Tagged / Review of post-18 education

HE Policy Update for the w/e 4th March 2021

After a string of very long and detailed policy updates, we have a slightly lighter one for you this week, as most government attention has been on the budget and therefore, for once, HE has not been much in the spotlight.  There have been a lot of very boring answers to Parliamentary questions but since they don’t move anything on we are letting you off.  Even the OfS has been quiet this week.

We are expecting a “big year” for HE policy, so this is a moment to catch our breath.  If you are wondering what we can look forward to, the first thing is likely to be the review of plans to allow students to return to campus “by the end of the Easter holidays”.  And at some point there will be a deluge of announcements and consultations linked to the mega list of upcoming changes announced in January and GW’s letter to the OfS about priorities.  If you haven’t already seen it, you can read more about what is coming in our latest Horizon Scan here.

Budget – big news but not for HE

As expected, not much in the budget for higher education. Press release: with links to the detailed documents here.  And other related documents via links here.

The Build Back Better plan is what it suggests, with some nods to R&D but really not a lot, and some things to look forward to.  A full response on the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding within 12 months (we were told to expect it in the November Autumn Statement). Lifelong loans consultation within 6 months.  And the Research and Development Places Strategy and People and Culture Strategy within 6 months too.

In the press, John Morgan in the THE writes about visas and the fee cap (which was already announced):

  • The government’s interim response to the Augar review had previously said it would “freeze the maximum tuition fee cap to deliver better value for students and to keep the cost of higher education under control”, which would be “initially be for one year” with “further changes to the student finance system…considered ahead of the next comprehensive spending review”….
  • But the budget document contained mention of a freeze in the English tuition fee cap, currently at £9,250, for 2022-23.

Research news

After the announcements about the Advanced Research and Invention Agency, which we noted last week, the bill to establish it has now been published. As usual with a draft bill there is also a set of explanatory notes.

From the explanatory notes, the section entitled ARIA model explains what it will actually do:

ARIA is expected to emulate key features of the US ARPA model tailored to the UK R&D landscape. This may include: 

  1. Organising ambitious research goals around the long-term programmes of work which are led by so-called Programme Managers. Programme Managers facilitate cohesion between individual research projects in pursuit of transformational breakthroughs. Programmes may include basic research through to the creation of prototypes and commercialised technologies.
  2. Significant autonomy for Programme Managers who are able to take advantage of innovative and flexible approaches to programme funding.
  3. A tolerance to failure in pursuit of transformational breakthroughs embedded in its culture. Only a small fraction of ambitious goals will be achieved, however ARIA will provide value from its failures, including spill-over benefits gained from intermediary outputs. For example, a particular goal may not prove technologically viable but in pursuing it, scientists may happen across another promising technology.

There is a bit in the Bill is about purpose:

In exercising its functions, ARIA must have regard to the desirability of doing so for the benefit of the United Kingdom, through—

(a) contributing to economic growth, or an economic benefit, in the United Kingdom,

(b) promoting scientific innovation and invention in the United Kingdom, or

(c) improving the quality of life in the United Kingdom (or in the United Kingdom and elsewhere).

Section 3 of the Bill is supposed to be the big distinguishing feature of ARIA. To get round the natural small-c conservatism and caution that government agencies usually have, with the Public Accounts Committee and the National audit Office breathing down their neck.

  • Section 3 Ambitious research, development and exploitation: tolerance to failure In exercising any of its functions under this Act, ARIA may give particular weight to the potential for significant benefits to be achieved or facilitated through scientific research, or the development and exploitation of scientific knowledge, that carries a high risk of failure.

And there is a bit more in the explanatory notes on what tolerance for failure section is intended for:

  • ARIA may set highly ambitious research goals which, if achieved, would bring about transformative scientific and technological advances. These advances would yield significant economic and social benefit. These goals may be highly ambitious meaning that it is likely that only a small fraction will be fully realised. The Bill allows ARIA to have a high tolerance to project failure. 
  • The ambitious research goals may require multi-year programmes of work where pay-back may be highly uncertain and success may not be realised for some years. It is likely that at least a proportion of projects are ones that would not be undertaken by other bodies. ARIA may fund opportunities which are untested and untried, but best suit its ambitious research goals.     
  • In performing these functions, the forms of support undertaken by ARIA may themselves carry high risk, for example, taking equity stake in a start-up company
  • ….Furthermore, in pursuing highly ambitious research goals, ARIA will be able to bring together high-calibre individuals and bodies from across the public and private sector R&D communities which might not otherwise have been brought together. These connections may endure, spurring future innovation under the leadership of ARIA or others.

Schedule 1 has a bit more technical info.  There’s loads of stuff about hiring and firing and procedures and pay and committees

David Kernohan reviews it for Wonkhe, who compares it to UKRI’s powers.  David suggests that the implication of the reporting requirements are that ARIA may not be supporting doctorates, and also flags the important and interesting point that ARIA is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act.  So all that high risk investment will only be as transparent as the reporting obligations require – mainly an annual report to parliament.

 Widening participation

A new report by the Education Policy Institute (EPI), funded by the Nuffield Foundation, finds that poorer students in sixth forms and colleges trail their more affluent peers by as many as three A level grades when taking qualifications at this level.  The report is light on recommendations as it is focussed on understanding, rather than solving the issue that it raises.

They offer this set of conclusions in the executive summary:

  • Whilst much of the focus should be on earlier phases, for the disadvantage attainment gap to close, a concomitant increase in efforts to limit the impact of disadvantage during the 16-19 phase is required. If disadvantaged young people are to avoid falling yet further behind, addressing this gap should be central to the government’s reform agenda for the 16-19 phase and for further education.
  • Our findings also strengthen the case for including student level disadvantage measures within the 16-19 funding formula, alongside the area-based measures currently used. Introducing such funding as a Student Premium, alongside the associated accountability and transparency requirements for providers, would help heighten the focus on disadvantaged students during this phase.
  • Critically, these results also predate the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting lost learning and disruption to exams; factors which may have exacerbated the disadvantage attainment gap. To ensure that existing and emerging inequalities are identified and addressed we will continue to review and refine the provisional methodology presented in this report and monitor the 16-19 disadvantage attainment gap through 2020 and beyond.

Key findings:

The disadvantage gap in sixth forms and colleges Based on a new, exploratory analysis of the disadvantage gap at this phase, the research finds that:

  • There is a large gap in attainment, equivalent to almost three A level grades, when comparing (on average) the best three qualifications of disadvantaged students (those who had claimed free school meals in secondary school) and the best three qualifications of their non-advantaged peers.
  • For the very poorest sixth form and college students – those classed as “persistently disadvantaged” – who were on free school meals for over 80% of their time at school – the gap is even wider, equivalent to four A level grades.
  • There was no progress in closing the 16-19 gap between 2017 to 2019 and this is likely to now be worsened by the unequal impact of the pandemic on learning loss, along with the very different approaches to assessments seen in academic and vocational qualifications during 2020.

Which factors explain the disadvantage gap at sixth form and college level? When exploring the contribution of different factors to the large gap at this phase, the research finds that:

  • A large proportion of the gap (39%) at the 16-19 education phase can be explained by students’ prior attainment at school (GCSE). Poorer students enter sixth form and college at a significant disadvantage compared to their more affluent peers, having on average, achieved far lower grades previously at school.
  • The type of qualifications taken by poorer students also explains a large part of the gap in 16-19 education (33% of the gap): disadvantaged students are more likely to enter fewer, and lower-level qualifications.
  • However, while poorer students’ previous level of academic achievement and type of qualification play a strong role in the gap at 16-19, socio-economic disadvantage may be contributing to these students falling even further behind during this phase. 
  • When controlling for student’s prior attainment and qualification type, poorer students are still shown to achieve poorer grades compared to their more affluent peers – around the equivalent of half an A level grade. This is significant, as it shows poorer students face an extra attainment penalty during the 16-19 education phase.

How does the sixth form and college gap vary across the country? While on average, poorer students in sixth forms and colleges trail their more affluent peers by the equivalent of three A level grades, there are great disparities across England:

  • Poorer students are the equivalent of five whole A level grades behind their more affluent students nationally in Knowsley (5.4 A level grades behind) North Somerset (4.8 grades behind) and Stockton-on-Tees (4.7 grades behind).
  • In sharp contrast, in many London areas, poorer students are level with or even ahead of their more affluent peers nationally. The areas with the lowest disadvantage gaps in the country are Southwark (poorer students are 1.2 A level grades ahead), Redbridge (0.5 grades ahead) and Ealing (0.5 grades ahead).
  • Of the 20 local authorities in the country with the smallest 16-19 disadvantage gaps, almost all of them are situated in or around the London area, with the exception of Redcar and Cleveland (20thsmallest gap).

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

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HE policy update for the w/e 21st January 2021

After a long wait the sector received a landslide of HE policy interventions on Thursday. The FE Skills White paper, PQA consultation, the Government’s take on Augar, publication of the Pearce TEF review with the DfE’s response, and significant changes to the HE recurrent grant, alongside some far less exciting stuff! And it wasn’t a quiet week before all that.

Some of it is good, some of it is very ominous indeed.  Some of it is very high level and vague and so could go either way.  There are a lot of new consultations to come and there will be lots to talk about in 2021.  It will keep Sarah and I busy!

Boil that kettle, locate your reading glasses, and get comfy on the sofa ready to enjoy a bumper policy update!

Skills White Paper

This is the biggy because it’s a White Paper,  However, most of it is not about HE. The Government has published the Skills for jobs: lifelong learning for opportunity and growth white paper setting out their ambition for reform to the post-19 technical education and training landscape.

Gavin Williamson spoke in the House of Commons (see this link at 13:08 pm)

  • White paper on skills for job published today (see below)
  • Enormous challenges ahead to rebuild the economy. Support packages already announced (etc).  Strong and independent trading nation (etc).
  • Lifetime skills guarantee, flexible digital skills bootcamps (etc).
  • April – kick start Higher Technical Education by making it easy to get a loan. Pilots on modular learning.  Lifelong loan entitlement running from 2025.
  • Employers at the centre of technical education. Supporting local economy.  German style local skills improvement plans led by Chambers of Commerce. Strategic development funding for FE.
  • New courses – trailblazer areas this year. Fund of £65m in 2021-22.
  • $1.5bn of capital funding for FE. Announced next phase for FE and T-levels.
  • Longer term – more coherent longer term funding model that will collaborate on with the sector. Principles of high value, greater flexibility and greater accountability.  By 2030 nearly all technical courses will follow employer led requirements.
  • Continue with apprenticeships and T-levels.
  • Network of Institutes of Technology will expand across the country.
  • Top quality teaching staff in FE – recruitment campaign, more support etc, training and development and industry experience.

We’ve done a separate 6 page summary for BU readers, because it’s long (and repetitive and full of the usual patting on the back about other good things already announced).

RP say (amongst many other things):

  • It’s almost as if there is a good news story to be told about further education, while the government hopes its lack of decision-making on higher education falls off the news agenda…
  • It’s actually called the Skills for Jobs white paper, which in fact takes the story away from underfunded further education and pivots towards post-Covid economic recovery. You will have seen much of the content before.
  • …So modular funding is on its way, but 2025 is a long way off—that takes us into the next parliament. Perhaps the Treasury has costed the commitment and decided to kick that particular can down the road.
  • The Skills for Jobs white paper… will seek to justify both disinvestment in higher education and funding of technical education on the cheap. It will play to the prejudices of the Conservative base and the idea that too many people are going to university and that decades of regional inequality can be resolved by more plumbing courses at local further education colleges.

From Dods: The Department says that the measures announced today “will put an end to the illusion that a degree is the only route to success and a good job, and that further and technical education is the second-class option.”

The White Paper is being pitched as forming part of the Plan for Jobs

  • As expected, the Paper enshrines the Lifetime Skills Guarantee, providing a clearer idea of what the programme looks like in practice – adults without a full level 3 qualification (A-level equivalent) to gain one from April 2021 for free in a range of sectors including engineering, health and accountancy.
  • The long-touted Lifelong Loan Entitlement is also fleshed out in more detail, representing significant reforms to student finance. [Actually, there is very little detail and there is going to be a consultation on this “in early 2021”.]

Measures include:

  • The Government is investing £1.5bn in further education colleges, to allow for high quality buildings and facilities
  • Employers will have a central role in designing “almost all” technical courses by 2030, to ensure education and training reflects the skills needed in the job market, supported by the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education
  • Business groups, including Chambers of Commerce, will work alongside colleges to develop tailored skills plans“to meet local training needs”
  • This will be supported by a £65m Strategic Development Fund to put said plans into action, and establish new College Business Centre
  • New approved qualifications from September 2022, supported by a Government-backed brand and quality mark, to boost the quality and uptake of Higher Technical Qualifications(levels 4 and 5)
  • From 2025, people can access flexible student finance so they can train and retrain throughout their lives, supported by funding in 21/22 to test ways to boost access to more modular and flexible learning.
  • Nationwide recruitment campaign to get more teachers into further education and supporting professional development including a new Workforce Industry Exchange Programme
  • An “overhaul” of the funding and accountability rules, so funding is better targeted at supporting high-quality education and training that meets the needs of employers
  • An introduction of new powers to intervene when colleges are failing to deliver good outcomes for the communities they serve, and strengthening of Education Secretary’s powers to intervene in corporations and local areas with persistent weaknesses.  [The sales pitch on this is a good bit of spin, it is presented as an opportunity to have a strategic discussion with the department and pitch the strengths of the college, but….]

The next phase of the FE Capital Transformation Fund has also been launched today, and further education colleges across the country are invited to bid for funding to upgrade buildings and campuses.

The Augar report stressed the need for impartial and quality careers advice and guidance, so more people can be support to make the right education, training and career choices. There will be an expansion of Careers Hubs and other infrastructure in line with the Gatsby Benchmarks of Good Career Guidance. Furthermore, Dods tell us that, as part of the Skills White Paper reforms, Professor Sir John Holman has been appointed as Independent Strategic Advisor on Careers Guidance, and will oversee the local and national alignment between The Careers & Enterprise Company and the National Careers Service. Sir Holman is currently an Emeritus Professor in Science Education at the University of York, and is also Senior Adviser to both the Gatsby Foundation and the Wellcome Trust.

RP continue:

  • The Department for Education says: “The measures announced today will put an end to the illusion that a degree is the only route to success and a good job, and that further and technical education is the second-class option. Instead, they will supercharge further and technical education, realigning the whole system around the needs of employers, so that people are trained for the skills gaps that exist now, and in the future, in sectors the economy needs, including construction, digital, clean energy and manufacturing.”
  • The government may be hoping that first sentence becomes true; it surely knows that the second sentence lacks credibility. The white paper proposals are accompanied by a £65 million Strategic Development Fund to put the plan into action and to “establish new College Business Centres to drive innovation and enhanced collaboration with employers”.
  • To put that in context, the much-mocked Turing one-way exchange scheme has a budget of £100m, which is a reduction by nearly half of its Erasmus predecessor. The £65m fund is not going to reverse decades of underinvestment in skills, while College Business Centres sound like a classic ministerial vanity project doomed to irrelevance when their limited funding dries up.
  • There is going to be a lot of that sort of thing today, including the Workforce Industry Exchange Programme, aimed at coaxing talented individuals to teach in further education. It is not thought to involve basic incentives such as a competitive salary or security of employment.

RP also pick apart the percentage comparisons in the DfE’s criticism of the sector.

Wonkhe did a special email update at lunchtime: Debbie McVitty runs through the highlights so that you don’t have to.

On the proposals for funding lifelong learning, Debbie says: If the government can crack this policy Holy Grail, it will have a genuine claim to having radically transformed post-compulsory education. But this white paper marks an intention to start developing the answers rather than concrete proposals. 

Commenting on the government’s interim response to the post-18 review of education and funding, Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the Office for Students, said:

  • ‘An increased focus on lifelong learning will help develop the highly skilled graduate workforce needed to support our economy, nationally, regionally and locally. The OfS plans to work with students, the sector and employers to explore how higher education can be made more attractive and responsive to mature learners, and ensure that mature students are aware of the breadth of options available to them in both further and higher education.
  • ‘The focus on quality and the need to tackle poor quality provision is a strategic priority for the OfS as we consult on new proposals to enable us to anticipate and respond to poor quality, while ensuring that our approach is proportionate and targeted where it is needed.’

Robert Halfon, chair of the Education Committee:

  • “The proposals from the prime minister and department for education mark a sea-change in government thinking on skills.
  • “It will help address our skills deficit by boosting the accessibility of technical qualifications alongside the lifetime skills guarantee. It meets the needs of businesses in building an employed-led system, working with FE, to design employer qualifications and ensure funding follows employer requirements. It will give those from disadvantaged backgrounds the chance to climb the skills ladder of opportunity, through the skills guarantee and easier access to finance. It is good that new funding will be made available in areas where colleges work with employers to transform their skills offering.
  • “‘Build back better’ clearly means building back a skills nation. I am really excited by these plans.”

Policy Exchange blog – Alun Francis and Andy Westwood preview the forthcoming FE White Paper.

There are some relevant blogs on HEPI:

Research

Academic spinouts: Wonkhe review: The Royal Academy of Engineering’s Enterprise Hub has published a report on academic spinouts. Just four universities – Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial and UCL – account for a third of UK spinout companies, with all such companies raising £1.30 billion in investment in 2018. While the impact of the pandemic is not yet fully known, indications point to increased investment in spinouts dealing with medical technology and pharmaceuticals. The Scotsman has the story.

Parliamentary Question: The potential merits of extending funding for all PhD students who have faced disruption as a result of the covid-19 outbreak.

Changes to HE Teaching Grant

So alongside all of this it is not surprising that we see some “rebalancing” in funding away from HE.  And given that “low value” courses have been a focus for some time, it is not surprising to see how this has gone.

Gavin Williamson spoke in the House of Commons (see this link at 13:08 pm)

  • Proposed reform to teaching grant will allocate funding to deliver value for money for students and the taxpayer. Strategic priorities.  Engineering and medicine.  Will “slash” taxpayer funding for subjects such as media studies.
  • Will provide additional support for specialist arts institutions.
  • Will consult on introduction of minimum entry requirements and addressing the high cost of foundation years. We cover this in more detail with the rest of the Augar content below, the minimum entry requirements bit is a cost saving measure, of course.
  • Full response on Augar and post-18 review with next spending review (well maybe).

There’s more (a lot more) in the response to Augar, which we cover below, but let’s get down to brass tacks and immediate changes to 2021/22 funding first.

Gavin Williamson has written to the OfS to set out new guidance for the allocation of the £1.48 billion HE teaching grant for the 2021/22 financial year.

  • Strategic reprioritisation of high-cost funding towards the provision of high-cost, high-value subjects that support the NHS and wider healthcare policy, high-cost STEM subjects and/or specific labour market needs, reducing funding initially by 50% for high-cost subjects that do not support these priorities (with further decreases in subsequent years).
  • Remove weightings for London providers from across the T-Grant, including the students attending courses in London supplement, and weightings within the student premiums. (This saves the Government £64 million.)
  • Allocate £5m to providers in order to provide additional support for student hardshipThis is to mitigate the rise in student hardship due to pandemic impacts on the labour market which particularly affect, for example, students relying on work to fund their studies, students whose parents have lost income and students who are parents and whose partner’s income has been affected. The OfS should establish exactly how this is distributed but the funding should be clearly targeted towards disadvantaged students. The £5m will be a drop in the ocean across the national provider base but provide another support statistic for the Government to trot out when asked how they are addressing the issue.
  • Allocate £15m to help address the challenges to student mental health posed by the transition to university, given the increasing demand for mental health services. OfS to establish how to target those students in greatest need of such services, but likely through a Challenge Competition.
  • Protect the £256m allocation for the student premiums to support disadvantaged students and those that need additional help [yes, that £256m]
  • Reduce the allocation for Uni Connect to £40m (losing £20m). With the lost £20m redirected towards mental health and student hardship (as per the bullet points above) – so it’s not really new money, more robbing Peter to pay Paul.
    Back to Uni Connect – the letter says: Funding for Uni Connect was originally agreed until July 2021, and so this is an appropriate moment to consider the scope and objectives of the programme. We welcome the current [OFS] consultation on the future of the Uni Connect programme… we believe that future investment is best directed to support the core infrastructure of partnerships, and funding targeted activities to fulfil specific policy objectives.
  • Increase funding for specialist providers, particularly those who are world leading and specialise in the performing and creative arts, by approximately £10m to £53m. This will help to support and/or expand the provision at those providers best equipped to secure positive outcomes for graduates, boosting outcomes for the sector. Note the wording there – positive outcomes, boosting outcomes…so specialist providers without the right metrics might be disappointed! Again the OfS is to decide who is eligible.
  • Deliver capital funding to providers through a strategically targeted bidding process and target funds at specific projects and activities aligned with the high-quality, skills-based education agenda – not the old formula model (because: The extent to which we can assure ourselves that funding is adding value and investment is focussed on key government priorities is, therefore, limited.) Jisc and HESA’s Data Futures Programme can still be supported too.
  • If you are willing to delve far enough you’ll spot that Annex C allocates £28 million for Turing outward mobility in 2021/22 from the teaching grant.

The letter also instructs OfS to consult with the HE sector given the impact on the HE sector anticipated from the proposed changes. With all the other special allocations to iron out and their regular workload the OfS will be busy!

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the Office for Students, said about the Department for Education’s statutory guidance for the OfS’s approach to funding:

  • ‘Distributing funding is an important part of our regulatory work. Our annual grant funding for universities and colleges plays a critical role in ensuring the availability to students of high quality, cost-effective higher education across the country. We intend to consult on the government’s proposed changes to how we distribute this funding, and have written today to universities outlining our proposals for consultations and a revised schedule for distributing next year’s grant allocations.’

Wonkhe: Gavin Williamson has set out his strategic priorities again to OfS including changes to the teaching grant that will hit London universities the hardest.

HEPI also has a blog piece on the case for the Office for Students to be a strong regulator, working closely with universities and sector bodies.

Post-18 Review of Post-18 Education and Funding and interim response to the Augar report

The Augar report from 2019 has been gathering dust for a long time following the (2018) Post-18 Review of Education and Funding (one of  Jo Johnson’s legacies). The Augar Review made 53 recommendations for the reform of the FE & HE sectors including a more coherent unified post-18 system.   You might want to look back at what Augar actually said (way back in May 2019).

The Government’s response to Augar has been long promised and many times shifted further down the road due to elections, Brexit, the pandemic, and the further postponement of the comprehensive spending review.

While the sector may approach the Government’s response to Augar with both anticipation and trepidation – alongside a healthy dose of just tell us! – it seems we’ll still have to wait for the real decisions. The DfE’s interim conclusion of Augar has been released, the main points are below. Much is inextricably tied in with the Skills white paper and FE decisions. The Government also plan to consult on further reforms to the system in spring 2021, before setting out their full response. The full conclusion of the review is promised to sit alongside the next Comprehensive Spending Review. Augar: the sequel, we can’t wait!

  • The TEF will continue to play an important role in driving improvement in HE provision. The OfS will consult on a more, streamlined, improved, low-burden TEF exercise, and in an aim to reduce bureaucracy, the Government will not be introducing subject-level TEF. There is a lot more on the TEF below.
  • The Government are considering further reforms for tackling ‘low quality provision’ and will set out a response in due course.
  • The report highlighted the significant taxpayer subsidy in the HE student finance system. The Government intend to freeze the maximum tuition fee cap to deliver better value for students and to keep the cost of higher education under control, initially for one year, with consideration of further changes before the next Comprehensive Spending Review. It appear the reduction in the fee cap to £7,500 may still be on the table.

Wonkhe have a blog: editor in chief Mark Leach argues that the government’s chronic failure to resolve the Augar recommendations on reducing home undergraduate fees is storing up serious problems for later this year – Holding the threat of reducing fees over the sector will not help universities or students. 

Research Professional (writing before the response was officially released): What will be presented as an interim response to Philip Augar’s review of post-18 education and funding will be little more than a holding position, with all the big financial decisions put on hold until the comprehensive spending review…It is also, no doubt, a way of putting pressure on universities so that the government gets its way on other policy priorities, such as low-value courses. Time will tell whether these interim findings will be a sword of Damocles held over universities or part of a process by which the Augar review is finally put out to pasture.

Autumn 2021 is the earliest the next CSR is likely to take place.

Some extracts from the response – but at 13 pages it is worth reading in full:

  • The Government’s focus on the response to the coronavirus pandemic means that now is not the right time to conclude the review in full. However, we remain committed to introducing further reforms that will ensure a just and financially sustainable student finance system, drive up the quality of higher education provision and promote accessibility for students. This will include consideration of elements mentioned in the Augar Report, including student finance terms and conditions, minimum entry requirements to higher education institutions, the treatment of foundation years and other matters. [note the minimum entry requirement piece. You will recall the outrage about this proposal which was going to be in Augar – the discussion at the time about the impact of a 3Ds minimum level.  Augar actually stopped short of recommending it but threatened it as a response to the sector not sorting out issues relating to “low value courses”.  See more detailed section below.]
  • We plan to consult on further reforms to the higher education system in spring 2021, before setting out a full response to the report and final conclusion to the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding alongside the next Comprehensive Spending Review. [and how many times have they said that – the last two spending reviews at which we were promised this were cancelled]
  • As a further part of our Lifetime Skills Guarantee, and informed by the recommendation of the Augar panel, we will move to a system where everyone has a Lifelong Loan Entitlement, giving them access to the equivalent of four years of post-18 education. This flexible entitlement will bring technical and academic education closer together and will help people to train, retrain and upskill throughout their lifetime. The Lifelong Loan Entitlement will provide fairness of opportunity by making the same funding system available regardless of the route you choose and when you choose to study. We will consult on the scope and detail of the entitlement in early 2021, including seeking views on objectives and coverage.
  • This is potentially huge: We will move towards modularisation of higher education in order to provide a truly flexible system that provides more opportunity for upskilling throughout people’s careers, as recommended by the Augar Report. We will consult widely about the changes that are needed to enable universities and colleges to provide a modular offer.[doesn’t say when they will consult on this]
  • Our vision is that the substantial majority of post-16 technical and Higher Technical Education will be aligned to employer-led standards by the end of this decade
  • We will set out how the higher education teaching grant will be used next year to ensure that more of taxpayers’ money is spent on supporting provision which aligns with the priorities of the nation, such as healthcare, STEM and specific labour market needs. This gives reassurance to potential students that incentives are aligned to encourage courses with good job outcomes and reinforces the Government’s commitment to safeguarding the UK’s high-quality research base.
  • As recommended by the Augar Report, we will create a system that stimulates demand for technical education, improving the nation’s skills and encouraging growth…..
    • …We need a better balance between academic and technical education – we are currently too skewed towards degrees above all else
    • .. We want every student with the aptitude and desire to go to university to be able to do so and we want technical, employer-centric training to be a viable option for many more people.
  • We will ask the OfS to consult on a more streamlined, improved, low-burden TEF exercise that will ensure that the drive to improve the quality of provision applies across all providers, not just those at the lower end. In line with the ambition to reduce bureaucracy, we will not be introducing a subject-level TEF. [that is a fascinating nuance – see the TEF section below]
  • We are considering what further reforms may be needed to tackle low-quality provision and will set out a full response on this issue in due course. [So what is that, then?  More than what the OfS are already doing with their quality and standards work, presumably.    Augar also looked at, in the same way as it looked at minimum grade requirements, (i.e. “we aren’t recommending but you could look at”), targeted number caps on courses offering low value for money.  Is that what the government response is hinting at?.  We look at this in more detail below as well].
  • The Augar Report highlighted the significant, and growing, taxpayer subsidy in the higher education student finance system. It is important that the student finance funding systems remain sustainable and that those who benefit from their higher education should make a fair contribution. We intend to freeze the maximum tuition fee cap to deliver better value for students and to keep the cost of higher education under control. This will initially be for one year and further changes to the student finance system will be considered ahead of the next Comprehensive Spending Review. [There you are, postponed again to another spending review. Which is surely unlikely to happen this year, for the same reasons as it hasn’t happened the last two years.]

HEPI has a blog “The Government’s emerging vision for universities: labour-market need at the heart of the system.”

  • The Government might be determined to put short-term labour-market need at the heart of our higher education system – determining the subjects that people are encouraged to or able to study… If enacted, these proposals will lead to (i) a weaker student voice, (ii) an un-benchmarked metric that equates professional-level employment fifteen months after graduation with success, and (iii) connecting university courses’ conditions of registration to a pass/fail rule about successful outcomes that takes no account of the social backgrounds of different students. This would be a very significant change in how universities are held to account and, by implication, a philosophical shift on what the fundamental purpose of university is considered to be. Short-term labour-market need, not student choice, will be at the heart of the system. The Government is perfectly entitled to do all this but it will have ripple effects. The current funding model puts primary responsibility on the individual graduate to pay for their education. Young people might wonder whether they should pay in a system that steers their choices in a direction someone else has judged appropriate.

So what’s coming next on Augar?

So, the response to Augar says there will be a consultation on minimum entry requirements and one on “further reforms”  – and more work on low value courses.  We remind you about the previous debates about minimum entry requirements, and what Augar said about them, as well as what it said about further action on capping student numbers for low value courses.

Minimum entry requirements: This suggestion was made in Augar the context of this:

  • Our preference is for the HE sector, through the OfS, to resolve the problem of students being inappropriately recruited onto low value courses.
  • We believe that the sector should have three years – until the start of academic year 2022/23 – to put its house in order

If not, Augar said, then the government should do two things – impose minimum entry requirements and cap numbers on low value courses.

To remind you about the arguments:

Augar was published in May 2019 and actually said this on minimum entry requirements (see pages 99-101)

  • We have considered the introduction at some future date of a contextualised minimum entry threshold for access to Level 6 student finance for students under the age of 25, to be used if the measures outlined above did not deliver the scale and pace of change needed. Students under 25 with tariff points below a certain level would be ineligible for student loans for tuition at Level 6. To repeat, this policy would need to be implemented such that disadvantaged students were not unfairly penalised.
  • The choice of threshold would be critical. As Figure 3.14 shows, there is no clear drop-off point in graduate earnings by attainment. To be effective, a threshold would need to be both high enough to address the issues of drop-out and lower wage returns set out earlier; and low enough to ensure that the impact could be managed across the sector and would avoid disproportionate impact on disadvantaged groups.
  • Were a minimum entry requirement introduced, it should apply only to students under the age of 25, after which work experience, rather than Level 3 qualifications alone, would be the appropriate entry criterion. The policy should apply only to Level 6 courses: any young person with Level 3 attainment below the threshold would still be eligible for student finance to study at Levels 4/5, and could then use their qualification at those higher levels to progress on to, and therefore receive finance for, Level 6 in the future. Introducing high-quality alternatives to degree study will be crucial to addressing the problems of low-value degrees set out above. Students recognise the value of higher-level study but they must have these alternatives available to them or they will continue to enrol for poor-value degrees. We are aware that even with contextualisation the impact on some HEIs would be significant. Some of them might wish to focus on the new higher technical provision discussed in the previous chapter; if they chose to do so, this would be a positive outcome [ouch]
  • We consider a minimum entry threshold contextualised for socio-economic background to be feasible and that it could address the problems of low returns for graduates in a socially progressive way.
  • However, such a threshold would be a significant intervention into what has been designed as a competitive autonomous market. It could be seen as a reversal of the principle of allowing all who are able to benefit from HE to attend, a principle that has underpinned HE policy in recent years and was first pronounced in the 1963 Robbins Report.
  • It might be objected that the contextualisation process breaks the clear link between attainment and entry established by a minimum entry threshold. For example, it could result in a position where two students at the same school with the same grades holding the same offer from the same university would have different outcomes; one would be moderated over the threshold and attend university while the other would not. In so doing, it could be presented as an example of social engineering – and breach of concepts of fairness – that do not fit comfortably within a meritocratic education system.

There was a lot of debate about this idea before Augar was published – because it was leaked as a possible recommendation.  Chris Skidmore, who was Universities Minister at the time, did not like the idea.  In the end it was watered down as a threat if the sector did not sort out “low value courses” by 2022/23.  The current government look to be a bit more impatient and have assumed that these issues will not be sorted out by then.  And it may not be just this that they are considering – we look at the other Augar threat on targeted number caps below.

Targeted number caps on courses offering poor value for money

This was in the same context as the minimum entry requirements proposal:

  • Our preference is for the HE sector, through the OfS, to resolve the problem of students being inappropriately recruited onto low value courses.
  • We believe that the sector should have three years – until the start of academic year 2022/23 – to put its house in order

..and if not then: Augar said this on capping numbers (see pages 101-102)

  • If recruitment practice has not improved by 2022/23, discussed further below, an alternative or complementary option for the government and OfS is the imposition of a cap on the numbers admitted to courses that persistently manifest poor value for money for students and the public. The existing regulations give OfS the power to implement such caps where that is justified in accordance with their regulatory aims, at institutional or subject level.
  • The government has made it clear that it will not re-impose a cap on student numbers at national level. It would be out of scope for us to propose this and we would not wish to do so, even if it were within our terms of reference. However, we are mindful that the government does exceptionally place a cap on numbers, notably on university places for Medicine, because of the very high cost of a medical degree and of the professional training that follows it, and have considered whether this practice could be extended.[this looks interesting now in the light of the attempt to apply student number caps in the pandemic which was abandoned so quickly when the extent of the 2020 A-level results mess-ups became apparent].
  • We therefore invite the government to consider the case for encouraging the OfS to stipulate in exceptional circumstances a limit to the numbers an HEI could enrol on a specific course, or group of courses.
  • Where there is persistent evidence of poor value for students in terms of employment and earnings and for the public in terms of loan repayments, the OfS would have the regulatory authority to place a limit, for a fixed period, on the numbers eligible for financial support who could be admitted to the course. The institution in question would remain free to recruit to all other courses without restriction. Such a cap system would clearly target the institutions that are offering poor value, rather than altering the entry criteria for individual students.

International and mobility

Wonkhe have new content: Ahead of the British Council’s international education virtual festival this week, Director Education Maddalaine Ansell takes stock of the state of international recruitment.

Parliamentary Question: Ensuring the UK remains an attractive destination for education for international students

Wonkhe have a blog on what is needed for Turing to be a success. Here are some of the recommendations:

  • Monitor the graduate outcomes of Turing on a longitudinal basis so we can measure its benefit not just as a snapshot six or twelve months from graduation but over an individual’s lifetime
  • Be global in principle but trade oriented in focus because the rise of the Asian Century means giving our students as much opportunity to travel to Asia and learn Asian languages/culture as engaging with Europe and North America.
  • Ensure more industry and employer engagement which will require universities to understand their international graduate destinations and form alliances and partnerships with international companies that can host students on work placements overseas. With robust country specific data on international graduate outcomes institutions can focus employer engagement where it will have the most impact.
  • Attribute value to soft power because global goodwill is essential for the UK’s future economic success particularly during and following the global pandemic. Mapping the careers of those that take part in Turing will put the UK in the driving seat when it comes to having alumni with a wide network of contacts with the authority to invest and trade.
  • Demonstrate excellence through international employability by showing the value to an individual’s future career if they take part in Turing. Evidencing the outcomes from the scheme must be part of the hearts and minds approach to ensuring that UK students are motivated to take part in outward mobility.

Meanwhile Wonkhe report: Welsh education minister Kirsty Williams is reported to be in discussions with her counterparts in Scotland and Northern Ireland about the possibility that the three nations could rejoin the Erasmus+ scheme. Nation Cymru has the story.

HEPI have a blog: Five questions to ask about the Turing scheme

Parliamentary Questions

  • Whether UK students will be liable for fees in their host countries under the Turing programme. Answer – students taking part will receive grants to help them with the costs of their international experience…On tuition fees, we expect these to be waived for Turing scheme participants consistent with the arrangements for Erasmus+.
  • Will Turing involve a competitive bidding element? Answer: We will be making further information available very shortly to enable providers across the UK to prepare to bid for funding when applications open in the coming weeks for placements to take place from September 2021. This will include information on how applications will be assessed, and funding allocated and we plan to have a call for bids much like Erasmus+. Successful applications will receive funding for administering the scheme and students taking part will receive grants to help them with the costs of their international experience.

This scheme will be demand-led and will be open to bids from providers across the UK. As such, there is no projection as to the number of students from each nation or specific limits for any specific region.

TEF

The Independent (Pearce) Review of the Teaching and Student Outcomes Framework (i.e. the TEF Review) has been published. This was completed and submitted to government (in August 2019) but hibernated in the Ministerial in tray (election etc…) whilst Governmental focus and priorities shifted.

RP:

  • the subject-level Teaching Excellence Framework looks to be heading for the highest shelf in the cupboard of abandoned higher education policy initiatives. It seems as if the Office for Students is to be sent back to the drawing board to come up with something less burdensome and more in keeping with government priorities on low-value courses.
  • As ever, higher education should be careful what it wishes for, as the replacement for the subject-level TEF might be even less rigorous and more intrusive. The absence of benchmarking in the Office for Students’ consultation on quality has spooked some, who fear the imposition of a less sophisticated assessment process for universities.

Here are all the links:

Overall: Is it worth it?: Given the value of HE to the UK, we believe it is firmly in the public and student interest for TEF to have, as its primary purpose, the identification of excellence across all HE and to encourage enhancement of that provision.

We’ll set out the Pearce recommendations and the government responses together so you can compare.

Statistical analysis:

Pearce: Improvements are needed in the management and communication of:

  • statistical uncertainty at all levels of the process, including multiple comparisons
  • small numbers ( small providers and/or small datasets ) and non-reportable metrics
  • relative versus absolute comparisons

These have a significant impact on flagging and generating the initial hypothesis.

Appendix B sets out the essential ONS recommendations that address these concerns.

Government: …we would like the OfS metrics group to take into account and address the concerns raised by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) when reviewing the robustness of its metrics and data.

Subject level exercise:

Pearce: The process and statistical risks become exacerbated at subject level where the impact of problems due to small numbers becomes greater. This, in addition to the problems with subject categorisation and risks of inconsistencies at scale, mean that ratings at subject level risk undermining the successful development of TEF as a whole.

There is evidence however, that a subject-level exercise has value for driving internal enhancement. For this reason, we recommend that while TEF should not progress to ratings at subject level at this stage, a subject-level exercise should be incorporated into the provider-level assessment and inform provider-level ratings.

Work is needed to develop the most effective way to do this. We propose that all providers receive a full set of subject-level metrics and that failure to sufficiently address variability in subject performance should act as a limiting factor on ratings of the aspects of assessment and the overall provider rating.

Government: …we do not want to move to subject-level TEF ratings, because we do not consider at this stage it can be achieved without significant burden

Metrics:

Pearce:

  • Teaching and Learning Environment: Institutionally determined evidence addressing ‘how we create an excellent environment for teaching and learning and how we know we are doing this well’. Subject variability in teaching and learning environments should be addressed.
  • Student Satisfaction: Evidence to address ‘what our students think of our educational provision’. National comparisons should use National Student Survey (NSS) metrics. In the submission, institutions should address their performance in the NSS metrics and may also add their own data. Subject variability in satisfaction should be addressed.
  • Educational Gains: Institutionally determined evidence addressing ‘what our students gain from our educational experience and how we evidence that’. Educational gains might include knowledge, skills, experience, work readiness, personal development and resilience. This will be conceptualised differently in different institutions. Since there is no single nationally comparable metric of ‘learning gain’, each provider would be expected to demonstrate how, within their own particular mission, they articulate and measure ( quantify if possible ) the educational gains that they aim to provide for their students. Subject variability in those gains should also be addressed.
  • Graduate Outcomes: Evidence to address ‘what our students do as graduates and how we have supported these outcomes’. In addition to the existing TEF employment metrics, measures beyond employment should be used and regional differences in labour markets should be controlled for. Continuation and differential degree attainment should also be part of this aspect. Institutions would use their submission to respond to the metrics and add their own data. Subject variability in graduate outcomes should also be addressed.

Government:

  • ….the Government does not consider ‘Student Satisfaction’ to be an appropriate measure of excellence, as satisfaction can, potentially, be too easily obtained via a reduction in quality or academic rigour – we believe ‘Student Academic Experience’ to be a more appropriate aspect
  • …we would like the OfS to ensure that the TEF ratings are based on an assessment of high quality, nationally gathered metrics and data (e.g., Graduate Outcomes, Longitudinal Education Outcomes and non-continuation data) and contextual qualitative information.
  • It should use more than just earnings and should take account of regional variations
  • OfS will also need to consider if and how educational gain can be reliably measured
  • The outcomes of the NSS Review will be important in considering the role the survey plays in the TEF assessment. We recognise that there is a place for students’ feedback on the quality of their teaching and learning experience and we will work with the OfS to develop how this aspect of quality could be included

Plus, new: For this reason, the Government considers it essential that student outcomes should act as Limiting Factors, such that a provider should not achieve a high TEF rating if it has poor student outcomes. We will work with the OfS to determine how the Limiting Factors should work. [so they will be a baseline in the quality framework and a limiting factor in the TEF -they are doing a lot of work here]

Submission

Pearce: …a standard structure should be developed which incorporates a subject level exercise. The student body should also be given the opportunity to provide direct input in an independent structured submission.

Government: We agree with the Independent Review’s recommendation that provider-level ratings should be derived from robust data and structured submissions from providers and students.

Ratings:

Pearce: Greater granularity in the rating system would provide more information about excellence and reflect the complexity of educational provision. We therefore recommend providers are awarded both an institutional rating, and a rating for each of the four proposed aspects.

We also recommend that the names of the ratings should reflect the level of excellence identified. We propose the following names:

  • Meets UK Quality Requirements
  • Commended
  • Highly Commended
  • Outstanding

Government: We agree with the Independent Review that there should, in future, be four TEF ratings overall, with the top three being signifiers of excellence to varying degrees.

The new bottom category will capture those providers failing to show sufficient evidence of excellence, and it will be made clear that these providers will need to improve the quality of their provision. We will work with the OfS to confirm the names for the four ratings in due course. [this is really interesting – the OFS quality consultation has a whole thing on using the bottom TEF rating as a reason to investigate a provider, which suddenly makes sense].

The name of the scheme

Pearce: We heard much frustration that the name ‘Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework’ does not adequately reflect what the TEF really measures. Teaching is only assessed via proxies and the student learning experience is dependent on more than just teaching. We recommend that the name should reflect more accurately what a revised TEF will measure and assess. Of the options we have considered, we propose the Educational Excellence Framework (EdEF).

Goverment: The Government would like the scheme to continue to be known as ‘the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF) This name has a well-established brand value, and is increasingly understood, in the UK and internationally, to mean a rating on teaching, learning and student outcomes.

And in terms of the practical question about what happens next, the government have said:

  • … we will end the current approach of TEF running each year and expect the TEF to be a periodic exercise, taking place every 4 or 5 years.
  • Its costs should also be kept proportionate and for each exercise the costs, for both providers or the OfS, should, at an absolute maximum, not exceed the costs per provider of the TEF exercise that has taken place to date

And the OfS have told us (Letter to universities):

  • We are developing proposals for the TEF to be an integral part of the overall quality system in England. The role of the TEF is to continue to incentivise excellence above our baseline requirements. In developing our proposals for the TEF, we will take into account the Independent Review recommendations and the government’s response to these, and the evidence from the subject-level pilots. We expect to consult on these proposals in the spring, aligned to more detailed proposals on our approach to the regulation of quality and standards through the conditions of registration. 
  • We do not expect a new TEF framework to be in place before the current TEF awards expire in summer 2021. We are considering the options for the interim period until a new TEF framework is in place and expect to consult about this soon.

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

  • ‘Students invest a significant amount of time and money in higher education and should expect a high-quality academic experience. The Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF) plays an important role in driving up the quality of provision in universities and colleges – we welcome the publication of Dame Shirley Pearce’s review and the recommendations she has identified for developing the scheme further.
  • ‘We are committed to raising the bar on quality and standards across the English higher education system. As we refine our overall approach to regulation, the TEF will continue to incentivise improvement in areas that students care deeply about: the quality of teaching and learning, and how well their courses set them up for success after their studies.
  • ‘We will develop proposals on how best to take forward the independent review recommendations and the government response to these, as well as evidence from our own subject-level pilots. We expect to consult on proposals for the future TEF in the spring, aligned to more detailed proposals on how we regulate quality and standards through conditions of registration.’

On Wonkhe: TEF – Big changes lie ahead and David Kernohan is here to walk you through them.

Admissions

The DfE launched a consultation on their proposed changes for post-qualification admissions (PQA) in HE as part of Thursday’s deluge. The consultation explores whether student’s receiving and accepting university offers after they have achieved their A level grades would ensure a fairer higher education admissions system.

Brief overview of rationale from the documentation:

  • There is evidence that disadvantaged students ‘undermatch’ in relation to the grades they actually achieve
  • A PQA system might encourage disadvantaged students to be more aspiration in their choices and identify courses they are better matched to
  • Use of conditional unconditional offers and other undesirable admissions practices such as material inducements to persuade students to enter certain courses has increased in recent years, dramatically in the case of conditional unconditional offers
  • The current system is complex and difficult to navigate
  • Post-Qualification Admissions (PQA) has been proposed as a reform that could help alleviate some of these issues by a wide variety of groups and commentators across the political spectrum – including The Sutton Trust, The Universities and Colleges Union (UCU), The UCL Institute of Education and Policy Exchange
  • UCAS and Universities UK have concluded that now is the time for admissions reform to be considered, following months of engagement with students, schools, colleges and universities. This consultation will build on these findings, working across education sectors, to agree how reform could be delivered.

The consultation document states: We believe that it is time to explore whether a PQA system could address some of the challenges posed by the current HE admissions system: namely, that it is complex, lacks transparency, works against the interests of some students, and encourages undesirable admissions practices. Key delivery partners, as well as those across the education sector, have signalled that this is the right time to review the system. The experience of having completed full Level 3 qualifications, and knowledge of their actual results could put students in a better position to decide on their best options for further study. PQA could allow them to consider the full range of available qualifications, including higher technical qualifications as well as degree level study. Hence, it may lead to more students making better informed decisions, improve continuation rates in higher education and potentially lead to better career outcomes for students.

Prior to publication Research Professional said:

  • while a consensus seems to be gathering that post-qualification admissions are the right thing to do, a rearguard action is being mounted by vice-chancellors of low-tariff and medium-tariff universities who think that their institutions will be disadvantaged by the change.
  • The feeling is that there are some universities that need to spend more time building a relationship with applicants, and post-qualification admissions will see school leavers migrate towards established brand names. This, of course, may be what the government is hoping for.

Wonkhe have: A consultation from DfE on post-qualification admissions landed and Jim Dickinson has everything you need to know.

Exams in 2021: 

Nick Gibb, the Minister of State for School Standards, issued a written ministerial statement on exams. There was no new content or updates, all remains as we outlined in last week’s policy update, the consultation closes next week.

Meanwhile Sammy Wright, a Social Mobility Commissioner, has stated that:

  • fair A level results are impossible and calls for a fully funded foundation year at university to avoid “catastrophic unfairness” among this year’s cohort.
  • Wright said disadvantaged students would not face “a level playing field” because they had missed out on more digital learning than their peers, and he warned that asking teachers to be objective in their grading could result in “a worse disaster than last year”. He also stated that no matter how grades are awarded, many students will be embarking on courses in September 2021 at a lower level than they may have done in a normal year

Wright was in favour of the Government’s proposal for clearing to take place after students have had time to appeal their grades. Wright states: At all costs we must avoid the chaos of clearing in 2020—and as such, we again call on UCAS and universities to ensure that clearing does not happen until all appeals have been responded to.

HEPI have a blog: How to be ‘innovative’ in school exam assessment – fewer grades

The Sutton Trust has published a report on how teachers and parents are responding to the second period of school closures.

Free Speech

During 2018 the debate over Free Speech in HE was a frequent topic in the policy update. While the HE sector agrees free speech is essential many were baffled by the Government’s dogged pursuit of the topic and the lack of evidence of its prevalence. This week we were transported back to 2018 – but on steroids – gone are the Ministerial speeches and push for the HE sector to sign up to ‘agreements’, now some Parliamentarians want a law and the ability to fine universities if they fail to uphold free speech. Conspiracy theorists might hypothesise that it all feels like another step towards a different agenda of tighter Governmental control over these (pesky) semi-autonomous university organisations. But back to this week…

David Davis (Conservative MP, currently an under-secretary of state for Wales and assistant Government Whip) presented a Ten Minute Rule motion on Freedom of Speech (Universities). In essence the Bill aims to: place a duty on universities to promote freedom of speech and to make provision for fining universities that do not comply with that duty. Davis’ introductory speech included:

  • Today, there is a corrosive trend in our universities that aims to prevent anybody from airing ideas that groups disagree with or would be offended by. Let us be clear: it is not about protecting delicate sensibilities from offence; it is about censorship. We can protect our own sensibilities by not going to the speech. After all, nobody is compelled to listen. But when people explicitly or indirectly no-platform Amber Rudd, Germaine Greer, Peter Tatchell, Peter Hitchens and others, they are not protecting themselves; they are denying others the right to hear those people and even, perhaps, challenge what they say.
  • …views expressed in a recent survey commissioned by Britain’s biggest university academic union showed that Britain has the second-lowest level of academic freedom in all Europe. Just last month, a report by Civitas found that more than a third of our universities impose severe restrictions on freedom of speech—including, I am ashamed to say, Oxford, Cambridge and St Andrews. The fact is that a number of our international allies today protect freedom of speech much better than we do.
  • Although in the UK we theoretically have laws protecting freedom of speech, in practice they are buried in education Acts, resulting in the protections not being widely known and universities not always upholding their duties.
  • speech that is illegal—incitement to violence, for example—would of course be forbidden, but speech that is merely unpopular with any sector of the university would not be proscribed. Controversial views and the challenging of established positions would not be proscribed.

Ten Minute Rule motions are an opportunity for backbencher MPs to float an idea for a new Bill to the House, a ‘vote’ at the end of the (roughly) 10 minutes decides whether the Bill passes to the next stage. Similar to Private Members Bills the Ten Minute Rule motions rarely pass into legislation. However, some are introduced as a plant for the Government (perhaps to judge sentiment and support within the house without Cabinet embarrassment). This Bill was supported by 11 other Conservative MPs and it passed the initial ‘vote’ meaning it can progress to the second reading stage.

In theory Davis’ Bill should now stall – because time for all private bills has been paused due to Covid – but Davis knew this before he presented the Bill. Furthermore, if the Government wishes to back the Bill they can allocate it some of the time set aside for the Government’s agenda to progress it through the legislative stages. It will be an interesting one to watch.

Wonkhe take issue with the content of Davis’ speech: David Davis’ speech in support of his Ten Minute Rule motion to introduce a Freedom of Speech (Universities) Bill was passed unopposed in the House of Commons. His speech took in the 1689 Bill of Rights, the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the “no-platforming” of Germaine Greer, Peter Tatchell, “professional iconoclast” Peter Hitchens, and Amber Rudd – none of which were actually denied a platform.

Free Speech was one of the landmarks within Sam Gyimah’s tenure as Universities Minister in which he seems to have made several unsubstantiated claims that he later had to row back from. This BBC article stated the committee found little evidence that such censorship was “pervasive” – but instead found that a relatively small number of incidents were being widely shared. Research Professional dismissed another of Gyimah’s claims about overegging a safe space culture – With the Department for Education unable to confirm this latest claim about safe-spaces in universities, there remains little documented evidence of a culture of censorship in UK higher education. And an Oxford Professor states the obvious elephant in the room about lack of evidence in this Guardian article –  When it comes to Sam Gyimah and Jo Johnson’s warnings that free speech is threatened, I’ve never seen either of them produce any evidence to support those statements. In education you’re supposed to be able to back up what you say, and they just don’t. The same article has Amatey Doku speaking within his 2018 role at NUS: There is vigorous debate every single day at universities. If there really were a censorship problem we’d hear about it. What we actually find are isolated instances blown out of proportion. There are a couple of reasons why ministers exaggerate: politically it plays well for their voter base. 

iNews provide up to date coverage of the issue highlighting that Free Speech has continued as a hotspot for the Government, they state:

Michael Barber (outgoing Chair of the OfS) made a farewell speech on Wednesday evening in which he mentioned free speech. Research Professional pick it apart in their inimitable manner:

  • Referring to high-profile cases of “no-platforming”, Barber said: “I am often told that the vast majority of such possibly controversial speaking engagements do in fact go ahead. I am willing to believe that this is the case, but I would love to see the data. It is hardly a job for a regulator but if I were a university administrator or an influence at Universities UK, I would be collecting the data.”
  • England’s higher education regulator-in-chief seems to be unaware that the organisation he has chaired for the past four years gathers precisely these data, asking universities to return figures on the number of speakers approved or rejected as part of the Prevent legislation. In 2017-18…53 speaker requests [were] rejected. Of those 53, how many were to do with extremist views and how many were to do with a failure to complete the onerous paperwork properly? We are willing to bet on the latter for quite a few.
  • The Prevent statistics do not capture the Amber Rudds and Germaine Greers, but they do capture the reality of free speech in UK universities, rather than the issue imagined by some who mistake inherited privilege for inalienable rights.
  • Barber said: “My critique of the current free speech debate is not that it is too extensive but that it is too limited. After all, the conceptual rule for such events is surely clear: a university should be a place that actively promotes and protects the widest possible freedom of speech within the law.” At which point he should have sat down, or turned off his Zoom, because nobody ever, anywhere, has disagreed with that.

So will the Bill progress or fizzle…? I’m not sure even the Government know right now. Wonkhe’s irreverent interpretation (written before the Bill was presented) made me smile: There’s little chance of whatever’s in it becoming law all on its own – so we’ll have to wait and see to work out whether an extension of the culture war that the public looks increasingly bored with will take off this time around.

Education Oral Questions

Gavin Williamson took centre stage for Education Oral Questions and the Topicals on Monday breezing through content asking about:

  • the end of the Brexit transition period for HE,
  • Turing – Question: how will the Secretary of State ensure that the Turing scheme, a poor replacement for Erasmus, is as effective in encouraging inward student mobility? Answer: The Turing scheme is not a poor replacement…It is about us looking around the globe as to how we can expand opportunities for students. No comment on inward student mobility was made.
  • Research investment
  • Students paying rent for accommodation the Government have mandated they may not use (Answer: hardship funds)

Wonkhe covered the HE questions: Education Questions in the House of Commons saw Gavin Williamson once again reiterate that support for students remains under review – but apart from the £20m put towards hardship funds just before Christmas there has been no action.

Specific questions from Labour’s Emma Hardy and the SNP’s Stuart McDonald on support for rent where students are unable to use the property if following government guidelines saw no substantive answer.

  • Remote education (for pupils). Williamson states problems should be addressed with the school first before resorting to Ofsted complaints. Live lessons for SEN pupils was also covered as was laptops for disadvantaged pupils and internet access and free school meals.
  • Technical and vocational exams

During topicals:

  • Q – Bim Afolami: Many students have suffered as a result of inadequate teaching and pastoral care at their universities, in addition to unfair costs for accommodation that they are not even allowed to stay in. What action will my right hon. Friend take to ensure that the Government are a voice for students, that they stand up for students and that they allow them to be compensated in some way by their universities when those universities fail them and let them down?
  • A – Gavin Williamson: There can be no excuses when universities are not offering the type of remote teaching and educational support that is expected. That is why it is so critical that, where that remote teaching and support is not happening, students’ rights are upheld. We saw at the tail end of last year that students’ rights were upheld and universities had to redress that. That is the right approach. We recognise how important it is to support students, which is why we will continue to look at how best we can support them through programmes such as the hardship fund.

This week’s Education Committee session focussed solely on the impact of COVID-19 on education and children’s services. There was no HE content. Do get in touch if you would like to receive Dods’ summary of the Committee session.

Case for Commons Reform

UCL’s Department of Political Science have an interesting publication: Taking back control – Why the House of Commons should govern its own time. It highlights that much of the time within the Commons is directed by the Government ministerial agenda and that several of the reforms recommended 10 years ago have not been implemented – some of its central concerns about the management of time in the House of Commons went unheeded… whereby MPs [despite coming from the majority party] have inadequate say over the running of their own institution. The report makes recommendations for change such as allocating more regular opposition and backbench business days, that the weekly agenda be put to members in an amendable form for decision (as happens in other parliaments) which would make ministers more responsive to the Commons majority (particularly their own backbench MPs). Also: that there should be a wide-ranging formal review of the extent of government control of House of Commons business.

In conclusion: As the Wright committee pointed out more than a decade ago, the extent of government control of the House of Commons is both unusual in international terms, and problematic for the functioning of Westminster. This was already true under periods of single party majority government, but it became even more obvious under minority government, as applied between May 2017 and November 2019. At present, House of Commons rules too often explicitly privilege the government rather than privileging the parliamentary majority. But these two will not always be the same thing. The core principle guiding House of Commons functioning should be majority decision-making, not government control.

Strategic Education Recovery Plan

Previous universities minister, Chris Skidmore, writes Thinking, fast and slow. Why we need a long-term Education Recovery Plan for Conservative Home. The article begins with humble words acknowledging the reality of home schooling whilst working. He recognises the disruption to all children’s learning and calls for an all through long term education plan from nursery to university. He states: We cannot afford to simply react to events, waiting to see what happens with the spread of the virus and its containment, before we decide the next stages of an entire generation’s future. The impact of the pandemic will emerge like the widening ripples in a pond when a stone has been thrown: its impact, in particular its educational impact, will be with us for years, a fact which we must come to terms with and have a strategic plan to help counter.

Already the Chair of the Education Select Committee and educational leaders have called for a redesign of the examination system. What is needed foremost, however, is a definitive understanding of the outcomes that we wish to achieve, before moving onto the processes to deliver this.

He highlights with two years’ worth of key stage assessments cancelled a system is needed to monitor individual pupil progress, so that pupils at risk of educational failure due to the pandemic can be rescued as quickly as possible, and given the individual support and tuition that they need to get back on track. This should be viewed as the critical mission. Identifying those pupils at risk of educational disadvantage means new forms of assessment, and data collection, will need to be considered. Above all, there must be transparency and a common approach to what is being measured. And this is the crux of his point. While schools will all be tracking and assessing the individual pupils without a national approach where is the policy push and additional funding. Remember the year 7 support funding – for pupils below year 6 SATs standards has been sucked into the coronavirus catch up fund – with different criteria for access.

He also talks about exams and HE admissions – I’m cautious about re-inventing the wheel at a time when stability and certainty is needed. Pupils deserve exam results to show for all their hard work, and existing systems that have held their own as a standard over time should not be thrown out for the sake of change. But we do need to address the issue of admissions to university, and how results and assessment are used to deliver this.

Post Qualification Admissions have been proposed as a way forward, yet with the qualifications themselves under review, we need greater long-term certainty of how we can achieve an equitable admissions system that encourages disadvantaged pupils to reach their potential.

Reforms to post-18 education to ensure lifelong learning and flexible qualification structures have taken on a fresh urgency in light of the pandemic, especially with the likely need for retraining and reskilling of a large number of people seeking new forms of employment. 

Ultimately, a long-term education recovery plan must start not from what is convenient for existing systems and vested interests of the organisations that operate in this space. To do this would mean that those with the loudest voices, and greatest lobbying efforts, win out. What is needed instead is an approach that defines the “points of contact” at every stage of a child’s educational journey — and defining how these have been adversely affected by the pandemic, and what can be done to resolve this.

Defining and delivering a long-term plan, with the investment needed to achieve this, will be hard work: easier, more tactical approaches, may seem more attractive. Yet to achieve an effective recovery, the longer term, strategic planning is now essential… With all the immediate talk of laptop provision as the instant solution to current learning problems, we must not forget that now is also the time to prepare all pupils for their educational recovery, encompassed in a long-term strategic approach.

HE Staff Statistics

HESA have released HE sector staff statistics and data for the (pre-Covid) period to 1 December 2019.

Much media content has focussed on the lack of improving diversity, particularly at professorial level (see BBC). Some headline points from the HESA analysis.

  • Staff ethnicity – 18% BMC – an increase of 1 since 216/17; 11% of professors are BME
  • Staff nationality – 17% EU (excluding British), 14% non-EU
  • Gender – Men are more likely to work full time (52%) and academics are more likely to be male (53%); Females make up the larger proportions of part time staff (66%) and work in a non-academic role (63%).
  • Age – 19% of academic staff are aged 56 or over; almost half of all professors are aged 56+ years.
  • 78% of academics’ salaries were paid in full by the institution. The other 22% were financed in part by research councils, UK branches of multinational companies, the NHS and/or UK and overseas charities.
  • 44% of academic staff held teaching and research contracts. 32% held teaching only contracts. Teaching only contracts are increasing steadily each year, in 2015/16 teaching only contracts were held by 26% of staff.

Wonkhe have a good analysis delving into more detail (with understandable interpretations) here. Their blog specifically looks at Black underrepresentation too. The blog concludes by looking forward and reminding us that today’s issues will all have an impact on future figures. The pandemic has resulted in redundancies without appointing replacements, Brexit and the new immigration system may affect the diversity of nationalities employed, and, Wonkhe: A lot of what happens depends on government decisions as well as those made by providers – in particular institutional managers will be watching the decisions made by the Office for the Independent Adjudicator that could have a wider impact on student fee refunds. Other decisions made about university funding, for example as part of the response to the Augar report, will have an impact on university liquidity too.

Welsh support for students

The Welsh Government announced an additional £40m for universities to support students facing financial hardship. The fund aims to help the students most affected by the pandemic with expenses such as accommodation costs and addressing digital poverty. The £40 million is in addition to the previous £40 the Welsh Government provided to support students and universities. Kirsty Williams, the Welsh Education Minister, said:

  • This year, due to reasons beyond their control, many thousands of students have not been able to return to campus yet. In some cases, this means some students might still be paying for their accommodation while they are unable to use it. We recognise how difficult this is, which is why we are announcing this additional funding.
  • Our universities have worked tremendously hard to support their students, ensuring learning has continued, while putting measures in place to protect their students, staff and their local communities.  This funding will allow them to build on that good work.

The Welsh Minister’s tone differs substantial from her English counterpart Michelle Donelan (who is still under fire on her Twitter feed). This week Research Professional dissect and comment on Donelan’s 6 ‘student’ Tweets, and they offer MP and leading HE sector figures censure on her simplistic slogans.

Access & Participation

HEPI have two blogs:

Digital Poverty

At the end of last week Jisc, Universities UK, GuildHE and ucisa wrote to Gavin Williamson, Education Secretary, calling on the Government to lift higher education students out of digital poverty to avoid a lost generation of learners. By ignoring university students while helping other disadvantaged learners to study online, the government and telecommunications companies risk creating a ‘lost generation’of young people who are missing out on their education. They state:

  • Half of higher education students are digitally disadvantaged
  • Many families are at risk of slipping into poverty and cannot afford the data costs required for online study
  • Digital and data poverty is the main issue that prevents effective delivery of online learning
  • Demand for hardship funding from universities has doubled

Indicating that around half of HE students are digitally disadvantaged, the letter cites the learning and teaching reimagined research project conducted by Jisc with sector partners, which found that digital and data poverty is the main issue that prevents delivering online learning effectively.

The letter goes on to highlight that, despite the welcome extra government funding to alleviate hardship for HE students, the demands on hardship funding have doubled, putting significant strain on university resources.

In conclusion, the letter, which calls for an urgent meeting with government and telecoms companies, states: Universities have moved mountains to provide learning and teachingonline since the first lockdown and are now much better equipped to deliver a quality curriculum online. However, without urgent action to ensure students can get online affordably, the government is risking creating an even deeper and more long-term digital divide in education. We urge you to take action now on behalf of all higher education students experiencing digital poverty, or risk creating a lost generation of young people who are missing out on their education.

The Guardian cover the story here.

Disabled Students Commission: Wonkhe summarise the new report: The Disabled Students Commission has published its annual report, Enhancing the disabled student experience. The report outlines how the commission approached supporting disabled students during the Covid-19 pandemic. Going forward the Commission plans to adopt a student lifecycle model to inform its research and recommendations, with considerations including the intersection of disability with other characteristics such as race and gender, the diversity of disabled student experience, and greater consultation with disabled students.

Parliamentary Questions:

  • Access to post-16 education for asylum seekers is governed by funding rules in further and higher education.
  • What proportion of people (a) applying for and (b) securing places at higher education institutions were from (i) working class and (ii) disadvantaged backgrounds for the academic year 2019-20.
  • The effect of the covid-19 lockdown on the attainment gap (pupils). Answer: The Department has commissioned an independent research agency to analyse catch-up needs and monitor progress over this academic year. This research is based on a large sample of pupils and will identify whether particular groups of pupils have been more affected by time out of school – including the most disadvantaged, those with historically poor outcomes, and those in particular areas.
  • What assessment the Government has made of the report by the Social Mobility Commission Changing gears: understanding downward social mobility, published in November 2020; and what plans they have to address the Commission’s finding that one in five people move into a lower occupational group than their parents.

Students

Wonkhe have two student focussed blogs:

Parliamentary Questions:

  • Sharia compliant alternative student finance product (no update yet); but this one on potential barriers to Muslim students has been answered
  • Additional support for HE students who have caring responsibilities for children and who are engaged in university studies alongside home tutoring. Government response: it’s up to the university but we expect them to be supporting student welfare
  • What support the Government plans to provide for undergraduate students whose university education has been disrupted by the covid-19 outbreak. Answer (as you’d expect): we are working with the sector to make sure that all reasonable efforts are being made to enable all students to continue their studies and provide the support required for them to do so. Our expectation, during these challenging times is that universities should maintain the quality and quantity of tuition and the Office for Students (OfS) will continue to actively monitor universities to ensure that quality of provision is maintained and accessible for all. And yes, Donelan also mentions the £256 OfS Student Premium funding which can go towards student hardship funds and the £20 million of additional hardship funding expected by providers soon
  • Student Finance – Illness/shielding: Students who suspend their studies for a variety of reasons, including shielding, can apply to Student Finance England for their living costs support to be continued while they are absent from their course. Students who suspend their studies due to illness automatically receive living costs support for the first 60 days of their illness.
  • Supporting students who have paid rent for accommodation at university but are unable to use it as a result of covid-19 restrictions. Answer: The government plays no direct role in the provision of student accommodation. However, the government encourages all providers of student accommodation to review their accommodation policies to ensure that they have students best interests at heart. We also urge them to communicate their policy clearly and be fair.
  • Emma Hardy, Shadow universities minister has been asking some emotive questions about students nurses such as whether they’ll have to pay extra tuition fees because Covid has prevented them from completing their placement hours and similar on course extensions
  • Private rented student accommodation – no Government support for release from contracts, use of hardship funds mentioned
  • While the parliamentary question asked about the mental health taskforce the minister sidestepped to respond: it is for higher education providers as autonomous bodies to identify and address the needs of their student body and to decide what mental health and wellbeing support to put in place…the government has asked universities to prioritise mental health support, and continue to support their students, which has included making services accessible from a distance…Many providers have bolstered their existing mental health services, and adapted delivery mechanisms including reaching out to students who may be more vulnerable. You can read more on the Government’s response here.

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Consultations to look forward to from today’s pile of announcements:

  • OfS consultation on a new TEF (in the “Spring”)
  • OfS consultation on interim arrangements for the TEF because the current awards expire in the summer (“soon”)
  • DfE consultation on further reforms to the higher education system in spring 2021, before setting out a full response to the report and final conclusion to the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding alongside the next Comprehensive Spending Review.
  • DfE consultation on the Lifelong Loan Entitlement – “we will consult on the scope and detail of the entitlement in early 2021, including seeking views on objectives and coverage.”
  • DfE consultation on the changes that are needed to enable universities and colleges to provide a modular offer – doesn’t say when they will consult on this.
  • DfE: We will set out further plans to use the National Skills Fund in due course, consulting on the details in spring 2021 to ensure that the investment from the Fund helps to meet the needs of adults, employers and providers
  • DFE will consult on the proposals to reform FE funding and accountability

The OfS say: We are aware of the sustained pressure on providers as the impact of the pandemic continues to be felt and of the additional burden that may be caused by these proposed additional consultations. We have extended the deadline to our quality and standards consultation to 25 January 2021 and will continue to monitor the situation regarding current and future consultations. 

Other news

  • Remote teaching: Wonkhe: Matt Jenner led a popular online course about teaching online – here’s what he learned from the experience about how to support educators in adapting to remote teaching.
  • On Monday Boris Johnson launched a new business initiative – the Build Back Better Council. Details including the Council members are here.
  • Teach online this year: UCU (the University and Colleges Union) are calling for teaching to remain online for the rest of the academic year to protect the wellbeing of staff, students and their communities. UCU state they fear staff will be forced to return to work in unsafe and unpredictable working conditions. UCU have warned they are considering balloting members for action against an unsafe return to in-person teaching.
  • Student rent strikes: The BBC cover student rent strikes in Wales. Politics Home also have an article on rent strikes.
  • Asynchronous learning: From Wonkhe – Asynchronous learning gives students the chance to treat modules like box sets, bingeing or skipping as they see fit. Tom Lowe wonders what this might mean for learning.
  • Academic misconduct: Contract cheating is well known however this (short) Times article explores the perspective of the innocent who was wrongly accused of cheating. It is written by lawyers who represent students appealing against academic misconduct.

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 27th November 2020

The spending review was quiet on HE and heavier on research spending commitments. A UUK publication tackles racial harassment in HE and the OIA provides examples of what will and won’t be upheld from student Covid complaints. We wonder about the TEF.  See you in December!

Driving home for Christmas?

Today’s news is all about tiers.  Dorset and BCP are in Tier 2 and we thought we would help you with the links. There are 3 sets of rules which all apply at once:

If you are hoping to see family or friends outside the local area, The full list is here.  As has been widely reported, only Cornwall, the Isle of Wight and the Isles of Scilly are in tier 1, so cafes and pubs will be hard hit across the nation.  The full reasoning area by area has been published.

And our local MPs are not all happy about it. The Bournemouth Echo have spoken to MPs

  • Michael Tomlinson (MDNP) and Chris Loder (West Dorset) have just retweeted the guidance without comment and in the Echo article Michael Tomlinson says he will support the government.
  • Sir Christopher Chope, Sir Robert Syms and Tobias Ellwood will oppose it.
  • Simon Hoare will support the government.
  • It is not clear from their piece whether Conor Burns will oppose it or not although he is critical.

Spending Review – highlights and research focus

Phew – that was a lot of bad news and attempts at good news.  Headlines: no big announcements on university funding or progress on the TEF.  Lots of research news and lots about investment in education.

The documents are here. Press release here.  The full content of the Spending Review session is available on Hansard here.

RP makes interesting points on the forgotten aspects of impending HE policy which the (3 year) comprehensive spending review was expected to tackle.  We cover the TEF separately below.

  • The words ‘university’ and ‘universities’ do not appear. Nor does the term ‘higher education’.
  • Add to this the fact that neither the independent review of the Teaching Excellence Framework nor the government’s response to the Augar review of post-18 education was published alongside the review as promised, and it starts to feel very much like a snub.
  • A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then, and it is safe to say—as Fiona McIntyre reports on our site—that the no-show of the TEF and Augar was no surprise. They’ve been kicked so far into the long grass now that they can barely be seen. And with rumours of a Lord Agnew-led Treasury review of higher education costs, Augar’s recommendations—some of which Augar has all but disowned himself—seem more likely to become footnotes in whatever plan eventually befalls university financing.

On the spending review Wonkhe say:

  • Yesterday’s spending review left key questions over tuition fees and teaching funding for the sector unanswered, though there was limited good news on research funding. An overall £740m uplift in the BEIS research and development budget included promised increases in funding flowing through UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) over the next four years. And it now appears that the ARPA-like “high-risk, high-payoff” research funding long seen as a Dominic Cummings’s pet project will also sit under UKRI.
  • There was plentiful recurrent and capital funding allocated to FE, in line with previous announcements, but there was little mention of the HE sector. The Student Loans Company will receive an extra £64m of capital linked to a transformation programme, and there’s an unspecified amount of funding (if required) to support the preparation of a domestic alternative to Erasmus+.
  • Other points of interest included the news that the promised phasing out of the RPI inflationary measure (as used in student loan interest calculations) will not begin until 2030, and an odd mention of “defending free speech” in the Chancellor’s statement. David Kernohan summarised what we could find on Wonk Corner

We cover the R&D sections here and the rest in a separate section below. In the main document the scientific super power section starts page 58.

Research Professional have a good summary in A game of two halves

  • The headline figure, as Sophie Inge reports, was a pledge of “almost £15 billion for R&D over the next year” with the aim of making the UK a “scientific superpower”.
  • …. the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has been awarded £11.1bn in R&D funding for the year ahead, which is up from £10.36bn this year and includes a boost of £400m a year, on average, until 2023-24 for core UK Research and Innovation budgets.
  • It is notable that the chancellor—who had abandoned plans for a full multi-year spending review following the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak—opted to make a four-year commitment to funding research. The argument that R&D is now simply too important to the future physical and economic health of the country to be managed on a short-term basis appears to have won. UKRI chief executive Ottoline Leyser summed it up, saying the spending review “signals a clear national ambition for research and innovation”.
  • Another £350m went to UKRI to support “strategic government priorities, build new science capability and support the whole research and innovation ecosystem”. This chunk of cash includes the “first £50m towards an £800m investment by 2024-25 in high-risk, high-payoff research”—which seems like a very strong hint indeed that any cash going to the UK Advanced Research Projects Agency will be distributed via UKRI.
  • The business department’s settlement includes a healthy £733m to allow the UK Vaccine Taskforce to purchase Covid-19 vaccines, which is part of the £6bn provided to procure vaccines. Of this money, £128m will go towards UK vaccine R&D and funding for the Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre.
  • Meanwhile, there will be up to £17m in 2021-22 to establish a “new unit and fund that will focus on the last mile of innovation to help ensure that public sector knowledge assets…translate into new high-tech jobs, businesses and economic growth”. These assets include R&D, the spending review document states, along with intellectual property and other intangible assets.

Dods have a nice summary of the research announcements

  • Cement the UK’s status as a global leader in science and innovation by investing nearly £15 billion in R&D in 2021-22 (page 53)
  • Up to £17m in 2021-22 to establish a new unit and fund that will focus on the last mile of innovation to help ensure that public sector knowledge assets (page 53)
  • £450m in 2021-22 to support government priorities, drive the development of innovative ways to build new science capability and support the whole research and innovation ecosystem (page 54)
  • Raise economy-wide investment in R&D to 2.4 per cent by 2027 (page 54)
  • £280 million in 2021-22 for net zero R&D, including an £81 million multi-year commitment for pioneering hydrogen heating trials (page 56)
  • £695m of additional R&D funding between 2021-22 and 2024-25 to support the development of cutting-edge capabilities (page 56)

Other research news

  • Wonkhe have a new blog – The proportion of PGR students recorded as “writing up” in HESA data has been creeping up over the years. Is this a sign of a growing crisis? We don’t know, and that is the problem. Rebecca Teague and Billy Bryan take stock.
  • HEPI have a new blog which comments on the rise in numbers of PhDs but it also asks who and what are PhD’s for and references the recent Government and UKRI decisions on PhDs extensions as telling.
  • If you somehow managed to miss last week’s clamour – doctoral students were told to adjust projects for Covid-19. UKRI announced an additional £19m available to support doctoral students who are finding it most difficult to adjust their project and training plans. There is a report and policy statement advising students to speak to their supervisor about adjusting projects to complete a doctoral-level qualification within their funding period. And an interesting fact on the scale of the issue – 92% of final year students already requested an extension, with the average extension request of 4.6 months. Research Professional reported the announcement received a negative reaction from doctoral students, particularly around the lack of clarity it brought  We’re still waiting to hear what involvement BEIS had in the UKRI decision.

This week’s parliamentary questions:

Forgotten Priorities Part 1: What is going to happen to the TEF?

Everyone expected that announcements on the Pearce review of the TEF and announcements on the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding – promised with the spending review – would not be forthcoming, once it was announced that it would not be a “comprehensive” spending review but a one year look, with a focus on the response to the pandemic. Then there were rumours that there might be after all- but there wasn’t.  Universities and HE are not mentioned at all, although there is a fair bit about research (as we discuss elsewhere).

So what is the situation with the TEF?  The current awards were all extended to 2021. The OfS announced in January 2020 that they would not run a TEF exercise this year. But what is going to happen when those existing awards run out at the end of this academic year? It’s all a far cry from September 2019 when the Secretary of State was encouraging the OfS to get on with things and run an extra TEF in 2020.  And read this on Research Professional from February 2020 (BP – before pandemic).

Meanwhile, the OfS are advertising for a Head of TEF (closes early December).  So something must be going to happen?

The OfS website says:

  • The new framework will take account of the forthcoming recommendations in Dame Shirley Pearce’s independent review of the TEF, the government’s response to it, and the findings of the latest subject-level TEF pilot.
  • Following these publications, we will consult on the new framework.
  • All assessments under the current TEF scheme have concluded, and the results will be replaced in the future by results from the new scheme. We will not conduct a TEF Year 5 exercise in 2020.

This is a bit confusing.  There is no TEF year 5 exercise in 2020, but what in that case will replace it when the awards run out in summer 2021?  Will there be a gap?  Or will the existing awards be extended again – at which time the year two awards given in Spring 2017 based on data from the three previous years start to seem a bit long in the tooth.

The documents published (in 2018) for the last subject level pilot said:

  • The final provider-level exercise with published outcomes (TEF Year Four) will take place in 2018-19 and will operate completely independently from the subject-level pilots.
  • So that subject-level TEF produces comprehensive outcomes to inform student choice, the DfE has decided that published awards from provider-level TEF Years Two, Three and Four should no longer be valid when subject-level TEF awards are published in 2021.
  • At that point, all awards from provider-level TEF will expire, and be replaced by awards made through the first full subject-level TEF exercise (these awards will be at both provider and subject levels).
  • .. Up to now, each TEF exercise has been completed within a single academic year. However, given the scale of the first full subject-level TEF exercise, it will be conducted across two academic years, 2019-20 and 2020-21, to enable it to produce robust outcomes. This will ensure additional time for providers to make submissions and for panels to conduct the assessments.
  • We expect the application window to open in early 2020, and to publish the outcomes in spring 2021. This will also allow more time for the findings of the second pilot and the independent review to be fully considered before moving to full implementation.

So it certainly looks like there will have to be an extension.  And if the new exercise really is going to take two years, it will be quite a long extension – because with the Pearce review not released, and the NSS consultations ongoing, they won’t be able to start a consultation on what the new TEF looks like until 2021.  The earliest surely is that we start preparing responses in summer or autumn 2021 – and with a nearly two-year period for preparation, submission wouldn’t be before spring 2023?  With outcomes in summer 2023 at the earliest?  That’s another two-year extension.

Two alternatives – just let them expire and have a gap, blaming COVID. Or, run a much quicker exercise in 2021 with a view to getting results out in late 2021 or early 2022 (with a short extension in that case). This is certainly possible. Could we get an announcement and consultation straight after the quality one, in March, say, with preparation to do from July, submission in October/November, results in January 22?  Institutional only with subject level to follow during 2022 building on the institutional and then next round in 2025?

And what do we know about what it might look like when it does come out?

  • There is a good chance that the NSS won’t be included any more – to be replaced by some narrative in the submissions about how each university has engaged with the student voice and how we are sure that we have mechanisms in place and have identified and addressed any concerns about student experience?
  • What about the Royal Society of Statistics: Ultimately, the RSS judges it to be wrong to present a provider/subject as Gold/Silver/Bronze without communication of the level of uncertainty. The current TEF presentation of provider/subjects as Gold, Silver, Bronze conveys a robustness that is illusory. A prospective student might choose a TEF Silver subject at one provider instead of a TEF Bronze at another institution. If they had been told that, statistically, the awards are indistinguishable, then their choice might have been different and, in that sense, TEF is misleading. The uncertainty is likely to be higher for subject-level assessment than for provider-level assessment….
  • We know from the recent consultation document (covered last week) that continuation/completion and employment outcomes will still be important – as they were in the last pilot (TEF 2019 subject level TEF pilot guide)
  • Will they get rid of the gold/silver/bronze institutional labels? They have little meaning now that hardly anyone is bronze, after the TEF’s own structure led to rampant grade inflation.  The OfS had indicated potentially moving away from the annual grading to a less frequent one to address that problem.  But maybe the labels themselves are now devalued?
  • We know that it is unlikely that subject level assessment will be abandoned. But how will they label subject level awards? Jim Dickinson on Wonkhe: 5/3/19: – but how on earth would students interpret a Bronze course at a Gold institution when the latter uses almost the same metrics, only less specific to your course? You could argue that both should exist, but with completely separate metrics – but given there’s no magic blueprint for what is devolved to academic departments and what’s run centrally, that won’t work either.
  • We know from the quality consultation document that the TEF will expect performance above the new outcomes baselines. The original TEF was based on benchmarks and relative performance not absolute levels.  They may abandon or change benchmarks completely.  If that is the approach for baselines, will you have a different approach for measures of excellence?  There was a flirtation with absolute values in the pilot schemes, as you may recall, which was said at the time to be a nod towards Russell Group universities who performed well in absolute terms but not so well when benchmarked against others with similar student demographics.
  • They may not use all the data splits in a new TEF, or at least not at subject level. The consultation on quality and standards proposes using the demographic splits (gender, ethnicity, social background etc) only at an institutional not at a subject level, and recognises that there is an existing mechanism to manage these via the APP.  So presumably the data will not be split along these lines for the TEF at subject level either.  Rather than have us all look at all this again, perhaps a new TEF, with an eye on reducing bureaucracy, will just have “meeting (most or all of) your APP targets” as a threshold for application or for an award at a certain level?
  • Will they have listened to any of the grumbling about subject level definitions? Jim Dickinson on Wonkhe: 5/3/19: You could pursue subject level on its own, but the more you look at benchmarking, and statistical significance, and the basket of measures’ relevance to all courses (let alone its relevance to all students), the more you think the hassle outweighs the effort – not least because newspapers do a better job at remixing the metrics than you do. And then it dawns on you that some academic departments in some universities will straddle your subject groupings, and you’ll realise that there isn’t the room in their school office, their messaging or their accountability systems for all three medals to apply to that school all at once.

RP makes interesting points on the forgotten aspects of impending HE policy which the (3 year) comprehensive spending review was expected to tackle.

  • …it is safe to say—as Fiona McIntyre reports on our site—that the no-show of the TEF and Augar was no surprise. They’ve been kicked so far into the long grass now that they can barely be seen. …
  • As for the TEF, it simply doesn’t have the political capital with the general public for the government to hurry its publication. The review was mandated in the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 but the publication of its findings was not, which has given the government infinite wiggle room that it continues to exploit.

So what is going to happen?  We don’t know.  And we don’t know when we will know.  But we know it will be a lot of work when we do know!

Racial Harassment

On Tuesday UUK published new guidance on tackling racial harassment in HE, and executive summary here.

The context: The 2019 Equalities and Human Rights Commission report ‘Tackling racial harassment: universities challenged‘ highlighted the prevalence of racial harassment within HEIs. Events of 2020, including the Covid-19 pandemic and the increased prominence of the Black Lives Matter movement, brought to the fore the extent of racial inequality in the UK and reinforced the urgency to act.

UUK build on their Changing the culture framework in the new guidance. There is a focus on strong leadership and a whole-institution approach, as well as engaging with staff and students with lived experience of racial harassment. UUK call on the sector to hold open discussions on race and racism, to educate staff and students and make clear that tackling racism and racial harassment is everybody’s responsibility. The guidance asks university leaders to acknowledge where there are issues in their institutions, and that UK higher education perpetuates institutional racism. It cites racial harassment, a lack of diversity among senior leaders, the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic student attainment gap and ethnicity pay gaps among staff as evidence.

The guidance also showcases emerging practice from HEIs making good progress in tackling racial harassment.

Recommendations include:

  • Publicly commit priority status to tackling racial harassment
  • Engage directly with students and staff with lived experience of racial harassment
  • Review current policies and procedures and develop new institution-wide strategies for tackling racial harassment
  • Improve awareness and understanding of racism, racial harassment, white privilege and microaggressions among all staff and students, including through anti-racist training
  • Ensure expected behaviours for online behaviour are clearly communicated to students and staff, as well as sanctions for breaches
  • Develop and introduce reporting systems for incidents of racial harassment
  • Collect data on reports of incidents and share regularly with senior staff and governing bodies

OfS – value for money

OfS has reported against key performance measure 19 which looks at students’ perceptions of value for money from their university education. 37.5% of undergraduates and 45.3% of postgraduates stated it did provide value for money when considering the costs and benefits.

OfS also published their Value for money annual report on how they have managed the funds they were allocated. They are still working on plans as to how they’ll reduce the registration fee for HE providers by 10% over the next two years.

Free Speech

The Lords Communication and Digital Select Committee inquiry into Freedom of Expression Online received evidence this week. There were some interesting points raised within the topics of free speech online Vs offline, public attitudes, protected characteristics, the narrowing impact of algorithm use and the role of the state in regulating. Platform moderation and take down rules on social media sites were also discussed. Dods provide a summary of the discussion here.

Sport

The British Universities & Colleges Sport (BUCS) launched The Value of University Sport and Physical Activity: Position Statement and Evidence highlighting the role which sport plays within the student experience. It includes a focus on how sport contributes to students’ physical and mental wellbeing. The report itself divides into six key strategic drivers for universities – recruitment, transitions and retention, health and wellbeing, graduate attainment, graduate employability, and the civic and global agendas – outlining how sport contributes to positive outcomes in each.

And on graduate employment: Whilst graduates also earned more than non-graduates, those who took part in sport earned a higher salary irrespective of educational level, thus showing a positive correlation between sport and earnings that cannot be explained by level of education.

The authors state the report is a ‘call to action’ for universities to review how they position sport and physical activity; especially at this time when students are isolated and anxious, and universities are concerned about the retention of students with the current restrictions.

There was a relevant parliamentary question on university sport this week outlining what is and isn’t permissible during Covid.

Access & Participation

The Commons Education Committee continued their inquiry into the educational outcomes of white working-class pupils. Dods have summarised the session here.

This parliamentary question on DSA paperwork/online applications clarifies the pre-population of information and that help is available by phone if the student’s disability causes difficulty in completing the paperwork.

Wonkhe report: A report from Civitas argues that a belief has developed around the university system that students from ethnic minorities are likely to underperform academically, and that the available data does not back this assertion up. Report author Ruth Mieschbuehler calls for a reexamination of the practice of disaggregating student data by ethnicity

The Sutton Trust has scoped how leading universities in different countries are addressing inequalities in access for those from low income and other marginalised backgrounds in Room at the top: Access and success at leading universities around the world.  The report looks at the issues based on five themes:

  1. Actions and commitment at the strategic and institutional level
  2. Financial support for low-income/marginalised group students
  3. Non-financial support at the pre higher education level (outreach)
  4. Support to enable student success
  5. The role of national/regional policies

The recommendations (they call them key messages) are on pages 5& 6 of the document.

Unpaid student placements

Placements are big at BU. Every undergraduate honours student is offered the opportunity to undertake a work placement as part of their course and BU has an excellent reputation nationally and internationally for the quality of the placement opportunities. Covid has been a significant disrupter to students on placement. Internships were cancelled in some sectors and for some of those that were able to move to remote and online versions the richness of the face to face placement experience elements were curtailed. Pre-Covid individual parliamentarians regularly flirted with the notion that everyone on a work experience opportunity of over 4 weeks should be considered a worker, and therefore paid for the work they undertake. This would make a significant difference to students undertaking the traditional sandwich year, yet the impetus for this change has stalled. This week Sarah wrote for Wonkhe to continue to argue the case for students to be paid. The blog also suggests alternatives which employers could offer to reduce the financial pressures on students when they are offered an unpaid placement.

SEND

Children and Families Minister Vicky Ford spoke during the APPG for Assistive Technology launch event for their new research aiming to bridge the gap between education and employment for young people with SEND. The Minister praised schools, colleges and the technology sector for their response to the ‘historic challenges’ during the Covid-19 pandemic, especially for vulnerable students with the most complex needs, but urged companies to make sure all their products and practices are fully inclusive.

She said: Assistive technology can be life-changing and for many it is vital to communication, learning and overall independence…In recent months, the importance of Assistive Technology has been demonstrated like never before. The essential collaboration provided by groups such as this APPG is vital to ensure that we make policy which is informed by as much research and evidence as possible…Our review will give schools and colleges a helping hand by providing greater transparency in what tools and interventions can improve outcomes of SEND students and bridge the gap from education into employment. It will also support the technology sector in embedding accessibility features – such as text to voice tools – as part of their service development, and policymakers to better embed inclusion into their policies and services. This will lead to real, meaningful differences in the quality of education for children and young people…This is key, because we need to be clear: accessibility should never be an add on, it should be the norm.

Dovetailing the event the DfE released a series of rapid literature review reports on assistive technology in educational settings. The reports summarise the evidence on assistive technologies use and outcomes in education and cover when, where and for whom assistive technology works. The report are split by  policymakers, administrators, educators, researchers and developers of assistive technologies and products.

Student Complaints – case studies

The Office of the Independent Adjudicator for HE (OIA) has published case summaries of complaints arising from the impact of Covid-19 on their HE learning and experience. So far the OIA have received nearly 200 complaints from C-19 disruption..

Wonkhe say:

  • While the OIA does not underestimate the challenge of sustaining teaching during the pandemic, “some providers have done more than others to mitigate disruptions to students’ learning opportunities.”
  • Where universities have rescheduled missed teaching, or made a broadly equivalent alternative available, or where students have been unable to cite a specific academic or material disadvantage, complaints have not been upheld. However, where universities have failed to engage properly with students’ concerns, or relied on too broad exclusion clauses in student contracts, complaints have been justified or partly justified. 

2021 GCSE & A/AS level Exams

The Joint Council on Qualifications have announced that, following consultation with schools and colleges, the final level 2 and 3 exams timetables are confirmed. The compulsory education sector are still waiting for further information on how the Government intends to facilitate Covid-safe exams, and what ‘Plan B’ will consist of. The announcement demonstrates the Government’s determination for the exams to take place in England during summer 2021. This is expected new as Monday’s Covid Winter Plan announcements mentioned their commitment to a ‘full set of exams’ in England.

Meanwhile, YouGov have an interesting series of polls on exams – see our polls special here.

Finally, Ofqual published a new research paper on the Sawtooth Effect. The Sawtooth Effect is the pattern in student performance that can be seen when assessments, such as GCSEs and A levels, are reformed. Performance tends to dip, then improves over time as students and teachers become more familiar with the new content and the new assessments. Research by Ofqual in 2016 highlighted this post-reform effect, and enabled mitigation to level out fairness for students. This week’s release covers the impact of Covid-19 on student performance. The research suggests the same methods could be used to ensure fairness during the pandemic. Wonkhe review the Sawtooth paper (worth a read) and also manage to mention why predicted grades are useful too.

Participation in Education

The DfE have released the latest participation in education statistics. Summary also covering FE and apprenticeships here.   DfE HE statistics

  • 9% of 17-30 year olds enter HE
  • 41% of 18 and 19 year olds
  • 1% females, 45.1% males (by age 30)
  • 9% entering to do full-time study
  • 0% to do part-time study (only 1.5% 18-19 year olds study part time)
  • Learning intention (undergraduate):
    • Full degree (46.6%)
    • Foundation Degree (2%)
    • HNDs/HNCs (1.8%)
    • other undergraduate quals (1.4%)
  • 8% aged 17-30 enter postgraduate study

International

  • Wonkhe report: New researchfrom QS, covering 887 prospective international students found that nearly a quarter felt that the introduction of a potential Covid-19 vaccine made them consider starting their studies earlier than planned. 43 percent said that the vaccine news had made no difference to their plans.
  • Also a parliamentary question – Student visas are not a route to settlement

Spending Review – the rest

Research Professional  on Erasmus:

  • ….the Treasury did reveal that its settlement with the Department for Education “provides funding to prepare for a UK-wide domestic alternative to Erasmus+, in the event the UK no longer participates in Erasmus+, to fund outward global education mobilities”.
  • This seems good, on the face of it, since any alternative scheme will need money. However, Erasmus’s main purpose is to provide student exchanges—and by definition, any effective exchange requires not only the outward movement of students from the UK (which is covered in the spending review costing) but also the inward movement of students to the UK (which it seems is not).
  • “Budgeting to replace Erasmus+ for outward students only is disappointing, if predictable, and is clearly inferior to full association,” Daniel Zeichner, Labour MP for Cambridge and co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Universities, told Playbook last night.

Dods have a nice summary of the announcements which we’re re-ordered and edited

International

  • Provides funding to prepare for a UK-wide domestic alternative to Erasmus+ in the event that the UK no longer participates in Erasmus+ (page 63)
  • Further financial support will be provided to the British Council to reform and invest (page 70)

Student loans

  • £64m for the Student Loan Company, including for its transformation programme (page 63) [this is mainly to help them prepare for providing student loans to FE students and adult learners]

Technical education

  • £291m for Further Education in 2021-22, in addition to the £400m that the government provided at SR19 (page 62)
  • Investing £375m from the National Skills Fund in 2021-22 (page 62) including:
  • £138m to fund in-demand technical courses for adults, equivalent to A level, and to expand employer-led bootcamp training model
  • £127m to build on Plan for Jobs, fund traineeships, sector-based work academy placements and the National Careers Service
  • £110m to drive up higher technical provision in support of the future rollout of a Flexible Loan Entitlement
  • £162m to support the rollout of T Levels waves 2 and 3 (page 63)
  • £72m to support the commitment to build 20 Institutes of Technology (page 63)
  • Almost £100m to deliver the National Citizen Service (NCS) and invest in youth facilities. The government will review its programmes to support youth services including the NCS in the spring (p81)
  • £2bn Kickstart Scheme to create hundreds of thousands of new, fully-subsidised jobs for young people across the country. This settlement confirms funding for over 250,000 Kickstart jobs (p85)

Apprenticeships

  • Confirm changes to support employers offering apprenticeships by delivering further improvements to the system (page 45)
  • Made available £2.5bn of funding for apprenticeships and further improvements for employers (page 62)

Department for Education

  • A £2.9bn cash increase in core resource funding from 2020-21 to 2021-22, delivering a 3.2 per cent average real terms increase per year since 2019-20 (page 62)
  • The department’s capital budget increases by £0.5bn in cash terms next year, taking core total DEL to £76.4bn (page 62)

Pre-Spending Review this is what was MillionPlus asked for (but didn’t get):

  • Introduce a maintenance grant of up to £10k for all students in England to encourage them to train in key public services subjects
  • Invest in high quality placements in NHS, social work and teaching
  • Offer loan forgiveness for those remaining in relevant professions for at least 5 years
  • Establish a new Public Services in Higher Education Capital fund to support universities in England and partners to invest in high quality simulation equipment and other vital infrastructure
  • Create a new professional development programme to underpin the NHS volunteer reserve force in England
  • Increase skills and expertise by enabling individuals in England to access loan support for short courses and modules at levels 4 and 5
  • Place employers in England at the centre of apprenticeships policy and encourage them to partner with universities to support regional skills development and productivity growth

There’s more detail on specific areas in the links below:

  • Dods summarise all areas of the spending review with the key announcements in bullet points.
  • National Infrastructure Summary, full strategy here. The full strategy is high level (yet still 100 pages long). There is very little on the specifics of research investment, just lists of priorities, no mention of universities.

Teaching Tech

Jisc published the Teaching staff digital experience insights survey 2020, They report that 79% intend to  use technology in their teaching.

  • 95% of teaching staff have a positive attitude to using technology
  • 79% are motivated to use it in their teaching
  • Only 20% said their organisation had offered support to them in using new technologies
  • 37% of teaching staff had worked online with learners during the survey period, and 43% had created online teaching materials to adapt to the situation
  • When asked what more their organisation could do to improve the quality of digital teaching and learning, staff cited
    • Training and CPD (33%)
    • Software, infrastructure and systems (31%)
    • Organisational culture (13%)
    • 68% of respondents said they’d had support to develop their basic IT skills
  • Only 14% reported having time to explore new digital tools, and only 7% spoke of receiving reward and recognition for the digital skills they developed
  • 29% stated their organisation provided guidance about the digital skills needed in their job role

Retraining by sector

Also within our polls special are the YouGov surveys on retraining for workers disrupted by Covid-19. There are views on whether the Government should be encouraging retraining and new careers – the national hasn’t forgotten the ballet/cyber retraining advert yet but it hasn’t had the negative effect that might be expected! Plus specific indicators show the popularity of industry’s skills gap areas (look out for cyber!).

Covid Parliamentary Questions

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

Bias in HE: Wonkhe report that Advance HE has published the first in a new series of literature reviews on bias in higher education. The review tackles bias in assessment and marking, bringing together literature on the topic and current good practice among universities. The next in the series – covering bias in the curriculum and pedagogy and bias in decision making – will be published next year

Online end assessment: Wonkhe have a blog on online digital assessment as an alternative to taking exams in person.

Alumni: BU’s own Fiona Cownie writes for Wonkhe on how alumni may be key in building a student community during the pandemic

Medical: Wonkhe tell us that The Medical Research Council has published a review of its units and centres portfolio. The report has identified research areas where MRC investment could have a significant impact, including the development of new tools and technologies, interventional approaches to population health, and research into health needs from anthropogenic effects such as urbanisation or climate change.

LEP: Cecilia Bufton has been confirmed as the new Chair of the Dorset Local Enterprise Partnership from 1 December 2020.

Degree apprenticeships: Sums consulting have a blog on degree apprenticeships: Understanding the Apprentice Lifecycle in Universities.

  • Apprentices are not standard learners; there are material differences in terms of the application process, progression, breaks in learning and withdrawals, data reporting and the amount of time spent working, learning, and training.  Apprenticeships are not standard programmes; there are material differences in terms of the adherence to standards, the endpoint, cash flow, audit, and risk profiles.
  • The success or failure of any individual apprentice will be down to a three- or four-way relationship between the apprentice, their employer, the main provider, and any sub-contracted training provider.

The blog also advertises their services in this area.

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 2nd October 2020

We’re in October already! This week has been busy in Parliament, and we had some Ministerial engagement too.  Boris unveiled a skills pledge and Gavin Williamson made a statement regarding students returning to universities (and was subsequently slammed for inaccuracies).  And angry parents have taken issue that their children might be prevented from returning home from university for Christmas if they are in isolation or caught in local lockdowns.

BU welcomes the Minister for Universities

Michelle Donelan MP paid a short virtual visit to BU this week.  You can read more here.  It is good that the Minister is making time to make these visits and the conversation was wide ranging and interesting.  Thanks to all involved, especially as these things are always short notice and subject to last-minute change.

Comprehensive Spending Review – and all its ramifications

No one knows quite what form (or if) the comprehensive spending review (CSR) will take. However, sector organisations continue to lobby the Government with their wish lists to be included within the CSR. The Association of Colleges have published their 37 pager much of which aligns with recent Government ambitions on skills spending, higher technical education, apprenticeships, levelling up and addressing disadvantage. Specifically they call for higher rates of FE funding, expanding provision to accommodate the 2024/25 young population surge (plus IT infrastructure investment), a 16+ pupil premium, and the favourite old chestnut – reducing oversight, bureaucracy and compliance costs.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies published Spending Review 2020: COVID-19, Brexit and beyond. Pages 3-5 summarise the key findings succinctly and ultimately the report advises the Chancellor not to plough ahead with a full Spending Review. It concludes:

  • Even if Mr Sunak makes the sensible decision to set only one year of spending plans, the process will be fraught with difficulty, with many delicate trade-offs. Perhaps the most important question is the extent to which the extraordinary funding increases provided in response to COVID-19 need to continue into future years.
  • [With Covid likely to] swallow up much of the increase in funding pencilled in between now and 2023−24. Whatever is left would likely be allocated to priority areas such as the NHS, schools, the police or the ‘levelling-up’ agenda. The Chancellor has rowed back from the spending envelope he committed to in March, but his emphasis on the need for ‘tough choices’ suggests that it could become less, not more, generous. Other public services could well be facing a further bout of austerity

No one is expecting good news. And the Government’s intentions following the Augar report are expected to be laid out as part of the CSR. Even HEPI warn of impending doom when they consider Augar in the context of recent events below.

Research

Chair of the Science and Technology Committee Greg Clark has written to the minister for Science, Amanda Solloway, relating to research and development investment.  The letter is available here. He asked for:

  • Further detail for example on the terms of support for higher education institutions announced by the Government.
  • The Government’s plans to address research funding & cross subsidisation in the long-term to ensure that university research funding is sustainable.
  • Further details on the R&D roadmap

Match funding change: On Thursday the Government suspended the 50:50 matched funding requirement for industrial research applications to the Aerospace Technology Institute programme. This is to mitigate the effects of Covid on the industry.

Research parliamentary questions

A selection of Wonkhe blogs relevant to research interests:

Off topic – but interesting – Sellafield have released a report in the name of sharing the importance of science. It highlights how R&D has transformed their organisation & safety. Short press release here, report here.

PM’s Lifetime Skills Guarantee

Boris announced the Lifetime Skills Guarantee scheme (full speech here, press release with stakeholder support here). Main points:

  • The Lifetime Skills Guarantee is a system where every student will have a flexible lifelong loan entitlement to four years of post-18 education. Boris stated this will promote real choice – at the moment many young people feel they have to go for the degree option. They feel they have only one chance to study, and to borrow. They might as well go for the maximum, and get a degree. It launches April 2021 in England and is paid for through the National Skills Fund.
  • Adults without an A-Level or equivalent (a level 3) will be offered a free, fully funded college course, to learn skills (those valuable to employers) and the opportunity to study at a time and location that suits them. The list of courses is expected to be released shortly.
  • The funding model will change with more flexibility to study in bursts (so an individual can spread it across their life period) and easy access to loans for higher technical as well as degree programmes. Politico state there will be a push to massively expand vocational courses. The government will provide finance for shorter-term studies in areas such as coding to help train workers for jobs of the future, rather than the typical three or four year university studies.
  • Alongside studying in segments students should be able to build up credits and transfer between different providers both colleges and universities. This in itself is expected to enable more part time study.
  • Boris pledged to:
    • invest in skills & FE (£1.5 billion for college capital works)
    • expand apprenticeships (as mentioned above) and make them more portable to move from company to company
    • expand digital boot camps (£8 million, programmes in four new locations)
    • from 2021 boot camps will also be available for construction and engineering – supporting the national Industrial Strategy
    • 62 additional courses will be added to the free online Skills Toolkit
    • end the pointless, nonsensical gulf… between the so-called academic and the so-called practical varieties of education… now is the time to end this bogus distinction between FE and HE. (Not all Conservatives agree with this – see this blog in Conservative Home.)

Boris also said:

  • The post-18 educational system is not working in such a way as to endow people with those skills…lab technicians, skilled construction workers, skilled mechanics, skilled engineers, and we are short of hundreds of thousands of IT experts
  • …And look I don’t for a second want to blame our universities. I love our universities, and it is one of this country’s great achievements massively to have expanded higher education.
  • But we also need to recognise that a significant and growing minority of young people leave university and work in a non-graduate job, and end up wondering whether they did the right thing.
  • Was it sensible to rack up that debt on that degree? Were they ever given the choice to look at the more practical options, the courses – just as stimulating – that lead more directly to well-paid jobs?
    We seem on the one hand to have too few of the right skills for the jobs our economy creates, and on the other hand too many graduates with degrees which don’t get them the jobs that they want.

Kate Green MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, commented:  A week ago Labour called for a National Retraining Strategy fit for the crisis Britain faces, but what the government proposes is simply a mix of reheated old policies and funding that won’t be available until April. By then many workers could have been out of work for nearly a year, and the Tories still think that they will need to take out loans to get the training they will need to get back in work. These measures will not reverse the devastating impact of a decade of cuts, and will not give workers the skills and support they need in the months ahead.

Association of Colleges responded to the PM’s speech:

  • We believe that colleges should play a bigger part in a more collaborative education and skills system that allows people to train and retrain throughout their lives. Today’s speech is a strong sign that this thinking will form much of the foundation for the upcoming FE white paper and develop a system that works for all adults and not just those fortunate enough to go to university. 
  • A new entitlement to a fully-funded Level 3 qualification and more flexibility built into L4 and L5 are important steps forward as the government begins to implement the Augar Review. There is a lot more to do to stimulate demand from adults and employers and to support colleges to have the capacity to meet needs.
  • We must get this right to ensure our education and skills system is fit for purpose – I hope the Prime Minister’s words are just the beginning on the road to a fairer and more accessible post-16 system for everyone who needs it.

The Institute of Economic Affairs is less convinced:

  • …The speech lacks specifics.
  • The Prime Minister has made a time-honoured distinction between ‘academic’ and ‘practical’ skills, although there is little here to explain how exactly this shift will occur. Successive governments have made the same noises.
  • Extra funding for people without A-levels may be sensible, but it is not clear that there will be a massive demand for lower-level qualifications from either students or employers.
  • The offer of more flexible support for higher education and spreading study over longer periods is welcome in principle, but again there is little to suggest how this will work in practice. There is no evidence of a more fundamental change, such as linking a university’s funding to the success of its graduates, which might incentivise new forms of provision.
  • This speech is worthy, but it amounts to neither a convincing response to rising unemployment nor to a radical change in adult education.

Skills Productivity Appointment

With the FE sector and skills focus holding significant traction within Government a new appointment is significant. Stephen van Rooyen will head up the Skills and Productivity Board. His Chairmanship will have an influential role in driving forward the Government’s FE reform programme. The Board is responsible for advising on the skills that employers need for the future and that will help grow our economy post C-19, alongside how to ensure the courses and qualifications are high-quality. Stephen’s background is here, including his support for apprenticeships.

Stephen stated: The work of the SPB will be carried out by a panel of five leading skills and labour market economists, supported by Department for Education officials. The panel will undertake independent research and analysis in response to questions set out by the Secretary of State and Chair. Applications for panel members closed earlier this month and appointments will be made in due course.

Education Committee session

Following Boris’ pledge the Education Committee session focussed on adult learning schemes and mechanisms questioning Gillian Keegan Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Apprenticeships and Skills. Direct HE relevant content was limited to whether there would be any maintenance grant support for more disadvantaged students. Keegan replied that there were already discretionary funds to support disadvantaged students, or those facing additional barriers to learning.

Robert Halfon, Chair of the Education Committee pointed out there was nothing on community learning in Boris’ announcements. Keegan responded that the announcement was focused on economic outcomes for individuals, and, that the focus is on learners and helping them access more modular and flexible training. While this isn’t about HE it reveals the depth of emphasis the Government is placing on flexible learning at all levels and that adult and skills budgets aren’t altruistic – just like Government intent for HE – support focuses on the key skills needs for the country to support economic prosperity. So no fluffiness on the route to levelling up!

Keegan also showed interest in the concept of a skills tax credit to incentivise employers to provide training to low skilled employers, however, she conceded it hadn’t worked well in other countries.

On the social care sector the Government intend to professionalise this employment area initially through T-Levels and apprenticeships. Keegan felt this might be a route to higher pay in the sector.

Lifetime Skills Guarantee and Post-16 Education

On Thursday Gavin Williamson, Education Secretary, made another oral statement, this time on the Lifetime Skills Guarantee and Post-16 Education. There was much overlap with and reiteration of Boris’ Skills Guarantee speech with a little additional detail.

Here are the key points in brief:

  • A White Paper will be published later this year on how to re-balance further and higher education.
  • FE has been overlooked for decades resulting in lost opportunities and businesses with unfulfilled skills gaps.
  • Everyone must have the opportunity to upskill and retrain – both young people who do not want to attend university and those who are forced to retrain following redundancy.
  • Linking with Boris’ skills pledge speech from Tuesday he called for closer alignment of FE and HE and re-announced the lifetime skills guarantee and greater flexibility in the educational system for people of all ages. There will be a consultation on the flexibility and transferability of credits during 2021 and the Government will legislate as needed in this Parliamentary session.
  • Williamson stated that these announcements will support the country’s recovery from Covid, however, they are also a continuation of the commitment to levelling-up. He reminded that the skills guaranteed means adults without A levels can re-train. He also reiterated that there would be funding for alternatives to degrees e.g. loans for higher technical education.
  • The apprenticeships programme will be expanded and barriers that employers face in taking on apprentices addressed. This will include allowing larger businesses to transfer their unused levy to fund smaller employers and ensuring redundant apprentices have the opportunity to continue their education.
  • T-levels (equivalent to 3 a-levels) have now commenced (in autumn 2020).
  • Williamson also announced funding of £111 million for the expansion of traineeships, £32 million for recruiting careers advisers, and £17 million for work academies in England. He restated previous funding commitments of £170 million which intends to establish 12 Institutes of Technology (IoT), with £120 million following on to develop a further 8 IoTs. The funding competition for the next 8 IoTs will open shortly.

Skills Gaps

Incidentally The Migration Advisory Committee published a review of the shortage occupation list this week.   The key reasons given for wanting to be on the SOL were:

  • A lack of a suitably skilled workforce in the UK
  • An unwillingness of the UK workforce to consider certain roles due to: physical demands; unsocial hours; an unwillingness to relocate; or seasonality of these roles;
  • That training alone is not a viable solution due to the time it takes and lack of long term certainty.

The Committee also warned Ministers to urgently address low pay in the social care sector in order to avoid a staffing crisis in January.

Augar Review

Having detailed the rise and Government zeal for FE and technical skills alongside the announced flexibility in funding and the comprehensive spending review speculation we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Augar, particularly the fees aspect. Fortunately HEPI covers the interpretation of Augar within the recent context in a discursive manner here. The blog is titled: As the Government begins implementing the more popular elements of the Augar report, we shouldn’t forget the rest of it (including what it said on fees)…

Excerpts:

  • …no one could have predicted how much change would happen between then and now. When the Augar report was published, Philip Augar said it was a take-it-or-leave-it package. In other words, he said it was a carefully calibrated model, not a pick-and-mix. I suspect the goal was to disincentivise policymakers from banking any proposed savings and then rejecting the counterbalancing proposed new spending. 
  • after the COVID crisis began…[Augar]… writing in the Financial Times that his most high-profile recommendation – reducing the headline full-time undergraduate fee cap from £9,250 to £7,500 – should perhaps be junked while others should still be implemented.
  • Now it has been confirmed by the Prime Minister that some of those other recommendations are indeed now to be implemented. For example, the Augar report’s first two recommendations were for ‘a single lifelong learning loan allowance’ and access to student finance ‘for modules of credit’, and these ideas have now been accepted. The devil will be in the detail…
  • But such tweaks cost money and, now that the Treasury is beginning to finalise its plans for the Spending Review, it is time to focus again on that most famous of all of the Augar report’s recommendations, the one on fees… In the COVID crisis, we may all have paid too little attention to the fact that the actual proposal for a lower fee cap remains on the table… There will be voices urging the Treasury in the run up to the Spending Review to cut spending on universities (either to reduce borrowing or to spend more on other priorities, including other educational priorities)… Cutting fees could play well in the culture war. It would be at one with some of the negative coverage of universities in recent times. And universities are typically in larger towns and cities that are less likely to be represented by a Conservative MP… But cutting the income of universities now is an objectively terrible idea… it nonetheless seems clear that severe cuts to the main income stream for universities in the midst of a crisis, while failing to replace the lost income, would make the Institute for Fiscal Studies’s dire warnings about the number of universities that could go bust during the pandemic much more likely to come true.

Student loans

In a week where there has been a constant focus speculating on the CSR and with the Government making announcements about flexibility in student loans and new spending pledges fresh attention has fallen on the student loan outlay figures which were published at the end of last week.

The Government changed the way it accounts for certain things, including the student loan, in the last Parliament and we now have the RAB – the Resource Accounting and Budgeting charge which predicts the proportion of loans that have been paid out to students that are expected to never be repaid back into the Treasury.

The RAB has now hit a whopping 53%, yet the DfE target for unpaid loans is much lower at 36%. Uncomfortable figures particularly with the Government’s claims that not enough students are accessing graduate level jobs at the end of their degree and that too many young people are choosing to go to university over other routes. And all within the landscape of unprecedented Government borrowing to fund the pandemic and economic needs (and dare I mention it – Brexit). In addition, there is also the forthcoming population boom to consider with 2030 expected to require a significant increase in availability of provision – all of which would have to be paid for. However, the Government may be hoping to redirect some of this boom demand into more technical or hop on – hop off higher level provision.

A current forecast suggests the Government will have a £20 billion outlay by 2024-25 for student loans.

The great annual migration

Gavin Williamson made a statement and responded to questions regarding students returning to universities. Below follows a summary of the main points in the full statement and questions session. For a shorter version you can read the press release which just covers Williamson’s statement here.

  • Students will be able to return home for Christmas should they wish to. The Government will work with universities to ensure this can occur safely. DfE Guidance will follow however it may include ceasing face-to-face contact two weeks early to provide time for students to self-isolate before returning home. Universities must ensure students who wish to remain within their university accommodation over the Christmas period are safe and well looked after. However, Williamson didn’t directly address a later question by Mark Harper MP who asked for reassurance students would not be trapped in their university accommodation for the period of self-isolation. [Many have pointed out that this ignores the fact that many students go home (or elsewhere) much more regularly than this….]
  • Labour (Yvette Cooper MP) asked if the Government was proposing all students self-isolate at the end of term to return home and pressed for mass testing Williamson stated that different cases, local circumstances and term end dates mean they envisage the self-isolation will cover only a very small number of universities. Later Hilary Benn pressed Williamson on whether students may go home to isolate again. He responded: We will be setting out clear guidance in terms of students and making sure that that fits within the broader guidance right across the country that is available for the wider population as well.
  • Blended learning should continue with face-to-face contact where possible. Teaching should not be solely online. The 11 September tiered approach guidance balancing learning requirements against the C-19 risk and local restrictions continues to apply.
  • Students who isolate must be properly cared for and the university should ensure they can access food, medical and cleaning supplies. Confirmed that universities are doing this. Students living outside of the campus or university housing should also have access to advice and support. Williamson was challenged during the questions by Sir Edward Leigh who was opposed to an enforced whole halls of residence lockdown. Williamson stated: Students follow the same rules as those in society and: We always want to ensure that there is a sensible and proportionate response to ensure that students are able to go about their business and continue their learning online and, importantly, face to face.
  • Universities need to provide additional mental health and practical support to students during these difficult times, particularly those new starters. The Minister stated he was pleased with universities efforts in this regard – Many universities have bolstered existing mental health services and offer alternatives to face-to-face consultations. Once again, I would like to thank staff at universities and colleges who have responded so quickly and creatively to the need to transform those essential services.
  • Later Damian Hinds MP planted a friendly question asking Williamson to talk about the great work done by universities and the likes of Student Minds – the support available and how it is being stepped up. Williamson responded: An amazing amount of work is done by every single university, but there has also been a recognition by the Office for Students that there may be gaps. That is why the Office for Students has stepped in to ensure that where students find that there is not that type of provision, something is provided for them, so that no student is in a position of not being supported. It is incredibly important that all students understand that support is available to them for them to be able to enjoy their time at university and succeed in their studies.
  • Acknowledged Universities hard work to make reopening as safe as possible. Feels both universities and students have followed the guidance. Students only subject to the same restrictions as the community in that area. Stated C-19 cases occurring in universities is inevitable, just as it is in the wider community, however, he believes universities are well prepared to handle outbreaks as they arise. Expressed that he was impressed with the way universities have worked with local authorities and local public health teams to safeguard students and staff.
  • The Department for Health and Social Care are working to make sure testing capacity is sufficient and appropriate for universities. They continue to make more tests available, more local testing sites and more processing laboratories. However, demand outstrips supply so staff and students should only request a test if they have symptoms or are advised to by an official.
  • Universities are also able to call on £256 million provided by the Government for hardship funding for students who have to isolate. Williamson also mentioned this money later in relation to chi Onwurah MP’s question which stated the only financial support the sector has received is to address the shortfall in scientific research funding, which is critical but does not have an impact on the learning experience. [The £256 million isn’t additional or new money and actually it was decreased in May from its original allocation so this has been criticised as misleading – see below]
  • The Government have taken a conscious decision to prioritise education…We will never be in a position where we can eliminate all risk, but we will not condemn a generation of young people by asking them to put their lives on hold for months or years ahead. We believe that universities are very well prepared to handle any outbreaks as they arise. 

Later in the discussion he stated that: We must not forget, however, that hundreds of thousands —almost a million—students have safely returned to university over the last few weeks. They will start their studies and benefit from a brilliant, world-class university education.

During the questions the Government was critiqued for:

  • Not doing things soonerwhy did it take the Secretary of State and the Health Secretary until last Wednesday to write to local directors of public health about the return of university students? (Kate Green). Answer: they were updating from the last advice SAGE produced, acting on the issues and suggestions made by SAGE.
  • Test & trace ineffective -self-isolating students live in particularly difficult circumstances (e.g. room size, no family support, living with a group that are practically strangers). (Kate Green). Later others used the shambolic privatised test and trace system to press for students to have access to tests to travel home safely (Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi).
  • Remote learning – students without digital access or a device; and additional support for students with SEN. This is where Williamson got himself in hot water. He stated: The hon. Lady raises an important point about digital access. I am sorry that she missed the announcement that we have made £100 million available for universities to use to ensure that youngsters have digital access, including students from the most deprived backgrounds, who would perhaps not be in a position to access courses. It is vital that if we are in a situation where people will have blended learning, all students are able to access it. We are taking seriously some of the challenges that all students and universities will face, which is why we have made £256 million available to make sure that where students are facing real hardship, universities can access funding to help them. [However, the £100m for digital access was for schools, so he has been criticised for that too as well as the £256m claim]
  • Lilian Greenwood MP picked up on disabled students accessing equipment and support Williamson stated it was the universities responsibility: under equalities legislation there is a duty on universities to ensure that there is proper and fair provision for all students. That is what we would expect from all universities. He also mentioned the £100m fund again (which is for schools).
  • Williamson side stepped and didn’t respond directly to Carol Monaghan’s call to address the fee-paying structure of (English) higher education by reducing fees and increasing Government funding to universities. Williamson stated: I thank the hon. Lady for putting forward policy suggestions for future Conservative party manifestos. We want to ensure that universities are properly funded, so that they are able to have world-class facilities that can beat other universities anywhere in the world. Laura Trott MP also addressed fees –  in some cases students will be paying full fees for what are now only online courses – and she called on the Minister to advise and ask the OfS to confirm that university bonuses not be paid unless fees were lowered. Williamson stated: I will be asking the Office for Students to look at this and give very strong and clear steers on this matter to ensure that no bonuses are going out as a result of this crisis. [Incidentally if you can stomach more on the fee refund debate Wonkhe have an excellent article debating the latest here. ]
  • Dame Cheryl Gillan MP called on Williamson to champion two-year degree courses. Williamson sorted the accelerated offer and reiterated there were other routes apart from university, including apprenticeships.
  • And on white working class boys (following a question from Robert Halfon, Chair Education Select Committee) Williamson stated: On why not enough youngsters on free school meals or white working-class boys are going to university, that is a real issue. We need to see change. We need to look at different options to ensure that those youngsters realise that they can succeed as well at university as all the other youngsters who choose to go. We will ensure that we deliver it as we level up across the country over the coming years.
  • The session concluded with Williamson confirming if Covid student numbers rose substantially the Government would review its position – We will constantly work with the sector very closely to ensure that we adapt and support it if the pandemic means that we have to make changes.

Labour issued a press release after the statement: Williamson’s blunders in the chamber further evidence serial incompetence. It covers the £100 million digital mistake and a second – Williamson said: the “Student Loans Company also offers a system whereby extra maintenance support can be made available through individual assessment.” Labour have critiqued this stating Students can change their maintenance loan applications if there is a change in their household income, but this does not allow the Student Loans Company to provide additional maintenance support simply because of increased needs for students. Labour raised these aspects as a point of order and called for the record to be corrected. It was refused but the Deputy Speaker acknowledged that the opposition had successfully made the point on the record.

Wonkhe dissected the statement mistakes too and added:

  • That Williamson encouraged the Office for Students to forbid the payment of bonuses to university staff – the Office for Students does not directly have this power.
  • They also clarified what we mentioned above on the £256million boost to student hardship funds. Wonkhe state: These already existing funds were initially allocated to universities to support students from disadvantaged backgrounds as “student premium” funding, and were actually cut from £277m last year by Gavin Williamson back in May.

NSS to LEO

With the launch of the NSS review Emma Hardy, Shadow HE Minister, wrote for Research Professional to voice concerns on alternative judgements of university quality:

  • Ditching the NSS with no replacement would put greater emphasis on Longitudinal Education Outcomes data, which only tell us how much graduates earn. This appears to fit with this government’s notion of ‘value for money’ and ‘value to the taxpayer’, and this is no doubt how it will be presented. However, what it can’t be said to measure is ‘value to the country’ or even ‘value to the economy’.
  • Covid-19 has underlined the importance of key workers and there are many graduate jobs, including those of nurses and health workers, that do not carry big salaries. LEO data may be able to tell us which graduates go into the best-paid employment but, because wage levels are geographically influenced, they discriminate against universities in deprived areas that support local economies by training the graduates those economies need.
  • Worse, the data discriminate against higher education institutions that recruit more students from disadvantaged backgrounds, because a significant determiner of postgraduate income is still students’ socioeconomic background before they attend university. As the main measure for judging universities, LEO data can only embed inequalities—the exact opposite of ‘levelling up’.

Her article goes on to suggest that this definition of value looks like a proxy for an attack on the numbers going to university. And after noting past cuts to technical education Emma states:  the government has tried to blame the crisis in further education on the success of our universities. Universities should not allow this to continue unchecked… 

And the implications of the virus….

It’s unlikely that you’ve managed to escape the tug and thrust of student Covid news over the last week. We’ll cover it here as speedily and painlessly as we can.

Mass testing continues to be central to the Opposition’s calls. Earlier in the week Kate Green (Labour’s Education Secretary) pressurised the Government on Sunday’s BBC Breakfast calling for a commitment to test every HE student before they return home at the end of term. She also stated we should pause the student migration now until an “effective, efficient testing system” is put in place.

Next in the saga was Amanda Milling MP, Co-Chair of the Conservative Party, who stated: There are no plans to keep students at university over Christmas and Labour is deliberately creating unnecessary stress for young people to score political points.

Finally Williamson put us out of our misery on Tuesday when his speech confirmed the Government and universities would work together to save Christmas allowing students who wish to, to return home. The details surrounding isolation and plans for those with active Covid symptoms are to follow in DfE guidance. And in Thursday’s Covid briefing the PM paid tribute to students who were studying in these unprecedented times.

Kate Green also wrote a letter to Gavin Williamson which included students access to remote learning. She stated:

[On remote learning]…To do this, they must also have access to the right equipment, connectivity and environment. The “digital divide” has been raised with your department on numerous occasions, including in a recent report from the Office for Students which showed its impact on students from disadvantaged backgrounds. What urgent steps are you taking to bridge the digital divide…?

Leaving home to go to University should be a momentous and exciting step for young people and their families. It is deeply distressing that so many will now not get the university experience they deserve, and face the appalling prospect of being locked in their rooms with no chance to make new friends.

Universities have done all they can to prepare for students’ safe return to campus, but the government has failed to play its part. You let young people down with the exam fiasco over the summer, and now many of those same students are being let down again. These young people deserve better than your incompetence.

Previously she has stated that students should have the choice to remain in the family home:

We do think it is important that students have a choice. If they feel they are going to be safer at home then they should be able to stay at home and conduct their learning remotely.

OfS Edicts: The OfS have commented on the student situation as they return to university and expressing their expectations for the HE sector to meet:

  • Universities have worked hard to make campuses safe, and have developed programmes that mix face-to-face and online learning. However, our guidance says that is essential that they provide students with as much clarity as possible on what they can expect. Where the situation changes universities should provide regular information updates.
  • Where students need to go into isolation, universities have to be clear about how courses will continue to operate in these circumstances and what welfare, resources and support are available. Universities should provide information about how testing can be accessed where it is expected by the health authorities and ensure that such students can access food and other essential provisions. We will be following up with individual universities and colleges where we have concerns about the arrangements they are making for teaching and academic support. 
  • Students have a right to good quality higher education – whether that is taught online, in-person or a mixture of the two. Where they feel this is not happening they can raise concerns with their university, escalating complaints to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator where a resolution cannot be found. They can also inform the OfS, and we can and will investigate if we believe that universities have not taken all reasonable steps to protect standards or where quality is slipping for groups of students.

Finally, here is a small selection of this week’s coverage on students & Covid.

Scottish Pact: Scotland’s Universities have agreed a Consistent Core of Care – a package of 10 measures – to support student wellbeing for the first semester in response to C-19. Three measures specifically address students who are quarantined or isolating such as very regular check ins with the student/household.

Student Spread: The New Statesman has used Office for National Statistics local neighbourhood classifications (he granular output areas) of student areas to compare Covid cases.

They found:

  • 1.15 confirmed cases per student neighbourhood in England
  • compared to 0.36 cases per non-student area.
  • Student areas are also more likely to be represented among those recording the highest case rates.
  • The effect is greater within cities with substantial student districts and particularly in the north.
  • The number of cases is rising faster in student areas than non-student areas.

The article acknowledges that:

  • not all of the cases within the student classified areas will have been students
  • as a whole, there are still more Covid-19 cases outside of student neighbourhoods than within them
  • Also: cases were rising in workplaces across the country before students went back to university – indicating they were not the cause of the rise in cases, but rather accelerated a pre-existing trend.

The Times Red Box has a piece calling for immediate mass testing in every university town. They believe students and staff should be tested twice per week and look to Illinois which has a campus tracing team who support with tracking and immediate testing so no one isolates unnecessarily. They also suggest using the universities laboratory capacity to process the tests (40 in the UK have the facilities the article suggests, others could use a mobile facility on site). Acknowledging that rapid testing can be inaccurate in identifying a lower viral load makes the retesting a key part of the approach. The interesting aspect of this article is that it makes the case not just to stop the spread of the virus but for the mental health of students – it sees regular mass testing as unlocking an almost normal experience.

Research Professional have coverage of student mental health in Top priority – How serious are universities about student mental health?

LBC have a short piece on the human rights lawyer who has stated the Manchester residence lockdowns were legally dicey.

Parliamentary Questions

Access & Participation

The BBC published University entrance: The ‘taboo’ about who doesn’t go primarily looking at the barriers and alternate motivations of young white working class males.

The OfS has released TUNDRA data which measures the frequency with which people living in a more granular area have accessed HE over a series of years. Wonkhe have a very short blog with some charts utilising the new data.

UCAS have a new blog considering the aspects which may encourage care experienced students to disclose their care background in their application personal statement.

Lord Hunt championed several parliamentary questions on ensuring care leavers have access to the internet and a digital device this week – see here, here, here and here.

The Sutton Trust has published a report on school closures and lower social mobility

Exams cancelled?

The VC’s of Birmingham and Sheffield Hallam have a thoughtful piece in the Times calling on the Government to cancel the 2021 A level exams:

  • Decisions need to be made now to give teachers, universities and students certainty. The coming year will be unpredictable. Local lockdowns will have a differential effect on learners who have already faced massive disruption. Making that up would be tough anyway; making it up through further local disruptions to teaching will be almost impossible. The danger is that next summer’s results will be as chaotic as this year’s, with students having had much less time to learn.
  • There is a simple solution for assessment. This year, government rightly allowed teacher grades to stand. The problem was no effective grade moderation. Government should ask examination boards to use the time we now have to develop a robust moderation approach. It’s a method which works in almost every other advanced educational system.
  • Our approach would have huge benefits. It would give students certainty and remove the worry that learning would be interrupted by a local lockdown. It would give universities certainty about assessments. It would ease progression from school to university for learners whose education has been so interrupted. There is also another benefit: it would open up a route to more effective university admissions, fit for a post-Covid world. 

This parliamentary question confirms the Government does not intend to implement predicted grades in 2020/21. And this one questions the steps the Government are taking to ensure schools have clear guidance on exams in summer 2021 before students have to submit applications to UCAS.

NAHT also have grave concerns about the 2021 exam series, they’re particularly concerned about the impact of a compressed time period with back to back exam conditions:

  • we remain concerned about proposals that next year’s summer exams should be pushed back. While that initially sounds like it would help students have more time to learn and prepare, it could have a disastrous effect on students’ experience. Delaying the exam series, while still needing to generate results in time for university offer deadlines, would necessitate a compression of the exam series, meaning more exams for young people in a much shorter space of time. Given how high stakes these tests are, this could only add to the unfairness and inequity of the situation, could lead to further disadvantage for some students over others, and would certainly have a negative impact on students’ mental health and wellbeing.
  • Ongoing teacher assessments could end up being crucial this year – we should be looking at how we use a range of measures rather than assuming things can be fixed by simply delaying the exams. If 2020 has shown us nothing else, it is that relying solely on a series of high-stakes exams means that we are left with no other options if things go wrong…Unfortunately there are currently few signs that the authorities who presided over this year’s chaos have learned the right lessons or are acting quickly enough to avoid another mess.

And the TES cover calls from Lord Baker to cancel the 2021 GCSE and A level exams.

Currently the media focus is on assessment methods and arrangements but over the academic year increasing focus is likely to build on universities admissions arrangements and timescales.

PQs

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

Degree Apprenticeships: Ofsted are now solely responsible for the inspection of apprenticeship training provision at all levels – including degree apprenticeships delivered within HE providers and all level 6 & 7 provision. There is a partnership aspect in that the OfS will continue to provide Ofsted with relevant information to inform inspection judgements. Gavin Williamson’s letter to Amanda Spielman, HM Chief Inspector, is here. It also instructs Ofsted to build capacity and capability for the new responsibilities upskilling existing staff and:  the recruitment of additional inspectors with suitable expertise including knowledge and experience of higher educationOfsted should also work closely with [Government Education] officials and the Office for Students in preparing the apprenticeships sector for this change, particularly… those providers who are not already familiar with Ofsted inspection. I expect Ofsted to work collaboratively to ensure that the circumstances of the sector are fully understood.

Remote working within HE Sector: Wonkhe tell us about a new report from SUMS consultancy into higher education working practices during the pandemic finds that line management support, team cohesion and institutional communications were most important in supporting staff wellbeing during the initial stages of the pandemic.

SUMS consulting have published: Working well – during and beyond Covid-19: A report into staff health, general wellbeing and remote working enablement in the HE Sector

  • The HE sector is not on its own in having to adapt quickly to changes in work location and practice. Many of the observations set out in this report transcend industries. However, this research has specifically sought out the perspectives of those working in UK higher education…The resulting paper identified eight critical success factors to support good change management in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis; and learning points for the future… This study reflects on initiatives put in place driven by remote working during the Covid-19 pandemic and poses questions around the potential for these initiatives to be sustained and embedded in the long-term employee experience.

Wonkhe also covered the report and have highlighted: line management support, team cohesion and institutional communications were most important in supporting staff wellbeing during the initial stages of the pandemic.

Engineering Careers: a new digital platform for engineering outreach (online and in person) activities (aimed at schools) has been launched – Neon.

Levelling up: The UK2070 Commission have published Go big. Go local – a new deal for levelling up the UK. The blurb: There are deep-rooted inequalities across the UK. These are not inevitable. However, we lack the long-term thinking and spatial economic plan needed to tackle them. Included in the 10 point plan (page 2):

  • Creating New Global Centres of Excellence harnessing increased investment in research and development to create ‘hub and spoke’ networks of excellence and growth across the country comparable to the economic impact of the ‘golden triangle’ of London, Oxford and Cambridge
  • Future Skilling the UK tackling the historic under-performance of the UK on skills through national plans to raise attainment levels, especially in those skills needed to achieve the levels of the best performing places.
  • a powerful ministerially-led cross-government committee needs to be established with a dedicated team, to oversee delivery and embed levelling up, supported by spatial analysis, flexible funding and new measures of success…
  • Page 48 lists the top 24 most deprived Council areas in terms of access to services, skills and education & levels of social mobility.

You can read the full report here.

Travel & Transport Guidance: The updated guidance for higher education providers in England on when and how to reopen their campuses and buildings is available here. The updates relate to travel and transport.

International: Wonkhe report that The Foreign and Commonwealth Office will announce later today expanded vetting for overseas applicants to university courses relating to questions of national security. This comes amid concerns around students from China collecting information for the People Liberation Army. The Times has the story.

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 16th July 2020

This week we have more from the Universities Minister as the post-Covid policy direction becomes clearer, as well as that speech from the Secretary of State abandoning (again) the 50% target for HE participation , some Committee views on the impact of the virus and what to do about it, and in case you have forgotten about Brexit and the new points-based immigration system, we had more detail this week.  There is the NSS  and some other survey news too.  Brace yourself – it’s another bumper edition.

The Universities Minster speaks

A two-for-one offer this week.  Below we will talk about Gavin Williamson’s speech on FE (and related attack on HE).  But before we get to that, we want to share Michelle Donelan’s latest on 15th July when she was questioned by the Education Select Committee.

As we write this the transcript of the session isn’t available, but there is plenty of media coverage.

You should read the Research Professional article in full, but in case you don’t have time we offer some highlights:

  • Donelan was answering a question from Conservative committee member Caroline Johnson, who wanted to know which groups of young people were least likely to go to university, why that might be and what was being done to encourage them.
  • “First of all I want to say that we don’t necessarily want everyone to go to university—that was very much the essence of the secretary of state’s speech last week,” she said [see below for our summary of that]
  • …Whether you are advantaged or disadvantaged, higher education is not necessarily the best route to get to where you want to go in life,” Donelan said. “I really think we need to move away from this focus of how many students get to university because it is such a blunt instrument that isn’t actually very accurate in terms of social mobility,” she added. “If a student gets to university and drops out after year one and has a year’s debt, what does that achieve for their social mobility? Nothing. In fact, it sets them back in life. “It is about them completing high-quality, academically rigorous courses that then lead to graduate jobs—and that is the important measure we should be looking at.”
  • Johnson did not miss the fact that the universities minister had not really addressed her question, so she went back in for a second go. “The question was: Which groups are currently least likely to go to university and is there much talk about helping those groups…to consider it as a career [choice]?” she said.
  • Donelan trotted out the well-worn line about “record numbers of disadvantaged students going to university” (missing out the word “young”, which is crucial here given the decimation of the mature student body) but acknowledged that there were “still challenges within different sections of society, including white working-class students”. “But I actually don’t think it is a good measure to look at,” the minister continued. “It is the wrong question, if you don’t mind me saying, because it doesn’t matter about looking at which groups don’t get to university. It is about making sure that those groups that do go complete, that [their course will] lead to graduate jobs, but also looking at what is in that student’s best interests.”
  • …Donelan’s declaration that this “doesn’t matter” will be confusing for the great many people who work in widening participation. Johnson seemed taken aback, too. “Does that mean no university will be required to have a target of any particular demographic of student?” she asked.
  • Donelan’s response that universities were “individually accountable” for their access and participation plans, and that there were “different issues in terms of demographics” for different universities, will not do much to address that confusion. Nor will her repeated message that “access and participation is not just about getting the student in; it is about making sure they can complete their course” and then go on to get a graduate job.
  • “We need the sector to actually look at their offer…and their messages to prospective students, because they do tend to promote courses too much that don’t offer those graduate outcomes,” the minister concluded.

Jim Dickinson has also done a summary for Wonkhe and we pick out some different points although of course he includes the access and participation stuff too:

  • Remember all that stuff about bite-size, modular learning in Augar? It sounds like that will make it into the response in the Autumn. Donelan said: “Some of the work I’m doing at the moment is looking at potential for modular learning and how we can expand the part time offer as part of our response to Augar, which we will be responding to in line with the spending review.” Whether that Augar response will tackle the widespread disbelief this time last year that the SLC would be able to handle the complexity of loans for tuition and maintenance at module level remains to be seen.
  • That “other half” of the bailout – the “restructuring regime” yin to the research funding yang, if you will, is coming. And we got a preview of the length and thickness of the strings that will be attached here: “So I can’t obviously pre-empt a report that’s going to come out. But what I can say is the driving force behind all of my work and all of the department’s work in HE is to prioritize quality provision that is fit for purpose and that unlocks opportunities for individuals that are making, at the end of the day, a massive investment in their future and one that they do want to see pay off in some form or another. I think too long we’ve let far too many students down by pushing and promoting courses that don’t have that value, don’t lead to those graduate outcomes and jobs. But at the same time, get them into tens of thousands of debt, which I just don’t think is good enough.”  Any funding from DfE would surely have to come through OfS, which was already busy with a funding review and a look at its minimum thresholds for quality. 
  • Lots of people have been concerned about student hardship during the pandemic, and so were the committee. Here the minister stretched credibility beyond all usual limits in her framing of the ability to spend some student premium in a slightly different way – an issue we’ve picked Donelan up beforeon the site: “Students have been affected by the pandemic in terms of finances, that’s undeniable. So most institutions have their own hardship funds and assistance already. And then they receive money every month for access and participation, which we worked with the Office for Students to remove the restrictions around so that they could unlock twenty three million pounds per month for April, May, June and July.  So 23 million pounds each, which is a considerable amount of money that they were able to then access to top up their hardship funds. And we promoted the use of that for things like accommodation, technology costs, system connectivity costs, all of these things. And that’s had a really fantastic impact in terms of trying to direct that support. I think it was right that we channelled that through universities who had these relationships and could identify those students most in need.”  We’re very much looking forward to seeing the evidence for the claim for the “a really fantastic impact” line, which surely must be coming given how much we all like to focus on “what works” and “outcomes” these days.

Levelling up and higher technical education

On Thursday last week Gavin Williamson gave a speech with the Social Market Foundation and then on Tuesday this week, a press release with more of the detail.

The speech set out the Government’s intentions to refocus FE, raising its profile and establishing the higher technical route as a genuine alternative to a degree. The announcement was well trailed in advance as the sector anticipated that the government would abandon Tony Blair’s target for 50% attending university (of course this wasn’t actually the target and it had already been dropped – Blair’s target was not about universities and l technical education for people under 30, as explained by former Minister Chris Skidmore here ). Given we have had several weeks (months?) of anti-HE rhetoric we had an impending sense of doom as we waited for Williamson’s speech. However, while there are the usual digs, it focussed enough on FE to be balanced.  And there is an opportunity for universities. For years the Government has urged HE institutions to work with their local schools and FE provision and received a lukewarm response, and universities will be able to access the higher technical qualification funding in collaboration with FE providers.

There was lots of interesting content in the speech, browse through the below, summarised in places to shorten it:

  • There is so much right with our education system but when it comes to further education, too many people here don’t value it as much as they should.
  • It exasperates me that there is still an inbuilt snobbishness about higher being somehow better than further, when really, they are both just different paths to fulfilling and skilled employment. Especially when the evidence demonstrates that further education can open the doors to greater opportunity, better prospects and transform lives. We must never forget that the purpose of education is to give people the skills they need to get a good and meaningful job.

The Minister mentioned the following sources of financial support mentioned in the budget last week (read more in our update from last week).

  • When I first came into this job, I was firmly of the belief that there needed to be a major shift in how we treat further education. Not just because of its importance in levelling up. But because further education is vital if we want our country to grow economically and our productivity to improve. We need fundamental change, not just tinkering around the edges.
  • …Further education is central to our mission of levelling up the nation. Or quite simply, giving people the skills that they need to get the jobs that they want. If you want to transform many of our left-behind towns and regions, you don’t do it by investing more money solely in universities. You invest in the local college – the beating hearts of so many of our towns.
  • But unfortunately, we’ve not been providing as many of our young people with this opportunity as we should….Since becoming Education Secretary, I was shocked to discover that while the number of people going to university has increased, the total number of adults in education has actually fallen.
  • So what’s driven that fall?… There has been a systemic decline in higher technical qualifications… Within Higher Education Institutes, foundation degrees have declined from a high of 81,000, to approximately 30,000. Undergraduate part-time study in higher education has also fallen significantly, from nearly 250,000 in 2010 to under 100,000. Together, these more than outweigh the increase in young people going to university. And for those who haven’t achieved the equivalent of A-Levels by age 18, the chances of proceeding to higher levels of qualifications is, as Philip Augar’s report puts it, ‘virtually non-existent.’… Only 10% of all adults aged 18-65 hold a Higher Technical Qualification as their highest qualification. This compares to around 20% of adults in Germany and as much as 34% in Canada…We’re writing off people who have a tremendous potential to contribute to our society.
  • For decades, we have failed to give further education the investment it deserves. Of course, we know universities have an important role to play in our economy, society and culture. But it’s clear that there are limits to what can be achieved by sending ever more people to university, which is not always what the individual or our nation needs. 
  • In February I got sent a copy of the Oxford Review of Education’s special edition, about Higher Education and the labour market…Consistently across countries, there is evidence of filtering down in the labour market. That means that graduates are competing for jobs that used to be – and could still be – done by non-graduates. And a significant proportion of graduates fail to gain much advantage from going to university at all…It reinforces what we already know…that 34% of our graduates are in non-graduate jobs, more than any other countries in Europe except for Ireland and the Czech Republic. And employers say that too often, graduates don’t have the skills they need, whether that’s practical know-how or basic numeracy and literacy. [Here you may wish to read Wonkhe’s alternative take on the 34% underemployed.]
  • ….Skilled trade and professional occupations, in sectors such as manufacturing and construction, report some of the highest skills shortages. Many of these occupations require intermediate or higher technical qualifications – precisely the things that we are not teaching. Simply as a nation we seem to have given up on them when these are the skills we need most to have a chance of competing against other nations.
  • And let’s not pretend these qualifications are in any way inferior to a degree. The outcomes speak for themselves. Five years after completion, the average Higher Technical Apprentice earns more than the average graduate. I’d like to pause on that point just for a moment. A work-based, technical apprenticeship, lasting around 2 years, gives greater returns than the typical three year bachelor’s degree. For too long, we’ve been training people for jobs that don’t exist. We need to train them for the jobs that do exist and will exist in the future. We have to end the focus on qualifications for qualifications sake. We need fundamental reform: a wholesale rebalancing towards further and technical education. And across our entire post-16 sector, we need a much stronger alignment with the economic and societal needs of the nation.
  • My personal commitment is to put further and technical education at the heart of our post-16 education system. Like the Prime Minister, I believe that talent and genius are expressed as much by the hand and by the eye as they are in a spreadsheet or an essay.
  • We need to create and support opportunities for those who don’t want to go to university, not write them off – or drive them down a path that, can all too often, end with graduates not having the skills they need to find meaningful work.

The Minister states these reforms as successes (!):

  • Apprenticeship level and move to employer-led standards
  • Introduction of T levels
  • But, we need to go further, we need to go further and we need to go faster: to remove qualifications that are just not fit for purpose; to tackle low quality higher education; and to give colleges the powers and resources that they need to truly drive change.

Germany…

  • This autumn I will be publishing a White Paper that will set out our plans to build a world-class, German-style further education system in Britain, and level up skills and opportunities. This will not be about incremental change, but a comprehensive plan to change the fundamentals of England’s further education landscape, inspired by the best models from around the world.
  • It will be centred upon two things. Firstly, high quality qualifications based on employer-led standards. All apprenticeships starts will be based on those standards from August this year and we will be looking to place such standards at the heart of our whole technical education system. Secondly, colleges playing a leading role in developing skills in their areas, driving an ambitious agenda that responds to local economic need and acting as centres for businesses and their development.

The Minister pledged to review the 12,000 level 3 qualifications simplifying the system into a consistently high-quality set of choices with a clear line of sight to study at higher levels.

  • …following our consultation last year we will be bringing forward plans to reverse the decline in higher technical education so that we can begin once more to train people for the jobs that the economy actually needs…And we want to do much more to open up more flexible ways of studying, including better support for modular learning.
  • Reforming and growing higher technical education will be a long-term endeavour. We want to see our great further education colleges expanding their higher technical provision. And although this speech is about further education, universities can be an important part of the solution, if they are willing to significantly step up their provision of higher technical qualifications.
  • Of course, qualifications are only half of the picture. Equally important is where they are taught…how our colleges should look in the future…They should be led by great leaders and governors who are drawn from local communities and businesses, and teaching staff who have already have experience working in and with industry…They should have industry-grade equipment and modern buildings which are great places to learn in and which act as centres for business development and innovation…They should deliver courses that are of the highest quality and which are tailored to the needs of employers and their local economies…They should work with small, local businesses to support the introduction of new technology and processes, and offer training in emerging skills….And there should be a robust system of governance so that every college is financially secure, flexible and dynamic. [That’ll keep the Government/ESFA busy then!]
  • We are also driving forward our network of Institutes of Technology. They will lead the way on delivering higher technical skills in science, technology, engineering, and maths – skills that will give this country a competitive edge not just in the industries of today, but, just as importantly, those of tomorrow. The first 12 are being rolled out across the country, ready to deliver the next generation of technicians and engineers, and more will follow soon. [Later this year the government plans to launch a competition to ensure that all of England is covered by an Institute of Technology.]

I think a lot of thought went into Williamson’s speech as he even attempts to change the rhetoric:

  • Some people say that further education and apprenticeships are for other people’s children. Let me be clear: I don’t. I’d be delighted if my children went to college or did an apprenticeship.
  • …No longer can we persist in the view that university is the silver bullet for everyone and everything. The revolution and need for change is long overdue. Education’s purpose is to unlock an individual’s potential so they can get the job and career that they crave. If it fails to do that then education itself has let them down. Today I have laid down a marker for change. A commitment to stand for the forgotten 50%. [You may recall that it was Ed Miliband who first coined the ‘forgotten 50%’ phrase in this context.]

Responses

The Guardian have an article from Berlin Bureau Chief – Philip Oltermann –  Importing Germany’s dual education system is easier said than done stating the German set up is fundamentally different to the UK (for a start it’s a federal nation, and a lot bigger) but also because it has the same ‘issue’ with HE being a preferred option. The Guardian states:

  • it involves complex coordination between the different actors, which the UK would at present struggle to reproduce, but also because it is threatened by the same cultural factors that have made universities so popular in the UK.  
  • ..the German dual system requires a high level of complex coordination between the employers who pay the trainee’s wages, the federal states that fund vocational training schools tailored to the needs of local industry, the unions that feed into the curriculum, and the chambers of trade and industry that carry out the exams at the end.
  • Previous British attempts to build up German-style dual systems – New Labour’s “14-19 Diplomas” and David Cameron’s ambitious apprenticeship targets – struggled to build up the educational infrastructure required to go with it.
  • Most British unions don’t have the capacity to feed expertise into training programmes… there isn’t an equivalent tradition of employers’ umbrella organisations developing training programmes for their entire sector.
  • In addition, not just Britain but Germany too is experiencing a gravitational pull that draws more and more young people towards universities rather than apprenticeships.

And the key point is this –

  • One reason for the trend, labour market experts speculate, is that academic degrees promise more flexibility, which is one of the downsides of the dual system.
  • While Germany’s dual training programmes produce highly specialised workers that can be perfectly matched to a sector’s current needs, they can struggle when digitalisation or globalisation throws that sector into crisis, as German printers, tailors or photo laboratory technicians have discovered in recent years.

Williamson’s speech is all about training young people to fit within specific fields of work, particularly addressing skills gaps – but those gaps will close and educational programmes take longer to respond. Flexibility really is the key here as people expect to need to change professions 5-7 times during their working span (Careers advice online, Financial Times, although this source takes issue with the ‘job hopping millennial’).

Before the Minister made his speech ex-Universities Minister Chris Skidmore wrote for Conservative Home agreeing with Williamson’s speech but also using his piece to remind about:

  • Step-on, step off, credit based learning, that allows for a personalised education for the 100 per cent, not one that seeks to divide between two systems.
  • we should not turn the clock back – but equally let’s make sure we give everyone, regardless of background, an equal chance to learn. More part-time, flexible learning for adults of every age can help achieve this.
  • My greatest objection to the 50 per cent headline grabbing figure is that it masks some of the truly horrifying, persistent divisions in our country. Still just nine per cent of white boys on free school meals living in the North East access higher education; only six per cent of pupils who have been in care will do so. These divisions are even more acute when the type of university institution is taken into account. In 2018, 17 per cent of students who were eligible for free school meals entered higher education in the UK. Yet only 2.7 per cent of them enrolled at high-tariff providers.
  • It is not acceptable for money to be handed over to institutions without delivering the necessary qualification. So called ‘non-completions’ are an unacceptable waste of talent and resource – which is why we need to create a learning system that prevents young people from dropping through the net.

In what will likely be an interesting summer for policy twists e should not dismiss Skidmore’s remarks simply because he is a backbencher. Currently Donelan is overshadowed by her two predecessors and their recent frequent media pieces…’ as if they are trying to influence from the side lines as they scent the change on the wind.

On the speech Wonkhe say: There are also serious doubts about the government’s capability and capacity to deliver meaningful reform in this area. It seems perennially confused about what it wants from higher education… And the fact that ministers can’t seem to support further education without attacking universities has left many on both sides of the old tertiary divide scratching their heads.

Wonkhe also sum up some of the media and sector responses for us: Greg Walker, CEO of MillionPlus said that some of the rhetoric in the speech missed the mark “as it appears to see HE and FE as alternatives, which they are clearly not”. University Alliance CEO Vanessa Wilson added that it was wrong to suggest that higher education “rarely offers technical qualifications and training”. The speech is covered by the BBC, the Times, the Financial Times, the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Independenti News, the Spectator, the Mirror, the Mail. The Spectator also runs an opinion piece from the Social Market Foundation’s Director, James Kirkup, on the “genuinely important” speech, while the Guardian’s Education editor muses on what might come of Williamson’s education “revolution”.

Writing before the speech was released Research Professional made some good points:

  • How the government will actually stop school leavers choosing “popular-sounding courses”, as Donelan put it, remains to be seen.
  • Scarcity of places and repurposing the course offer of universities that get into financial trouble are two tools available, but they are unlikely to have much impact in the short and medium term while the demographic of 18-year-olds in England is at its lowest for several decades and supply outstrips demand.
  • It would seem that not even the coronavirus can dim the desire of young people to go to university, or of their parents to see them there. So what makes the government think it can do what Covid-19 cannot?
  • Even after the government has trebled tuition fees, cut grants and created a market of alternative providers, young people still want to go to university in numbers that continue to grow. The expansion of university participation is driven by the desires of students and their parents, not by irresponsible vice-chancellors looking to put bums on seats, as a former universities minister once put it.
  • …Williamson may rail today against a previous emphasis on increased entry to university, while on the other hand this government might end up making good on New Labour’s 50 per cent participation pledge. That target … was always supposed to include students experiencing higher education on HND and HNC courses. An investment in further education, with a push on lower-level qualifications, might just result in the Conservatives finally realising the ambition of Tony Blair’s government.
  • A canny education secretary who wanted to get things done would incentivise higher education in a further education setting and enable partnerships between universities and local colleges. An education secretary hidebound by ideology will seek to erect obstacles to university attendance, which will prove to be ineffective and counterproductive in the long run.
  • How Williamson chooses to pivot in his speech today will tell us a lot about what the legacy of this government will be for universities. Will it be five years of lobbying against restrictive measures or will it be a period of contributing to national recovery through joined-up thinking across the education system?

Post-speech Research Professional focus on the poor state of the FE sector and suggest that the Government’s reforms are the reason for the numbers decline within the mature population.

Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of The Sutton Trust, said:

  • Further educationandapprenticeshipshave a crucial role to play in widening opportunity … We would also like to see many more degree and degree-levelapprenticeshipsavailable to young people. They offer a powerful combination of on the job learning and academic work, enabling young people to earn while they learn, graduate with little or no debt and with the skills the marketplace wants. 

Tim Thomas, Make UK Director of Labour Market and Skills Policy said:

  • This is a welcome move to parity between academic and vocational education. For too long vocational education has been seen as the second class option for those who don’t make it to university. An employer-led vocational training system is the only way that we will meet the skills needs of the future and properly train the next generation with the future skills needed by business.
  • High quality engineering apprenticeships can offer better careers than university education and are often seen by employers as a better source of talent and supplying the right skills required by business. We look forward to working with government on their white paper and producing the fundamental changes need to our vocational trading system needed to make these objectives a reality for employers and learners alike.

So what does it all mean?

On Tuesday Gavin Williamson announced the detail of the plans.

Higher technical quals consist of HNCs (Higher National Certificates, level 4) and HND (Higher National Diplomas, level 5) effectively plugging the levels between A level (level 3) and Degree (level 6). Unlike A levels and degrees they usually have a technical focus and the Minister intends for them to focus on the skilled professions particular where the UK needs additional manpower to service industry gaps. The Government intend to:

  • Introduce new higher technical qualifications from as early as September 2022 [digital quals in Sept 2022, health science and construction in 2023] with a Government branded quality mark certifying the qualification as delivering the skills employers need (and using the same occupational standards as T levels and apprenticeships will sit within).
  • Work with Ofsted and the OfS to ensure the course quality is consistently high across HE and FE providers and building on the Institutes of Technology. Wonkhe speculate that the regulatory role will sit with the OfS as the original consultation highlighted an assurance role for the Office for Students that focused more on inputs than outputs – we’re expecting to see a move away from that level of active intervention to a reliance on existing OfS registration requirements in the full announcement.
  • Raise public awareness through a national campaign supported by employers and careers advisers to showcase the benefits and the wide range of opportunities that studying a higher technical qualification can open up and making sure students get the right information, advice and guidance to make informed choices. Also: we will raise the profile and understanding of the best higher technical education courses through a government-backed brand, a communications campaign and improvements to information, advice and guidance.

The written ministerial statement added some additional context.

The Government certainly means business with the speed they intend to introduce the new qualifications. Many complained that T levels are not ready, and they had a far longer lead time and are being introduced piecemeal. The higher technical qualifications will continue  the Government’s vocational and technical route after T levels, alongside the intended expansion of the Institutes of Technology.

It is expected that the new higher technical quals will focus on STEM and manufacturing at first. What haven’t been mentioned are degree apprenticeships nor topping up a HND to a full degree. It is somewhat conspicuous by its absence as this has always been the focus of previous Government efforts. However, given the current rhetoric about degrees and criticism of the cost of the degree apprenticeships, the absence isn’t surprising. Yet it does create a hole between the Government’s ideal for more applied research to take place in situ within businesses and industry, including PhDs, which need that top up to the full degree and the advanced research skills often learnt on the level 6 top up.

The biggest question is what fee regime the higher technical qualifications will be subject to.

Finally the Government’s press release states the measure announced today will complement the Government’s review of post-18 education to ensure the system is joined up, accessible and encourages the development of the skills the country needs. The Government did review the higher technical level 4 & 5 space last year (it bumbled along quietly against the tertiary education and funding review). The Augar review was Theresa May’s baby and the Government has delayed its response and forthcoming changes for an embarrassingly long while. The Government may also think the lure of the technical route will result in a drop in degree applications – that remains to be seen, particularly given points made earlier about young people wanting flexibility over career choices rather than being channelled into a particular skill set and there is the forthcoming young population boom to accommodate.

Wonkhe have an interactive chart showing where the existing higher technical courses are offered. It describes approximately 1,000 courses currently exist with FE colleges delivering slightly more than HE institutions. Sadly it doesn’t geographically map where these courses are to show national coverage or patchiness, although you can browse through the provider names to get a feel for the national distribution.

There was a parliamentary question on difficulty for young people travelling to their T level placements from rural areas. The Government responds on increased funding to sources that could support the individual.

Finally, Mary Curnock Cook (ex UCAS CEO) blogs for HEPI stating that the technical curriculum needs to be on offer at secondary level too. Excerpt:

  • while I support the government’s aims to overhaul tertiary education options I fear their current approach will further divide society, lethally levelling up the already privileged middle-classes while sorting off the less well off, lower-attaining rest into what will forever seem like poorer options in lesser occupations. If levelling up is the aim, then we need to create broader and meaningful technical and skills pathways for all students, not just for those that do less well at academic GCSEs.

Admissions – use of calculated grades

Much of this week’s education-related parliamentary chatter has been about the use of predicted grades to determine GCSE and A level results. It is slightly surprising it has taken until now – given one of the main reasons for considering an alternative to HE admissions are concerns over the inaccuracy of predicted grades, particularly that disadvantaged students may be underpredicted (reducing their chances of reaching a higher tariff provider), BAME bias may result in underprediction, and SEN children can perform higher than expected in final exams (and mocks may not have incorporated the adjustments they would expect in the finals).

The Education Committee’s latest report Getting the grades they’ve earned: Covid-19: the cancellation of exams and ‘calculated’ grades addresses the issue. 

  • We consider exams to be the fairest form of assessment, and any alternative will inevitably be an imperfect replacement. Ofqual has stepped up to the immense challenge of devising these exceptional arrangements,
  • We have concerns that the system described by Ofqual as the “fairest possible in the circumstances” could be unfair for groups including disadvantaged pupils, BAME pupils, children looked after, and pupils with SEND.
  • …We believe it is reasonable to remain aware that the potential for human bias in predicted grades may be replicated in the calculated grade system. We note that teachers and support staff themselves appear sceptical of the fairness of this year’s system of awarding grades
  • We are unconvinced that safeguards—such as additional guidance and practical recommendations—put in place by Ofqual will be sufficient to protect against bias and inaccuracy in calculated grades. In particular, given research evidence on unconscious bias, we are concerned that groups including pupils from low-income families, BAME pupils, pupils with SEND, and children looked after could be disadvantaged by calculated grades.
  • We raised our concerns about fairness for pupils with special educational needs to Ofqual, emphasising the importance of ensuring SEND specialists feed into calculated grades. We are pleased that Ofqual produced guidance on considering evidence from SEND specialists during the calculated grade process. We are concerned, however, that there was no accountability mechanism for ensuring this happened consistently
  • Given the potential risks of bias in calculated grades, it is clear that standardisation will be a crucial part of ensuring fairness. We are extremely concerned that Ofqual’s standardisation model does not appear to include any mechanism to identify whether groups such as BAME pupils, FSM eligible pupils, children looked after, and pupils with SEND have been systematically disadvantaged by calculated grades. Ofqual must identify whether there is evidence that groups…have been systematically disadvantaged by calculated grades. If this is the case, Ofqual’s standardisation model must adjust the grades of the pupils affected upwards.

On appeals the report says:

  • We took evidence on the system Ofqual has devised for appealing grades. Sally Collier assured us that Ofqual has “spent many hours with very many people trying to come up with the fairest possible appeal system in the circumstances”. Tom Bewick told us that given the circumstances, the 2020 system “is effectively the least worst option”.
  • We are extremely concerned that pupils will require evidence of bias or discrimination to raise a complaint about their grades. It is unrealistic and unfair to put the onus on pupils to have, or to be able to gather, evidence of bias or discrimination. Such a system also favours more affluent pupils and families with resources and knowledge of the system.

Recommendations:

  • We call on Ofqual to make a transparency guarantee—a commitment to publishing details of its standardisation model immediately to allow time for scrutiny. Ofqual should not be afraid of scrutiny or open debate over whether its model offers the fairest outcome for every pupil and provider
  • Ofqual must identify whether there is evidence that groups such as BAME pupils, pupils with SEND, children looked after, and FSM eligible pupils have been systematically disadvantaged by calculated grades. If this is the case, Ofqual’s standardisation model must adjust the grades of the pupils affected upwards. The Government must extend catch-up funding to include disadvantaged post-16 pupils to ensure this is not a lost generation. This should be done by doubling the disadvantage element in the 16–19 funding formula for pupils in Year 12, for at least the next year.
  • Ofqual’s evaluation must include comprehensive data on attainment, by characteristics including gender, ethnicity, SEND, children looked after, and FSM eligibility, providing full transparency on whether there are statistically significant differences between attainment this year compared with previous years.
  • It is right that pupils should be able to appeal their grade if they believe bias or discrimination has occurred, but Ofqual has not given enough thought on how to make this route accessible to all pupils. [The section within the report on appeals states The appeals process: a process for the well-heeled and sharp-elbowed?] …Without support, proving bias or discrimination would be an almost impossible threshold for any pupil to evidence. Disadvantaged pupils, and those without family resources or wider support, risk being shut out of this route. Ofqual must urgently publish the evidence thresholds for proving bias and discrimination, clearly setting out what evidence will be required. AND Ofqual must collect and publish anonymised data at the conclusion of the appeals process on where it received appeals from, including, as a minimum, type of school attended, region, gender, ethnicity, SEND status, children looked after (including children supported by virtual schools), and FSM eligibility
  • Ofqual must ensure gold-standard advice and support is easily accessible for all pupils unhappy with their grades. Both the helplines provided by Ofqual and the National Careers Service must be freephone lines. These must both be staffed by dedicated professionals with the training to provide sound and impartial step-by-step advice and support on options and appeals.

Paragraphs 30 onwards tackles calculated grades for vocational and technical qualifications.

A HEPI blog, Halfon is right: Ofqual has more to do, agrees with the Education Committee’s outcomes and urges for action to be taken. It make interesting points about the autumn exams too:

  • In the understandable rush to introduce a completely new system, after the Secretary of State’s announcement on 20 March, it probably seemed reasonable at first to invent a system in which dissatisfaction could be tackled by an opportunity to take an autumn examination. Over time this choice has unravelled. If initial results match the allowed national distribution and autumn exam candidates succeed in achieving higher grades, then grade inflation is bound to follow – unless other candidates are downgraded, which is unthinkable. Are autumn exam candidates being set up to fail? Or will the August results be scaled down to allow some headroom in the national distribution?
  • Furthermore, students sitting autumn exams face a compulsory gap year, because the exams will be too late for a 2020-2021 start. This in itself may be discriminatory, especially for disadvantaged students. The impact of autumn-awarded grades on admission prospects for 2021 is uncertain. Some universities are refusing deferred entry for 2021, others will honour offers but with added conditions. The competition for 2021 entry is likely to be much more intense as 2020 students reapply, a larger 2021 cohort apply for the first time, and international students from 2020 and 2021 return in much larger numbers.

Admissions – numbers up

UCAS announced a rise in application numbers last week – up 1.6% on last year and is the highest figure in four years. They state a record 40.5% of all UK 18 year olds have applied to HE (last year – 38.9%) despite there being 1.5% fewer in the population because of the birth dip. (And 2020 is the bottom point in the population dip.) Just over a quarter of young applicants were from disadvantaged backgrounds (25.4%) using the participation measure. There is a small drop in EU student applications (down 2%).  And UCAS highlight that nursing applications (between January and June only) was 63% higher than the same period last year. Universities will be keen to ensure these applicants convert into enrolments once the results are out.

Clare Marchant, UCAS’ Chief Executive, said: At this moment, we’re seeing an encouraging picture emerge out of national lockdown, with currently more applicants than last year keen to expand their mind, stretch themselves, and seize the opportunities that higher education can offer.

Research Professional comment: This is great news for universities because it suggests that in the teeth of a fierce recession and with the prospect of gap-year travel off the table, even the model of blended learning on offer in institutions next year is proving to be more appealing to young people than continuing to be locked down with mum and dad.

Nursing

Every week the Government receive several parliamentary questions urging for leniency on nursing tuition fees both to cut tuition moving forward and refunds as a response to the coronavirus support work they undertook in hospitals. The House of Commons Library have published a briefing paper exploring the current funding systems for healthcare students, plus medicine, dentistry and paramedics. The nursing section includes the recent impacts on applications to study and the September 2020 new bursary offers. The Government also issued a press release to celebrate that applications to nursing courses are up by 16% (at end of June) and that the NHS is currently employing a record number of nurses and midwives (the largest ever annual increase):

  • Around 18,370 more nurses, midwives and nursing associates are now on the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s permanent register to work in the UK compared to a year ago, bringing the total number to 716,607 by 31 March 2020. The number of people trained in the UK leaving the register has also fallen to a five-year low.

 On Studying nursing the press release states:

  • This is the second year in a row that applicant numbers have risen. In 2019 there was a 6.4% increase in people accepted onto nursing and midwifery courses in England compared to 2018.

However, the Royal College of Nursing responded to the increase in nursing applications stating a much larger increase is required if the government is to come anywhere close to its commitment of having 50,000 more nurses in the NHS in England by the end of this Parliament.

Mike Adams, RCN Director for England said:

  • “Application numbers for the nursing degree in England have reduced by 17.4% since 2016, the final year of the bursary. This means even if the all of the latest applications are turned into acceptances and ultimately registered nurses, the large workforce gap will still not close.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on the contribution that nurses, and in particular student nurses, make to the entire health and care system. The effort they have shown has to be met with investment in our future nurses.
  • The government must invest properly in our domestic nursing supply and ensure patient need is met in the long term. To achieve this, it must wipe the debt of those who’ve had to take this on to study, provide full tuition fee support for all students and ensure maintenance support reflects students’ actual living costs.
  • The government should aim for an oversupply of nurses to strengthen our profession and keep patients safe.

Tuition fee refunds

Remember that mass petition for tuition fee refunds that was reopened by the Petitions Committee in Parliament? The Committee heard oral evidence and engaged 28,000 students through a survey and online forum (wider inquiry details here). The Committee has reported (key findings here) concluding that there should not be a universal reimbursement but that individuals can claim refunds on an individual basis in certain circumstances. The Committee stated:

  • While students do have a right to seek a refund or to repeat part of their course if the service provided by their university is substandard, we do not believe that there should be a universal refund or reimbursement of tuition fees to all university students.

However, as the Guardian reports, Catherine McKinnell, the Labour MP who chairs the petitions committee, said:

  • “Despite the hard work of lecturers and support staff, some universities have been unable to provide courses in a way that students feel is good value for money. Therefore, while we do not consider that a blanket refund for all students is necessarily required, we believe that the government has a role in ensuring any student whose university experience has fallen short is compensated.”
  • The report calls for refund procedures to be streamlined and better publicised, saying the existing complaints process or use of the courts places too much of a burden on individual students and are likely to be overwhelmed by a flood of cases.
  • The MPs also said the government should pay for tuition fee refunds this year, “given the importance of the higher education sector to the UK economy, and the exceptional circumstances”.

Wonkhe have a blog it starts: Should students get a refund? Some should, says a committee – but they won’t. The House of Commons petitions committee is clueless on consumer law and student rights.

The Petitions Committee report recommends that the Government should:

  • work with universities, the Office for Students, and Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education to produce guidance on when current and future university students may be entitled to seek a refund or to repeat part of their course;
  • establish a new system which enables all students to easily seek a full or partial refund of their tuition fees, or to repeat part of their course;
  • ensure that all students are advised of their consumer rights and are given clear guidance on how to avail themselves of these if they feel their university has failed to provide an adequate standard of education;
  • consider providing additional funding to universities to enable them to pay any refunds university students are entitled to as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak;
  • consider alternative means for reimbursing students, where an independent process has found that they are entitled to a refund;
  • consider making additional funding available to students who might want to extend their education after the outbreak, and to provide ongoing employment advice and support beyond graduation in what is likely to be an extremely challenging employment market.

NUS responded to the Committee’s recommendations:

  • NUS has been calling for the Government to provide a Student Safety Net since the scale of the impact on students became clear. The Petitions Committee’s recommendations would go a long way in achieving this aim, with targeted fee reimbursements and debt write-offs. We also welcome the references to support for further study or to redo elements of the course.
  • Although the report highlights some of our key asks for education leavers, the recent Treasury announcements for graduates do not go far enough and we would like to see an extended economic support package put in place.
  • Covid-19 has exposed and exacerbated the cracks in a broken higher education system, and hit students from disadvantaged and underrepresented communities the hardest. It is critical that the Government acts on these suggestions, but they must also go further. We are calling for universal compensation, and for the Government to protect our education sector from the failed project of marketisation before they lose the faith of millions of students.

The Office of the Independent Adjudicator has been on the ball throughout this process and in light of this week’s announcement they have blogged for Wonkhe:

  • We think it’s reasonable to expect providers to try to agree any significant changes with students as this is in everyone’s best interests. Where this is not possible, it’s important to explain to students what their options are. From our perspective, we would not be prescriptive about what this looks like in practice but we would look at whether the provider has taken reasonable steps to consult with students and enable them to make informed decisions.
  • Now that providers have had some time to plan for the longer-term effects of the pandemic, it is in our view unlikely to be reasonable for providers to rely on exclusion clauses that allow the provider to make significant changes to what it has promised, or not to deliver it at all, in the new year.
  • Where it’s not possible to deliver something that is at least broadly equivalent to what was promised, or to meet an individual students’ needs, the provider will need to think about how to put that right. It’s best to do this proactively without waiting for formal complaints to be raised.
  • There are groups of students whose studies are particularly badly affected by Covid-19 disruption and where significant changes are needed to their courses. It’s important to identify those groups and try to address their issues.
  • Providers will also be aware of and looking out for students who are vulnerable or less able to access replacement provision. Some of these students too may feel unable to continue with their studies, for example because their personal circumstances have changed, or they are shielding or very anxious.
  • In such extraordinary times we think it’s reasonable for students to be considering deferring or interrupting their studies, although this may not be their best option. We think providers should be considering requests sympathetically, helping students to understand their options, and should be ready to depart from their normal policy where it is reasonable to do so.
  • We don’t think it’s reasonable to have blanket policies such as refusing to give tuition fee refunds in any circumstances or refusing all requests for deferral, or not engaging with individual students’ concerns. We have already seen a worrying example of this among the first coronavirus-related complaints that have reached us. 
  • When we review a student’s complaint we look at whether the provider has followed fair procedures, and whether it has acted reasonably in the circumstances. We always take into account relevant legislation and guidance… A student’s contractual terms and conditions are important but we look more widely than that, at what is fair.

Research Professional have a short article on the Petitions Committee decision mainly focusing on restitution for students such as a tuition fee loan refund.

International Students

The UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) published a roadmap for a world-class international student experience. It calls for further visa flexibility, delaying the immigration health surcharge, and aims to build a stronger evidence base of current international students’ experiences, to drive future policy development and support policy asks. UKCISA also hopes to develop an International Student Charter.

Research Professional report on a survey suggesting that a fifth of potential EU students who considered studying in the UK plan to start their course earlier than they originally intended because of the tuition fee changes (the removal of home status).

Pinsent Masons (legal firm) run through all the recent Visa status changes. The Tier 4 content is just below halfway on this link.

Scotland have confirmed they will also end the free tuition for EU students from 2021. HE Minister Richard Lochhead explained it as a Brexit decision made with a heavy heart. He stated the £19 million  (per year) EU fee saving would be retained within Scotland to support more Scottish residents to attend University. To support Scottish universities internationalisation he aims to put a scholarship programme in place to continue to attract EU talent.

Despite last week’s urging from ex-Universities Minister Jo Johnson and Shadow HE Minister Emma Hardy the Government’s response to the international students in the US (who will have their visa rescinded due to their institution offering online study only during the pandemic) will not take a proactive stance. Current Universities Minister Michelle Donelan simply reiterated all the ‘welcoming’ measures for international students that are already in place such as the online study visa exemption and the post study work visa system. No attractive marketing campaign will be launched. This isn’t surprising from the viewpoint of international relations with an America determined to take offence at slights, however, given how well the Government’s aides have been listening and responding to sector chatter recently a warmer response might have been anticipated.

The second half of this Research Professional article gives the perspective of a German student who is anticipating their visa will be cancelled. It reminds that there is more to it than an undergraduate student forced to choose between deferral or switching countries of study:

  • simply studying online at a US institution from Germany is not feasible for many who had plans to stay in the United States for an extended period of time and have made arrangements accordingly, including uprooting family. 
  • “Anyone who—sometimes accompanied by relatives—is completing or planning a stay of several years in the United States, and has temporarily given up his or her centre of life in Germany for this purpose, is faced with existential questions.”

Happily for those international students the point is now moot. Following immense pressure from the Harvard and MIT law suit (which was joined by the tech giants, e.g. Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and the US Chamber of Commerce) President Trump has dropped the visa cancellation.

Whether international students will be exempt from the mandatory C-19 quarantine period of 2 weeks.  Whereas this IDP Connect survey suggests 77% of international students would happily quarantine if it meant a quicker return to face to face on campus teaching.

Points-based Immigration System

A policy paper on the points-based immigration system was published this week with more detail on the Student, Graduate and Skilled Worker route. There are lots of items with a little more detail, however, the key points remain as we’ve mentioned in previous policy updates. For those with an interest you can read the main elements here. One key change is that universities will need to do more than just monitor attendance – they will need to confirm (keep records as evidence) that international students have fully engaged with the course. Research Professional have a short write up here.

Graduate Outcomes

HESA released the next set of Graduate Outcomes experimental statistics data, this time looking at graduates’ subjective wellbeing. They asked about how anxious/happy the respondent felt, whether they felt the things they do in their life are worthwhile, and whether they are satisfied with their life. The charts are here. The second set of charts examines the above questions by subject studied. Education and subjects allied to medicine stand out as happiest/most pleased with their life currently.

The third chart shows that there isn’t a lot of difference on the questions from students across the range of degree outcomes from pass to first. The fourth chart looks at gender differences – females stated more anxiety but also rate high on the worthwhileness of their life. You can also cut the data by domicile in the final chart.

Wonkhe’s data guru interprets the findings further in a specific blog.

Social Mobility Commission

Sandra Wallace (lawyer) and Steven Cooper (banking) have been appointed as interim chairs of the Social Mobility Commission on a job share basis. Both currently serve on the Commission and will fill the role temporarily until a substantive chair can be appointed. You can read more on the appointees background and the details of the appointments in the Government’s press release.

Bailout push

YouGov have undertaken a poll examining the 30 marginal constituencies (those which swing between parties at the election and aren’t a safe seat) which all have a (10%+) student population and a university within their catchment. The results of the poll aren’t publicly available (currently) so we rely on the reporting in the UCU press release for details. UCU report that voters in these constituencies support additional Government funding to protect their university from the financial insecurity caused by the pandemic. These constituencies MPs include PM Boris Johnson and Science Minister Amanda Solloway. The bottom of the press release contains a table detailing the constituencies and their elected MPs.

  • 76% felt their local university was important in creating local jobs
  • 79% felt the university was important to the local economy
  • 72% university is key in brining in outside investment to the local area
  • 75% the university supplies key skilled staff for local services such as schools and hospitals
  • 33% of those polled who were employed stated the university was important to their own job
  • 42% knew someone studying or working at the university
  • 66% believe there would be a negative impact on the local economy if student numbers dropped at their university due to C-19
  • 75% were concerned of a negative local impact if their university went bust
  • 55% supported a temporary increase in Government financial support for their university to maintain courses and jobs (20% opposed the idea). [Hardy overwhelming support for this question!]
  • 43% want their local MPs to campaign for increased support for universities

NSS Analysis

The OfS have issued a press release on the 2020 National Student Survey additional analysis which examined the impact of the coronavirus on the results. They state that student satisfaction is stable and students continue to be discontented with course organisation and communication of changes.

  • The additional analysis acknowledges variations across the data but no evidence the results have been significantly impacted by the pandemic: The OfS used a statistical model to determine whether there is a significant difference between responses made before and after the 11 March (an ’11 March effect’) when other factors are taken into account. The model found that there is a difference for the majority of questions, but similar variations are also present in 2018 and 2019, so cannot be attributed solely to the pandemic.
  • 83% of students are satisfied with their course (2019 was 84%)
  • 67% feel their course is well organised and run smoothly (2019 = 70%; 2018 = 69%)
  • 62% felt students’ course feedback had been acted on (but only 49% of part time students did)
  • 2020 response levels were lower than in 2019 and 2018
  • Overall comparing against 2019 there is a small negative shift in the agreement rate for some questions.

Nicola Dandridge, OfS Chief Executive, said:

  • This academic year has come with unprecedented challenges for both universities and colleges, and their students. Notwithstanding the impact of both industrial action and the coronavirus pandemic on the students responding to the survey, the results remain remarkably positive.
  • However, for several years, students have reported comparatively lower satisfaction with the organisation and management of their courses, and how effectively changes are communicated. Now more than ever, the survey results demonstrate how important it is for universities to communicate changes effectively, run courses as smoothly as possible, and listen carefully to student feedback. This is even more important in the context of the coronavirus pandemic …

 Student Number Controls

This week Jo Johnson writes for the Evening Standard. The piece tackles how student number controls and, reading between the lines, possible changes to the funding of certain degree programmes that the Government might be considering (remember Jo himself was in favour of differential fees and tried to bring in through the HERA legislation linked to the quality of the TEF judgement – but the Lords protested) could negatively impact on arts programmes.

  • Up until the Coronavirus struck, they [the creative industries] were growing at five times the rate of the economy and generating around 15 per cent of national gross value-added. Enabling historic palaces, museums, galleries, live music and independent cinema to access emergency grants and loans while their doors are closed is a no-brainer.
  • For policy to be fully joined up, however, the Department for Education must take care over how it operates recently re-imposed domestic student number controls. This risks turning into a crude process to allocate places – and therefore funding – on the basis of flawed measures of graduate earnings. This would unfairly penalise creative arts courses already in the cross-hairs of higher education sceptics in Parliament fired up by Gavin Williamson’s denunciation of the Blair-era target for 50 per cent of young people to go to university. If we have learnt anything lately, it is to value socially useful but lower-earning professions.
  • It would be incoherent to open the door to international talent to work across our economy, while restricting opportunities for domestic students to prepare themselves for careers in the arts. An economic nonsense too: the creative industries were generating £13 million for the economy every hour before Covid-19 – enough to repay the subsidy to arts courses in the student loan book many times over.
  • Our creative industries will only recover if we supply them with the skills and talent vital for their success.

Research

  • A parliamentary question asking whether HE institutions can combine all the sources of Government support.
  • Covid-19 researchers will receive visa relaxation measures.
  • An answer to a parliamentary question we mentioned last week has revealed that UKRI administers 70% of the research public funding (UK sources).
  • Establishing an effective coordination and oversight mechanism to serve the R&D spectrum in the UK – a Science for the Justice System Advisory Group has been established working with UKRI to coordinate forensic science in the UK.
  • Direct air capture R&D funding
  • Institutions eligible for research funding (influence of REF award)
  • Wellcome have a new blog – How could COVID-19 change research culture for the better?
  • Research Professional (RP) report that participation in Horizon Europe is dead in all but name – there are concerns over the terms on which the UK could associate with the EU’s research funding schemes and the cost of the joining fee plus the operational contribution is described as eye-watering. Cost estimates range from 600 million Euros to 12 billion Euros – way beyond the costs UK researchers could win back in funding. The article states that Kurt Deketelaere, Secretary-General of the League of European Research Universities, said EU academia remains firmly behind UK association, and said British institutions must pile pressure on their government. If you’re not going to push anymore, nobody is. And that the European Commission has clearly indicated that this [terms/contribution] is still up for negotiation. Deketelaere implies it is the UK Government who are balking at joining Horizon Europe not the European Commission. However, there are question marks over the joining charge – the UK’s fee is being set out whereas it is unclear if the EU will charge other non-EU countries for association. RP report that the Treasury also expect the costs to come out of existing research budgets (previously it was going to be in addition to the science budget) because of the generous sums announced recently (and due to the cost of the pandemic for the Government). RP state:  Government sources now question whether the UK research community will be willing to blow a multibillion-pound hole in research budgets for the sake of access to the prestigious European Research Council and Marie Skłodowska-Curie Awards.

RP continue:

  • While there are now clouds on the horizon for the UK’s participation in EU research schemes, all of this is subject to the caveat that negotiations over both a Brexit trade deal and the terms of Horizon Europe are still ongoing. Everything could change, but all available evidence suggests that the UK government is now preparing an exit strategy and has its excuse lined up already.
  • Playbook suspects that as Brexit trade deal talks intensify after the summer, UK universities will be presented with a choice between paying over the odds to play in Europe or settling for beefed-up domestic schemes administered by UK Research and Innovation. For vice-chancellors, the wallet will say UKRI although the heart may say EU—is it a price worth paying?
  • But, in the end, this is not a decision that will be made in universities.

PQs

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

Disadvantage: The OfS has published their latest briefing note which considers outreach to disadvantaged students during the coronavirus. It describes online outreach including two case studies of a blended summer school type model, and other approaches targeted towards BAME, Gypsy, Roma and Traveller families, mature learners, and other vulnerable or underrepresented groups.

HE Sector Financial Health: The House of Commons Library have published a briefing Coronavirus: Financial impact on HE. It covers the financial health of the sector, the impact of reduced international student numbers, the Government support packages (fee payments and research funding) and the R&D roadmap.

Student Loans: The SLC have launched a new online repayment service – it calculates a student’s up to date remaining loan balance. It aims to avoid over payments as students near the end of their repayments.

Prevent: Wonkhe report on the latest report reviewing Prevent. Wonkhe say:

  • The government’s Prevent strategy has led to the persistence of negative stereotypes of Muslims and “a culture of mutual suspicion and surveillance” on campus, according to a new reportled by Alison Scott-Bauman at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). “Islam and Muslims on UK University Campuses: perceptions and challenges” recommends that there is a “strong argument” for Prevent to be discontinued in its current form, having curbed freedoms of speech and expression on campus.
  • Though there is ample evidence of widespread tolerance for all forms of religious activity among staff and students (with 88.1 per cent of students agreeing that “The experience of university encourages respect and mutual understanding among people who have different perspectives on life”), the research found a close link between belief in a “narrative of suspicion” about Islam, support for Prevent, and patterns of Islamophobia. The report recommends building awareness of Islamophobia via training and development, consultation, representation, and the encouragement of interfaith dialogue via free and frank debate based on the principle of mutual respect. The report is covered by the Guardian(along with an opinion piece by the report’s author) and the Telegraph.

Research Professional also cover Prevent.

Chinese relations: HEPI published UK Universities and China a series of essays on the challenges and complexities of the relationship between UK universities and China. It includes self-censorship; the importance of UK-China scientific research; and the recruitment and integration of Chinese students

Separately there is a recent YouGov poll which asks about UK/Chineses relationships. The interactive version of the chart is here.

Not just Brexit: Nick Hillman (HEPI Director) writes for UKandEU.com –  Universities and Brexit: past, present and future. It doesn’t just cover Brexit, but highlights that UK students get far less out of Erasmus than the incoming EU students studying in the UK, it even mentions this week’s bingo winner – the Blair 50% target. A longer read and some interesting points.

Student Experience: Pearson and Wonkhe have collaborated to examine students’ experience of learning during C-19 and their expectations for next year (shorter blog here).

  • 41% struggled to manage their wellbeing without in person contact with friends and university staff.
  • 34% found the new ways of learning challenging.
  • 34% struggled to manage their time without an enforced timetable.
  • 29% found the isolation difficult.
  • 34% struggled with lack of space or a quiet enough environment to study within.
  • 49% felt less confident to progress to their next step in their education or career –
    • with 13% of the 49% attributing this to external (non-university) factors (economy, jobs, research funding).
    • The factors relating to university were loss of industry experience, loss of practical skills development, lack of academic contact time, a lower sense of quality of learning experience.
  • 43% (of current students) plan to defer the next academic year to take a year out or look for work experience
  • 20% plan to leave education entirely (its unclear whether these were already final year students)
  • Of those planning to defer/leave 28% was because they didn’t want another semester of online study or the loss of practical experience reduced the value of their degree or because the logistics of travel, accommodation and teaching were too uncertain.
  • 47% of those who felt they had missed out (e.g. lab or studio based work) believe they should receive a fee reduction or refund as compensation. However, a quarter want to make up the missed experience at a safer later date, and 15% were willing to experience online. 10% didn’t feel it was the university’s responsibility to atone for the loss of experience.
  • On welfare the blog states:

One key message from the survey is that while students are clear that their wellbeing is suffering, the action they want universities to take is in the teaching and learning domain, rather than the welfare domain. Responses throughout the survey suggest that wellbeing issues are not simply the result of students being at home and the concerns over Covid-19, but that the way that universities have managed interactions and online learning has increased their anxiety, and had a negative impact on their wellbeing. It’s not simply about putting support mechanisms in place to help students with their wellbeing; it’s about stopping the causes.

  • 59% want universities to offer high quality online teaching as their priority for September rather than social interaction, well being support or access to learning resources.

Graduate outlook: Wonkhe report that research from Adunza finds that the number of graduate jobs available this summer has fallen by 73 per cent since the start of the year. Because larger employers are delaying graduate schemes due to the pandemic just 3,993 jobs are currently available, meaning that 100 graduates could be competing for each available job. FE news has the story.

HE Student Numbers: The House of Commons Library have published a paper on HE student numbers. It states: Headline student numbers have increased to new record levels in recent years following a short dip related to the 2012 reforms in the sector. There have been continued increases in entry rates for different groups of students, including those from disadvantaged areas/backgrounds where rates have also hit new record levels. However, headline numbers tend to focus on full-time undergraduates and there are ongoing concerns about student numbers outside this group where trends have not been so positive. This includes part-time undergraduates, particularly those not studying first degrees, some postgraduates students, overseas students from some countries, especially Nigeria and Malaysia, mature students and some disadvantaged groups.

There is also considerable concern about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and student numbers, particularly those from overseas and uncertainty about the impact of Brexit on EU student numbers

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 13th May 2020

Speculation on what the easing of lockdown means for universities and particularly research labs. Contention over the Augar Review recommendations. Further concerns for the employment outlook of the graduating cohort alongside conjecture that the lack of work may mean those who hadn’t planned to may consider postgraduate study or even commencing university at undergraduate level. And more parliamentary questions than you could ever dream of!

Parliamentary News

BEIS Chair: Darren Jones MP won the vote and has been appointed as the Business Energy and Industrial Strategy select committee chair. The Labour representative on 13 other select committees will also change due to the incumbents accepting Shadow Cabinet roles. Dawn Butler and Kim Johnson will replace Lucy Powell and Fleur Anderson on the Education Select Committee.

Virtual Parliament Ends: Despite all the investment and flurry of activity finding a virtual solution for Parliament it has been announced that the hybrid arrangements whereby some Parliamentarians remain in the chamber for business and some remote in virtually will end by Friday 22 May. MPs and staff have been told they’ll need to return ‘to normal’ from June. Many MPs feel this is precipitous and inappropriate.

House of Lords HE Debate

Last Wednesday (6 May) the House of Lords debated the impact of the Coronavirus on the HE sector and students. You can read the full debate here. Summary:

Lord Blunkett (Lab) tabled a private notice question on the support package unveiled for universities and students and what steps the government were taking to protect quality and accessibility in the sector.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Baroness Berridge, said that all providers must adhere to Office for Student conditions on quality and access. She affirmed that the Government were bringing forward £2.6 billion of forecast tuition fee income to help universities’ cash flow, and providing students with more support, including increasing student hardship funds.

Lord Blunkett (Lab) queried whether the definition of a 5% student uplift referenced in the package was based on forecast numbers, rather than a historic benchmark. He also pressed the minister for timelines of the publication on the work of the research sustainability taskforce, “in respect of the likely catastrophic loss of income from overseas students and the urgent need to underwrite research funding”.

The Minister confirmed that the precise figures to determine the 5% uplift on the cap would be provided at provider level, and the methodology for that will be published shortly.

Baroness Garden of Frognal (LD) said the loss of income from foreign students would be compounded by the loss of research income from Horizon 2020 and other EU participation programmes. She queried what steps were being taken to encourage overseas students to come to the UK.

The Minister confirmed that the Department for Education was working with the Department for International Trade to amend the international education strategy. “The clear message is that the UK is open for business and for international students to come at the start of the academic year”, she said.

Opposition Spokesperson for Education and Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Lord Bassam of Brighton, commented that “the Government are allowing universities to charge students the full £9,250 annual tuition fee while our campuses remain closed—as long as there are highest standards of online teaching”.

He posited that many courses were simply unfit for online learning and contended that the market-driven higher education system had forced students to see themselves as consumers, “and they are not getting what they have paid for”.

The Minister responded that the Office for Students had been very clear on quality of provision that should be maintained during this period.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP) queried how future policies could help universities move towards a more co-operative model and eliminate the waste emanating from competition. “The kind of waste that could be eliminated is, as the Augar report highlighted, the £500 per student that is spent on marketing”, she added.

The Minister responded that the Office for Students was a modern regulator, encouraging greater innovation and putting student choice at the centre of the system.

Tuition Fees

In last week’s policy update we highlighted the petition to Government to refund student’s tuition fees. On Thursday the Petitions Committee examined the petition and took oral evidence. You can read a summary provided by Dods here.

Research Professional report on a conversation with UUK on the dangers if universities are required to repay tuition fees – paying back fees could see some universities pushed to the edge.

Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan, answered another parliamentary question to confirm that tuition fees remain payable as long as the quality and volume of delivery is appropriate.

Q – Stella Creasy: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, whether universities that have closed as a result of the covid-19 outbreak will require their students to pay their fees in full.

A – Michelle Donelan:

  • Fee loans are being paid directly to universities as planned at the start of the third term.
  • We are working with universities to make sure all reasonable efforts are being made to enable students to continue their studies to the best of their abilities. There are some fantastic and innovative examples of high-quality online learning being delivered by institutions across the UK, and the sector is already working hard to prepare learning materials for the summer and autumn terms.
  • Students ordinarily should not expect any fee refund if they are receiving adequate online learning and support. However, the government has made it clear that if universities are unable to deliver adequate online teaching then it would be unacceptable for students to be charged for any additional terms of study, which would effectively mean that they were being charged twice.
  • Whether or not an individual student is entitled to a refund of their fees will depend on specific contractual arrangements between the student and their university.
  • In the first instance, students should speak to their university. We expect student complaints and appeals processes to be operated flexibly, accessibly and sympathetically by institutions to resolve any concerns. Students who are not satisfied with their institution’s final response can ask the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education to consider their complaint if their institution is based in England or Wales.

A Lords response on (not) adjusting tuition fees for online provision.

Student Accommodation

There is a Bill before the Scottish Parliament that will allow students who cannot take up their place in university accommodation because of C-19 to end their lease. Research Professional report that

  • those already with halls of residence contracts will be able to cancel their agreements with seven days’ notice, and those who enter into such contracts will also be able to cancel with a month’s notice. This, if passed, will stop students from being liable for rental costs for next year when, in all probability, at least part of their teaching will be taking place virtually.

The BBC has covered the news of the Bill.

Parliamentary questions:

Government’s Support Package for HE

The Shadow Universities Minister, Emma Hardy, was unimpressed with the Government’s support package for HE institutions. Research Professional (RP) ran the exclusive with her writing an open letter to higher education.

  • RP report that the Shadow Minister stated: I was very disappointed that the government rejected the collective proposals put forward by Universities UK and chose instead just to bring forward the payment of student fees alone. This does nothing to address the underlying loss of income in the long term and consequently universities are being forced to set budgets in the dark without a safety net.
  • RP continue: In her letter, Hardy addresses university budgets, widening participation, casual contracts, student rent, open learning, mental health, anchor institutions, skills and training. She rounds on the government’s apparent neglect for students, saying that students are seen as “somehow a different category of person whose welfare is the sole province of universities and the Office for Students”. She calls Monday’s financial rescue package an “abdication of the government’s responsibility”.

On easing Lockdown Emma Hardy was similarly unimpressed stating the PM’s speech contained a total lack of clarity. Research Professional has also considered what easing lockdown could mean for Universities.

The Office for Budget Responsibility has published a coronavirus analysis modelling the impact of the virus and the measures put in place to tackle and ameliorate for it. Research Professional reported from the report on Sunday that while universities may not suffer in terms of income lost until September, they would be the sector hardest hit by the coronavirus crisis.

Wonkhe explain why the schemes the Government want Universities to access (furlough and business continuity schemes) don’t really work for the HE sector.

There is lots of talk about the Policy Exchange report, A training opportunity in the crisis, which some sector reporters suggest is another way for the Government to close down the degree courses they don’t feel add value to the UK economy – “mickey mouse courses”.

This Wonkhe blog looks at the options available for the sector and highlights these excerpts from the Policy Exchange report:

  • …a Policy Exchange report that’s officially on “skills”, but is really onreorganising tertiary. First some clickbait keywords – current bail out conditions provide Government, he says, with short term leverage to “weed out” weaker courses and push back against “grade inflation”, “unconditional offers” and other “pathologies of modern”, market-driven HE.

Dods summarise the key points of the Policy Exchange paper:

  • [The paper] sets out how the coronavirus crisis could be a watershed moment for education and training in the UK. Among other recommendations, it urges the Government to undo the policy error of abolishing the polytechnics in 1992… it argues that the current crisis offers an opportunity to cut through many of the normal blockages and vested interests, not least since we may – in the wake of coronavirus – be moving into a period of high unemployment, which will require a radical rethinking of current policy.

These are the executive summary points taken from within the paper itself:

  • The coronavirus crisis underlines the need for an education and training system that is better aligned with the economic and social needs of the UK. We can no longer afford the luxury of a wasteful mismatch produced by low value degrees and a disorganised approach to vocational training.
  • The Government must overcome the resistance of the higher education sector, which has quietly become a powerful cultural and economic vested interest.
  • This paper recommends that a new “opportunity grant”, to train or retrain, of at least £3,000 should be on offer for every individual, with added loans to cover more expensive courses and maintenance costs for those who want to take courses full time (repaid in the same way as student loans). The grant money would not go to the individual but would be drawn down by the training provider or FE college or, in a few cases, university.
  • It recommends suspending the apprenticeship levy for new entrants and replace it with a radically simplified model focused on school leavers (only about 9 per cent of whom currently enter an apprenticeship) and young people up to the age of 24, with Government and employers splitting the full cost 50:50.
  • Lastly, it recommends the creation of a sub-set of “applied universities,” essentially undoing the policy error of abolishing the polytechnics in 1992. With the exception of the “higher” vocational courses in medicine, engineering, and perhaps law, most vocational degrees should be clustered in the applied universities

Parliamentary questions:

  • Admissions – support for HE providers who recruit only at a significantly decreased level for 2020/21 (answer – just the package already announced).
  • What plans the Government have to provide financial assistance to universities during C-19.

New guidance as lockdown “eases”

As educational institutions make decisions on where to go with Sunday’s announcements on the easing of lockdown from Wed 13 there is clear guidance on Gov.uk on a couple of points at least.

Q – Can students return to their family home if they’ve been in halls all this time?

  • A – In general, leaving your home – the place you live – to stay at another home is not allowed. If a student is moving permanently to live back at their family home, this is permitted.

Q – Who is allowed to go to work?

  • A – In the first instance, employers should make every effort to support working from home, including by providing suitable IT and equipment as they have been already. This will apply to many different types of businesses, particularly those who typically would have worked in offices or online.
  • Where work can only be done in the workplace, we have set out tailored guidelines for employers to help protect their workforce and customers from coronavirus while still continuing to trade or getting their business back up and running. We will be publishing even more detailed COVID-19 secure guidelines in the coming days, which has been developed in consultation with businesses and trades unions.

These ‘back to work’ guidelines apply to selected groups, including those working in labs and research facilities.

There are specific guidelines for those who are vulnerable, shielding, or showing symptoms.

And on attending university – there is no answer (yet) but there is a question.

Q – Can children go back to early years settings, schools or university?

  • A – We initially urge those who are currently eligible to use school provision (children of critical workers and vulnerable children) to attend. As soon as it is safe to do so we will bring more year groups back to school in a phased way when it is safe to have larger numbers of children within schools, but not before. Keeping children and staff safe is our utmost priority.
  • Schools should prepare to begin opening for more children from 1 June. The government expects children to be able to return to early years settings, and for Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 to be back in school in smaller class sizes from this point.
  • Secondary schools and further education colleges should also prepare to begin some face to face contact with Year 10 and 12 pupils who have key exams next year, in support of their continued remote, home learning.
  • The government’s ambition is for all primary school children to return to school before the summer for a month if feasible.

There might be some clues here for what the answer will be when there is one:

Q – How will you make sure it is safe?

  • A – Schools can now operate if they are organised in a way that is compatible with minimising the spread of the virus. The next phase of measures will require the development of new safety standards to set out how physical spaces, including schools, can be adapted to operate safely.
  • We will publish guidance advising schools on reopening to ensure schools can adequately prepare for the next phase. One of the main protective measures we can take to reduce transmission is to have small consistent group and class sizes.

Labs and research facilities – there is a specific set of broad guideline for cautious reopening

On lab based researchers returning to work research Professional write:

  • Perhaps of most immediate interest to higher education people—particularly those engaged in lab or field-based research—was the announcement that as of today, those who cannot carry out their work from home are “actively encouraged” to go back to work.
  • While Johnson used the example of the construction industry, it is hard to argue that researchers whose lab work is housed on campus or in research institutes can meaningfully carry out their work from home. Those who have such work to go back to (though who knows how many experiments have been lost, either due to a lack of attention or by lab capacity being usurped by urgent coronavirus work) are now, it would appear, permitted to do so.
  • That is, provided that they can get there—without using public transport, wherever possible. Also, their employers (which is where university professional and support services come in) must ensure that their workplaces have been made “Covid secure”.

Easing back to Education

Another week brings a further set of opinions on what a graduate emergence from lockdown might be like within HE. These two were written before Sunday’s announcements:

  • Wonkhe consider the middle ground with some aspects back on campus but respecting social distancing.
  • Research Professional (RP) report that Italian research labs reopen and describe their working conditions.

And these published after the announcement:

  • RP look for clues within the published schools reopening guidance and speculate about which research labs it is most important to open first. Alongside the tricky issue of the volume of support staff that would be needed back on site to support those working in labs (cleaners, post services, estates functions, senior supervision).
  • RP cover Portugal (instructed to blend face to face with distance from September, and relaxing the entrance rules) and Germany (partially open for teaching and research where face to face necessary – but digital learning prioritised, some states prefer digital only, face to face contact remains controversial).
  • The Centre for Education and Youth has produced a report stating that summer schools likely won’t deliver the catch up for school pupils that is needed (although different approaches may result in success). They also recommend balancing academic ideals and emotional wellbeing. Teachers are most concerned about their disadvantaged pupils. Furthermore, special consideration should be given to pupils transitioning between phases or schools.
  • RP suggest that Universities or parts of universities could be moving in and out of quarantine on a regular basis. And another article details the institutions who do not intent to (immediately, at least) reopen their labs.
  • A Wonkhe student union blog looking at what we’re allowed to do, able to do, and willing to do when the autumn term commences – and how individual differences may create further inequities.

General Public Opinion on easing lockdown

A snap YouGov poll conducted after Sunday’s easing of lockdown announcements showed divided sentiments within the nation.

  • 44% of surveyed support the easing, 43% are opposed, 13% are ‘unsure’.
  • Conservative voters support the intended measures more than Lib Dem or Labour voters.
  • Support for the easing rises with age, and men are a little more likely to support the work and exercise relaxation rules than women.
  • However, those opposing the easing measures are not opposed to ending lockdown, instead 91% of the opposed feel the relaxation of measures go too far.
  • 70% of the survey population weren’t keen on the new Government catchphrase either (stay alert, control the virus, save lives), finding it unclear on what they are supposed to do. Again there is a party divide influencing whether the responders like the slogan.

Another YouGov poll finds that 82% of the public think they could easily cope with the current state of affairs until June.

  • Those that would find it hard is up 2% from 11% to 13%.
  • 63% said they’d be OK until July. But by August predicted coping drops to 44%, with 50% of respondents saying they’d have a hard time continuing as present until August.
  • It drops again to 35% who could cope into September. And 22-25% believe they’d be OK until January 2021.

YouGov say: The fact that figures level off at this point [November] could simply reflect the limits of how far into the future Britons are able to imagine their emotional state, rather than representing the bedrock figure for how many people could effectively cope indefinitely.

Augar Review

The surprise news of the weekend was Phillip Augar stating that C-19 has changed the sector and that he no longer stands by some of the recommendations the Post-16 review of tertiary education report made.

You’ll recall that the Augar report has been published for nearly a year but due to Government procrastination, in part caused by the change in Conservative leadership, there has been no official response to the recommendations.

Now Augar writes in a personal capacity for the Financial Times stating now might not be the time to reduce the social science/humanities fee level as the Augar review originally recommended. However, it is not quite the ‘U-Turn’ that the HE media are reporting. Much of what Augar has to say continues along the report’s party line, i.e. not all courses financially benefit the economy as much as others. Here are the key excerpts from the Financial Times article – the time is ripe to reform UK university finance.

  • Higher and further education will play a key role in shaping this [the way the world of work will change due to C-19]. England, where the sectors are disconnected and unevenly funded, faces particular challenges. A panel on post-18 education, which I chaired, reported a year ago and the government says it will respond this year. Reform would be timely.
  • However, there are signs that the dividend from higher education as currently delivered in England has played out. One in three graduates are not in graduate-level employment; one in five would have been better off financially had they not gone to university; and outcomes for the disadvantaged vary too widely. Recruiting large numbers on to poor quality, irrelevant courses is not a triumph of social mobility. Better directed recruitment at scale could be.
  • This is a public as well as a private issue. University education in England is funded by state-backed student loans, written off after 30 years. Nearly half of all students receive a government subsidy in this way. The write-off varies between subjects. The state loses money on around a third of all subjects studied. It writes off more on social studies subjects than on maths, computer science or engineering; more on communications and media studies than on agriculture and veterinary science; and more on creative arts than on any other subject. Without denigrating any subject as being unworthy of study, there is a clear misalignment between the subsidy and the economy’s needs.
  • The funding model is the root of the problem. It allows universities to charge £9,250 for all courses, cross-subsidising research and expensive subjects from fee income earned on high-margin courses and overseas students. This has led to an oversupply in some disciplines, under-investment in science degrees and over-reliance on overseas student fees, which necessitated this week’s government support package.
  • The panel I chaired recommended cutting tuition fees to the average cost of a humanities degree — £7,500, according to Universities UK — and increasing the existing top-up for strategically important courses. Covid-19-related disruption may now mean that such a fee cut would be too destabilising. But the problem has not gone away. An alternative would be to freeze fees for a further five years and ramp up the teaching grant for strategic subjects. Other options include number caps on some courses or a payment back to government by universities for reinvestment in priority subjects.
  • One final point. The importance of the country’s research base has been underlined during this crisis. In future, university research needs to be funded openly, generously and strategically, not partly via the back door.

So he hasn’t really changed his mind as others are reporting. He’s just saying make the proposed cuts by another method so as not to add to the immediate destabilisation of the sector. And the alternatives he proposed might not be that popular either, although they will resonate with those who like the Policy Exchange report referred to above.

Research Professional reached out to Nick Hillman, director of HEPI, to ask his opinion on Augar’s pronouncement. Here’s his response: Augar’s tuition fee U-turn made me splutter into my Pimm’s.

  • One of the great unwritten rules of politics is that if you ask a member of the great and the good to review a policy area for you, you can reliably expect them to defend their conclusions for years to come… Augar’s volte-face is nothing to do with the government ruling out his idea. We are still waiting for them to tell us what they think of a report that was originally announced at the Conservative Party conference back in 2017… Indeed, the U-turn is oddly timed because, in some respects, the chances of the Augar report’s main proposal being implemented have improved in recent months. Alison Wolf, an influential member of the Augar panel, has started advising Number 10 and numerous people have called for fee reductions to help students hit by Covid-19. Former UCAS chief executive Mary Curnock Cook, for example, has called for a 20 per cent fee discount.

Hillman takes exception with Augar blaming Blair for the 50% young people entering HE aspiration. Hillman states:

  • This historical inaccuracy matters because it allows Augar to continue portraying the recent expansion of higher education as an error. He argues that “the dividend from higher education as currently delivered in England has played out”. That is a very odd argument to make on the cusp of a recession. Earlier downturns have proven that being better educated is an insurance policy against unemployment.

And on Augar’s FE points (see article) Hillman also disagrees:

  • But his third argument is highly questionable. He says there is a need to boost further education to provide “a viable alternative to degrees”. This is half true and half crazy. Do we need a better offer for people who do not undertake higher education? Indubitably. But are there too many people doing degrees? No.
  • The problem the UK faces, as shown clearly in comparative OECD data, is that we have too many low-skilled people, not too many highly skilled people. In eduspeak, too many people are educated only to levels 2 and 3, and not enough at levels 4 and 5 and levels 6 and 7.

Nursing students

The Royal College of Midwives, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), UNISON and the NUS have written to Matt Hancock asking him to “acknowledge students’ selfless service, not only with words, but in a tangible and quantifiable way”. By:

  • reimbursing tuition fees or forgiving current debt for all current nursing, midwifery, and allied healthcare students;
  • abolishing student-funded tuition fees for all nursing, midwifery, and allied healthcare students starting in 2020/21 and beyond, in recognition that they will be supporting vital public services; and
  • introducing universal, living maintenance grants that reflect actual student need.

The RCN have been a very effective lobby force over recent years as they have ceaselessly campaigned again the introduction of tuition fees and the removal of the NHS bursary. Have you ever noticed how we talk about nursing fees far more than the other allied health professions? This is down to the organisation’s effectiveness in keeping their demands in the spotlight, the relationships they’ve developed with policy makers and applying pressure on the Government. While these demands are not new, especially during the increased calls for it during C-19, nurses have even more public attention, awareness and positive public feeling behind their campaign for change now. But will the Government cave and reform the system at a time when the pressure on public spending is almost unprecedented? It could go either way, we wouldn’t like to predict!

There was also a parliamentary question on the topic:

Q – Stuart Anderson: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, whether he has made an assessment of the potential merits of replacing tuition fees with a teaching grant for courses taken by (a) health professionals and (b) other key workers.

A – Michelle Donelan:

  • The government subsidises the costs of higher education through the teaching grant and write-off of unpaid tuition fee loans, which ensures a sustainable system. Nurses and other healthcare students are currently eligible for a range of financial grant support in addition to tuition fee and living cost loans. There is also a range of additional support and bursaries for students in other professions where they are considered to be critical workers.

This week we had International Nurses Day and Nursing Times have published a call from NHS England’s Chief Executive, Sir Simon Stevens, for universities to increase the number of nursing students they take each year. The article claims that 8,000 more clinical placements are available for trainees. Outstripping supply of students by an additional 4,000. NHS England has called for a Spring start as well as the traditional autumn intake. The Council of Deans have confirmed several universities already do this and it primarily attracts mature students. Dr Kolyva from the Council of Deans stated:

  • Multiple student cohorts do have implications for staffing and timetabling…Though these are not necessarily insurmountable if there is enough student interest, it would be useful to work with Government on supportive measures, including more flexible student finance arrangements and policies to boost the academic workforce. [There are also] …challenges to be addressed around student placements and the provision of support in practice so long as the pandemic continues”.

The Royal College of Nursing Chief Executive also contributed to the article commenting that to truly grow the nursing workforce more needed to be done including the scrapping of tuition fees. The Independent also cover the story of additional clinical placements without students to fill them. Wonkhe have an older (2019) blog on difficulties associated in the expansion of nursing.

Graduate Outlook

This week has seen a myriad of sources all covering the graduate outlook for those students finishing their degree this year. Prospects have published Graduating into a pandemic: the impact on university finalists. The article leads with: Nearly two-thirds of university finalists feel negative about their career prospects and many have lost job offers or placements as a result of the COVID-19 crisis – but others say they now have more time to plan their future. The article goes on to describe the results of their graduate recruitment survey:

  • 1% lost their work placement/internship
  • 2% lost their job
  • 2% had their job offer deferred or cancelled.

Some other stats:

  • 47% are considering postgraduate study
  • 82% feel disconnected from employers

See the article for more content including what students expect from Careers services and would like to know from employers.

The Telegraph covers the survey in Almost a third of graduate jobs have been cancelled or deferred due to coronavirus and on the national situation in Graduate job adverts fall by three quarters ahead of ‘extremely challenging’ summer.

Financial Times write that The class of 2020 need help to start their careers.

i News reports that the job crisis may persuade more young people to commence a degree in September. They quote Nick Hillman of HEPI as saying: If you were leaving school this summer you’re not going to get a job frankly… If you were thinking you might go and get a job, you might as well stay on and go to higher education. Although there isn’t comment on how this potential phenomenon might impact of non-continuation rates. i News also reports on the Prospects survey we mention above:

  • Separately, a survey by the careers service, Prospects, found that nearly half (47 per cent) of final year students are now contemplating postgraduate study, as graduate job opportunities have dried up in the wake of the pandemic. The survey found that 28 per cent of final year students have had their graduate job offers deferred or rescinded. There could be a marked rise in applications for courses which lead towards occupations which are perceived to be “recession-proof”, such as teaching.

The same article states UCAS have noted calls from students who planned to defer but now wish to attend in September – perhaps because their internship or travelling plans have to be rethought. Finally iNews state that applications by mature students and graduates wishing to take postgraduate courses are also set to rise, as older adults seek a safe haven amidst the economic turmoil caused by Covid-19.

The British Academy are upbeat (their report has a general outlook – it isn’t commenting on the effects of the Coronavirus) and they have published a report examining the employment prospects of graduates from different subject groups. It finds that graduates in the arts, humanities and social sciences (AHSS) are just as employable as their counterparts in STEM subjects, fuel some of the fastest-growing sectors in the UK and enjoy rewarding careers in a wide range of sectors. They are also more likely to change sector and role voluntarily, without wage penalty, suggesting greater flexibility and choice than STEM graduates. Furthermore graduates of arts, humanities and social sciences are just as resilient to economic upheaval as other graduates and are just as likely to remain employed as STEM graduates during downturns.

Research Professional also write that further study could ease the pressure from graduating into a collapsing job market in More time at university could protect graduates from recession.

And Wonkhe have scoured the Student Hut’s Covid-19 tracker finding that students

  • are hoping for discounts on postgraduate fees as compensation for time lost due to the pandemic – with more than half prepared to accept a “significant” discount on future study or continuing professional development to make up for interruptions to their learning this year.

Labour Market Statistics

The DfE published  graduate labour market statistics for 2019 graduate, postgraduate and non-graduate employment rates and earnings (for England). These set out a breakdown of employment rates, unemployment rates and gross median annual earnings by different age groups and by undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. Key Points:

  • Non-graduates were most likely to be employed in medium/low-skilled roles (48.1%). The proportions for graduates and postgraduates were 21.9% and 9.8% respectively; 0.4 and 1.2 percentage points lower than in 2018.
  • In 2019, the median salary of working-age graduates was £34,000. This represents no change from 2018. Non-graduate salaries rose to £25,000, narrowing the gap between the two groups to £9,000.
  • Post-graduates saw the largest increase in median salary from 2018 (+£2,000). Increasing the gap between graduates and post-graduates to £8,000, the largest it has been since 2007.
  • The employment rate for working-age graduates in 2019 was 87.5%, slightly lower than the rate in 2018 (87.7%).
  • 6% of working-age graduates were in high-skilled employment in 2019, compared with 78.9% of postgraduates and 23.9% of non-graduates. Although this represents a slight increase of 0.2 percentage points since 2018 for graduates, the rise was larger for both postgraduates (2.4 percentage points) and non-graduates (1.0 percentage point).
  • Young non-graduates performed the worst across (employment rate, inactivity and unemployment). The inactivity rate for young non-graduates (20.2%), was more than double the rates for young graduates (7.9%) and postgraduates (8.0%). However, this cohort is likely to include a significant proportion of economically-inactive students.
  • Across all qualification categories those aged 21-30 were more active in the labour market than the general working-age population, however, with the exception of graduates, the unemployment rates of the young cohort were also higher. This could indicate that young postgraduates and non-graduates find it relatively more difficult to find employment than their working-age counterparts.
  • Across all qualification types, individuals in the young population had lower high-skilled employment rates than their working-age counterparts. This may provide some evidence for graduates and non-graduates ‘upskilling’ as they acquire increasing amounts of labour market experience. It could also, however, reflect the limited number of high-skilled employment opportunities available to younger individuals and the potential difficulties they face matching into relevant jobs early in their careers.

Skills Challenges

The Federation for Industry Sector Skills and Standards has published a report on which industries face the biggest skills challenges. The report takes a longer term view, beyond immediate challenges posed by C-19, and compiles data on long term and transformative trends shaping the future of skills, such as automation and the ageing workforce. Dods summarise the key challenges:

  • Automation – The fourth industrial revolution could alleviate skills challenges, but some industries are more amenable than others. While 58% of jobs in hospitality are at risk of automation, this falls to just 34% of jobs in Information and Communication.
  • Ageing workforce – By extending working lives, this is as much an opportunity as a challenge. Agriculture, forestry and fishing is the sector with the oldest workforce. Over 50% are over the age of 50 compared to just 17% in hospitality.
  • Brexit – Immigration policy will be a more significant challenge for some sectors than others. While only 3% of the Public admin and defence workforce are EU nationals, this rises to 15% for the industry known as households as employers (e.g. gardeners, babysitters, cleaners etc.).
  • Staff turnover – Skills policy often concentrates on the talent coming into an industry. But stemming the flow of talent leaving the industry can build up the stock of skills. Sectors like Education have a low proportion of employees leaving the industry each year (14%) while for Arts, entertainment and recreation it stands at 35%.

Research

There has been a lot of reflection on research this week,

Research Professional have a blog which argues for the practice of using international tuition fees to cross subsidise research to be reconsidered – which an emphasis on Government support to pay more. It is set both within the context of expected reduction in international student numbers (so less money available to fund the research) and that post-crisis research should be funded more comprehensively and fairly.

Wonkhe have a blog  A bold plan for research will guide choices in a post-Covid economy.

Another Research Professional article reiterates last week’s messages that the Government support package only represents a 5% drop in the ocean against what UUK calculated was needed.

Taskforce: The University Research Sustainability Taskforce (part of the Government’s non-bailout support package) held its first meeting on Tuesday co-chaired by both Ministers (Michelle Donelan – universities and Amanda Solloway – science). Details from the meeting haven’t yet been released.

The Power of Place: CaSE (Campaign for Science and Engineering) have an 11 page report with case studies demonstrating the importance of investing in regional R&D.

Access, Participation and Success

Wonkhe report that Student Minds have called on the government to offer further mental health support for students during the Covid-19 pandemic.

HEPI have a blog by UCAS chief executive Clare Marchant Above and beyond predictions – No exams presents an opportunity for innovation in contextual admissions.

Parliamentary questions:

 Unite blog for HEPI on their concerns for care experienced and estranged students who are struggling without a familial support network or their part time employment during the coronavirus crisis. They call on Government to put: in place an emergency grant for care-experienced and estranged students, to make sure that they are not forced to drop out of their studies in order to support themselves.

Changes in Further Education

Wonkhe report that the government is planning on bringing further education colleges back into public ownership in (another) major shakeup of that sector. Gavin Williamson has suggested that a white paper about this is imminent – we should watch this closely for clues as to the government’s plans for the whole tertiary landscape.

FE Week cover the story, excerpts:

  • Work has begun on a White Paper to be followed by legislation, after recent attempts to financially stabilise the sector with an area review programme and restructuring funds totalling around half a billion pounds were deemed to have failed.
  • The number of colleges in formal intervention over their finances, currently more than 30, continues to rise and government bailouts have not stopped in recent months despite attempts to end them last March with the introduction of a new education administration regime.
  • …it is understood that civil servants have concluded the first and so far only colleges to be put into administration… have been both too slow and too costly.

FE week states the Government have been working on a FE Bill since January and that SoS Education, Gavin Williamson, has stated the reforms will be ‘revolutionary’. Government is concerned that where a college is failing both financially and poor quality provision the governing body remains independent and the Government has limited powers of intervention. FE week says:

  • It is understood Williamson and the team around him are becoming increasingly frustrated by this inability to step in when they deem there to have been leadership failures.

On the planned changes the DfE have stated:

  • The education secretary has already made clear that we are working on a White Paper aimed at delivering ambitious reform in our vital FE sector. The FE sector is playing a pivotal role in making sure more people can access the high-quality education and training they need to progress and will support our economic recovery following the Covid-19 outbreak. Our reforms will build on and strengthen the excellent work already happening across the country and will ensure the FE sector is at the heart of every community.

It seems the Government intend to seize all opportunities to change of course of tertiary education through coronavirus leverage.  One wonders whether Augar is needed at all.

On the expected FE changes Research Professional state: The implications could be far reaching for universities as part of the government’s skills and levelling-up ambitions.

Parliamentary Questions

An absolute flood of parliamentary questions this week! We’ve put them where relevant in the main part of this update and the rest are here:

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

OfS Board papers: Research Professional highlighted that OfS are censoring an unexpectedly large amount of their Board papers and other materials. Read the article for more detail. On this the Shadow Universities Minister stated during this incredibly difficult time, the need for honesty and transparency is even more important and I would encourage the OfS to reflect on the need to redact such huge quantities of information. Wonkhe also pick out 20 points of interest in the Board papers.

NSS results:  NSS results are to be published on the OfS website on 1 July (09:30am). With provider-level and subject-level question responses, open text comments, and all providers’ NSS results published on the results portal at the same time. OfS stated

  • UK funders and regulators will look at the data when received to assess any impact the coronavirus outbreak has had on the results and make professional judgements about its statistical reliability.

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HE policy update for the w/e 17th January 2020

Another busy week  in HE policy– with consultations and a very short timeline for the KEF.  Everyone has hit the ground running in 2020!

The third leg of the HE stool arrives: KEF has landed

The outcome of the KEF consultation in 2019 has come out. UKRI have published the “Decisions for the first iteration”.  They have given a very short timeline for the publication of the first set of data and narratives from institutions – they will all be published this summer.  Narratives have to be submitted by May.  Data will be published for everyone, whether they submit narratives or not.

They have also indicated that it is likely that from 2020/21 institutions will have to submit narratives for the KEF to be eligible for Research England funding.

  • This first iteration of the KEF will take place in the current academic year 2019/20. All Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) eligible to receive Research England Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF) funding in this current academic year are in scope for this exercise.
  • The KEF is taking a metrics-led approach, although it also includes a narrative component. As previously advised, all proposed KEF metrics use existing data sources that are already collected via existing statutory returns or other means. …. This reflects the minimal burden of this exercise as there is no need for any institution to gather or submit new metrics for this iteration of the KEF.
  • The narrative component of the KEF will consist of three brief narrative statements … we intend to publish in summer 2020 the KEF metrics of all institutions in receipt of HEIF in this 2019/20 academic year. Therefore, institutions in receipt of HEIF in this academic year 2019/20 are strongly encouraged to submit narrative information to contextualise their results….
  • This report will be followed by publication of the narrative templates and final cluster membership in February 2020. If institutions in scope for this exercise wish to have their narrative templates published alongside their results, the completed templates should be returned on Friday 15 May 2020.
  • …Research England will provide further contextual information about the external environment in which the HEI operates that should be considered when interpreting results. This contextual information will be in the form a standard set of indicators at the LEP-region level.
  • Results will be presented through an online visualisation platform displaying perspectives and underlying metrics, as well as narrative statements and contextual information

The metrics will be reported against “clusters”. They have changed their original cluster proposals somewhat, removing the Social Science and Business specialist cluster – final cluster membership will be published in February with the templates. These clusters have been designed to allow meaningful comparison.  When BU responded to the consultation we suggested that it is unhelpful to introduce a third methodology for comparison – the TEF uses institutional benchmarks, something that has challenges itself, and the REF is of course organised by subject.  We remain concerned that this will be confusing and not very meaningful for businesses and other organisations (the declared target for this information) who may not find the cluster comparison useful if they only have limited experience with a small number of universities.

You will recall that the metrics are grouped into seven “perspectives” – only two will require narratives.  The consultation looked at additional metrics but has discounted any that are not already “gathered through existing statutory returns, or available from other UKRI or external sources”.  This is because they want to make it a “low burden” exercise.

Public and Community Engagement narrative – a statement:

  • identifying the public and community groups served by the institution and how their needs have been identified;
  • description of the targeted activities that are undertaken to meet these needs;
  • evidence that needs have been met and tangible outcomes achieved.

Local Growth and Regeneration narrative – a statement:

  • identifying the geographical area(s) that the institution considers to be its local area;
  • explanation of how needs of the local area(s) that relate to economic growth and regeneration are identified;
  • description of the targeted activities undertaken by the institution to meet those needs and any outcomes achieved.

The third narrative will be an institutional context narrative – “setting out the geographic, economic and social context within which the higher education institution is operating…. The information contained within this statement will not be used to normalise any of the metrics or perspectives across clusters.”

David Kernohan has written for Wonkhe about it:

  • The Knowledge Exchange Framework is not (like REF and TEF are) an “excellence framework”. It doesn’t make any judgement on the quality of business and community interaction, just on the proportional volume and likely output of a number of activities described in the HE-BCI survey data. Neither is it of use to professional or armchair rankers – it doesn’t offer named awards or simple stepped gradations that demonstrate one thing is unfailingly better than another.
  • It may eventually be used to support the allocation of the £200m Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF), which is currently allocated using similar data. But for the first year (2020-21) it is for entertainment and edification purposes only.”

David summarises the pages of normalisation methodology in the document nicely: Metrics are a three-year average, mostly …as ratios, which are converted at perspective level into deciles. This reduces a great deal of data and analysis into what amounts to a set of marks out of 10, which are compared to an average mark from comparable institutions (the infamous clusters)”.

And the visualisation approach: “Research England has a grand plan to use spider graphs to show institutional scores alongside cluster averages, with an option to drill down into more detailed data on each metric. I’m not as struck by this as they are – the exercise is designed to support comparisons and spider diagrams are an unwieldy way to do this. I also feel like the individual metrics are still fairly abstract, you have to go quite a long way back down the methodology to get something that the mind can easily take hold of.”

Erasmus after Brexit

After the social media storm last week when Parliament didn’t approve the Erasmus amendment to the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (it doesn’t mean we can’t be in it, it just means that government won’t be bound by the new Bill to make sure we are in it), there have been a few questions this week.

Douglas Chapman (SNP) said that the end of Erasmus scheme was an “utter disaster, culturally and socially” and asked the PM to comment on the end of the participation of the scheme. Boris’ response implied that the UK would continue to participate in the scheme.

And there were several questions on Erasmus (see this one and this one) – all with similar response – that the Government is including it within the Brexit negotiations and is working towards remaining within the scheme.  The House of Commons Library have released this briefing paper on Erasmus to inform MPs ahead of Monday’s scheduled Education debate.

New HESA data

HESA have published higher education statistics for 2018/19.  Interestingly, the OfS focussed on grade inflation in their response –and nothing else.

Sex of students

  • Of all HE students 57% were female in 2018/19 (see Figure 4), this has been the same since 2016/17.
  • A larger proportion of part-time students were female than full-time students.
  • For other undergraduate students, 64% were female, compared with 49% of postgraduate (research) students.

Age of students

  • The overall number of first year students aged 30 and over has increased in 2018/19 after a decreasing trend in previous years.
  • The number of first year students aged 21-24 has increased from 2015/16 to 2018/19.
  • The number of first year full-time students aged 30 and over has increased every year since 2014/15.
  • Numbers of full-time students aged 20 and under have increased year on year since 2012/13.

Student disability status

  • The overall number of students with a known disability is increasing year on year. The main reason for this increase is students identified as having a mental health condition.
  • Of students with a known disability in 2018/19 the category of specific learning difficulty is the largest group accounting for 36% of the total.

Ethnicity of students

  • The percentage of UK domiciled students that are White has decreased over the last five years. However, the percentage that are Asian, Mixed and from Other ethnic backgrounds has increased.
  • HE providers in England show the largest decrease and the lowest proportion of UK domiciled students that are White compared to HE providers in all other countries of the UK.

Within the European Union:

  • Italy has seen a notable rise to become the top European Union country sending students to the UK, overtaking three other countries in the last five years.
  • Germany is the top European Union country to send students to Wales and Scotland, and Ireland is top in sending students to Northern Ireland.

Outside the European Union:

  • China sent more students to the UK than any other overseas country. In 2018/19, 35% of all non-EU students were from China. The number of students from China was also 34% higher in 2018/19 than in 2014/15, increasing from 89,540 to 120,385 in the five year span.
  • Student numbers from India increased from 18,325 in 2014/15 to 26,685 in 2018/19.
  • The other countries in the chart are more in line with European Union student numbers.
  • Nigeria has seen a 41% decline in student numbers coming to the UK over the five year period, dropping behind the United States, Hong Kong and Malaysia.
  • For more recent trends in international student visa applications and granted visas, refer toTable 1 of Immigration statistics published by the Home Office in November 2019. Please note that although on a similar theme, these statistics are not directly comparable. Home Office statistics cover further education as well as higher education, and immigration data provides an indication of the number of people who have an intention to enter the UK for study reasons, not whether, or when, an individual actually arrived in the UK, or what they did on arrival to the UK.

Of those gaining a classified first degree:

  • The percentage of students achieving a first class honours remains stable at 28% for both 2017/18 and 2018/19. This follows an increase year on year since 2009/10 where 14% of students achieved this classification.
  • A larger proportion of female students gained a first or upper second class honours than male students.
  • Full-time students had a larger proportion of first or upper second class honours than part-time students.

Subjects

In 2018/19:

  • More qualifications were awarded in business & administrative studies than any other subject area.
  • Amongst part-time students, more qualifications were awarded in subjects allied to medicine than any other subject area.

Over the five year period 2014/15 – 2018/19:

  • There has been an overall increase in the number of qualifications gained in biological sciences and social studies.
  • There has been a decline in the number of qualifications gained in languages and education.

Mental Health

Student Minds has launched The Wellbeing Thesis, a website designed to support postgraduate research students to maintain their mental wellbeing.

Baroness Tyler of Enfield has presented a Bill in the House of Lords which would amend the Education Act 2002 and the Academies Act 2010 for schools to promote the mental health and wellbeing of their pupils. The Bill will proceed to a second reading at a future date.

And some Parliamentary questions:

Q – Conor McGinn: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps his Department is taking to (a) reduce the level of social stigma in relation to mental health and (b) promote awareness of mental health issues among young people.

A – Nick Gibb:

  • The Department is making teaching about mental health part of compulsory health education in all state-funded schools in England from September 2020. The statutory guidance sets out that pupils will be taught about the importance of good physical and mental health including the steps pupils can take to protect and support their own health and mental wellbeing. The content will also cover understanding emotions; identifying where someone is experiencing signs of poor mental health; simple self-care; and how and when to seek support.
  • The Department is also working with the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families to pilot setting up peer support approaches in schools and colleges that allow young people to play an active part of creating a mentally healthy and supportive environment. The findings from the programme’s external evaluation will be shared nationally, to help more schools to develop or improve their own mental health peer support programmes.
  • To support school staff, the Department has set up Expert Advisory Group on teacher and leader wellbeing which has a remit to advise the Department on what it can do to help schools and colleges promote good wellbeing, including tackling stigma around mental health.

Labour leadership

Monday was the closing date for Labour leadership candidates to secure the 22 nominations from MPs to run for party leader. Chris Lewis and Barry Gardiner did not secure the required amount. The following candidates will progress to the next round (number of nominations received noted in brackets):

  • Keir Starmer (89)
  • Rebecca Long Bailey (33)
  • Lisa Nandy (31)
  • Jess Phillips (23)
  • Emily Thornberry (23)

Candidates for deputy leader:

  • Angela Rayner (88)
  • Ian Murray (34)
  • Dawn Butler (29)
  • Rosena Allin-Khan (23)
  • Richard Burgon (22)

We explained the leadership contest process in detail in last week’s policy update. However, here is a quick recap: the next phase requires the candidates to seek nominations from Constituency Labour Parties and the Unions by 15th Jan – to carry on they need support of 5% of the constituency parties (the BBC said 30) OR 3 affiliate organisations, including 2 trade unions.  The members’ ballot opens on 21st Feb and runs to 2nd April.  Votes are redistributed if there is no clear winner.  Results announced on 4th April

An interesting background briefing on the Labour leadership candidates prepared by Dods is available here. It is worth a read to get to know the candidates better.

Fees and funding

The House of Commons Library has a new briefing paper on the Augar Review (Post 18 Education and Funding Review). The paper considers the recommendations of the Augar Review and the (page 26) initial responses to it from major HE bodies. The Government is rumoured to have made the decision on how they will respond (which parts they will adopt) of the Augar Review and intend to release their response at a suitable point (soon-ish!). Most likely the briefing paper has been produced because Education Questions will take place in Parliament next Monday.

And some Parliamentary questions:

Q -Baroness Bennett Of Manor Castle: following the announcement that nursing bursaries are to be reintroduced, what plans [the Government] have to support nurses, midwifes and other healthcare professionals with any debt incurred before the reintroduction to support their study and training.

A -Baroness Blackwood Of North Oxford:

  • We have committed to 50,000 more nurses in the National Health Service by 2025 and our new financial support package is crucial to delivering this.
  • Eligible pre-registration students on nursing, midwifery and many allied health students’ courses at English universities from September 2020 will benefit from additional support of at least £5,000 of non-repayable funding, with up to £3,000 additional funding for some students, who choose to study in regions or specialisms struggling to recruit, or to help with childcare costs, which they will not have to pay back.
  • The Government has no plans to introduce a scheme that will backdate the offer for students who completed courses in earlier years.

Q – Dr Matthew Offord (Hendon): To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps his Department has taken to introduce Sharia compliant student loans.

A – Chris Skidmore (Kingswood): The government remains committed to introducing an Alternative Student Finance product for tuition fee and maintenance loans. Details on implementation will follow the conclusion of the review of post-18 education and funding.

Select Committees

Parliamentary business has been laid to commence the election of the select committee chairs now the new Parliament has formed. We anticipate the chairs will be announced early in February.  Below is a diagram stating which party will chair each select committee.

There are several committees where the previous chairman has vacated their position through losing their seat, or where the chairmanship has switched from Labour to Tory to reflect Parliament’s new arithmetic (the number of chairs for each party is proportionate to the size of the party in Parliament).  These include the Treasury, health, transport and work and pensions committees.

There is a potential change on the horizon. In the past when a parliamentary session ends the chairmanship and membership of a select committee ceases – as it did when the 2019 general election was called. However, a parliamentary motion introduced this week seeks to remove the limit on the maximum length of time an individual can chair a committee. This would allow parliamentarians to become long-serving chairs. There is also a clause which stipulates that the Brexit committee will continue for another year, even though the department it shadows — DExEU — is being wound up at the end of January.

Education Debate

There was a major Education and Local Government debate within the House of Commons this week led by Gavin Williamson, Secretary of State for Education. On schools the debate covered content on: the minimum school funding (per pupil), rolling out free schools (Midlands, North and South West), extra funding to Councils to support children in care, capital funding for childcare provision within schools (for school aged children), an arts activities premium for secondary schools from 2021, school building safety – following advice in the independent Hackitt review,

Gavin Williamson also said:

  • The Government’s £3bn national skills fund would build on ongoing work to develop a national retraining scheme in underpinning economic prosperity.
  • Capital investment of £1.8bn into the further education estate.
  • The Government plans to create more mayors across England to devolve power away from Westminster via a devolution white paper.

Angela Rayner challenged the Government on the lack of response to the Augar review, particularly in relation to decision on the regulation of home education. She said: “While we are on the subject of Bills that are missing in action…The Augar review went from being a flagship to a ghost ship”.

SNP Shadow Secretary of State for Education, Carol Monaghan, asked the Minister whether a fee change would be forthcoming, further to the Augar review recommendations. She also raised concerns over the implications of Brexit on HE staff, research funding, infrastructure and collaboration: “A recent report from the Royal Society has shown that the UK’s share of EU funding has fallen by €500 million since 2015. There has also been a drop of 40% in UK applications to Horizon 2020. We are still in it just now, but we have had that drop because people do not have any certainty. The UK is now seen as a less attractive place to come and do research, with 35% fewer scientists coming to the UK through key schemes. That is of concern, as is Erasmus and what Brexit will mean for that programme”.

David Davis (Conservative) criticised the university tuition fees and loans scheme for delivering poor-quality education, high levels of expectations and low levels of outcome. He called for concerted action to tackle low productivity, including translational research, but also, “investment, education, infrastructure, magnet cities and garden villages”.

Previous chair of the Education Select Committee Robert Halfon welcomes the Queen’s Speech and said that he believes that “skills, social justice, standards and support for the profession should be the four interlocking foundations of this Government’s education programme.” He called on the Government to turbocharge adult learning, citing that adult learning is at its lowest since 1996 and that this county needs a world-class apprenticeships programme.

Halfon also raised concerns about disadvantaged pupils who are often 19 months behind by the time they reach their GCSEs, he called on the Government to have a “bold, assertive agenda that has compassion and aspiration right at its core.” Halfon told the chamber that the Government should offer top-quality childcare, to help plug the gap of disadvantaged children who are already left behind when they start primary school.

Shadow Minister for Northern Ireland Karin Smyth told the house that the Government has got it wrong in its implementation of apprenticeships, particularly by making the process more complicated for small and medium sized enterprises.

Janet Daby (Labour, Lewisham East) raised a number of concerns surrounding the funding of schools and local authorities. She told the house that “in the midst of a mental health crisis in young adults, we must do more to address the increasing lack of support in further education colleges.”

Steve McCabe (Labour, Birmingham, Selly Oak) welcomed the Secretary of State’s admission of the problems faced by pupils with special educational needs and disabilities. He also hoped that the new student visa would make it easier for people to come here to study, but noted that PhD students did not find it particularly easy to stay after they completed their doctorates.

Alex Norris (Labour/Co-op, Nottingham North) spoke about the educational trouble faced by working class boys, saying that it was caused by a cocktail of poor discipline, irregular attendance and below par curriculums. He called on the Government to have better curriculums based on international best practice; specific, targeted resource to augment the pupil premium; a focus on catching up for boys who fall behind at key stage 1; and the deployment of the best teachers in the most challenged schools, incentivised to work in the hard environments.

Bambos Charalambous (Labour) said there wasn’t enough school funding to reverse cuts on areas like school maintenance and a lack of further education.

You can read the debate in full here.

Skills gap

The Local Government Association (LGA) published a report (compiled by the Learning and Work Institute) considering 2030 projected skills gaps in England. It considers eight areas and quantifies potential loss of economic output due to the skills gaps. They conclude that 6 million people in England risk being without a job or in work they are over-qualified for by 2030. This is a similar message to the Government’s line on upskilling the workforce to plug business needs due to insufficient skills within the workforce. However, the LGA imagine a more localised solution to the skills gaps.  Key points:

  • 1 million low-skilled people chasing 2 million low-skilled jobs – a surplus of 3.1 million low-skilled workers
  • 7 million people with intermediate skills chasing 9.5 million jobs – a surplus of 3.1 million people
  • 4 million high-skilled jobs with only 14.8 million high-skilled workers – a deficit of 2.5 million

This note looks at the extent and nature of the potential skills gap that could be faced in the future through to 2030 – at both the level of England as a whole and in eight selected local areas:

  • Nottingham City
  • Staffordshire
  • Gloucestershire
  • Greater Lincolnshire
  • Essex, Southend and Thurrock
  • Lambeth, Lewisham and Southwark
  • North of Tyne
  • Southampton and Portsmouth

The LGA are critical of the current centrally-governed skills and employment system whereby £10.5 billion a year is spent by eight government departments and agencies across 20 different national schemes. Unsurprisingly the LGA is calling for the Government to use the Budget to devolve all back-to-work, skills, apprenticeship, careers advice, and business support schemes and funding to the local areas in which they are used. They envisage groups of councils across England with the power and funding to deliver a one-stop ‘Work Local’ service for skills, apprenticeship, employment, careers advice and business support provision. Bringing together local skills planning, overseeing job support including Jobcentre Plus and the Work and Health Programme and coordinate careers advice and guidance for young people and adults.

Cllr Kevin Bentley, Chairman of the LGA’s People and Places Board, said:

  • Millions of people face a future where they have skills mismatched for jobs at a huge cost to people’s lives and the local and national economy. Councils are ideally placed to lead efforts to help the Government bring growth and jobs to all parts of the country and ensure everyone is fully equipped with the skills they need to compete for future jobs.

Stephen Evans, Chief Executive of Learning and Work Institute, said:

  • Improving skills is central to making the 2020s a decade of growth. Other countries have continued to invest in skills, while progress in England has stalled over the last decade, the result of large cuts in England’s adult education budget which has left us lagging behind other countries and the number of adults improving their skills at a record low. We now need a decade of investment, in order to boost life chances,

Widening participation

A thought provoking HEPI blog considers the last 20 years of research published on addressing widening participation (WP) aims. It covers all the expected current topics from the BME attainment gap to the non-participation in HE by costal and/or rural areas. It highlights international approaches such as that from Australia and Canada explaining how studies addressed the same enduring gaps as the UK has now. Overall there are no magic solutions but the blog is reinvigorating in the way it brings all the WP themes together for fresh reconsideration. You can read the full blog here.

At Prime Minister’s Questions this week previous Head of the Education Select Committee, Robert Halfon said that despite improvement in educational standards and funding, white working-class boys underperform at every stage of education system. He questioned whether, in the context of large infrastructure projects expected, and the high value apprenticeships associated, whether the apprenticeship levy could be reformed to enable such young people to climb the skills ladder of opportunity. Boris responded that the House should follow Halfon’s advice and reform the apprenticeship levy, and intimated that the Education Secretary would update the House on this in due course.

And some Parliamentary questions:

Q – Lord Bourne Of Aberystwyth: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they have made in improving education outcomes for Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller communities.

A – Lord Agnew Of Oulton:

  • The latest published data, including breakdowns for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) pupils, relates to 2019 at key stage 2 and 2018 at key stage 4. At both stages, the data showed a small improvement in headline attainment measures for this group compared to the previous year. At key stage 2, the percentage of GRT pupils attaining the expected standard in reading, writing and mathematics rose from 19% in 2018 to 20% in 2019. At key stage 4, the percentage achieving grades 9-4 in English and mathematics rose from 11.8% in 2017 to 13.1% in 2018.
  • The government is taking significant steps forward to support attainment and progression for all pupils, including GRT pupils. Our education reforms, including those aimed at improving teaching; encouraging good attendance and behaviour; and strengthening the curriculum and examination system, are designed to improve opportunity and standards for all pupils. These reforms are underpinned by school accountability measures, which are intended to encourage schools to focus more closely on the attainment of all their pupils.
  • Through the pupil premium; we are addressing low economic circumstances. This is a key factor that predicts future educational outcomes, and affects a high proportion of GRT children. Since 2011, we have provided over £15 billion of this additional funding, with a further £2.4 billion being distributed in this financial year.

Life Sciences

Medical Science is one of BU’s strategic investment areas (SIA). Colleagues with an interest in this SIA area will be interested in the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy update which highlights progress in delivering the strategy since 2017. It covers:

  • NHS collaboration
  • Business environment
  • Reinforcing the UK science offer, including clinical research, data and genomics
  • Skills
  • Advanced therapies, including developing advanced therapies and advanced therapies manufacturing

The report notes very substantial progress in making the UK a more attractive place for life sciences companies to succeed and grow. These developments are the result of a strong collaboration between all aspects of this diverse industry – pharma, biotech, medtech, digital and diagnostics – the wider research community in the UK, the NHS and government. And states A substantial majority of the objectives in the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy have been met and more are being delivered now. Page 5 details the key achievements and page 10 onwards details the health and clinical research and development. Page 20 covers growing the skills base and workforce to deliver the life sciences industrial strategy. However, the content is limited and mainly covers AI and existing initiatives. It does not that the 2030 Skills Strategy will be published this year so we can expect more detail in the new future facing document. Page 21 briefly touches on commercialisation of university research.  You can read the sections that interest you most here.

Other news

Unconditional offers: Nottingham Trent have followed their public discussion on grade inflation last year by collaborating with The Times and publishing detail of their defence on conditional unconditional offers.  Wonkhe had an article by Mike Ratcliffe, their Academic Registrar.

Care Students: The Scottish Funding Council has published its National Ambition for Care-Experienced Students, which outlines its commitment to equal outcomes for those students by 2030.

Languages: The Financial Times responds to the HEPI language report, arguing that foreign language study should be made compulsory.

Social Commuting: The Guardian have a short, to the point, piece advising commuter students how to balance a social life with their commuting arrangements.

R&D – extending definition to cover the Creative Industries: Last week there was an interesting mini-debate following this question by Baroness Bull: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what consideration they have given to adopting a broader definition of research and development that includes, and incentivises, research and development investment in the creative industries. You can read the debate responses and follow on questions here.

Universities and Crime – a Parliamentary question

Q – Lord Taylor Of Warwick: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with UK Universities about reports that universities are not reporting crime statistics.

A – Baroness Berridge:

  • Criminal acts and misconduct are unacceptable in our world-leading universities, which should be safe and inclusive environments. Universities are autonomous institutions, and it is for each provider to determine what information should be collected and reported. Institutions have no statutory requirement to report crime statistics but have a responsibility to ensure students feel safe and able to report incidents, and to provide robust policies and procedures to address all forms of misconduct.
  • Current recorded crime statistics cover incidents reported to police. Where an institution (or the victim themselves) report the matter to the police it will be recorded and therefore captured in crime statistics. The government is aware that third party organisations collate data relating to incidents reported as taking place in Higher Education Providers (HEPs) and officials monitor this information.
  • The government expects providers to keep records of incidents disclosed to them and act swiftly to investigate and address them, with police involvement where necessary. Effective data collection processes enable HEPs to review and analyse reported incidents and complaints to inform continuous improvement. HEPs should continue to break down barriers to reporting, to ensure students and staff feel safe and able to report incidents.
  • The government continues to work closely with Universities UK (UUK) on implementing its Changing the Culture framework. The most recent progress report, published in October 2019, showed that 72% of responding institutions had developed or improved recording of data on incidents with a more centralised approach. UUK are also supporting HEPs in handling misconduct and criminal offences, including working with the Police Association of Higher Education Liaison Officers to explore how to best support information sharing between police forces and universities, and government officials meet regularly with UUK representatives.

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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 13th September 2019

Parliament has been prorogued, but did not go quietly and next week will see two court cases on whether it was lawful or not heard together in the Supreme Court.  There were cheers from the sector as Chris Skidmore returned to the University Minister role and Gavin Williamson as Education Secretary also seems to have adopted a more conciliatory role than his predecessor.

Next week sees the start of the party conference season with some interesting HE fringe events for us to report on.  With an election on the horizon, these events take on a heightened significance.

Post Study Work Visa

A Government announcement which outlined new genetics research project also served as the vehicle to announce revised post study work visa arrangements.

Under the scheme, international students to work in the UK for two-years post-graduation. A welcome announcement for the HE sector (although we are awaiting for the full details). The post study work visa was championed by Sajid Javid (in his previous Home Office role) and Jo Johnson.  With Jo Johnson having stepped down, the PM announced it, in a clear break from the approach of his predecessor.  He spoke about ensuring the UK is internationally welcoming and the wisdom of attracting the ‘brightest and best’ to work in the UK. The announcement (so far) overturns the recommendations of the Migration Advisory Committee. Currently overseas students must leave the UK four months after finishing their degree unless they get a separate work visa.

  • It applies to any subject
  • Apparently there is no restriction on type of work, i.e. it doesn’t have to be “graduate level” jobs.
  • There is no cap on the number
  • It talks about graduates from “trusted” providers – not defined but likely to mean those already approved for Tier 4 visas.
  • Initially the announcements said it would apply to students starting their courses in 2020/21, leading to fears of widespread deferrals, but it seems that it will apply to all students studying in the UK on a Tier 4 visa in 2020/21 – including students who start multi-year courses this September.

Chancellor, Sajid Javid tweeted “about time. Should have reserved this silly policy years ago. Britain should always be open to the best talent from across the world.”

  • BBC: Ministers reverse May-era student visa rules
  • Alistair Jarvis, Chief Exec Universities UK, welcomed the move, suggesting it would benefit the UK economy and reinstate the UK as a “first choice study destination. Evidence shows that international students bring significant positive social outcomes to the UK as well as £26bn in economic contributions, but for too long the lack of post-study work opportunities in the UK has put us at a competitive disadvantage in attracting those students“.
  • The Scottish Government have welcomed the announcement. Scottish Minister for FE & HE, Richard Lochhead: The Scottish Government has been consistent in arguing for the reintroduction of a post-study work visa following the decision by the UK Government to end the previous route in 2012. This is a welcome step forward but only one of many measures required. It should not have taken seven years for the UK Government to accept the arguments from partners across Scotland and reverse their decision. It is clearer by the day that Scotland urgently needs a migration policy tailored to our distinct needs and for the devolution of powers to develop, deliver and maintain policies that meet the needs of Scotland’s universities, communities, public services and economy.

Two for one – ministerial speeches

After Jo Johnson resigned and left UUK with a big gap in their annual conference programme, they fixed the problem by having both the Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson MP, and the newly (re)appointed Minister for Universities, Chris Skidmore.  Chris Skidmore was welcomed back as Universities Minister on Wednesday after a brief Ministerial stint in the Department for Health (he called it a placement).

The sector is pretty relieved.  Jo Johnson was familiar, and had a positive agenda around international students and participation in EU programmes (see previous story for some of his handiwork), as well as his opposition to the proposed Augar reform of tuition fees but had become rather negative and critical towards the end of his last period in the role.  Chris Skidmore, on the other hand, was positive, constructive and engaging last time round.  Although he wasn’t in the role long he seemed to be genuinely committed to developing research and as a history graduate and former academic he had some credibility amongst those worried for the future of social sciences and humanities in a world where value for money has been paramount (although see below, it seemed to be less of a priority?)

So what did they have to say?

Gavin Williamson went first.

He called the sector as a national treasure

He spoke about “openness to the world”. See the previous section on post-study work visas

  • A recent report by the Higher Education Policy Institute found that after graduation, a single cohort of international students contributes almost £3.2billion in tax over 10 years and plays a key role in filling existing skills shortages in the UK economy. But they bring far more than that. They contribute to the diverse tapestry of our national life; they not only bring the best of the world in, they also help us to look out, and our entire economic and cultural spectrum is the richer for what they bring to our country.
  • In the months and years ahead, the partnerships we make through these international networks will be crucial. Partnerships which I know benefits many of our young people through the exchange of ideas and learning. Many of you are wondering about what’s going to happen to them after we leave the EU. I want to reassure you that my department is open to continuing to be part schemes like Erasmus+. But we have to prepare for every eventuality and it is sensible to consider all options. As such I have asked my officials to provide a truly ambitious scheme if necessary.

He challenged the sector on access and participation – a sign that despite changes of leadership, the big focus on this continues. It was a major part of the Johnson reforms (merging OFFA and HEFCE into the OfS) and key in Theresa May’s social mobility agenda (the current government don’t talk as much about social mobility, but they are still looking for an aspiration story).  The terminology is interesting.  It’s a deal and it isn’t just about access, it’s about working with schools as well.

  • When I took on this job, you told me that you wanted the post-study Graduate visas more than anything else. Indeed whenever I spoke to a vice chancellor the first thing I would hear is visas. Well, we listened and the Prime Minister and I have given you what you asked for, what you wanted most.
  • So I have to ask you for something in return. I see this as a deal. I expect you, in exchange, to drive greater access to your institutions. Young people from deprived backgrounds who have the ability, deserve to benefit from studying for a degree.
  • We cannot forget that ability is evenly spread across this country but opportunity – sadly – is not. We must continue to crusade to put that right.…
  • And I have another challenge for you: I want you to be ambitious in your engagement with the wider education landscape, with schools, colleges, and employers: share your resources and expertise, drive excellence across the sector more widely. You are world leaders but you need to share your expertise with everyone in the country. I’d like to thank those universities like Kings College and Exeter who have set up maths specialist free schools; and other universities that are in the process of doing so. What you are doing will change lives. I encourage others to rise to the challenge. I expect others to rise to the challenge.
  • I see this as a shared effort and I want to work with all of you in the sector to make sure all our children have access to this kind of excellence and expertise….
  • The sector plans to spend around £1billion this year alone on improving access. But we still don’t know enough about what’s working and what isn’t. This is taxpayers money. This is students’ money. This isn’t about virtue signalling. This is about one thing, and one thing only. And that is ensuring that talented young people, from Southend to South Shields, can get on.
  • It is your duty and our duty to make sure that happens. So as a priority, the OfS needs to ensure that evaluation programmes are in place to make sure these schemes are doing what they are supposed to do. I will be watching carefully to see how these are now delivered and I will support the OfS in any action it takes if universities are not delivering against their commitments.

Unconditional offers and grade inflation

  • Unconditional offers have shot up, going from under 3,000 in 2013 to nearly 76,000 this year.
  • Grade inflation has become even more entrenched. When I was at university, you could count the number of students on my course who got firsts on one hand. I am sad to say that I was not one of them. In 1997 – which is when I graduated – 50% of students gained a first or a 2:1; last year 80% of students did so.
  • I’m delighted that some universities have already scrapped making so-called ‘conditional unconditional’ offers and I hope that the rest will soon follow suit.
  • Universities UK and OfS reviews of admissions are an opportunity for the sector to get its house in order here, perhaps by agreeing a minimum predicted grade threshold, or a maximum proportion of students who may be offered one.

[HE Professional explain what that might mean: What he might have meant is that the UUK and OfS reviews on university admissions are looking at options on how to tackle the perceived scourge of conditional offers, and two of the options they are looking at are: reducing the number of unconditional offers made each year to a fixed percentage of total offers; and ensuring everyone is expected to obtain at least a minimum set of grades. The brightest and the best would still be able to get unconditional offers because they would do well in their A levels anyway. Everyone else should at least meet a minimum expectation. “We don’t want to do away with unconditional offers entirely but there is no justification for universities to offer conditional unconditional offers,” he said, looking to his civil servants for help and not finding any. So, in short, conditional unconditional offers are to be unconditionally banned, but unconditional offers are to be conditionally banned. Hope that’s clear.]

  • I want you to know that I will always speak up for your autonomy. I know it’s what helps foster the brilliance of our teaching and our research but I also need to safeguard our reputation, so that everyone knows that they can trust the system. So we need to work together on some of these issues.
  • If we don’t tackle them, your hard-won reputation for excellence will be undermined. Worse still, there is a risk that employers will begin to lose faith in grades and foreign students will think twice about investing their time and money in studying here.

He also mentioned mental health, Institutes of Technology, apprenticeships, civic engagement

Afterwards he told the press that a response on Augar would come “before the end of the winter” (THE article here).  That’s a long way off.

Chris Skidmore’s speech: (apparently he adlibbed a bit)

  • The benefits of the Arts and Humanities
  • Students’ Unions
  • Civic Universities

Research (he gave 4 speeches on this in his last stint in the role)

  • I’ve only been gone from this role less than fifty days, but already we have had key announcements on expanding the government guarantee to fund European Research Council grants, and a crucial restatement of our ambition to raise R&D spending to 2.4% of GDP by 2027…. After outlining my vision in a series of speeches before the summer, I am keenly looking forward to getting this detailed roadmap published this autumn. Let me just offer one early reflection, though. If we want to turn the UK into scientific superpower and achieve our ambition to reach 2.4%, then we need to ramp up capacity and capability in our universities. …
  • Connected to this, I am determined to see renewed focus given to basic research. Funding for blue-skies, curiosity-driven research has been dwindling as a proportion of our overall spend. This is a problem. … I want to see further increases to QR and a significant uplift to response-mode research council funding.  Don’t get me wrong. It is of course essential that we should continue to drive application and impact from our research investments – turning great ideas into real benefits for the UK in the form of better jobs, improved products and services, and real action on issues such as climate change. Let me reassure you that I remain firmly committed to the impact agenda and to knowledge exchange, including support via HEIF and implementation of the Knowledge Exchange Framework.
  • But if we want to succeed in the long term, the really long term, then we need to ensure we are doing everything we can to entice and empower our research community to undertake the most ground-breaking, cutting edge work, raising the UK’s international reputation even higher….
  • And as we approach leaving the European Union, I will continue to make the case loud and clear, that while we are leaving the EU, we are not leaving our European friends and research partners behind. We want to get a deal with the EU which will protect our continuation in Horizon 2020, and will continue our participation in Erasmus+. We will be fully exploring the option of participating in the next Erasmus programme, whilst also developing potential alternatives which are ambitious and truly global. We will protect our participation in Erasmus+ and will be working hard to secure full association with Horizon Europe – I personally will be doing everything in my power to achieve this.

On funding

  • But a well-functioning university culture needs sustainable institutions. And when it comes to ensuring that we have a sustainable university landscape, while it is absolutely right that we focus on post-18 education for all, making investment in Further Education that is desperately needed, we must not lose sight of what we have in the HE sector.
  • We cannot afford as a society to pit FE against HE: as I have argued elsewhere, both are crucial to a unity of purpose in our post-18 landscape that needs to be more flexible, more portable, and one that meets the needs of the learner, not simply those of the provider.

And what didn’t really feature?

  • Update on the Pearce review promised “shortly”
  • Apart from unconditional offers and grade inflation, no mention of quality or student experience
  • Not a big focus on value for money

HEPI released a blog this week sweeping aside the political power plays and Brexit turmoil to refocus on the 6 (+3) key issues that will dominate HE this side of Christmas no matter what happens in national politics. The blog succinctly covers Augar, the SoS Education remit, FE (not) vs HE, OfS (and providers going bust), diversity in university governance, the 2.4% research spend targets, plus three bonus items.

Parliament

To extend or not to extend – that is the question

On Monday the bill aiming to prevent the Prime Minister from leaving the EU without a deal (European Union (Withdrawal) (No 6) Act) received royal assent and became law. The PM is currently refusing to consider asking for an extension, which the law requires him to do, so what are his options?

How the PM can wriggle out of asking for an extension:

  • Semantics – if the Government can find a tenable enough loophole in the badly worded, hastily constructed extension bill. Dominic Raab said: We will adhere to the law but also this is such a bad piece of legislation … we will also want to test to the limit what it does actually lawfully require. We will look very carefully at the implications and our interpretation of it.” In response MPs have threatened an emergency judicial review if the Government seek to contest or ignore elements of the Bill.
  • Send 2 letters – as discussed in the media (an unlikely scenario). The extension letter is sent, however, they append an additional letter making clear that the UK Government does not want the additional extension – making it less likely the EU would grant the extension. However, former supreme court judge, Lord Sumption, argued on the Radio 4 Today programme on Monday that that sending two letters – one requesting an extension and the other asking the EU to reject one – would not be legal.
  • Veto – it would be easier for the Government to block an extension via the back door by asking an EU sceptic ally, such as Hungary, to veto any request for extension. Also France are rumoured to have said they will veto an extension request.
  • Step down – if Boris resigned as PM on 19th October (so he wouldn’t personally request the extension) it is likely the Queen would ask the Opposition to try and form an alternative Government. If successful in forming a caretaker Government then they could request the extension. If not, Britain crashes out of Europe without a deal.
  • Get a deal that Parliament approves. Despite all the noise, this is still possible.

General Election: Boris’ motion for an early general election failed on Monday. However, a YouGov poll has ranked Prime Minister Boris as the most popular Conservative politician (31% positive opinion, 47% negative opinion) and the third most famous. Boris’ fans describe him as conservative, humorous, intelligent, charismatic and clever. The poll included: Theresa May (27%), John Major (23%), Ruth Davidson (22%), William Hague (21%), Kenneth Clarke (20%), Jacob Rees-Mogg (18%) and other prominent figures. Boris was most popular with Baby Boomers and Generation X; Millennials were less keen.

Parliament Prorogued

Parliament is prorogued until 14 October. This means Select Committee, APPGs and all other business will cease. MP’s will return to constituency matters and engage in the party conference during this period. Party conference dates:

  • 14 September – Liberal Democrats (at Bournemouth International Centre)
  • 21 September – Labour (Brighton)
  • 29 September – Conservatives (Manchester)
  • 4 October – Green Party (ICC, Wales)

Later this week Boris’ suspension of the UK Parliament was deemed unlawful by judges at the Scottish highest civil court, overturning an earlier ruling that the courts did not have the powers to interfere in the Prime Ministers political decision. The exact consequences of this are unclear. It is unlikely Parliament will be recalled, not least because it couldn’t take place before Conference Recess commences (today). The British government will appeal against the Scottish appeal court’s decision, particularly as it contradicts a decision in Johnson’s favour by senior English judges last week, at the supreme court. The supreme court will hear both Scottish and English cases on Tuesday 17 September, alongside a third challenge brought in the courts in Belfast. In practice, not much will change, unless Boris is found to have behaved unlawfully. iNews have an article in which Boris denies misleading the queen about Parliament’s prorogation (and another classic Boris photo pose).

House of Commons Speaker quits: John Bercow announced he would stand down as a Speaker and MP following a promise to his wife for more family time. He will stand down at close of business on Thursday October 31st, saying he doesn’t want to leave the Commons with an inexperience speaker during such a “lively” period.  A ballot for replacement Speaker will be held on 4th November.

Reshuffle

Chris Skidmore will not attend Cabinet, as Jo Johnson did. Instead Boris has given the ‘attends Cabinet’ seat to Zac Goldsmith (his Twitter acceptance) in his existing ministerial role across Environment and International Trade. Zac is a long term supporter of Boris and has experienced his share of controversy in the past – including accusations linking Sadiq Khan with Islamist extremists.

Edward Argar replaces Chris Skidmore as Minister of State at Department of Health and Social Care. Chris Philp moves to the Ministry of Justice and Helen Whately takes up a junior ministerial post at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

The DfE have issued a news story confirming ministerial portfolios on last and this week’s changes here. Last week we told you Michelle Donelan would become Children and Families Minister as maternity cover for Kemi Badenoch. She’ll hold both roles and retain her current position as a Government Whip (Children’s Minister will be additional unpaid role). Michelle was previously a member of the Education Select Committee between July 2015 and October 2018.

The announcement also explained that:

  • Minister of State for School Standards Nick Gibb will take on policy for early education and childcare including funding, support for the early years workforce, curriculum, quality and the early education entitlements. Plus PE, school sport, and the Pupil Premium to his existing portfolio.
  • Minister for the School System, Lord Agnew, will take on responsibility for the FE ‘provider market’, including quality and improvement. He will also lead on EU exit preparation, delivery of the Careers Strategy, the Opportunity Areas programme, school food and safeguarding in schools and post-16 settings, in addition to his existing brief.

Minister for Children and Families Michelle Donelan said:

  • I truly believe that a good education is the key to creating a fair society where everyone, no matter where they come from or their circumstances, has opportunities to succeed.
  • From the earliest years of children’s lives to the point at which they make decisions about their further education or training, I am proud to be joining a department that is focusing its efforts on the most disadvantaged in society.

Given his short stint in the Health Minister role alongside his keen HE interest Chris Skidmore’s response to a parliamentary question on recruiting more nurses is interesting. It sits within party lines, firmly avoids mentioning bursaries but has a different, more collaborative, tone than recent ministers talking of a forthcoming final NHS People Plan which sets out the immediate actions to grow the nursing workforce across the next 5 years.

Access and Success

OfS have published the first 41 approved Access Agreements under their new regime. Wonkhe note that 31 of these 41 are subject to enhance monitoring (but not the pesky B2 additional registration condition). However, this high rate is because these are the early deadline submitters – those with medical schools and conservatoires – so tend the have high entry requirements, and therefore many have poor rates of access by disadvantaged students. And the enhanced monitoring is really just a running check across the year to ensure the institution is delivering on its promises. The OfS announcement – Highly selective universities must follow through on promises to improve access, regulator warns provides more detail, albeit with a positive OfS spin:

 ‘These new plans prove that – following sustained challenge from the OfS – there is genuine ambition and drive among universities to address equality of opportunity. I am pleased they are rising to the challenge…” Chris Millward, Director for Fair Access and Participation at OfS.

Media coverage on this first tranche of new plans from the Independent, the Daily Mail, and the TES.

What’s the point of university?

Universities UK published polling research revealing that only 34% of students and recent graduates decided to go to university to get a higher salary. While 79% agreed that the government should do more to promote the broader benefits of a degree or university study, irrespective of potential salary.

  • Students and recent graduates say that they decided to go to university for a broad range of reasons, including their interest in their chosen degree subject (56%), enjoying studying and learning (48%) and as a first step in building a career (50%).
  • 84% agreed that their future salary was not the only factor they considered when deciding to go to university.
  • 86% of those surveyed agreed that they have met people from diverse backgrounds and with different views to them at university. Suggesting that university plays an important role in social cohesion in communities in the UK.
  • Future earnings are not the top motivation for choosing a career. Work-life balance was their top consideration (53%), followed by earning potential and financial benefits (42%), with the opportunity to take on a variety of interesting work (39%) coming a close third.
  • 84% would recommend university to others as a worthwhile experience.
  • 86% said university had given them the opportunity to think about what they want to achieve in the future and the same proportion said that university had helped them learn to be independent.

The findings are reported as suggesting a need for greater investment in student information – from better careers advice in schools and colleges, through to clearer, more accessible financial guidance.

  • better career information to help in their choice of subject (39%)
  • career experiences – not just salaries – of past graduates in their subject and institution (38%)
  • information on the cost of living while studying (37%)

The poll backs up UUK’s lobby line that earnings potential is an inappropriate tool for defining the value of university degrees, and making funding decisions. However, the TEF gold, silver, bronze classification and the use of LEO metrics (longitudinal education outcomes) which consider the proportion of graduates in sustained employment that are earning over the median salary for 25-29 year olds are currently key metrics institutions are benchmarked against with a view to quality and value for money. UUK are keen to point out that their findings suggest that a range of considerations are underpinning student motivations.

Professor Julia Buckingham, President of Universities UK and Vice-Chancellor of Brunel University London, said: “These results tell us loudly and clearly that policy makers and politicians have got it wrong when it comes to understanding what motivates today’s students and graduates. Students do not judge the value of universities on their future salaries and neither should policymakers. We should all be asking ourselves if we really want to live in a culture that identifies success by salary alone.  It is time to listen and take notice of what students, graduates and society really value about the university experience and consider how we can ensure prospective students have access to the information they want to inform their future decisions. Only then can we ensure that universities are valued by all.”

Nicola Marsh, Head of Social & Political Research at ComRes, said: “Our research demonstrates that university students and graduates recognise value in the range of benefits gained from attending university, including building independence and confidence, exposure to new experiences, and enjoyment of learning. Future earning potential is amongst the benefits considered by students and graduates, but it is not the most important. Quality of life – for example, work/life balance – is the top priority for students and recent graduates when considering what they look for in a career, suggesting that they take a more holistic approach to their careers.”

Value for money – what do students really think?
A guest blog from SUBU’s Sophie Bradfield

Value for money is a phrase we hear a lot in reference to Higher Education and it’s an important conversation point for students. Value for money should surely not be as crude as looking at graduate earning potential, yet TEF continues to use graduate earnings as a metric to measure student outcomes.

As part of the independent review of TEF earlier this year, SUBU responded to a question on student outcomes noting “the very simplistic measurement of Student Outcomes and the focus on graduate salaries does not foster a healthy approach for provider enhancement. Strategies to support employability such as alumni mentoring and specialist programmes for Widening Participation students to address progression enhance student outcomes for providers and recognise an important aspect for students.” (See SUBU’s full response).

Many voices in the Higher Education sector have shared the same concern and finally the Government has evidence from students themselves that future earning potential is not the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about the value of university. A report on the value of university published this week by ComRes on behalf of Universities UK [see above] surveyed students and recent graduates in the last 5-10 years. The report finds that 5 in 6 students or 84% of those surveyed agreed that “my potential future salary wasn’t the only factor I considered when deciding to go to university.” The report further shows that students and recent graduates decided to go to University for a range of different reasons, including 56% saying it was an interest in their chosen degree subject; 48% saying it was because they enjoyed studying and learning; and 50% saying it was the first step in building a career. Furthermore, future earning potential was not the top priority for students when choosing a career; it came second to students wanting a work-life balance.

Back in December 2017 SUBU hosted Nicola Dandridge, the Chief Executive of the Office for Students, for a roundtable discussion with BU students chaired by the Vice President Education (of the time). Nicola asked students who attended why they chose to go to University and many of the students present stated they felt University was an “expected” next step. Nicola further asked students what made their university experience ‘value for money’. The BU students present spoke of the additional opportunities on offer to them alongside studying, such as the opportunities to join a club or society or to take up a leadership position and gain experience. The conversations were around the opportunities available to build a life around their degree, yet they noted this information was not promoted when making decisions between institutions and instead it was something they realised upon going to University.

The ComRes UUK report expands on this. As noted in a summary of the report by Universities UK:

“The poll also reveals the following skills, facilities and other assets which students benefit from at university, including:

  • developing skills such as time management, social skills and teamwork
  • access to academic tutors and experts and libraries
  • improving levels of confidence and becoming more independent
  • making new friends and developing beneficial social networks
  • awareness of social issues and debates”

Providing students with the information they need to make an informed choice about whether to go to University and which one to pick, is something the Office of Students has taken responsibility for. This month they have launched a new student information website to do just that, called ‘Discover Uni’. This is in line with what students are asking for, with the ComRes UUK report findings suggesting a need for “greater investment in student information” (see UUK). However it was shown that this information should extend to careers advice in schools and colleges as well as clearer financial information and guidance.

That students need more information and guidance on finances was highlighted in a report on value for money back in 2018, which was commissioned by the Office for Students and led by a consortium of Students’ Unions in partnership with Trendence UK (see ‘Value for money: the student perspective’). A more recent poll by YouGov commissioned by the Office for Students also shows this is not just an issue for prospective students as 82% of parents in England and Wales are not sure how student loans work (see Research Professional).

The cost of living is a significant area of interest for prospective and current students as they might not be aware of all costs involved in being at University until arriving, especially if they are the first generation in their family to go to University. As many of us are aware, students often need to top up their finances by taking up part time work. The latest Government’s Student income and expenditure survey (SIES) 2014-2015 results showed that over half of full-time students did some form of paid work during the academic year to contribute to their income. (On average full time students were working just over 10 hours per week to account for 10% of their average total income). The more recent NUS Poverty Commission Report 2018 found a significant financial shortfall for students after comparing student loans with living costs (see NUS, page 67) showing that students need to find other ways to top up their finances, whether through part time work or borrowing from friends or relatives (which is not an option for all). Money Saving Expert by Martin Lewis remains the most comprehensive source of information for students and parents on this matter (see MSE) and it highlights how much more needs to be done by the Office for Students on providing information to students and parents about financing a University degree.

Despite all these findings, and as David Kernohan of Wonkhe notes, it is unclear if OfS’ new student information platform ‘Discover Uni’ will extend to providing students with information beyond finding a course and University. What we do know is that the Office for Students is commissioning a lot of research and is currently running an online consultation and going out to visit universities and colleges to see how they should be engaging students ahead of publishing an overall student engagement strategy early next year (see OfS).

Hopefully there will be further changes to come on information and support for students going into HE, driven by all these findings. Regardless, it seems difficult to have conversations about the value of University and whether future earning potential should have any part to play in decision-making, when reports are showing time and time again that students care more about immediate issues such as the cost of going to University.

Research

The Science and Technology Committee has published 43 recommendations to the Balance and effectiveness of research and innovation spending inquiry report.  The recommendations include the 2.4% target, a big data focus to evaluation, QR funding, central link point for all R&D funding streams and opportunities, the tax credit system, and to quickly action the FCA review of patient capital with a further update at Budget 2020.

The final version of the updated Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers has been launched.  The new one is here.

“It sets out three clear Principles of environment and culture, employment, and professional and career development. The principles are underpinned by obligations for the four key stakeholder groups, funders, institutions, researchers and managers of researchers, to realise the aims of the Concordat.”

In other news, Sir Mark Walport has announced he will stand down as CEO of UKRI in 2020.

Parliamentary Questions

Despite only one Parliamentary sitting day this week a whole tranche of HE relevant parliamentary questions were answered.

The Lords also raised a question on student accommodation rent levies by developers – this one was too late and couldn’t be answered before prorogation, however, it is interesting this angle has been picked up.

Consultations and Inquiries

Click here to view the updated inquiries and consultation tracker. As Parliament is prorogued Committee and APPG work ceases so over the coming weeks there will only be new content from sector bodies. Email us on policy@bournemouth.ac.uk if you’d like to contribute to any of the current consultations.

Other news

Joined up schooling: Scotland have announced phase one in a £1 billion replacement programme for 26 schools. Several of the replacement projects will bring together nurseries, schools (including specialist centres for pupils with additional support needs), colleges and universities in multi-purpose campuses for pupils aged from three to 18, with additional facilities that benefit surrounding communities. The first phase projects could open as early as 2022/23. First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon said: “Modern, state of the art buildings can make a real difference to the lives of pupils, teachers and parents, as well as the wider communities they serve. This investment continues our efforts to improve the condition of our entire learning estate, from early years through to schools and colleges.”

Mental Health: The Welsh Government has published guidance on responding to self-harm and suicidal thought in young people.

Children’s Manifesto: While Parliament hasn’t voted for a general election MPs are quietly lining up their campaign ducks and sector bodies are ramping up their lobbying. This week the Children’s Commissioner for England published ‘Guess How Much We Love You – A Manifesto for Children’ calling on Britain’s political parties to include a six-point plan in their election manifestos to transform the life chances for disadvantaged children and to help all of England’s 12 million children to thrive. The six key themes are: supporting stronger families, providing decent places for children to live, helping children to have healthy minds, keeping children active, providing SEND support for those who need it, and creating safer streets and play areas. The Manifesto is costed and argues that existing statutory services must be put on a sustainable financial footing. Contact Sarah for a summary of the key recommendations and estimated costs – or read the short 12 page document .

Discover Uni: the new OfS service for potential applicants launched this week to general hilarity because of the huge number of bugs and problems.  (The first search your intrepid policy team did said that there were no (as in zero) full time biology degrees on offer in England – some appeared when we re-ran it the search, but even so).  Despite the obvious problem (i.e. don’t actually use it to actually make any choices until it is more reliable), there are some more important points.  Research Professional note  “The UK’s new higher education information website will not include data on the proportion of firsts and 2:1s awarded by universities, because of concerns that doing so could fuel grade inflation”.

Lifelong learning: the Learning and Work Institute have published the findings from their adult (17+) participation survey which examines when they last learnt, their experience, and likelihood to do so again.  The survey shows adults who have not recently taken part in learning are unlikely to say they would be likely to do so in the future. Among adults who have not engaged in learning since leaving full time education, just 16% said they would take part in learning in the future. Among adults currently taking part in education, 77% expect to do so again. With participation at a record low, the analysis states that progress in improving the skills and qualification levels of the workforce has stalled, and that the UK is at risk of falling behind in skills post-Brexit. By 2030, out of the 17 PIAAC countries, the UK is predicted to fall from 10th to 14th for basic literacy, and from 11th to 14th for basic numeracy.

  • Social class – 48% of adults in higher social grades (AB) have taken part in learning in the last three years, compared to 20% of adults in lower social grades (DE). This participation gap has widened by 3 percentage points in the last year
  • Employment status – 40% of full time employees participated in learning in the last three years, compared to 17% of people out of work and not seeking employment

Graduate employment: The Institute of Student Employers published their 2019 annual graduate labour market survey.

  • Almost 22,000 graduate jobs were created. This was mainly driven by significant increases in finance and professional services as well as public sector employers who recruited 35% more graduates, particularly in policing and education.
  • However, employers are cautious and the short-term and temporary hire of graduates through internships or work placements has dropped by 4% and 7% respectively. Employers also anticipate that Brexit and/or a recession will reduce hiring over the next five years.
  • The energy and engineering, and legal industries made small reductions in the number of graduates they recruited, down 1% and 3% respectively (these were the only sectors to show a reduction).
  • The average graduate starting salary offered by ISE members remained competitive at £29,000. Up £750 on last year, however, when indexed to the Consumer Price Index, salaries have still not recovered to pre-recession levels in real terms.
  • The average ISE member is paying £1.225 million annually to the government through the apprenticeship levy. They reported starting 11,224 apprentices this year of which 52% were non-graduates, 25% graduates and 23% existing staff.

Stephen Isherwood, Chief Executive of ISE said:

  • “Although the drop in temporary opportunities is concerning as this offers students the opportunity to gain valuable work experience, employers are mainly resisting the urge to dial down their recruitment in the face of current and future challenges. 
  • Hiring is up, employers are receiving a healthy volume of applications and they are paying more. We hope that this continues and will do everything that we can to support firms as they manage the uncertainty that lies ahead.” 

Wonkhe blogger, Tristram Hooley, suggests that the skills shortage problem is more complicated than it appears

Student loan sale controversy: It’s been a while since the student loan book sale controversy resurfaced but this week Wonkhe report that The London Review of Books published a detailed analysis of government student loan book sales by Andrew McGettigan. He sets out how the government “skewed the test” that made a loss-making loan sale show value for money.

Education Spending: The House of Commons Library has published a report on Education Spending in the UK. Key Points:

  • Education spending peaked in around 2010 at 5.7% of GDP or £104 billion (2018-19 prices).
  • The real level of public spending on education in the UK was static in the early 1980s.
    It increased gradually from the mid-1980s to the early 1990s.
    After then it increased to new record levels in each year to the peak in 2010-11.
    The Government has removed spending on the subsidy element of student loans from data from 2011-12 onwards.
    Despite this break in the series there was a clear decline in spending in the five years from 2012-13 onwards.
  • Education spending has fallen as a % of GDP in each year from 2011-12 to 2017‑18. This was the longest continuous period of decline in this measure
  • Almost 80% of education spending went on schools -primary and secondary education. The relatively low share going on tertiary (higher) education reflects the fact that the data exclude the subsidy element of student loans which forms the majority of higher education spending in England.
  • Public spending per head on education in 2017-18 was highest in Scotland at around £1,550, followed by £1,490 in London and £1,440 in Northern Ireland. It was lowest in the South East and South West of England at around £1,200.
  • OECD analysis puts UK public spending on education at 4.2% of GDP in 2016. This was 12th highest out of the 34 OECD members with data on this measure and higher than the OECD average of 4.0%.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

[1] See above

[2] We also cover this in “other news” below

HE policy update for the w/e 16th August 2019

Welcome to a bumper update catching you on the last two weeks in policy land plus Sarah has taken a special in-depth look at post-qualification admissions as it is the hot topic of the week.

Post-qualification Admissions

Labour reinvigorated the post-qualification admissions debate on Wednesday when they declared they would reform the HE system and scrap predicted grades to implement a ‘new fairer system of post-qualification admissions’. Talk of post-qualification admissions (PQA) has been around for a long while, (Schwartz review, 2003; UCAS 2011), and quite recently the UCU have been pushing for PQA because they believe it penalises disadvantaged students. The claim is that capable disadvantaged students are penalised because they may receive under-predicted grades than their stronger, higher grade performance in their final exams. Lower predicted grades restrict their ability to apply to and secure a university place at the most competitive institutions. A focus on ensuring access for disadvantaged students to the highest tariff institutions was championed by Sam Gyimah, (HE Minister of 10 months, 2 Ministers ago) who pressurised Oxbridge to radically improve the number of disadvantaged students they accept and challenged students to think big and trade up to the most competitive institutions (claiming it leads to higher employability returns).  So it is interesting to see a Conservative and Labour policy align, even if they have different solutions.

Labour’s plans would see students applying for their HE place after receiving their A level/other results so they can select the “best” institution that their actual grades will qualify them for. They also address another political hot potato– unconditional offers – Labour want to see an end to unconditional offers and, of course, a PQA system where offers aren’t made in advance has no place for them (more on this below). It also means the end of clearing. Labour say that it will enable students to make better, more accurate decisions, and mean that are not pressurised into accepting an unconditional offer from a lower tariff university.

The last reason that is always trotted out for PQA is that England is the only country where a pre-qualifications admission system is used.

There would be significant practical challenges in implementing a PQA system. Universities are usually criticised as blocking such changes for their own convenience.

Universities have autonomy in this area with control over their admissions processes and the right to choose whom they admit. The Higher Education and Research Act (2017), states: ‘“the institutional autonomy of English higher education providers” means … the freedom of English higher education providers … to determine the criteria for the admission of students and apply those criteria in particular cases’.

We explore the complexities below, but first, is there evidence that disadvantaged students are under predicted? It seems there is:

  • Analysis carried out by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (2011) found black students were the most likely to have their grades under-predicted.
  • The Sutton Trust states that poorer students are more likely to have their grades under-predicted than their wealthier peers.
  • UCL’s Institute of Education found that nearly one in four disadvantaged students who go on to achieve AAB or better in A-Level have predicted grades lower than their final results.

So while there is clearly an issue, what about those grey areas? HEPI have a useful blog. It highlights that if students wish, they can already apply after receiving your grades [and increasing numbers are, although that feels like a risky business especially in future when the demographic dip reverses] Students can also hedge their bets by accepting a firm choice, and then declining this offer to trade up to a better place. So it is possible, but it is complicated and it is unclear whether students really know how to make the system work for them. It is easier to just accept the place you had originally chosen (mere-exposure effect).

What about other countries?

If the UK is an international outlier and comparator countries all have PQA systems, are we missing a trick? They answer is our systems and intentions are quite different. In the British system the majority of students travel away from their home to attend the institution which they believe is most attractive – for all sorts of reasons (not just prestige/ranking of the university) – the programme content, type of course (accelerated, sandwich, traditional), employer links and employability outcomes, institutional prestige, and the desirability of the wider rounded offer and university environment. Students choose and universities select students they believe will thrive. Even if we changed to a PQA system this established cultural approach to student choice and the meritocracy would not immediately change. So how does it work in other countries?

France – students apply post-qualification. All those achieving a pass in the baccalaureate are entitled to go, and most do. Most stay locally. Fees are low.  University is an automatic right and universities have to accept all those that achieve the pass, shutting their doors only when full (and that means really full). Non-continuation rates are huge with many students dropping out during the first year because university just isn’t for them, not to mention the enormous class sizes and relatively poor student experience.    Application processes are generally on-line, anonymous and impersonal.  Universities do not need to sell themselves to students and there is no selection except for a small number of very exclusive universities.

Australia – school leavers apply before they have their results ranking their preferences for their preferred institutions. When they results are known they are converted to a common score (ATAR) and the universities consider the score achieved by the students that have ranked them top and then decide a cut off for acceptances. Students below the threshold repeat the process with their second ranked choice, and so on down the list. However, it is not working well. Those with lower scores struggle to obtain places and universities are starting to move away from relying on their score based system.

America – it’s complicated, drawn out, highly selective, and stressful. First there are fee distinctions between public and private institutions, and they types of degree they issue. The application process itself has multiple steps and deadlines. Separate applications are sent to each institution (although they can use the Common Application process for certain institutions). On four year degree programmes, once accepted, students may be assigned to the entire college, not a particular department or major (focal programme). Entry to the top institutions is fiercely competitive. Students choosing the two-year county and community college route have a less complicated system than the four-year degree schools, as this usually only requires a high school transcript or minimum test score. And the provision of high school counsellors (who help with careers and HE advice) is patchy – private schools often have a dedicated full time post, only 1 in 4 public schools have the equivalent level of resource. Transfers between institutions are more frequent than, currently occurs in the UK too.

UCU have a summary table for 30 countries (see pages 7-8).

So how could the system work? There are two main options. HEPI:

  • The differences between Post-Qualification Applications (when you applyfor a place after receiving your results) [this is Labour’s ideal process] and,
  • Post-Qualification Admissions (where the places are handed out after the results but in which you might have applied, as now, before you know how you have done). [Australian model]

HEPI continue: The oddity of our system is not so much that people apply before receiving their results; the oddity is that huge weight is put on predicted grades, which are notoriously unreliable. Either version of PQA could tackle this, but they are different from one another and it is not always clear which one PQA advocates want.

Exams of prime importance

Whether it is post qualification applications or admissions, changing the system would increase the focus on exam results. Last year there were calls to reduce the reliance on grades as the sole or most major determinant of accepting an applicant (including peripheral interest in comprehensive universities). And many universities acknowledge that grades alone cannot represent an individual’s range of desirable skills and attributes, nor their ability to thrive and achieve on a particular course at a particular institution. So a system which places more emphasis on grades could be a retrograde step. Plus the reality of a post-qualification application process means a more pressurised, shorter, decision turnaround with less time to consider alternatives such as interviews, portfolios, personal statements, and applicant’s background circumstances.

What about those students who have over-predicted provisional grades? They will have applied to a higher tariff institution, which post-qualification may well still accept them (given market pressures). Much of the rhetoric for PQA surrounds extending the aspirations of the most capable disadvantaged students. Yet the mid-ability disadvantaged deserve to secure a place at a good institution, just as their more affluent peers do. Of course this is where contextual admissions could come into play.

Contextual Admissions

Contextual admissions could [and should] still exist in a post-qualification system. However, to truly support social mobility aims they would need to be far more transparent. Disadvantaged students can only aspire to a ‘reach’ university if they know their actual grades plus the contextual leniency that will be applied.  Without this they likely will self-select to a less competitive institution. Students also need assurance that universities value this information and do not use the contextual ‘tick’ to filter out applications.

Universities would need to clearly spell out which disadvantage factors they accept and what grade/points reduction they adjust the advertised tariff by, including any further leniency due to double disadvantage or intersectionality. Providers would need to provide online checkers so a student can input their data and check if they are eligible for a reduced offer. And this needs to be transparent, available not only on the institution’s own website but clear and accessible through the UCAS application process (pre or post qualification).

This suggests a clearer but more automated approach to contextual admissions. However, there may be other important factors that some universities check outside of the standard criteria to provide a further adjusted offer, or an offer that doesn’t decrease the standard tariff but provides other alternatives. Of course, if contextual admissions are more ‘automated’ the process could be national – a standard set of criteria by which a defined reduced was applied cross-institution. However, this is may be a step too far. It is right that universities retain their autonomy to determine what contextual reduction or alternatives can be provided. And this isn’t about ‘bums on seats’, universities have different remits with some experienced in taking very high proportions of disadvantaged students with a strong support infrastructure.  And in some cases this is determined by regional characteristics.

Speed is of the essence

The aspect that strikes me most when considering UCU’s table of countries with post qualification admissions is that the time between application and acceptance is a matter of days or weeks. This is just not possible in the UK if there is to be an element of selection. Either the process becomes more automated with less attention to personal factors (which really does feel like ‘bums on seats’, and would less selection increase drop out?) or the start date for foundation and first year courses is delayed (or A level exams are taken earlier/marked quicker). None of these options are attractive. In particular extending the time between school/exam finish and commencing degree/alternative study is counter to Government aims for a productive workforce (and accelerated degrees).

The knock on effect potentially also polarises choice between degree and other alternative skills/study programmes. Imagine a student unsure whether to choose a traditional degree programme (with confirmation of place mid-September) and an apprenticeship option which commences early September. The timing for post-level 3 options needs to match.

Intensive Careers Support Period

Careers advice came up a lot in the press this week. In a PQA system where students still apply to HE institutions while studying at level 3 (but aren’t accepted until their results are known) students can still access careers support and HE advice through their educational provider. However, in a post qualification application system schools or other agencies would need to be available to guide choices and support with personal statements during the summer closure periods, or early autumn.

Capacity would be an issue – far more staff would be needed to cover all the students needing the same support all at once within a short period. And in a system where students apply before results are known provisional grades are still likely to be used by the institution as an indicator. Even though they’ll only be used internally by the school and the individual they will still be unreliable and have the same effect Labour are trying to curb – they’ll restrict the disadvantaged students’ choice of institution based on what they believe they can attain, negating the intention of changing to a PQA system. Of course there is a watered down hybrid approach whereby careers support and statement preparation would be done while studying the level 3 (and this would work for a system of post-qualification admissions rather than applications). This isn’t really student focussed though, it just makes things easier for schools, and internal predicted grades will still bias the student’s initial choices.

Is it really the end for Clearing?

Labour stated clearing wouldn’t exist. However, this seems dangerous as if students applied with their results and none of their institutions accepted them then they are left without a safety net to rethink their possibilities. A PQA system actually creates more uncertainty for the student. Even if they have the grades they cannot be certain their preferred institution will take them, and everything hinges on results day for the process to even start. Really PQA is one giant clearing round, and as such stages would be required. If we were truly joined up vocational and apprenticeship options would all be part of one giant post qualification application system. Wouldn’t that be an enormous feat!

Unconditional Offers

Labour are also opposed to unconditional offers.  Schools are pressuring the Government to clamp down on unconditional offers as they claim that some students ‘take their foot off the gas’ and underperform when they hold an unconditional offer. Politicians also believe the overuse of unconditional offers is a misuse of recruitment simply aiming to lock students into attending the institution ‘bums on seats’ and doesn’t represent ‘value for money’.  Unconditional offers were introduced to support certain disadvantaged groups, such as providing basic security for care leavers who often have to give up their accommodation before their university place is confirmed. More recently, they have been accepted as valid to support those with proven mental health or additional needs who may underperform at final exam. The point of these unconditional offers is that they provide security and access for the underrepresented groups whose lives are characterised by precarity and who, without the unconditional place, who not access HE or consider a ‘reach’ university.  In cases of accepted or demonstrated need it is feasible that these could still form an early application element, even in a post-results system. Or if that was too unpalatable we could follow the Scottish example and provide some form of guaranteed offer (link).

How would it work in practice – the nitty gritty

Everyone has their own theory about how PQA could work in practice. Universities could commence later, schools or a national careers service could advise during the post-exam crunch periods, campus visits could be undertaken during the year or in the summer period (or virtually). However, don’t all these aspects have an impact on the disadvantaged student? A later degree start means either less/more intensive tuition (less period for adjustment – those coming from poor schools need time to level up, some need time to emotionally settle) or that tuition will finish later in the first year summer (impacting on access to the paid summer jobs needed to top up the student loans). Careers advice depends on the quality of the school and dedicated resources – deprived schools may not have the same resource to spend on careers as a private institution. The cost of campus visits may be prohibitive – and why undertake them pre-results if you are unsure where you might end up? Plus with a squeezed acceptance period would there be time for student’s to visit multiple institutions to experience whether they feel it would be a good fit?

Of course there are implications for the University too. Pre-qualification applications form a large part of the end recruitment picture, and HE institutions are essentially reliant on fee income to function. Particularly in today’s marketised competitive environment. Could no visibility as to recruitment levels make ‘bums on seats’ worse? It also doesn’t provide enough lead time to free up extra resource for unexpectedly popular courses. And, timetabling (groan) unpredictable recruitment levels are a timetabling headache. Plus certain widening access groups, such as parents and carers, need to know their timetable well in advance of the start of the programme so they can arrange alternative care.

At the other end of the spectrum how would universities deal with oversupply? Too many students with the required grade level all wish to attend the university. Would universities have less choice over who they take (French model)? Would the university then have to rely on the personal statement (time issues)? Could unconscious bias come into play? Could oversupply pave the way for the three D’s cut-off grade threshold to be introduced?

There could be a first come, first served model, but this has a hidden equality bias. Disadvantaged students may need more guidance in choice of institution or be slower to apply due to personal circumstances. Would there still be an ‘application’ or decision deadline post results?

In the balance…

Many of the reasons offered for a post qualification admissions system are aspects which need tackling anyway. Furthermore, the Government wants to see more choice and variability in the HE market (accelerated degrees, part time and flexible options) alongside prestigious alternative technical and degree apprenticeship routes. A PQA system swaps the unpredictability of predicted grades for the unpredictability of exam performance, which may still not be a reliable predictor of an individual’s sustained capability.

Commentary

  • Angela Rayner MP, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Education, said: “The higher education admissions system isn’t working for students, and radical action is needed to change that…Predicted grades are wrong in the vast majority of cases, and disadvantaged students in particular are losing out on opportunities on the basis of those inaccurate predictions. No one should be left out of our education system just because of their background, yet with grants scrapped and fees tripled, the system is now deeply unfair…We will work with schools, colleges, and universities to design and implement the new system, and continue to develop our plans to make higher education genuinely accessible to all.”
  • Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: “The Labour party is right to look at overhauling the university admissions system. The current system is based on students’ predicted grades which are wrong most of the time. Moving to a system of post-qualification applications would empower the student to make the best university choice for them. We’d also like to see a greater use of contextual data in the admissions process, as well as a review of the personal statement to see how it could be improved.”
  • Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “It is a good idea to look at moving to a system of post-qualification admissions for university, but it would represent a significant and complex change to our current admissions systems. t would be extremely difficult to manage the entire applications process in the few weeks between A-level results in mid-August and the beginning of university terms in September or October, and it is likely that we would need to rethink the entire calendar. It might be simpler to return to a system in which AS levels counted towards the first year of the full A-level as this allowed universities to use actual results in considering applications, and for universities to stop the practice of so-called ‘conditional unconditional’ offers – which are unconditional as long as the student makes the university their first choice – simply to put bums on seats.”

Damian Hinds, the previous Education Secretary, announced a review of admissions practices on 5 April 2019. The OfS is expected to launch the review in the autumn. The House of Commons Library has issued a briefing paper on the key issues surrounding admissions. Meanwhile UUK launched their own pre-emptive admissions review on 22 July.

A Level Results

DfE Statistics published on Thursday, A Level results day, showed:

  • Entries to STEM subjects increased for both male and females – overall a 26.2% rise since 2010;
  • More girls now do science subjects – biology, chemistry and physics combined – than boys and overall science entries are up by 7.4%, despite the fall in the population;
  • Entries to Spanish have risen making it the most popular language at A level while there has been a relative increase in entries to German for the first time since 2007;
  • Maths remains the most popular subject at A level;
  • Since 2010, total entries in mathematics and further mathematics have increased by 20.0%, despite a 10.7% fall in the A level cohort population in the period;
  • Entries to both history and geography have increased;
  • Girls narrowly outperform boys at A and A* combined, reversing last year’s trend, but boys did better than girls at A*;
  • The North East has the highest overall pass rate and the biggest percentage improvement at A and A* grades;
  • A drop in the proportion of A-level results at the top grades to the lowest level in more than a decade.
  • There has been a rise in non-EU students coming to the country to study; and
  • A rise in nursing admissions – bucking a recent trend.
  • The gap between boys and girls increased this year with 73.3% of male students achieving a C grade or above compared with 77.2% of females.
  • The gap between boys and girls increased this year with 73.3% of male students achieving a C grade or above compared with 77.2% of females.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: I congratulate everyone receiving their A level results today. The new government will do all we can to improve funding for education and to give schools the powers they need to deal with bad behaviour and bullying so that pupils can learn. We also must focus much more attention on providing great apprenticeships for all those who do not go to university.

The new Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, also spoke on A level results day.

Angela Rayner MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, stated: Congratulations to everyone receiving their A-Level results today. And thank you to parents and carers, education leaders and teachers for their hard work in supporting young people through their education. We need to give more support to our students, so Labour will abolish predicted grades and implement post-qualification admissions. This will allow those studying to make informed choices, and reduce the stress of the transition to higher education. Students should be proud of what they have achieved today, and we are proud of them.”

The Office for Students has A level day commentary and coverage. Among the links are Sir Michael Barber speaking on information, advice and guidance plus fair access. Nicola Dandridge on unconditional offers (iNews picks up on this too, and the Telegraph states the OfS are ‘poised to intervene’ on the issue quoting Dandridge as saying “we can and we will” use regulatory powers to crack down on the worst offenders.)  Dandridge is also covered in the Times on improving the ease for students to transfer between institutions.

The Telegraph report on the busiest clearing even in: More students go straight to clearing as Russell Group universities drop grades to take extra applicants. The Telegraphy also have an article by Universities Minister, Jo Johnson, who returns to ‘bums on seats’ mode in Results day is not a chance to simply get students through the door.

There is always press about exams being too easy or too hard on A level results day. The Financial Times started a day early highlight leaks that A grades for maths, biology and physics would be awarded by some Boards to students achieving 55-59%.

Fans of Wonkhe’s David Kernohan will be delighted with his latest analysis:

  • The Sunday Times splashed on the idea that 48 per cent of (essay-based) A level results are “wrong” – which prompted a delightful correctionfrom Ofqual that could only really be improved if it was written in red ink. For many subjects, marking is based on qualitative criteria that rely on academic judgement. There will be variation, though a well argued and well constructed essay will always win out.
  • And The Times’ Sian Griffiths reportedthat some students would get the highest grade without achieving a particularly high percentage mark. As we all know this is due to the Ofqual quest for “comparable outcomes” if you change the assessment method to one that gives students more trouble, the average marks for each grade will be lower assuming the population taking the exam has broadly the same characteristics. The whole set of boundaries leaked yesterday on social media to generalised merriment.
  • Away from A level performance, the classic “Mickey Mouse” courses articlecame from the Mail this year – an annual failure to understand the idea of niche courses serving a specific local needs, the need to widen participation, and the limited utility of A levels in solving either issue. And – yes – there’s a “Campaign for Real Education” quote.

Which leaves us only with one question – why in today’s digital world is results coverage still depicted by a shock horror/happy face supposedly examining their results on a piece of paper?! (Exhibit A and B!)

Results Day Records: UCAS has welcomed ‘a record number of disadvantaged young people going to university’:

  • A record 17.3% of 18 year olds (18,900 students, which is also the highest on A level results day) from the most disadvantaged backgrounds in England have been accepted (a rise of 0.8% on 2018). This slightly narrows the gap between the most and least advantaged groups. Both Wales and Northern Ireland have new highs in disadvantage acceptances too.
  • Across the UK, 28.2% of all 18 year olds have been accepted through UCAS, also a new record for results day (last year’s figure on A level results day was 27.7%).
  • A new high of 33,630 international students from outside the EU have been accepted, driven by a 32% rise in accepted applicants from China.
  • 26,440 EU students have been accepted to study in the UK, a small rise compared to the 2018 results day.

Clearing: Last year nationally 15,000 students were placed through Clearing on the day after the A level results came out, with 39,000 placed within the first five days. Updates on the national picture of applicants and acceptances is regularly updated through UCAS’ daily clearing analysis page. We wish all BU staff involved in Clearing resilience and fortitude during this busy period!

Widening Access

Scotland are proactively tackling social mobility by guaranteeing offers for care experienced and the most deprived students. Scotland’s 18 higher education institutions have set out a new commitment that care experienced applicants who meet minimum entry requirements will be guaranteed an offer of an undergraduate place from autumn 2020. The move aims to drive a significant increase in the number of care experienced people going to university. This guaranteed offer is crucial because in Scotland, partially because of the funding system, demand for places outstrips supply – on average, only half of applications are likely to result in an offer even for students who meet standard entry requirements. The guaranteed offer is informed by the universities belief in the importance of recognising the context in which care experienced applicants have achieved the entry qualifications needed for university.

Most pioneering is that Scotland has defined ‘care experienced’ without limits. It includes anyone who has been or is currently in care or from a looked after background at any stage of their life, no matter how short, including adopted children who were previously looked after. Different forms of care settings are included (e.g. residential care, foster care, kinship care, or looked after at home with a supervision requirement) and there are no age restrictions (so an adult who was in care 40 years ago can also benefit). The guaranteed offer also applies to people living in the 20% most deprived Scottish areas, known as SIMD20.

Professor Sally Mapstone, Principal of the University of St Andrews said: “This is a decisive and, I hope, catalytic step jointly taken by Scotland’s universities. It gives due recognition to the substantial achievement of people with experience of care who are successful in getting the grades for university having overcome very challenging circumstances at a young age. We hope it will enable more people with care experience to feel confident applying to university, knowing that their application is encouraged and will be supported. It is important that all of Scotland’s universities have made this guarantee together. That should provide the greatest possible clarity and visibility of this change to people with care experience wherever they live in Scotland and wherever they want to study.

It’s hoped that that universities’ guaranteed offer of a place based on new minimum entry requirements exclusive to care experienced and MD20 applicants, will be a prove to be a powerful combination of both action and words that together signal the commitment universities have to creating opportunities for those with care experience and encourage a rise in applicants.”

Disability & Disadvantage

The APPG Assistive Technology has published a report into the disabled students’ allowance finding the £200 charge is a significant deterrent for new students. The £200 contribution was introduced by the Government as a fair contribution towards the price of a high powered laptop that is capable of running resource-intensive assistive software. However, students often make do with their existing lower-tech computing equipment and forgo the disability support package of software. Furthermore, the APPG state the cost of the disability assessment is wasted and borne by the taxpayer as the student doesn’t take the package up. The report calls on the government to remove upfront assistive technology costs and open a public consultation on all financial barriers associated with the Disabled Students’ Allowance. Policy Connect, who  publish the report on behalf of the APPG, state:

The increasing number of disabled people reaching university is a major step forward for inclusion and social mobility. More disabled people rightly see university as an option for them and the growing culture of disability inclusion within the UK has encouraged more students to disclose their impairments. Yet when disabled students get to university they still face a persistent gap in experience and outcomes compared to their non-disabled peers.

Policy Connect also manage the HE Commission who are undertaking an inquiry into the university experience of disabled students. It focuses on the three strands of student life: teaching and learning; living and social; and transition and employment. It aims to explore the challenges faced by disabled students and whether current interventions are good practice and effective. Disabled students are less likely to complete their course, are lower paid as graduates and are more likely to experience loneliness. Working age adults with a disability also access university in lower numbers than expected – less than 17.5% of working age adults with a disability access university. The Commission will hold a parliamentary oral evidence session in September. The report is due early in 2020.

The  National Deaf Children’s Society  has published  analysis on deaf children falling behind at school

Social Justice: FACE have a blog establishing that ECRs (Early Career Researchers) are deeply interested in social justice, social mobility and improving the student experience – despite this being primarily outside of their ECR roles. The article talks of how to offer ECRs greater involvement within social solutions for students through their evaluation expertise.

Immigration

Within days of Boris taking the reins he dropped the net migration target and began pursuing a more internationally friendly policy than Theresa May. And this week the one millionth person was granted settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme.

International STEM talent: The Home Office has launched a fast-track immigration STEM talent scheme building on the existing Tier 1 Exceptional Talent visa route.  The new scheme will provide eligible individuals with a three-year visa, during which they can come and go from the UK at will. At the end of three years, those on the scheme would be able apply for indefinite leave to remain (giving a permanent right to reside in the UK and access to benefits and healthcare on the same basis as British citizens). The scheme does not have a minimum salary requirement and individuals do not need to secure a job before arriving in the UK (unlike the existing Tier 2 route for skilled workers). Individuals will be able to bring dependants (spouses/partners and children) and they will be able to work or study while here. Visa fees that are commensurate with existing immigration fees will be charged. A review of funding the immigration system, including fees charged will take place in the future. The talent scheme aims to ensure that those with specialist skills in STEM subjects can come to the UK and make an important contribution to our leading science and research sectors, significantly enhancing the intellectual and knowledge base of the UK. The entire Tier 1 Exceptional Talent route is earmarked for revamp and rebranding over the new parliamentary period.

UK post-study work visa comparison

The Scottish Government have published a comparative report on how the UK’s post-study work offer compares with competitor countries.

  • The popularity of international education continues to grow, and the volume of student mobility is at an all-time high. In 2015, there were an estimated 4.6 million globally mobile higher education students, a massive increase from the 2.1 million students who went abroad in 2001.
  • The US, the UK, China, France, and Australia rank as top host destinations of international students worldwide and collectively host an estimated two thirds of all international students. In terms of student numbers, the US is the global leader for international students with 971,000 students in 2016, followed by the UK which had 432,000 international students in the same year. At the same time, however, international students comprised only 5% of the total student population in the US as compared to 18% in the UK.

The following factors are significant in student destination choice:

  • The academic offer and the international reputation of a given university or a given country’s education system more generally, as well as language of instruction/official language of the country.
  • Ease of meeting formal requirements (fulfilling university recruitment and visa requirements).
  • Finances: affordability of studying and living in the host country; sponsorship opportunities in host country.
  • Presence of networks in the host country; general atmosphere in a given country: attitudes towards international students (and immigrants in general), lifestyle.
  • Work opportunities during and after studies.
  • For those looking to emigrate permanently – the country’s immigration policy and pathways to settlement post-study.

The report concludes that to improve its global competitiveness in terms of attracting and retaining international students, the UK should:

  • Introduce a more competitive post-study work offer taking into consideration ease of application and application timescales, programme length, work entitlement, and opportunities for applying to the programme after leaving the UK.
  • Implement additional measures supporting the longer term retention of international students, such as: language and employability support; integration programmes; provision of information and advice on conditions of stay, employment opportunities, and life in the UK; creating opportunities for establishing professional networks.
  • Ensure systematic monitoring of the programme and its implementation to prevent its potential misuse (and evaluate its effectiveness).

Visa Checking Dissatisfaction

International students are unable to access the visa checking services they are entitled to and are resorting to paying additional fees to gain appointments. Sopra Steria holds the contract for the UK Visa and Citizenship Application services to enrol and check the biometric information on visa applications. UUK are campaigning for Sopra Steria to immediately improve the service they are offering. Currently students are unable to get checking appointments, the online service isn’t accessible or compatible with the use of assistive technology, there are further problems with the online service and an exorbitant telephone support line charge to resolve these problems. Students have resorted to paying additional charges to fast track their appointments and traveling a distance away from their university to attend these. UUK is calling on the company to resolve these issues quickly before the September ‘student surge’ when 40,000+ students will need to register their biometric details.

Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said: Despite constructive engagement between the Home Office, UKVI and universities, the current capacity and level of service being offered by Sopra Steria remains unacceptable. Students and universities cannot be expected to pay to address Sopra Steria’s broken system. We are calling on Sopra Steria to fully address these concerns before the September surge of students so that students can start their courses with the visas they need. International students make a huge cultural and economic contribution to the UK. Sopra Steria should be helping to send a more welcoming message to international students, signalling that the UK is open to talented individuals from around the world, as is the case at our universities.

Elisa Calcagni, a PhD student from Chile studying at the University of Cambridge, thought the service she received from Sopra Steria was very disappointing:  As a non-EEA national I was required to enrol my biometrics through Sopra Steria. I had not expected any additional charges but I found it virtually impossible to find a free appointment. The time window for bookings on the online system only covers two weeks and there were no free appointments available, or any appointments at all in Cambridge. I called the Sopra Steria support line and they suggested to keep checking the website for cancelled appointments. I didn’t want the uncertainty of constantly checking the system with no guarantee of an appointment becoming available, so I selected to pay £100 for an appointment in Croydon, two hours away. Despite booking a timed appointment, there was a waiting time of an hour and then the system wasn’t working properly leading to further delays.

Khalid Elkhereiji, a student at the University of Southampton, said: “I use a screen reader which reads on-screen text aloud. Trying to login in to my UKVCAS account to book the appointment I needed for my visa was very frustrating as none of the screen readers I used were able to detect the checkbox which must be selected to confirm the person logging in is not a robot. I spent hours trying to do this, carefully repeating the same steps as it was not possible to identify the issue. This is not a problem that I face with other websites and it meant I was not able to login without the assistance of a sighted person…I have explained my concerns with the accessibility of the service to Sopra Steria and I believe it is a relatively simple issue to fix, however I have not had any further updates from Sopra Steria and there has been no confirmation that their website is inclusive and accessible to everyone.

HEPI have published Two sides of the same coin? Brexit and future student demand. The report concludes that the best available evidence points in opposite direction for student demand predictions. Nick Hillman, summarises:

  • There is a broad consensus that says Brexit will mean far less demand for UK higher education. When EU students are no longer entitled to taxpayer-subsidised tuition fee loans and face much higher international fees, they are likely to look elsewhere or stay at home. Research we published back in 2017 suggested the number of students who come from the EU could halve.
  • But there is an important historical precedent that tells a rather different story. Until the early 1980s, all international students coming to the UK were subsidised by taxpayers. At the time, the consensus said their numbers would fall off a cliff. In fact, the end of the subsidy laid the foundations for what eventually became a big expansion in international students. Universities realised they could charge fees high enough to cover the full costs of teaching and more. When international students subsidise other activities, such as underfunded research programmes, there is a strong incentive to recruit more of them.
  • No one knows for certain whether the pessimistic economic modelling or the optimistic historical precedent is the better guide to the future. Perhaps the impact of Brexit on student numbers will end up lying somewhere between these two extremes. What happens will depend, to some extent, on whether the new crop of Ministers decide to roll out the red carpet for international students – for example, by streamlining visa procedures, improving post-study work rules and clarifying the rules for EU students after Brexit. It will also depend on how institutions choose to respond to Brexit

Headline Estimates/Findings:

  • 31,000 fewer incoming EU students each year (-57%), representing a loss of fee income of £40 million, as a result of the changes to fee and loan entitlements;
  • 20,000 more non-EU students (+9%) and EU students (+10%) each year, representing an increase in fee income of over £225 million, as a result of the change in the value of the pound.
  • a net drop of roughly 11,000 incoming students but over £185 million more fee income for institutions, as all incoming students would then be paying the full international fees.
  • Institutions foresee the considerable growth of students from non-EU countries continuing, collectively forecasting an increase of over 56,000 by 2022, or 20% (although the Chair of the Office for Students has complained about ‘over-optimistic student recruitment forecasts’)

Policy Takeaways:

  • The best modelling that has been undertaken on changes to fees and loans suggests there will be a big drop in the number of EU students coming to the UK after Brexit.
  • Changes to the value of the pound are also likely to determine the degree to which institutions are affected.
  • Ending subsidies for students from other countries can sometimes provide new financial incentives on institutions to enrol them.

Parliament

We have a refreshed Cabinet (here is a link to a lovely wall chart!) and here is a reminder of Labour’s shadow cabinet.

  • Universities Minister is Jo Johnson, for his second stint in the role, he remains with joint lines of responsibility to both the Department for Education and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). His reappointment to the Universities role has prompted much speculation about unfinished business in the BU policy office and is interesting when taken in context with the new Education appointees, some of which are tough characters or old hands. For the first time ever the Universities Minister will attend Cabinet too.  Jo’s BEIS responsibilities have been set as: science and research, innovation, intellectual property, space, agri-tech, technology.
  • Heading up Education is Gavin Williamson (yes he who was ousted by Theresa May for leaking while he was SoS for Defence) in the chief role of Secretary of State for Education. His responsibilities cover early years, children’s social care, teachers’ pay, school curriculum, school improvement, academies and free schools, further education, higher education, apprenticeships and skills. He has no previous experience in an education role, nor in his non-political career.
  • Nick Gibb is Minister of State (Minister for School Standards) and holds a wide school responsibility remit. He has held an education role almost continually since 2005 both in Government and the shadow cabinet, including school reform and school standards before a brief stint as Equalities Minister (2017-2018). Nick retained this, his previous role, in the Boris reshuffle.
  • Kemi Badenoch is a Parliamentary Under Secretary of State and Minister for Children and Families. Among her responsibilities are social care, SEN, race disparity audit, disadvantaged pupils, social mobility and opportunity areas. She has no previous ministerial experience, was only elected to the Commons in 2017, and is heavily pregnant (you can see her views on MP motherhood here).
  • Lord Agnew has an unpaid role as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State and Minister for the School System. His responsibilities include university technical colleges. Within the Lords, since 2017, he held position as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the School System and Government Spokesperson. He was also a non-executive Director within DfE (2010-15).  Lord Agnew retained this, his previous role in the Boris reshuffle.
  • Engineer and running fanatic Chris Green is the team PPS (Parliamentary Private Secretary). He has an interest in education and plethora of relevant APPG memberships including artificial intelligence, life sciences, medical research (and medical devices), engineering, health, youth employment, digital skills and he was a member of the Science and Technology Select Committee (2015-2017).

The Apprenticeships and Skills Minister (Anne Milton’s old role) has been removed. SoS Gavin Williamson has assumed these responsibilities into his brief, with Ministerial support from the new Children’s Minister, Kemi Badenoch. A DfE spokesperson stated: As the Prime Minister has said, further education and skills will be a priority for this government – and the Education Secretary taking the lead for this vital work is a reflection of that commitment.

Previous Universities Minister, Chris Skidmore, is now Minister of State for Health and Social Care.

In local news Conor Burns (who was Boris’ PPS) has been promoted to Minister of State for International Trade. Tobias Ellwood has stepped down from his two year stint within the Minister of Defence. And Simon Hoare retains his post as Chair of the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs.

Humanities bias within Cabinet: It is unsurprising to note that 67% of the new Cabinet attended a Russell Group university (45% at Oxbridge). However, what is perhaps slightly surprising, given the negative rhetoric and rumblings about downgrading the fee level for certain subjects, is that 87% of the Cabinet studied programmes within the humanities and social sciences field. For more on who studied what and where see this HEPI blog.

UUK lobby new PM:  UUK call on Boris to take action in 5 areas to maximise the role of universities within his domestic and global ambitions:

  1. Recommit to the 2.4% of GDP investment in research and development by 2027. Plus immigration system favourable to bring in the most talented global researchers.
  2. Back the two-year post-study work visa amendment within the Immigration Bill, alongside lowering the salary threshold for international workers to obtain a high-skilled work visa to £21,000.
  3. For domestic success including regional growth, skills workforce, equality of opportunity and social mobility UUK call for secure long term and sustainable funding for universities and students. Including reintroducing maintenance grants and cutting the on-programme interest rate on the loans. Overhauling so students better understand the student finance system.
  4. Acknowledge the importance of the university experience – support mental health, widening access and end the BAME attainment gap.
  5. Avoid no-deal Brexit, retain Horizon Europe and Erasmus+.

And it seems Boris was listening (or more likely had already decided):

Education featured as a core element within a speech Boris made in late July:

  1. We will give every child the world class education they deserve. Which is why we will increase the minimum level of per pupil funding in primary and secondary schools and return education funding to previous levels by the end of this parliament.
  2. And we cannot afford the chronic under-funding of our brilliant FE colleges, which do so much to support young people’s skills and our economy. We have a world class university sector; in fact it is one of the biggest concentrations of higher education anywhere in Europe right here in this city – why should we not aspire to the same status for our further education institutions, to allow people to express their talents?
  3. We will double down on our investment in R&D, we will accelerate the talks on those free trade deals… If we unite our country, with better education, better infrastructure, with an emphasis on new technology, then this really can be a new golden age for the UK.

Other new Education related appointees

  • Ofsted – Julie Kirkbride, Hamid Patel, Martin Spencer, Carole Stott and Baroness Wyld appointed as board members, and John Cridland and Vanessa Wilms reappointed.
  • Ofqual – Susan Barratt, Matt Tee and Mike Thompson appointed as board members, and Roger Taylor reappointed as Chair.
  • Migration Advisory Committee – Madeleine Sumption reappointed as Chair for a further three years. (Relevant because the MAC are looking at the immigration thresholds for post-study work visas.)
  • Royal College of Midwives – Sasha Wells, Neil Tomlin, Natalie Linder, Dee Davies, Keelie Barrett, Janet Ballintine, Sarah Jones have been elected to the Board as members.

Brexit

On Tuesday Parliamentarians hoping to stop a no-deal Brexit through the courts will get a chance to make their case in September. A Scottish judge agree Friday 6 September for the legal case aimed at curbing the Prime Minister’s ability to prorogue Parliament in order to push a no-deal exit past MPs will be heard. The legal bid has been backed by more than 70 MPs and peers, and seeks to get the Court of Session in Edinburgh – which, unlike English courts, sits throughout the summer – to rule that suspending Parliament would be “unlawful and unconstitutional”.  Papers lodged with the court say: “Seeking to use the power to prorogue Parliament to avoid further parliamentary participation in the withdrawal of the UK from the EU is both unlawful and unconstitutional.” Judge Lord Doherty on Tuesday confirmed that a full hearing for the legal petition would now take place on 6 September, just days after MPs return from the summer recess.

However, a poll suggests that Boris Johnson would be backed by a majority of the public if he shut down Parliament in order to achieve Brexit. A ComRes study for The Telegraph  found that 44% of the public agree that the Prime Minister “needs to deliver Brexit by any means, including suspending Parliament if necessary, in order to prevent MPs from stopping it”.  37% of the public were opposed to the move, while 19% said they did not know. Boris has repeatedly refused to rule out the controversial move,  sparking an outcry from MPs  and warnings it would prompt a constitutional crisis.

No Deal

Political monitoring consultants, Dods, set out seven scenarios by which Parliamentary alliances could prevent a no-deal exit (scroll to page 8). This is a mid-July document, the scenarios are still valid and simply explain the constitutional complexities and assess the likelihood of stopping no deal.

As time progresses and the likelihood of the UK leaving the EU without a deal increases the commentary and analysis of the no deal scenario has proliferated. The House of Commons Library have produced a briefing paper giving links to a range of 2019 publications by private sector organisations, think tanks, research institutes and other academic institutions on a no-deal exit from the EU. The papers consider the general political, constitutional and economic implications of a no-deal Brexit rather than its effects in particular sectors.

And you won’t have missed Corbyn’s bold move to cement no deal opposition by seizing power for a care taking Government to prevent crashing out of the EU, followed closely by a general election.

Trade Deals: Two day visit by John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, has set out that America is keen to make post-Brexit trade deals with the UK. The deals are likely to be piecemeal starting with key quick win sectors and progressively continuing on to encompass other areas.

Degree Apprenticeships

Degree apprenticeships are four years old and the OfS conducted research to find out what motivated these earlier adopters to choose a degree apprenticeship instead of the traditional full time undergraduate study route. Their report finds:

  • Achieving a degree whilst earning a salary was the most motivating factor for 90% of level 6 and 92% of level 7 students. The OfS believe this is because degree apprenticeships represent value for money and are a kickback to the cost and level of student debt accrued through the traditional route.
  • 38% of level 6 students would have undertaken the traditional degree if they hadn’t chosen the apprenticeship. OfS state this demonstrates degree apprenticeships are seen as an alternative to traditional HE degrees by many. Two thirds of students (at both levels) determined for themselves that degree apprenticeships would be the best fit for their needs.
  • 90% (L6) and 78% (L7) believe the degree apprenticeship boosted their career by advancing them more quickly than a traditional degree could.
  • Level 6 and 7 respondents have different educational and employment backgrounds and different motivational drivers
    • Level 6 learners tended to be younger, often recently joining the labour market and typically described the degree apprenticeship as a way to kick start their careers. It was also seen as a good route to achieve self-employment.
    • Level 7 respondents tended to be older and were more likely to have different motivations behind attaining a degree apprenticeship, such as retraining to keep pace with the general labour market skill level and achieving career progression.
  • The Level 7 respondents found that the employer was pivotal in providing information on degree apprenticeships but also advice and support. [Interesting given the claims that current careers support signposts to a traditional degree route rather than alternatives.] Whereas Level 6 respondents relied on their friends and family for advice and support. [It seems reasonable that the age profile difference is a factor in where the student sought advice from here.]However, the OfS believe this access to advice reinforces the assumption that workforce development and retraining are important motivators among Level 7 respondents where Level 6 apprentices view it as a way into employment.

The report concluded: With 31% of Level 6 respondents coming to degree apprenticeships directly from schools, sixth form colleges and other education routes there must be information and guidance on degree apprenticeships here as well. This will help to ensure learners understand the available options so maximising the potential of degree apprenticeships. Expanding the number of employers who support degree apprenticeships is also important to not only the supply of degree apprenticeships, but also to ensure this source of information is able to adequately promote degree apprenticeships among potential learners.

Young Aspirations

More recently, the Sutton Trust and Ipsos Mori have published a report following their survey into 11-16 year olds’ University Aspirations and Attitudes to HE.

Almost two-thirds (64%) of young people said they’d be interested in doing an apprenticeship rather than going to university, if one was available for a job they wanted to do. Meanwhile, just under two-thirds (65%) said they think it’s important to go to university. This has fallen from a high of 86% in 2013, with the proportion who feel that going to university is not important rising from 11% in 2013 to 20% in 2019.

Key Findings:

  • Almost nine out of 10 (85%) said it’s important to be confident to do well and get on in life. Three quarters felt that having connections was crucial, with 75% saying that ‘knowing the right people’ is important for success in life.
  • University was deemed less important for young people from the least affluent families (61% compared with 67% in ‘high affluence’ households), and white pupils (62% compared with 75% of young people from a BME background).
  • Three-quarters (77%) of young people think they’re likely to go on to higher education after school. This is a similar rate to the past few years, but slightly below the high of 81% in 2013.
  • Of the young people who said it was unlikely they would go into higher education, the most common set of reasons (62%) was they don’t like the idea or don’t enjoy learning or studying. 43% cited a financial reason, while 41% said that they weren’t clever enough or wouldn’t get good enough exam results to get in.
  • Two-fifths (40%) of young people who are likely to go to university or who aren’t sure either way yet, are worried about the cost of higher education, down from 46% in 2018. However, money worries continue to be pronounced for young people from the least affluent families (50% compared with 32% in ‘high affluence’ households) and for girls over boys (44% vs 36%).

Sutton Trust make the following recommendations:

  • All pupils should receive a guaranteed level of careers advice from professional impartial advisers.
  • Maintenance grants, abolished in 2016, should be restored
  • The government should introduce a system of means-tested fees which waives fees entirely for those from low income background
  • There should be more higher and degree apprenticeships, targeted at younger age groups, to give young people a platform for progression to higher level learning and careers, including through university.

Gordon Marsden MP, Labour’s Shadow Higher Education Minister, responding to the downturn in HE aspirations, stating:

These figures show how badly this government has failed young people. As a result, more students are expressing doubts about higher education. Young people are paying the price for a system that burdens them with debt, and doesn’t provide the guidance and support they need. We need to support young people. That’s why Labour will restore EMA, and scrap fees for college and university. We’ll also scrap university offers based on predicted grades and implement a new fairer system of post-qualification admissions.

Labour’s Education Proposals

In addition to stimulating the post qualification admissions debate earlier this month Labour published their interim Lifelong Learning Commission report which informs the Party’s proposals for a national education service from cradle to grave. Interesting are the points they identify as inadequate in the current education and funding system. It mainly picks up on the same themes as the Conservatives have highlighted – FE, disadvantage, retraining due to fourth industrial revolution job changes, and part time students – albeit with stronger emphasis on FE and more flexible/shorter study models. A major departure from Government thinking is their criticism of apprenticeships:

Apprenticeships and Further Education Reforms: The push toward apprenticeships as the primary choice for training has been at the expense of shorter, more flexible modes of training. Not all adults are in a position to be able to commit to the minimum duration required by an apprenticeship, and apprenticeships are often not the most appropriate form of learning for adults who already have substantial employment experience. 

Student Loans

Paula Sussex, the (relatively) new CEO of the Student Loans Company, made an interesting speech to a NUS Conference. It has a clear tone of doing better by their ‘customers’ and explains recent changes made to improve the service and make it more digitally enabled.

Loan Debt

The Labour Party have analysed Government projects and estimate that graduate student debt interest will rise by £4.2bn to £8.6bn by 2024.  DfE figures show this rise is due to the post-2012 undergraduate loans 6.3% interest charge. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has estimated that less than 20% of graduate will fully pay back their student loans.

According to the House of Commons Library, the cash value of loans has increased from below £6 billion (2011-12) to £15 billion (2017-18) and is forecast to reach in excess of £20 billion in 2023-24. This increase is driven primarily by higher fees from 2012, but also replacing grants with loans and expansion of loans to part-time and postgraduate students. The ultimate cost to taxpayer is currently thought to be around 47% of the loan value.

What affect could the intentions of the Augar review have on this?

The Augar Review recommended a headline cut to tuition fees, the return to maintenance grants and a cut to interest during study to RPI + 0%. It also suggested a cut to the repayment threshold from £25,000 to £23,000 in today’s money, and an increase in the repayment term from 30 to 40 years. The final change recommended by Augar was a repayment cap equal to 1.2 times the value of the loan.

The IFS estimate that the full package of these reforms would overall create a system that was considerably less “leaky”, with roughly 50% of graduates paying off their loans under the Augar model compared to less than 20% under the current system.

The proposed Augar system has mixed effects for social demographics:

  • Highest earners would see reductions in their repayments of around £30,000 in today’s money (and we know disadvantaged students struggle to access the top paying jobs).
  • Middle earners would see increases of around £15,000.
  • The biggest winners would be those in the top 10% of lifetime earners who grew up in low income households qualifying them for the full maintenance grant; those people could expect to see reductions in lifetime repayments of approximately £40,000

Augar – University funding

The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee have published Science research funding in universities considering the Augar Review’s implications for Science Research Funding within HE. The report criticises the Augar review for failing to take a holistic approach to the funding of universities and recognises that the current research system is being cross-subsided by other areas of funding in the higher education ecosystem, including international student fees. The report recommends that if the Government follows any of the recommendations of the review relating to tuition fees, it must implement them as a full financial package, including increasing the teaching grant to cover the loss of tuition fees, to ensure that universities are no worse off than they are now. The report expresses concern that the proposals would erode the autonomy of universities. In particular, the proposal that the Office for Students should determine the value of teaching grant awarded to individual institutions for different subjects.

Funding/Augar:

  • QR funding is vital in allowing universities to cover the full economic cost of research, and in helping universities to fund research infrastructure which is often not covered by other sources of funding. QR funding must rise by at least the rate of inflation and the deficit that has been created since 2010 should be addressed.
  • Reducing the tuition fee cap in England to £7,500 without compensating universities for this loss in full by increasing the teaching grant will result in significant financial consequences for universities. The immediate casualties of such a reduction in income will likely be widening-participation programmes, student experience, infrastructure maintenance and repair, and the hands-on elements of courses.
  • The Augar Review recommends that the social and economic value of different subjects be determined by the Office for Students, taking account of the subject’s relative importance with respect to alignment with the Government’s Industrial Strategy and a range of other factors such as the financial viability of the university and its contribution to the local economy. This recommended process is far from straightforward and is certain to be controversial. We are concerned that it will be fraught with difficulties and that it will remove autonomy from universities.
  • Whoever has the responsibility for determining the value of teaching grant awards must do so using clear metrics to assess the impact on the research base. Given the complex nature of the cross-subsidies universities employ in managing their finances, seemingly small disruptions to inputs could have significant unintended consequences for research.

Brexit:

  • We urge the Government to associate the UK with Horizon Europe as soon as possible, to ensure certainty and stability for researchers in universities and industry.
  • Public funding for research in universities after Brexit should seek to replace not just the amount of funding but the areas it supports, like discovery research and scientific infrastructure and facilities. It is important to the scientific community that the basis for awarding funding is research excellence.
  • Retaining the mobility of researchers after Brexit is vital to ensuring the UK can continue to attract the best researchers and meet its research and development goals. The Government must ensure post-Brexit immigration laws do not hinder the ability of UK universities to recruit and retain the scientific staff they require, including technicians earning below the recommended salary threshold. In doing so the Government must also give consideration to amending immigration laws relating to families and dependants of those scientific staff.

With Jo Johnson back in the Universities Minister hot seat the implementation of (elements of) Augar will be closely watched. Jo was resistant to the review in the first place, often urging the sector to ‘pipe down’ and not call for the HE Review to take place. His refusal to support the review was one of the factors in his step down from the Ministerial responsibilities.  Upon publication Jo remained opposed to the outcome of Augar tweeting: “Looks like Augar (as predicted) will destabilise uni finances, imperil many courses & reverse progress in widening access. Reducing fees to £7.5k will leave funding hole HMT won’t fill + benefit only highest earning grads at expense of general taxpayer. Bad policy, bad politics”.

Changes to fees and loans

The Department for Education has published a Written Ministerial Statement on Higher Education Student Finance:  https://bit.ly/2LAO5cn  Made by: Chris Skidmore (The Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation) (The Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation).

Key Points:

  • Maximum tuition fees for the 2020/21 academic year in England will be maintained at the levels that apply in the 2019/20 academic year, the third year in succession that fees have been frozen. This means that the maximum level of tuition fees for a standard full-time course will remain at £9,250 for the 2020/21 academic year.
  • Maximum undergraduate loans for living costs will be increased by forecast inflation (2.9%) in 2020/21. And the same increase will apply to maximum disabled students’ allowances for students with disabilities undertaking full-time and part-time undergraduate courses in 2020/21.
  • Maximum loans for students starting master’s degree and doctoral degree courses from 1 August 2020 onwards will be increased by forecast inflation (2.9%) in 2020/21. And the same increase will apply to the maximum disabled students’ allowance for postgraduate students with disabilities in 2020/21.
  • I expect to lay regulations implementing changes to student finance for undergraduates and postgraduates for 2020/21 late in 2019 or early in 2020. These regulations will be subject to Parliamentary scrutiny.
  • The Government will consider the recommendations of the independent panel to the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding, published on 30 May 2019, and will conclude the review at the Spending Review later this year.

Inquiries and Consultations

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

New business this week:

Did you know you can view all of BU’s older inquiries and consultation responses here?

Other news

AI: The Financial Times have two interesting articles on AI. First using AI for legal mediation and a second future focussed article which considers implants chips into a young brain to mimic thoughts and behaviour and learn how to simulate the biological brain by adulthood.

Foundation Years: A HEPI blog explores all that is valuable and good for students choosing to undertake a Foundation Year before commencing their degree level study. The blog responds to the dismissive tone of the Augar report which suggested universities were using this extra year to line their pockets at the expense of the student and taxpayers.

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HE policy update for the w/e 5th July 2019

A slightly quieter week in HE policy, dominated by the release of the latest NSS data, which if course has policy implications as:

  • it will be included in the next iteration of the TEF (which looks at three years of data) subject to any changes to the TEF after the independent review, and
  • potentially either directly, or indirectly via the TEF, in any OfS designed methodology for assessing quality linked to the implementation of the Augar recommendations (if that happens).

 Review of Post-18 Education and Funding

The Lords have been debating the implications of Augar. This week the Lords debated more of the substance of the Augar review. As expected much of the session was about the FE agenda and regularly mentioned the importance of apprenticeships.

It was emphasised that because of future automation of jobs it is essential for the full post-18 system to be flexible and to enable all ages to dip in and out of learning.

The Lords HE Spokesperson, Lord Younger, reiterated familiar messages for young people about making informed choices and for technical routes to receive equal status with academic. “To ensure a genuine choice for young people, and to give employers access to a highly skilled workforce, we want to see a system where technical education has the same weighting for a young person as an academic route.”

Lord Younger raised (familiar) issues that the Government raises:

  • further growth in three-year degrees for 18 year-olds [but a] lack of a comprehensive range of high-quality alternative routes (technical or vocational path)
  • Degree outcomes and quality of provision – That a degree doesn’t always ‘set them [young people] up for a bright future’…’analysis shows that this is not always the case’. Studying for a degree is expected to benefit those undertaking it, with improved employment opportunities and a wage premium alongside wider individual well-being and other social benefits. Low-value outcomes are not just about economic returns. High-quality provision in a range of subjects is critical for our public services and for culturally enriching our society. The LEO data on labour market outcomes was mentioned as a step in the right direction.
  • In universities, we have not seen the extent of increase in choice that we would have wanted. The great majority of courses are priced at the same level and three-year courses remain the norm, when some courses clearly cost more than others and some have higher returns to the student than others. It is right that we ask questions about choice and value for money.
  • Young disadvantaged still less likely… than their more advantaged peers to attend the most selective universities or to have the support that they need to complete their degree successfully and achieve a 2.1 or a First.
  • large increases in the number of unconditional—or conditional unconditional—offers…and the potential impact that these offers can have.
  • concerns about the serious issue of grade inflation.

However, he said: I share the Secretary of State’s strong belief that both the HE and FE sectors can, and should, continue to thrive together.

Lord Storey (Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Young People and Education) criticised HE for stating proposed fee cuts would affect disadvantaged students and result in reducing outreach programmes and held up FE as a shining light and poor cousin in comparison.

  • “The media headlines [about Augar] were not about the [FE/HE] rebalancing of vocational education but all about the impact on our universities. I do not think it was a helpful message from the spokespersons of the wealthiest universities that, should their income suffer, one of the likely cuts they would have to make was to their outreach activities. Their budgets for increasing diversity and encouraging disadvantaged students would be the first to be cut. This was not a particularly helpful or thoughtful comment on the review.”
  • “[The] media paid scant attention to what was said about England’s 200 further education colleges, which are the backbone of our vocational training provision. Our further education colleges represent the essential engine to meet our growing skills gap.”

He went on to criticise the elitist view that schools and parents judge their pupils’ success by how many go to university….But actually, a vocational education or apprenticeship might be better for many young people. Further education is often seen as for other people’s children…With schools incentivised to direct their students into the school sixth form and then to university, many students are not even told about the vocational options or apprenticeship routes open to them. He continued on to criticise schools for not providing enough support or information on apprenticeships.

Baroness Tessa Blackstone (Labour Independent) also focussed on FE requiring more resources. In relation to HE she said:

  • “I greatly welcome the recommendation to reduce tuition fees for undergraduates to a maximum of £7,500…I can think of no other example where the price of a public service to the user, in this case graduates, has been increased by so much at once. There are several unfortunate outcomes, including the need for huge write-offs of unpaid loans, leaving a large problem for the public finances in the longer term, and the disastrous decline in part-time and mature undergraduates.
  • I welcome the recommendation to return to government grants to make up for the loss of fee income but regret that it is focused on STEM subjects. We must stop perpetuating the myth that science and engineering courses hugely outweigh others in their usefulness and value to the economy and society”

On FE she called for the need to rebalance spending priorities towards the 50% of the population who do not go to university and “I end with a plea to the Government: please mend your ways and put the FE sector at the centre of the education system”.

Several Lords highlighted doubt that if tuition fees were cut, income shortfalls for universities would be made up by some form of Government grant (including Lord Patten and Lord Blunkett). Lord Blunkett said it was naïve to believe the Treasury would make up the shortfall and criticised the calculations behind the Augar review as “ingenious creative accounting, which led to the belief that it would be possible, on an annualised basis, to present the changes at £700 million”.

There was also criticism of the potential formula shifting funding away from humanities to STEM subjects as “absurd”.

Lord Patten on Brexit said:

  • “These are turbulent times; I hope that we will not add to that turbulence the gale force of a complete overhaul of university financing. We should help universities over the next period; the Government have so far been unprepared to say how they see the way forward.”

Whereas on the increase to £9,000 fees Lord Adonis (Labour) said:

  • universities did not actually require…that degree of cash infusion. Indeed, they were not capable of absorbing it…it was expected that most courses would be at £6,000 and that the fees would be varied. What happened, of course, was that every university went straight up to £9,000. Universities could barely absorb the cash…. it is striking that, for a lot of courses in universities now, the fee level is higher than the actual cost of delivering the course.

The Lord Bishop of Winchester said Augar proposals weren’t extreme enough. Even after restoring the teaching block grant and reintroducing maintenance grants the Bishop said:

  • such steps are insufficiently radical. They do not, for example, address anxieties about student debt that are particularly acute in professions such as nursing, where some 50% of nursing and midwifery trainees are mature students with other family, caring and financial commitments. Nor will they address the equally crucial crisis in staff retention, already visible in nursing, and in social work and teaching. As a matter of public policy, we need to create more effective ways to incentivise people to join public-service focused professions and to avoid unintentional disincentives for the higher education institutions that educate and train them—for example, by placing too much weight on graduate earnings as a measure of institutional effectiveness. May I suggest to the Minister that a more radical approach would be through a public service covenant… undergraduates would commit to several years post-registration service to the NHS in return for their loan balance being written off.

Lord Blunkett welcomed the recommendations for part time students, the maintenance grants and support for FE learning. He criticised the LEO data for not including self-employment, the size of the employer (level of affordable pay) or regional fluctuations in earnings. He emphasised the importance of universities an anchor institutions within a community, particularly for the disadvantaged and urged: If we damage the university sector in our country by cutting funding to teachers and reducing numbers or discriminating against particular courses because the national press do not like them, we will regret it down the line.

Lord Bichard highlighted that the reduction in HE fees is insufficient to change the mindset of prospective students, not least when the term for repayment is extended from 30 years to 40 years, the income threshold at which loans are repaid is reduced from £25,000 to £23,000 and the interest charges, post graduation, remain at 6%… Taken together, these fee proposals are regressive, with the well-off paying less—something like £25,000 less during their life—while those on middle and lower earnings will pay some £12,000 more, according to the DfE. Given that the review recommends that the Government make good the loss of income to institutions as a result of these fee changes, and given that the fee changes are not going to benefit students in any great respect, this seems to be a flawed set of proposals. He also highlighted that the review does not tackle the issue of affordability for mature and part time students, including the lack of part time/distance maintenance loans. The Lord highlighted how the opposite policy in Wales has resulted in a 35% increase in part time UG students.

Lord Kakkar raised the substantial cross subsidisation of research activity through tuition fees and challenged the Government to consider how justifiable recommendations on increased support for further education and lifelong learning could be reconciled with the need to stabilise the research base in universities (which delivers the Government’s research and development targets and is crucial to the industrial strategy).

Lord Kerslake said the Augar review was unable to make sound HE related recommendations because it was hampered by the Government’s red lines:

  • the review having to reconcile four conflicting elements in its brief: delivering a headline reduction in student fees; sorting out the chronic funding issues in further education; avoiding a cap on student numbers; and keeping within the current funding envelope.
  • Those four things individually make sense but collectively they do not. They risk significantly weakening higher education finances, while doing little to assuage young people’s feeling of unfairness about the costs that they currently incur. Freezing fees for a further three years will amount to a real-terms reduction of 14% once the rising costs of pensions are taken into account. Fees will then have been frozen for a decade, apart from a £250 increase in 2017.

And on robbing the HE Peter to pay the FE Paul Lord Kerslake said: There is no great nobility in austerity that should compel us to transfer funding from one part of the sector to the other.

Baroness Garden of Frognal (LD) welcomed the reports sensitivity to the need to align the skills system with the needs of the economy and deliver high quality alternatives to traditional three-year residential undergraduate degree. She also championed investment in community adult learning facilities to support adult learners who need more informal settings to study within.

The Opposition Spokesperson for Higher and Further Education, Lord Bassam of Brighton, was keen to point out that cross subsidisation through research grants and international student recruitment was not possible for all universities and not every university has the option of seeking new student markets abroad. “These smaller, modern local universities tend to have the most diverse intake of young people and are therefore core engines of social mobility. They are most vulnerable.”

APPG Universities

Alistair Jarvis has written for the APPG University Group on Augar: the good, the risks and the challenges. He expresses concern for the removal of loan support for foundation years and the restrictions on degree apprenticeships were students already have a degree. On the challenges he covers:

  1. Universities need to work with Government to develop and enable a system that supports lifelong learning – identifying current barriers, proposing solutions, and addressing the practical issues on delivering a credit-based system and lifelong loans.
  2. We need a vision for universities’ role in delivering level 4 and 5 – to include identifying opportunities for universities to grow their role and strengthening partnerships with FE to meet skills needs.
  3. Rising to the challenge to properly define ‘value’ for students and supporting universities to address value concerns. This must include a more nuanced definition of value, beyond just salary outcomes, and considering how this can be measured.
  4. Evidencing the steps universities are taking to promote efficiency, improve understanding of a university cost base and promote further efficiency.

He states UUK are working on all four of these but there is an undertone that the Government needs to meet the sector halfway.

Brexit and EU students

The Minister for Universities has confirmed that EU students will continue to be eligible for UKRI post-graduate training support for courses starting in 2020/21, for the duration of their courses.  This is good news and follows the similar announcement made in May. about EU undergraduate students accessing student finance.

Value for Money

We’re likely to see the value for money debate coming back into focus as we head towards the late autumn spending review. The RAB (the Government’s accounting value for spending on loans that won’t be repaid) has risen to 47% (+2% since last year). Education SoS, Damian Hinds, spoke about the rise:

It is often overlooked just how much the Government, and therefore the taxpayer, contributes to student loans being taken out in England…Today’s figures highlight just how progressive our system is, but also reiterates the need for universities to deliver value for money on courses – not just for students, but the taxpayer as well.

The  DfE said that the data also highlighted that the Master’s loan system does not require any subsidy from the government, with the majority of students studying at this advanced level going on to pay back their loans in full.

HE fee levels are a key aspect of Augar and were an important campaigning point in the last general election. We can expect the new Conservative leader to reveal their standpoint on fees early in their tenure (assuming they survive Brexit).

Research Funding

The Universities and Science Minister has confirmed an additional £91 million for university-led research.

  • “£2.2 billion research funding for English universities for 2019 to 2020 announced today to help translate our researchers best ideas into reality
  • “an overall increase of £91 million including an additional £45 million for quality-related research (QR) funding – representing a real-terms increase of 2.3%
  • “the move forms part of government’s Industrial Strategy commitment to boost R&D spending to 2.4% of GDP by 2027 – the highest ever level of R&D investment in the UK”

Commenting on the announcement of £91 million in additional university-driven research funding, including a £45 million increase in QR funding, Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said:

  • “This is a significant investment into the future of research in the UK, and a positive step towards the government’s target to invest 2.4% of GDPinto R&D.
  • “Quality-related research funding plays a key role in developing new talent, strengthening research culture and building the skilled workforce the UK needs if we are to perform effectively as a modern knowledge economy.
  • “With many of the greatest research discoveries and advances having evolved from curiosity-driven research, it is critical that we continue to invest across all subject disciplines.”

The detailed budget allocations are available on the Research England website.

 Student Representation

SUBU’s Sophie reflects on student representation:

Summer is a time of change in Students’ Unions as incoming elected Full-Time Officers begin the handover process and re-elected officers start making plans for the year ahead. In SUBU, this is Brad Powell’s last week as Vice President Welfare and Equal Opportunities and he will be taking everything he has learned over the last year to channel it into a Master’s degree at the University of Surrey. We welcome Joanna Ann, who was elected by BU students back in March to represent their welfare issues and champion their equality. Her handover has begun and she is being inducted into the responsibilities and expectations of being a representative, which will continue over the summer, joining the re-elected officers; Abidemi Abiodun- VP Welfare, Ade Balogun-  President, Lea Ediale- VP Activities and Lenrick Greaves- VP Education.

Considering so many people develop their understanding of policy and decision-making from undertaking student representative roles – whether in school as a school councillor or perhaps at a local level as a voluntary Member of Youth Parliament, or whilst in University as an elected paid Full-Time officer, or lead of a club or society – the impact that it can have on people’s lives and future job prospects hasn’t been well documented.

Both contenders for the UK’s next Prime Minister, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, were representatives whilst studying at Oxford; Boris as the President of Oxford Union and Jeremy as President of the Conservative Association. I’m sure that if asked, they could tell you at least 3 things about how it helped develop them in relation to where they are today. We have seen funding cuts for youth/student democracy in local authorities as budgets are tightened; without an impact measure of how helpful undertaking student representative roles are, these valuable opportunities continue to be under threat.

As the new Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole council come together and make decisions on funding allocation for services; it will be interesting to see what the future holds for student/youth democracy such as support for UK Youth Parliament in this local area. Currently only Poole has a member of youth parliament and deputy; they now find themselves representing young people across 3 areas, with uncertainty about whether youth parliament will still have a role locally in the future. A Wonkhe article yesterday asked ‘What role should students and their SU’s play in the community?’ and perhaps part of that should be to reinforce the importance of having the student/youth voice at local, regional and national decision-making tables.

This is where we need those who have experienced positive impact from taking part in representative opportunities to talk about how it helped them. On the 22nd June I was invited to the first British Youth Council convention of the year to be their keynote speaker and inspire the newly elected student representatives, talking them through all the different opportunities that they have opened up for themselves by taking part in something so important. I also ran a couple of workshops on leading successful campaigns because I wanted to give back to a movement which has got me to where I am today. British Youth Council is an organisation funded through the Government to ‘empower young people across the UK to have a say and be heard’ and it supports UK Youth Parliament, along with other similar initiatives. I shared my experiences at the convention of being a youth representative from the age of 12 and the opportunities that have shaped me, such as being part of the first group of Members of Youth Parliament (MYPs) to debate in the House of Commons, 10 years ago this year. As I was talking I was struck by how much the support, resources and funding have been cut. Another thing I noticed, and mentioned in my speech, was that one of their key campaigns continues to be the same as when I was in the role –  lowering the voting age for 16 and 17 years olds to have the right to vote, so they too can influence key decisions that affect their lives. Without this important right the voices of young people can be brushed aside. [It’s been debated many times in Parliament but was tabled once again in April of this year as it was not part of the Conservative manifesto pledges.]

If you take the example of Brexit, the referendum took place 3 years ago this month and students who were 16 and 17 at the time did not have the right to vote on something affecting their future. They are now of voting age, but the decision was taken out of their hands.

We’ve seen the impact that Greta Thunberg has had on the world; demonstrating the power that students and young people collectively have when they come together on an issue they are passionate about, as well as doing this above party politics. The UK Youth Parliament demonstrate every year how students and young people are a force to be reckoned with, making national manifesto commitments to supporting mental health, tackling knife crime, and fighting to lower the voting age to 16. We especially see this when they debate in the House of Commons and demonstrate more mature forms of debate than their ‘adult’ counterparts. Here you can see Francesca Reed, former MYP for Poole, introduce a motion in the House of Commons on improving mental health services.

Meanwhile, BU continues to look at ways students can have a voice at different levels of the institution. The importance of the student voice has been enshrined not only in BU2025 but is also a key component of the QAA’s Quality code, which was influenced by SUs around the country (see Wonkhe). It has expectations and practices on how students should be actively engaged in quality assurance and enhancement processes: “effective student engagement contributes to quality assurance and enhancement processes by capturing the voices of all students”.

BU recently completed a Focussed Enhancement Review (FER) on the Student Voice in line with BU2025. BU and SUBU representatives looked at how the student voice can be enhanced in different areas. Students fed into the FER on the Student Voice through their Vice President Education Lenrick Greaves, who was part of the FER, and also through a student consultation event held by the Students’ Union back in May. Work continues on enhancing the Student Voice at BU through a task and finish group. Perhaps more can be done by institutions to show how the student voice is important in decision-making to influence local authorities to do the same. Until then, the question remains about the future of student representation outside of a University setting.

Other news

Future demand: In last week’s policy update we talked about the popularity of particular subjects. This week there is a Wonkhe blog which analyses GCSE and A level data to predict the future demand for a range of degree subjects.

Loan deals: text Moneysavingexpert are urging pre-1998 students to think carefully and pointing out the risks in the letters such students have received offering to wipe their debt if they repay 20% of their loan value. Finance company Erudio currently own these loan books. Read more here.

Disabled Experience: Wonkhe report that Think tank Demos has launched a discussion paper on the experiences of disabled graduates in the UK. The paper considers barriers disabled graduates face in participating in the workforce including using public transport and finding accessible housing, and recommends that a body be created within the Cabinet Office to design a programme to enable disabled graduates to fulfil their potential.

Contract Cheating: Lord Story continues his tireless campaign to bring down the essay mill businesses promoting and profiting from contract cheating. The Lord has tabled a private member’s bill to “make it an offence to provide or advertise cheating services for higher education assessment” in England and Wales.

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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 28th June 2019

Although after the frantic weeks in early Spring we seem now to be in a political limbo, when nothing is achieved except an escalation in rhetoric and an increase in polarisation, actually, there’s quite a lot going on.  Some of it looks like political legacy building, but hey, if it works…

Sharing access to health and social research in the UK

BU is gathering views internally on the consultation “Make it Public” by the Health Research Authority.  Responses to an internal survey will inform BU’s institutional response.

The HRA’s consultation gives everyone involved an opportunity to influence the Health Research Authority’s future strategy to improve public access to information about health and social research in the UK. Please read the strategy before you answer the questions.

The BU survey is anonymous, however we have asked about your role at BU to inform our response. We have taken the content and questions directly from the HRA’s consultation. Please take time to complete it if you have experience in this area.

New Commission for Students with Disabilities

The Minster has announced a new body to speak out for students with disabilities…or actually, has renamed an existing group and confirmed he supports its work. Chris Skidmore announces new Commission to improve support for disabled students: 27th June 2019.  The OfS is setting it up:  [The Minister] ”has instructed the Commission to identify and promote good practice which helps those with disabilities have a positive experience at university. The Commission, formerly Disabled Students’ Sector Leadership Group (DSSLG), will use the DSSLG’s existing guidance for providers on supporting disabled students inclusively and look at what more needs to be done.”

Universities Minister Chris Skidmore said:

  • Living with a disability should never be a barrier to entering higher education and as Universities Minister, I am determined to ensure disabled students get the support they need to have a positive, life-changing university experience.
  • There are a record number of students with a disability going to university, but we must do more to level the playing field and improve the experience and outcomes for disabled students.
  • It’s my personal priority that those living with a disability have an equal chance to succeed in higher education. I want to see all universities face up to their responsibilities and place inclusion at the heart of their access and participation agenda.
  • The Commission will look at approaches which work well to improve support for disabled students, such as more inclusive curricula, restructuring support for students and enhancing learning and teaching environments.

Brexit

All those who backed Boris on the basis that he would flunk a hard Brexit (eg George Osborne at the Evening Standard) seem to have their bluff called.  This week Boris Johnson has written to Jeremy Hunt saying that leaving on 31st October is a “do or die” thing.  So it looks like he has been nobbled by the Brexiteers , perhaps spooked by the reaction stories of his private life into thinking that his lead with the membership was slipping away.  He looks pretty committed now.  But he has also made lots of speeches suggesting it is all going to be very straightforward….(there’s a million to one chance of not getting a deal, apparently).

Jeremy Hunt meanwhile has refused to make such a robust commitment but continues to challenge Boris on a number of fronts and to present himself as the experienced negotiator.

Both of them sound like the US President from time to time. And they are both making huge spending commitments.  They were both at the Pavilion on Thursday evening, and the local news showed Boris giving BU a tiny plug and also repeating his commitment (as we noted last week) to removing international students from the immigration cap.

Last week we talked about the possibilities for recess being cancelled – that seems unlikely, so we are likely to have an announcement of the new PM on 22nd July, a frantic couple of days in Parliament and then a recess that will probably end earlier than usual, with EU negotiations taking place in the background – if they can find anyone to negotiate with in what is likely to be a long hot European summer.

Local MP Tobias Ellwood was mentioned on Monday’s Radio 4 Today programme talking about the ‘nuclear’ Brexit option of taking down Boris Johnson’s Government through a vote of no confidence should he intend to push through a no deal Brexit to ensure exit from the EU on 31 October. Tobias states a group of 12 backbencher and ministerial Conservatives are already in talks and prepared to risk their careers, including losing their Conservative candidacy, to bring Boris premiership down if he pursues a no deal Brexit. This would be done either through ministers joining backbencher dissidents to vote against the Government (and party whip) or a larger group of MPs abstaining en masse so the Government loses the vote. Tobias also featured on BBC’s Panorama programme talking about this potential rebellion. If the Government lost a no confidence vote it would pave the way for a general election.

REF

Research England have published the Real-Time REF Review evaluating perceptions and attitudes towards the Research Excellence Framework (REF).

  • Views on the REF are not as polarized or as extreme as is commonly believed, or reflected in coverage of the REF in the media. Extremely negative views were in the minority, while a majority of respondents had neutral or moderately negative attitudes about the REF.
  • REF has both positive and negative influences on research activity. The REF is seen to increase engagement outside academia and the use of open research activities, whereas game playing and impacts on creativity are deemed to be the most negative influences.
  • Open access and research practices was the most consistently positive and impactful influence of the REF on both researchers’ own work and UK academic culture. Survey data suggested the move to encourage more open research practices was seen as the most positive change in REF 2021.
  • Researchers generally saw the changes to REF 2021 in a positive light. Increased emphasis on open research practices was seen as the most positive change.
  • It may be fruitful for institutions to share best practices in REF readiness rather than attempting to ‘reinvent the wheel’ as the REF process approaches the submission stage and as the new rules are more widely embedded

And interestingly:

  • Notably, women and independent early and mid-career researchers reported that changes made to REF 2021 were more likely to influence the expectations placed on them, although it was not clear whether these changing expectations would be positive or negative ones. The finding that early-career researchers report more influence is consistent with interviews, in which managers highlighted a disproportionate influence of the REF on early-career academics. The difference across genders is also noteworthy and merits future consideration
  • Although not assessed in the survey data, analysis of the interviews conducted with university managers revealed some negative impacts upon the health and well-being of the research community with respect to the REF. With respect to the changes to REF 2021 where equality and diversity considerations are taken more plainly into account, most managers felt that this would have a positive impact upon the well-being of academics for whom equality and diversity issues were faced in the previous REF 2014. Analysis suggests that the new approaches to equality and diversity and reduction in outputs may lessen anxiety and stress caused by the rules of the previous REF cycle.
  • However, notable findings are: that those who identified as submitting to Panel B – engineering and physical sciences – reported the most beneficial influences on research activities in academic culture, and that those from Panel D – arts and humanities – reported the least beneficial influence of the REF on research activities.
  • Further, in survey data, Panel C participants reported a greater influence of the REF on the quantity, quality, scope, and prestige of outputs they produced. This may suggest a challenge to meet expectations of the REF, particularly as interdisciplinary research is often located within this group of cognate disciplines.

Immigration

Home Secretary Sajid Javid formally requested the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to review and advise on salary thresholds for the 2021 immigration system. All the details remain as we’ve already informed in previous policy updates, this simply triggers the requirement for the MAC to carry out the review (again) and report back to the Government in January 2020.

Sajid stated: “It’s vital the new immigration system continues to attract talented people to grow our economy and support business while controlling our borders. These proposals are the biggest change to our immigration system in a generation, so it’s right that we consider all of the evidence before finalising them. That’s why I’ve asked independent experts to review the evidence on salary thresholds. It’s crucial the new immigration system works in the best interests of the whole of the UK.”

In their last review the MAC advised the Government to continue with the existing minimum salary thresholds for the future immigration system. This means international entrants would need to be paid at least £30,000 (for an ‘experienced’ role) and new entrants (including recent graduates) at least £20,800.

The new review asks the MAC to

  • consider how future salary thresholds should be calculated
  • what levels to set salary thresholds at
  • If there is a case for regional salary thresholds for different parts of the UK
  • whether there should be exceptions to salary thresholds, e.g. newly started occupations or work shortage occupations.

Free Speech

HEPI have published Free Speech and Censorship on Campus defending free speech in Universities.

  • HEPI say:the report recognises the concerns of those who wish to restrict free speech as a way of protecting others, but concludes that restrictions on free speech usually end up being counter-productive. Despite the UK’s Government’s strong rhetoric supporting free speech in universities, the paper claims the current single biggest threat to free speech on UK campuses currently comes from the Government’s own Prevent programme.
  • Corey Stoughton, the author of the report, states:“…honest confrontation of legacies of discrimination and unequal distribution of power allow us to see how censorship replicates those problems and to focus on the real threats – like the UK Government’s ill-conceived Prevent strategy, which has had a demonstrable chilling effect on free speech in universities.”
  • Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI, said:  ‘We are delighted to be publishing this nuanced but firm defence of free speech. It challenges students, universities and, above all, Government Ministers to be more careful when they are tempted to impose new restrictions on free expression.There are few justifications for limiting free speech beyond current laws. That is true whether it is students wanting to block provocateurs from speaking or Government Ministers mixing up the prevention of terrorism with blocking legitimate free expression.’

Raising aspirations

In a debate on raising aspirations of secondary school pupils Dr Matthew Offord MP (Conservative) urged the Government not to view academic and technical education routes as two simplistic alternatives. He insisted that permeability and flexibility between different types of learning, throughout the academic journey would be crucial in underpinning increased social mobility and productivity. He also argued that HEIs must develop an understanding of T-levels to communicate entry requirements to prospective students and level 3 providers. He pushed the Government to drive collaboration between schools, universities and local Government. To raise aspirations within school age pupils he set out three elements to be addressed:

  • interventions that focus on children’s parents and families
  • interventions that focus on teaching practice
  • out-of-school interventions or extracurricular activities

Shadow HE Minister Gordon Marsden (Labour) suggested the Government should pursue sustained and dedicated programmes, with children from a much earlier age, and with particular social and ethnic groupings. He also argued for the need to enact a robust, independent and wide-ranging review of admissions processes to higher education, removing unconditional offers and investigating the value of post-qualification admissions.

Nick Gibb (Minister for School Standards) stated “For the good of our economy, we need more young people to pursue degrees and careers in the sciences, including computer science. We have already seen excellent progress, with entries to STEM A-levels increasing by 23% since 2010”. The Minister reassured members that views expressed during the debate had been taken into account as part of the Post-16 review process.

Staff Mental Health

Q – Sir Mark Hendrick: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, with reference to the report by the Higher Education Policy Institute entitled Pressure Vessels: The epidemic of poor mental health among higher education staff, what assessment he has made of the reasons behind the increase in poor mental health among academics and the increasing numbers of university staff being referred to counselling and occupational health services.

A – Chris Skidmore:

  • Mental health is a priority for this government which is why last week (17 June 2019) my right hon. Friend, the Prime Minister announced measures which overhaul the government’s approach to preventing mental illness. These measures include £1 million to the Office of Students for a competition to find innovative new ways to support mental health at universities and colleges.
  • The Department for Education is also working closely with Universities UK on embedding the Step Change programme, which calls on higher education leaders to adopt mental health as a strategic priority and take a whole-institution approach to embed a culture of good mental health practice.
  • The university Mental Health Charter announced in June 2018 will drive up standards in promoting mental health and wellbeing, positive working environments and excellent support for both students and staff.
  • The Independent Review of the Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers led by Professor Julia Buckingham has recognised issues of wellbeing and the challenges that arise from the use of short and fixed term contracts. Recommendations are currently under review and a revised concordat is expected by the end of June.
  • However, universities are autonomous institutions and it is the responsibility of Vice Chancellors to give due consideration to the way their policies and practises impact on staff. This includes responsible use of performance management, workload models and other metrics to assure both student and staff success.

Changing nature of future work

The Learning and Work Institute has published Tomorrow’s World – Future of the Labour Market highlighting the shifts in employment culture and adaptive skills that young people will need for the future labour market. It suggests that young people will be increasingly likely to be self-employed, in busier jobs, need to adapt and more frequently update their skills because of the pace of technological changes and their longer working lives (50 years due to higher retirement age).

Some points from the report:

Young people will need a rising bar of skills needs and a wider pool of skills to enter and progress at work and to adapt to change. Changes in sectors and occupations, coupled with changes within existing jobs, imply an increased demand for interpersonal skills, cognitive skills, customer and personal service, English language, literacy, numeracy, digital, communication, team working, and management.

  1. A more diverse range of young people will participate in the labour market, with further increases in participation among women, people with disabilities, and other groups. This makes it even more important to tackle education and employment inequalities among young people, or these will have long-lasting impacts.
  • Higher occupations and sectors such as health and social care are likely to continue to grow, and the nature of work will continue to change.
  • There will be more opportunities for young people to work flexibly, with policy helping determine if this benefits both people and employers. Employment laws and the tax and benefit system need to support flexibility and security for young people. More workers in the workforce with caring responsibilities means employers will need to offer more flexible options. 
  • Longer working lives and economic change mean young people will need to be adaptable and flexible. A wider and deeper core set of skills will help young people adapt. Learning and social security systems must reflect this ‘new normal’.

Stephen Evans, Chief Executive of the Learning and Work Institute, stated:

“Young people are going to face huge changes during 50 year careers. Attention often focuses on the risk of robots replacing jobs, but further growth in self-employment and changing skills requirements in most jobs could perhaps have bigger impacts. Young people must get the support they need to prepare for this future. It is no good just focusing on the skills needed for jobs today, we also need to give young people the skills they need to adapt to future changes, many of which cannot be predicted accurately.”

Social Mobility

The Sutton Trust has published Elitist Britain 2019.

The nature of Britain’s ‘elite’ is higher in the national consciousness than ever, with a series of events, including 2016’s vote to leave the European Union, putting a focus on the strained trust between significant sections of the population and those at the highest levels of politics, business and the media.

Social mobility across the UK is low and not improving, depriving large parts of the country of opportunity. This contributes strongly to this sense of distance. This study, conducted for the first time by both the Sutton Trust and the Social Mobility Commission, looks at the backgrounds of around 5,000 individuals in high ranking positions across a broad range of British society, and provides a definitive document of who gets to the top in Britain in 2019.

The report paints a picture of a country whose power structures remain dominated by a narrow section of the population: the 7% who attend independent schools, and the roughly 1% who graduate from just two universities, Oxford and Cambridge.

Key findings:

  • Politics, the media, and public service all show high proportions of privately educated in their number, including 65% of senior judges, 59% of civil service permanent secretaries and 57% of the House of Lords.
  • 39% of the cabinet were independently educated, in stark contrast with the shadow cabinet, of which just 9% attended a private school.

However:

  • Significant is decline of grammar school alumni among the elite (20%), down about 7 percentage points in five years, and a consequent rise in those educated at comprehensives (40%, up 9%). This reflects the abolition of the selective system in most of England during the 1960s and 70s, and the rise of the comprehensively educated generation to positions of power.

Access to professions

  • Law, defence and the academic world had the highest level of these “elites”.
  • University Vice Chancellors had relatively low levels of private school and Oxbridge educated members among their number
  • Media – Britain’s media, including newspaper columnists, and high-profile editors and broadcasters, had some of the highest rates of attendance at independent schools and elite higher education institutions. Newspaper columnists, who play a significant role in shaping the national conversation, draw from a particularly small pool. Only 5% of newspaper columnists attended a non-Russell Group University.
  • Police and Crime Commissioners were more likely than those elected at local council level to have attended independent school, 29%, the same as MPs.
  • Civil service permanent secretaries (59%), Foreign Office diplomats (52%), and Public Body Chairs (45%) have among the highest rates of independently educated in their ranks. Despite recent efforts to overhaul entry into the Civil Service, its highest levels remain highly exclusive, with 56% of permanent secretaries having graduated from Oxford or Cambridge, and 39% having attended both a private school and Oxbridge.
  • The chairs of public bodies were more likely than their CEOs to have come from exclusive educational institutions; 45% from independent schools compared to 30%. This may reflect the age of such post-holders as well as their social class background.
  • Women are under-represented across the top professions (5% of FTSE 350 CEOs, 16% of local government leaders, 24% of senior judges, 26% of permanent secretaries and 35% of top diplomats). Socio-economic class and gender can often combine to create a ‘double disadvantage’, with women from lower socio-economic backgrounds less likely to be socially mobile. Interestingly for women who do make it to the top, their journeys do not always look the same as those of their male peers. In a variety of sectors, women at the top are less likely to have attended Oxbridge than their male counterparts.
  • The Creative Industries had the lowest levels of these groups; however, among the wealthiest members of the TV, film and music industries, university attendance was higher (42%), with about a quarter attending Russell Group institutions. Also 38% of independent school attendees, although the number attending comprehensives has risen by 18% since 2014.

Policy recommendations from the report:

Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of the Sutton Trust and the Education Endowment Foundation, stated:

“Britain is an increasingly divided society. Divided by politics, by class, by geography. Social mobility, the potential for those to achieve success regardless of their background, remains low. As our report shows, the most influential people across sport, politics, the media, film and TV, are five times as likely to have attended a fee-paying school.

“As well as academic achievement an independent education tends to develop essential skills such as confidence, articulacy and team work which are vital to career success. The key to improving social mobility at the top is to tackle financial barriers, adopt contextual recruitment and admissions practices and tackle social segregation in schools.  In addition, we should open up independent day schools to all pupils based on merit not money as demonstrated by our successful Open Access scheme.”

The Association of School and College Leaders released this statement:

“We need to do many things to break this cycle but a good start would be for universities and industry to do more to recognise the background of candidates through the greater use of contextual recruitment and admissions practices, as the report recommends.

Industrial Strategy developments – tourism sector deal

The government have published the Tourism sector deal  – the latest in a string of sector specific plans linked to the Industrial Strategy.  They have also published an International Business Events Action Plan outlines how government will support the events industry in attracting, growing and creating international business events.

We have pulled out the actions from the sector deal below:

People

  • The government will work closely with industry on the rollout of two new T Level courses to help deliver the hospitality and tourism workers of the future.
  • The government will continue working with industry, through ‘Fire It Up’ and other campaigns, to promote apprenticeship and the opportunities for careers in the hospitality and tourism sector.
  • The government will engage fully with industry during its Post-16 Qualifications review to ensure the sector has an opportunity to feed into future policy development.
  • `The Department for Work and Pensions will continue its partnership agreement with the hospitality industry to help provide its customers with a structured route into work in the Sector.

Sector action to support tourism

  • The sector will create 30,000 apprenticeship starts each year by 2025, covering all grades, from entry-level roles up to degree-level apprenticeship, and across a range of disciplines.
  • Employers will commit over £1m of funding to an ambitious retention and recruitment programme to revolutionise the pipeline of talent that joins the sector.
  • A new industry mentoring programme will be developed to support 10,000 employees each year. This will aim to enhance careers as well as helping to ensure talented people remain within the sector.
  • The sector will increase the percentage of the workforce receiving in-work training to 80 per cent.

Places

  • The government will pilot up to five new Tourism Zones to increase visitor numbers across the country. More information about the bidding process will be released later in the year, with a view to commencing projects in 2020.
  • Tourism Zones will also receive a range of support co-ordinated by central government.

Sector action to support tourism

  • Tourism Zones will be developed and delivered by businesses local authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships (in England) who will determine the specific priorities of an area.
  • A range of larger businesses have offered training and support for small and medium enterprises within Tourism Zones.

Business Environment

  • Alongside the Sector Deal the UK government’s International Business Events Action Plan 2019-2025 has been published and sets out the steps the UK government will take to support the UK to maintain its position as a leading destination for hosting international business events in Europe.
  • The UK government will achieve this by providing support in relation to the six key drivers that event decision makers consider when determining where to host an event, from providing government advocacy to financial support.

Sector action to support tourism

  • The Events Industry Board, set up to advise government, has identified two priority areas which they can help and support – skills and infrastructure. These priorities are being considered by working groups set up by the Board and will report later in the year.

Infrastructure

  • The UK government will make travel to the UK and around the UK easier for tourists through the development of its Maritime and Aviation strategies, as well as a number of rail policy developments.
  • The UK government is investing in a number of projects across the Museums, Heritage and Arts sectors that will enhance visitor’s experience. These include supporting the conservation work at Wentworth Woodhouse, the development of a new interpretation centre at Jodrell Bank and the development of England’s Coast Path, the world’s longest coastal path.
  • The UK government will launch a new £250k competition to improve broadband connectivity in conference centres. This will be a UK wide competition.
  • The UK will build on its excellent existing offer, to become the most accessible destination in Europe.
  • The British Tourist Authority will increase their publicity about accessible travel and provide inbound visitors with increased information about the accessibility offer in the UK through a brand new website.

Sector action to support tourism

  • Industry will create an extra 130,000 bedrooms across the UK by 2025 – a significant increase of 21 per cent in accommodation stock.
  • Industry will continue to invest in tourism attractions and innovative products, to remain a global leader in the experiences the UK offers visitors.
  • The sector will support the UK government’s ambition to be most accessible destination in Europe. They will take forward a number of measures, including better coordination of accessible itineraries online, and increasing the visibility of people with accessibility issues in promotion and marketing campaigns

Ideas

  • The government has supported the British Tourist Authority development of Tourism Exchange Great Britain. Launching in June 2019, this is an online business-to-business platform, which will connect tourism suppliers to global distributors.
  • The UK government has provided £40k to the Tourism Alliance in England to carry out further research on how, where and why businesses within the sector obtain advice on compliance, which will inform the shape of further advisory services including Primary Authority.

Sector action to support tourism

  • The industry and British Tourist Authority will work together to create a new, independent Tourism Data Hub, which can help the sector across the UK to better understand visitors’ preferences for location, activities and products in real time. It will also enable the sector for the first time to gather better data about the people choosing not to holiday in the UK

Action plan

“The Action Plan lists a set of criteria that events will need to meet in order to qualify for the UK Government’s support. This includes criteria on the minimum number of delegates and the proportion of those travelling from overseas. It then outlines the UK Government’s support offer across a number of areas. Key actions include:

  • Government advocacy – A comprehensive advocacy package will be offered – ranging from Ministers being available to write letters of support in order to help with bidding for events to offers of hosting delegates in historical Government property;
  • Financial support – We will continue funding the VisitBritain led Business Events Growth Programme,and look at opportunities for expanding it, especially where business events are identified as critical to meeting the UK’s key economic sector objectives; and,
  • Arrivals and welcome – The Border Force and UK Visas and Immigration will offer a relevant support offer to delegates.”

Lifelong learning

Life Transition Point Learning: The Learning and Work Institute published Learning at Life Transitions focussing on the importance of understanding the needs of adult learners particularly at the key points in their lives when they might be more or less likely to take up learning opportunities. In particular, these points can be parents returning to work after caring for young children and also people preparing for retirement.

Transition back to work after caring for children:

  • Adults, and in particular women, with caring responsibilities who are outside of the labour market are under-represented in learning
  • Taking parental leave or returning to work can act as a trigger to engage in learning. This can result from greater time or a change in attitude or perspective.
  • Returners also face a range of barriers to learning. Adults returning to work after caring for children tend to face significant challenges in relation to work and time pressures, primarily related to childcare

Transition into and through retirement:  Participation in, and decisions about, types of learning opportunities alter as adults retire. Although participation in learning tends to decline with age, those approaching retirement have higher levels of participation than the national average.

  • Moving into retirement can create space to consider learning for enjoyment for the first time. The perceived value of learning can often be greater than at previous life stages, with many adults placing greater value on the role of learning, particularly in relation to providing intellectual and social stimulation.
  • Adults facing retirement experience a range of barriers to engaging in learning. Attitudinal factors, such as feeling too old, not w