Tagged / Review of post-18 education

HE policy update for the w/e 21st September 2018

Tuition Fees – means testing?

The Higher Education Policy Institute and Canadian Higher Education Strategy Associates have published a joint research paper on means-tested tuition fees for higher education – Targeted Tuition Fees – Is means-testing the answer? It explores the different funding approaches around the world considering the three major approaches to subsiding students in HE:

  • Equal subsidisation, resulting in a system of free tuition
  • Post-hoc subsidy (eg. England) in which those with smaller financial returns pay less
  • Pre-hoc subsidy, in which reductions in net price are given to poorer students, usually through a system of grants

Targeted free tuition starts from the notion that income-contingent fee loans do improve access but don’t do enough to help those from the poorest households, many of which are extremely debt adverse, and it leads to these families ruling out attending HE. Targeted free tuition suggests means testing and offering those on lowest income partial or full exemption from tuition fees.

The report concludes that “targeted free tuition has both an attractive political and economic logic: it provides benefits to those who need it without providing windfall gains to those who do not. Evidence from several countries over many years tells us that students from poorer backgrounds have a higher elasticity of demand than students from wealthier ones. Put simply, there is far more value for money in reducing or eliminating net tuition for low income students than there is in doing so for wealthier ones”.

Nick Hillman (HEPI) spoke on the report during the Today programme on Radio 4 on Thursday.

Means testing tuition fees is another interesting contribution to the Post-18 Review discussion.  It would of course, increase costs, just at the time when the accounting treatment is about to change and the existing costs become more visible.  You’ll remember we reported last week that the Post-18 Review report is delayed awaiting outcomes on the decision of how to account for student loans, but will Phillip Augar use the delay to cogitate further on tuition fees?

There is an interesting debate, though, about the tension between means testing families at one level (as already happens for maintenance loans) and then basing everything on the graduate premium – i.e. the income of the graduate not the family.  The government will say that the current position is fairer because the amount repaid is all based on graduate income, whereas under this system the merchant banker children of WP families would repay nothing.  The opposing side was expressed on Radio 4 by Polly Mackenzie of Demos. She said that technocratic solutions developed by policy wonks would not solve the problem of student finance. That the public were emotionally opposed to debt and the system is too broken to survive, regardless of the merits of rebranding, renaming or tweaking it.

Alex Usher, the Canadian author of the paper writes for Wonkhe in A case for means-tested fees.

While Becca Bland from Stand Alone highlights that students with complex family situations which approach but don’t quite meet categorisation as an independent student fall through the means testing cracks and all too often can’t access sufficient funding to access or complete HE study. See Family means-testing for student loans is not working.

Education Spending

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) released its annual report on England’s education spend. On HE it summarises:

  • Reforms to higher education funding have increased university resources and made little difference to the long-run cost to the public purse. Universities currently receive just over £9,000 per full-time undergraduate student per year to fund their teaching. This is 22% higher than it was in 2011, and nearly 60% more than in 1997. Reforms since 2011 have cut the impact on the headline measure of the government’s deficit by about £6 billion per cohort entering higher education, but the expected long-run cost to the taxpayer has fallen by less than £1 billion.

The report hit the headlines for the decline in FE spending; this heightened the current speculation that FE spend may be addressed through the post-18 tertiary education funding review. Research Professional report that the IFS write a

  •  “key challenge” facing the higher-education system in England is “ensuring the quality of education provided in a market where students lack good information about the return to their degrees”.
  • “The challenge for the government is to define and produce the metrics on which it wants universities to perform, and incentivise universities to take these metrics seriously.”

The article notes that the TEF, which originally planned to link higher tuition fees to outcomes, would have incentivised HE providers to focus more on their performance metrics. However, a respondent from Exeter University challenged the IFS’ statement, saying:

  • All of this is out of touch with the reality of UK universities. In fact we are awash with metrics and we study them obsessively. Even when the TEF was decoupled from financial incentive, we took it no less seriously. Just look at how the results are received – and celebrated, or challenged.”

The key points from the IFS report:

  • 16-18 education has been a big loser from education spending changes over the last 25 years. In 1990-91, spending per student in further education was 50% higher than spending per student in secondary schools. It is now 8% lower in real terms.
  • FE also suffers from dwindling mature student numbers – the total number of adult learners fell from 4 million in 2005 to 2.2 million by 2016, with total funding falling by 45% in real terms over that period. However, spending per learner has remained relatively constant at £1,000 per year
  • 19+ FE is now sharply focussed on apprenticeships – making up almost half of all Level 2 qualifications undertaken by adults, compared to less than 10% in 2005. They also make up about two-thirds of all Level 3 adult learners
  • At the event launching the report panellists debated T-levels concluding that the new qualifications wouldn’t raise per student funding levels for sixth forms and FE colleges. Any additional funding would only cover the increased number of teaching hours required. The panel also debated whether a focus on occupational and technical skills would leave people vulnerable to economic and trade shocks.

Higher Education

  • Universities receive £28,200 per student to fund the cost of teaching their degrees, with 60% rise since 97/98 largely attributable to tuition fee reforms [Note: this is likely the average tuition fee value across the full duration of a degree, it doesn’t divide perfectly to the £9,250 fee level because fee levels vary for longer four year degrees and placement years.]
  • The expected long run taxpayer cost of providing HE is £8.5bn per cohort. Since 2011 the £6bn reduction in the teaching grant only translates into £800m of savings per cohort, because:
  • The lowest earning 40% of graduates repay £3,000 less student loan over their lifetime than had they started in 2011 (owing to the higher repayment threshold).

Responding to the IFS report Geoff Barton, Association of School and College Leaders, played on the gulf between FE and HE funding levels:

  • “Parents will be horrified to learn of the damage that has been done to sixth forms and colleges by severe real-terms cuts in government funding. They may also wonder why the basic rate of funding for each of these students is just £4,000 compared to tuition fees at university which can be as high as £9,250. [Is Geoff touching on dangerous ground here? Few people want to take out loans to access FE provision!]
  • There is no rhyme or reason for the extremely low level of funding for 16-18 year-olds, and without the additional investment that is desperately needed more courses and student support services will have to be cut in addition to those which have already been lost. It is a crucial phase of education in which young people take qualifications which are vital to their life chances and they deserve better from a government which constantly talks about social mobility.
  • The government’s under-investment in 16-18 education is part of a wider picture of real-terms cuts to school funding which is putting hard-won standards at risk.”

Other fees and funding news

Mis-sold and overhyped: The Guardian ran a provocative article Mis-sold, expensive and overhyped: why our universities are a con claiming universities haven’t delivered on the social mobility and graduate wage premium that politicians promised. If you read to the end you’ll see the author is actually in favour of scrapping tuition fees and increasing levels of vocational provision.

Transparent Value?: Advance HE blogs How does HE create and demonstrate value? Arguing there is

  • too little focus, for example, on the value created for the economy and society, for research, and for collaborations with business. If value is always reduced to short-term financial value this creates a degree of inequality between different stakeholder groups….. we live in a world where there is no collective understanding of value… The nature of value is changing, and it’s changing higher education’s direction. The blog also tackles what it means to be transparent.

Graduate Employability

The OfS have blogged on improving graduate employability.  They say:

  •  more than a quarter of English graduates say they are over qualified for the jobs they are doing. Yet we know that many businesses also say they struggle to find graduates with the skills necessary to the job. This apparent mismatch between what a university education may deliver and what employers say they need underlines the importance of keeping employability in sharp focus throughout students’ experience of higher education.

The blog goes on to highlight the OfS consultation which sets out tough targets for improving employment gaps.  The OfS call for more work placement opportunities:

  • Many employers are now offering degree apprenticeships and this is important and welcome. But we also need more work placement opportunities. It cannot be right that so many students, especially those on courses with little vocational element and those without the right networks, have no access to good work placements or holiday internships while they are studying. This means they are more likely to face a cycle of internships, too often unpaid, after they graduate before they are able to get lasting graduate employment.

Apart from calling for more work-based time the blog’s advice for improving graduate employability is limited to stating:

  • Students need to take up every opportunity available to them during their time in higher education to help improve their employability and get a rewarding job.

The blog also announced that the OfS will launch a competition in October for projects testing ways of improving progression outcomes for commuter graduates (who remain in their home town during study and after graduation).

Pre-degree technical internship – Research Professional writes about a Danish trial scheme which gives students work experience in technical subjects before they commence at university. The scheme consists of a four-week internship undertaken before the degree start date which provides insight into how the learning and knowledge will be applied in practice The trial aims to reduce high dropout rates of 20% on Danish technical courses, with dropout soaring to 30% for students with lower graded prior academic qualifications.

Gender Pay Gap – The Telegraph highlighted how the gender pay gap is apparent even at lower levels of qualification. In women choose lower-wage apprenticeships than men the Telegraph describes how the professions with a dominant female workforce are lower paid, for example women tend towards lower paid child development careers whereas engineering and construction receive higher remuneration.

Admissions

UCAS have published their latest 2018 cycle acceptance figures which sum up the confirmation and clearing period, key points:

  • In England, a record 33.5 per cent of the 18 year old population have now been accepted through UCAS.
  • 60,100 people have been accepted through Clearing in total so far, 150 more than the equivalent point last year, and a new record. Of those, 45,690 people were placed after applying through the main scheme (compared to 46,310 in 2017), and a record 14,410 applied directly to Clearing (compared to 13,640 at the same point last year).
  • A total of 30,350 EU students have been accepted (up 2 per cent on 2017), alongside a record 38,330 (up 4 per cent) from outside the EU.
  • The total number of UK applicants now placed is 426,730, down 3 per cent on 2017, although this comes alongside a 2.5 per cent drop in the number of 18 year olds in the UK population.
  • 495,410 people are now placed in full-time UK higher education through UCAS so far, a decrease of 2 per cent on the same point last year.

Explore the data more through interactive charts here.

Clare Marchant, UCAS’ Chief Executive, said: The highest ever proportions of young people from England, Scotland, and Wales have been accepted, and record numbers of people have a place after applying through Clearing, with their exam results in hand. [Interesting given continued calls for a post-qualification admissions process.]

She continues: The enduring global appeal of studying an undergraduate degree in the UK is clear from the growth in international students with a confirmed place, both from within and outside of the EU. The overall fall in acceptances reflects the ongoing decline in the total number of 18 year olds in the UK’s population, which will continue for the next few years, and follows similar patterns to application trends seen earlier in the year.

Wonkhe describes the data in Drama Backstage? Clearing statistics in 2018 and the Independent’s article says Universities feeling the pinch will have taken generous view of entry qualifications to full places.

Nursing recruitment continues to fall, the UCAS figures for England show a further drop of 570 less students for 2018/19. Last week the NHS figures highlighted a crisis with record levels of vacant nursing posts – just in England the NHS is short of 40,000 registered nurses. Lara Carmona, Royal College of Nursing, said:

  • “When there are tens of thousands of vacant nursing jobs, the Government’s own policy is driving down the number of trainees year after year. These figures are a harsh reminder for ministers of the need to properly address the staffing crisis that is putting safe and effective treatment patient care at risk.
  • This piecemeal approach to policy-making is futile. We urgently need comprehensive workforce plans that should safeguard recruitment and retention and that responds to patients needs in each country. This should include incentives to attract more nursing students.
  • The Government must bring forward legislation in England, building on law in Wales and the current draft bill in Scotland, that ensures accountability for safe staffing levels across health and care services.
  • And where is the review of the impact that those 2015 reforms had? [The removal of the nursing bursary and introduction of tuition fees.] The Department of Health and Social Care promised this two years ago and it is high time it was published.”

However, the response to a parliamentary question on Monday saw the Government remain steadfast to the funding changes:

Q – Caroline Lucas: To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, if he will make it his policy to reintroduce bursaries for nursing degrees; and if he will make a statement. [172541]

A – Stephen Barclay: The removal of bursaries and introduction of student loans for nursing degrees has increased the number of nursing degree places that are available. Latest Universities and Colleges Admissions Service data for September 2018 show that there are still more applicants than places available for nursing courses.

As such we have no plans to reinstate a bursary cap on places, which would limit the number of places available.

Electoral Registration

The Office for Students published Regulatory Advice 11: Guidance for providers about facilitating electoral registration. It requires Universities to work with all geographically relevant Electoral Registrations Officers to provide sufficient student information to maintain the electoral register. Good practice case studies for electoral registration are included at Annex A (pages 7-12).

The Office for Students (OfS) has published Regulatory Advice 11: Guidance for providers about facilitating electoral registration, for registered providers in England. Any provider may be randomly selected for scrutiny, but attention will be focused on those where issues have been raised, in particular from electoral registration officers. Good practice and case studies show how universities should take a risk-based approach on the issue, and also raise awareness of democratic engagement and electoral registration.

Staff Migration

The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) published their final report on European Economic Area migration within the UK this week. Here are the key points:

Labour Market Impacts:

  • Migrants have no or little impact on the overall employment and unemployment outcomes of the UK born workforce
  • Migration is not a major determinate of the wages of UK born workers

Productivity, innovation, investment and training impacts

  • Studies commissioned point towards immigration having a positive impact on productivity but the results are subject to significant uncertainty.
  • High-skilled immigrants make a positive contribution to the levels of innovation in the receiving country.
  • There is no evidence that migration has had a negative impact on the training of the UK-born workforce. Moreover, there is some evidence to suggest that skilled migrants have a positive impact on the quantity of training available to the UK-born workforce.

Public finance and public fund impacts

  • EEA migrants pay more in taxes than they receive in benefits. The positive net contribution to the public finances is larger for EU13+ migrants than for NMS migrants.
  • However, net fiscal contribution is strongly related to age and, more importantly, earnings so that a migration policy that selected on those characteristics could produce even higher gains.

Public service impacts

  • EEA migrants contribute much more to the health service and the provision of social care in financial resources and through work than they consume in services.
  • In education, we find no evidence that migration has reduced parental choice in schools or the educational attainment of UK-born children. On average, children with English as an additional language outperform native English speakers.

Summary of recommendations for work migration post-Brexit:

  1. General principle behind migration policy changes should be to make it easier for higher-skilled workers to migrate to the UK than lower-skilled workers.
  2. No preference for EU citizens, on the assumption UK immigration policy not included in agreement with EU.
  3. Abolish the cap on the number of migrants under Tier 2 (General).
  4. Tier 2 (General) to be open to all jobs at RQF3 and above. Shortage Occupation List to be fully reviewed.
  5. Maintain existing salary thresholds for all migrants in Tier 2.
  6. Retain but review the Immigration Skills Charge.
  7. Consider abolition of the Resident Labour Market Test. If not abolished, extend the numbers of migrants who are exempt through lowering the salary required for exemption.
  8. Review how the current sponsor licensing system works for small and medium-sized businesses.
  9. Consult more systematically with users of the visa system to ensure it works as smoothly as possible.
  10. For lower-skilled workers avoid Sector-Based Schemes (with the potential exception of a Seasonal Agricultural Workers scheme)
  11. If an Agricultural Workers scheme is reintroduced, ensure upward pressure on wages via an agricultural minimum wage to encourage increases in productivity.
  12. If a “backstop” is considered necessary to fill low-skilled roles extend the Tier 5 Youth Mobility Scheme.
  13. Monitor and evaluate the impact of migration policies.
  14. Pay more attention to managing the consequences of migration at a local level.

Following last week’s MAC report on international students the sector has speculated that the above recommendations have been influenced by the Home Office and so are likely to be acted upon. Furthermore, during her interview with Nick Robinson this week the Prime Minister said that an immigration policy will be published later in the Autumn. This may be published as an Immigration white paper (a Government statement of intent in relation to immigration, white papers sometimes invite sector response on some small details or call for public support). The PM has also hinted that EU nationals won’t receive special treatment (which is one of the report’s recommendations) and Sajid Javid has been reported saying that EU nationals will face visas and caps. However, immigration is one of the key Brexit bargaining points, one which David Davis, speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme this week, declared wouldn’t be resolved until late on in the negotiation stages.

With the report’s recommendations to support high skilled migration, and previous Governmental assurances towards university academics, the recommendations haven’t sounded any alarms within the HE staff sector. However, universities that rely on EU talent to bolster medium skilled professional roles could face difficulty.

  • Wonkhe report that: An unlikely coalition of 11 right-of-centre think tanks from both sides of the Atlantic has published a joint report – reported in the Sun – calling for the free movement of people between the USA and the UK for anyone with a job offer.
  • The Sun names it an ‘ideal post-Brexit free-trade agreement’. However, the model US trade deal was vehemently opposed by Global Justice Now who state that: trade deals are not the place to negotiate free movement provisions.
  • Universities UK said: “It is good to see the MAC acknowledging many of the positive impacts that skilled European workers have on life in the UK.”
  • The Russell Group was less enthralled stating: “This was a real opportunity to steer the UK towards a more modern and intelligent immigration system, but the recommendations are unimaginative”.

Meanwhile British Future’s National Conversation on Immigration (which Wonkhe says is the biggest ever public immigration consultation – 19,951 respondents) was published this week finding:

  • Only 15% of people feel the Government has managed immigration competently and fairly;
  • Only 13% of people think MPs tell the truth about immigration;
  • Just 17% trust the Government to tell the truth about immigration.

Wonkhe report that: The research concludes that the public wants to hold the government to account for delivering on immigration policy promises, as well as more transparency and democratic engagement on the issue.

The survey also calls for:

  • 3 year plan for migration including measures to increase international student migration
  • Clarity on the status of EU students after Brexit transition
  • Review Tier 4 visa processes
  • Post-study work visa for STEM graduates
  • All universities should produce a community plan, involving university staff and local residents
  • And, a new wave of universities to “spread the benefits that HE brings more widely across the UK”

On the new universities it continues:

  • These institutions should focus on local needs and account for the diverse nature of the places  in which they are established. We recommend that these new institutions specialise in regional economic and cultural strengths and have strong business and community links. They should also be part of a strengthened life-long learning system with clear routes from apprenticeships, through further education and into higher level studies. But these new universities must be new and not repurposed further education colleges.
  • There are a number of ways that a new wave of university building could be financed, so that the burden does not fall on the taxpayer. While students and research grants provide everyday revenue, the capital costs of a new university could be raised through capital markets.
  • There should be clear obligations placed on these new universities to deliver additional courses below degree level, to support lifelong learning, promote good links with employers and to boost the skills of the local population.

International Students

A Research Professional article revisits the MAC Commission’s failure to challenge Theresa May’s refusal to remove international students from the net migration figures. However, it believes Britain’s declining share of the international student market can be saved by the following seven actions:

  • The Home Office should establish a “friendly environment policy” for international students, with improved post-study work options and streamlined visa processes to match our competitors such as Australia.
  • The Department for Education, supported by the Home Office, should roll out an improved Tier 4 pilot based on recruiting from target growth countries such as India and Nigeria.
  • The Home Office must simplify visa procedures and reduce burdens on Tier 4 university sponsors.
  • The Department for International Trade must reinvigorate the “Education is GREAT” campaign, working with universities to maximise impact.
  • The Department for International Development should allocate a proportion of foreign aid spending to providing scholarships and pathway programmes, match-funded by universities.
  • The Home Office and the British Council should review the number and location of English language test centres to attract the brightest and best students, not the richest.
  • The government should immediately announce a continuation of home fee status for EU students in 2020 and beyond.

It concludes: A whole-of-government approach must be adopted and a firm national target for education exports should be set. Education policy and migration policy should support each other in a common commitment to that target. Only then can the UK stay ahead of its competitors in attracting international students and strengthening education exports.

There was also a parliamentary question on last week’s MAC international student’s report:

Q – Steve Double: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, with reference to the Migration Advisory Committee report entitled International Students in the UK, published on 11 September 2018, what assessment he has made of the potential merits of the recommendations in that report; and if he will make statement.

A- Caroline Nokes: We are grateful to the Migrant Advisory Committee for their balanced and comprehensive review into International Students in the UK. We will be carefully considering the recommendations made in the report and will be responding in due course.

Artificial Intelligence

Advent of AI leads to job refocus

The World Economic Forum report The Future of Jobs 2018 believes AI and automation technologies will replace 75 million jobs leading companies to change the human role resulting in 133 million new roles by 2022. The WEF report suggests that full time permanent employment may fall and there would be ‘significant shifts’ in the quality, location and format of new roles. The report highlights skills and the need for companies to invest in upskilling their workforce. Saadia Zahidi, Head of the Centre for the New Economy and Society at the World Economic Forum, said: While automation could give companies a productivity boost, they need to invest in their employees in order to stay competitive. Meanwhile this CNBC article which describes the WEF report claims that AI and robotics will create 60 million more jobs than they destroy.

A parliamentary question on AI was responded to this week:

Q – Lord Taylor Of Warwick: What assessment they have made of public perceptions of artificial intelligence ; and what measures they will put in place to ensure that the uptake of this technology is done so in a transparent, accountable and ethical manner.

A – Lord Henley: The Government is aware of a broad range of views on the potential of artificial intelligence . The independent review on artificial intelligence in the UK stressed the importance of industry and experts working together to secure and deserve public trust, address public perceptions, gain public confidence, and model how to deliver and demonstrate fair treatment.

The new Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation (CDEI), AI Council and Office for Artificial Intelligence (OAI) were set up to deliver the recommendations of the review, and therefore have a crucial role to play.

Ethical AI safeguards, including transparency and accountability mechanisms, will be scrutinised and improved through the new Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation – the first of its kind anywhere in the world. The £9m Centre will advise on the safe, ethical and innovative use of data driven tech and help negotiate the potential risks and opportunities for the benefit of consumers.

The UK already has a strong and well respected regulatory environment, which is an integral part of building customer confidence and trust in new innovations. The Government is committed to ensuring that the public continues to be protected as more artificial intelligence applications come into use across different sectors. We believe creating an environment of responsible innovation is the right approach for gaining the public’s trust, and is ultimately good for UK businesses.

Technological Change

Vince Cable, Leader of the Liberal Democrats, spoke on technological change at the autumn party conference:

In the face of relentlessly advancing new technologies, it is easy for people to feel powerless and threatened.  So we have to understand and regulate some of the technologies coming down the track.
Jo Swinson and I are setting up a commission to look at how to turn emerging technologies from a threat into an opportunity.

And if we embrace these technologies, imagine the potential. The potential for robotics in care homes; for machine learning which can detect the first signs of malignant tumour or detect fraud for blockchain which can enable massive, secure, clinical trials and quantum computing which can out-compute computers.  Britain could and should be a leader, investing massively in our science and technology base.

Research

After eight months working together, the UK Parliament and the Devolved Administrations have co-authored a four-page briefing on Research Impact and Legislatures. The work has fed into the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021 draft guidelines on submissions and panel criteria. It is also noted that Parliament features in 20% of REF 2014 impact case studies.

Three former Higher Education Academy directors have launched OneHE, a global membership network and collaboration platform focused on effective learning and teaching. It will award innovation grants selected by community vote. UK membership fees start at £3 a month.

Other news

  • Student Accommodation: A Government press release: Savvy students know their renting rights aims to educate students not to put up with dodgy landlords and poor accommodation when the new laws come into force on 1 October. It sets out a checklist of items that students should be aware of and links to the Government’s ‘How to’ guides on renting safely.
  • UCU have published Investigating HE institutions and their views on the Race Equality Charter calling for UKRI to increase the level of an institution’s research funding in recognition of their achievement of the Race Equality Charter. They also recommend an annual audit of the university’s progress in addressing BME attainment gaps. The Mail Online cover the story leading with University professors should be taught about ‘white privilege’ to make campuses more inclusive, union says.
  • And Chris Husbands strikes back in the Guardian article: Other countries are proud of their universities. The UK must be too stating: there’s never been a time when universities have been more important to more people than they are now. Our futures depend on them.
  • Free Speech: Andrew McRae (Exeter University) pushes back to Sam Gyimah highlighting the Conservatives’ failure to uphold free speech in his personal blog – Free speech: whose problem is it really?
  • Mental Health: Sam Gyimah has written to all Vice-Chancellors to urge them to lead the pathway to good student mental health within their institution. However, a Research Professional article criticises the call asking where the research base is to inform such strategic decisions. The writer goes on to state that the UK degree classification system may create stress and replacement with a US grade point average system might be better. She continues there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to tackling student mental health as each institution is different, but universities could help by improving students’ sense of belonging to combat feelings of loneliness.
  • UKRI: Tim Wheeler has been appointed as Director for International within UKRI. Previously Tim was Director for Research and Innovation at NERC, and his role before was Deputy Chief Scientific Adviser (UK Dept for International Development) which included providing science advice to Ministers. Tim remains a visiting professor at the University of Reading.

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BU Policy Update for the w/e 31st August 2018

It may be the recess, but not everyone is away, and the discussion on fees and funding, and other things, continues, as we speculate when the “autumn” is and how soon before Christmas we will get the interim report from Philip Augar on the Review of Post-18 Education.

Student fees and funding

Given the importance of this issue, we have prepared a (fairly length) summary of the latest position on fees and funding and we are updating it regularly.  You can read the latest version on the intranet here.

Lessons from Wales – HEPI have issued a policy note on the new student funding arrangements in Wales.  Somewhat controversially, in the light of the Augar review, it challenges the approach taken in Wales.  It notes the plaudits for the new regime:

  • for the evidence-based way in which it has been put together;
  • for attempting to build consensus around a sustainable system;
  • for rebalancing upfront public spending towards living costs;
  • for its progressive universalism, with all students entitled to a maintenance grant;
  • for protecting the income of higher education institutions;
  • for the continued transferability of support for students studying outside Wales; and
  • for treating part-time and postgraduate students more equitably.

But it also flags that there are losers as well as winners, and that the political spin may be “hampering wider understanding of how it works”.  The challenge is that student loans will be increasing in Wales – going in the opposite direction to the one that many are calling for in England.

  • All students will receive maintenance support of £9000 a year. The previous system was a mixture of means tested grants and loans, with a smaller maximum loan.  This may help students from lower income families who have access to more cash, but overall the government will be funding or subsidising more of the maintenance cost for students.  Cutting the parental contribution to student maintenance costs is not something we have seen supported widely in England as part of the Augar review (except for low income families).
  • The balance of loans and grants is also changing. All students will receive a grant of at least £1000, and for students from the very lowest earning households, this grant will increase to £8100, with a loan of £900 per year for maintenance.
  • The overall student loans, taking into account tuition fee loans as well All students will receive tuition fee loans for £9000 per year (tuition fees in Wales did not go up to £9250).  Tuition fees were previously around £4000 per year.  So all Welsh students will have bigger loans overall, even those from the lowest earning households.  But the change is much bigger for those from higher earning households (an 85% increase).  And of course it is income contingent like the UK system and the amounts will still be less than England.

So Nick Hillman flags some challenges to the system:

  • First, while the over-riding principle of income-contingent student loan systems is that the amount you pay depends on your earnings after leaving university, upfront means-testing means the total amount you are left owing depends a great deal on your parental income.
  • This can make for rough edges: someone who comes from a poor family and ends up as a millionaire will owe much less than someone who comes from a rich family but ends up in averagely-paid employment.
  • Parental income continues to be central to the new system of student support in Wales, despite the fact that all students are entitled to the same tuition fee loan and the same cash-in-hand support for maintenance, and despite the fact that the new Welsh system avoids the worst feature of the English system whereby the poorest students take on the largest debts.
  • Secondly, because different parents in similar income brackets have varying propensities to support their student children, even people from similar backgrounds will be left with different levels of debt.
  • …Put simply, some middle-class students will feel obliged to borrow the maximum loan entitlement to live and others will not because their parents will subsidise them directly, leaving students from similar backgrounds with very different levels of debt.
  • …But none of this should obscure the fact that the clearest winners from the new package could be parents, who are no longer under the same expectation to contribute. This could be said to fly in the face of widespread concerns about inter-generational fairness and the need to do more to support young people using resources accrued by older generations.
  • …Thirdly, although the Welsh support package is regarded as progressive for treating students from poorer families more generously than students from richer families, its level of progressivity depends on your comparator. The poorest students in Wales will actually be worse off in terms of cash-in-hand under the new system compared to the old one.

So what does this mean for the Augar review?   If they are considering reintroducing maintenance grants then the progressive approach of the Welsh system may be attractive.

Just to note on part-time students, the new Welsh system is said to be better than in England.  However, on the basis of our quick calculations, there doesn’t seem to be much difference between what you can get in England and Wales for a part-time course.  But of course in Wales, part of it is a grant.

Change the context not the structure

Jim Dickinson argues in a blog for Wonkhe that if free tuition is unaffordable and the graduate tax unworkable, then some other things need to change:

  • Making the public subsidy explicit – instead of hiding it behind the language of debt
  • Stop talking about debt when it isn’t, because it’s income contingent and time limited
  • Reduce the costs of student accommodation – it’s a housing crisis not a funding crisis
  • Stop expecting competition to fix everything

Certainly the first two of these are likely to appear in the Augar recommendations – demystifying the system is one of Philip Augar’s key priorities.

This is supported by another Wonkhe blog by Arthi Nachiappan on living costs

  • The cost of undergraduate tuition fees – and the loans required to cover them – are strictly controlled at the supply end, and while numbers are uncapped, this does give government and students some certainty over costs. But rent – the key living cost that maintenance loans are supposed to cover – is uncapped and uncontrolled…. As long as the residential model persists in large parts of the sector, both policy-makers and students need to know much more about the realities of the costs of private sector accommodation that go beyond the surface level exercises and tables that dominate the press. And we will need to see a much more joined-up strategy between local authorities, government departments and institutions to ensure that that model is affordable for students.

Graduate tax

In a blog for HEPI Paul Maginnis, the author of a new book entitled The Return of Meritocracy: Conservative Ideas for Unlocking Social Mobility puts forward the case in favour of a graduate tax.  His conclusion:

  • With a graduate tax, there would be no ‘debt’ that needs to be paid back (which seems to be the main issue for students) and it can be structured to be more progressive. If it was introduced at 7% on earnings over £27,000 it would be a clear indicator that a graduate would have to be on the average UK wage to begin paying back. It would be made affordable by graduates earning over £75,000 paying 10% of their earnings for their university education. At the same time if they slipped below the £27,000 threshold, nothing would be paid back. As with tuition fees, the tax would cease 30 years after graduating from university.
  • Reclassifying the student loan system as a graduate tax would, at a stroke, put all spending on student loans back onto current public spending. The consequence of this would be to significantly increase the deficit. The Government may as well embrace this move as the ONS are current reviewing the student loan system. They are likely to conclude that some or all of the current loans appear in the national accounts so the Government might as well take the initiative anyway.
  • With the current tuition fee repayment rate of 9% of earnings over the newly introduced threshold of £25,000, a cut to 7% on earnings up to £75,000 would be a progressive move. It would be understood as a tax which would stop graduates receiving alarming letters stating that they owe £50,000 in addition to enormous interest rates. The Government should continue to argue that graduates need to make a financial contribution to keep higher education affordable, while ensuring those who do not go to university are free from subsidising this.

Capping access to fees

A new possibility for reducing the cost of the system was raised by Ant Bagshaw in a Wonkhe blog –not student number controls, but controlling for quality – minimum entry stadnards.

“…what about a control on who can access the student support system? “Three Cs, madam? No, there’s no loan available for you.” Now, this is a problem for plenty of reasons. These include, but are probably not limited to, the following:

  1. Where does this leave contextual admissions? We could have different minima which take into account the correlations between social privilege and school performance, but what are the chances of this kind of nuanced policy?
  2. Where does experiential learning fit it? Not all students do A-levels or are aged 17 on application to university. Wouldn’t minimum qualifications disenfranchise some older prospective students or those who’ve taken other routes?
  3. How do you express a qualifications minimum across all types of pre-university learning, including combinations of awards and over decades of different types (and standards) of award?
  4. It’s a number control. The chances are that this would be dressed up as “these are students that won’t succeed in HE, so we’re doing them a favour by excluding them”, but let’s call a spade a number control when we see it.
  5. There will be a way around it. As I wrote recently for Wonkhe, the scourge of unconditional offers (amongst other consequences such as grade inflation) is a consequence of the marketised system as designed and implemented. There are easy ways around unconditional offers – make very low offers. There will be ways around minimum qualifications.

As Ant points out:

  • There’s a strong thread in the commentary about universities that “too many students” are going, and the system is too expensive and that avaricious vice chancellors are simply putting “bums on seats” with any student with a pulse.

So he suggests instead:

  • One way could be to reward universities for the value that they add to students’ outcomes. And outcomes not measured in terms of degree classifications which are in the control of the provider, but jobs, salaries, further study, and so on. A system like that would reward the universities which were able to admit the students with the lowest grades, but only those which could demonstrate that there admissions decisions were the right ones.

Now those are the sort of changes we may see recommended in the Augar review – differential fees by outcomes seems like a strong possibility, as mentioned by the PM when she launched it, and trailed perhaps by the Minister when he talked about the IFS report on graduate salaries and first mentioned the “bums on seats” issue in the context of allegedly “underperforming” degrees.  You can read more in our policy update on 15th June here.

Skills

We have also created a new summary of other policy matters relating to students, including student experience and access and participation, but also looking at government priorities around skills, technical education, social mobility etc.  You can find the latest version on the intranet here.

Professor Dave Phoenix, VC of South Bank University has written a report for HEPI “Filling in the biggest skills gap: Increasing learning at Levels 4 and 5”.

In the introduction, Nick Hillman notes:

  • Qualifications that are higher than A-Levels but lower than full honours degrees are known in eduspeak as Levels 4 and 5 but HNCs, HNDs, Foundation Degrees and other names in common parlance. They have collapsed in recent years. If there had been such a dramatic fall in any other qualification level, such as GCSEs, A-Levels or Bachelor’s degrees, the fall would have been given the status of a full-blown educational crisis.
  • Yet these awards were once the flavour of the month for aspiring politicians in power on both sides of the political spectrum. For example, in 1972, when Margaret Thatcher was the Secretary of State for Education and Science, the Government called for ‘a range of intellectually demanding two-year courses’ for those who did not want part-time study or to enrol on an honours degree.*  Almost a generation later, David Blunkett announced Foundation Degrees, which were designed to be more vocational but had similar aims.

..and concludes:

  • Given current reviews on issues like post-18 learning and the accounting treatment of student loans, there is no better time to build a new political consensus.

So what is the solution?  The executive summary notes:

  • Employer demand for employees at Levels 4 and 5 is often cited. However, it is unclear whether employers are pinpointing the education level of the employees they need or if they are basing their assessment on the qualifications of employees who are retiring.
  • There are views among some that restricting access to Level 6 (Bachelor’s degrees) could enhance the volume of Levels 4 and 5 being delivered. There are also aspirations for further education colleges to deliver more Level 4 and 5 qualifications to meet supposed employer demand for these qualifications. In the medium term, this could dilute higher education and undermine investment in Levels 2 and 3.
  • This paper proposes that the origin of our Levels 4 and 5 skills shortage in England is in the shortfall of learners progressing from lower levels. The number of young learners that do not proceed from Level 2 to Level 3 is 36.4 per cent and a further 20.9 per cent of all learners do not progress from Level 3. This amounts to a pool of over 57 per cent of young learners who do not progress to Level 4 or above. We therefore need a strong further education offer to enhance Levels 2 and 3 programmes and more effective promotion of these intermediate qualifications.

And the recommendations are:

  • Improving the skills pipeline at Levels 2 and 3:
    • provide Mathematics and English qualifications that do not as a default position fail 30 per cent of learners; and
    • provide free access to learning through schools and further education colleges for all learners regardless of age at Level 2 and Level 3.
  • Raising the profile and esteem of Level 4 and 5 qualifications:
    • clearly designate Level 4 and 5 as higher education, ensuring that quality assurance and regulation of Levels 4 and 5 delivered by higher education institutions remain within the current higher education regulatory framework;
    • encourage higher education institutions to offer these awards (especially Foundation Degrees, CertHEs and Higher Education Diplomas) as positive targets rather than as early exit awards from Level 6 qualifications; and
    • re-introduce a reputable national careers information, advice and guidance programme.
  • Revising funding rules to encourage higher education institutions to offer Level 4 and 5 qualifications and individuals to undertake them:
    • introduce flexibility to student loans to allow learners to step-on and step-off this educational continuum;
    • allow Advanced Learner Loans made for Access to Higher Educational Diplomas to be written off after Level 4 rather than Level 6; and
    • allow those taking out Advanced Learner Loans access to maintenance support on the same basis as those accessing Student Loans

Sexual harassment in Universities

Ruth Wilkinson and Rory Murray write for Wonkhe about a new campaign by Kent Union:

The Stick: We lobbied our local councils (Canterbury and Medway) to change their licensing policy so that every license holder would have a licensing obligation to actually tackle sexual harassment on their premises. Hopefully it will never have to be done, but if a premises decides not to play ball in making the night time economy safer, they could have their license reviewed and ultimately withdrawn.

And the Carrot: After a year of running on seed funding from partners, the wonderful Kent Police Crime Commissioner awarded us £12,300 to deliver a training and accreditation scheme so that we could pull together some best practice training and deliver it on the ground to the staff actually in a position to tackle harassment and challenge behaviours. Once trained we’re asking premises to edit and add to their internal policies so that at all new staff inductions they know just how seriously their employer takes harassment, and know exactly what to do when something happens. We’re asking them to take on the Ask For Angela scheme, a wonderful initiative coined in Leicester, where patrons can ask for “Angela” at the bar as a discreet way to say they need help.  After a premises is accredited they get a load of materials and promotional items to display about their premises. Shouting loud and proud that they do not tolerate sexual harassment, and that any reports will be taken seriously. We are also building a brilliant interactive map to show to students where the “Zero Tolerance” premises are, so it’s also a bit of free advertising!

And the next bit:

The University of Kent and Kent Union are also delivering further amazing initiatives to tackle sexual violence including an online anonymous reporting system, compulsory consent training, bystander training for committee members (and anyone else who wants to do it), and awareness raising through a powerful film shown at inductions. There’s still a way to go for the sector but acknowledgement of the issue and appetite to take action is so crucial.

Access, participation and outcomes

AGCAS has published the latest edition of What Happens Next? which reports on the first destinations of disabled graduates and provides real evidence of the effect of a disability on a graduate’s employment prospects.

  • Following the same pattern as previous years’ findings, this year’s report highlights that notable differences remain in the outcomes of disabled and non-disabled graduates. At all qualification levels (first degree, postgraduate taught and postgraduate research) disabled graduates were less likely to be in full-time employment than non-disabled graduates. Compared to last year’s findings, the gap between the proportion of disabled and non-disabled graduates entering full-time employment has decreased at first degree and postgraduate research levels. However, at postgraduate taught level, the gap has increased.

Essay mills

Essay mills and contract cheating have been in the news again.  Jonny Rich wrote a blog aimed at students and has launched a petition proposing a ban.  Paul Greatrix of Nottingham University has also blogged for Wonkhe on essay mills, referring to 2017 QAA guidance and a recent ruling from the Advertising Standards Authority.  Paul has recently had a twitter discussion with one.

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HE Policy update for the w/e 3rd August 2018

Social mobility

Damien Hinds gave a speech at the Resolution Foundation on 31st July.  The story was widely trailed in the media  – it had a big focus on early years and on access to HE.

Mr Hinds said, in the speech in London, that this early gap had a

  • “huge impact on social mobility”.  “The truth is the vast majority of these children’s time is at home.  Yes the home learning environment can be, understandably, the last taboo in education policy – but we can’t afford to ignore it when it comes social mobility. I don’t have interest in lecturing parents here… I know it’s parents who bring up their children, who love them. who invest in them in so many ways, who want the best for their children. But that doesn’t mean extra support and advice can’t be helpful.”

The Department for Education says 28% of children in England do not have the required language skills by the end of Reception.

Guardian –  Children starting school ‘cannot communicate in full sentences:

  • “The education secretary promised to halve within a decade the number of children lacking the required level of early speaking or reading skills.”  Children with a poor vocabulary aged five are more than twice as likely to be unemployed at age 34 as children with good vocabulary, research shows.

Initiatives announced included:

  • A competition to find technology to support early language development (there’s an app for everything….).
  • An education summit in the autumn to encourage parents to get involved in supporting children
  • An OfS research initiative (see below)

The OfS have confirmed that they are inviting tenders for an independent Evidence and Impact Exchange (EIX) – a ‘What Works Centre’ to promote access, success and progression for underrepresented groups of students.

  • The EIX will be independent of the OfS, but the OfS will fund it up to £4.5 million over three years (£1.5 million per year) and work with it during this time to develop a sustainable funding model for the future.
  • The purpose of the EIX is to provide evidence on the impact of approaches to widening access and successful participation and progression for underrepresented groups of students, and to ensure that the most effective approaches are recognised and shared.
  • It will collate existing research, identify gaps in current evidence and generate its own research to fill those gaps, and disseminate accessible advice and guidance to decision makers and practitioners across the higher education sector.
  • It therefore addresses a need in the sector for a systematic approach to evidence development, sharing and use in informing policy and practice.
  • Tenders must be submitted by noon on Friday 28 September 2018. Tenders will be assessed by a panel of OfS staff and external assessors against published evaluation criteria. The top three tenders will be shortlisted and invited to interview in October 2018, with a decision to be made by November 2018.
  • The EIX is expected to officially launch in spring 2019.

REF – the myths

Kim Hackett, the REF Director at Research England, has written for Wonkhe on REF myths following last week’s publication of the REF 2021 guidance.

She deals with the following myths:

  • Only journal articles can be submitted
  • The discipline-based UOA structure means that interdisciplinary research will be disadvantaged
  • You can’t have a high-scoring impact case study based on public engagement (PE)

And invites comments on other myths that need to be busted.

NSS – the analysis

John O’Leary, Editor of The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide, wrote a blog for the Office for Students on NSS.  Some excerpts:

  • Of course the NSS has its faults – even after last year’s introduction of improved questions, it remains an extremely broad brush exercise that unintentionally favours particular types of institutions and makes life difficult for others.
  • The results do not provide the last word in the assessment of teaching quality, any more than the Teaching Excellence Framework as a whole does. But the results give the best available picture of students’ perceptions of their course – and it is difficult to see that being matched by any other exercise.
  • The trends are generally consistent (and overwhelmingly positive) – so much so that politicians and commentators often resort to quoting much smaller, less representative research to support a critical narrative. Satisfaction levels may be down this year, but still 83 per cent were positive about their course and only 8 per cent dissatisfied.
  • That is not to say that the NSS is perfect – in my view, it takes too narrow a view of students’ unions, for example, implying that their sole purpose is to represent their members academically. But more serious criticisms of the survey, that it encourages an ‘intellectual race to the bottom’ with lecturers dumbing down courses and reducing expectations to ensure positive results, are invariably anecdotal.
  • The survey’s outcomes have also provided unique leverage for students to force through improvements to services and facilities. In particular, levels of feedback and assessment practices have been given a focus that would never have been applied without the negative views expressed in successive editions of the NSS.
  • Even last year’s partial boycott of the NSS – now receding further – had more to do with the uses to which the results were being put at national level than dissatisfaction with the survey itself. Applicants would be much the poorer without the insight it provides.

Wonkhe have published some analysis and some interactive visualisations.

Migration and Brexit

The Home Affairs Committee have published an interim report, Policy options for future migration from the European Economic Area, which recommends that the Government should build migration consensus and engage in open debate and warns all those involved in the debate not to exploit or escalate tensions over immigration in the run up to withdrawal agreement.

The Committee is waiting on the Migration Advisory Committee’s (MAC) report in the autumn before making further recommendations, they stress that the Government ideally should not make final decisions on the majority of immigration policy in advance of the

Press Release: Government should build migration consensus and engage in open debate

The Committee has criticised the Government’s failure to set out detail on post-Brexit migration policy or to build consensus on immigration reform despite having over two years since the referendum in which to do so. Continued delays to the publication of the White Paper on Immigration and the Immigration Bill has meant there is little indication of what immigration policy will be. Despite the fact that the issue was subject to heated and divisive debate during the referendum campaigns in 2016 the Government has not attempted to build consensus on immigration reform or consult the public over future migration policy in the two years since. The Committee believes this is a regrettable missed opportunity.

The interim report looks at three broad sets of policy options:

  • Within the EU and during transition there are further measures that could be taken, in particular on registration, enforcement, skills and labour market reform. As witnesses noted, the UK has opted not to take up measures which are possible.
  • Within an EFTA-style arrangement with close or full participation in the single market, the report highlights a range of further measures that might be possible – especially in a bespoke negotiated agreement. These include ‘emergency brake’ provisions, controls on access to the UK labour market, accession style controls and further measures which build on the negotiation carried out by the previous Prime Minister. We conclude that there are a series of options for significant immigration reform that should be explored by the Government.
  • Within an association agreement or free trade agreement, the options in part depend on how close such an agreement is. While any agreement itself may not cover many ‘labour mobility’ measures, the government will still need to make decisions about long-term migration, including for work, family and study.

Interim findings and recommendations include:

  • The net migration target should not be an objective of EU migration policy.
  • Refusing to discuss reciprocal immigration arrangements with the EU will make it much harder to get a close economic partnership. Geography, shared economic, social and cultural bonds between the UK and EU mean we will need a distinct and reciprocal arrangement for EU migration that is linked to our economic relationship.
  • The Government has not considered the range of possible immigration measures and safeguards that could allow the UK to participate in the single market while putting in place new immigration controls. It should immediately do so. Should the Government change its red lines, there are a series of options which could provide a basis for greater control on migration within the single market.
  • Even whilst in the EU and during the transition there are immigration reform measures that the UK has not taken up – in particular on registration, enforcement, skills and labour market reforms to address lack of skills, exploitation or undercutting.
  • Irrespective of the future EU relationship, the Government should seek to improve labour market conditions. Regulation of the labour market, further measures to prevent exploitation and increased funding for enforcement would benefit both domestic and migrant workers, subject to practical arrangements with business.
  • Within a Free Trade Agreement the options depend on how close the agreement is, but it is not the case that an FTA would necessarily mean limited migration. A free trade agreement along the lines of CETA would only require limited immigration provisions, but decisions would still have to be made on long-term migration from the EU and there would still be pressure for educational, high and low skilled, seasonal and family migration that the government would need to address.
  • The DCFTA between the Ukraine and the EU gives a precedent for partial integration in the single market without requiring the free movement of people. The European Commission has said there can be no ‘cherry-picking’ of the four freedoms of the single market, however this is a political judgement rather than a technical or legal obstacle. The Committee notes that the EU-Ukraine package was agreed in the context of Ukraine moving towards the EU, rather than away, and the European Commission has so far insisted that, for the UK-EU negotiations, the four freedoms of the single market are indivisible.
  • Whatever the Government’s intentions for EU migration, it should overhaul immigration arrangements for non-EEA nationals about which the Committee received many complaints. We heard considerable evidence of problems that would arise if arrangements for non-EU migration were applied for EU migration.  The Government should also introduce a Seasonal Agricultural Workers scheme as soon as possible.

Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, Rt Hon Yvette Cooper MP, said:

“Immigration was one of the central issues during the referendum and it divided the country, but sadly there has been no attempt by the Government to hold any kind of sensible debate on it or build any kind of consensus on immigration since. That is deeply disappointing and it has left a vacuum—and it’s really important that people don’t exploit that again.

The misinformation and tensions over immigration during the referendum campaign were deeply damaging and divisive. It is essential that does not happen again, and those who exploited concerns over immigration during the referendum need to be more honest and more responsible when it is debated in the run up to the final deal. We are calling for a measured debate and consultation on immigration options instead.

We found there were a much wider range of possible precedents and options for immigration reform than people often talk about – including options that could be combined with participation in the single market – that we believe the Government should be exploring further now.”

Post-18 review

Nick Hillman has written a blog for HEPI on the cost of the student loans system.

  • Opponents of the student funding model we have, which is characterised by high fees and taxpayer-supported income-contingent loans, regularly point out the shift from the old model to the current one may not save money in the long run. Arguably, HEPI was the first organisation to point this out.
  • It is a clever debating point. It may well be true too, as could soon become much clearer if the way students loans are classified in the national accounts changes, as is widely expected.
  • The danger for the health of our higher education sector comes in failing to recognise that one logical policy response to believing the current funding system could cost more would be to deliver less funding for each student (known as ‘a lower unit of resource’). Another would be to introduce much tougher repayment conditions so that more money comes back to the Exchequer (known as a lower ‘RAB charge’) – if you doubt the likelihood of this, take a look at the new reduction in the student loan repayment threshold in Australia.
  • Are such changes really what opponents of the current funding model want? If not, what is the right policy response to the claim that the costs of higher education might have increased even during the austerity years? If we only deliver problems to politicians without mentioning our preferred solutions, we will not be well placed to complain when they deliver something we dislike. (There may be echoes of some of the arguments on Brexit here…).
  • I said above it may be true that the current system will end up costing more than the old one. It is certainly widely believed and, as pointed out in the previous paragraph, the argument has taken us to a tricky place. Yet, in fact, it is only conceivably true if you intentionally choose to ignore the likely huge extra tax payments from additional graduates. They should provide a boost to the Exchequer that far outweighs any additional long-term costs.

Sector challenges

Mary Stuart, VC of the University of Lincoln, has written for Wonkhe on 21st Century Challenges.  She looks at three drivers of change, technology, geography and globalisation and what she calls a “legitimation crisis” – the rise of populism and ant-establishment movements.

Adam Wright, Deputy Head of Policy (Higher Education and Skills) at the British Academy has written for Wonkhe on the market in HE.

  • It seems unfair to blame institutions for not responding well enough to market conditions. Providers are responding to the perverse incentives and uncertainties that are produced by market competition, and yet their behaviour is characterised as anti-market. Moreover, the responses to policies, regulation, incentives and uncertainties are messy and occur at the micro-political level, the result of competing personalities, different governance processes, and bureaucratic standard operating procedures – as much as anything else…
  • Both Government and the PAC look to the Office for Students (OfS) to make institutions (and students) behave as rational actors. OfS, whether it likes it or not, is now the very visible hand of the market. It’s now going to publish the salaries of vice chancellors and try to curb the excess, ignoring the fact that VC pay is the product of market forces and the encroachment of a corporate mindset on sector governance. This echoes the response to the financial crisis where the failures of unfettered capitalism were personified in individual bankers while the underlying contradictions of the free market were largely ignored.

His conclusion is that we need a new paradigm based on collaboration.

Consultations

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

New consultations and inquiries this week:

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HE Policy update for the w/e 20th July 2018

Free speech still in the news

The Higher Education Policy Institute has published a report on free speech on campus – Cracking the code: A practical guide for university free speech policies. This is the last report to be written for HEPI by Dr Diana Beech before she goes to work for Sam Gyimah as policy adviser. [Those readers who met Diana when she attended our recent policy meeting or read my blog about the event will know that this is a good thing – Diana is well informed and positive about the sector and open minded rather than partisan –we’re looking forward to seeing her impact.]

HEPI say about the report:

The report finds some worrying loopholes in existing codes of practice, including:

  • overlooking new types of meetings afforded by social media and digital technologies;
  • failing to publish updated policies following internal reviews;
  • neglecting to provide codes in a wide range of accessible formats such as braille or audio;
  • not hosting codes in the public domain; and
  • not linking to necessary supplementary materials such as room booking forms and risk assessment protocols.

This new guide is intended to assist university boards and committees when formulating or updating codes of practice on freedom of speech to ensure policies are as efficient and user-friendly as possible.

The foreword is written by Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner, who says:

  • Overall, I find most universities positive, conducive places for healthy debate. When you compare the lively conversations that take place on UK campuses to those that are openly or more subtly squeezed out, or plain banned, in other countries, our universities look like bastions of free speech. And yet … Not everything is perfect. A minority of students do seem remarkably intolerant and unwilling to hear others’ views. It’s not even a left / right split. Sometimes the fiercest disagreements come between people who all regard themselves as progressive. Challenging student meetings can get bogged down in red tape about the rules of debate and their interpretation. It is also sometimes contested who can speak, what they can say and the degree of dissent that is permitted.”
  • And “In my view, bad ideas are most soundly defeated by good ideas. Bigoted opinions should never be given a free pass. They should always be protested and countered. But the best way to do this is usually by subjecting them to open debate, to show why they are factually and morally wrong.”

The recommendations are lengthy, but then this is a complicated area:

  • “To optimise the format of codes of practice on freedom of speech, we recommend universities:
    • include a cover page to the code detailing the document’s history, including key information on the date of its approval, the next date of review and contact information for the responsible officer;
    • consider formulating the codes in other formats (such as braille or audio) to ensure the widest possible readership;
    • enhance the usability of the codes by employing hyperlinks throughout all online versions of the policies, as well as writing out web addresses in full in an appendix to the code (or in footnotes or endnotes) to ensure this information is not lost when the codes are printed out;
    • make use of additional appendices to the codes to host vital supplementary documentation including application forms and additional guidance, so that this information is all housed in one place;
    • visualise application and assessment processes in the form of process flowcharts wherever possible, to allow event organisers to easily understand what is required of them and to ensure the policies are as simple as they can be during the design process;
    • take care to define what the code covers both in terms of meeting size and meeting format; and
    • outline the precise remits of the code if intended, for example, to be applicable to students’ unions, in other countries, in constituent parts of a university with otherwise autonomous governance structures (such as Oxbridge colleges) or in faith-based institutions, where contradictions may occur with religious doctrine (such as Canon Law in Catholic institutions).
  • To optimise the processes surrounding the codes of practice on freedom of speech, we recommend universities:
    • regularly review and update their code, particularly in line with developments in relevant legislation;
    • ensure the latest versions of the code are swiftly approved by relevant university boards and committees, and published accordingly on university websites;
    • keep a visual record of where the code has been disseminated to allow university committees and boards to decide whether this is appropriate and sufficient at the next review meeting;
    • avoid requesting information from speakers or event organisers that could be deemed unreasonable or offputting (such as routinely requesting copies of speeches before they are made);
    • include in the code reasonable timescales for both the initial application to host an event or external speaker and the appeals process;
    • offer in the code assistance to event organisers – such as PA systems or added security provisions – to give an event the best chance of going ahead before considering it for cancellation;
    • consider including a disclaimer in the code to cover more lengthy and complex decision processes over appeals (although every effort should be made to stick to the original timescales outlined as above); and
    • consider employing the expertise of an assessment panel, as opposed to just one accountable officer, to help in the case of deciding whether more complex or controversial events or speakers should go ahead.
  • In addition, higher education institutions – particularly in England – may consider producing additional governance documents, such as statements of commitment to the codes of practice. This will not only help institutions to become clear about what their codes of practice are for, and what purpose they serve, but also help them to prepare for life under the Office for Students and its new Regulatory Framework, which may well require providers of higher education to justify their policies and processes in more detail in the future.”

Sir Michael Barber was on the Today programme on Thursday – he refused to say that stopping organisers requesting speech in advance was going to be OfS policy (the OfS is not a bureaucratic organisation or a rule maker, but a regulator, he said – we aren’t sure about this distinction without a difference either) – but he did say it was a good idea.

Smita Jamdar of Shakespeare Martineau tweeted a response thread which is worth reading:

  • So the JCHR may have said universities should not ask for details of what will be said, but as long as that guidance remains in that form I do not think it is fair to ask universities to carry the risk. Government needs to work out what it wants and make some policy changes.”

Student Loans, RPI & HE Funding

The cost of student loans and how it is presented in public accounting is an issue that has been bubbling for a while. Both the Commons Economic Affairs Committee and the Treasury Committee reviewed the treatment of student loans in the public accounts during 2018. The timing is fascinating in the context of the Government’s current review of post-18 education – often described as the fees and funding review, but as we know, it is not only this. We wrote about this in our policy update on 6th July.  Andrew McGettigan, who spoke at the recent Wonkhe conference eon this, has now published a blog on Wonkhe setting out his argument in full – this is well worth reading.

The debate has now moved on as this week two bodies proposed alternative methods of accounting for student loans, one from the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) and the other from the Office for National Statistics.

The Times explain the financial trickery:

  • Currently student loans are treated as a normal loan for the purpose of the public finances, which means that the cash transfer does not show up as borrowing but as an asset. Interest payments owed, but not necessarily paid, by former students show up as receipts and reduce the deficit. The effect is to improve the deficit in the early years as interest is capitalised. When students fail to meet repayments and loans are written off 30 years later, the loss is incurred as spending.

It is only at the point of writing off the loans that they count as expenditure and negatively affect public spending statistics. If the government sells off the loans before the write-off is due, that moment of reckoning will never arrive and the government will never, so far as the public accounts are concerned, have had to demonstrate direct public expenditure on student finance. Its benefit is that it provides sustainable funding for HE. Arguably therefore, HE does not have to fight with other departments to secure an adequate share of public funds.

OBR’s chairman Robert Chote speaks of the system saying it:

  • flatters the impact of student loans on the public finances and creates a perverse incentive to sell them, even at a loss…. Capturing the impact of student loans in measures of the public sector deficit and debt is not straightforward, because the full impact of any particular cohort of loans takes more than three decades to fully work through…”

The OBR estimates that the government’s plan to sell £12bn worth of older student loans by 2020-21 “will deprive it of £23bn of future repayments”. 

This article on Research Professional provides more detail on alternatives to the current treatment. It goes on to note that the HE Review has been instructed to make recommendations that do not worsen the spending deficit.  Research Professional explain that:

  • changing the way student loan repayments are presented in the public finances would automatically add to the deficit and would not only hamper Augar’s review but also make it next to impossible for chancellor Philip Hammond to meet his own spending targets. This is before you factor in the money—as yet unaccounted for—promised to the NHS and all the other demands that will be made by Brexit.
  • A degree of collusion is evident between the two reports, with the OBR’s working paper citing the one from the ONS. In short, both put up a range of different accounting models and invite us to pick one, with a strong steer that we should go for a hybrid model that would classify the estimated part of the loan that will be repaid as a loan, and the estimated part that will not be repaid as a grant or direct upfront expenditure.
  • The effect of each of the accounting models is significant, with the hybrid model immediately adding 0.7 per cent to the public spending deficit. All the models considered present the public finances in a less favourable light than the existing system, with a commercial model of revenue and expenditure for loan repayment, as you might find in the banking industry, adding 1.1 per cent to the deficit by the mid-2040s.”

This presents a challenge for the HE Review as it is expected to work within public spending constraints. Research Professional note that any short-term change would almost certainly mean higher education having a negative impact on the public accounts. This could put universities in line for budget cuts.

Retail Price Index

The use of the Retail Price Index (RPI) to calculate the interest owed on students loans is another challenge. RPI has been denounced as an inappropriate statistic that inflates the amount students are required to pay back. The Economic Affairs Committee has investigated the use of RPI and considered its possible reform. The Committee session spanned several topics, including a focus on its use within HE. John Pullinger (Chief Executive of the UK Statistics Authority) said he did not wish to unilaterally change the RPI as it would result in some parties getting windfall gains and others losses. However, he felt the reform of RPI would definitely happen at some point in the next ten years. He stressed the need for the change to be ‘choreographed‘ with changes by the Treasury and the Bank of England (BoE). It was put to him that it was the role of the Office for National Statistics (ONS) to come forward with an alternative proposal (to move away from RPI) for the chancellor for due consideration.

On the use of RPI within student loan accounting Lord Burns highlighted that ONS felt the economic nature of student loans closely matched the definition of a loan in national accounts. Whereas consideration could be given to the proportion of loans not expected to be repaid. John responded within the historical context noting that when student loans first came about they were considered by the national accounts team to be loans, which was how they had appeared in the national accounts since. He said the response to the committee on this issue during the loans enquiry could have been more ‘nuanced’, but this is essentially what happened.

John Pullinger went on to note if student loans will be sold, maybe they should not have been considered as loans at all.  Since April the ONS had been considering how they should be treated, which had resulted in five new options. (Watch the Committee session for more detail on this.) He went on to state the ONS had now ‘opened the box’ and was looking at the issue carefully, he mentioned a decision would be made by December.

He was also asked to comment on the suspicions that the reforms to student finances had constituted a ‘fiscal illusion‘ (see the two reports out this week mentioned above) to reduce the deficit. He confirmed he was observing recent developments with regard to this point.

HE Funding

The House of Commons library regularly produces succinct briefing papers on topics to inform MPs. They have just released one on HE funding (England) which sits alongside more specific papers on student loan statistics, HE finance and the value of student maintenance support (all papers can be accessed here). The HE Funding paper itself covers all the main points in a simple way to draw together the myriad of HE funding changes in the last 6 years. Despite the Brexit furore Parliament is actually winding down towards recess. (Recess being the time when MPs return to catch up on their constituency work and take some time off.) With the release of the HE Funding briefing paper as summer reading just before recess one wonders what is in store for HE when Parliament reconvenes in September.

Cost Effective Universities – Student Spending

New analysis from Which? University reveals how choosing where to study can have huge consequences on the cost of living for students – with a potential disparity of £15,000 over the term of a typical degree between the cheapest and most expensive UK regions. Using data on student expenditure and the average cost of rent, Which? University ranked 12 regions across the UK to reveal the most expensive and cheapest areas for students to live.

Unsurprisingly London was the most expensive region (£14,200 average student living cost per year). Second were the South East and the East of England (both £11,000 per year). Northern Ireland was the cheapest (£8,800), followed by Wales (£9,500). The South West region is mid-table for cost. The student budget calculator on the Which? website shows BU coming in very reasonably at £10,824 per annum (Arts University Bournemouth comes in at £12,120 per year).

The rest of the analysis highlights familiar student finance themes:

  • 31% per cent of students said that money worries have negatively impacted their mental health/stress
  • 20% use their overdrafts to manage the cost of living at university, (10% rely on credit cards)
  • 46% rely on their parents to bankroll their living costs (remember there is an expectation that parents contribute anyway for students from certain household income bands)
  • 40% of students found the cost of university was higher than expected
  • 13% of students considered not continuing their studies due to financial difficulties

Which? use the analysis to advertise their student budget calculator tool which calculates average monthly expenditure, including a breakdown of rent, utilities and transport costs per university selected. It also factors in regional variables to improve accuracy in its predictions. With Clearing fast approaching Which? are keen to ensure students who are forced to change their HE plans have access to fast information on their potential new institutions.

There is an interesting section showing student spending habits.

Category Percentage of students that spent on the category
Water & Energy 99%
Food Shopping 98%
Mobile & Internet 93%
Interest & Hobbies 92%
Coffee & Tea 91%
Transport 88%
Other Expenses 88%
Going Out 83%
Take Away & Snacks 83%
Personal Care 82%
Clothing 66%
Alcohol & Cigarettes 57%
Bank Charges & Fees 54%
Holidays & Flights 42%

Research Commercialisation

There was a dialogue in the House of Commons on the commercialisation of university research during oral questions this week.

Chris Green (Bolton West, Conservative) quizzed Sam Gyimah on what steps he is taking to support the commercialisation of universities’ research.  Sam responded:

  • “we want the UK to be the place where innovators, researchers and entrepreneurs turn ideas into reality. Our universities have a strong part to play within this, alongside business. That is why we are funding, through United Kingdom Research and Innovation, support for research collaborations between universities and business. We also have the industrial strategy challenge fund, as well as higher education innovation funding and our Connecting Capability funding. All of those will help universities work together with business “

Chris Green took the opportunity to highlight the research partnership between the University of Tokyo and Imperial College London as an excellent example of how the UK can benefit from sharing innovation and technology. He asked Sam:

what more will my hon. Friend do to ensure that we continue to strengthen academic networks and communities post Brexit? Sam responded:

  • our research and innovation collaboration is important in what we do with the EU, but also globally in what we do around the world. That is why UKRI has established a new £110 million fund to explore and develop international partnerships with leading science and innovation regions. We will also bring forward an international science strategy in the autumn.”

Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield, Labour/Co-op) asked Sam if he would look at universities in the United States, such as Cornell University, which have different ways of paying and incentivising research on those campuses? Gyimah responded:

  • the reason behind UK Research and Innovation, which brings together all the research agencies in the UK, is that, for the first time, we have a strategic brain to direct UK research so that we can allow innovation and ingenuity to flourish in our universities. That is the best way to create returns that benefit the economy but also the best minds in our country.”

Research Funding and Talent

Q – Adam Afriyie (Conservative): How much funding his Department has provided to the UK science base in the last 12 months.

A – Sam Gyimah:

  • The principal research funding route is through UK Research and Innovation, which in 2018 alone accounts for over £6 billion of investment in research and innovation. I am proud that the Conservative Government have overseen the largest increase in scientific research and development funding that we have ever seen in the UK. We are investing an additional £7 billion in R&D by 2022, as a first step in delivering our ambition of increasing the UK’s R&D spend to 2.4% of GDP.

Q – Adam Afriyie As a former shadow Science Minister, I am very conscious of the increases in funding, particularly in cash terms, but I am also acutely conscious that it is not just cash but the availability of talent that matters when it comes to science, innovation and the industrial base. Given the recent concerns around Brexit and everything else, will the Minister reassure me that the availability of highly talented scientists will still be a priority for this Government?

A – Sam Gyimah:

  • The increase in funding is actually in real terms, but my hon. Friend is absolutely right: to succeed here, we have to be open to ideas and open to talent. He will have seen the recent relaxation in the tier 5 visa restrictions for scientists. We are also investing £900 million in UKRI’s flagship future leadership fellowships and a further £350 million for the national academies to expand their prestigious fellowships. When it comes to science, innovation and research, we are open for business.

Q – Daniel Zeichner (Cambridge, Labour): I am sure that the Minister saw the recent report from the Office for Life Sciences, which showed that R&D investment in the pharmaceutical sector fell from £4.9 billion per annum in 2011 to £4.1 billion in 2016—a decline of £800 million per annum. To what does he attribute that, and given that life sciences are so important, what does he plan to do about it?

A – Sam Gyimah:

  • I am aware that everyone in the life sciences sector has welcomed the life sciences sector deal. As part of our work to reach 2.4% of our GDP being invested in scientific research by 2027, we will be working with the pharmaceutical industry along with other industries to increase their research investment in the UK.

Another question clarified that an announcement on the national quantum technologies programme would follow shortly.

LEO

Robert Halfon (Conservative) questioned Sam Gyimah on LEO

Q – Robert Halfon: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what use officials in his Department are making of the Longitudinal Education Outcomes (LEO) database.

AND

Q – Robert Halfon: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, when he plans to make data from the Longitudinal Education Outcomes database available to education researchers outside his Department.

A – Sam Gyimah:

  • The department has published seven statistical first releases and one ad hoc release for graduate employment outcomes using Longitudinal Education Outcomes (LEO) data. These cover the employment outcomes for undergraduates and postgraduates one, three, five and 10 years after graduating. Figures are published at institution and subject level as well as national level.
  • Students’ ability to make informed choices is at the heart of the higher education (HE) reform agenda. We are keen that these releases are easily accessible by HE students. We have therefore launched a Higher Education Open Data Competition, which is part of the work we are doing to improve the way we provide information to students. The competition aims to give students full access to valuable data on graduate outcomes – including aggregated, publically available LEO data – on an accessible and innovative digital platform. By supporting the development of new tools, the competition will help all applicants, regardless of their background, make decisions that are right for them and get value for money.
  • We plan to make appropriate extracts of the data available in the ONS Secure Research Service, in late 2018. In addition to this, we currently make data available, under contract, to the following research groups: Centre for Vocational Education Research, Institute for Fiscal Studies, University of Westminster.

Mental Health

A Guardian article this week considered mental health within the university context and noted the rise in wellbeing services. While traditional counselling still has its place within universities it noted some had vastly reduced the availability of counselling. In response The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy publicly voiced their concern at the reduction in traditional counselling sessions.

Meanwhile HEPI published a new guest blog: Could data and analytics help to promote student wellbeing and mental health? by Professor Martin Hall. It considers how learning analytics is already used to improve academic attainment through analysing the students’ digital footprint and engagement with the university. It is used to identify students at risk and triggers supportive interventions where the student may be under engaging to underperforming. The blog describes how this could be extended to identify patterns that may indicate student mental health concerns. Allowing support to be offered before the student reaches crisis point. s

Technical Education

Q – Adam Afriyie: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps his Department has taken to put technical courses on parity with academic courses.

A – Anne Milton:

  • The government is transforming technical education to create a high quality system that meets the skills needs of businesses and is held in the same high esteem as our academic option. 15 prestigious technical routes will set a clear path to skilled employment through reformed apprenticeships and the new flagship T Level programmes. T Levels are a central part of the greatest shake-up of technical education for 70 years and builds on the recommendations made by the Independent Panel on Technical Education, chaired by Lord Sainsbury. They will provide a distinctive and rigorous technical alternative to A levels.
  • They are, however, just one strand of our ambitious new technical education offer. We also intend to undertake a review of qualifications at Level 3 and below so that those we fund serve a genuine and useful purpose, are of high quality and enable students to progress to meaningful outcomes.

Despite Anne’s response to the Parliamentary Question she caused a scandal this week by seemingly confirming T levels wouldn’t be fit for purpose at their point of launch. At the Commons Education Committee she was questioned on the timing of the roll-out of the T levels and responded “I’m a parent of four children. If somebody said to me ‘Your children can do this new qualification’, I would say ‘Leave it a year.’”  The Times covered the story: Anne Milton has advised teenagers who are considering taking up T-Levels to “leave it a year”.

Gordon Marsden, Labour’s Shadow Minister for HE stated:

  • “It’s astounding that the Minister doesn’t have confidence in her own Government’s flagship education policy. It is not acceptable for there to be one rule for the Government, and another for everyone else. The Department for Education’s Permanent Secretary has already said that T-Levels cannot feasibly be implemented on time without a serious risk to taxpayers’ money.”

Consultations

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

Other news

STEM: Jenson Button is leading the way for women in STEM in his calls for the motor industry to get more women involved in engineering. He said:

female engineers are already making a big difference in motorsport, but that we need a far higher percentage in order to address imbalances. It is vital to push for more women working in mechanical engineering. Many Le Mans championships have been won by female engineers so there is obviously no reason why more females can’t get involved, including the driving. I’ve worked with very competitive women at the highest levels of engineering, but we need many more to enter the field.”

The UK currently has the lowest percentage of female engineering professionals in Europe (11%)

Simpler R&D tax credits: The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has called on the Government to introduce a new tax credit to tackle the innovation productivity fap within small business in the UK. On Tuesday the FSB published a report revealing that 24% of small firms have not made any significant changes to products or ways of working in the last three years – with many held back by pressures on time and finances. The report noted that as well as improving support for the creation of ‘new to market’ innovations, the complexity of the R&D tax credit and Patent Box Tax relief systems must be simplified.

Research Costs: Research Professional consider the Transparent Approach to Costing report, published by the Office for Students, which says that UK universities received funding that covered less than 75 per cent of the full economic cost of research last year.

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HE Policy update for the w/e 6th July 2018

Fees & Funding

The Government has announced that from 2019/20 EU nationals will continue to be eligible for home fee status for undergraduate, postgraduate and advanced learner financial support from Student Finance England for the full duration of their course as per current rules. Sam Gyimah said:

  • EU students, staff and researchers make an important contribution to our universities. I want that contribution to continue and am confident – given the quality of our HE sector – that it will.”

UK (home) student fees will remain frozen at £9,250 (full time) and £6,935 (part time) for 2019/20. The maximum fees for accelerated courses have not yet been confirmed. The student loan repayment threshold will remain at £25,000.  These arrangements will be laid before Parliament for confirmation in early 2019.

Meanwhile the post-18 education and funding review continues. Jane attended the Wonkhe “Proceed with Caution” event on Tuesday, and it was a lively and stimulating affair, as you will have seen if you follow @policyBU on Twitter (if you don’t, try it, we won’t sulk if you later unfollow us).

Wonkhe were live blogging during the day and you can read it here.  They have all the links to the materials referenced.

The first part of the day focussed on data and context for the discussion about fees.

  • Anna Vignoles, one of the authors of the infamous IFS report on LEO graduate earnings data that we reported on a few weeks ago, talked about what the research showed and why it was important. Anna acknowledged that the data told us something about government subsidy, might be useful to [some] students, and then more controversially, might highlight where programmes could be developed to improve employability.  It does not tell us anything about current course quality [please take note, politicians and media commentators]. Anna also pointed out that, as the data was adjusted for prior attainment, and showed socio-economic gaps in earnings after graduation means that the expansion of HE has not consistently supported social mobility.

Our thoughts: importantly on the subsidy point, there are other relevant issues – the government may decide to subsidise courses because they do, or they don’t, on average increase earnings – but they may also decide to do so because they meet a societal or economic need.  Or they might subsidise people not courses – ie choose who to subsidise not what.  Or they might of course choose which institutions to subsidise – as they do for research.

  • Andrew McGettigan gave a brilliantly clear exposition of the current accounting position for student loans and the perverse incentives for government that it creates, by hiding the true impact of the loan system on the economy – the “fiscal illusion”. To quote Wonkhe: “Accounting conventions make it look like our loan system creates a surplus – flattering the headline deficit figures. In reality, it does not. And the terms of reference of the post-18 review precludes any modification of this practice”.  

This is going to change, because the Office for National Statistics are undertaking a review, after being told off by their EU counterpart.  His main message is that this needs to be sorted out, because accounting should not drive policy – but he pointed out that an accounting change is more likely to leave the government with less, not more, money to spend on implementing the outcomes of the HE review.  That change to the repayment threshold earlier this year suddenly looks even more like a strange way to prioritise government spending on HE.

  • In one of the most through provoking sessions of the day, London Economics presented a model and then moved swiftly on to some options for the HE review. Their slides are here and are well worth a look. The  recommendations are controversial – some of this was prompted by the Diamond review of funding in Wales.
  • Up next was Philip Augar, Chair of the independent advisory panel to the review. He didn’t give much away – positively declining to answer two questions and ducking or giving very general answers to many.  Some potential leads:
    • He is very focused on simplifying the system so everyone can understand it. Or maybe improving the way it is explained so everyone can understand it.  The first would require some major change.  The second less so, it would be more about labels (graduate contribution not a loan)
    • He mentioned employers a lot. Might there be an apprenticeship levy type contribution for degrees?  He did talk about skills shortages and graduates doing non-graduate jobs, and referred to strengths – and weaknesses  – in the sector, but refused to be drawn on the latter.

What is most interesting is  what he described as his remit – to come up with some interesting options for the government to pick from.  They will be practical, realistic and simple and build on existing initiatives.  And may be ignore by a government that in March will be stuck with the outcome of the ONS review and dealing with Brexit?  The BBC review of the speech is here.  There’s another twitter thread from Rosemary Bennett of the BBC here

  • Later sessions focussed on a discussion about value for money – most of which has been well rehearsed in other contexts, but there was a good level of debate and some interesting points. Amongst them were the point that the government is with one hand telling students not to worry about student debt (because it is income contingent) and on the other hand raising concerns about responsible lending.  The squeeze on living costs and cap on maintenance loans is driving students to take out other loans for sums or to work too many hours.  The focus in the public debate on debt and interest, and on tuition fees, is unhelpful.  Living costs are the real practical day to day challenge for students –  which is why most of the panellists agreed that maintenance grants should be a priority

It does feel as there is a perfect storm coming – and while the timing might suggest that this review is headed for the filing cabinet, the costs involved will mean that something will have to be done.

Immigration – borders open for science

Sam Gyimah spoke at a science park opening on Thursday to announce a relaxation of the immigration regulations which will allow an influx of scientific talent to the UK. Gyimah stated

  • it was only the first step towards a liberalisation of visa restrictions on scientific talent amid concerns that Brexit could damage the UK’s ability to attract bright academics from overseas.

The Government coverage of the speech states the relaxation is Britain’s new unique selling point and aims to establish Britain as the ‘go-to place for science and innovation’.

The new scheme will allow non-EEA researchers, scientists and academics to reside in the UK for up to two years. It forms a new element within the Tier 5 (Government authorised exchange temporary worker) visa route. UKRI and 12 other approved research organizations (including Natural History Museum) have the ability to directly sponsor individuals to train and work in the UK.

Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes, stated:

  • I recognise the crucial contribution science makes to the UK economy and society and I am determined that the UK will continue to welcome leading scientific and research talent from around the world…We must have an immigration system that makes sure we can attract leading international talent and benefit from their knowledge and expertise.”

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) will monitor this new scheme with UKRI regularly to ensure it meets the criteria for a Tier 5 scheme.

In his speech Gyimah stated:

  • “we…face a longer-term question: what should our post-Brexit economy look like? And we cannot wait till the Brexit deal is done to answer it… With the City less profitable today than it once was, and North Sea output naturally declining, the search is on for the next wave of world-leading British businesses… We need new sources of growth, and a vision of how to succeed. And we need to set a direction that will sustain us not just for the next 9 months, but for the next 30 years…The businesses of the future will be based on science, research and technology. The world is changing, and the UK needs to take advantage of this… To tackle the grand challenges our society faces, and to move up the economic league table, we need to double down on our strengths in science, technology and innovation.
  • This is partly a matter of investment. A decade ago, they idea that government investment had a role to play in fostering innovation was contentious, even controversial… investment is about much more than just public money. For every pound of public R&D in the UK, business contributes 2. And it takes more than R&D to build successful businesses. That’s why we are also working hard to create the conditions for greater long term private investment.
  • Now is the right time to ask ourselves some big questions when it comes to our public R&D investment. How can we do more to ensure our investment crowds in private money? Have we struck the right balance between funding for basic and applied research?
  • We should be proud that so many of the best and brightest from other countries choose to bring their knowledge and skills to Britain, and we should recognise that our economy is stronger for it. I don’t believe that the vote for Brexit was a vote for the UK to close ourselves off from the world.
  • We also need to make the most of our openness to ideas. We should learn from the sharp-eyed heroes of the Industrial Revolution and think not just how we commercialise our own technology, but what we can learn and borrow from the best research around the world.”

Gyimah went on:

  • “It is also time to ensure our institutions are playing the most effective role they backing innovation…Our universities are an intrinsic part of our innovation economy. Our best universities are not just powerhouses of research – they are also deeply connected to their local and national businesses, and to their community. There is an important geographical angle to consider. It is no surprise that many of the UK’s most successful publicly funded labs and institutions are in the Oxford-Cambridge-London triangle, because we rightly fund research on the basis of excellence and not political patronage, and one corollary of that is that the most successful universities have consistently punched above their weight in winning further research funding. But it is important that we recognise that, when it comes to innovation, there is life outside the Golden Triangle. Indeed, sometimes the private sector seems quicker to realise it than public research funders.
  • I want to see to N8 Alliance of Northern Universities become powerhouses of economic growth in their area, and to ensure we back innovation wherever it may be… But universities are not the only institutions that are can drive innovation. We should also consider how our regulatory systems can encourage innovation, by making sure that our rules keep up with the pace of technology and business change.”

Gyimah went on to:

  • Launch the new £10 million Regulators’ Pioneer Fund, as an integral part of the Industrial Strategy. The fund will invest in initiatives to support businesses that are bringing innovative products to market
  • Announce the Government Office for Science will work with UKRI and the Better Regulation Executive to develop standards for new technologies and their applications (to build on work for self-driving car testbeds).
  • State: “We need to consider whether we have struck the right balance between encouraging spin-outs and maximising university revenues.”

He concluded by stating: “By drawing on our national strengths of openness, entrepreneurship and strong institutions, we can make the UK a true platform for innovation. This in turn will help establish the UK’s place in the world, and our future prosperity.”

Gyimah’s speech was covered in The Times: UK opens door to gifted foreign scientists.

Mature students and cold spots

UCAS published a report into admissions patterns for mature applicants: Full report

“Research published by UCAS shows that mature students are more likely to apply to universities and colleges close to home, primarily for a limited selection of vocational subjects, and when there are fewer jobs available.  Our analysis also shows significant regional variations in entry rates to full-time higher education among mature students, and these differ notably from the patterns in entry to university among applicants of different age groups.

The report  Admissions patterns for mature applicants (5.37 MB) compares the characteristics within groups of mature students aged 21 and over, to those aged 18, applying for full-time undergraduate courses. The key findings are as follows:

  • Living at home – mature students are more likely to live at home while studying full-time, and this likelihood increases with age. Half of 21 to 25 year olds live at home while studying, compared to nearly 80% of those aged 30 and over. In comparison, 18 year olds are more likely to attend a university over an hour away from their home, with over 50% having a drive time of 70 minutes or more.
  • Vocational subject choices – mature students are typically drawn to a small range of courses, with subjects allied to medicine (including nursing), education, and social studies the most popular. As more female students typically apply for these courses, this may explain why more than 70% of mature students over the age of 31, accepted to full-time degrees, are female.
  • Entry rates by region – in 2017, for mature students aged 21 to 50, entry rates to higher education by UK country and region are highest in Scotland, followed by London. However, due to differences in age distribution across the regions, entry rates vary by region for different age groups of mature applicants, with London having the highest entry rates for those aged 36 to 50.
  • Applications are higher when the job market is weaker – there appears to be a relationship between applications and the number of job vacancies. When the number of UK employment opportunities was at its lowest, between 2009 and 2011, application rates for full-time undergraduate courses from mature students peaked. Since 2015, the number of job vacancies has increased, while application rates for full-time study have declined. This suggests mature students look to the employment market when jobs are plentiful, and apply to higher education when jobs are sparse.”

Clare Marchant, UCAS’ Chief Executive, said:

  • Mature students have different motivations, expectations, and needs compared to their younger counterparts.  Entering full-time higher education as an older student is a life-changing commitment, reflected in the focused choices many older students make to pursue highly vocational subjects.”

This was written up on Wonkhe by David Kernohan,  and reported in the Times Higher a

The same day a report was issued by IntoUniversity at a conference looking at the geography of higher education, access and participation.  Chris Millward, the Director of Fair Access and Particpation gave a speech:

So far, so not very surprising.  So what were the remedies that he proposed?

“Strategic and sustained work to:

  • engage with local communities, schools and colleges on expectations, pathways and attainment before HE
  • recognise background within admissions and support transition into HE
  • develop skills and attributes for employment and absorptive capacity for graduates in local areas”

Meanwhile the OfS is going to ensure:

“Pressure for individual universities and colleges to:

  • demonstrate continuous, year-on-year improvement through their access and participation plans by:
    • reducing the gaps in access, success and progression for underrepresented groups among their own students
    • improve practice, including through better evaluation and sustained engagement with schools from early years and with employers.

Sector-wide support for:

  • availability and use of more common and rigorous data and evidence to target and evaluate access and participation work
  • collaborative working between different universities and colleges and with schools and employers, e.g. NCOP
  • advancement and sharing of innovative and effective practice, e.g. Barriers to Student Success”

And Chris Millward also wrote a blog:

  •  ‘To ensure the benefits of higher education flow back into local economies and public services throughout the country, there need to be better opportunities and support for people who want to study close to home and later in life, as well as for young people who live on campus.
  • ‘The Office for Students is challenging higher education providers to reduce the gaps in access and outcomes for mature students through access and participation plans, which universities and colleges must have approved if they wish to charge higher tuition fees.”

We were puzzled by some of the analysis of this – which seems to imply that mature students are first deciding to go to university and then choosing a course, which happens often to be a vocational one, and happens often to be close to home.  And then of course the implication is that graduates of “vocational” courses are less well paid, see the headline story on fees and funding , and that by choosing local courses they may be choosing less good courses.  This was the line taken by Chris Parr on Research Professional.

In our view, this analysis is upside down – if mature students are choosing vocational courses, it is likely to be because they have a vocation – and have decided that they want to pursue it.  They may study locally because they may have family or other ties, or financial concerns that make it difficult to travel.  And they may choose low-tariff courses – but in some cases that may be because one of the reasons they are mature students is that they didn’t get very high grades at school but are now coming back to education.  Those local, low tariff vocational programmes may be an important means of allowing mature students with potential to gain life changing experience and qualifications that will enable them to give back to their communities as well as improve their own lives.

So the OfS focus on access, participation and outcomes is important, but once again, we need to be careful to challenge views that success is only measured in terms of entry tariffs and graduate salaries.  And too much focus on improving choice may miss the point for many mature students who can’t take advantage of the options.

Part Time Students and ELQs

As well as the decline in mature students, the decline in the numbers of part-time students has also been widely discussed as a challenge for the Post-18 review, and of course many mature students will also be part-time, so the same issues may apply.

This week the House of Lords held a debate on part-time and continuing education. Criticism for ELQs featured heavily in the debate. An ELQ (Equivalent and Lower Qualification) is when a student already holds a qualification at the same or a higher level than the programme they intend to study. A student with an ELQ cannot access student maintenance loan or tuition fee funding from the Student Loan Company – meaning they, or their employer, has to fully self-fund. There are a small number of courses that the Government considers a priority where the ELQ rule doesn’t apply and students can access student finance. Furthermore, a student with an ELQ can actually be charged above the £9,250, up to £13,000 (BU does not charge this higher fee for ELQ students).

Baroness Bakewell led a debate on part-time and continued education,  in particular the future of the Open University (OU). She said the OU’s purpose was to promote greater equality of opportunity and widen access to the highest standards of education. There had been a fall in part-time and mature students and the OU had been hit particularly hard by this drop. According to universities, she said, the cause had been the rise in the cap on part-time fees to £6,750 a year and the introduction of maintenance loans had not alleviated the issue significantly.  The post-18 review were welcomed by the Baroness, but she warned that this should not be a missed opportunity. She urged the minister to ensure that the post-18 review addressed a major review of student finance and that it considered different policy responses for different types of students.

  • “It must reappraise the availability of maintenance grants and the restrictions on maintenance loans, and it must further relax restrictions on equivalent or lower qualifications, ELQs. I ask, above all, that it prioritises mature students and lifelong learning.”

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean (Con) thought that the ELQ rule was a major cause in the decline of part-time education. Bakewell agreed this was contributing factor.

Baroness Bakewell spoke highly of Birkbeck University, of which she has been head for 10 years. She insisted the main cause of the decline in part-time students was the rise in tuition fees, which explained in part why mature students were no longer willing to take the risk of more debt. She asked the Government to provide a part-time premium to universities and colleges to promote the supply of part-time courses and stop relying on maintenance loans for part-time students, as the latter would increase their debt. She called for the reduction of fees in line with any premium provided for universities.

Baroness Garden of Frognal (LD) spoke highly of the work and the opportunities that the two universities offered. She called on the Government to release colleges from the tortuous and pointless demands of GCSE maths and English resits

Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws (Lab) suggested the establishment of a “learning nation fund” to go to the parts of the country where there are no opportunities.

Baroness Lane-Fox of Soho (CB) thought that there was a need to build wider partnerships into different communities, with employers and with government, with the skills needed to build a modern and resilient society. She added she would do her best to ensure that OU was fit for the future and asked what funding plan the Government had.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean spoke critically about the ELQ rule, adding that at one point 50% of Birkbeck’s students had an ELQ and now it was 5%.

Lord Griffiths of Burry Port (Lab) noted that the Welsh Government was introducing a student support package to offer parity of support for full time and part time students alike and the university there was experiencing substantial increases in early registrations for study in the coming year.

Lord Addington (LD) argued that the Open University had a tremendous the capacity for credit transfer. “It is a conduit between different skills being credited in another institution.”. He thought ELQ decision and fees should be removed.

Lord Haskel (Lab) asked about the national retraining scheme, which was promised by the end of the Parliament and talked about the importance of retraining and continuing the relationship between universities and their alumni.

Viscount Hanworth (Lab) spoke critically of the current offerings of FutureLearn – “threadbare and compare unfavourably with the traditional course materials of the Open University”. He noted that large industrial enterprises were no longer as keen as they once had been to sponsor the education of their workforce.

The Lord Bishop of Oxford called for proactive investment in part-time, continuing, lifelong education, accessible in every place and to every part of society. “This new deal needs to be means tested, as we have heard, at the point of delivery, to prevent the stagnation of much of our economy”.

Lord Holmes of Richmond (Con) criticised the current student finance system and interest rates.

Lord Shipley (LD) asked the Government to look urgently at whether it was justifiable for tuition fees for part-time students in England to be two and a half times higher than in the rest of the UK. He also reminded the Government that around 20 million adults in the UK did not have level 4 qualifications, which he considered a huge untapped resource.

Baroness Taylor of Bolton (Lab) argued for more flexibility in education and spoke about the need to provide progressive pathways: “It is desperately important that people can move from one sector of education and one type of qualification approach, and we need credit accumulation and credit transfer to become an integral part of all we offer to part-time and mature students.”

Lord Watson of Invergowrie (Lab) suggested a single national portal showing career opportunities with available jobs, apprenticeship options and links to training requirements and a strategy for retraining and upskilling at all levels. He also called for flexibility.

Government Whip, Viscount Younger of Leckie, talked about the steps the Government had taken to address the fall in part time students, such as the Higher Education and Research Act.  He noted that in 2016-17, 47,000 OU students were able to benefit from a tuition fee loan for undergraduate courses and the Government had removed the so-called ELQ restrictions. He mentioned that HEFCE—now replaced by the Office for Students—targeted an element of the teaching grant in recognition of the additional costs of part-time study.  He added that the Government had tabled regulations that would allow part-time students on higher education courses to access maintenance loans similar to those received by their equivalents on full-time courses.

Viscount Younger of Leckie noted that:

  • the Government was committed to seek to introduce maintenance loans for part-time distance learning courses.
  • on credit transfer, he said the Section 38 of the Higher Education and Research Act allows such arrangements
  • on the post-18 review, he said the panel would publish its report at an interim stage at some point this year, before the Government concluded the overall review in early 2019. He noted the word flexible “was very much in there”.
  • according to the findings of the work that the Economic Affairs Committee, he noted the Government had overhauled apprenticeships to focus on quality and are fundamentally transforming technical education.
  • on the national retraining scheme, which would be set up by the end of the Parliament, he said that the strategic direction of the scheme was set by the National Retaining Partnership.

Motion agreed.

Digital Accord

On Thursday Matt Hancock (Secretary of State for Digital) visited Paris to announce a new agreement to strengthen ties between the UK and France’s digital industries.  The five-year accord aims to boost both countries’ digital economies and forge closer links between the leading companies in France and the UK. It forges closer working between each country’s leading digital research centres to deepen collaboration. The UK’s Alan Turing Institute signed the agreement with the French institute DATAIA. The two organisations will pursue collaborative research in areas of shared interest, e.g. in fairness and transparency in the design and implementation of algorithms. They will share expertise and visiting researchers will spend time at each Institute and hosting joint workshops and funding calls.

At the UK-France Digital Colloque – a summit of more than 350 businesses, researchers and officials from both countries – Mr Hancock and Mr Majoubi signed an accord on digital government committing UK and France to extending their cooperation in the digital sector on innovation, artificial intelligence, data and digital administration.

Digital Secretary Matt Hancock said:

  • “The UK is a digital dynamo, increasingly recognised across the world as a place where ingenuity and innovation can flourish. We are home to four in ten of Europe’s tech businesses worth more than $1 billion and London is the AI capital of Europe. France is also doing great work in this area, and these new partnerships show the strength and depth of our respective tech industries and are the first stage in us developing a closer working relationship. This will help us better serve our citizens and provide a boost for our digital economies.
  • Because throughout history, the nations who get the technology right in their era are the nations who succeed. And in our era, our challenge is these data-driven technologies that are transforming our economy and society beyond recognition. If we get them right, and work with other nations to do so, it will lay the path for productivity, prosperity, and a better quality of life. That is why this colloque is so important. Bringing together some of our greatest minds, to discuss the big issues and opportunities that lie ahead. So please keep creating, innovating and making the impossible possible. Because technology was forged by humankind. So we need to make it work for humankind.”

Read Matt Hancock’s speech in full here, it’s a lovely opportunity to brush up on your French.

 LEO data accessible through Unistats

The LEO (Longitudinal Education Outcomes) data is now available on Unistats through a user friendly interface. Applicants can access data on their chosen course to find out the national average salary for a graduate of that type of course. They can also select a HE institution and see the salary range of its graduates across all disciplines.

The OfS consulted prospective students on what graduate outcome information they would find useful. OfS report that applicants said they wanted to consider a range of factors when making decisions about future study and OfS expected earnings to play a role in decisions made by many students and be a key factor for some. The OfS expect to expands access to this dataset for prospective students in the future by incorporating responses from the new Graduate Outcomes record when this becomes available in 2020. Read the OfS press release here.

Conor Ryan, Director of External Relations at OfS, said:

  • “Adding the LEO earnings data to Unistats provides more valuable information to assist students in their course decision making. It comes as the Office for Students is developing our Information, Advice and Guidance strategy to help prospective students find and understand the information they need to make decisions about what and where to study…The Office for Students will take a leading role in ensuring the availability of unbiased information to help all students make informed choices. This should put students in a better position to make the most of their education experience and future careers.”

Parliamentary questions

STEM – Mr Jim Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, whether he has had recent discussions with the Minister for Women and Inequalities on increasing the number of girls who choose to study STEM subjects at school; and if he will make a statement. [158682]

Nick Gibb:

  • The Government has taken focused action to increase the take-up of STEM subjects amongst all teenagers, and since 2010 there has been an 18 per cent increase in the number of entries by girls to STEM A levels in England. My right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State, plans to meet the Minister for Women and Equalities in the coming months to discuss how to build on this so that more girls are taking STEM subjects at all levels.
  • The Department funds the Institute of Physics to deliver an intervention to increase the number of girls studying physics at A level. The Department also funds a number of other programmes to improve the quality of teaching STEM subjects and to encourage take up. For instance, the Department is investing £84 million to improve the teaching of computing and increase participation in computer science. This includes a programme to identify effective approaches to increase participation in computer science amongst girls.

STEM: Equal Pay – Jim Shannon: To ask the Minister for Women and Equalities, what steps she is taking to tackle the gender pay gap in STEM industries. [158753]

Victoria Atkins:

  • In 2017 we introduced ground breaking regulations requiring large employers from all sectors, including STEM industries, to report gender pay gap information annually.
  • This increased level of transparency highlights where women are being held back in the workplace, and is motivating employers to tackle their gender pay gaps.
  • Government will be engaging with businesses and educators over the coming months to understand more about the barriers for women in the STEM workforce.

International Students

Lord Watson Of Invergowrie : Further to the Written Statement by the Minister for Immigration on 15 June (HCWS768), what criteria were used to determine which countries were included in the expanded low-risk Tier 4 visa category for overseas students; and why India was not amongst them. [HL8807]

Baroness Williams Of Trafford :

  • Careful consideration is given to which countries could be added to Appendix H of the Immigration Rules, taking into account objective analysis of a range of factors including the volume of students from a country and their Tier 4 immigration compliance risk.The list of countries in Appendix H will be regularly updated to reflect the fact that countries’ risk profiles change over time.

Mental Health

Q – Preet Kaur Gill: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what recent discussions he has had and with whom on funding for mental health services at universities; and if he will make a statement.

A – Sam Gyimah:

  • Mental health is a priority for this government. This is why the Department for Health, together with the Department for Education, have published a joint green paper on Children and Young people, which sets out plans to transform specialist services and support in education settings and for families.
  • In higher education, there is already much work underway to improve the quality of mental health services for students, alongside services provided by the NHS, including through the NHS programme Improving Access to Psychological Therapies.
  • In addition, we are in the process of introducing a University Mental Health Charter, backed by the Government and led by the sector. This will drive up standards in promoting student and staff mental health and wellbeing.
  • Higher education institutions (HEIs) are autonomous bodies, independent from government. HEIs are not only experts in their student population but also best placed to identify the support needs of their particular student body.
  • Universities UK published its ‘Minding Our Futures’ guidance on 10 May 2018 which recommends: Links between NHS providers and student services to create ‘student mental health teams’ will help support students within the university provision and facilitate timely and seamless referrals for those who need specialist help.

Health

NHS Recruitment Drive

NHS England has launched an £8 million recruitment campaign following their research which showed although nurses and doctors are the most trusted and respected professionals in society the majority of the public don’t know the wider range of careers available. Under the banner ‘We are the NHS’ the recruitment drive aims to education and highlight the vast range of opportunities available to work within the NHS. It will initially focus on nursing, prioritising key areas (mental health, learning disability and community and general practice nurses) that are essential to deliver the long term plan for the NHS. While it will primarily target school children aged 14-18 aiming to increase the total number of applications into the NHS by 22,000, it also hopes to double the numbers of nurses returning to practice and improve retention of staff in all sectors.

The campaign hopes to improve the skills shortage the NHS is currently experiencing. In a 6 month period in 2017 there were over 34,000 nursing vacancies reported, with over 6,000 in mental health and 1,500 in community nursing. The campaign also hopes to work with parents to address gender stereotyping and address the perception that while nurses are ‘caring’ they can also be leaders, innovative and academic.

Professor Jane Cummings, Chief Nursing Officer for England, said: “The NHS is our country’s most loved institution and that is down to the expert skill, dedication and compassion of its brilliant staff.

  • “There are over 350 careers available within the NHS giving young people an astonishing range of options. Nursing and midwifery make up the largest part of the workforce and as I know from personal experience, provides a unique opportunity to make a real difference to peoples’ lives in a way that simply cannot be matched.
  • “Nurses and midwives provide expert skilled care and compassion, and they are highly talented leaders in the NHS. This campaign is all about inspiring young people and others who want a change of career to come and work for the NHS and have a rewarding and fulfilling career that makes a real difference.”

The autumn will see the recruitment drive expand when  the Department of Health and Social Care will run a national adult social care recruitment campaign to raise the profile of the sector and attract people to consider it as a career.

Applied Health Research – The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) has announced £150 million of funding for applied health research aiming to tackle the key issues with the healthcare system. The funding will cover the pressures caused by our ageing population, the increasing demands on the NHS, and multimorbidity alongside the need to increase research in public health, social care and primary care. Of the new funding £135 million will be for new NIHR Applied Research Collaborations which will undertake applied health and care research and support implementation of research into practice.

Health and Social Care Secretary Jeremy Hunt said:

  • “As the NHS celebrates its 70th birthday, more people than ever before are living longer lives thanks to the dedication of hardworking staff. It is therefore vital we harness technology to develop the next generation of innovative treatments as part of the Government’s long term plan for the NHS.
  • That’s why I want our world-leading academics, researchers and technology experts to work with frontline staff to develop the innovations which not only allow people to live longer, but also to lead healthier lives, so the NHS can continue to provide world-class care to all.”

Health Minister Lord O’Shaughnessy stated:

  • “With a growing and ageing population, maintaining a world-class NHS depends on harnessing the discoveries of cutting edge research and rapidly bringing them into every day healthcare…The UK has a proud tradition of ground-breaking medical R&D and this funding means our country can continue to lead the world.”

Recess

Parliament enters recess on Tuesday 24 July so the volume of announcements and news will likely slow. We’ll continue to send a shorter policy update through the recess period on the weeks when there is sufficient content to share. Parliament reconvenes on Wednesday 5 September.

Consultations

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

New consultations and inquiries this week:

Zulfiqar Khan is the first BU academic to submit an elevated pitch to the Industrial Strategy Grand Challenges. Read his engaging posts on Clean Growth and Future of Mobility. Log in and leave a comment on his research to promote BU and support his ideas.

There is still time to submit your ideas and research to the Grand Challenges – deadline 21 July. This could be your first step towards policy influence and societal impact! Contact Sarah if you need support.

There have also been outcomes published to several items:

Other news

Finance Education: 70% of students state they wish they’d been better education in managing their finances before starting university. 50% acknowledge that when they are short of money their diet suffers, and 46% said that their mental health suffers, with 78% worrying about making ends meet. Read more in The 2018 Student Money Survey. The BBC covered the survey noting that poorer families often contribute to their children’s finances whilst at university than richer parents. Cosmopolitan magazine examines a student’s outgoings and questions when the maintenance loan is generous enough.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

 

HE policy update for the w/e 15th June 2018

A busy week for publications this week, while the government have been busy with Brexit votes and there is a positive story about immigration rules.

The Economics of HE

Commons Public Accounts Committee – The Commons public accounts committee published its report on the higher education market on Friday. After some interesting evidence sessions, Research Professional report that the outcome is disappointing:

  • “Rather than providing an analysis of the problem and proposed solutions as we saw in the Lords economic affairs committee’s report [see below], the PAC report takes the form of an exam question and moves rapidly—after two pages—to conclusions and recommendations. The recommendations mostly involve asking the Department for Education to return to the committee.
  • Those who work in universities will be familiar with complaints from students about the lack of detailed feedback they receive after going to all the effort of submitting a considered piece of work. The PAC might want to reflect on whether this report is an adequate response given the public concern over whether the fees and loans system is fair on students….
  • It’s all a bit vague, which is terribly disappointing given the very good evidence the committee received in this area. The recommendation is formulaic and is drawn in a broad way that lets the department off the hook. It will be quite easy to provide evidence of how the department is putting pressure on universities.”

The conclusions and recommendations are here.  No new news – please define the market, set up an evaluation framework for careers (a CEF?), evidence of success in WP and put pressure on providers, guidance to help students to change institution and a performance framework for the OfS (OfSEF?).

  • The Department treats the higher education sector as a market, but it is not a market that is working in the interests of students or taxpayers. There is greater competition for students between higher education providers, but no evidence that this will improve the quality of the education they provide. Higher education providers have increased their marketing budgets in order to attract students rather than compete by charging different tuition fees. However, the amount of funding for higher education (primarily via tuition fees) has increased by 50% since 2007/08. It is therefore critical that the higher education market is delivering value for money, both for individual students and the taxpayer. The new sector regulator, the OfS, has a primary objective that students “receive value for money”. But neither the OfS nor the Department has articulated well enough what value for money means in higher education, or how they will seek to monitor and improve it.

Recommendation: The Department should write to the committee by October 2018 to explain what it expects a successful higher education market to look like.

  • Young people are not being properly supported in making decisions on higher education, due in large part to insufficient and inconsistent careers advice. The substantial financial commitment required and wide variation in outcomes from higher education mean prospective students need high-quality advice and support to make decisions that are right for them. The complexity of the market and the volume of information available makes it difficult for prospective students, most of whom are teenagers, to assess the quality and suitability of higher education institutions, raising questions over whether student choice alone will drive up the quality of provision. A wide range of other factors influence students’ decisions, such as marketing by higher education providers, the reputation of institutions and their perceived prestige, a student’s family background, as well as the location and costs of travel and accommodation. High-quality, impartial careers advice is critically important, but the support available to students in schools is not good enough. The Department acknowledged that it needs to improve the quality of careers advice for young people. It told us that its Careers Strategy, published in December 2017, will have a “real impact” on young people’s lives and help students make choices which best fit their own aptitude, skills and preferences, but it is not clear how or whether the department will ensure high quality careers advice at school level. It is too early to judge its success, but action is needed quickly and the strategy should be robustly evaluated to ensure it is achieving its aims.

Recommendation: The Department should write to the Committee by October 2018 with details of progress it has made with its careers strategy and the impact it is having. It should set up an evaluation framework to enable it to assess progress.

  • The Department does not have enough of a grip on actions to widen participation in higher education, and is over-reliant on the actions of some universities. The Department’s reforms are designed in part to ensure equal access to higher education, regardless of a student’s background. However, students from disadvantaged backgrounds are still far less likely to enter into higher education than those from more advantaged backgrounds. There have also been substantial drops in part-time and lifelong learning, which are critical to social mobility. The Department told us that it has introduced a Social Mobility Action Plan to address inequalities across the education system, and one of the roles of the OfS will be to ensure best practice in reaching out to students from disadvantaged background is being applied across the higher education sector. However, we are concerned that the incentives in the higher education market do not sufficiently support widening participation. Outreach activities are primarily conducted by universities and while there are areas of good practice, some universities who find it easy to recruit students are not pulling their weight. The OfS told us that each higher education provider will set targets for widening participation and improving outcomes for disadvantaged groups, and it will oversee these Access and Participation Plans, which will be a condition of registration. But it remains to be seen whether the plans to improve performance will have an impact on the life chances for disadvantaged groups.

Recommendation: The Department should provide us with evidence of how it is widening participation and opening higher education to students from disadvantaged backgrounds. The Department should demonstrate how they will maintain pressure on providers to measure success.

  •  Students have limited means of redress if they are unhappy with the quality of their course, even if they drop out. The relationship between students and higher education institutions has changed substantially since tuition fees were introduced, with a much greater emphasis on whether a course or institution offers value for money. An effective market requires empowered consumers who can switch provider if they are dissatisfied, but this is not the case in the higher education market. Across the sector, only 2% of students transfer provider each year, and students are more likely to drop-out altogether if they are dissatisfied with their course rather than switch provider. When students do switch providers or drop out, they are unlikely to get any of their fees back unless they can demonstrate that they were misled in some way. The OfS will require universities to demonstrate what arrangements they have in place for facilitating transfers, and it will have a responsibility to make sure there is better use of transfers where appropriate. However, given the relative weakness of students as consumers, it is vital that the OfS uses its full powers actively, and works effectively with other regulators, such as the Advertising Standards Authority and the Competition and Markets Authority, to ensure the market functions in the interests of students.

Recommendation: In developing the new regulatory framework, the Department and OfS must ensure students’ interests are protected. The OfS should include clear guidelines to enable students to shift courses or institutions more easily.

  • The new Office for Students has not yet articulated how it will support the varied and complex interests of students. It told us that, as the sector regulator, its role is to regulate universities and colleges “on behalf of students”. However, it is clear that these interests are varied, complex and often competing. The OfS told us that it has established a student panel, although it has chosen not to work with the National Union of Students, to inform how it makes decisions and to ensure that its definition of the student interest is defined by students themselves. It also told us that it plans to develop a student engagement strategy to clarify what the interests of students are so that it can feed these into its regulatory framework, which would include quality of teaching, feedback and graduate outcomes as key areas of focus. But until the OfS has sufficient clarity over what it is trying to achieve in the interests of students, it will not be able to effectively monitor and evaluate the success of its regulatory approach.

Recommendation: The Office for Students should report back in six months to set out in detail how it will measure and report on its performance in regulating for students, and be clear about what its priorities are in protecting student interests.

The summary of the summary is this bit: “We spoke to the Office for Students at its inception and hope that it will set a clear marker that it really is acting in the interests of students from day one. It is still unclear how it will gauge the real concerns of students and ensure that institutions are delivering and sanctioned when they let students down.”

House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee – The House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee’s inquiry into the Economics of higher, further and technical education inquiry has reported. They find that the system of post-school education in England is unbalanced with too much emphasis on full time university degrees, and as a result offers poor value for money to individuals, taxpayers and the economy – and they stress the need for immediate reform.  As an official Committee the Government are expected to take note of, and respond to, the report – although it’s not binding on the Government. The current HE Review will certainly include these findings within its deliberations. There is a short summary pamphlet issued by the Committee here.

The report notes that undergraduate HE studies dominate post-school choices. They attribute this to the HE Finance system making it an easy option, alongside the lack of alternative viable, consistent and quality alternatives. The report notes this is not in the country’s best interest.

The key recommendations are:

  • Other post-school options need more funding – Funding for post-school education is too heavily skewed towards degrees. Public funding across all forms and institutions in higher and further education should be better distributed. There should be a single regulator for all higher education (Level 4 and above – the Office for Students is noted) and a single regulator for other post-school education (Level 3 and below).
  • Reversing the decline of part-time and flexible learning – The decline in part-time learning in higher education is a result of restrictions around accessing loans for students who already have a degree, the increase in tuition fees in 2012 and the lack of maintenance support for part-time students (which will be available from 2018/19). Funding restrictions have also led to a decline in part-time study in further education. A credit-based system whereby people can learn in a more modular way and at their own pace should be introduced.
  • Apprenticeships – The Government’s target of three million apprenticeships has prioritised quantity over quality, and should be scrapped. The Government must renew its vision for apprenticeships, concentrating on the skills and choices that employers and individuals really need. The Institute for Apprenticeships should be abolished and replaced with a new regulator for Level 3 and below qualifications, and the Office for Students should take responsibility for those at Level 4 and above.
  • Reforms to student loans and widening maintenance support – The Government claims the high level of interest charged on student loans makes the system progressive, but it is middle-earning graduates who end up paying back most in real terms. The interest rate should be reduced to the 10-year gilt rate, currently 1.5 per cent, from the current rate of RPI plus 3 per cent.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, Chair of the Economic Affairs Committee, said:

  • “The way we expect students to access higher and further education is deeply unfair. We must create a single system, including apprenticeships, that offers more choice and better value for money.
  • Maintenance support should be available for all students studying at Level 4 and above. The means-tested system of loans and grants that existed before 2016 should be re-instated, and total support increased to reflect the true cost of living.
  • We recommend that the interest rate charged on post-2012 student loans should be reduced to the level of the ten-year gilt rate. This would mean reducing the interest rate from around about 6 per cent today, to 1.5 per cent. No student should incur interest while studying.”

The report also noted:

  • The statistical claims made by the Government about the relationship between higher education and economic growth are oversimplified. Whatever relationship may or may not have existed in the past, the assumption that sending increasing numbers of today’s young people to university to study undergraduate degrees is the best option for individuals and the economy is questionable. The evidence suggests that there is a mismatch between the qualifications and skills provided by the higher education system and the needs of the labour market. A substantial proportion of current graduates may have been better off pursuing other higher education qualifications in areas where there are skills shortages.
  • The aim of the 2012 reforms to create an effective market amongst universities has not been achieved, as evidenced by the lack of price competition. We have seen little evidence to suggest that the higher education sector is suitable or amenable to market regulation. We are concerned that the replacement of nearly all grant funding by tuition fees, coupled with the removal of the cap on student numbers, has incentivised universities to attract prospective students onto full-time undergraduate degrees. This may also explain the striking increase in grade inflation.
  • The combination of incentives to offer and study for undergraduate degrees has had a negative effect on the provision and demand for other types of higher education.
  • The Teaching Excellence Framework will not impose sufficient discipline on the sector to ensure the quality of the ever-increasing provision of undergraduate degrees. The framework is based on metrics which are too general to relay much information about the quality of an institution or course and are too dependent on unreliable surveys. Risk is borne almost entirely by students and taxpayers rather than the institutions.

With this in mind, there was a parliamentary question on TEF this week:

Q – Gordon Marsden: T what external organisations he plans to consult to take forward his Department’s commitment to appoint an independent reviewer of the teaching excellence framework and its criteria of operation.

A – Sam Gyimah: My right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Education will appoint a suitable independent person for the purpose of preparing a report on the operation of the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF), in accordance with the Higher Education and Reform Act 2017. In taking decisions about the TEF, he will take account of advice from partners in the higher education sector. That includes the department’s TEF Delivery Group, which is comprised of representative organisations from the sector plus the Office for Students and the devolved administrations, and gives advice on the design and development of the TEF.

Wonkhe have an analysis of TEF year 3 grade inflation data:

  • “Every institution where data is presented showed evidence of grade inflation [Ed: or just improvement in outcomes?] when comparing the most recent year of first class awards with the supplied historical comparator, in some cases up to a 20 percentage point difference. Most institutions also showed a steady increase over the most recent three years, all of which were substantially above the earlier figure.
  • Every institution showed a rise in the number of first class degrees, and a fall in the number of 2:2, third class or other honours degrees.
  • What doesn’t the data tell us?  Resits, basically. We don’t know to what extent degree candidates are simply not accepting lower awards, and instead choosing to resit elements of their course to achieve a higher award. We also do not know to what extent institutions are encouraging this – in light of the continued idiocy of certain parts of the rankings industry in including “percentage of first class degrees” in league tables, or in the light of student care (and a weather eye on DLHE metrics).
  • The simple proportions are also less reliable for smaller institutions, where you would expect to see a greater fluctuation year on year and cohort by cohort. And we don’t (yet – this may come in future years when the data is derived centrally from HESA) get any splits – of particular interest here would be prior qualifications, but we already know that various student attributes are a good predictor of final grade.”

And the BBC has cut last week’s IFS data and has an interactive tool – adding “But remember, there’s more to life than money…” and the all-important qualifier: “Earnings for different professions may vary over time. The figures are based on students graduating between 2008 and 2012.”  Read last week’s policy update for some critical perspectives on the relevance of this data for current applicants.  Past performance is not really a guide to future performance – and some graduates may end up doing a different job to the rest of the cohort….

Research funding

There were two Parliamentary questions about research funding, one in the context of Brexit

Q – Kemi Badenoch: To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, what steps his Department is taking to ensure the maintenance of funding for (a) universities and (b) research projects after the UK ceases to receive European Research Council funding.

A – Sam Gyimah:

  • The UK is eligible to fully participate in all aspects of the Horizon 2020 programme, including the European Research Council (ERC) while we remain a member of the EU. The Joint Report, reflected in the draft Withdrawal Agreement, envisages that UK entities’ right to participate will remain unaffected by the UK’s withdrawal from the EU for the duration of the programme and the lifetime of projects funded under Horizon 2020.
  • If necessary, the Government’s underwrite remains in place. This guarantees the funding for UK participants in projects ongoing at the point of exit, as well as any successful bids submitted before the UK leaves the EU.
  • As part of our future partnership with the EU, the UK will look to establish a far reaching science and innovation pact. The UK would like the option to fully associate to the excellence-based European research and innovation programmes, including Horizon Europe, the successor to Horizon 2020. The UK intends to play a full and constructive role in shaping these proposals and we look forward to discussing the detail of any future UK participation with the Commission.

Q – Rebecca Long Bailey: When the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy plans to publish a roadmap for meeting his target of increasing investment in R&D to 2.4 per cent of GDP by 2027.

A – Sam Gyimah: Since the publication of the Industrial Strategy, we have been speaking to businesses, academics and other stakeholders to develop the roadmap. Through this engagement we are exploring the barriers to increased R&D investment by business, the greatest opportunities for R&D growth over the next decade, and the key policies Government should prioritise to reach the 2.4% goal and deliver economic and societal impact.

Immigration & International Students

EU Students – This week both Layla Moran (Lb Dem Education Spokesperson) and Universities UK have been pressurising the Government to clarify the fee status of EU students for the 2019/20 academic year, warning of a further drop in EU numbers. The Scottish Government confirmed the fee status for EU students in February this year.

Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said: “Students from across the EU, who bring great economic and academic value, are already enquiring about 2019 study, but face uncertainty on the expected financial costs of doing so. We know from research that the majority of international students start their research about studying abroad more than 12 months in advance of actual enrolment…there is now an urgent need for clarification to be provided across all parts of the UK. It is critical that action is taken to prevent a drop in EU applications next year.”

Non-EU Doctors and Nurses – Immigration Relaxation – The Government have announced a relaxation on the Tier 2 visa cap which currently limits immigration of non-EU skilled workers to 20,700 per year (see Politics Home) to ensure that non-EU doctors and nurses will be outside of the cap.

The Telegraph reported that a much wider review is expected: “businesses and employers will be able to recruit an extra 8,000 skilled migrants a year from other professions including IT experts, engineers and teachers, effectively increasing the cap by 40 per cent.”

Changes to the immigration rules were announced on Friday that come into force on 6th July that do not seem to go that far:

  • increasing the number of countries that benefit from a streamlined Tier 4 student visa application process – 11 additional countries including China have been added
  • leave to remain for children under the Dubs amendment – including study and healthcare for children who do not qualify for refugee or humanitarian protection leave
  • changes applying to Afghan interpreters and their families that were announced recently
  • the change relating to non-EU doctors and nurses who will no longer be in the Tier 2 visa numbers cap
  • including fashion designers and TV and film professionals in the exceptional talent visa

Opposition to Theresa May’s immigration policies, including whether international students should be included in the overall net immigration target, has been widely reported in the press over the last couple of years, including a lack of support for the current approach from Cabinet members. The change in relation to the NHS may be the start of something bigger. The promised Immigration White Paper was postponed due to the Migration Advisory Committee’s (MAC) investigations into workers within the UK labour market and the impact of international/EU students (due to report in September). Meanwhile there have been pressing calls from the sector (notably from HEPI following the publication of their research into benefits of international students) for the MAC Committee to report ahead of September.

The Immigration White Paper is now rumoured to be scheduled for release in July, to allow for consultation prior to the European Council leaders’ summit on the 18 and 19 October (the target date to agree a withdrawal treaty). The Immigration Bill is expected to be presented to Parliament before 2019.

‘Start up’ Visas – The Home Secretary has announced that people who want to start a business in the UK will be able to apply for a new “start-up” visa from Spring 2019. This is aimed to widen the applicant pool of talented entrepreneurs and make the visa process faster and smoother for entrepreneurs coming to the UK. It will replace the previous visa for graduates, opening it up to a wider pool of talented business founders. It will require applicants to have acquired an endorsement from a university or approved business sponsor, including accelerators.

The Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, said:

  • The UK can be proud that we are a leading nation when it comes to tech and innovation, but we want to do more to attract businesses to the UK and our migration system plays a key part in that.
  • That’s why I am pleased to announce a new visa for people wanting to start a business in the UK. This will help to ensure we continue to attract the best global talent and maintain the UK’s position as a world-leading destination for innovation and entrepreneurs.
  • This initiative builds on other recent reforms to the visa system – including doubling the number of visas available on the Exceptional Talent route to 2,000 per year – and shows the government’s commitment to making the UK a dynamic, open, globally-trading nation.”

International Students – During an American Senate hearing the US confirmed they will limit the study visa of Chinese students studying in ‘sensitive’ fields (robotics, aviation, high-tech manufacturing) to a one year duration with an option to renew and extend study into subsequent years after consideration.   The hearing, Student Visa Integrity: Protecting Educational Opportunity and National Security, (originally titled ‘A Thousand Talents: China’s Campaign to Infiltrate and Exploit US Academia’). A spokesperson from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence stated the policy decision was not driven by race or ethnicity but by the need to safeguard American Intellectual Property in the face of “the fact that China has a publicly-stated policy goal of acquiring sensitive information in technology around the world …that they seek access and recruit global experts regardless of their nationality to meet their science and technology aims.” In opposition to the visa limitations testimony was given on the value of international students at the hearing. What is most interesting is the difference in attitude between the US and UK in the consideration of the benefits of an international student population that the hearing revealed.

In the UK international students are welcomed for the diversity they bring, the further invigoration and internationalisation of the curriculum, the income boost through tuition fees, the levels of postgraduate students, and the significant economic ‘side effects’ benefiting the geographical community (see HEPI). There is also an assumption that (due to the visa system) most international students will return home,  having originally chosen to study here to enhance their own international career standing or bring fresh skills back to their own community (a personal motivation).
Yet the opinion expressed in the American Senate hearing was that the international students should be contributing to American society (and paying for the privilege of doing so):  “Most students and visiting scholars come to US for legitimate reasons. They are here to… contribute their talents to [the US].” Senator Cornyn (Chair of the hearing).  Most likely American academia would have alternative viewpoints to Senator Cornyn on the valuing of international students. Also this appears to be a niche policy decision to infuse intellectual property security concerns into the visa approval process rather than a blanket policy.

Britain and America are two of the major world players in attracting international students and both now have elements of unwelcome emanating through policy decision. It’s notable that Chinese student numbers are the biggest international group to access UK universities; in 2015/16 1 in 4 international originated from China..

Widening Participation and Achievement

There were several parliamentary questions within the widening participation sphere this week.

Part Time Students – Q – Richard Burden: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what assessment he has made of the effect of changes to higher education funding on student numbers at the Open University in each year since 2011.

A – Sam Gyimah:

  • The government recognises the decline in part-time study within the sector, and is aware of the impact this has had on the Open University. That’s why the government is committed to supporting part time students and since 2012, it has paid the tuition fees of students studying on part-time courses up-front through a system of subsidised fee loans.
  • In addition, new part-time students attending degree level courses from August 2018 onwards will, for the first time, be able to apply for up-front loans to help them with their living costs. Subject to the development of a robust control regime, these loans will be extended to students on distance learning courses from August 2019.
  • The government continues, through the Office for Students (previously Higher Education Funding Council for England), to provide direct grant funding to support successful outcomes for part-time students. This was worth £72 million in the current academic year (2017/18), and the Open University received a sizeable amount of this funding.
  • This funding reflects the particular costs associated with recruiting and retaining part-time students and includes funds to support successful outcomes for part-time students. The Open University received £48 million to support teaching activity in 2017/18.

Effective Deployment of WP – Q – David Lammy: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps he is taking to ensure that the widening participation funding is deployed effectively. And Q – David Lammy: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps he is taking to increase the proportion of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds attending university.

The following response covered both questions: A – Sam Gyimah:

  • Widening participation in higher education remains a priority for this government. We want everyone with the potential to have the opportunity to benefit from a university education, regardless of background or where they grew up.
  • University application rates for 18 year olds to full-time study remain at record levels. The proportion of disadvantaged 18 year olds entering full time higher education has increased from 13.6 per cent in 2009 to 20.4 per cent in 2017. Building on this our major review of post-18 education and funding will consider how disadvantaged students receive maintenance support both from government and from universities and colleges and how we can ensure they have equal opportunities to progress and succeed in all forms of post-18 education.
  • We have set up the Office for Students (OfS) with powers to drive forward improvements in access and participation and we have asked the OfS to do more to maximise the impact of spending in this area. In their business plan the OfS plans to evaluate the return on investment on access and participation. We have also asked the OfS to set up an Evidence and Impact Exchange to improve the impact and value for money of providers’ access and participation expenditure.
  • In addition, through the Higher Education and Research Act 2017, we have introduced the Transparency Duty requiring registered higher education providers to publish data on application, offer, acceptance, dropout and attainment rates of students by ethnicity, gender and socio-economic background. This will hold the sector to account for their record on access and retention of students from lower socio-economic backgrounds and shine a light on where they need to go further

Targeted Outreach – Q – Gordon Marsden: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what discussions he has had with (a) the Director for Fair Access and Participation and (b) the Office for Students on strengthening university programmes aimed at potential applicants between the ages of 11 and 16 from disadvantaged black, working-class white and other communities. And Q – Gordon Marsden: what discussions he has had with universities and their representative bodies on extending their outreach activities for disadvantaged groups of young people between the ages of 11 and 16.

A – Sam Gyimah:

  • In our first guidance to the Office for Students (OfS) we have asked them to challenge higher education (HE) providers to drive more progress through their Access and Participation Plans. Prior attainment is a critical factor in entering higher education and we are asking providers to take on a more direct role in raising attainment in schools as part of their outreach activity. The OfS have also established the National Collaborative Outreach Programme to target areas where progression into higher education is low overall and lower than expected given typical GCSE attainment rates.
  • Through the Higher Education and Research Act, we have introduced a Transparency Duty requiring higher education providers to publish data on application, offer, acceptance, dropout and attainment rates of students by ethnicity, gender and socio-economic background. This will hold the sector to account for their record on access and retention of students from lower socio-economic backgrounds and shine a light on where they need to go further.
  • Officials and I are in regular contact with the OfS, including the Director for Fair Access and Participation, and the higher education sector to discuss issues around widening access.

Disabled Applicants – Q – Gordon Marsden: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what discussions he has had with the Office for Students on encouraging university applications from potential applicants with disabilities.

A – Sam Gyimah:

  • Widening access to higher education among under-represented or disadvantaged groups is a priority for this government. In our first guidance to the Office for Students we have asked them to ensure that higher education providers include, within their access and participation plans, those students that have been identified as requiring the most support. This includes students with disabilities.
  • Higher education providers have clear responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010 to support their students, including those with disabilities
  • Through access agreements – in future known as access and participation plans – higher education providers expect to spend more than £860 million in 2018/19 on measures to improve access and student success for those from disadvantaged backgrounds. This is a significant increase from £404 million in 2009.

Change in turbulent times

HEPI released Policy Note 7 – Change is coming: how universities can navigate through turbulent political times. It focussed on three key drivers for Universities: internationalisation, the impact of disruptive technologies, and changes to education delivery – the power not only to change the way we teach and learn, but also how we manage information and collect data.

Rebooting learning for the digital age?  As shown by HEPI report 93, improvements across the world in technology have already led to improved retention rates and lower costs:

  • in the US, technology-enhanced learning has produced better student outcomes in 72 per cent of projects and average savings of 31 per cent;
  • in the University of New England in Australia, student drop-out rates have reduced from 18 per cent to 12 per cent via learning analytics; and
  • at Nottingham Trent University, 81 per cent of first year students increased their study time after seeing their own engagement data “

 “Demand for higher education to 2030 As HEPI report 105 uncovers, universities in England should be preparing themselves to  take on at least 300,000 additional full-time undergraduate places by the end of the next decade. This is good news in the long-term but the scale of the transformation that is required now – in terms of increasing capacity – is substantial.

Many universities are already concentrating on the long-term picture. This is best shown by the improvements to university estates. Yet, with a smaller pool of prospective students being relied upon to fill these resources in the short-term, we can expect competition between institutions to increase sharply over the coming years – particularly if it becomes more common for students to switch providers of higher education mid-course under the new regularly landscape of the Office for Students (OfS).”

To steer effectively through the troubled waters the policy note suggests:

“On the one hand, this involves coming together to:

  • learn from each other’s experiences in the global context;
  • identify common challenges;
  • develop appropriate fixes; and
  • present a collective voice in the sector against current political sentiment.

On the other hand, this also involves enhancing the distinctiveness of higher education institutions to:

  • ensure they make a real difference on the ground in other parts of the world;
  • ensure challenges specific to different institutions do not get lost in the general policy debate;
  • develop appropriate strategies for success; and
  • get ahead in an environment of increased competition.

Coming together in unity to learn from one another and develop appropriate strategies, while still maintaining the diversity that is unique to UK higher education, is what will help universities to overcome some of the biggest emerging policy challenges of our time – posed by the pressures of internationalisation, advancements in technology and domestic political developments. Universities today ultimately have two obligations on their hands – the first, to ensure their own individual successes and, the second, to preserve their part in a healthy, wider higher education sector, complete with variety and choice, for generations to come.”

Student experience – what students really want and why it matters

BU hosted Dr Diana Beech from the Higher Education Policy Institute on Wednesday morning for a policy breakfast, part of this year’s CELebrate symposium.  In a packed room and despite the early start, we had a great discussion about student perceptions, value (and value for money). You can read about it and find links to the survey, her slides and other HEPI reports referred to elsewhere on the research blog here.

Student loans – the numbers

The Student Loans Company have published their statistics for England for the financial year 2017-18.

  • The amount  lent  in financial  year 2017-18 to  Higher  Education borrowers was  £15.0billion,   an  increase  of 11.9%  when  compared with 2016-17. A total  of £222.3m was  lent  to  Further  Education borrowers.
  • The amount lent  in financial year 2017-18 for Postgraduate Masters was £582.9million.
  • Net repayments posted to customer accounts within Higher Education amounted to £2.3billion in the financial year 2017-18, an increase of 16.0% compared with 2016-17 (including £399.2million in voluntary repayments).
  • The balance outstanding for Higher Education (including loans not yet due for  repayment)  at  the  end  of  the  financial  year 2017-18 was £104.6billion,an  increase  of 17.0%  when  compared  with 2016-17.
  • With the entry of the Higher Education 2018 repayment cohort into repayment in April 2018, there were 3.8 million borrowers liable  for repayment  and  still  owing  (an  increase  of  4%  compared  to  April 2017).  There  were  a  further  1.2  million  borrowers  not  yet  liable  for repayment bringing the total still owing to 5.0 million.
  • The average Loan Balance for the Higher Education 2018 repayment cohort on entry to repayment was £34,800. This is a £2,380 increase on the previous year average of £32,420.
  • 880,400 (18.6%) of the Higher Education borrowers who had become liable to  repay since  ICR  loans  were  introduced  in  1998 have fully repaid their loan.

Student Drug Attitudes

The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) and University of Buckingham have released a YouthSight survey on attitudes towards drug use based on the responses of 1,059 full-time undergraduate (UG) students.   On the number of students who have never (71%) or regularly (11%) use drugs the findings contrast slightly from the April 2018 NUS report which noted higher usage. HEPI explain that the NUS sample was targeted and believe this report is more representative of full-time UG students.

Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI said:

  • This survey provides an important corrective to some of the wilder ideas about today’s students. They are more hardworking and less hedonistic than is often supposed… Our survey shows most students support their institutions taking a tougher, rather than a more relaxed, line on the use of illegal substances by fellow students.’

The survey explains student drug use as attributable to:

  • 47% peer pressure
  • 81% took drugs for recreational purposes
  • 6% took drugs to cope with difficulties with exams

When considering if their HE institution has a drug problem the respondents split with 39% identifying a problem, and 44% stating there wasn’t. The students were concerned about the impact of drug use personally and in society. 88% were concerned drugs negatively impacted mental health; 68% felt it contributed to crime; and 62% were concerned about the cost of the health care burden caused by drug users. Many students recognised excessive alcohol consumption as a serious threat (87% considered alcohol overuse as very serious or quite serious compared to 64% on drug use). The report stated 62% of students want their university to ‘take a stronger line’ on drug dealers and ‘students who repeatedly use drugs’.

Consultations

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

There is still time to contribute to the industrial strategy topical blogs because they’ve extended the deadline until 21 July – yippee! Get your thinking caps on and get in touch with Sarah!

Other news

Local MPs: Richard Drax (South Dorset) used his prime minster question this week to call for her to support a grant for Weymouth’s harbour wall. The PM responded that there were various options that grant funding had to look at carefully, but said that this project was on a list of potential recipients. She anticipated a decision by the summer.

The House of Commons library have let an AI programme loose in Hansard looking at Brexit.

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What students really want (and why it matters)

BU hosted Dr Diana Beech from the Higher Education Policy Institute on Wednesday morning for a policy breakfast, part of this year’s CELebrate symposium.  In a packed room and despite the early start, we had a great discussion about student perceptions, value (and value for money).

Diana started with a review of the HEPI/AdvanceHE 2018 Student Academic Experience Survey, which was published last week.  The survey was  established in 2006, so is now in its 12th year, giving useful data trends.  It surveys over 14,000 full-time undergraduate students in all years of study (not just final year students like the NSS).  The full survey is available to download for free.

  • It seems from the data, that contact time and private study have not changed much since 2006, despite the many changes in the sector, including growing student numbers, changes in funding etc.  However, since 2012, when fees were increased, perceptions of value for money by the students surveyed have fallen consistently – until this year.  This year the percentage of respondents saying that they believed that they were getting good, or very good value for money for their course, moved up from 35% to 38%.  And the percentage saying they got poor, or very poor value for money went down from 34% to 32%.  [Ed: These figures are often cited by Ministers, and were by Sam Gyimah at his speech last week (see our policy update last week for more on this topic) – “only [just over] a third of students think they get value for money” is the headline, and the government’s own initiatives in terms of a relentless focus on quality through the TEF, the new regulatory environment etc are credited with the improvement].
  • Diana described how this year a new question had been asked about what the reasons were behind the rating that had been given for value for money – for those saying that they received good or very good value, the top 5 reasons (in order) were teaching quality, course content, course facilities, career prospects and quality of campus.  On the other side, the top 5 reasons given by those who received poor or very poor value for money were tuition fees, teaching quality, contact hours, course content and cost of living.  It is interesting that teaching quality and course content are levers for good or bad value for money, that concern about money is clearly linked to perceptions of poor value.  It is also unsurprising to see contact hours linked to perceptions of poor value, but it may be of some surprise to see quality of campus linked to good value.
  • So on contact hours, Diana noted that those students with the highest perceptions of value for money also seem to be studying subjects with the greatest overall workload.  [Ed: This is not necessarily linked to contact hours – looking at contact hours the subjects seem to fall into three groups, with medicine, dentistry and veterinary and physical sciences standing out for the number of contact hours (15-19) and history, languages, business and social studies at the other end (8-10).  The rest fall in the middle, but the chart looks at total workload including independent study and work outside the course].
  • Diana also flagged another trend – the percentage of students saying that their experience has been better than they expected has fallen fairly consistently since a high point in 2013, and has fallen again this year from 25% to 23%.  Again, when students saying that the experience was worse than expected (12%), teaching quality came top of the reasons, with course organisation [Ed: a familiar NSS question], lack of support in independent study, lack of interaction with staff, poor feedback (Ed: NSS again) and contact hours featuring again.  The last two of the top 8 reasons were “not put in enough effort myself” (30%) and “too little interaction with other students” (26%).
  • Diana talked about commuter students, who are less likely to be satisfied, and more likely to say that if they had known what they know now, would not have entered HE – along with those who are employed for more than 10 hours and Asian students.  There is intersectionality here, Asian students and those who are employed for more than 10 hours have a higher propensity to be commuter students.  Diana talked about her recent report for HEPI looking at the potential growth in undergraduates by 2030 (as many as 500,000 more) – and the possibility that many of those may be commuter students – a challenge for the sector given the concerns raised above.
  • Developing this theme, Diana mentioned the recent paper written by Sir Anthony Seldon and Dr Alan Martin on the “positive and mindful university“.
  • Diana referred to the HEPI/Unite Students report “Reality Check – a report on university applicants’ attitudes and perceptions”.  One concern is that only 49% of applicants realise that rent will be their biggest cost apart from tuition fees.  Diana discussed concerns about whether students understand where their tuition fees are spent, and the interesting response to the question about how tuition fees should be spent (teaching facilities (65%), teaching staff (60%), student support services (57%) come top, campus development (52%), financial support for students (49%) and research facilities and resources (49%) come next.  Interestingly student recruitment and marketing are lower on the list (at 16% and 15%) and investing in the local community is supported by only 12%.

You can read Diana’s slides here.

We then had a Q and A and discussion session with a panel consisting of Debbie Holley, Lois Farquharson, Alex Hancox and Diana and chaired by Jane.

  • We discussed commuter students and the particular issues of making the campus “sticky” for these students, particularly in relation to HSS students who live near work and final year students who may have put down roots in their placement year and becoming commuter students is one reason why they can find it hard to reintegrate in their final year (there may be other reasons too). [Ed: see an interesting article on Wonkhe this week on stickiness generally)
  • We discussed issues linked to value for money – should we talk about value, and not focus on financial return [Ed: see last week’s policy blog for our take on the latest ministerial pronouncements about graduate salaries]
  • We also talked about the wider value of university in terms of life experience, friendships, soft skills- and how this is important but often overlooked [Ed: there are a couple of interesting articles on this in last week’s policy blog]
  • We talked about student information and the importance of making sure that applicants could access the information about the things that mattered for them, and how talking to students, and spending more time than just an open day, might be an important part of this.  We discussed briefly the importance of students understanding how their fees are spent (which is in the survey) and how to do this better.
  • In terms of expectations, Alex pointed out that students were overloaded with information in induction week and it was suggested that we need to follow up, drip feed etc.
  • We talked briefly about tuition and living costs.  Points were made about how challenges with living costs might be increasing the number of commuter students and affecting their outcomes.  We also discussed the unhelpful terminology around loans, debt, value for money, tuition fees that are really “university fees”.  [Ed: This is a very big subject, you might want to read BU’s response to the review of post-18 education and we gave links to other sector responses in our policy update on 4th May.]
  • We talked about mental health and wellbeing – including about how some students might choose to live at home for support.  We also discussed challenges with the definition of “living at home”  – it may be different issues for mature students who have families than 18 year old students who live with parents – although the impact on extra-curricular engagement may be the same
  • We talked about engaging students with research and equality of access to these sorts of opportunities for broader engagement
  • We discussed the TEF and the use of splits data – are universities really using their splits data and is it driving change?
  • In the context of contact hours, Alex made the point that quality of contact is as important as the amount – students may want more help not more lectures.

HEPI are interested in further research and policy publications, using this data or other data – please contact policy@bournemouth.ac.uk if you would like to discuss this further.

Many thanks to all who attended and we look forward to continuing the dialogue on many of these issues.

 

HE Policy Update for the w/e 4th May 2018

A bumper policy update for you packed full of political changes and arguments, and BU gets a mention in the House of Commons. Enjoy the sunny bank holiday weekend!

Political News

Amber Rudd resigned on Sunday. Replacing her are Penny Mordaunt and Sajid Javid.

Penny Mordaunt (Secretary of State for International Development) will replace her as Women and Equalities Minister. Penny’s pre-UK political career is varied ranging from magician’s assistant, working in Romanian hospitals and orphanages, and as Head of Foreign Press for George W Bush. Previously she was the Minister of State for Disabled People, Work and Health. Her political interests are care and quality of life for the elderly, healthcare, defence, the arts, and space.

Sajid Javid will replace Amber as Home Secretary. (James Brokenshire will replace Sajid as Housing, Communities and Local Government Secretary). Sajid’s political interests are civil liberties, free enterprise, defence, and welfare policy. Sajid has held a string of parliamentary roles including  Economic Secretary 2012-13, Financial Secretary 2013-14; Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport 2014-15; Minister for Equalities 2014; Secretary of State for: Business, Innovation and Skills and President of the Board of Trade 2015-16, and Communities, Local Government and Housing Secretary 2016-18. Times Higher took to Twitter to remind the HE world that Sajid believes international students shouldn’t stay on to work in Britain post-graduation.

#BUProud – Sam Gyimah praised BU in a recent Education select committee meeting. Questioned on whether the three year full time degree is an outdated dinosaur and whether accelerated or non-standard degrees are the future Sam replied:

  • I will start off, before saying what I think the answer is, by saying that there is some good practice in the sector that is often not acknowledged. For example, 42% of degrees are currently vocational. If you look at what some universities are doing, Bournemouth University, where I was a few weeks ago, is a most effective place at training people for media and film studies. Most people would dismiss some of these things, but if you want to work at Universal Studios, one of the best universities in this country to go to is Bournemouth. They have a focused university curriculum.  

Office for Students (OfS) Strategy and Business Plan

The OfS have published their strategy and business plan.  They set out their familar 4 objectives ( participation, experience, outcomes and value for money). The OfS will deliver their strategy by:

  • Ensuring providers meet the quality threshold (the 24 conditions of registration)
  • Supporting informed student choice about courses and careers
  • Taking action to ‘ensure that the sector is working effectively in the interests of students, employers, and society’.
  • The OfS will publish key performance indicators in the summer to measure the business plan.
  • Being an efficient and effective regulator

The OfS will also measure contributory progress against these cross cutting strategic outcomes:

  • Public trust and confidence in HE
  • National social mobility
  • Equality & diversity within HE and beyond
  • A dynamic national workforce

There is more detail in the Business Plan 2018-19, including:

  • The intention to evaluate the return on investment on access and participation plans and impact work; develop, address cold spots and evaluate IAG; and increase transparency data in relation to access and participation.
  • New providers – address barriers to entry; facilitate alternative forms of provision and develop measures of diversity of provision and innovation (including a work placement measure beyond sandwich placements and the ‘Higher education – business and community interaction’ survey data; also to support growth in technical routes.
  • Deliver NSS and explore new measures and monitoring tools.
  • Develop the OfS approach to student welfare and wellbeing.
  • Remove barriers to student transfer.
  • Continue the TEF, KEF and REF.
  • Develop strategy and processes surrounding student protection and managing market exit.

And much more!

The Knowledge Exchange Framework

Research Professional published a mock Knowledge Exchange rankings table  based on three years of data from the Higher Education Business and Community Interaction surveys.  Hamish McAlpine, senior policy adviser for knowledge exchange at Research England, has written a progress report on work towards the real KEF.  We have been a bit sceptical about the KEF at BU – because something with great potential to measure something of great benefit (going beyond REF impact) looks like being a way to channel more money to those who make money already from commercialisation….

The article is interesting because it is clear that thinking is still evolving – this sentence gives some hope about the value of the framework:

  • “To this end we are looking at creating clusters of institutions with similar capabilities. These include not just staff numbers, but also things such as disciplinary mix, research strengths and intensity, income, student numbers and capital investments.” 

And they haven’t yet decided on the link to funding…..but it still looks as if income is the driver:

  • “Income is only a proxy for impact, but it is the best measure we have at present. Income is also robust and relatively easy to audit. It is not in anyone’s interest to distribute lots of public money based on unsound metrics”

Income is a very unreliable proxy for impact outside STEM.  In her previous role at BU Jane supported a number of projects with HSS that have limited potential to make money (because they help the NHS) but have potential to make a real difference to care and outcomes.  And what about all the work in social sciences – and knowledge exchange projects in FoM and FMC?  So we’re still sceptical about the KEF – but it might be a bit less pointless than it was looking a few months ago.  I’ve added a comment to the article – we’ll see what the response is.

Major review of post-18 education (fees and funding)

We have submitted BU’s response to the HE review and you can read it here.  SUBU’s response is here.

There is a useful article by Gordon McKenzie of GuildHE on Wonkhe.

The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) published their 10 points for the HE review – a useful round up of some of the issues based on HEPI’s own research over the last few years.  Their 10 points relate to:

  • Part-time learners
  • Differential fees
  • Maintenance grants
  • Mixed funding model
  • Uses of tuition fees
  • Misunderstanding among applicants
  • Outreach versus spending on bursaries
  • Accounting treatment of student loans
  • Level 4 and Level 5 qualifications
  • Student number controls

UUK have blogged on their response to the review calling for the review to address confusion about the tuition fees system. UUK note that while the funding system hasn’t deterred young people from full time study (and is beneficial in creating stability for universities) ‘there is a lack of public confidence and understanding of how it delivers value for money for students’. They note those wishing to study flexibly, or part time, or young students who wish to earn whilst they learn aren’t serviced adequately by the existing funding system. They also call for maintenance grants to be restored.

The Universities UK submission makes a number of recommendations, including:​

  • government should, in partnership with universities, provide more targeted information to prospective students on the costs and benefits of higher education
  • universities could develop their value for money statements, to better explain how pricing decisions for undergraduate courses are arrived at. These should explain how the university uses income from tuition fees, and other sources of income, to fund the student experience and other activities such as research
  • to deal with students’ concerns about living costs, new funding should be introduced to restore maintenance grants for those most in need
  • to help address students’ fears of debt, government should remove the interest rate that starts building from the start date of the course, and deliver better financial advice, especially on the difference between student loan debt and conventional debt
  • greater exploration of ways that learners can study more flexibly and piloting preferential loan repayment terms for subjects that address national skills shortages

You can read Baroness Wolf in the TES on what the review is about (not just HE).

From March – the OfS report on student perceptions of value for money: – not providing a definition but see below 

  • Funded by OfS, our SUs led some research into what students think. The purpose was not to definitively answer the question of what ‘value for money’ means in higher education but, rather, to explore value for money from the student perspective. Do students feel they are receiving value for money? Do student perceptions of value for money evolve as they go from school to higher education, and then into the world of work? What can higher education providers – and the OfS – do to help improve the value students perceive they are getting from the considerable investment they have made in higher education?”

Factors that demonstrate value for money:

Maintenance Grant Raid – David Morris wrote for the Guardian this week stating: The government has hinted it will reintroduce maintenance grants, but that there will be no extra money to pay for it. David believes this will take the political pressure out of the tuition fee conundrum because ‘expensive rent is probably far more of a barrier to widening access than expensive fees, since students don’t repay these until after graduation.’ David believes the Government might solve the issue of funding maintenance grants by utilising the current teaching grant. He states: ‘This time around, universities will have to convince government to find additional spending, or it will be their pockets that are raided.’

Political Battles – Martin Lewis (MoneySavingExpert) tackles Chi Onwurah (Labour MP) in BBC Question Time. In essence his fiery response blames both Government and Opposition for making Fees and Student Loans a political battlefield – serving only their own political ends and leaving prospective students bewildered about affordability. He states in itself this is what is putting off even more students because they believe they can’t afford to attend University.

  • Martin: “Look politicians do this all the time and you’re making your political points and you’re doing it and you put off young people from underprivileged backgrounds going to university with a fear of debt by framing it as debt when you know it doesn’t work like that.”
  • “Politicians need to take responsibility, your political football that you and all the parties have used student finance to be has miseducated a generation about how student finance works and it is an abomination you should all hang your heads in shame.
  • Chi comes back to argue that fees are a psychological barrier:  “It is psychological but a lot of the world is psychological Martin, how things are perceived is what informs peoples choices.”
  • Martin: “Then let’s re-educate.”

Watch the short (1 minute) clip here, the Express also covered the argument.

Higher Earning Graduates – Sam Gyimah avoided responding to a parliamentary question on higher earning graduates this week.

  • Q – Jim Cunningham: What estimate he has made of the number of graduate students who are earning over £50k and have begun repaying their student loan since 2010.
  • A – Sam Gyimah: This is a matter for the Student Loans Company (SLC). I have asked the SLC’s Interim Chief Executive, Peter Lauener, to write to the hon. Member for Coventry South and a copy of his reply will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Student Loan Overpayments  –Another parliamentary question revealed that 55% of the nursing, midwifery and allied health professions students who were overpaid by SLC (leading to concerns about how the money would be clawed back), were overpaid by more than £1,000. And the non-repayable support has been confirmed

  • Q – Baroness Thornton: Whether, given that the Student Loans Company (SLC) has accepted responsibility for overpayments to healthcare students and that the SLC told students that they were not being overpaid, the SLC will write off overpayments to physiotherapy and other healthcare students.
  • A – Viscount Younger Of Leckie: The government announced on 18 April 2018 that the Student Loans Company (SLC) will provide support to ensure that none of the students affected by the error suffer hardship. Students affected by this will be eligible to apply for additional, non-repayable, support of up to £1,000 for the remainder of this academic year, and should contact the SLC. In addition, repayment of overpaid maintenance support will be deferred for all students affected until they have finished their courses and can afford to repay. Repayment of overpaid maintenance loans will happen via HM Revenue and Customs in the normal way, which is how students will have expected to repay their loans when they took them out.

Loan Terms – Another week, another student loan parliamentary question – this time Sam’s answer fails to confirm whether the Government will change the loan terms for the post-2012 students, leading to worry over how students may be affected if the post-2012 loans are sold off.

  • Q – Caroline Lucas: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, whether he retains the legal power to revise the terms and conditions of student loans, including those sold to the Student Loans Company; and whether his Department has any plans to standardise those terms and conditions irrespective of the higher education start date of those loans.
  • A – Sam Gyimah: Key student loan repayment terms are set out in legislation, and can therefore be amended through the applicable parliamentary processes. It is important that, subject to this Parliamentary scrutiny, the government retains the power to adjust the terms and conditions of student loans. However, the government has no plans to change, or to consider changing, the terms of pre-2012 loans, including those sold recently.Student loans are subsidised by the taxpayer, and we must ensure that the interests of both borrowers and taxpayers continue to be protected. The review of post-18 education and funding will look at how we can ensure a joined-up education system that works for everyone.

Paramedic Student Loans – A parliamentary question on reclassifying paramedic degrees for existing graduates to access the student loan whilst retraining:

  • Q – Peter Kyle: To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, pursuant to the Answer of 19 April 2018 to Question 135158, if he will classify paramedic science as an exception course to allow those who study it as a second degree to obtain a student loan.
  • A – Stephen Barclay: Since the decision taken by the Health and Care Professions Council on 21 March 2018 to move paramedic programmes to a degree level, the Department of Health and Social Care has been working with Health Education England and the Department for Education to actively review the position of students wishing to study a paramedic programme. This review will consider aligning paramedic courses with other healthcare courses reviewed during the recent healthcare education funding reforms.

Freedom of Speech

The Universities Minister gave a speech on Thursday at a free speech summit calling for new guidance for organisations and students on freedom of speech. Covered by The Times Sam is portrayed as championing free speech way beyond his predecessor (Jo Johnson’s) intent to ‘enforce existing measures’. Sam plans for the OfS to name and shame or fine institutions for failing to uphold his view of free speech. He has announced the intention to create a single set of guidelines ‘to clarify the rules and regulations around speakers and events to prevent bureaucrats or wreckers on campus from exploiting gaps for their own ends’. The NUS is permitted to input into the new rules. See the Government’s press release here.

  • UUK commented:  “Tens of thousands of speaking events are put on every year across the country. The majority pass without incident. A small number of flashpoints do occasionally occur, on contentious or controversial issues, but universities do all they can to protect free speech so events continue.”
  • Sector press has noted that the Joint Committee on Human Rights report (March 2018) did not believe there to be a problem with free speech at universities: we did not find the wholesale censorship of debate in universities which media coverage has suggested. And on the ‘chilling’ (deterrent) effect ‘which is hard to measure’: A much broader survey of students’ opinion would be needed to assess levels of confidence amongst the student body as a whole. Source
  • Free Speech does get a (very limited) mention in the OfS’ new Business Plan – one mention (page 7) ‘Incentivise positive student experiences beyond the conditions of registration – Define and begin to deliver the OfS’ role to promote and protect free speech.’
  • THE also reported on Sam’s speech, ironically noting it was delivered at a ‘behind-closed-doors’ event.
  • Sam wrote for The Times Red Box on Thursday: The time I was almost censored on campus. There is an entertaining range of reader comments following Sam’s piece, only overshadowed by the Twitter glee that the quote Sam opens his article with is misattributed. Whoops.

HEPI Free Speech blog

On Tuesday HEPI got the last word in on Free Speech ahead of Sam’s speech. See their blog Six points about free speech at universities. Nick Hillman commenced with HEPI’s survey statistics on free speech. Most of his six points are familiar:

  1. The current law is ‘in about the right place’ on free speech issues – and notes the need for legitimate limits (terrorism influence, inciting violence, risking safety of others)
  2. Universities have the expertise, the time and resources to debate issues freely
  3. Debate and expose bad ideas to defeat them (not hide away)
  4. HEPI refer to their detailed study of free speech. The blog suggests a quarter of students are illiberal wanting to ban some extreme positions, and HEPI interpret mixed results as confusion amongst students (saying yes to almost any question on free speech, whether supporting free speech, backing trigger warnings or supporting Prevent). It could be confusion, it could be students repeating back the social ideal they may not genuinely sign up to, or it could be poor questionnaire design! But on the confusion the blog goes on to recommend…
  5. Universities need to help students through the complexities of free speech issues (and avoid too much red tape when putting on events)
  6. HEPI don’t believe the situation is as bad as the media portray, however, they note if the sector continues to provide contentious ‘juicy’ examples of threats to free speech then the media will seize on them and further blow the debate out of proportion.

International Students

False Deportation – On Tuesday the Financial Times broke the news of 7,000 international students falsely deported in: Home Office told thousands of foreign students to leave UK in error.  Wonkhe have provided a summary:

  • The Financial Times reports that the Home Office may have ordered up to 7,000 international students to leave the country on the basis of false accusations that they “faked” their proficiency in English. The error allegedly occurred when US-based organisation Educational Testing Services (ETS) carried out an investigation on behalf of the Home Office into cheating in their Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC) in 2014. The investigation results led the Home Office to revoke the Tier 4 visas of around 35,870 students studying in the UK who were suspected to have used proxies to sit the test.  An immigration tribunal heard in 2016 that the computer analysis used to identify fraud had been correct in only 80% of cases, meaning that 7,000 students had been deported in error.  The Home Office told us “the Government took immediate robust action, which has been measured and proportionate and so far 21 people have received criminal convictions for their role in this deception” and noted that courts had consistently found in their favour that evidence in these cases was enough to act on. However, the FT cites a judgement published in 2017 that said that the Home Office’s behaviour was “so unfair and unreasonable as to amount to an abuse of power”.

The Guardian also has the story, noting that new Home Secretary Sajid Javid has been urged to conduct a review.

International Post-Doc Researchers – Earlier in the year HEPI released their report The costs and benefits of international students ahead of the Migration Advisory Committee’s consultation on international students (outcomes expected autumn 2018). At the HEPI launch event there was strong argument for the sectors which need international talent to fulfil economic and business needs but which have low graduate starting salaries. An oral question this week extended this debate to cover post-doc employment:

  • Q – Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): I declare an interest as a trustee of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. Post-doctoral research fellows are a vital part of this country’s research base, and they come from all over the world, including from the EU. What discussions are my right hon. and hon. Friends having with the Home Office to ensure that our future immigration policy is based not on salaries—post-docs often receive pretty miserly salaries compared with their qualifications—but on the skills that we really need in this country.
  • A – Robin Walker: I regularly attend the higher education and science working group chaired by my hon. Friend the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, where we discuss these issues, and we have been feeding into the work being done by the Migration Advisory Committee and the Home Office on that front. The Prime Minister made clear that we will want to continue to attract key talent from around the world, and Britain will want to continue to be a scientific superpower in the years to come. It is essential that we get our policies right on this.

Widening Participation & Achievement

New Fair Access Tsar, Chris Millward, blogs for UUK on the ‘OpportUNIty for everyone’ campaign aiming to promote the work done by universities on social mobility. Chris’ entry into the sector as Director for Fair Access and Participation has had WP buffs pondering whether there will be an entirely different fair access landscape with new directives. Perhaps unintentionally Chris’ blog continues to repeat Les Ebdon’s constant calls for ‘faster change’:  ‘Opportunity for everyone’ shows how universities are opening their doors, but they must build on this for faster change. It perhaps favours a focusing of the WP target groups by specifically mentioning:

  • Young people from identified low participation neighbourhoods (LPN) – concern: access and successful completion
  • White boys from low income families (also within LPN and in receipt of free school meals) – concern: access
  • Mature students – concern: falling numbers accessing HE
  • Black and Asian, and Disabled students – concern: parity of numbers receiving good degree and/or successfully securing a graduate level job
  • Students reporting mental health concerns – concern: better support to complete degree

It notes all universities are expected to narrow their gaps in all these areas. Chris promises the OfS will ‘develop evidence and effective practice guidance, and create opportunities to promote its use’ through a national Evidence and Impact Exchange. You can follow the Opportunity for everyone campaign on Twitter via: #YesUniCan

Brexit – Science & Innovation

The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee have published Brexit, science and innovation (fifth special report of session 2017-19). This gives the Government’s response to the Committee’s previous paper. Here are excerpts from the introduction:

  • The Government welcomes the Science and Technology Select Committee’s report ‘Brexit, Science and Innovation’, and is grateful for the Committee’s positive view on the Government’s input to the EU’s consultation on the shape of Framework Programme 9 (FP9). The Committee’s report highlights key issues that will need to be considered as we leave the European Union and continuing to build the broadest and deepest possible partnership with the EU on Science and Innovations remains a top priority.
  • As made clear in the UK’s position paper on Framework Programme 9, a continued focus on excellence is essential, and the EU and its Member States should facilitate and strengthen collaborative working with other countries on shared priorities for mutual benefit. The principles of excellence and competitiveness that underpin European collaboration drive up the quality of research outputs and contribute to higher skills levels.
  • The Government’s commitment to underwrite Horizon 2020 funding has provided clarity and assurance to UK businesses and universities.
  •  The Government has been consistently clear that the UK is, and will continue to be, a place that welcomes talented scientists and researchers from across the globe to work or study here.
  • We value the strong collaborative partnerships that we have across the EU in the areas of science, research and innovation and recognise the important contribution they make to the UK.

Read the Government’s response to the four recommendations here.

Life Sciences

And just in case you missed it last week here is the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee report – Life Sciences Industrial Strategy: Who’s driving the bus?

Mental Health

OfS blog on the HE partnership who are trialling new strategic methods to support good mental health through the Catalyst funding. The approach is based on UUK’s Step Change framework. Student suicides were in the news this week and there is a parliamentary question asking about national student suicide figures due for answer next week.

Strike law suits

Wonkhe report that some students intend to sue their universities over the strike action. In line with the wishes of the self-appointed “Minister for Students”, some students are now seeking compensation for teaching time lost at the 65 institutions affected by the 14 days of recent USS pension strikes.

Over 100,000 students have signed petitions to complain about the issue and request refunds. However, widespread media coverage has focused on Tel-Aviv/London-based English law firm Asserson, a “disputes” specialist, which has set up a website encouraging UK, EU, and non-EU students to sign up to a class action lawsuit to potentially claim “hundreds of pounds each”. Apparently, it now has over 1,000 signatures, enough to apply for a group litigation order. If the firm can secure funding from a specialist litigation funder for the no-win-no-fee claim, get insurance against a failed claim, and work out how to distribute claimants across institutions, we may see a landmark case. Shimon Goldwater of the firm said this could cost universities “millions of pounds”.

Some institutions have put unspent pay in hardship funds, and those with student contracts will be checking the wording carefully. At the time, Universities UK (UUK) advised students to start with institutional complaints procedures, then if necessary escalate them to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) in England and Wales. The OIA’s annual report came out on Thursday, showing a slight increase in complaints in 2017 – 1,635 compared to 1,517 the previous year. The student-as-consumer trend continues.

Wonkhe’s website also explains how group litigation works and a blogger warns that calls for money back could result in them becoming victims of another compensation scam.

No pause for Purdah

Research Professional explores how a Purdah period needn’t be a gag order. They confirmed that scientists are permitted to make public statements during election campaigns. On 11 April, the Cabinet Office issued revised election guidance for civil servants permitting scientists to continue with their work in the run up to an election.  During the 2017 general election, the UK Research Councils “strongly” advised against issuing press releases about new research. Jeremy Heywood, Head of the Civil Service, stated: the [purdah] principles are not, and have never been about restricting commentary from independent academics.

Fiona Fox (Chief Executive of the Science Media Centre) writes in Research Professional to urge all to get the message out:

This is an important moment for the scientific community, but only if we shout about it. We must make sure that the new guidance is to hand the next time someone tries to use purdah as a reason to restrict scientists from speaking publicly about their research during election time.

UK Research and Innovation in particular has an important role here to ensure that all the academics it funds know about and understand these positive changes. The multiple sets of guidance on guidance, which emphasises what scientists cannot say in elections, should be replaced with a simple statement of what academics should continue to do as normal.

Purdah was never intended to silence scientists, but in the absence of real clarity, some allowed that to happen. Now that we have the clarity there is no excuse to let it happen again.

Consultations

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

New consultations and inquiries this week:

  • The House of Commons Education Committee has launched an inquiry into the challenges posed and opportunities presented by the Fourth Industrial Revolution. As outlined in the inquiry press release, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is characterised by the emergence of a range of new technologies including artificial intelligence, robotics and the internet of things. The changes are likely to have a major impact on both productivity and the labour market, with low and medium skilled jobs most at risk.  The inquiry will examine how best to prepare young people to take advantage of future opportunities by looking at the suitability of the school curriculum. It will also look at the role of lifelong learning and how best to help people climb the ladder of opportunity in the future. Please see further details and links below:

Interesting news

  • If you’re a bit rusty on the different elements of parliament this 1 minute You Tube Video may be for you: Why does the House of Commons Chamber look empty?
  • Trans experience: Wonkhe bloggers examine the experience of trans and gender diverse staff in HE and how matters can move forward more positively.
  • Alumni & data protection: BU’s own Fiona Cowrie writes for Research Professional on how the imminent data protection changes will affect universities’ relationships with their alumni.
  • Personal statements: A role for school’s to supplement second-hand cultural capital by supporting students through tailored super-curricular experiences. A simple read setting out what makes the difference in successful UCAS personal statements.
  • Influencing policy through research: We’ve mentioned this previously and Wonkhe have a new blog post on getting parliament to pick up research and translate it into policy. It lists 10 simple steps to make connections and present your research effectively for policy makers.
  • Useful complaints: A blogger from the Office of the Independent Adjudicator blogs on the impact listening to and acting on complaints can have in: Complaints – student engagement in its rickets form?
  • BTEC students: BTEC students are more likely to fail and not progress to their second year, although the non-continuation rate varies with subject choice. Overall patterns of progression show more BTEC students fail the end of first year examination as compared to entrants with other qualifications. One possible explanation for this is that they are at a different starting point in terms of academic preparedness and understanding assessment expectations in HE. Interventions may therefore need to target support around learning and progression of BTEC students during first year in HE or even earlier to encourage transferable learning.  Subject-wise patterns of progressions for BTEC students show they are less successful in Computer Science and Business Studies as compared to Sports. Interventions and academic support in HE need to be tailored across subject-areas in line with course structure and programme requirements to help BTEC students achieve better educational outcomes. It might be the case that not just inclusive pedagogies across universities, but a collaborative approach between higher education providers and FE colleges, can support the progression of these students better. This is all the more important as BTEC qualifications are acknowledged as contributing to widening HE access.   Read How successful are BTEC students at university? for more detail and interactive charts.

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 JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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