals) who attended state schools. The research tracked them from age 16 to 28. The press release states the results show a postcode lottery for disadvantaged people.  In areas with high social mobility, disadvantaged young adults earn twice as much as those with similar backgrounds in areas with low social mobility… . In the “coldest spots” those from disadvantaged backgrounds, entitled to free school meals, have little chance of making a better life for themselves or their children. 

  • Education, often blamed for social mobility differences, is only part of the answer. In areas with high social mobility, gaps in educational achievement account for almost the entire pay difference between the most and least advantaged sons. On average it accounts for 80% of the difference.
  • However, in local authorities where social mobility is low it is much harder to escape deprivation. In such areas, up to 33% of the pay gap between the highest and lowest earners is down to non-education factors, like local labour markets and family background.
  • Disadvantaged workers are restricted by factors including limited social networks (fewer internships); inability to move to more prosperous areas; limited or no financial support from family; less resilience to economic turbulence due to previous crisis such as 2008 financial crash and less developed soft skills.
  • The [social mobility] commission is now urging regional and community leaders to use the findings to help draw up tailored, sustained, local programmes to boost social mobility, building on the approach in some Opportunity Areas. The commission will also ask the government to extend its current Opportunity Areas programme – which gives support to 12 councils – to include several more authorities identified as the areas with the most entrenched disadvantage.

Steven Cooper, interim co-chair of the commission said:

  • These findings are very challenging. They tell a story of deep unfairness, determined by where you grow up. It is not a story of north versus south or urban versus rural; this is a story of local areas side by side with vastly different outcomes for the disadvantaged sons growing up there.

PQs

A financial focus runs across our remaining parliamentary questions this week:

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

Unpaid internships: There are currently two Private Members’ Bills before Parliament on unpaid work experience/internships (prohibiting them). You can read the summary of the debate from the Commons Bill here.

Online events: The Parliamentary and Scientific Committee are running a series of online events on specialist topics (free to BU staff) see this link for the areas covered.

Degree Apprenticeships: Wonkhe report on an FE Week  article stating that the Office for Students is to be stripped of its role (held since June 2019) in overseeing degree level apprenticeships, with Ofsted taking on the responsibility alongside its existing role in inspecting apprenticeships up to level 5. This was a recommendation made by the Augar report.

Policy revamp: Labour have begun revising their higher education policy. Research Professional speculate on the topics that are being discussed behind closed doors. Spoiler:

  • In truth, it is unlikely to be very much different from the plan Labour offered to the electorate in 2019. The same issues are driving the higher education agenda: training and lifelong learning, and the contribution of universities to national recovery and productivity.
  • We can expect Starmer’s Labour to back lifelong learning and the integration of further and higher education. The bigger question that Labour needs to answer is: How should the country respond to the growing demand for higher education in the next decade?

Deferrals: The DfE have announced a support package for students who were forced to defer their entry to university this year. Some of the support mechanisms will also be open to students who elected to defer. The press release states the support package will provide opportunities to gain new skills, undertake work placements in the public, private and voluntary sectors, undertake additional learning and support their career development. This includes support that the higher education sector will offer those students during the year ahead, including free courses and access to careers advice. It signposts to healthcare support roles, paid tutoring roles, the National Careers Service, the Skills Toolkit, University Officer Cadets, work experience with Network Rail, placements within the Courts and Tribunals Service, Special Constables, BEIS have an industry seminar programme, and the Civil Service are offering a 1 week virtual work experience. Read further down the article for Private and Voluntary sector opportunities.  On HE support the press release states all HE providers have committed to:

  • maintain regular contact with students who need to defer, and explore a range of means of supporting them over the coming year
  • offer greater transitional support to these students to support their enrolment in 2021
  • some online content will be made available to these students, at the appropriate level
  • where possible and appropriate, they will be offered online mentoring and access to careers guidance
  • they will receive guidance on what further options for study in preparation for their degree are available, with many providers supplying free online courses and/ or resources

UCAS will directly contact students who had to defer their place to inform them of the scheme.

Business Barometer: The Open University (OU) published their Business Barometer. It finds employers report continued skill shortages despite the growth in the pool job candidates. Management and leadership and digital skills are stated as the most difficult skills to fill. The OU recommends that businesses focus on their own workforce to grow the internal talent for future skills needs.  

  • Organisations spent £6.6 billion plugging short term gaps this year, up from £4.4 billion in 2019
  • 56% of UK organisations report they continue to experience skills shortages
  • 61% of organisations say that they are not as agile as they need to be because of shortfalls in their skills
  • 48% of employers stated that apprenticeships and work-based learning initiatives will be vital to their organisation’s recovery over the next year

Jobs outlook: The CBI published its annual survey stating half of UK firms plan to reduce their recruitment during the next 12 months (half plan to increase). This means the overall proportion of businesses planning increased recruitment has dropped compared to last year.  The BBC also cover business redundancies due to lower consumer demand following an Institute for Employment Studies (IES) Freedom of Information request.

Education Sector: C-19 and the classroom – Working in education during the pandemic has been published, it covers the impact on education professionals’ mental health and wellbeing during this unprecedented times.

Home working: Not remotely policy related – but there is a YouGov poll identifying what Brits working from home miss about the workplace

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External readers: Thank you to our external readers who enjoy our policy updates. Not all our content is accessible to external readers, but you can continue to read our updates which omit the restricted content on the policy pages of the BU Research Blog – here’s the link.

JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

HE policy update 20th August 2020

Well, things happened while we were away!  This is a results and admissions special, with some research news too.  We’ll see what happens next before committing to our next update.

Results!

The withdrawal of BTEC results at 4.30 on Wednesday evening when L1 and L2 results they were due to be published alongside GCSEs on Thursday morning, was “just” another spin in this chaotic results cycle.

With the DfE having (finally) learned that it helps to address obvious concerns before issuing results, GCSE results were issued today with students seeing only the upside from the Ofqual algorithm.  As for A levels, this is not the promised “triple lock” but a double lock  -with students getting the better of the algorithmic grade and the centre assessed grade (CAG).

Hot off the press for university admissions, the caps on numbers for medicine and dentistry are being abolished (although placement and other restrictions may mean it doesn’t make that much difference).   The Minister has announced extra teaching grant for universities with more students on high cost courses.  And in a letter to universities (for once issued during the working day instead of late at night or at the weekend) she promises lots of “working together”.  It all seems a bit late.  The Minister has also published a letter to students.

And there is another story, about the impact next year on the current year 12.  Deferrals will reduce the number of places available next year. Although there can still be appeals, there are expected to be fewer, however there will still be some students choosing to take their exams in person in the autumn – and despite requests for flexibility most of these students will need to wait until 2021/22 to start university, unless they can find programmes with a January start.  This will include private and resit candidates who did not get CAGs.

And it is all so inconsistent with recent government positions and ministerial announcements.  After suggesting that disadvantaged students shouldn’t bother going to university because they are being ripped off, the Minster has told universities to prioritise these students when allocating remaining places on over-subscribed courses.  That’s a good thing, of course, but it demonstrates that the government is worried about the impact of the grades fiasco on the stats next year, so they have realised they do care about WP after all.  And after abandoning the 50% participation target (again) and pressing the “too many students go to university” line (again), the Minister and Secretary of State are now urging universities to be as flexible as possible and let as many students as possible in.   So much for them all doing vocational courses in FE colleges.  Oh, but that was for other people’s children – not the constituents who have written protesting about their children losing their chances to go to university.

Those arguments haven’t gone away, though.  Predictably with no story about GCSE unfairness, the story today is therefore about grade inflation and the risk of students who will struggle to succeed in whatever they do next because they have done better than they “should have”.    There is a similar line for A levels too.  There is already a government and regulatory focus on continuation and outcomes but it will be particularly charged for the cohort of 2020/21.

But it’s all going to be ok, because the Minister has established a task force.  Having failed to consult the sector while all this was playing out, a task force was set up on Wednesday, meeting daily.  UUK wrote to Gavin Williamson on Tuesday to set out the potential problems in all this. The result is a letter to students and VCs, and a press release.  To quote, the action taken so far:

  • Yesterday’s (19 August) daily meeting of the Government’s Higher Education Taskforce agreed to honouring all offers across courses to students who meet their conditions this coming year wherever possible, or if maximum capacity is reached to offer an alternative course or a deferred place.
  • To support this commitment, the Government has lifted the cap on domestic medicine, dentistry, veterinary science and undergraduate teacher training places. Additional teaching grant funding will also be provided to increase capacity in medical, nursing, STEM and other high-cost subjects which are vital to the country’s social needs and economy.
  • ….There are no Government caps on university nursing places, and the Government is working rapidly to build capacity in the nursing sector to support recruitment to the country’s vital public services.
  • On Monday, the Government also confirmed it intends to remove temporary student number controls for the 2020/21 academic year to build capacity to admit students this coming year.

We will see what they do next.  UUK have responded to the first set of announcements.

Meanwhile the blame game is continuing with officials saying they warned Ministers weeks ago, with allegations that Ministers were not on top of the detail, with Ministers at least hinting that it is all Ofqual’s fault because they said it would all be ok, officials at the DfE coming under fire, and the Office for Statistics Regulation announcing a review.  The House of Commons Education Committee also raised these issues in early July.

Further reading:

  • UCAS update from Wednesday evening:
    • Our initial analysis shows approximately 15,000 of these students who were originally rejected by their original firm choice university with their moderated grades, will now meet the A level conditions of their offer with their centre assessed grades (CAGs).
    • Approximately 100,000 students who had their grades upgraded were already placed at their first choice university on A level results day last Thursday.
    • Of the remaining 60,000 students with higher grades from CAGs, around one in four (approximately 15,000) will now meet the A level offer conditions of their original first choice university. 90% of these students made their original firm choice at a higher tariff provider.
    • UCAS has conducted further analysis into these 15,000 students, and found 7% of this group are from disadvantaged backgrounds (POLAR4 Q1). This follows a record breaking year for disadvantaged students gaining places at high tariff providers, which at this point in the admissions cycle stands at 6,090 (compared with 5,290 at the same point last year for UK 18 year olds).
  • Coverage on Wonkhe: today’s update on “a great new deal for universities and applicants” with analysis (of course) of the impact of the grade changes.
  • There’s an IfS blog about what went wrong:
    • The method used to assign grades makes some sense. Schools were asked to rank their students in each subject. Then information on earlier grades within the schools, and earlier attainment at GCSE, was used to assign grades to each student this year. The resulting distribution of grades looks comparable to the distribution in previous years. Indeed, there are rather more higher grades than in the past.
    • There are two obvious problems with what Ofqual did. I suspect that there are more, but it will require many more hours of study to discover them.
    • First, and most obvious, the process adopted favours schools with small numbers of students sitting any individual A Level. That is, it favours private schools. If you have up to five students doing an A Level, you simply get the grades predicted by the teacher. If between five and fifteen, teacher-assigned grades get some weight. More than 15 and they get no weight. Teacher predictions are always optimistic. Result: there was a near-five percentage point increase in the fraction of entries from private schools graded at A or A*. In contrast, sixth-form and further education colleges saw their A and A* grades barely rise — up only 0.3 per cent since 2019 and down since 2018. This is a manifest injustice. No sixth-form or FE college has the funding to support classes of fifteen, let alone five. The result, as Chris Cook, a journalist and education expert, has written: “Two university officials have told me they have the poshest cohorts ever this year because privately educated kids got their grades, the universities filled and there’s no adjustment/clearing places left.”
    • Second, the algorithm used makes it almost impossible for students at historically poor-performing sixth forms to get top grades, even if the candidates themselves had an outstanding record at GCSE. For reasons that are entirely beyond me, the regulator did not use the full information on GCSE performance. Rather than use data that could help to identify when there are truly outstanding candidates, the model simply records what tenth of the distribution GCSE scores were in. There is a huge difference between the 91st and 99th percentiles, yet they are treated the same. There is little difference between the 89th and 91st, yet they are treated differently.
    • … Then there appears to be a more general lack of common sense applied to the results of the model. If it predicts a U grade (a fail) for a subject in a school, then some poor sucker is going to fail, deserved or not. That’s why some seem to have been awarded Us despite predicted grades of C.
  • Education Committee report on 7th July. The Ofqual response is here.
  • You will remember the Royal Statistical Society for their heroic critique of the TEF in their response to the Pearce Review (as a side bar, the TEF metrics will be very peculiar next year – benchmarking will be an interesting process). They offered to help but refused to sign a restrictive non disclosure agreement and so were not involved.  Their CEO is quoted in the FT and the article is worth reading.
  • Jo Johnson in the Spectator being pleased that the numbers cap has been abolished:
    • Before the exams meltdown, universities were losing both friends and influence on the Tory benches. They were deemed to be on the ‘wrong’ side of the referendum and then enemy combatants in a low-level culture war. The ministerial message to young people was shifting from the sensible ‘you don’t have to do a degree’ to the openly discouraging ‘too many go to university’. The high watermark of uni-phobia perhaps came last month when cabinet ministers denounced Tony Blair’s target of 50 per cent of children going to university and warned that any institution finding itself in financial difficulties would be ‘restructured’. To say our universities feel unloved by this government is an understatement.
    • But the furore over the botched exam results has shown that most people are still very keen on universities. MPs have been besieged by thousands of families worried about their children’s future and enraged by grade downgrades and missed university offers. Are ministers really going to respond by telling kids (other people’s obviously) to take short vocational courses instead? Does any MP seriously relish the failure of a university in his patch? I doubt it.
    • There’s another IfS blog about the impact:
      • …it looks like amongst UK students holding offers at Oxford or Cambridge, around 10% more than expected (or around 500 extra students) may now have achieved their offers. 
      • Lower down the rankings, the effect on numbers is less clear: more applicants will have met their offers, but fewer will end up going to their insurance choice or finding a place via Clearing after missing their offers. But it seems plausible that for most higher-ranking universities, domestic student numbers will be higher than they expected.  
      • To allow for this, the government has lifted the student numbers caps that it had temporarily brought back for this year in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. But universities will still face physical capacity constraints in teaching and housing students. These constraints may not bind if many international and EU students do not take up their places as a result of the COVID-19 crisis: extra domestic students could just take their spots. But universities still don’t know how many of these students will turn up. They have made offers and will have to honour them if the international students do come.
      • … These problems were entirely avoidable. A Level results should never have been released before being subject to scrutiny beyond Ofqual. The government should not have had to rely on shocked 18-year-olds on results day to realise there was a problem. And the allocation of places should not have happened immediately – the government should have released the results in advance and allowed an appeals process on grades before allowing universities to finalise places. 
      • Allocating A Level grades to students who did not sit exams was never going to be easy. But the government’s solution is a clear fail. This will have repercussions for universities and students, now and in the coming years.
    • Pearson update on BTECs from Wednesday afternoon:
      • Following our review and your feedback we have decided to apply Ofqual’s principles for students receiving BTECs this summer.  
      • This means we will now be regrading all the following BTECs – BTEC Level 3 Nationals (2010 QCF and 2016 RQF), BTEC Level 1/2 Tech Awards, BTEC Level 2 Technicals and BTEC Level 1/2 Firsts.  
      • BTEC qualification results have been generally consistent with teacher and learner expectations, but we have become concerned about unfairness in relation to what are now significantly higher outcomes for GCSE and A Levels.  
      • Although we generally accepted Centre Assessment Grades for internal (i.e. coursework) units, we subsequently calculated the grades for the examined units using historical performance data with a view of maintaining overall outcomes over time. Our review will remove these calculated grades and apply consistency across teacher assessed internal grades and examined grades that students were unable to sit.  
      • We will work urgently with you to reissue these grades and will update you as soon as we possibly can. We want to reassure students that no grades will go down as part of this review.  
      • We appreciate this will cause additional uncertainty for students and we are sorry about this. Our priority is to ensure fair outcomes for BTEC students in relation to A Levels and GCSEs and that no BTEC student is disadvantaged.  

    Meanwhile….

    The IfS have a report on the impact of school closures:

    • Learning time was dramatically lower during the lockdown than prior to it. On average, primary school students spent 4.5 hours learning on a typical school day during the lockdown, down from 6.0 hours before the lockdown (25% reduction). For secondary schools, the absolute and proportionate drops are even larger, from 6.6 hours a day before the lockdown to 4.5 hours a day during the lockdown (32% reduction). 
    • Learning time has also become more unequal, especially at primary school. Figure 1 shows the changesin total daily learning time, including both time in class and time on other educational activities, during a typical term week between 2014–15 and the lockdown period. It compares children from the poorest, middle and richest fifth of households (in the case of the 2020 data, based on their pre-pandemic earnings).
    • For primary school children, the lockdown has created new inequalities in learning time. Before the pandemic, there was essentially no difference between the time that children from the poorest and richest households spent on educational activities. But, during the lockdown, learning time fell by less among primary school children from the richest families than among their less well-off peers. The end result is that, during the lockdown, the richest students spent 75 minutes a day longer on educational activities than their peers in the poorest families – an extra 31% of learning time.  
    • At secondary school, though, the picture looks very different. While the size of the gap between children from the poorest and the richest households during the lockdown, at 73 minutes a day, is almost precisely the same size as the gap for primary students, this inequality has much deeper roots; even before the lockdown, secondary school pupils from the richest fifth of families spent almost an hour a day more time on education than their worst-off peers. And, unlike at primary school, this is not just a story about the rich and the rest; the inequalities between the middle and the bottom are just as pronounced as those between the middle and the top.
    • Existing research has shown that extra learning time leads to better educational outcomes. The widening of the socio-economic learning-time gap during the lockdown therefore suggests that the lockdown could worsen educational inequalities between children from poorer and richer backgrounds, especially among primary school students.

    Research news

    UKRI have announced that international students can apply for UKRI funded postgraduate studentships in the next academic year.

    Dame Ottoline Leyser, the new head of UKRI was interviewed in Nature:

    • The thing that I think is most important is the focus on people and on research culture, because the whole research system critically depends not just on researchers, but on all the people around them who support the research endeavour. [Research] is also a system now which is in a lot of stress. There are lots of bad behaviours, which are arguably driven by the huge stress and we need to think hard about shifting that.
    • Poor cultural practices are a real problem in terms of bullying and harassment, research integrity and keeping the widest range of people in the system, to drive the creative and dynamic system that we need. Getting to a place where people are enjoying the work that they’re doing, where they’re all appreciated and valued, to me, is crucial. Many of those other things I think will flow from that.
    • … We put a huge emphasis on a researcher’s publication and funding record, for example. We have put much less emphasis on things like their care for the next generation, leadership skills and the wider contributions people are making to the research system — which are absolutely essential for the system to function — and how they are engaging more widely. I think those are things that every researcher should be doing. It’s a whole range of things that we need to try to address to make research fun again, because it really should be.
    • .. The way we’ve typically thought about equality, diversity and inclusion has been that you collect up the numbers and then you try to put in place things that ‘fix’ the minority in some way — for example, you make it easier for women to work in a system. To me, that’s not going to work. You have to create a system that genuinely supports diversity, and what that means is something quite uncomfortable. True diversity and inclusion is about valuing difference, not about creating some level playing field and pretending everybody’s the same and therefore they can all succeed on that playing field.
    • Particularly in research, difference is where all the good stuff is. Disagreement is where all the new and exciting ideas come from. We have to build research cultures where difference is considered a good thing. In our funding portfolio as UKRI, we need to ask ourselves, are we funding a wide range of different types of thing or are we just funding more of the same?

    And she also did an interview in the THE:

    • Many hope that Dame Ottoline – known for her critiques of the research excellence framework and science’s failure to introduce more family-friendly policies – will provide a more robust challenge to government policy, having been far closer to the science coalface than most long-serving administrators.
    • Will she continue to be as forthright as she has been? “I’m certainly not going to pussyfoot about,” said Dame Ottoline on her upcoming dealings with the key players in government.
    • That said, the recent pro-science moves by Boris Johnson’s administration, which last month reconfirmed its ambition to double research spending to £22 billion a year by 2024, mean that an adversarial stance is probably not the best approach, she explained.
    • … She was not, however, keen on the idea of forcing institutions to adopt certain practices by making them a condition of UKRI funding in the same way that, in 2015, the chief medical officer, then Dame Sally Davies, made an Athena SWAN diversity award a prerequisite for receiving NHS medical research funding.
    • “Mandating particular approaches will not deliver the diversity that we need,” insisted Dame Ottoline, who said many scientists felt the decision to make Athena SWAN mandatory “undermined some of the core principles [of the scheme] and how institutions think about diversity”.

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

    JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

    Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

Developing a successful Research Centre at BU!

We recently visited the Design Simulation Research Centre in DEC and were really impressed with the passion and enthusiasm that the staff and students demonstrated for research. The Centre has recently won the Vice-Chancellor’s award for the best Research/Enterprise Project. We asked Research Centre Director Prof Siamak Noroozi to write a blog post about how this magic happens and a successful Research Centre grows and develops…

Starting from zero.
I did not come to BU to continue with my old research. I came here to develop research that underpins what DEC School is about and to create something that is both interesting and challenging both to me as well as everyone else in my centre. 

How did I do it? And was I successful?
I have come to the conclusion that everyone has a certain natural ability in something. For example, one can be natural at sport or art or music, maths, engineering, DIY, medicine, science, management, leadership, etc.  Whatever that natural ability is, if identified and nurtured properly it can change the person’s quality of life. Not everyone is a natural research scientist, even if that person is working in an academic institution or has a PhD. In the past 30 years I have seen many reasons why people engage with research. Sometimes it is because they are creative, driven and passionate about it. And, sometimes the pressure of competitive academic life and challenges that come with that! 

I found it hard to engage people with a PhD in research that is outside their comfort zone or their PhD topic, but I quickly noticed that within my team there are people with a variety of skills or natural abilities. These abilities were ranging from Implementers, Co-ordinators, Shaper, Resource investigators, Evaluators, Team-workers or Completers/Finishers, etc.  However there were not many Planters. By Planters I mean those who could see beyond their PhD who could create projects that are outside their comfort zone. Those who could create new research aligned with experiences, skills or background of other rather than their own. In other words develop different applications of the original research. This is particularly needed to ensure staff without PhD can engage and register for a PhD. Also to make sure projects do not to re-invent the wheel or, as one may put it, search about nothing.

I realised that research does not take place without PhD students (or legs on the ground) so I had to quickly expand our pool of research students and to team them up with different members/group of staff in my team. I had to engage staff in live PhD projects. This was important as their transferable skills was needed to help students to identify and develop their new and novel PhD project proposals, so that everyone in the team could identify with and was aligned or linked to the individual’s background. That resulted in Projects that everyone could get their teeth into and develop a sense of ownership of the original idea. Also to make sure projects have functional outcomes that inform and under-pin what we teach or that we wish to develop in terms of skill-sets or natural abilities.

Who are the people?
Of those involved in research, some are resourceful, creative and can develop new research ideas. Some do it by joining others or managing other people’s research ideas. But some just can’t engage with research full stop. Why? I do not know. Maybe because they need to be told how, and in research no one can. Also personality may have a lot to do with it. So you come to realise that everyone has a different view or definition of what research or research activities is all about.

So what is all this?
So this blog post is not about who is right or wrong. It is about me having a vision of starting a research centre from scratch, and with limited or no financial resources. Having to find funds or sponsors to get the badly needed PhD students, who are essential to get the job done. To enable a diverse group of people all with different ambitions, agendas, interests, natural abilities and passion to form small research teams and collectively engage with research management, supervision and meetings. To bring about an atmosphere where everyone willingly participate in challenging research that is sometimes, or in most cases, outside their comfort zone. To help them develop their confidence in their ability to lead, manage and deliver on the research objectives and also contribute as a team member.

This is about delivering on my vision which was to ensure:

  • All academics in my centre are research active (if they are willing),
  • That we had the research students to satisfy the needs of all the members of the team I inherited,
  • Support exists for a diverse range of funded/sponsored research projects.

This was also about:

  • Identifying the needs, abilities and strength of the members of my team and exploit them in a positive way to bring about the necessary changes.
  • Showing how one’s passion and natural ability in research generation & research informed teaching can quickly result in the creation of a range of diverse and sustainable research activities, all underpinned and based around the expertise of individual staff.
  • My effort to develop a strong and vibrant and sustainable research infrastructure. An environment that is open, forward looking, supportive.
  • A centre that provides opportunities for everyone to engage with research in one form or other.
  • It is about developing projects that are challenging and have strong industrial or commercial relevance,
    projects that push the boundaries of science and engineering by engaging both staff and students in ground breaking research in all aspects of applied design, innovation, engineering and technology.
  • Developing credibility, respect and competence to engage with our customers who are the end users of our research outputs.
  • Developing collaboration with large international companies through CPD or industrial research collaboration that bring with it financial security as well as sustainable KT & TT activities between University and industry.

As I was working in a design school, the generic research to underpin design was a must in my book. So it was also about searching relentlessly to secure fully funded research students willing to work in this areas and to initiate different lines of research that underpin generic design.

The people in my research centre have different academic backgrounds so I tried to create a multidimensional research centre that allowed everyone to engage and participate in research and be able to contribute. I relentlessly pushed and encouraged people to write bids and apply for research funding. In one area where we had the most amount of track record we developed and submitted a substantial number of bids to various research councils and funding institutions such as the EPSRC, the NIHR, the Leverhulme, the RAE etc.  This was quite a hard work and not often successful. It also had a negative effect on my personal profile in terms of actual research and publication but it had to be done.

What is happening now?
I am now enjoying fruits of my labours, watching how research and the sense of research ownership has empowered individual colleagues and transformed their academic life. I see them becoming more and more confident, innovative and dynamic with their ideas. I see how it informs their teaching and teaching material development. I enjoy watching them engaging in heated research discussions, disputes or debates which is necessary, informative, motivating, satisfying and educational all at the same time.  I think most people in my team appreciate now what research can do for them.

We realise that our PhD’s, when we did them, were the state of the art at that time. But 10 or 20 years later, things have changed and moved on so we must change and move on with it. We have also realised that we learn the most when we are challenged. So taking on challenges is needed if one is to remain up-to-date, relevant and skilled. Only then, as academics, can we educate and equip our students with transferable skills that are relevant, modern and continually evolving. So we are the key in creating talented professionals who can secure the future of this country, through sustainable innovation and the export of manufactured goods.

Research is not just about digging out historical data or creating strong justification. Facilitating research provision and enabling engagement in research activity and creating new and valid and relevant lines of research itself is an art or a natural ability. It is not a project management exercise. It needs experience, insight, vision and passion and not just some basic scientific knowledge, which we all have. You need to be able to translate the ideas or visions into sequential activities that bring about changes in the form of knowledge generation, scientific or technological discoveries and their transfer. Some times this relies on intangible things such as instinct or common sense. A very structured, methodical and sequential person will find research hard and slow and frustrating. But as a team that complements each other it can succeed and we have a lot of examples and success stories that I look forward to sharing with you in the future.

A new story and just off the press.
I recently found out that we have been nominated for the VC award. I attended the ceremony and I was even more surprised when I saw just my name appearing on the list. When I was reminded not to get excited and not to say too much if I win, I became even more nervous and as a result forgot to thank those who are instrumental for us to achieve this. So I would like to thank Philip Sewell, who keeps me on the straight and narrow and without whom I could not do any of this. Prof John Vinney who started this project when we were in Bristol. Also I like to thank Bryce Dyer for his passion for success, drive, enthusiasm and support. As a centre/team (those engaged in research) we all complement each other very nicely and together we are a strong team. That is why we have done well in such a relatively short time.

        

But most of all, I like to say this is not about just me.  This is about all of us as a team (both staff and students). Every day I feel the Buzz in the atmosphere of my research centre and that stems from the diversity of our research projects and our research students for their passion, drive and their sense of ownership of their project. and I love it.
To finish off, I like to say blogging or giving public speeches or addressing huge audiences or writing excessively! are not in the list of my natural abilities. So I hope I have not let the side down by all this.

End of Blog 🙂