Tagged / research investment

HE policy update for the w/e 12th July 2019

We focus on the interesting set of reports released as people clear their desks before their summer holidays.

Learning gain

The OfS have published evaluations of the various learning gain projects that have been running for some time.  The OfS website is very clear “The report below is independent research which we have commissioned. As such, it does not necessarily reflect the views or official position of the OfS.”  You will recall that one reason for HEFCE setting up these projects was to see if a learning gain measure could be created for the TEF.  The answer would seem to be “no” although given the disclaimer, that might not stop them having a go.

On the final evaluation of 13 projects, the conclusions are:

  • Learning gain can be defined as the change in knowledge, skills, work-readiness and personal development, as well as enhancement of specific practices and outcomes in defined disciplinary and institutional contexts.
  • embedding measures in curriculum design is the most effective approach for collecting data for measuring learning gain
  • Pilots of standardised tests carried out during the projects have not proven to be robust and effective measures of learning gain due to challenges of student engagement, differential scores across socio-demographic characteristics, subject differences and use of data.
  • Contextual factors such as subject-level differences, institution type and student characteristics differences impact the transferability of measures of learning gain. These differences should be considered when designing and selecting learning gain measures; when analysing and presenting findings. Mediating effects need to be considered.

The report on the National Mixed Methods project  has the following recommendations:

For policy-makers and providers      

  • A one-size-fits-all measure of learning gain (modelled on the NMMLGP questionnaire) should be abandoned as it holds minimal value for the majority of students and is not an influential construct in their present decision-making concerning either choice of institution or impact on the curriculum.
  • Students’ perceptions of learning gain need further exploration in order to move beyond what are acknowledged as impressionistic findings reported here, which are bound by proportionality constraints.
  • The sector needs to consider whose interests are best served by the measurement of learning gain. The evidence gathered here from participating providers and their students indicates that there is a dichotomous view of learning gain: either as a marker of institution positioning within a market-oriented system; or as a process of progression throughout the student journey. The two things are not necessarily synonymous.

For higher education providers

  • All learning gain work needs to be related to students’ own context and clearly embedded at local level within the subject or disciplinary area. Engagement is also highly dependent on whether any initiatives are promoted by trusted sources such as course tutors, rather than unfamiliar contacts.
  • Providers should consider developing a repertoire of approaches, as part of a learning gain toolkit, which can be accessed by students as part of a flexible and adaptable process underpinned by student choice rather than normative comparison. Providers are encouraged to also review the findings of the overall evaluation of the learning gain Pilot Projects for approaches which are most suited to their local contexts.

And finally the report on Higher Education Learning Gain Analysis (HELGA): says:

  • “HELGA set out to explore whether administrative data could be used to create a proxy measure for learning gain. The project has experimented with different techniques, considered different outcomes that could be a proxy for learning gain and different source of data that could be used. Ultimately, the project has developed two methods for measuring value-added in higher education for a subset of the undergraduate population.
  • The two measures have produced different results in their measure of value-added and there is no straightforward way of evaluating which is the most accurate.
  • It should be noted that the ‘value-added’ measured is the difference between the ‘expected’ degree outcomes for students at an institution based on prior attainment (and other student and course characteristics in the case of the multilevel model) and the actual degree outcomes. The measure does not explain what this difference might be caused by. As mentioned in Section 2.3, there is concern about the comparability of degree classifications across institutions. This raises a question of the suitability of this value-added measure for comparing institutions.
  • Neither methodology should be used further without additional sensitivity analyses and serious thought as to what is really being measured and whether it is fair to measure institutional performance in terms of value-added based on the restricted population used.
  • At the outset of HELGA, it was known that it would never be possible to create a single measure of learning gain, encompassing all of the different elements that are understood to make up learning gain. It has necessarily focused on cognitive gain only, although some thought was given to using NSS metadata to measure non-cognitive learning gain, but this was unsuccessful. However, this does not mean that this could not be useful for measuring value-added, but it should be made clear that it should not be adopted to produce a single measure of learning gain”

Grade Inflation

And that brings us nicely to the next item…the OfS have published their latest review of degree classifications:

  • The proportion of first-class honours degrees awarded has increased from 16 per cent to 29 per cent between 2010-11 and 2017-18.
  • The OfS has used statistical modelling to account for factors including entrance qualifications and student characteristics which may influence attainment. When accounting for these factors, they find that 13.9 percentage points’ worth of first class degree attainment remains “unexplained”.
  • In total, 94 per cent of the 148 universities and other higher education providers included in the analysis demonstrated a statistically significant unexplained increase in the proportion of first-class degrees awarded in 2017-18 compared to 2010-11.
  • The report updates data from a report issued in December 2018. Since that report, universities have collectively announced plans to act together to curb grade inflation via the work of the UK Standing Committee for Quality Assessment.
  • Commenting on the report, Susan Lapworth, director of competition and registration at the Office for Students, said:
    • ‘Worries about grade inflation threaten to devalue a university education in the eyes of employers and potential students. So it is essential we regain and maintain public confidence in the reliability of degree classifications.
    • ‘This data shows a further increase in both the rate of first-class degrees awarded, and the proportion of those awards. These increases cannot be fully explained by the factors we have taken into account in our analysis.
    • ‘The performance shown in the new data pre-dates our call for the sector to take action on grade inflation, so we would not expect to see the impact of such actions in today’s report.
    • ‘There are, though, positive signs that the higher education sector has begun to tackle this issue. We welcome the steps taken by the UK Standing Committee for Quality Assessment and the positive response from universities to a recent consultation on the steps universities should take to demonstrate that standards are secure. We recognise that change will take time, but it remains absolutely crucial that students, graduates and the general public can be assured that the value of a degree is maintained. That is why concerted, focused, and sector-wide action is so important.
    • ‘Following today’s publication, the OfS will be contacting those universities and providers with the most significant unexplained increases in degree classifications. We will ask them to provide further information to help us understand how they account for these increases. In seeking this additional information we recognise that there are factors that could explain the increases – for example improvements in learning and teaching – that we have not been able to measure in our analysis.
    • ‘Given the significant public scrutiny of degree standards we want to understand how universities have assured themselves that they have, and continue to, apply consistent standards. Doing so will help ensure that the degrees that students work so hard for continue to enjoy public confidence.’

The report and Excel versions of the data tables have been published.

The use of the word “unexplained” (again) is shocking given that it means “unexplained by prior attainment and social advantage”.  Inevitably this has been picked up in the media and by the Education Secretary.

BBC story here with a Damien Hinds comment:

  •  “Education Secretary Damian Hinds warned against “unfair practices”.  Mr Hinds said that if universities were giving many more top degrees without a legitimate reason, it was unfair on those who had studied to the same standard in previous years.  “We owe it to the hard-working students and institutions who play by the rules to stamp out this unfair practice,” said the education secretary. “Today’s figures are disappointing and risk compromising the public trust in the high standards of our universities,” he said.”

Wonkhe point out the escalation of threat level here: “Back in December, he said “I am urging universities to tackle this serious issue and have asked the Office for Students to deal firmly with any institution found to be unreasonably inflating grades” – so this feels like threat inflation to us.”

The OfS seem to be totally unaware of the damage that their choice of language may be doing.  In a blog, Susan Lapworth, the Director of competition and registration at the OFS, says about the plan to follow up with universities (emphasis added);

“To ensure that all universities, colleges and other registered providers are playing their part in maintaining the standard of degrees, we are likely to write to those providers that held degree awarding powers in 2010-11 and where the data show the most significant increases in the percentage of first class degrees awarded between 2010-11 and 2017-18. We’re focusing on providers with:

  • a statistically significant increase in the unexplained percentage of first class degrees awarded in a single year, or
  • a statistically significant overall increase in the unexplained percentage of first class degrees awarded between 2010-11 and 2017-18.

We will ask them to provide further information to help us understand how they account for these increases. We want to understand, for example, whether a provider has made recent changes to the way it calculates degree classifications, or whether it can point to other evidence – such as investment in staffing, teaching, services or facilities – that would credibly account for the ‘unexplained’ increase. We are also interested in the steps governing bodies have taken to ensure that academic governance arrangements are adequate and effective.

In seeking this additional information, we are not implying that the trends we can see in the published data indicate any form of wrongdoing from these providers – we are trying to understand better the reasons for performance that will be subject to public scrutiny and so are focusing our attention on those providers with the biggest unexplained increases. Given the significant public scrutiny of degree standards we want to understand how providers have assured themselves that they continue to apply consistent standards.

Doing so is essential to maintaining public confidence in degrees.”

General Election?

There has been little to say on Brexit recently because of the speculation and posturing of the Conservative leadership race. The news is all about what the two candidates might actually do (rather than what they say they will do as some promises may turn out to be completely unachievable if the EU or Parliament don’t play ball). The Conservatives, despite bitter Brexit infighting, are keen to retain power and remain in Government, avoiding an election at all costs. However, there has been increasing talk of how a general election may now be inevitable. There is a good article in Politics Home House magazine which explains the election scenarios.

Admissions

UCAS released their analysis of all full time undergraduate applications (made by end June 2019) noting a new record as almost 4 in 10 young people apply to university. Overall the number of young applications has increased by 1%, an additional 2,600 people, (despite the 1.9% fall in the young UK population). Across the UK figures are:

  • 39.5% of all 18 year olds in England submitted a UCAS application, up from 38.1% at the same point last year;
  • in Northern Ireland, 46.9% of 18 year olds applied (down 0.7 percentage points)
  • in Scotland, the 18 year old application rate is 32.7% (down 0.1 percentage point)
  • in Wales, the application rate was 32.9% (up 0.2 percentage points) – a joint record result equalling the peak in 2016

International

  • The volume of EU applicants rose by 1%, to 50,650.
  • There were a record number of applicants from outside the EU – 81,340 students applied to study in the UK, an increase of 8%.
  • China continued its rapid growth, with applicant numbers up 30% to 19,760 – this means that, for the first time, there are more applicants from China than Northern Ireland (18,520).

Disadvantage

For the first time, UCAS utilised the index of multiple deprivation measures to consider applications from disadvantaged communities.

  • In England, the number of young people applying from the most deprived areas has increased 6% to 38,770, while applications from the least deprived areas have fallen.
  • In Northern Ireland, all areas have seen a fall in applications, of between 2% and 7%.
  • In Scotland, young applicants from the most deprived areas have grown by 3%, while all other areas have seen falls.
  • In Wales, applicants from the most deprived areas remained at 1,390, with a mixed picture across different areas.

UCAS have also release a new interactive dashboard should you wish to interrogate the data further.

Clare Marchant, UCAS’ Chief Executive, said:

The global appeal of UK higher education has never been clearer, with record, demographic beating application rates in England and Wales, and the steep rise in international applications, especially from China.

Today’s analysis shows how attractive undergraduate study continues to be for young people, although university isn’t the only route on offer. Our survey insight shows that around a quarter of students are interested in apprenticeships as an alternative option.

Higher Technical Reform

The DfE has launched a consultation on Higher Technical qualifications and published a Written Ministerial Statement to accompany it. Key points within the statement:

  1. A vision for Higher Technical Education to be a prestigious choice that delivers the skills employers need, encourages more students to continue studying after A levels or T levels and attracts workers of all ages looking to upskill and retrain.
  2. The starting point for reform is to raise the prestige of Higher Technical Education and strengthen its value to employers by putting their needs and quality first. Improving quality now – to demonstrate the value of higher technical qualifications – will lead to increased uptake of Higher Technical Education in the future.
  3. To do this we a new system is proposed to make clear which higher technical qualifications provide the skills that employers want. This will be delivered through the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education signalling which qualifications deliver the knowledge, skills, and behaviours set out in employer-led national standards. This will help qualifications at this level command the confidence of students and employers alike.
  4. Alongside this the Government intent to work with the Office for Students to demonstrate the quality of providers, so there is more high-quality provision delivered across higher and further education, including through our flagship employer-led National Colleges and Institutes of Technology.
  5. The Government aims to make Higher Technical Education a positive and more popular choice by raising awareness and understanding of the new suite of Institute-approved qualifications in colleges and universities, and among potential students and employers.

This is very interesting in its own right, but also because of the direction of travel.

  • 29 We will create a clear set of signals that will enable employers and learners to easily identify the best qualifications with national labour market relevance. We want to incentivise providers to gravitate towards approved qualifications rather than those that have not met the Institute’s quality requirements. This will tilt the playing field towards qualifications which have been identified by panels of employers as delivering the knowledge, skills and behaviours needed for an occupation.
  • 30 Qualifications approved by the Institute would be clearly identified through a single name or kitemark. ….
  • 31 Approved qualifications will therefore clearly stand out as being high-quality, labour market relevant, and having national currency. These benefits will enhance the offer and credibility of even those existing qualifications that have a relatively good level of employer awareness.
  • In addition, we know it will be very important to ensure that HTE is properly funded. Funding will also form an important incentive for Awarding Bodies to submit their qualifications for approval and discourage provision of rival qualifications that have not been approved by the Institute. The Post-18 Review panel has recommended that only approved HTQs should be entitled to the same tuition fee support and teaching grant, and equivalent maintenance support, as level 6 qualifications. We want to ensure there are clear incentives to deliver reformed qualifications in the future, and we will consider this as part of the ongoing Spending Review and the government’s response to the Post-18 Review.
  • We want to ensure that the very best providers are delivering our approved high-quality HTQs, whilst also considering how providers could specialise, or adjust their offer to address local skills needs. The Post-18 Review has recommended additional capital funding, for FE colleges, with a particular focus on growing specialist HTE provision in specific colleges. We will consider these recommendations, and develop our plans in more detail, as part of the Spending Review.
  • We want the reformed higher technical offer to be the best it can be. We therefore propose taking the requirement to register with the OfS a step further, and to develop with the OfS an additional set of ongoing registration conditions specifically for higher technical provision (technical conditions). Providers would be required to meet these technical conditions, in addition to the general ongoing registration conditions that are applicable to all providers, to be able to deliver the approved HTQs with access to relevant student finance for courses leading to those HTQs, and to be eligible for any additional public funding.
  • We expect this to be a rigorous process that would specifically assess and signal the quality of a provider’s higher technical education provision. Criteria for this would:
  • Specifically indicate high-quality higher technical provision by expanding on the key elements already assessed by OfS as part of the registration process, such as:
    • Suitably qualified and experienced teachers with current, relevant occupational and industry experience and expertise, as well as high quality pedagogical skills. Leaders have the capacity and ability to ensure provision is sustainable and retains a clear focus on quality
    • Strong links with employer networks, thus ensuring the knowledge, skills and behaviours being delivered are valued by, and relevant to, employers who are engaged and investing in training; and
    • Learning environments that provide access to facilities and equipment that are reflective of the workplace, including industry-relevant, up-to-date equipment.
  • Draw from the IoT assessment process, which uses a range of criteria including evidence of support for regional and national economic growth; employer engagement; relevance to occupational skills needs; and quality industry relevant teaching.
  • 67 The panel has also recommended that additional support and capital funding should be provided to grow capacity for, and ensure, high-quality technical provision, and that quality indicators could identify how best to allocate that funding. This could mean that only providers meeting the technical conditions would be eligible for any higher technical capital or grant funding for their HTE provision. For example, this could be to support providers to expand their provision, specialise or tailor their offer to meet local skills needs, or enhance teaching facilities and equipment. As stated above, we will be considering these funding proposals and wider reforms as part of the Spending Review.

International staff

This came up in Parliamentary questions this week.

Q – Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington): To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, if he will make it his Department’s policy to exclude scientific research occupations from proposals in the immigration White Paper for a minimum salary threshold.

A – Caroline Nokes (Romsey and Southampton North):

  • On 24 June 2019, the Government asked the independent Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to consider the operation of salary thresholds in the future immigration system, including the impact of exemptions from minimum salary thresholds. The MAC is due to report by January 2020.
  • We recognise the vital contribution that scientists make to the UK. In his spring statement, my Rt Hon Friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, confirmed that PhD level occupations would be exempt from the Tier 2 cap. Additionally, researchers applying for settlement are exempt from the rule which states that, there should be no absence from the UK for 180 days if the absence from the UK is for the purpose carrying out research. A number of research roles also appear on the Shortage Occupation List which also exempts them from the settlement salary threshold
  • The Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) route is also available for internationally recognised leaders and promising future leaders, including in the science and research sector.

The Minister speaks (part 4) – on R&D investment

Universities Minister, Chris Skidmore, made his fourth (and final) speech in his series on R&D investment focusing on how to bring about major increases in private R&D investment.

The previous speeches covered:

  • Investing in people – ensuring that the best and brightest minds are working on the problems
  • Working collaboratives – across international borders to tackle the greatest challenges facing society
  • Enduring the funding and regulatory systems nurture new technologies and support risk taking

On private R&D investment he said:

  • If we are to deliver on our 2.4% commitment, we must be prepared to go much further and much faster. Overall investment in R&D will need to more than double in nominal terms, from current level of £35 billion per year to around £75 billion per year by 2027.
  • And at least two thirds of this investment will need to come from business. For many industries the need to invest in R&D is a pressing one – vital to competitive advantage. Businesses that thrive on the cutting edge are adept at making the most of basic research. They track down the brightest minds to seek answers to their most pressing problems. And they take the lead on experimental development and innovation, lifting new discoveries out of the lab and into people’s lives, driving economic and social prosperity.
  • That isn’t to say that the government won’t play its part. In fact, we are doing more than ever.

The Minister goes on to set out the additional funding, including a real terms QR funding uplift, and collaborative assistance that has led to successful business gains, such as Jaguar Land Rover committing to produce it’s electric cars in the UK (previously the company had been shedding staff and moving assets due to Brexit complexities).

  • Bold government policy has led to bold business decisions.
  • But to get to 2.4% we need to see significantly more than this. To ramp up from today’s levels to 2027, it is projected we’ll need to see an additional £12 billion each year from business.

To respond to this challenge the minister announced 7 focal areas:

  • Creating opportunity for the spark of creativity to arise through encouraging a vibrant and diverse research system with support for world-class, blue-skies research in universities and institutesintellectual capital ultimately comes from people. So we need to invest confidently into postgraduate study, looking at all levels of our education system to getting more people into exciting R&D careers. This also means working tirelessly to put innovation and creativity at the centre of our education and training system.
  • Turning new ideas into new businesses, products and processes – developing a culture of startups.
  • Creating a scale-up culture with early-stage ventures able to access the funding needed to scale up
  • Driving up demand as well as supply – incentivising business investment into R&D for established businesses. The  Minister states:

I see universities as ‘protagonists’, working with businesses to address problems where others cannot or dare not, and stimulating private investment.

Whether they are spinning out a company, licensing their IP, or undertaking contract or collaborative research with business, universities are remarkably skilled at identifying where they can have the greatest impact – locally, regionally, nationally and globally – and just getting on and doing it.

  • Supporting innovation across the whole UK – playing to local and regional strengths.
  • Focussing on the industrial strategies Grand Challenges
  • Ensuring research and innovation is right at the heart of Global Britain – the UK to be a magnet for foreign direct investment and as attractive a destination as possible for major businesses looking to relocate or scale up their R&D operations. Government policies and funding streams should ruthlessly drive up our global attractiveness.
    • But it is also incumbent on us to be better at marketing ourselves overseas. An important part of this is being open to talent. It is something businesses tell me constantly: the UK urgently needs an immigration system that encourages those with the best ideas and the most innovative minds to come and work here.
  • The evidence is unarguable: skilled immigration drives innovation. We mustn’t lose sight of this as we exit the EU. If we are to thrive, we need a genuinely international approach, a ‘freedom of talent’ approach that allows highly skilled people the flexibility to move and collaborate across borders.
  • That is the purpose of our international education strategy, providing focus and clarity to our ongoing educational exports
  • We cannot duck this challenge. Other nations are adopting aggressive approaches to R&D investment, driving significant increases in both public and private R&D performance. I’m not just talking about Israel and China – 2 obvious outliers. I’m also looking at Germany, who are ramping up public spending on R&D, committing to 3% annual increases every year for the next decade.
  • The technological revolution will stretch horizontally across our economy – every company will become a tech company of sorts. 
  • So to conclude, delivering on 2.4% requires focusing on all parts of the innovation lifecycle, and looking at our policies and investments through multiple lenses. And we must keep a ruthless focus on evidence, to inform the choices we make as a nation.
  • This means we need to access the latest thinking on what works, and ensure we have the best and latest metrics so we know when we have succeeded. And it means listening to what businesses and academics are telling us, and acting accordingly.

Other points made:

  • The UK has the second highest number of doctoral graduate in the EU (Germany has the highest).
  • UK researchers are unusually collaborative in comparison with EU and G20 nations
  • The UK has above-average level of people working in the fastest-growing sectors
  • The UK’s field-weighted citations has beaten all other G7 countries since 2007 with 50% greater citation impact than the world average and 30% higher impact than the EU27. No other comparator nation has a larger proportion of its research among the most widely cited in the world.

Consultations

There are NINE new consultations and inquiries this week!  Click here to view the updated tracker. Email us on policy@bournemouth.ac.uk if you’d like to contribute to any of the current consultations.

Other news

Assistive Technology: The Student Loans Company plan to put out a tender for Assistive Technology Equipment and Training, results will be published during autumn 2019.

Industry partnership: Universities Minister, Chris Skidmore, announced UK pioneering technologies under development as part of 4 new partnerships between businesses and universities. The projects aim to help UK industry and academia lead the way in bringing new products to market that contribute to tackling the big generational challenges such as climate change and the needs of an ageing society. Skidmore stressed the importance of both government and industry contributing to the Industrial Strategy ambition of raising public and private investment in research and development to 2.4% of GDP by 2027. Projects include:

  • Developing new materials that do not make noise underwater, led by BAE Systems with the University of Southampton, the University of Nottingham and Lloyd’s Register.
  • Using AI and machine learning to speed up production of new medicines from vaccines to tablets in order to get them from the lab to the clinic faster, led by GlaxoSmithKline with the University of Strathclyde with University of Nottingham.
  • Developing a new range of fully recyclable ultra-high strength aluminium alloys for the automotive industry, led by Constellium and Brunel University.
  • Creating the next generation of household products using AI to pave the way for robots to complete advanced household tasks, led by Dyson and Imperial.

Student transitions:  Education Secretary Damian Hinds announced ‘Leapskills Workshops’, developed by student accommodation provider Unite Students which offer schools and colleges resources to teach Year 12 and 13 pupils about independent living, managing money and dealing with conflict. The sessions aim to act as a digital interactive masterclass to enhance how schools and colleges teach young people about what to expect and how to prepare for the leap of living away from home for the first time.

  • Education Secretary Damian Hinds said:  For young people leaving school, starting the next chapter of their life should be a positive life-changing experience – but we know that many people struggle with the pressures of moving away from home and living independently for the first time. A huge part of education is preparing young people for adult life and it is right that we teach them what to expect for life after school, whether that’s at university, work or an apprenticeship.
  • Unite Students CEO Richard Smith said: We believe that resilience is vital in young people and that given the right opportunities and experiences, young people can build resilience. The better prepared young people are for the transition to university, the easier they will find managing the highs and the lows often involved in this leap.

Apprenticeships: The DfE have published a summary document giving Apprenticeships and Traineeships figures. The data shows how higher level apprenticeships have boomed (68% growth since last year) with the main decline at the intermediate apprenticeship level. Apprenticeship starts from mature (19+) learners has increased by 13.8%.

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HE Policy update for the w/e 5th April 2019

A week is a long time at the moment.  We have a mixed bag this week but we lead with Brexit to get it over with.

Brexit

In the Westminster Brexit bubble things can turn upside down several times in the space of a week.  And even though many more people are watching Parliament live on TV or on the internet, it really is a bubble.  The speaker in the House of Commons has had to keep reminding MPs that people are watching, as they make a spectacle of themselves being as rude and rowdy as it is possible to be within the rules about behaviour in the House (i.e. pretty rude and rowdy).  And yesterday it was the turn of the Lords, where there was lengthy filibustering aimed at obstructing the debate on the Bill which seeks to force the PM to get an extension to Article 50 to avoid no deal.  There was quite a lot of shouting and rudeness there as well, which is not what would usually be expected.

So when the House of Commons proceedings had to be suspended because of a huge leak in the roof, it was probably a bit of a relief.  MPs will not get much of a rest, though, as some of the Easter recess has been cancelled and the rest might be too.  As the February recess was also cancelled there will be some pretty cross people around.

Anyway, what next?  The Bill carries on in the Lords on Monday.  While it might seem irrelevant as the PM has today written to the EU to request an extension to 30th June, in these days of rapid policy reversals, it might still be needed.  No deal exit is still on the table as the EU and the UK fight about the terms of an extension and the deadline for calling EU elections nears.

The PM’s letter is here.  It says that she will not be asking for further changes to the Withdrawal Agreement.  It looks forward to the Withdrawal Agreement being approved (although that seems vanishingly unlikely, despite ongoing meetings with Jeremy Corbyn and others).  It therefore asks for an extension to 30th June so that once the WA is passed, the rest of the implementation can be done.  In the meantime “lawful and responsible” preparations will be made for the EU elections.  But the government would like to be able to withdraw from them before 23rd May if they are ready with everything in time.

As usual, writing this on a Friday, we have to say that everything could have changed if you are reading it on Monday.  Right now it looks like we’ll be having EU elections and staying in the EU for a long time.  But it is still possible we could be leaving on Friday 12th April with no deal.  And least likely of all is the chance that the current deal will be approved by Friday and we then leave in May.  Let’s see what next week brings.

Investment in research – a good news story?

Research Professional ran what might have sounded like a good news story against the endless doom and gloom of Brexit and specifically, the implications for research:

Writing for HE’s Sunday Reading, universities and science minister Chris Skidmore described himself as the minister for 2.4 per cent. He was referring … to the government’s pledge to raise expenditure on R&D in the UK to the equivalent of 2.4 per cent of GDP by 2027. We’ve said this before under previous science ministers, so we’ll say it again in light of Skidmore’s comments. The government does not plan to spend 2.4 per cent of GDP on research: funding and expenditure are not the same thing.  The money earmarked by the government—£7 billion over five years, £4bn of which is as yet unallocated—amounts to about 0.3 per cent of GDP and much less when broken down by annual spend. The actual policy is to leverage that public spending to encourage greater private investment in R&D to bring the UK in line with the average for OECD countries…

Skidmore’s predecessor self-identified as the minister for students. Along with being the minister for the arts and humanities, Skidmore has picked up the challenge of being the minister for 2.4 per cent. He almost certainly won’t be the minister who delivers on reaching the summit of 2.4 per cent. It is to be hoped that when the time comes to pass on the baton, Skidmore will be remembered as the minister who was able to point the way to base camp.”

HE-BCI – the results

If you have been following the discussion on the Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF) you’ll know that the HE-BCI data provides many of the metrics that sit behind the latest proposals.  So it is interesting to look at this year’s outcomes.

The survey includes details of spin-off and start-up companies associated with HE providers. In 2017/18 140 new spin-off companies were formed from university-owned intellectual property. A further 4129 start-ups were formed by staff and graduates of HE providers.

Over the 2017/18 academic year HE providers were granted 1707 patents2 and generated over £207 million of revenue from intellectual property3 in 2017/18.

Business and community engagement measured by the survey includes income generated from collaborative research (£1.4 billion), contract research (£1.3 billion), consultancy (£471 million), facilities and equipment hire (£228 million), CPD and continuing education (£698 million) and regeneration and development programmes (£224 million).

The survey also measures social, community and cultural engagement, with HE providers recording over 25 million attendees at free lectures, performances and exhibitions over the academic year.

Investment by the OfS

At the end of last week the OfS announced their teaching grant allocations for 2019/20:

A total of £1.45 billion will be allocated across a range of activities for academic year 2019-20, including:

  • £713 million for high-cost subject funding. This funding is provided to help with the extra costs associated with teaching subjects such as medicine, science, technology and engineering.
  • £337 million to promote greater choice and boost equality of opportunity in higher education. This includes £60 million for the National Collaborative Outreach Programme (NCOP), which funds partnerships of universities, colleges and others across the country to increase the proportion of young people from disadvantaged areas going into higher education; and £277 million of student premium funding for students who may need additional support to achieve successful outcomes.
  • £40 million for national facilities and initiatives. This includes support for higher education digital infrastructure through Jisc, OfS Challenge Competitions, which target priority issues affecting students, and a new ‘what works’ centre to help universities cut equality gaps.
  • £100 million in financial year 2019-20 of capital funding to help universities and colleges to invest in their physical infrastructure so it remains fit for purpose for students.

As announced last year, the introduction of postgraduate masters’ loans means the postgraduate taught funding supplement, set at £8 million, now only supports students that are not eligible for these loans.

Realising the potential of technology in education

The Department for Education issued their “strategy for education providers and the technology industry” this week.

There’s a helpful summary“Our aim is to support the education sector in England to develop and embed technology in a way that cuts workload, fosters efficiencies, supports inclusion and ultimately drives improvements in educational outcomes. Schools, colleges, universities and other providers face a range of barriers to supporting and integrating the good use of technology. This strategy aims to help address these barriers.”

There’s a lot about schools but some things for universities too.  The Department’s Commitments are:

  • Get the connectivity right – many education providers struggle with slow internet connections and outdated internal networking and devices.
  • Set a vision, know the outcomes you want to achieve and ensure staff have the right skills – it can be hard to know where to start and to get the implementation right.
    • …[we].. Have worked with the Chartered College of Teaching to publish an EdTech research journal to highlight and disseminate key research findings.
  • Get the right tools, solutions and services, at the best price – it can be challenging to understand what technology to buy to meet specific needs and to get the best price. So we:
    • Recommend pre-negotiated buying deals for technology and trial regional buying hubs in the South West and the North West.
    • Support an online lending library allowing educators to ‘try before they buy’ through BESA’s online LendEd service.
    • Will explore how to facilitate a better online marketplace for education technology to help educators to connect with trusted providers.
  • Stay safe – it can be daunting to navigate the responsibilities around privacy, security and data.
    • Provide guidance on monitoring, filtering, data security and cyber security.
    • Support Jisc to provide training, guidance and consultancy for colleges, universities and other providers.
    • Encourage EdTech suppliers to follow ‘Cyber Essentials’ minimum standards and the Code of Practice for Consumer Internet of Things Security

So far so obvious.  The second lot of commitments is to the education technology industry.  Under the Industrial Strategy Banner, the summary says that: Supporting the development of the UK’s innovative EdTech businesses will be key to the success of our EdTech strategy. Our aim is to stimulate a vibrant and growing sector of EdTech businesses: generating ideas, innovation, and providing high-quality, effective technology for education providers to chose from. Businesses face a range of barriers to starting and growing in the EdTech market and this strategy aims to help tackle those, including by supporting access to the investment and business assistance set out in the government’s Industrial Strategy.

And linked to the story above, the Minster launched the long heralded “money supermarket for universities” apps (thanks to Sam Gyimah for that analogy). But don’t click on the links, because one of them has never worked since the announcement was made, and the other takes you to the corporate website but there is no sign of any app. We’ll keep checking and let you know when they do go live.

  • Two contracts were awarded to the winners of the Open Data Competition, one to AccessEd for ThinkUni, which offers students a ‘personalised digital assistant’ bringing together data on universities, courses and financial outcomes that are easy to explore and compare.
  • While The Profs have created TheWayUp!, a game for students to simulate different graduate career paths to help them make better choices about their future. It also aims to help students from disadvantaged backgrounds set aspirational educational and career goals to increase their chances of achieving them.
  • Both apps are in open beta and are available online from April 2, operating with the latest information on universities in the UK.

Participation in EU funding schemes

While the House of Commons is fighting over Brexit, the House of Lords debated a report from the EU committee on Erasmus and H2020.  Many thanks to Dods for the summary.  Lord Jay of Ewelme (CB) moved that the House take note of the Report from the European Union.  Committee Brexit: the Erasmus and Horizon programmes (28th Report, HL Paper 283)…

  • …he reminded members that associate membership would not give the UK voting rights on the budget and strategic direction of the programmes “association is also the only option that would allow the UK to access the key European Research Council and Marie Skłodowska-Curie schemes, which currently account for 44% of the total UK receipts from Horizon 2020”.
  • He called on the Government to confirm their intention to seek association agreements for 2021-2027 as soon as possible but recognised this could not be achieved whilst the UK was a member state.
  • …Government Spokesperson for Higher Education, Viscount Younger of Leckie confirmed that the Government would publish a formal response to the committees report shortly and recognised the important role both schemes had played.
  • On Horizon, he confirmed that the UKRI would use existing payment systems to ensure continuity for UK beneficiaries, and that in a no-deal scenario, the UKRI would contact UK beneficiaries who have registered on the portal with further information on how the guarantee would operate in practice.
  • On Erasmus, Viscount Younger highlighted that UK institutions had a strong track record of partnering with overseas institutions. “UK evidence suggests that around half of mobilities already take place outside Erasmus+”, he outlined.
  • He stated that the Government were preparing for every eventuality and were very interested in exploring future participation in the Erasmus+ successor scheme. “I understand that the successor scheme will include increased school exchange opportunities and a greater emphasis on widening participation. The Government have welcomed proposals on this and will continue to participate in discussions while we remain in the EU”.
  • On the question of associated membership, the Minister intimated his belief that all such countries should be treated as partners rather than competitors, arguing that, “the benefits that associated countries bring to the programme must be recognised and welcomed”.
  • On potential alternatives to Horizon Europe, the Minister confirmed that BEIS were “working closely with the national academies and UKRI to develop ambitious and credible alternatives to association to Horizon Europe which could also enable world-class collaborative research”.
  • The Minister also argued that the immigration white paper went further than MAC recommendations for international students, extending post-study work to six months for undergraduate students attending institutions with degree-awarding powers, six months for all master’s students and 12 months for PhD students.

Access and Participation

The Government have tabled the Higher Education (Monetary Penalties and Refusal to Renew an Access and Participation Plan) (England) Regulations 2019 statutory instrument, under the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 powers. Key points:

  • where a registered higher education provider has an access and participation plan approved by the OfS, that provider may charge fees at the higher limit.
  • The OfS may impose a monetary penalty on a registered higher education provider for breach of one of its ongoing registration conditions.

It also establishes the procedure for:

  • When the OfS intends to give such a notification and provides for the OfS’s notification of a refusal to renew an access and participation plan to be treated as a provisional decision in the first instance and the procedure for the review of that decision. It also provides for the procedure when the OfS’s decision becomes final.

This statutory instrument will need to be approved by both House of Commons and House of Lords.

Cyber resilience of HE sector

HEPI and Jisc have released a paper on the cyber-resilience of universities claiming hackers are able to infiltrate systems within two hours. The paper has been picked up by the media and was mentioned on the Radio 4 Today programme on Thursday.  Key points:

  • Under penetration testing, there was 100% success in gaining access to high-value data within two hours;
  • 173 HEIs engaged with Jisc’s Computer Security Incident Response Team in 2018 (12% increase);
  • During 2018, there were 1,000+ Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks detected at 241 different UK education and research institutions.

The report recommends swift action, including the adoption of a new British Standard on cyber risk and resilience. The report comes a day after the Government urged businesses and charities to take action to prevent cyber-attacks following the publication of the Cyber Security Breaches Survey 2019.

Digital Minister Margot James commented: We know that tackling cyber threats is not always at the top of business and charities list of things to do, but with the rising costs of attacks, it’s not something organisations can choose to ignore any longer.”

Responding to the Government’s annual Cyber Security Breaches Survey 2019, Josh Hardie, CBI Deputy-Director General, said: “There’s been a real shift amongst businesses when it comes to cyber security – it’s clear to see that it’s now a top priority with concrete action being taken. But businesses can’t be complacent. Unfortunately, cyber threats lurk around every corner. The widespread attack to both public and charities sector entities underlines the importance of having robust cyber incidence response plans. Firms pro-actively assessing the risks out there and taking action to protect themselves and their customers is essential. It’s important to recognise there are opportunities for our world-leading digital economy. The cyber security sector is another example of where the UK can build a competitive advantage.”

Financial stability of the sector

The OfS have issued their first report into the financial stability of the sector, as we noted last week.

  • Key findings on the sector’s performance over the latest financial year show that:
  • The sector reported an income of £33 billion, a 7.4 per cent increase on the previous year. However, surpluses fell from £1.12 billion in 2016-17, to £1.02 billion in 2017-18.
  • At the end of 2017-18, the sector had net liquidity of £11.2 billion (equivalent to 138 days’ expenditure). This is £1.3 billion higher than the previous year.
  • At the end of 2017-18, the sector reported borrowing of £12 billion – equivalent to 36.8 per cent of income and £2.1 billion more than the previous year.

Commenting on the report, Sir Michael Barber, chair of the Office for Students, said:

  • ‘The English higher education sector is in reasonable financial shape, although as this report shows performance does vary between providers. We have registered 337 universities and other higher education providers, and each must demonstrate they are financially viable and sustainable.
  • ‘Our analysis suggests that the sector has made over-optimistic student recruitment forecasts – both nationally and internationally. With the number of 18-year-olds in the population falling significantly between now and 2022, not every university will be able to recruit the number of students they had hoped to. Universities should be wary of relying on over-ambitious recruitment targets, and look at student numbers realistically rather than over-optimistically.
  • ‘This is particularly important at a challenging time for the sector overall. Uncertainties ahead include the UK’s future relationship with the EU, possible policy changes resulting from the Augar Review, and increased pension costs. Universities need to have a good grip on costs and base their actions on realistic forecasts.
  • ‘It remains our position that we will not bail out universities or other higher education providers facing financial failure. However we are ready to work creatively with any provider facing challenges – especially if they come to us with any difficulties early. Were problems to develop, we would seek to intervene to protect the interests of students.’

Conditional unconditional offers

The Department for Education has made a splash about unconditional offers.  It’s all a bit odd – the data they are using was published in January.  And the story looks out of date: “The Education Secretary will be asking the OfS to take a comprehensive look at university admissions procedures, in guidance sent to the regulator setting out his priorities for the financial year.”  This letter was published in February.  Have they forgotten to update a draft press release they have been sitting on since January?  Or is another set of instructions for the OfS planned?

The Minister has tweeted that he is “launching a review”, but the OfS had already announced a review – in January.

Aside from the strange timing (I guess it’s a quiet news week), there are some concerns about the allegations being made here.  Jim Dickinson on Wonkhe asks:

  • what’s interesting is Hinds’ repeating of the assertion that conditional unconditionals count as “pressure selling”. It’s a legal term with legal meaning and legal consequences – Smita Jamdar does a much better job than I ever could on reviewing the legal definitions in this area elsewhere on the site, but OfS and now Hinds must surely believe they are legally right.
  • When a university offers guaranteed accommodation in exchange for a firm acceptance, is that “pressure selling” the university, the accommodation, or both? And even if just the standard “firm us up and your offer becomes unconditional” tactic really is “pressure selling”, why are Hinds and the OfS not threatening legal action over what is, in law, criminal behaviour?

And has anyone asked students what they think?

Free speech

And in a world dominated by Brexit and criticism of the sector, it is nice to some good news.  We reported last week that the new Minister has backed away from the regular (and as regularly debunked) statements of his predecessor on freedom of speech at universities.

This week Dr Julian Lewis MP (New Forest East) quoted a recent story in a written question to the Minister:  “To ask the Secretary of State for Education, with reference to the Daily Telegraph article entitled University cancels talk on extremist speakers, published on 26 March 2019, if he will commission an inquiry into (a) the circumstances in which the free speech society at Bristol University was prevented from hosting a meeting featuring the author of Extreme Speakers league table; (b) the nine occasions listed in that league table when allegedly extreme speakers were hosted at Bristol University; (c) the criteria applied by the University in deciding to ban meetings on security grounds; and if he will make a statement.”

And the reply from the Minister:

  • Free speech plays a vital and important role in our society, and universities should be places where students are exposed to a range of issues, including those which may be controversial, and are encouraged to debate and challenge them.
  • It is right that extremist views should be exposed and challenged. That is why, under the Prevent duty, (to have due regard to prevent people being drawn into terrorism), Higher Education (HE) providers must have policies in place around the management of speakers. This means ensuring the right steps are taken to contest extremist narratives and to make sure that those wishing spread hatred do not go unchallenged.
  • However, challenging extremism does not mean banning lawful speech, and the Prevent duty also explicitly requires further and higher education institutions have regard to their duty to secure freedom of speech. It is up to individual institutions to determine who they deem appropriate to invite to speak on their campuses on a case-by-case basis; government does not dictate who should and should not be invited to speak in higher education providers, providing their speech is within the law.
  • We do not routinely comment on individual cases. However, monitoring of the Prevent duty by the Office for Students shows us that HE providers are navigating the balance between freedom of speech and challenging extremism pragmatically and effectively. We recognise that these are complex issues, which is why the government supports the sector on Prevent implementation through our network of Further and HE Regional Prevent Co-ordinators on the ground. We have also worked alongside the Equalities and Human Rights Commission and wider stakeholders to produce the recently published Freedom of Expression guidance. This will enable universities and student unions to understand their obligations for protecting and supporting free speech, and sets out where speech may be unlawful, alongside relevant case studies to support providers in balancing their duties.

Consultations

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

Other news

Careers Education: Founders4Schools have published a report on Making Careers Education Age-Appropriate. They say that Schools and Colleges should:

  • Begin age-appropriate, careers-related learning early, as soon as children and young people join the setting
  • Ensure curriculum and middle leaders work with their teams to identify opportunities to include appropriately sequenced and age-appropriate careers-focused learning in lessons.
  • Work with parents from the beginning of primary school and throughout schooling, for example by inviting parents into school to hear careers talks alongside their children, or even talk about their own careers.
  • Use labour market information to help align the setting’s provision with employers’ needs locally and regionally

And that the Government should:

  • Provide funding for transport costs to help pupils in rural areas or areas lacking transport infrastructure to access opportunities to work with employers
  • Tailor existing support and guidance so that it is age-appropriate, for example providing resources and guidance to help speakers and employers plan age appropriate presentations and projects.

And after outrage that Ministerial posts have remained unfilled following Brexit related resignations (and other things), a few were announced this week:

  • Justin Tomlinson has been appointed Minister of State for Disabled People, Health and Work, Department for Work and Pensions. He also held the role in 2015-16.
  • Will Quince has taken on Tomlinson’s vacated Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Family Support, Housing and Child Maintenance, Department for Work and Pensions role.
  • In the Department of Health Theresa May’s former PPS, Seema Kennedy, takes Steve Brine’s  Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Public Health and Primary Care role.
  • In DEXEU James Cleverly MP has been appointed as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Exiting the European Union
  • Kevin Foster MP as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Wales Office
  • Andrew Stephenson MP Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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