Tagged / skills

HE Policy Update for the w/e 11th Feb 2021

Lots to talk about this week as we look in some detail at the Education’s Secretary’s latest guidance to the OfS and what it means and doesn’t mean.

We’re taking a break next week but will be back with a round-up of the essential news the following week.

HE Strategic Priorities – Williamson’s letter to OfS

The Secretary of State wrote to the OfS on 8th Feb 2021 with a new set of strategic priorities.

Interestingly, he also said “apart from my guidance letters on 14 September 2020, 14 December 2020, 19 January 2021 and 2 February 2021 which related to delivery of particular time critical issues, this letter replaces all previous guidance.”  So what are the priorities now, and the context for them? and what is no longer a priority?  We quote chunks of the text from Williamson’s letter for colleagues to scan through because the tone of the wording is quite insightful.  We cover those other 4 letters below as well as what is now “off the table”.

Williamson states: my strong view that the OfS should focus on driving up quality, being risk based, minimising bureaucracy, and ensuring that it delivers on equality of opportunity in higher education…this letter replaces all previous guidance [apart from the 4 other letters he mentions which he states relate to delivery of time critical issues of course]..…The OfS will, of course, still need to deliver its functions under HERA and its operational responsibilities, but the replacement of the majority of previous guidance will, I hope, provide clarity on my priorities and allow the OfS to focus its energy and resources on these.  Bottom line – this is an instruction to the OfS to crack on (and crack down on) the sector to ensure progress is made on his top issues.

But before we get to what they are, this made us try and guess what the biggest “problems” are for the SoS:

  • A student (particularly one from a WP background) who takes a degree in a creative subject at a “lower quality” university and goes on to pursue a career in creative arts which is relatively low paid compared to the average earnings of students studying that subject.
  • A student (particularly one from a WP background) who studies anything and then struggles to find a “graduate level” job, but particularly if it is a humanities, or media course at a “lower quality” university.
  • A student who doesn’t complete their degree.

Why might these be a problem? In each case the answer is the same: they should never have gone to university at all, and specifically the one they chose.  They should never have incurred loans they probably won’t repay; they should have studied, say, plumbing, on an FE course, because:

  • there is no social mobility – these students have not improved their relative financial position;
  • there is no benefit to the taxpayer – as they have not increased their earnings, they will not make higher tax contributions and are unlikely to repay their student loans – so the subsidy was not value for money;
  • there is no alignment in terms of the UK’s productivity or strategic priorities – given their choice of courses these students are not contributing to the “build back better” vision for the future which is all about STEM, and they are not contributing either to public service and the nation as nurses, teachers or social workers or working in social care (although they might be, but it doesn’t count for this purpose because their first degree wasn’t in those things);
  • the students who fail to complete must have done so because the course was poor quality or there was insufficient support.

Of course this all ignores the fact that many students can’t or don’t leave their local region for employment, that there may be challenging local economic circumstances, and that the jobs and average salaries of their contemporaries at other “better quality” universities may also be influenced by the social capital, school experience, and non-WP background of the majority of their students which makes it easier for them to become lawyers, bankers, captains of industry, politicians (although a minute ago we were only counting careers directly linked to the first degree subject).  Of course the SoS wants these issues to be considered (he mentions socio-economic status and geographical inequality) but only to the extent that more students affected by those issues should go to high tariff institutions.  Because then they will presumably get the same outcomes as every one else who goes there.  Won’t they?

And it ignores the fact that those who dropped out may have done so because of financial pressures, or caring responsibilities, or mental health issues or a whole range of other reasons.

So if those are the problems, and the reasons for them, here are some possible answers.  Then we’ll look at the SoS’s priorities.  You’ll be amazed how aligned they are.

  • outcomes are what count, so define quality by looking at outcomes metrics, and cut funding or close down those that don’t meet your baseline (already in hand but worth reinforcing);
  • link funding to strategically important subjects (that’s only hinted at here, but there has been more before and is more to come);
  • students should really only study arts or creative subjects at prestigious specialist institutions and only study humanities at high tariff institutions (linked to outcomes, see above), and so it might make sense to stop some universities from offering those courses or find another way to reduce the government subsidy for them (there are several ways of doing that and some feature below);
  • ration places at university so that the system costs less but try and level the playing field for applicants including finding a way to ensure that more students from disadvantaged backgrounds get into high tariff universities (where they will surely get better outcomes….yes, that is here too).

Of course there is more, on pet political issues like free speech, and reducing bureaucracy.  There is more on mental health and helping students to complain.  And there is a lot on getting the OfS to support the big skills agenda (i.e. technical education, lifelong learning etc.).

You can read the Wonkhe take on it here.  And Wonkhe also have a blog by Susanna Kalitowski of the University Alliance which sets out another view, considering the conflict between quality = outcomes and flexible learning.

So here we go.

Quality and Standards: The biggie.

  • One of my highest priorities and an important manifesto commitment is to drive up quality and standards in higher education, which is a fundamental part of our levelling up agenda. This is in addition to the work outlined above on the quality of online learning…. would like the OfS to progress rapidly to ensure that a robust enhanced regulatory regime can be operational as soon as possible.
  • I fully support the OfS desire to ensure that decisions on regulatory intervention and registration can be made in relation to minimum absolute standards of quality which apply across the whole of higher education provision. I firmly believe that every student, regardless of their background, has a right to expect a minimum standard of education that is likely to improve their prospects in life…I note that these standards are likely to take account of, though not be confined to, quantitative measures, including measures relating to student outcomes.

And he means business:

  • The OfS should not hesitate to use the full range of its powers and sanctions where quality of provision is not high enough: the OfS should not limit itself to putting in place conditions of registration requiring improvement plans for providers who do not demonstrate high quality and robust outcomes, but should move immediately to more robust measures, including monetary penalties, the revocation of degree awarding powers in subjects of concem, suspending aspects of a provider’s registration or, ultimately, deregistration. It is also my view that the OfS should not be registering providers without rigorous quality and a commitment to robust graduate outcomes, which should be closely monitored once registered.

And related to quality:

  • TEF: He asks the OfS to interpret the Government response to the Independent Review of the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework. Sub text: sort it out and make it do/measure what the Government want it to do.
  • Student complaints: the phrasing suggest that OfS may be expected to play more of a role in students’ complaints. Using the OIA as the complaint ombudsman has been both a blessing and curse for the Government during the pandemic. Blessing because they can offload it to a different body, and curse because it left them without an arrow to shoot the sector with. Williamson asks the OfS to continue to monitor this closely, and to take swift action where it is clear that quality and academic standards have dropped. I would like the OfS to communicate the findings from their monitoring work and ensure students are aware of the notification process that they can follow to raise any issues.
  • Death knell for NSS: Minister Donelan also asked the OfS in her 14 September letter to carry out a radical review of the National Student Survey (NSS). I can confirm that this remains a high priority, in order to address the downwards pressure that student surveys of this sort may exert on standards. I would like the OfS to take the time it needs to ensure this review is genuinely radical, consider carefully whether there could be a replacement that does not depend on a universal annual sample, and ensure that a replacement does not contribute to the reduction in rigour and standards. It is my strong view that the NSS should play at most a minimal role in baseline quality regulation. It’s interesting to juxtapose this with the paragraph above – don’t ask students about their experience or use that feedback in a quality framework or the TEF – but do encourage them to complain and take action on their complaints.

Fairness and admissions (lumped together, which is telling – concerns about admissions are all in this document about fairness, except minimum entry standards, which are about quality.)

  • 2021: to ensure that admissions this year run as smoothly as possible and students’ interests are fully taken into account.
  • PQA: Central to my plans to improve equality of opportunity is…post qualification admissions…we believe it has the potential to contribute towards improved student outcomes in the longer-term. He asks the OfS to support the Department’s work to develop the evidence base and implementation. And makes the main intent behind the change clear: We want to ensure that any move to post qualification admissions genuinely improves the prospects of disadvantaged students and, in particular, facilitates greater numbers of them accessing the most selective universities.
  • Supporting WP while controlling numbers: It is very important that the OfS’ work on access and participation focuses on delivering real social mobility: ensuring students are able to make the right choices, accessing and succeeding on high quality courses which are valued by employers and lead to good graduate employment. Encouraging more and more students onto courses which do not provide good graduate outcomes does not provide real social mobility and serves only to entrench inequality
  • I would like the OfS to continue to consider broader factors, including socio-economic status and geographical inequality, which are likely to impact on access and participation in higher education. This should include a focus on white boys on free school meals who are currently the least likely group to progress to higher education
  • I would like the OfS to encourage universities to do much more to work with schools in a way which meaningfully raises the attainment of disadvantaged children. Theresa May’s agenda still hasn’t gone away, policy recycling at its best. What does this mean? It’s interesting though, when funding for UniConnect has just been cut (see GW’s letter of 19 January 2021)
  • I would like to remind the OfS that it has a statutory duty to have regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome. The OfS must be a champion for the importance of academic and technical excellence in all aspects of the student lifecycle, from selection to graduation. [Again a reminder that there are other routes than HE and Ministers want to see technical education rise in prominence.]

Funding:

  • I would therefore like you to make arrangements to change the name of the Teaching Grant to the Strategic Priorities Grant[this of course builds on the earlier letter in which he “slashed” the teaching grant allocation for media courses and archaeology (see our 21st Jan 21 policy update here)].
    • Remember the interim response to Augar also said that the upcoming consultation on further reforms will include consideration of minimum entry requirements, which it is expected would restrict the availability of government funding for students who do not meet the requirements. This proposal was mentioned in Augar as a possible step to take to address concerns about low value courses.  It was widely condemned as a cap on ambition and a regressive step against social mobility when it was first discussed in December 2018.  But it also is a way of rationing the government subsidy.

Skills agenda, lifelong learning: The OfS also has to work on the Lifelong Loan Entitlement and reforms to occupationally focused higher technical qualifications.

  • I would like the OfS to work with DfE and other stakeholders to consider how to support the accumulation and transfer of credit and to develop a regulatory system that is fully equipped to support radically different, flexible arrangements, measuring quality using metrics that are meaningful in the new system and interact positively with our admissions regime. Delivering our vision will require action from providers to adapt to this new model and providers will need to work towards delivering greater flexibility in the courses they offer. Alongside that work by providers, the OfS should ensure that it, too, is considering how all aspects of its regulatory approach will need to adapt to and support this new model. e. adopt it or else.
  • [Note there is an interesting HEPI blog from 5th February on this: “ Although flexibility is important in the support of learning, a shift in approach will need real care to manage step off to ensure it becomes step off with purpose, at an appropriate time for the learner and as an integral part of the lifelong learning journey”.]
  • [Also note an interesting blog on BTECs by Graeme Atherton of NEON on Wonkhe]

Mental Health: OfS to continue to support initiatives in relation to mental health in the short and long term. This should be through distributing funding to providers in line with my January guidance, and developing and funding challenge competitions to enable providers to develop innovative practice in mental health support. This funding should target mental health support for students transitioning from school/college to university and prioritising the most disadvantaged learners.

Sector stability: OfS to continue to monitor the financial sustainability of the sector – It is important that the OfS maintains a close understanding and oversight of financial issues arising from the COVID-19 pandemic and shares information where appropriate so that the OfS and Government can work together to provide timely support for providers through the Restructuring Regime and ensure effective protection of students..

All this whilst reducing the regulatory burden:

  • …providers delivering high quality provision and strong outcomes for students should not be adversely affected by additional unnecessary bureaucracy or reporting in relation to quality: I would like the OfS to take a risk-based approach to quality assessment and regulation, focusing its efforts on lower quality providers. [Remember quality measures are going to be linked to absolute measures of outcomes]
  • In Minister Donelan’s guidance letter to the OfS on 14 September 2020, she set out a number of areas where she expected the OfS to reduce the bureaucratic burden on providers. Those areas included enhanced monitoring, termly data collections under data futures, random sampling, student transfer arrangements, estates and non-academic staff data and a review of TRAC and the OfS’ transparency condition… In addition to reducing bureaucracy in the areas outlined in Minister Donelan’s letter, I would like the OfS look across everything that it does to identify further opportunities to reduce unnecessary bureaucracy and reporting requirements for providers.
  • Tut tut: In my view, to date, the OfS has not been sufficiently risk-based. A risk-based approach to regulation should consider the overall regulatory burden faced by providers, including data gathering, reporting and monitoring, not just the application of conditions of registration. It is my view that there are further opportunities for the OfS to ensure that providers with consistently strong performance face minimal regulatory burden. I would like the OfS to implement a markedly more risk-based model of regulation, with significant, meaningful and observable reductions in the regulatory burden upon high quality providers within the next 12 months. [Remember quality measures are going to be linked to absolute measures of outcomes]

Free speech & Academic Freedom:

  • We knew free speech would get a mention however its tone is critical of the OfS. While I welcome your powerful speech, Sir Michael, on 20 January on this subject, to date there has been little regulatory action taken by the OfS in relation to potential breaches of the registration conditions relating to freedom of speech and academic freedom, despite a significant number of concerning incidents reported since the full suite of its regulatory powers came into force. This is interesting because sector press states that there are few real incidents where free speech has been curtailed and previous universities ministers have been unable to evidence their claims that there is a problem. Yet the Education Secretary states that OfS is aware of a significant number of incidents.
  • Furthermore, Williamson states: I intend to publish a policy paper on free speech and academic freedom in the near future and I would like the OfS to continue to work closely with the Department to deliver this shared agenda and ensure our work is closely aligned. I would also like it to take more active and visible action to challenge concerning incidents that are reported to it or which it becomes aware of, as well as to share information with providers about best practice for protecting free speech beyond the minimum legal requirements. So Williamson wants the OfS, already known for its bark, poor comms and reputation within the HE sector, to develop far more bite. So far there has been no mention of caning wayward VC’s.
  • …university administrators and heads of faculty should not, whether for ideological reasons or to conform to the perceived desires of students, pressure or force teaching staff to drop authors or texts that add rigour and stretch to a course. The OfS should robustly challenge providers that have implemented such policies and clearly support individual academics whose academic freedom is being diminished.

Antisemitism: Williamson is determined to champion a specific definition of anti-Semitism. In 2020 he gave universities until Christmas to conform and adopt the definition with the threat of action taken against those that didn’t. This stops short of that, but assumes a match between non-adopters with higher levels of incidents and suggests financial penalties.

  • Following my letter to the sector on 9 October 2020 on anti-Semitism and adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism across the HE sector, we have seen positive progress, with at least 31 additional institutions adopting the definition.
    I would like the OfS to undertake a scoping exercise to identify providers which are reluctant to adopt the definition and consider introducing mandatory reporting of anti-Semitic incident numbers by providers. This would ensure a robust evidence base, which the OfS could then use to effectively regulate in this area. If anti-Semitic incidents do occur at a provider, the OfS should consider if it is relevant in a particular case whether the provider has adopted the definition when considering what sanctions, including monetary penalties, would be appropriate to apply.
  • Of course, there are several ways to adopt the definition, including subsuming it within a wider, more comprehensive, policy. It could result in protracted semantic debates as the OfS and a university argue whether decisions were made within the spirit of the definition.

International recruitment:

  • When the sector starts to move past the difficult circumstances created by COVID-19, a key focus of UK higher education providers will understandably be how to sustainably and responsibly recover international student recruitment, given the importance of this group to the financial health of the sector. The Government has updated its International Education Strategy to support that objective, restating its commitment to the IES’ original ambition to increase international higher education student numbers to at least 600,000 by 2030. [see more on this later]
  • In addition, we are doing our utmost to raise awareness within the sector that, where there are international opportunities, there are also risks, including overdependence on income from a single source and security-related issues. At the request of the Minister for Universities, Universities UK produced important guidelines and recommendations to help providers manage risks in internationalisation. I would like the OfS to monitor the adoption of these recommendations by providers and continue to support the sector to manage these risks to the reputation, integrity and sustainability of individual institutions, as well as to the sector as a whole.

Those other letters:

  • 14 September 2020 – this was a long one
    • set out £10m of additional teaching grant funding for high cost subjects to accommodate additional students as a result of the admissions issues in 2020
    • asked the OfS to reduce its enhanced monitoring because of the burden on providers and suggested using specific licence conditions instead – and asked for a report within 3 months
    • supported reduced requirements for data futures and ending random sampling, stopping the collection of non academic and estates data in HESES, reviewing TRAC and ending TRAC (T), and reviewing the transparency data
    • requested the “radical, root and branch review” of the NSS by the end of 2020 and “It is my strong view that the NSS should not be carried out in again in the same format as it was last year.” [oops, it has been]
    • instructed that no further action be taken on student transfer arrangements. That is fine, but of course the relevant issues all come back up again in the context of credit transfer and lifelong learning.   This was originally in an earlier letter in September 2019.
    • Asking the OfS to review its own efficiency and save registration fees by 10% in 2 years.
  • 14 December 2020 – this one was about £20m in hardship funding
  • 19 January 2021 – this was about the teaching grant – including reducing it for some subjects, removing the London weighting, cutting UniConnect etc.
  • Parliamentary question in which Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan, defends the decision to remove the London weighting in the HE teaching grant: …it is right for government to re-allocate public money where it is most needed. Universities should not receive additional investment for teaching simply because of where they are located: excellent provision can be delivered across the country. London already has, on average, the highest percentage of good or outstanding schools, the highest progression to HE, and more HE providers than in any other region in England. This government is firmly committed to the levelling up agenda and this reform will invest more money directly into high quality institutions in the Midlands and the North.
  • 2 February 2021 – this one was bout the £50m hardship funding

What he didn’t mention in any of these letters and so is off the table?

  • Accelerated degrees- from an earlier letter in September 2019
  • Student protection plans – this was in the letter in February 2019 (from Damien Hinds, not GW) “I would like the OfS to continue to focus on student protection and consumer rights. In particular, to evaluate and report publicly on the strength of student protection plans and advice available on students’ consumer rights.
  • Student contracts – from an earlier letter in September 2019. You will recall the proposal was for template student contracts with initial recommendations to the government by Feb 2020.
  • Contract cheating and essay mills – this featured in the letter of 7th June 2019 (from Damien Hinds, not GW) which asked the OfS to work with the sector and take firm and robust action
  • Grade inflation –
  • VC pay
  • The September 2019 letter also asked the OfS to make “public transparent data on the outcomes achieved by international students, including those studying wholly outside the UK, such as it does for domestic students”

Research

Place Strategy: In September 2020 the Council for Science and Technology wrote to the Prime Minister to explore how science and technology can contribute to addressing regional disparities and promote equality of opportunity. The Government have published both the letter and the PM’s response here.

The letter proposes 6 recommendations focused on 4 areas:

  1. Leveraging research and development funding for regional growth by scaling up collaborative funding opportunities to foster and enhance partnerships, within and between regions, where there are research and innovation synergies with the potential to contribute to local growth.
  2. Further incentivising the contribution of research, innovation and technology centres to regional growth in funding agreements and in organisational strategies.
  3. Enhancing the availability of information on local innovation strengths and needs, for local and national decision makers to inform effective investment strategies and to evaluate outcomes.
  4. Supporting wider measures needed for research and development investment to act as a driver for local growth, including measures to support skills and to support local leadership and decision-making.

The PM’s response welcomes the Council’s recommendations (which sit well with current Government policy) and mentions BEIS development of the UK Research and Development Place Strategy:

  • The Place Strategy will set out how the Government can build on existing initiatives (such as the Strength in Places Fund) to support research and innovation excellence, and build new centres of high-value economic activity outside of the South East… We also need to get the local governance and delivery structures right so that responsibility and accountability sit at the right level for delivering local growth priorities.
  • And: BEIS and UKRI will continue to engage widely with industry, the scientific community, and civic organisations from across the country to help develop a strategy that supports the priorities of areas and communities across the UK. The new Ministerial R&D Place Advisory Group, which had its inaugural meeting last month, will propose, challenge and test potential policy options.

Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund: The National Audit Office has published a report on UK Research and Innovation’s management of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund examining the Fund has been set up in a way likely to optimise value for money. By January 2021 the Fund was supporting 1,613 projects, contributing to one of the 24 approved challenges. To date, UKRI has spent around £1.2 billion of the Fund’s eight-year budget of £3 billion.

The report examines:

  • the establishment of the Fund, in particular whether it has attracted sufficient good-quality bids, whether the selection processes have been efficient and whether the budget is managed effectively (Parts One and Two); and
  • the approach to monitoring and evaluating the Fund’s performance, as well as its performance to date (Part Three).

The report finds that UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) have worked well to generate interest from industry and academia in the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (the Fund). However, more needs to be done to reduce the time taken to consider requests for support, so applicants are not deterred from bidding for funding and projects are not delayed.

  • Over the period, government has enhanced its engagement with industry to seek out challenges which might benefit most from taxpayer support.
  • UKRI’s own assessment shows that the Fund’s key components – challenges and projects – are broadly performing well. To sustain this position, the Department and HM Treasury, working with UKRI, need to place more emphasis on the outcomes and impact its funding secures at the Fund level. The increasing number of challenges supported by the Fund, each with their own objectives, and range of different objectives at Fund level risk obscuring priorities and will make the assessment of value for money in the longer term more difficult

R&D Roadmap: Catapults: The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee published a report asserting that the Government’s ambitions for research and development are not supported by a detailed plan or sufficient investment in innovation. It details how the Government needs to provide more detail about how it will deliver its R&D Roadmap, including how it will attract substantial private sector investment to meet its target of 2.4% of GDP by 2027. It states the UK’s research and innovation system has the necessary components to be successful, but there is insufficient collaboration between organisations and insufficient scale to deliver the required levels innovation and commercial success.

  • Commenting on the Catapult Network it states it is an integral part of the UK’s innovation system. And that the Government should expand the Catapult Network to support technologies in which the UK excels and that can bring substantial economic benefits – including to assist in the levelling up agenda.
  • Changes are needed to remove barriers that limit the Catapults’ effectiveness: universities, Catapults and industry need to be encouraged (and permitted) to interact more deeply; and rules governing innovation funding should be reformed, to allow greater flexibility for Catapults and their partners.

The Committee set out a range of recommendations for the Government, UKRI and Innovate UK to help deliver the UK’s R&D ambitions, including the changes to enable the Catapults to more effectively achieve their objectives:

  • A clear plan for how public sector resources and private investment can be made to match the scale of ambition in the R&D Roadmap.
  • Prioritisation of scaling up the Catapult Network.
  • Assurance of long-term continuity for the Catapults—including longer-term certainty over funding and a commitment that reviews will be limited to once every five years, to match the five-year funding cycle.
  • Enabling Catapults and universities to work together more easily on innovation projects, and fostering closer links between industry and universities to assist researchers to work at the interface between the two.
  • Allowing Catapults to bid for Research Council funds where there are clear advantages in terms of both research and innovation; more flexibility in permitting public sector bodies to have a larger share of collaborative R&D funding; and supporting translational research and transformative innovation more effectively, including by reducing risks to industry.
  • Supporting the levelling up agenda by developing a more strategic approach across policies for innovation and regional development—such as broadening access to the Strength in Places Fund.

Quick News

  • UKRI has advertised for a new Chair of UKRI. Given the recent spate of appointments where the Government has been criticised for lack of impartiality this, by Research Professional, raised a chuckle this week: The way public appointments have gone under this government, you may be forgiven for wondering if the post might go to the spouse of a Conservative MP who once owned a chemistry set. It will be up to the assessment panel to come up with a shortlist from the applications.
  • The Times dug up an article on research degrees from the depths of their archives. It’s a short and light read. The similarity to a current theme is surprising – that of other nations squeezing out ‘natives’ by taking up their university places: British universities since the war have had much ado to find room for native-born students, but it is to be hoped that they will make all efforts to attract the graduate research students for whom the new degree was instituted.
  • Healthcare knowledge provider the BMJ, and technology provider Jisc, have agreed a publish and read pilot as part of their commitment to help promote knowledge and speed up discoveries to improve healthcare across the UK. It grants Jisc members full read access to the BMJ’s standard collection (28 specialist journals) and offers researchers at the member institutions the opportunity to publish funded articles on an open access basis in the standard collection journals. Under the agreement, research funded by UKRI, Wellcome, and key medical charities in the UK can be published open access, to help to make the research more accessible and sustainable.
  • The Government has set up a new independent body, the UK Cyber Security Council to boost career opportunities and professional standards for the UK’s cyber security sector. Funded by DCMS the organisation will provide a single governing voice for the industry to establish the knowledge, skills and experience required for a range of cyber security jobs, bringing it in line with other professions such as law, medicine and engineering. The council was developed following a 2018 consultation on Developing the UK cyber security profession which showed strong support for the government’s proposals to define objectives for the profession to achieve and to create a new, independent UK Cyber Security Council to coordinate delivery. Digital Infrastructure Minister Matt Warman said: The fact we are launching an independent professional body for cyber security shows just how vital this area has become – it makes a huge contribution to our thriving digital economy by safeguarding our critical national infrastructure, commerce and other online spaces. The UK Cyber Security Council will ensure anyone interested in an exciting career tackling online threats has access to world-class training and guidance. It will also champion diversity and inclusion, driving up standards while helping the nation to build back better and safer.

Admissions

2021 Admissions juggle: Research Professional has a good romp through the exam related admissions issues for 2021. Here are some excerpts but there is more content in the blog (e.g. on over recruitment).

  • Setting aside for a moment the challenges involved in running an appeals process based on evaluating a teacher assessment without recourse to an externally validated examination, this raises an issue: If students achieve their results directly and the university hasn’t had confirmation through the awarding bodies and Ucas of what those results are, how long will it be before those students are on the phone, email or turning up on campus to request confirmation of a place? And what does the university do? Take each student’s word for it? Ask for validation from their school? Wait for the results to eventually arrive through Ucas?
  • As things stand, we risk receiving Welsh, English, Northern Irish and international A-levels on different days (and several weeks apart), with BTEC and other vocational awards also somewhere in the mix. While we typically get international qualifications over a span of several weeks (from late June through to mid-August), the relatively small numbers are manageable. But to receive the main bulk of the results in a haphazard fashion raises important questions about the fairness and transparency of admissions decisions.
  • The danger is an outcome in which the fastest nation to get its results out will gain a significant advantage in securing places. It is notable that in the many discussions about a post-qualification admissions process, one of the prerequisites for an effective system will be an alignment of UK results; without having a common date for receipt of results this year, we run the risk of having a fragmented and unfair admissions process.
  • No-one underestimates the challenges we face in this admissions cycle to run a system that is fair to applicants and also ensures that students avoid considerable uncertainty and stress in a situation over which they have no agency. 

Student Numbers Cap: Towards the end of last week Research Professional also asked if the student numbers cap should have remained in place for the 2020/21 intake.

  • The data show a 13 per cent rise overall in numbers of students recruited by high-tariff universities—way more than the 5 per cent (plus forecasts) rise that would have been allowed under the proposed number controls, even allowing for generous forecasting. Some research-intensive institutions accepted a third more UK and EU students than they had the previous year, while other institutions saw recruitment slump by more than 15 per cent.
  • Several non-Russell Group institutions also grew their recruitment significantly: at Leeds Trinity University, Buckinghamshire New University, Liverpool Hope University, the University of Buckingham and Soas, University of London, increases in UK and EU student numbers topped 20 per cent. More than 50 universities increased their UK and EU intake by more than the magic 5 per cent.
  • There were no high-tariff institutions among those that saw major falls. And while overall recruitment was up nearly 30,000, for more than 30 institutions it was down—for some substantially.
  • …The original idea for introducing student number controls last year was to protect post-1992 institutions from exactly this kind of trouble. The controls were dropped not because the danger had entirely gone away—as the Ucas figures show, it hadn’t—but because the government had made such a mess over A-levels that it had little choice.
  • …needs are likely to be substantial in September as students arrive at university without normal levels of learning and social interaction and, in some cases, traumatised by an exceptionally tough year.
  • That will put pressure on some high-tariff institutions whose welfare systems are likely to creak under the strain of larger-than-planned-for numbers of students with multiple issues.
  • But there will also be different kinds of pressures on those institutions that would normally be dealing with a proportion of these students but have missed out because of the knock-on effects of the pandemic. It will be ironic if both groups end up struggling to cope because of government-sanctioned grade inflation.

You can read the full blog here.

Harassment

You may recall that about this time last year the OfS launched a consultation on preventing and addressing harassment and sexual misconduct. This was paused during the pandemic and won’t be reopened. Instead the OfS are considering this matter alongside their wider work to review and reset our regulatory requirements. They intend to

  • Publish a statement of expectations relating to providers’ systems, policies and processes to prevent and respond to harassment and sexual misconduct by Spring 2021. The statement will set out the OfS’ expectations and give universities and colleges the opportunity to review and renew their systems, policies and processes before the beginning of the next academic year.
  • Right now the OfS are engaging with student and sector representative bodies and other stakeholders…to understand specifically how the events of this past year may affect the proposed statement of expectations. e. the additional challenges faced by some students because of the pandemic, including online harassment and domestic abuse.

Turing – Student Mobility

The Turing website is live. Research Professional cover the basics:

  • Applications for bids to Turing will open in “the spring”, which in Whitehall speak can run as late as the end of June, although the website promises a March announcement with a window of six weeks for submissions and results known in July. The call will include “higher education projects”, with funding available for “placements during the period from September 2021 to August 2022”.
  • Any student at “an officially recognised higher education provider registered in the UK”—which we assume means registered with the Office for Students—can participate in the scheme, regardless of nationality. The students will be able to attend a non-UK university as well as “any public or private organisation active in the labour market or in the fields of education and training”.
  • This includes businesses, public bodies, research institutes, foundations, non-governmental organisations and “a social partner or other representative of working life, including chambers of commerce, craft and professional associations and trade unions”. Beyond that, details of the scheme are relatively scant, with visitors to the website encouraged to sign up for email alerts
  • We do know that “successful applications will receive funding towards delivering placements and exchanges” and “the rates provided will be broadly in line with what has been on offer under Erasmus+”. Placements can be of any length between 4 weeks and 12 months. Further guidance on specific elements of funding and a list of destination country groupings for cost of living will be published shortly, the website says.
  • Destinations with a high cost of living will attract a £136-a-week or £380-a-month maintenance grant. Countries with a medium or lower cost of living will be funded at the rate of £120 a week or £335 a month.
  • Students who can demonstrate a disadvantaged background will be funded at a higher rate of £490 a month for expensive destinations and £445 a month for less expensive ones. There will also be tariffs for travel based on distance, ranging from £20 a head for projects less than 100 kilometres away to £1,360 for those taking place over 12,000km away.
  • …Some £315 a head for the first 100 participants will be made available for the administration of projects, with that declining sharply to £180 for the 101st student. It would seem that each individual exchange project should be applied for annually, in contrast to Erasmus+ in which partnerships are rolled over from year to year.
  • Turing is being described as an “outward student mobility scheme”…What Turing does not seem to do is fund exchange students to come in the opposite direction, which makes it a hard sell to prospective international partners while also reducing diversity in UK classrooms.

More details are expected in March.

Wonkhe have a Turing blog: For Janet Beer, it is time to accept the opportunities and flexibility that the new Turing scheme can offer.

International

International Education Strategy

The DfE published the 2021 update to the International Education Strategy including measures to boost international study and global opportunities. Press release here. It includes attracting more overseas students, boosting access to global student exchanges for thousands of people, and supporting international education partnerships. reaffirms the Government’s commitment to increase the amount generated from education exports, such as fees and income from overseas students and English language teaching abroad, to £35bn a year, and sustainably recruit at least 600,000 international students to the UK by 2030. For research and development, the strategy confirmed that the UK will participate in Horizon Europe, as part of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) with the EU, subject to finalisation of the programme regulations. The Turing social mobility scheme is also mentioned (more on Turing here). Lastly the Secretary of State’s recent guidance letter also warns institutions to balance recruitment with thought for national security and not to develop an overreliance on recruiting from particular groups or countries.

The Strategy update proposes several areas to help increase the value of education exports and international student numbers:

  • The International Education Champion: this update sets out the priority countries and regions in which the International Education Champion, Sir Steve Smith, will focus his activity. Sir Steve’s immediate priorities are India, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and Nigeria. His role will focus on growing export opportunities in these countries. Other important regional markets for the International Education Champion will include: Brazil, Mexico, Pakistan, Europe, China and Hong Kong. The government will also work with Sir Steve and the British Council to identify and resolve barriers which prevent the recognition of online and blended (a combination of offline and online) learning internationally
  • Building lasting global partnerships: there is an important role for the government to facilitate partnerships across the world, including in the Champion’s priority countries, but also beyond these. This includes Europe, the Indo-Pacific region, Sub-Saharan Africa and Central Asia. Our new Turing scheme will also help ensure we improve mobility between UK students and all regions of the world
  • Enhancing the international student experience from application to employment: the government will work with sector bodies such as the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA), the Office for Students (OfS), Universities UK International (UUKi) and the Confederation of British Industry on areas such as:
    • the student application process for international students
    • graduate outcomes and employability
    • the academic experience of international students
    • alternative student finance
  • A new international teaching qualification, ‘International Qualified Teacher Status’ (iQTS): the UK government propose to work with teacher training providers to establish a new teaching qualification that will provide an opportunity for teachers around the world to train to world respected domestic standards. There’s a consultation on it here.
  • Increase export opportunities for UK chartered professional bodies and UK special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) providers: DIT will support UK chartered professional bodies and SEND providers to find opportunities to increase their education exports

Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan stated: In these unprecedented times, having a proactive global education agenda is more important than ever so we can build back better from the pandemic. Our world-class education is a vital part of our economy and society, and we want to support universities, schools, colleges and all aspects of the education sector to thrive across the globe…I am also pleased to launch initiatives to enhance the experience of international students at our universities, from the moment they apply, to the first steps of their careers.

Vivienne Stern, Director of Universities UK International, said: I am very supportive of the International Education Strategy, which represents the next step in a joint effort by Government and the education sector to build on the international success of our education system and our attractiveness to international students. This approach has delivered real benefits already, including the introduction of the graduate route, and improvements to the visa system. Despite a very difficult year, interest in UK study has grown as a result…We look forward to continuing to be partners, working with our members, Government and others across the sector, to deliver the strategy.

HESA data: Colleagues with an interest in international matters will be interested in the HESA 2019/20 HE Student Data release mentioned above. There is a sub section exploring recruitment areas for incoming HE students here with useful charts. The transnational data is here.

Access & Participation

Left behind white pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The Education Committee continued to take evidence for its inquiry into Left behind white pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. Ministers Nick Gibb and Vicky Ford were questioned. While much of the content focussed on schools it was interested as it touched on several aspects of disadvantage. I was interested to learn that academic resilience (the ability of a child to excel academically regardless of their socio-economic background) has fallen for students from a disadvantaged background. You can read a summary of the session by Dods here.

Meanwhile the Public Accounts Committee have launched a new inquiry into Covid-19: Education. They intend to question DfE Officials on how well the DfE managed its overall response in the first lockdown, including whether it effectively supported schools and pupils in England during this period, whether it managed the move to mainly home-learning effectively and whether it effectively supported vulnerable and disadvantaged children. Questioning revolve around the current National Audit Office assessment.

Care leavers: TASO (Transforming Access and Student Outcomes in HE) published an evidence review: Supporting access and student success for learners with experience of children’s social care.

The literature review finds that activities and interventions aimed to support care leavers are not robustly evaluated: From the 57 studies under review, about half focused on the evaluation of actual support activities while the other half explored potential barriers and facilitators affecting the target group’s trajectory into post-secondary education. However, the small numbers and gaps in data involved with this target group mean establishing causal impact is trickier than evaluating other inventions. Classification of who to include and exclude were also a problem (such as interlinking because care leavers likely to enter HE as mature students). Many studies relied heavily on self-reported evidence through focus groups and interviews (which leads to a self-selecting sample), however, the review concludes that these approaches to support care leavers into and whilst at HE seemed promising:

  • Mentoring activities which also provide positive role models and build a sense of belonging with peers
  • A social network to support, guide and advise care leavers considering HE: A key part of this network is often a trusted adult or mentor who can provide encouragement towards academic and personal goals and emotional support on the journey into and through HE. Several interviewees emphasised the importance of building relationships with a trusted figure, especially in the context of a group of learners who have often built an innate distrust in large bureaucratic institutions.
  • A single point of contact within a provider who can help learners navigate the institution and access the support they need pre-application to post-graduation. The review mentions that HEIs with higher progression and success rates for care students had this role as their sole focus.
  • Links between local authorities, carers, schools and HE providers. In studies where this collaboration was felt to be successful, staff and carers reported better managed transition support, relevant sharing of information between inter-organisational staff and learners who reported of feeling less alone and isolated.

Equality Remit: The Government’s new Equality Hub is explained following a parliamentary question asking about the relationship between the new Equality Hub and the Equalities Office:

  • The new Equality Hub, in the Cabinet Office, brings together the Disability Unit, Government Equalities Office, Race Disparity Unit and, from 1 April, the sponsorship of, and secretariat to, the Social Mobility Commission. The Government Equalities Office’s remit related to gender equality, LGBT rights and the overall framework of equality legislation for Great Britain. The Equality Hub reports to Ministers who have other portfolios outside of the Cabinet Office, led by the Minister for Women and Equalities Liz Truss.
  • The Equality Hub has a key role in driving Government priorities on equality and opportunity. The Hub has a particular focus on improving the quality of evidence and data about disparities and the types of barriers different people face, ensuring that fairness is at the heart of everything we do.
  • Key to this is looking beyond a focus solely on statutory protected characteristics to ensure we understand how different issues interact, including in socio-economic and geographic inequality. In this way, the Equality Hub is key to driving progress on the Government’s commitment to levelling up opportunity and ensuring fairness for all.

Other recent care leaver relevant resources

OIA – Complaints

In related news the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) has published revised draft Rules for Large Group Complaints. Undoubtedly driven by Covid, the proposed Large Group Complaints process builds on their existing approach to group complaints by developing a bespoke approach to handling complaints from large groups of students. The proposed process is intended for complaints from large groups of students at a single provider where there is a high degree of commonality between the complaints and where the complaints could be considered collectively.

However, while the process the OIA proposes would be more streamlined than the current process for group complaints, they say their approach to decision making would be the same. I.e. they would still consider what is fair and reasonable in the circumstances.

The changes require an amendment to their existing Rules and additional Rules for Large Group Complaints so final comments are invited before the change takes place (deadline 12 March).

Wonkhe have a blog by Jim Dickinson.

HESA

HESA (the Higher Education Statistics Agency) published the 2019/20 HE Student Data (which includes the first five months of the coronavirus pandemic). Here are HESA’s headline findings:

  • UK students from ethnic minorities made up 27%of all students studying for a first degree in 2019/20 – among students studying for a postgraduate taught qualification (such as a Masters) this proportion was 24% and for postgraduate research qualifications (such as a PhD) the figure was 19%
  • 6% of all students were from a Black African background, but this group represented only 3% of postgraduate research students
  • Students from an Asian Pakistani background were also less representedamong postgraduate research students (2%) compared to representing 4% of all students
  • 17% of UK domicile students reported having a disability, including 5% who reported a mental health condition – within these statistics there was also a difference at different levels of study, with 18% of first degree students reporting a disability compared to 15% of postgraduate taught students
  • 41% of UK domicile students studying medicine and dentistry subjects were from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds compared to only 6% in the veterinary science and agriculture, food and related studies groups
  • 5% of all students were studying psychology, and that 81% of psychology students were female
  • The subject groups with the most students in 2019/20 were business and management with 412,815 students (52% male) and subjects allied to medicine with 295,520 students (79% female)

Colleagues may be interested to delve further into the HESA data which includes some great charts and visualisation to break down the student data in these areas:

David Kernohan of Wonkhe doesn’t think the data answers the big question about continuation this year.

Parliamentary News

Students – urgent questions: Michelle Donelan, the Universities Minister answered 39 questions relating to HE students as part of an urgent question session on Support for University Students: Covid-19. It covered familiar topics such as rent rebates and tuition quality. The Minister stuck to the party line and there was no new news.

Poor ratings for SoS: Secretary of State Gavin Williamson continues to be perceived negatively by Conservative Party members, according to Conservative Home. His net satisfaction rating is -48. We think he’ll be hanging in there though.  Changing now would be unlikely to change much substantively in policy terms anyway, although you have to think that it might improve the ways of doing things and if nothing else, communication (although that’s a problem for the Universities Minister as well as the Education Secretary).

OfS Chair

As expected and following the Education Committee green light, the DfE officially confirmed Lord Wharton’s appointment as Chair of the OfS replacing Michael Barber. He starts on 1 April for a four year period (approximately 2 days per week). Wharton has declared his Conservative interests and party membership within his role as a Peer but not resigned the whip.

  • The Education Committee endorsed the appointment just before it was confirmed. You can read the report here. Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the Education Committee, said: The Chair of the OfS has a vital role to play in standing up for the rights of students and ensuring opportunities for all. I congratulate Lord Wharton on his appointment. I look forward to seeing the new Chair use his position to genuinely open doors for those from disadvantaged backgrounds, ensure that the access and participation funding delivers real change, use his independent voice to rocket boost degree apprenticeships and guarantee everyone has access to high quality skills that benefit both themselves and employers. Halfon’s statement highlights several of his own passions for education, such as the expansion of degree apprenticeships. He seems to be giving Wharton a public steer – interesting as the appointment process wasn’t without controversy.
  • Responding to the appointment, Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green, said: This latest appointment adds to the Conservative Government’s growing catalogue of cronyism. Students have been forgotten by this Government which is more concerned about securing jobs for their friends. It’s ridiculous to think James Wharton could make independent decisions while continuing to sit as a Conservative Peer. He must resign the whip without delay. It’s vital for public confidence that concerns surrounding senior appointments are urgently looked at.
  • While Wharton doesn’t commence until April Williamson has written to both Wharton and outgoing Chair, Sir Michael Barber, vehemently stating his strategic priorities for HE.

Research Professional interview Paul Blomfield MP, (Labour, Sheffield Central, Chair of the APPG for Students) who doesn’t mince his words.

Students

The Guardian report that the Government plan to allow some additional university students back to campus when the schools reopen, so potentially from 8 March onwards.

  • The education secretary is expected to announce on 22 February that final-year students in practical subjects will be able to return to face-to-face teaching, with students taking other subjects to follow soon afterwards…Michelle Donelan, the universities minister, said universities would follow the same roadmap as schools for reopening
  • Priority is expected to be given to final-year students on undergraduate courses or taught postgraduate degrees in practical subjects including performing arts and lab-based science courses. But many students may struggle to be allowed back before the Easter holidays at the end of March, when teaching in effect ends for many courses before exams.

It is likely this is part of a move to damp down on fee and rent complaints with the Government shifting the onus onto HE providers.

  • While the new higher education timetable was welcomed by senior leaders, they also fear that the education secretary’s waning influence with Downing Street means the Department for Education’s plan may be ignored in favour of other concerns.
  • Some institutions, such as the London School of Economics, have already said students will be taught remotely for the rest of the academic year, but Donelan said the government “will be giving them the option to alter those plans”.

The University and College Union stated: The priority right now must be to keep as much teaching as possible online for the rest of the academic year, and putting staff and student safety first.

And the article suggests that some students are returning anyway:

  • In defiance of the government’s orders to stay at home, several universities report that students are “returning to campus in droves”, even without the prospect of face-to-face teaching or the use of university facilities.
  • One university is said to have about 70% of its usual student numbers on or around campus, in part due to high numbers of students on exempt courses such as nursing. Most others estimate that 30% to 40% of students are back, and some have more than half.
  • “Some students have voted with their feet, it’s been reported by just about all the universities I’ve heard from, Russell Group and elsewhere. It’s interesting, it reflects the fact students start to identify university as their new home,” he said.

TEF

Wonkhe ran a feature on TEF this week with a blog written by Dame Shirley Pearce (who led the TEF review). Wonkhe say:

  • … the government, while claiming to have accepted the majority of the Pearce review’s recommendations, has failed entirely to engage with the spirit of that review, which posits enhancement of the quality of teaching as a delicate balance and interplay of accountability between regulators, providers, and students, and between nationally comparable data and locally produced evidence of quality. Today on the site, Shirley Pearce urges the higher education sector and the Office for Students (OfS) to engage with the recommendations the review makes, and to take seriously the review’s finding that far from being merely burdensome, the subject TEF pilots have sparked useful conversations inside universities, and offered levers to drive enhancement.
  • The Pearce review is grounded in a theory of change that says that if there is to be public confidence in quality, providers must evidence it, but that providers and their students must be empowered to do the enhancement work on the ground according to their distinctive mission and, importantly, at subject level. The elegant proposal that institutions be provided with subject-level data, split by demographic, and be asked to account for differences in outcomes, but that the subject data would not be published as rankings, is characteristic of the balancing act the review executes.
  • The government does not evidence its grasp of this balance in its response, instructing OfS to ground TEF ratings in nationally comparable data, while at the same time taking account of the Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) critique of the limitations of said data in drawing accurate conclusions about the quality of learning and teaching in higher education providers – and good luck to the English regulator in squaring that circle.
  • In the relatively few years of its existence, the TEF has won few friends, and many enemies. There may be satisfaction to some in seeing the TEF reduced and downgraded. But the version of the exercise that appears to be currently on the table, as Paul Ashwin argues, risks rendering the TEF entirely irrelevant. Better, then, to have a larger exercise that directly engages with the processes of enhancing learning and teaching quality, than a light-touch exercise that does not – and redirects institutions’ energies to gaming the metrics.

Three Wonkhe blogs tackle TEF:

As you’ll have read in the section covering the Secretary of State strategic priorities letter to the OfS Williamson has tasked the OfS to resolve how the TEF will move forward.

Brexit

Dods have summarised the DfE’s research on the effect of Brexit on HEIs in the UK. EU exit: estimating the impact on UK higher education looks at:

  • the effect of changes in the level of tuition fees on international student enrolments at undergraduate and postgraduate level
  • the potential impact on EU student enrolments and associated tuition fee income resulting from:
  • the removal of tuition fee loan and grant support for EU students
  • harmonisation of tuition fees charged to EU and non-EU students
  • changes to post-study work rights for EU students
  • changes to the rights to bring dependants

Across all HEIs, the analysis suggests that:

  • Removing the tuition fee support for EU-domiciled undergraduate students would reduce demand for UK higher education by approximately 13,090 (21%34 of all EU student enrolments) first-year students per year, equating to a loss of £80.7 million in tuition fee income.
  • Removing the Home fee status for EU-domiciled (undergraduate and postgraduate) students would generate additional fee revenue of approximately £114.6 million. That is, the increase in fees charged to EU-domiciled students would more than offset the loss in fee income due to falling demand amongst EU students (15,220 students, 24% of EU-domiciled student enrolments in 2016/17).
  • Restricting the right to work in the UK post-graduation for EU-domiciled students would potentially result in 6,640 (11% of EU-domiciled student enrolments) fewer EU student enrolments, corresponding to a reduction in fee revenue generated by UK HEIs of £88.0 million.
  • Restricting the right to bring dependants for EU-domiciled students would further reduce tuition fee income by approximately £8.4 million, with 590 (1% of EU-domiciled student enrolments) fewer enrolments.
  • Taken together, the estimated combined impact of all of these policy changes would be to reduce tuition fee income from EU sources by approximately £62.5 million, with 35,540 (57%) fewer first-year EU enrolments. However, the aggregate impact on fee income masks significant variation by university cluster (and level of study). In particular, HEIs in Clusters 1 would benefit in aggregate; whereas institutions in Clusters 2, 3 and 4 would be worse-off.
  • The results on student enrolments are insensitive to changes in classification of HEIs by clusters, with the reduction in demand varying from 34,555 (55%) to 35,750 (57%). The total financial loss ranges from £42.5 million to £66.5 million.

There is also the impact assessment here, which Dods summarises below:

The DfE have published an assessment of the effect that changes made to higher education student finance regulations will have on groups with relevant protected characteristics.

  • Expect the proposed amendments will most likely have a negative impact on EU nationals on the basis of their nationality, if they are domiciled in the EEA and Switzerland
  • They will also have a negative impact on older EU national students who are not covered by the Withdrawal Agreements, with those studying at postgraduate level proportionately more affected
  • Do not expect EU students who are female (who are slightly overrepresented as a result of these changes) or who have declared a disability to be significantly impacted by these changes
  • There is a lack of data to predict the impact on other EEA (Norwegian, Icelandic, Liechtenstein) and Swiss students
  • Other EEA and Swiss nationals and their family members who do not fall into this category (or one of the other eligibility categories), and who do not have settled status, are not eligible for home fee status and student finance
  • While those not covered by the Withdrawal Agreements will therefore be impacted on the basis of their, or their family members’ nationality, the number of those currently benefiting from student support is very small and as such, the equalities impacts are assessed to be insignificant
  • With regard to EU nationals resident in the overseas territories, their assessment is that although protected groups of EU nationals who will be affected by our proposed position are slightly over represented, namely gender/sex (females), the impact of the amendments will not differ on the basis of these protected characteristics
  • Given the limited numbers of students involved, the equality impacts are likely to be insignificant

Concluding, they say that since these amendments will remove access to student finance for EU, other EEA and Swiss nationals not covered by citizens’ rights, there are number of routes such individuals may choose to adopt:

  1. Proceed: Undertake HE study in England without receiving home fee status or any student support from Student Finance England, but potentially in receipt of funding from other sources such as their own Governments.
  2. Go elsewhere: Take up HE study outside the UK where access to education can be obtained on the same basis as domestic nationals e.g. their own, or another state within the EEA or Switzerland, or the EU overseas territories, or other international countries.
  3. No go: Choose not to participate in HE study

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

  • Intergenerational Fairness: Dods published an interesting briefing on intergenerational fairness.
  • Games degrees: The number of UK graduates in computer games subjects has risen for a seventh consecutive year.
  • Fee Variability: You may remember that last year Australia changed the Government support and fee regime to prioritise support for certain programmes (such as STEMM) and charge more for lower priority courses. The change attracted much interest in the UK because the current Government has long been flirting with the idea of differential programme funding stemming all the way back to Jo Johnson’s tenure as Universities Minister and the introduction of the Higher Education and Research Act legislation (including TEF). Interestingly this week the Guardian have reported that demand for arts and humanities courses is still high in Australia despite fee increases,
  • LGBT+: UUK have a blog: Going the extra mile to embrace LGBT+ equality in higher education.
  • Pensions: HEPI have a trio of blogs on university pensions and in particular on the USS.
  • Dementia Research Funding: The latest news on dementia funding from a parliamentary question response: The Government’s Challenge on Dementia 2020 contained the commitment to spend £300 million on dementia research over the five years to March 2020. This commitment was delivered a year early with £344 million spent on dementia research over the four years to 31 March 2019. We are currently working on ways to significantly boost further research on dementia at all stages on the translation pathway including medical and care interventions.
  • Paramedics ELQ rules: The debate on whether to waive the ELQ rules for paramedical science continues. The Government response states: A decision will be dependent on business planning for the 2021/22 financial year following the outcome of Spending Review 2020.
  • Mental health animation: UKRI report that academics have partnered up with Aardman to tackle the current mental health crisis with the campaign: What’s Up With Everyone? funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. The press release states: Although around half of all lifetime mental health problems start by the mid-teens, intervention typically starts much later. Issues include rising suicide rates among young people and unprecedented challenges for young people at school, university, college or the workplace. This points to an urgent need to rethink mental health education to reach and engage young people.
  • What’s Up With Everyone? is a series of five new animated films created with and for young people about dealing with life’s challenges before they impact mental healththe films link to vital information and signposting for how young people can help themselves or seek help for the issues raised through the project’s website. One wonders if it will link to the OfS’ mental health platform.

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 28th January 2021

The media and sector are still digesting last week’s policy onslaught. You can read more in last week’s BU policy update here (for staff) or here on the blog.  We also did a separate 6 page summary of the White Paper for BU readers.

There are new student statistics out, a new independent reviewer of Prevent, the international students’ graduate visa is still unclear and remote learning must continue for most students.

Online teaching continues

Restrictions remain in place for universities who are only permitted to offer remote learning until 8 March at earliest. Students on ‘critical courses’ such as medical, clinical and healthcare subjects will continue with their Covid-secure face to face teaching. Students and staff on campus are instructed to continue to take part in twice weekly testing on offer to help limit transmission and identify asymptomatic cases. The Government’s press release is here.  The position will be reviewed on 22nd February.

Parliamentary News

Former Universities Minister, Chris Skidmore, comments on the recent raft of HE policy documents issued by the Government. Chris says:

  • …it is tempting to think that something is happening in the education world. That temptation should be tempered, for nothing really will—or indeed can—happen until the sound of the Treasury till ringing open at the Spending Review later in the year. Samuel Beckett might have titled this particular ongoing saga, ‘Waiting for Rishi’.
  • Still, enough morsels—consultations on consultations—have been thrown out there to keep the higher education policy world busy for now. And those with learned, occasionally bitter, experience of these matters know that there’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip, as the history of white papers and their eventual chrysalis into legislative butterflies demonstrates.

Tuition Fees & Student Loans:

The latest petition to reduce the maximum student fee from £9,250 to £3,000 has been rejected by the Government with this rebuff: Tuition fee levels must represent value for money and ensure that universities are properly funded. Government is not considering a reduction in maximum fee levels to £3,000. There is a full Government response here which closely follows the established party line and ticks all the HE policy bingo boxes you would expect it to.

The Government also confirmed there are no plans to cap the income repayment threshold for student loans.

Research

R&D Roadmap: The Government published the results of their consultation on the proposed UK Research and Development (R&D) Roadmap.

During the November 2020 Spending Review the Government committed to cement the UK’s status as a global leader in science and innovation by investing £14.6 billion in R&D in 2021/22, supporting the R&D Roadmap commitments and helping to consolidate the UK’s position as a science superpower on the road to spending 2.4% of GDP on R&D by 2027.  The Government report the research community was overwhelmingly supportive of the ambitions set out in the R&D roadmap (published July 2020). The Roadmap proposals included setting up an Office for Talent and creating an Innovation Expert Group to review and improve how the government supports research; the proposals are expected to be developed into a comprehensive R&D plan.

Dods summarise the responses:

  • Responses emphasised that the sustainability of funding was an important factor in achieving bigger research breakthroughs and for strengthening our research infrastructure and institutions. Specifically, support for a balanced portfolio of research and innovation activities, with a diverse range of funding mechanisms was considered “important to increase the effective application of new knowledge and encourage innovation.
  • Responses also suggested that place-based funding—which is a major priority of the government—could build upon local expertise and existing strengths using both new and existing mechanisms. Increased funding for both research and innovation activities, as well as for public engagement activities, was viewed as important to inspire and support the new generation.
  • The need for an improved research and innovation culture was also emphasised. Responses indicated that improving research and innovation culture through promoting greater diversity in the R&D community, making R&D a more attractive career, and reducing bureaucratic processes were vital factors in achieving bigger research breakthroughs, encouraging innovation, and attracting, retaining and developing diverse people and teams.
  • Responses also suggested that research must be informed by, and partnered with, a wide range of relevant stakeholders to achieve real-world impact. Other key themes that emerged from the survey included greater support for collaboration and knowledge exchange across the R&D landscape, a strategic and long-term approach to set a clear direction for the UK and continued support for education, training and skills.

You can read all the responses in detail here.

Whilst discussing the next steps the Government have committed to publishing a new places strategy for R&D (including the devolved nations). They also continue to explore how we best create an environment where diverse and talented people from all over the world are enabled and encouraged to work to the best of their ability and fulfil their potential in their career of choice.

Innovation slump: The National Centre for Universities and Business published a report on the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on how universities contribute to innovation. It found that:

  • nearly 90% of UK universities reported a significant proportion (I.e. over 10%) of their innovation projects had been delayed due to the pandemic.
  • 48% of the universities surveyed reported that the scale and scope of innovation projects were being reduced.
  • 36% reported that more than 10% of their innovation activities and projects with external partners were cancelled. With 45% recognising a decline of at least a 6% in the overall level of innovation activities they have with industrial partners. Aerospace, automotive manufacturing and within the creative industries experience bigger adverse effects.
  • Institutions stated that the lack of financial resources to support collaborations, insufficient government funding to such activities and the inability to access the necessary facilities and equipment for work to continue were the reasons behind the reduction in innovation.
  • It was also recognised that the roles of universities in driving innovation may change as the UK confronts the economic recovery

On moving forward the report finds:

  • Government schemes helped universities continue to contribute to innovation through the crisis
  • More needs to be done to enable universities to contribute fully to economic renewal
  • More funding for core knowledge exchange services, translation and commercialisation, and challenge & outcome driven programmes
  • Supporting place-making
  • Targeted support for place and sector recovery from Covid
  • Improve flexibility, bureaucracy and terms of funding
  • Ensure metrics capture diversity of contributions and reward diversity of universities
  • Ensure long-term sustainability of the university system and its ability to contribute to innovation and economic development

Dr Joe Marshall, Chief Executive of NCUB said:

  • Covid-19 has brought the importance of collaboration between academia and industry firmly into public awareness. Indeed, breakthroughs such as the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine are only possible because of the advent of collaborative partnerships. This is why the new survey data released today is so worrisome. Nearly 90% of universities have been forced to delay a significant proportion (more than 10%) of new innovation projects with external partners, and over a third have reported that projects have been cancelled.
  • Maintaining these types of innovation projects is vital if we are to boost productivity, improve livelihoods, and drive forward economic recovery. Innovation requires collaboration. And we see time and time again that collaboration requires strong partners. We are therefore urgently encouraging all businesses and UK universities to continue to form these vital partnerships. What’s more, we are also calling on the Government to take proactive steps to help companies stay afloat and investing in R&D through the crisis. This includes extending Covid-19 support schemes and postponing repayment of loans until lockdown restrictions are significantly eased. In no uncertain terms, for the UK to emerge from this crisis stronger, we need to encourage innovation. Driving an innovative economy, through tax incentives, effective regulation and well-targeted support schemes must be a fundamental component of the March 2021 Budget. We need to see action now, before it’s too late.

Tomas Ulrichsen, Director of the University Commercialisation and Innovation Policy Evidence Unit at the University of Cambridge, who led the study and authored the report said:  The new findings released today show that Covid-19 has had a hugely disruptive impact on universities and their ability to continue to contribute to innovation through the current health and economic crisis. We have seen the transformational effects of universities and businesses working together in finding practical and innovative solutions to wicked societal problems. This is why the findings of our study are so worrying. A strong, resilient and sustainable system of universities, research institutes and technology development organisations, working in close partnership with the private, charitable, and public sectors will be crucial to driving an innovation-led economic recovery and tackling other critical and urgent global challenges. Unless we proactively tackle the many challenges facing universities and their innovation partners to reverse these worrying trends, we risk not only hampering our economic recovery but also the UK’s longer-term competitiveness in key sectors.

Research Professional comment on the significant proportion of innovation projects delayed due to Covid: This is not surprising given that most institutions are still imposing bans on ‘non-essential travel’, labs have been closed periodically during the pandemic and industrial partners have been making extensive use of the furlough scheme. There is a limit to the innovation you can do on MS Teams—it doesn’t even have a ‘breakout rooms’ function, for pity’s sake.

Research Funding Subsidy: Last week’s funding letter cut the additional teaching funding that London institutions receive to cover the additional costs relating to teaching within the capital. This prompted fears from London institutions that they may also lose research subsidies associated with their higher costs (12% inner and 8% outer London) – which would run to significant figures and threaten some London institutions’ stability. Research Professional explore this concern in London Waiting  and explain that Research England have stated they haven’t yet received the funding allocations for 2021/22 so cannot consider the impact on quality related funding.

Quick News

  • Sustainability: The University of Exeter have launched the National Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Hub (CE-Hub). The hub will work with the five centres recently announced to explore how reusing waste materials in a wide range of industries, including textiles, construction, chemical and metals, could deliver huge environmental benefits and boost the UK economy… It will create a repository of national research, knowledge and tools to inform new research, policy and industry solutions, facilitating collaboration across a wide range of sectors and strengthening a UK-wide community dedicated to delivering a circular economy.
  • Everyone loves a space story. Here is the Government’s press release on the spacewalk to install the British funded Columbus Ka-band Terminal.
  • Research Professional: Horizon Europe ‘will be open to UK researchers from the start’. European Commission encourages applications from, and collaboration with, UK-based researchers
  • The rumours that Scotland and Wales are committee to find a way to stay in Erasmus+ have bounced about ever since the announcement the UK would not take part. Research Professional covers the latest here.

Prevent

Home Secretary, Priti Patel, has announced the new Independent Reviewer of Prevent will be William Shawcross. Shawcross will have some time to settle into his role and to adjust the terms of reference and set timescales before he relaunches the Independent Review of Prevent. Originally a call for evidence as part of the review was launched in December 2019 but progress stalled due to the pandemic. Shawcross’ appointment isn’t without controversy. Prior to his confirmation in the role Muslim Engagement and Development expressed concern given his longstanding history of propagating Islamophobic views.

Industrial Strategy

All the way back in November 2017 Theresa May’s Government finally published the Industrial Strategy admist much fanfare and after months of trailing its contents. A flurry of activity and focus on the four grand challenges followed. However, Theresa May was ousted as PM and when Boris assumed the mantle there was an unofficial cooling towards the Industrial Strategy which was never explicitly stated. However, this week Boris’ Government have made a move and updated some of the missions associated with the four grand challenges and laid out further progress updates. You’ll need a keen eye to spot the new material.  It looks much the same.

More engaging was this week’s BEIS Committee session Post-pandemic economic growth: Industrial Strategy which contained various elements relating to HE (quick points below). Dods have provided a fuller summary of both sessions here. The second session included testimony from both Science & Research Minister Amanda Solloway and CEO of UKRI Dame Ottoline Leyser.

  • The scale of ISCF initiatives had led to a remarkable acceleration in collaboration with universities and that increasing the ISCF would be welcome by the university community.
  • The Grand Challenges largely spent money in the right places but there were issues in how this was then used, in particular which risk sharing mechanisms were used and relative spend on pure science/blue sky research vs targeted research.
  • Where there are linkages between universities facilitation of collaboration between academia and business at local level to support local industrial strategies the evidence shows large spillover effects on the local economies. The Researchers In Residence programme which puts academics into industry to solve specific problems was also mentioned.
  • Defining success of the delivery of the industrial strategy – Leyser, stated that defining success was a contested issue. She said proximal measures such as number of patents and jobs created could be used; she said the ISCF metrics on these issues looked positive but there was an issue over whether this translated into long-term productivity.
  • On ISCF delays/ Innovate UK grants Solloway said BEIS needed to work to fund ways to reduce bureaucracy and get grants out quicker.

Access & Participation

White & left behind: This week the Education Committee continued its inquiry into Left behind white pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds (summary of the session here). There was little content on HE aside from witness, Dr Javed Khan, Chief Executive Officer, Barnardo’s, stating that it was important not to over-emphasise the importance of university, compared with other further education pathways when he was questioned on what solutions there were to address the issue of white pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds being the least likely to attend university.

Meanwhile Chris Millward, Director for Fair Access and Participation, has published a new OfS blog – White students who are left behind: the importance of place. It reiterates familiar messages that HE colleagues focussed on access will be very familiar with, alongside hints and mentions of other Governmental priorities such as levelling up and HE institutions working in partnership with schools and colleges. It even tentatively touches on the (slightly controversial but so far has flown under the radar) sudden move of the Social Mobility Commission into the Cabinet office. Below are the best bits from Millward’s blog, but, really, I’d recommend you read the succinct version by the BBC instead.

  • The expansion of educational opportunities, and the belief that equality of opportunity would flow from this, have not delivered for them. So they are less likely to see education as the way to improve their lives. Research suggests that this is not about low aspirations or wanting any less for children; it is about expectations – a realistic assessment of the barriers to getting on. Schools can do a lot to shift expectations, but as recent focus groups have shown, people in left-behind towns feel the decline of local institutions and civic engagement.  The Social Mobility Commission has identified the need to join up educational interventions with other measures to improve local prosperity and it is now better placed  to drive this across government through the Cabinet Office…universities and colleges can bring this together in their local areas through the breadth of their subject interests, their relationships with businesses and public services, and their bridging of education and skills with research and development. This equips them to create pathways through all levels of education, both full-time and while in work, and for adults as well as young people.

From the BBC article, Poor white teens in ‘left behind’ towns not going to uni:

  • …male white British free school meal pupils are the least likely of all the main ethnic groups to progress to higher education (DfE)
  • 59% of youngsters from black African families on free meals went to university and 32% of black Caribbean youngsters eligible for free meals… for white pupils on free meals the figure was 16% – and only 13% for boys.
  • The research emphasises the importance of place, identifying particularly low entry rates in “former industrial towns and cities across the north and midlands, or coastal towns”.
  • But white students on free meals in London seemed to have bucked the trend, with an…entry rate that “has pulled away from that in other parts of the country” – and the capital overall has higher rates of going to university.

TASO: Wonkhe: A report from Transforming Access and Student Outcomes in Higher Education (TASO) highlights the lack of good quality evidence for interventions to support care-experienced students in higher education. Summarising 57 published studies, and validating findings with 18 sector practitioners, it calls for the availability of better quality data drawing on agreed definitions. There are also recommendations that each provider should have a named contact for care-experienced students.

Exams: Minster for School Standards Nick Gibb: Although exams are the fairest way we have of assessing what a student knows, we cannot guarantee all students will be in a position to fairly sit their exams this summer.

Disability: Wonkhe: The Disabled Students’ Commission has released guidance for pupils with disabilities when applying for undergraduate courses. The guide aims to highlight potential barriers during the UCAS application process, as well as detailed routes to and eligibility for funding for reasonable adjustment.

Decolonisation: Wonkhe: The National Union of Students (NUS) has launched a library of decolonisation resources. It hosts information on what decolonisation is and links to podcasts, books, videos and articles to help readers explore, and expand skills and knowledge of the decolonising higher education movement.

Parliamentary Questions

International

Graduate Visa Route – Covid Barrier. Research Profession explore the confusion surrounding graduate visas stating it threatens to undermine the government’s message to international students. This stems from the Government’s decision that international students who did not return to the UK by April 2021 might lose their eligibility for the Graduate Immigration Route (i.e. the right to remain in the UK for two years after completing their studies). The Government have stated: It is a core principle of the graduate route that someone must have spent some time studying in the UK…In light of the impact Covid-19 has had on international students, those who began studying overseas in autumn 2020 and who enter the UK before 6 April 2021 to complete their course will be eligible for the graduate route if they meet the requirements. And: Those who begin study overseas in January 2021 will also be eligible for the route if they enter the UK to complete their course before 27 September 2021 and meet the requirements…Any period of distance learning in the current academic year will not count against eligible students who graduate after 2021, providing they complete their course in the UK under the student route. Those who do not complete their studies in the UK will be ineligible.

Research Professional explain that the sticking point is that that government guidance for international students urged them to stay away unless their course required them to be on campus for face to face teaching. A commentator within the article states it is:  highly unreasonable, and from a policy point of view self-defeating, to take fees from international students, advise them to delay travel for health policy reasons and then pronounce that they cannot follow the graduate visa route because they did not return to the UK in time. Particularly when the pandemic’s second wave is raging and they would put themselves at risk by arriving in the UK. Quite!

Vivienne Stern, Director of Universities UK International, responded: We are working closely with the government, UK universities and sector bodies to support the smooth implementation of the route and to ensure its success. Given the current Covid-related restrictions, we understand that international students are, on the whole, being advised not to travel to the UK at this time, and we continue to work with partners to ensure that students can still benefit from this opportunity. And that Universities UK was “actively working with the Home Office to explore what further flexibilities can be introduced given the ongoing restrictions”.

You can read the full Research Professional article here.

Access to Healthcare: Wonkhe cover the i News report explaining that European students who study in the UK will have to pay more than £1,000 to access healthcare, with the opportunity to claim the cost back a year or more later.

More on last week’s announcements

You can read more in last week’s BU policy update here (for staff) or here on the blog.  We also did a separate 6 page summary of the White Paper for BU readers.

Admissions: Wonkhe have a short and interesting article outlining three options to address differential learning loss arising from pandemic restrictions. You’ll need to read the article to discover the options (worth doing) but these two HE-centric snippets stand out for admissions and student performance:

  • Because our education system, at multiple levels, is both about sorting and learning gain, it all presents two interlocking problems. One is how we fairly assess children and students given the impacts of restrictions have not been felt equally or equitably across society. The other is what we do about overall levels of learning loss which we might reasonably assume matter if we wish our society to be educated.
  • …If nothing else, there is a clear and present danger that universities will underestimate and underfund the support needed to address the problems presented by the intake of 2021. That seems to be a much more pressing educational issue than packing the Russell Group even tighter, destabilizing the rest of the rest of the sector in the process – which will mean no part of the sector will realistically have the time or capacity to address the issues we’re about to receive.

Credit transfer and flexible learning: HEPI have a blog “Can the pandemic bring a new dawn for flexible higher education?” by Luke Myer, Policy and Public Affairs Officer at the Quality Assurance Agency, looking at the new enthusiasm for credit transfer described in the Skills White Paper.

  • One major challenge identified by our participants was England’s current regulatory metrics. The importance placed on data for continuation, retention, and completion creates a regulatory disincentive to provide short, flexible higher education programmes. …So, the metrics need to change.
  • A related challenge is regulation from professional bodies on maintaining the currency of knowledge for particular sectors. One solution here may be to differentiate durations on the portability of different qualifications, depending on their relevance.
  • Along with regulation, the funding model in England was identified as a barrier. There is typically no module-based funding under the Student Loans Company’s current model; this is compounded by other limitations including inflexibility in the use of the apprenticeship levy and Equivalent and Lower Qualification (ELQ) funding restrictions. 

And some of the solutions?

  • Bringing higher education and further education closer together will require a careful balance between joining up the funding system and avoiding damage to institutional autonomy. Our participants referenced the new tertiary systems which appear to be developing in several Asian and emerging high-income economies, which have strong permeability between ‘academic’ and ‘occupational’ provision. …
  • A key part of this work should be to map the silos which already exist – between higher education and further education, between academic and vocational learning and between different kinds of learners – in order to understand the potential progression pathways for new students….

The pathway to high level skills: a HEPI blog “The Government risks narrowing the path to higher level skills” by Dr Scott Kelly:

  • We are already seeing the negative impact of reducing the number of qualifications available at level 3. Earlier this month Ofqual warned about the scale of the disruption that will be caused by the DfE’s decision to remove funding from Applied General qualifications such as BTECs. As Ofqual noted, the number of students accessing HE with BTECs continues to grow, with the proportion accepted with A levels alone having fallen from 63 per cent in 2017 to around 60 per cent in 2019. Ofqual echo the concerns I raised in my report for HEPI on BTECs in 2017
  • As with previous attempts to overhaul the qualification system, up to and including the introduction of T levels, policy is likely to fail because it falls between two stalls – neither driven by the market nor based on sufficient industry engagement to ensure employers really value the qualifications on offer.

Students

The OfS have published a guide for students, representatives and students’ unions – Office for Students notifications. It explains how the OfS regulates universities, and specifically that the notifications process allows students, staff members and others to let us know about issues within a university. It emphases that the OfS doesn’t have a direct role in in dealing with individual complaints or with disputes between students and their university but they do want to hear about current issues on the aspects they do regulate on. Such as issues that might be affecting particular courses or groups of students (examples are given on pages 4-5) and recognising that students’ unions and representatives often have a great understanding of students’ experiences through their engagement and support

Wonkhe have a blog on the new guide Should students tell tales on their university or college? It states: What the guide doesn’t do is address in any meaningful way why a student, student representative or students’ union would bother. It doesn’t address what doing so might achieve, or what the ideal would be internally before getting this far. And nor does it reveal what OfS’ emphasis on it hides in the process – that the regulator doesn’t have much of a clue about what’s going on in universities.

The blog also explores the cost cutting reduction in OfS monitoring of universities and highlights how students sharing information on their university might be an opportunity for the OfS:

  • … during a pandemic in particular that leaves you in a bit of a monitoring hole – so to the rescue comes a beefing up of reportable events via students, student reps and students’ unions.
  • We’re not sampling. But we are “inviting” students and their reps to tell us stuff.
  • In practice, it is difficult to explain quite how flawed this monitoring sticking plaster really is. But I’m going to try.

The blog then carefully explains why it’s flawed and that it is unlikely students will use the OfS process en masse. Although perhaps they’ll complain to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator instead. This week they published their Operating Plans and we learnt that they received 2,604 complaints in 2020 (a 10% increase compared to 2019). Research Professional highlight:

  • Since student queries take some time before making their way to the OIA (complainants must first exhaust the internal arbitration options at their institutions), the numbers in today’s report will not include all those whose pandemic-related complaints about their universities were made last year.
  • Nonetheless, records have been broken. The OIA says it received 2,604 complaints in 2020—representing a 10 per cent increase on 2019 and marking the highest-ever number in a single year.

It is hard to imagine that this record will still stand when the numbers for 2021 are published next year. The OIA has reported record-breaking complaint numbers in each of the past three years, resulting in a cumulative increase in its caseload of nearly 60 per cent since 2017.

2019/20 student statistics

HESA released statistics on HE student enrolments and qualifications achieved in 2019/20.  We’ve got some extracts for you.

Much of the news in forthcoming weeks will likely focus on the increase in first class honours that were awarded (see below) which it will be argued are linked to the no detriment policies most institutions implemented. Wonkhe have good coverage on this in the first part of this blog. They remind us to:

  • …remember this. Students obtain at least their average grade. To get a first, someone would need to have been averaging a first in the year so far. This is emphatically not a matter of handing out firsts like confetti – this is recognising work that has already been done. Nobody who got a first in 2019-20 did so without working at a first class level for at least the normal part of the academic year. Class of 2020, take your praise.

Grades Achieved

  • The percentage of students achieving a first class honours increased from 28% in 2018/19 to 35% in 2019/20. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic this year, many providers issued public statements that a ‘no detriment’ approach would be adopted when it came to assessment. This typically ensured that students would be awarded a final grade no lower than the most recent provider assessment of their attainment. 
  • The share of students who received a lower second qualification classification fell by 4 – from 19% in 2018/19 to 15% in 2019/20.
  • A larger proportion of female students gained a first or upper second class honours than male students.
  • In a continuing trend, full-time students had a larger proportion of first or upper second class honours than part-time students.

Science Subjects

  • The percentage of qualifiers who gained qualifications in science subjects increased according to age group.
  • Among qualifiers obtaining a first degree, there was a 50% split between males qualifying in science subjects versus those qualifying in non-science subjects. For females, the proportion qualifying in science subjects was 41%.

Qualifications by level

  • There was a decrease in the number of qualifications obtained in all levels for the 2019/20 academic year, despite growth in the overall number of first year students in preceding years. Evidence suggests that some of this decrease is explained by significant numbers of qualifications awarded this year not being reported. This is likely to be linked to the impact on examinations and awards resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
    The impact is most noticeable on the number of part-time qualifications awarded (see 
    figure 15 here). More details of the impact of COVID-19 on the data can be read in the notes.
  • The number of other undergraduate qualifications continued to decline, reflecting the decrease in first year other undergraduate student enrolment numbers.

Numbers

  • The total number of HE students in the UK in 2019/20 was 2,532,385, an increase of 3% from 2018/19. (2,697,380 when including HE students registered at FE providers.)
  • Undergraduate first degree courses account for the overall increase in number from 2018/19 to 2019/20
  • 15% increase (37,605) in first year masters taught course enrolments from 2018/19 to 2019/20. Full time enrolments increased more than part time.
  • During the five year period 2015/16 to 2019/20, masters taught and first degree level course enrolments have seen year on year increases. All other postgraduate and undergraduate level courses have seen year on year decreases in enrolment numbers.
  • Full time postgraduates had the highest level of international students (see Figure 8 here)
  • Business and management attracted the highest number of students overall with 16% of all students enrolling in this subject
  • Among science subjects, subjects allied to medicine was the most popular for students, accounting for a quarter of all science subject enrolments

Protected Characteristics

  • The overall number of students with a known disability is increasing year on year both in enrolment numbers and in proportion of all students – from 2018/19 to 2019/20 the increase was 28,370
  • There were 122,755 students with a specific learning difficulty such as dyslexia, dyspraxia or AD(H)D in 2019/20 – this number accounts for 33% of all students with a known disability
  • A further 105,590 students reported a mental health condition, such as depression, schizophrenia or anxiety disorder.
  • The percentage of UK domiciled students that are White has decreased over the last five years, while the percentage that are Asian, Black and from Other ethnic backgrounds has increased
  • In terms of diversity within subjects, 82% of students studying veterinary sciences were female. For engineering and technology and computing, only 20% of students were female

Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of the OfS, said [and here is the kick on grade inflation, if you were waiting for it]:

  • This latest set of figures covers students graduating during the early stage of the pandemic. This was a period of intense disruption, with universities needing to move studies online very rapidly. As a result of this many universities implemented ‘no detriment’ policies, and these policies lie behind the significant increase in first class honours awarded to students graduating in 2020.
  • Before the pandemic, OfS analysis found evidence that unexplained grade inflation at our universities had begun to slow. However, there is more to be done to ensure that students, graduates and employers can maintain their confidence in the value of a degree and temporary changes in response to the pandemic should not bake in further grade inflation. This will require careful work which balances the importance of standards being maintained with recognition of – and response to – the exceptional pressures that students remain under this year.

 Student Experience

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) published the results of their experimental statistics on Coronavirus & HE students in England for January 2021, covering student’s life satisfaction, mental health and accommodation status.

  • Of those students who travelled to stay with family or friends over the winter break, 40% have since returned and 60% have not yet returned to their term-time address.
  • Of those students who provided complete travel information, 33% travelled to stay with family or friends over the winter break and 37% stayed in their accommodation; the remaining 30% were already living at their usual non-term address or family home, or in ‘other’ accommodation.
  • Almost two-thirds (63%) of students indicated that their well-being and mental health had worsened since the start of the autumn 2020 term.
  • A statistically significantly higher number (63%) of students reported a worsening in their well-being and mental health, compared with 57% reporting the same in the previous student survey (20 to 25 November 2020).
  • Average life satisfaction scores of students decreased by 9% from 5.3 to 4.8 out of 10, between 20 to 25 November 2020 and 8 to 18 January 2021.
  • A greater proportion of students reported being dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with their academic experience since the start of the autumn term (37%), compared with 29% reporting the same at the end of November 2020 (20 to 25 November 2020).

The ONS provide some context:

  • The most recent data collected from the Student COVID-19 Insights Survey (SCIS) show a further decrease in students’ average life satisfaction scores, with almost two-thirds of students reporting a worsening of their mental health and well-being.
  • These numbers are not surprising considering the new lockdown measures in place and the fact that many students have not yet returned to their university town or city. This is also reflected in the academic experience scores, with the number of students reporting dissatisfaction showing an increase since the last report.

Specifically on dissatisfaction:

  • A greater proportion of students reported being dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with their academic experience since the start of the autumn term (37%), than the 29% reporting the same at the end of November 2020 (20 to 25 November 2020). Of those who were dissatisfied with their academic experience, the most common reasons were learning delivery (75%) and quality of learning (71%).
  • Over half (56%) of students reported being dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with their social experience since the start of the autumn term. The most common given reasons that students were dissatisfied with their social experience were limited opportunities to meet other students (86%) and limited opportunities for social or recreational activity (85%).

Parliamentary Questions

Health care

  • Healthcare students on placement are confirmed as eligible for priority access to the vaccine.
  • Still no answer on decisions re: nurses out of pocket due to course extensions. Which is odd because the Universities Minister has already said they will not have to pay additional tuition fees: Health Education England is working locally with each higher education provider so that placements are available and is supporting healthcare students to ensure that as many as possible graduate on time.

Institutions should not charge nursing students additional tuition fees in circumstances where they need more study time to complete their course as result of undertaking a paid placement in the NHS, or as result of needing to undertake clinical placements over an extended period.

Regulatory

Students

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

Budget 2021: You can read the Russell Group’s submission to the 2021 budget here.

Contract cheating: Previous Universities Minister Chris Skidmore intends to try his luck by presenting a Ten Minute Rule Bill aiming to make essay mills illegal, including advertising them, in the UK. Skidmore is concerned that the pressures of pandemic learning and being physically distanced from a student’s academic community and usual resources may create vulnerabilities that contract cheating services thrive upon. He has called on the sector to contribute evidence and examples for his Bill presentation. He writes: This bill won’t be the immediate end to essay mills, but it can be the start of a legislative process that can and does influence government to take action. By making the collective case against essay mills, at the very least I hope this is one legislative effort the sector can welcome. For an explanation of the Ten minute Rule Bill see last week’s policy update (page 18) or Chris provides a succinct explanation: the canary in the legislative coalmine. Research Professional cover the story.

Appeals and academic judgement– there’s a HEPI blog on this, linked to the consultations on the new proposals for A levels and vocational qualifications, which close on 29th January.

Careers Resourcing: The Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services publishes a report on resourcing higher education careers services. Wonkhe say: More than 90% of careers services experienced a drop in income, related to the inability to host careers fairs. The majority of services have reported a rise in demand from students, with none experiencing a decrease.

Wellbeing: The Education Policy Institute and the Prince’s Trust has published a report on the drop in girls well being during adolescence.  While the wellbeing of all young people (Gen Z) declines by the end of their teenage years, there is a strong gender divide within this: girls see far lower levels of wellbeing and self-esteem than boys – driven by a sharp fall of both during mid-adolescence. Depressive symptoms rise among both boys and girls between the ages of 14 and 17 but they increase more markedly for girls.  For a summary of the paper including which factors have an impact on the mental health and wellbeing of Generation Z contact us.

Also out this week is the Children’s Commissioner for England’s fourth annual report on the state of children’s mental health services in England. Dods tell us it finds that, while there has been an expansion of children’s mental health services over the past four years, such was the poor starting point that services are still nowhere near meeting the needs of many hundreds of thousands of children. With 1 in 6 children estimated to have a probable mental health condition, the Children’s Commissioner calls for a major recovery programme for including an NHS-funded counsellor is every school in England and online wellbeing support.

Young employment: The Office for National Statistics released the latest Labour Market Overview on young employment.

  • The number of 16-24 year olds employed stands at 3,561,077 . This has fallen by 24,487 on the last quarter and by 203,386 on last year.
  • The number of 16-24 year olds unemployed stands at 596,400, up 15,403 on the previous quarter, up 114,662 on the previous year.
  • The number of 16-24 year olds economically inactive stands at 2,699,569, a decrease of 43,662 on the previous quarter, but up 53,514 on the previous year. This is an economic inactivity rate of 9.4%, down 0.6 ppts on previous quarter but up 1.0 ppt on previous year.
  • The number of 16-24 year olds claiming unemployment related benefits is 515,905. This is an increase of 2,730 or 0.5% in the last quarter and 281,413 or 120% on the previous year.

Student Accommodation: The House of Commons Library has published Coronavirus: Student accommodation issues to brief MPs on the key points prior to participation in parliamentary business. The blurb: Compliance with coronavirus restrictions has meant many students haven’t been able to live in their term-time accommodation for significant periods and many have had a poorer experience at university than expected due to Covid outbreaks and restrictions. This has led to students demanding rent refunds or discounts. How have universities, other accommodation providers and the Government responded to this?

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                             Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

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

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                             Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

 

HE Policy Update for the w/e 10th December 2020

We’re awash with experimental statistics this week! So far it looks as though Covid hasn’t resulted in mass (early) drop outs. There’s more detail on the Lifetime Skills Guarantee and the Education committee has been grilling the Minister on exams.

Sustainability

The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) has published a report Beyond business as usual: Higher education in the era of climate change

The paper describes how four areas of activity for universities:

  • Redesigning the day-to-day operations of universities and colleges to reduce emissions, nurture biodiversity and adapt to the impacts of a changing climate;
  • Reinvigorating the civic role of institutions to build ecologically and socially resilient communities;
  • Reshaping the knowledge structures of the university to address the interdisciplinary complexity of climate change;
  • Refocusing the educational mission of the institution to support students to develop the emotional, intellectual and practical capacities to live well with each other and with the planet in the era of climate change

And the paper recommends that  universities and colleges should:

  • reconfigure their day-to-day operations to achieve urgent, substantial and monitored climate change mitigation and biodiversity enhancement action in accordance with Paris climate commitments and the Aichi biodiversity targets.
  • develop a clear operational plan for implementing climate change adaptation measures developed in partnership with local communities.
  • develop an endowment, investment and procurement plan oriented towards ecological and economic sustainability.
  • develop a civic engagement strategy that identifies how to build stronger partnerships to create sustainable futures.
  • explore how they can rebalance their educational offerings to support older adults transitioning away from high-carbon forms of work.
  • examine the institutional barriers – historic, organisational, cultural – to building dialogue across disciplines and with knowledge traditions outside the university and establish the institutional structures and practices needed to address these barriers.
  • initiate an institution-wide process to bring together staff and students to develop programmes that are adequate to the emotional, intellectual and practical realities of living well with each other and with the planet in the era of climate change.

Three proposals are made for nationwide interventions that will actively support the proposals above:

  • The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Research Roadmap (in partnership with devolved administrations) should establish a ‘moonshot’ research programme oriented to ensuring that all university and college operations in the UK (including academic and student travel) have zero carbon emissions by 2035, with a 75 per cent reduction by 2030; www.hepi.ac.uk 11
  • A £3 billion New Green Livelihoods programme should be established to support educational activities that will enable debt-free mass transition of older adults from carbon-intensive employment towards creative sustainable livelihoods;
  • The year 2022 should be designated a year of ‘Sustainable Social Innovation’ involving a programme of mass public education, in partnership between the BBC, universities and colleges and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy; this should engage over two million people in collective learning for the changing conditions of the climate change era.

Research Professional cover the story:

Research

Innovation Catapults

The Lords Science and Technology Committee ran two sessions into their inquiry on The contribution of Innovation Catapults to delivering the R&D Roadmap. The second session also covered the performance of the Catapult network in the context of various performance reviews and how Catapults might evolve going forward. Dods have summarised the key discussions from the two sessions here.

Research Repository

Dods report that Jisc have launched

  • new multi-content repository for storing research data and articles that will make it easier for university staff to manage the administration around open access publishing.
  • …it will allow institutions to meet all Plan S mandatory requirements and other funder and publisher mandates for open scholarship.
  • Developed with input from the research sector, the research repository allows institutions to manage open access articles, research data and theses in a single system.
  • The research repository is a fully managed ‘software-as-a-service’ provision, which is hosted on a secure cloud platform. Included in the service is an in-built ‘FAIR checker’ to make sure research data is ‘findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable’.
  • Jisc also offers research systems connect, a preservation service and research repository plus: a single service to manage, store, preserve and share digital research outputs.

Net Zero: The Royal Society has a new report on the planet and digital technologies. It finds that digital technologies such as smart metres, supercomputers, weather modelling and artificial intelligence could deliver nearly one third of the carbon emission reductions required by 2030. The report makes recommendations to help secure a digital-led transition to net zero, including establishing national and international frameworks for collecting, sharing and using data for net zero applications, as well as setting up a taskforce for digitalisation of the net zero transition

Tech industry warns of impact of Covid-19 on R&D activity: techUK have attracted attention through the written evidence they submitted to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee inquiry on the role of technology, research and innovation in the Covid-19 recovery. techUK stated that technology, research and innovation organisations had to find new ways of interacting, engaging and working with its staff, customers, and partners during the pandemic. They also:

  • identified barriers to the commercial application of research that have emerged from the crisis, particularly in sectors where firms have had problems accessing study participants for clinical trials or market research
  • outlined a number of short-term measures the government’s R&D roadmap could take to support research and innovation, including long-term investment in key computing infrastructures and more adaptable and flexible funding support

Open Access Switchboard: Dods report that UKRI, Wellcome and Jisc are among the first organisations supporting the establishment of a new body called Open Access Switchboard. The switchboard will help the research community transition to full and immediate open access and simplify efforts to make open access (OA) the predominant model of publication of research.

PhD Students: UKRI have issued a response to the UCU open letter on treatment of UKRI funded PhD students. Full response letter here.  UKRI state they tried to balance a range of factors in developing their policy of support but had to make difficult decisions in the circumstances. They reiterate the financial resources made available, and explain the rationale of their decisions.

Ageing: From Wonkhe: UK Research and Innovation has relaunched the Health Ageing Catalyst Awards, with help from venture capital firm Zinc, to help researchers commercialise work around the science of longevity and ageing. Researchers can apply for up to £62,500, as well as coaching and mentoring over a nine-month period, with a series of workshops beginning in January 2021.

REF Sub Panel: Research Professional write about the announcement of the REF sub-panel appointees.

  • More than 400 academics have been picked to sit on the Research Excellence Framework 2021 assessment sub-panels.
  • The sub-panels will assess submissions between May 2021 and February 2022, working under the four main panels that oversee the process and sign off the final recommendations from the sub-panels to be used in the REF.
  • The REF team said the new sub-panel members “include leading researchers from across a range of universities in the UK and beyond, and experts in the use and benefits of research who will play a key role in assessing the wider impact of research”.
  • The new appointments bring the total number of panellists, including observers, on the main and sub-panels to 1087. Some further appointments are still to be made, filling remaining gaps in expertise.
  • The sub panel is expected to recognise the calls for more diversity among panel members

Lifetime Skills Guarantee

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has announced further detail on the Lifetime Skills Guarantee which will support adults aged 24+ to achieve their first full level 3 qualification (i.e. a technical certificate or diploma, or full A levels) from April 2021. The list of qualifications available under the Guarantee is here including engineering, healthcare and conservation and is expected to flex to meet labour market needs. Awarding organisations, Mayoral Combined Authorities and the Greater London Authority will be able to suggest additions to the list.

The Lifetime Skills Guarantee also includes the Lifelong Loan Entitlement which will provide set funding for people to take courses in both FE colleges and universities at their own pace across their lifetime. (I.e. if you use it all at once that was your bite of the cherry.) The Government say the funding will allow providers to increase the quality and provision of their own offer, as well as directly benefiting individual learners.

The Written Ministerial Statement on the Lifetime Skills Guarantee is here.

International

The Office for Students has updated advice on student visas for international students.

Admissions – Exams

Exams cancelled: Scotland have cancelled their 2021 Higher and Advanced Higher (A level equivalent) exams. Pupils will now receive grades based on teacher assessments of classroom work throughout the year.  With Wales having cancelled their exams too renewed noise has erupted over the DfE’s stance for England to continue with exams in the revised format. Questions are raised over whether, with some nations shunning and some taking exams, whether it creates a level playing field for universities admissions. However, the minister for school standards rejected this in Tuesday’s Education Committee session stating that universities were experienced in managing different qualifications from across the world as well as the UK. And as such universities are well placed to ensure equitable decisions regarding places even with differing exam regimes across the UK.

During the first session of the Education Committee meetings on Tuesday Glenys Stacey (Ofqual) responded to the Committee’s concerns of exam grade hyperinflation stating that universities would be able to manage the rise in higher grades through their admissions processes and that the OfS would monitor for fairness.

Exam petitions: If you have a particular interest in following the exams news there was a Westminster Hall debate covering the covid-19 impact on schools and exams and it also considered all four petitions on the matter:

Education Committee: The Education Committee has released 3 letters. The first two are from Gavin Williamson responding to Committee requests on the 2020 exams issues (or rather maintaining his original position and not supplying further information). The third from Committee Chair Robert Halfon trying to obtain the requested information.

The issue of not sharing information was raised during Tuesday’s Education Committee session too – the Civil Service got the blame. Robert Halfon (Committee Chair) stated the Secretary of State for Education, and the Minister for School Standards, had undertaken to provide the committee with departmental documents pertaining to the school examinations matter and questioned why those documents had not yet been provided.

Nick Gibb, Minister for School Standards, responded that the department intended to be as open and transparent as possible, and had offered to provide summaries of the various meetings that had taken place over the summer and were relevant to the committee’s inquiry. The difficulty with providing further internal documentation, however, related to the privacy of civil servants and the principles of how the civil service operated.

Mearns (a Committee member) raised concerns that the department appeared to be hiding issues that they did not want the committee to know about – Gibb rejected this. He reiterated that the civil service operated on principles that had to be protected and that within those constraints the department would seek to meet the committee’s requests.

Dods have provided a summary of the Education Committee session here.

Grades: Wonkhe have a new blog: We’re used to arguments about how reliable predicted grades are, but how reliable are actual grades? Dennis Sherwood introduces the disturbing truth that in some A level subjects, grades are “correct” about half of the time.

Other Admissions methods: Wonkhe on A level exams:

  • The commonly cited idea that “everybody else does post-qualifications admissions” is a little misleading. What stands out for us is the absence of high stakes examinations in the years before university study. The dominant model is one that takes into account all of a person’s performance in the final years at school – centre assessed grades, in other words. Couple this with a less stratified higher education sector, and a dominant regionality, and things look very different from what we know in the UK.
  • The existence of the A level as a totemic “gold standard”, and the peculiarly British hang-up around comparative provider status, means that the UK will always be an outlier. But there is a lot we can take away from understanding how things work elsewhere, and there would be a case for lowering rather than raising the exam stakes in our existing system.

Last week the policy update showcased how Ireland and Australia do admissions. Here are the versions from Finland and Canada.

NSS Review

Wonkhe remind us that the OfS are due to report on the first phase of the review of the National Student Survey before January. Wonkhe say:  The English regulator is hampered by the fact that the NSS is a UK-wide initiative, and the unique political pressures that drove the Department for Education to act do not apply in Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. But the latter two nations are not represented on the NSS review group – neither are current students.

And they have a blog – Gwen van der Velden, who was on the group that reviewed the NSS in 2017, fears that this years’ expedited and politicised review could do lasting damage to a sector that is well aware of the value of the survey: A shortened review, done in difficult times, and without proper representation on the review panel will not improve the National Student Survey, says Gwen van der Velden.

Graduate Outcomes

Prospects & Jisc published What do Graduates do? It draws on the HESA Graduate Outcomes 2017/18 data which surveys first-degree graduates 15 months post-graduation. There is a wealth of information in the report which there isn’t the space to do justice to here, including individualised breakdowns for the major study groupings.

  • The majority of graduates were employed 15 months after graduating
  • 5% were unemployed and looking for work
  • 8% of employed graduates were in a professional-level job
  • 66% went to work in their home region of the UK
  • 12% of graduates were in further study
  • The average salary for graduates who went straight into full-time employment in the UK was £24,217

The report also includes insights from careers experts across a variety of sectors and subjects. And page 11 looks at understanding graduates feeling through data – and has some interesting insights at subject level. Below we cover OfS’ interpretation of the data generalised to the whole student population below. The value for money section is worth a read too (page 12), here’s a teaser:

  • The term ‘value for money’ hasn’t so much crept into higher education discourse in the past few years as waded right in and sat itself at the top table.
  • So, it would appear at first glance that the graduate voice does start a new narrative to what has been arguably an over-metricised scrutiny of graduate destinations. It demonstrates a real opportunity to draw a subjective narrative of value and success to our understanding of what our graduates progress into. The question remains to what extent such rich information will be utilised across the sector to reinvent how we project the value of higher education for our prospective students. Building a true graduate voice of value and success has to count for something – and why shouldn’t it?

Wonkhe have a blog – Charlie Ball looks to the latest graduate outcome data to tell us whether graduates can expect improved prospects next year.

Graduate Wellbeing: OfS published a summary on the wellbeing of graduates 15-months post-graduation, as reported in the Graduate Outcomes survey, actual data available here. Here are some of the findings:

  • Graduates rated their life satisfaction and happiness less highly than the general population.
  • Graduates were more anxious than the general population, with those who had previously studied full-time reporting the most anxiety.
  • Out of all graduates, those who were unemployed were the least satisfied with their life, had the lowest level of feeling that the things they do in life are worthwhile, and were the least happy. Those who were unemployed were also the most anxious.
  • In general, older graduates were more likely to score highly for life satisfaction, the feeling that things done in life are worthwhile and happiness than younger ones.
  • Those graduates who had reported a mental health condition during their studies were more anxious than those who had not.
  • Female graduates reported higher life satisfaction, the feeling that things done in life areworthwhile and happiness than men, although women were more anxious.

Note – All findings are based on the proportion of graduates scoring ‘very high’ for life satisfaction, feeling the things done in life are worthwhile and happiness, and the proportion of graduates scoring ‘very low’ for anxiety.

Student Covid Insights Survey

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) published experimental statistics from a pilot of the Student Covid Insights Survey (conducted November 2020), which aimed to gather information on the behaviours, plans, opinions and wellbeing of HE students in the context of the pandemic. Key findings:

  • An estimated 56% of students, who live away from their home (usual non-term address), plan to return home for Christmas.
  • Of those who responded, more than half (57%) reported a worsening in their mental health and well-being between the beginning of the autumn term (September 2020) and being surveyed.
  • Students are significantly more anxious than the general population of Great Britain, with mean scores of 5.3 compared with 4.2 respectively, (where 0 is “not anxious at all” and 10 is “completely anxious”).
  • Student experience has changed because of the coronavirus; considering academic experience, 29% of students reported being dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with their experience in the autumn term.
  • Over half (53%) of students reported being dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with their social experience in the autumn term.

Access to the data is from this webpage. On Wonkhe: Jim Dickinson says “they were promised blended.  They’re not getting it.”

Student Transfers

The OfS have released experimental statistics on student transfers (students transferring course or institution). When analysed by student characteristics some familiar themes emerge.  You can read the full report here.

In 2017/18 full time first degree students:

  • 5% transferred internally (same provider) with credit
  • 5% transferred to a different provider with credit
  • Students tend to transfer (with credit) after their first year, less transfer at the end of year 2. However, of those that do 0.2% transfer externally, 0.1% internally.
  • Students who want to change course without credit may have to restart a course. For students studying at the same provider, there is more than triple the number of students who restart a different course without carrying credit (1.7%) than students who transfer to a different course with credit (0.5%).
    Moreover, this gap has been increasing across time as the proportion of students who restart increases and the proportion of students who transfer decreases.
  • At a new provider 1% of students who studied the same subject did not carry credit, those with credit studying same subject area (0.4%).

Age group and underrepresented neighbourhoods (POLAR4): Students from the areas of lowest higher education participation (POLAR4 quintile 1) were the most likely to transfer without credit. The most underrepresented students studying at the same provider were more likely to restart their course (4.7 per cent) than more represented students (3.1 per cent of quintile 5 students).

Ethnicity: Black students are the ethnic group most likely to start again when studying the same course at the same provider or the same subject area at a different provider. 9.1 per cent of black students restart the same course, and 2.0 per cent repeat their year when moving to a different provider.

Entry qualifications: Students with BTECs as their main entry qualification are the group most likely to restart a course at the same provider (2.5 per cent on a different course and 7.2 per cent on the same course). They are also the least likely to transfer internally with credit (0.4 per cent).

Sex: Male students are more likely to transfer within a provider than female students. However, male students transferring to a different provider are more likely to carry credit in a different subject area, but less likely to do so in the same subject area.

Disability: Students with a reported disability studying at the same provider are more likely to change course than students with no reported disability. Similar proportions of students with and without a reported disability transfer to a different provider.

Sexual orientation: LGB students are more likely to restart in a different course without credit, and students with other sexual orientation are more likely to restart the same course without credit than heterosexual students.

Care experience: Students who have been in care are more likely to restart their original course or a different course at their provider than other students. For students studying at a different provider, a higher proportion of care experienced students have to start from the beginning, whether or not the subject area was different.

January return

iNews questions whether students will follow the guidelines to stay away from their accommodation until their later January return date without rent refunds. NUS president Larissa Kennedy said: If students are advised not to be in their accommodation from December – February, then the Government must put up more money to support student renters who will be paying hundreds or thousands of pounds for properties they are being told not to live in for months. Students are already struggling to make ends meet without having to line the pockets of landlords for properties they should not use on public health grounds.

Wales and Scotland have also announced the staggered return for students in January.

Student Withdrawals – no Covid effect…yet?

At the end of last week the Student Loans Company published ad hoc experimental statistics on early-in-year student withdrawal to meet the significant public interest in this data in order to contribute towards an understanding of how the COVID-19 pandemic may be impacting students. It covers withdrawals up to 29 November of each year.

SLC has not seen any increase in student withdrawal notifications for the purpose of student finance in this academic year, compared to the previous two years. SLC go on to note it was actually slightly lower in 2020 than in previous years.

However, a caveat:

The irregular start to AY 2020/21 caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has included a number of courses starting later than in previous years, some universities extending the ‘cooling off’ period before the student becomes liable for tuition fees and, more generally, an increase in the potential for administrative disruption. It is possible these irregularities may have resulted in HEPs providing withdrawal notifications to SLC later. Therefore, while the two previous years’ data has been provided for comparison, any conclusions should be made with caution noting the irregularities of this academic year and the early in-year nature of the data sets.

SLC’s analysis is available here.  Wonkhe have two related blogs:

Access & Participation

HEPI published a new blog – Widening participation for students with Speech, Language and Communication needs in higher education.

  • It is reasonable to ask why policy should fund widening participation for this group. One answer for this would be that there is a strong link between communication skills and social disadvantage. Factors such as being eligible for free school meals and living in a deprived neighbourhood mean children are 2.3 times more likely to be recognised as having an SLCN. In deprived areas 50 per cent of children start school with delayed language skills. Shockingly, the vocabulary level of children at age five is the best indicator of whether socially deprived children would be able to escape poverty in their later adult life.
  • Just 20 per cent of pupils with SLCN achieved 5+ GCSEs at grades A* to C including English and Mathematics. This compares to 70 per cent of pupils with no identified special educational needs (SEN) – an attainment gap of 50 per cent
  • When asked about what higher education settings can do to widen participation, Nicole [a speech and language therapist] stated:
  • “When it comes to participation I would say that staff need to know their students’ needs. If they know how students respond and how best they work (need for repetition, visual support, verbal support, 1;1 support) then they can make education more accessible.
  • Training is important and so is advocacy. Even if universities know how to support students, they also need to advocate and speak up for them! They can’t always do that for themselves which often means that they don’t get what they need and end up in challenging situations.”
  • There is much that higher education institutions can do but they need to be properly supported by the Government to provide these early interventions that are necessary. Underfunding is a huge issue for those with SLCN and waiting lists ‘are now almost exceeding 18 months’.
  • With specialised funding into primary level institutions, participation is likely to widen in universities as more students will have been diagnosed and received crucial interventions at an early age when these are most effective. Support post-secondary will help bridge the gap between compulsory education and higher education. This will assist students with SLCN to still receive support in a new environment when facing different scenarios. Finally, awareness and training of staff in higher education will help induce an inclusive atmosphere – one in which some students no longer need to bend to fit an archaic system.

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

DfE: Susan Aclan-Hood has been confirmed as the Permanent Secretary for the DfE, after a short stint as the “acting” head of the Department in Whitehall.

Environment: Dame Glenys Stacey has been selected as the Government’s preferred candidate to become the Chair of the Office for Environmental Protection.

Nursing shortages: The Health Foundation has published a report on nursing shortages. Excerpts:

  • There has been some growth in the nursing workforce in recent months, in part as a result of rapid scaling up to meet COVID-19-related surge capacity, but concerns regarding shortages remain.
  • The current profile of the NHS nursing workforce is characterised by significant vacancies across the workforce. These vacancies are more noticeable in some specialties (eg learning disabilities and mental health) and some geographic regions (eg London).
  • The four domestic supply routes into UK nursing are markedly different in current volume, and in terms of scope for rapid scaling up.
  • The main route is the undergraduate entry to a university degree course. This inflow has grown significantly this year (by about 20%) but has a 3-year time lag between entry and qualification and has capacity constraints, along with concerns about clinical placement requirements.
  • The second route, via the 2-year graduate entry (accelerated) programme is smaller in number but has been identified as having scope for increase.
  • The third domestic route is the apprenticeship scheme, which is relatively new and reportedly has funding constraint issues, but is now receiving some additional funding. The nursing associate route is the most recent, is growing in numbers and has scope for bridging to an undergraduate nursing course.
  • The other source of new nurses is international recruitment… An examination of recent trends highlights a significant growth in recruitment from non-EEA countries, and an upward trajectory of active recruitment, with policy changes and NHS funding allocated to support further increases. It is apparent that international recruitment, currently constrained by COVID-19, and potentially facing change driven by the post-Brexit immigration system, will be a critical determinant in the NHS meeting the 50,000 target.

A parliamentary question confirms there are no plans to reintroduce paid contracts for student nurses on placements in NHS hospitals.

The House of Commons Library has published a research briefing on student loans.  These are always interesting reminders and usually suggest a question or two from MPs and maybe an upcoming discussion.

Naughty or Nice? Finally, for a little light-hearted relief as we move closer to the Christmas break Opinium polling (page 8) tells us who the nation expects to be on Santa’s naughty and nice list:

Christmas closure

We’ll deliver a light touch policy update (key news only) a little early next week to help you remain up to date as the university moves towards the Christmas closure period.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                             Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 3rd December 2020

The Government has announced the requirements for universities to prepare plans for students to return to campus safely in January, flexibilities for 2021 level 2/3 exams have been confirmed, there’s a new report about higher technical education, and the attainment and continuation gap for estranged students is of concern.

Parliamentary News

Local Rebels: The Government experienced a rocky ride as Parliament passed the Covid tier legislation on Tuesday. The Conservative rebels that voted against the Government can be seen here. Notably several local MPs voted against or abstained from the vote. Chope and Drax voted against, Syms said he would vote against (but was unable to vote as he acted as a teller for the no votes), Tobias Ellwood abstained.

WMS – Skills Bootcamps: The DfE published a Written Ministerial Statement from Gavin Williamson (Education SoS) giving an update on the Lifetime Skills Guarantee. It announced the extension of the skills boot camps including to the ‘Heart of the South West’ covering digital skills (software development, digital marketing, and data analytics) and technical skills training such as welding, engineering, and construction. A further £43m will be invested through the National Skills Fund to extend Skills Bootcamps further across the country in 2021.

January Restart

The DfE released the January restart guidance explaining the rules and priorities universities should adhere to for the safe return of students. (Press release here)

  • The return of students should be staggered over 5 weeks – this is to minimise transmission risks from the mass movement of students
  • There is a priority order for students to return with medical, practical and placement students returning first (4 to 22 January) to access their essential face to face tuition. Those with external (e.g. professional body) exams that cannot be moved are also permitted to return.
  • Other students will receive online tuition and return to campus in a staggered manner between 25 January and 5 February. The Government set out a priority order for those in the second phase of return e.g. postgraduates first, new starters last.
  • All students should be offered (the asymptomatic) testing on return to university before tuition recommences, social contact to be curtailed whilst awaiting the results of both tests (3 days apart)
  • Students who returned home over the winter break should not be encouraged to return to their term-time accommodation until their face-to-face teaching is scheduled to resume
  • Students who remained in their term time accommodation over the winter break or those for whom an early return is essential (e.g. those without study space or connectivity within their domicile, international students, students without other suitable accommodation, those who need to return sooner for health reasons). Students who return early due to these reasons and commuter students are expected to be able to access campus facilities such as the library during the period.
  • International students returning from outside of a travel corridor must self-isolate for 14 days, although they can pay for a private test which if negative will reduce the isolation to 5 days.
  • Students who spend the winter break within tier 3 should take a test before they travel, if this is available locally.

In her letter to Vice-Chancellors Donelan stated:

  • We do not underestimate the work that will need to be done to accommodate this plan including moving exams or putting them online and creating more online materials and lessons.
  • This plan is the best way to ensure all students can return and blended learning can resume whilst reducing the risks of mass movement and also ensuring all students can be tested.
  • We continue to support the blended learning model that universities have been using and still consider you, in collaboration with local public health teams, to be best-placed in determining the proportion of online/in-person teaching working that works for your setting. However, where it is deemed safe to do so, we would encourage as much face-to-face learning as possible, recognising the benefits this brings to student experience.

Financial Hardship: The Minister also announced there would be £20 million allocated on a one-off basis to support those that need it most, particularly disadvantaged students. They will work with OfS to produce the detail on this.

One shot: Earlier in the week the Government stated that students would be counted within the ‘home’ household numbers for calculating visitor numbers during the Christmas window. It also confirmed that students are only permitted one visit home between 3 December 2020 and 8 February 2021.

Wonkhe have a blog delving into the detail of the Government’s statutory instrument which covers the student related aspects here.

No plans to cancel A-levels  in 2021 in England

On Thursday Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced extra measures to support students during the 2021 exams:

Students sitting exams and other assessments next year will benefit from a package of exceptional measures to make them as fair as possible and manage the disruption caused by Covid-19

In recognition of the challenges faced by students this year, grades will be more generous, students will be given advance notice of some topic areas, and steps will be taken to ensure every student receives a grade, even if they miss a paper due to self-isolation or illness.

  • exam aids – like formula sheets – provided in some exams giving students more confidence and reducing the amount of information they need to memorise;
  • additional exams to give students a second chance to sit a paper if the main exams or assessments are missed due to illness or self-isolation; and
  • a new expert group to look at differential learning and monitor the variation in the impact of the pandemic on students across the country.

Students taking vocational and technical qualifications will also see adaptations to ensure parity between general and vocational qualifications

Where a student has a legitimate reason to miss all their papers, then a validated teacher informed assessment can be used, only once all chances to sit an exam have passed

Test and exam results will not be included in performance tables this year, and instead will be replaced by attendance information, and student destinations and the subjects taken at key stage 4 and 5

And on remote education within schools and colleges there are updated expectations:

  • Primary schools are expected to provide a minimum of three hours a day on average; secondary schools expected to provide at least four hours’ worth
  • Similar expectations will apply for colleges and other further education providers which take into account the sector’s role in delivering both academic and technical provision

A Government news story tells us that the Social Mobility Commission is contributing to DfE planning process for the 2021 exams. They have recommended the Government:

  • Suspend school performance tables for 2021, as they fail to take account of the disproportionate learning loss experienced by students in areas of deprivation.
  • Work with schools and colleges to develop a clear and consistent system for collecting centre assessed grades that can be used as a contingency measure if individual students are unable to take exams.
  • Offer students the opportunity to take exams in Autumn 2021, without this being considered a ‘resit’. The results would need to be made available in time for UCAS applications for 2022 entry.
  • Support schools with extra resources, such as additional staff and venues, so that they can provide Covid-secure examination environments.
  • Mitigations in content and structure of exams benefit all candidates, and so do not address gaps between those who have struggled with remote learning due to home circumstance and those who have not. As such, while some adjustment (like the reduction in content of English Literature) may be practically necessary and useful, it should not be regarded as a solution.
  • Generosity in grading for 2021 should aim for a midpoint between 2019 and 2020, but following a normal mathematical distribution, rather than replicating the anomalies of 2020.
  • Arrangements for students isolating at the time of exams have to take into account the vast difference in personal and socio-economic circumstances. Home invigilation should be avoided.

For the students progressing to university:

  • Arrangements providing grants and opportunities for gap years for those with fewer familial resources should be retained.
  • At the moment, some courses prejudice those who have done an extra year, and some institutions struggle to accommodate retakes of years because of funding reductions for older students – this could easily be addressed.

Their recommendations aim to ensure equity in the 2021 exam system: Most recognise that there is a widening achievement gap in the nation’s schools and that the impact of coronavirus has disproportionally hit pupils in areas of deprivation.

The Social Mobility Commission statement included:

  • Schools must not ambushed at the last minute on this – they need time to adjust their teaching and their focus in ways that allow them to provide an effective education for the most vulnerable…We must also not fall into the trap of thinking that solutions that benefit all students will address the widening achievement gap. In a competitive exam system like ours, the key worry is that disadvantaged students will be outperformed by their peers whose experience of lockdown has been far smoother and more productive.
  • The key question the commission has considered in setting out our advice is ‘What constitutes a good outcome for the students who have been most disadvantaged this year? Are they better with weaker grades in more subjects, or better grades in the subjects they need?’ We firmly believe that if we can free up schools by taking away some of the pressure of performance tables that we think are unlikely to tell us anything useful about the system this year, then we can allow deprived students who have often suffered the most to be given tailored solutions.

The Government’s invitation to the Social Mobility Commission sits a little awkwardly with the outcomes of Ofqual’s analysis of the 2020 GCSE and A level awards (published late last week) which and concluded that there was “no evidence” that the system systematically disadvantaged poorer pupils or those with protected characteristics. However, the report suggests that there was “some evidence that some 6,300 GCSE entries by low prior attainers with unknown socioeconomic status (most of whom are at independent schools) may have received disproportionately overestimated grades.” The same effect was not seen for A levels.

Ofqual also pointed out that although poorer pupils saw a bigger drop in grades B to E as a result of standardisation, the proportion achieving A* and A grades actually fell by less than it did for pupils from better-off backgrounds.

The new report looked at the centre-assessment grades, calculated grades and final grades issued to pupils. It found that had calculated grades been issued, the results would have been more closely in line with the established relationships between student characteristics and outcomes seen in previous results.

Admissions

A Wonkhe blog explains Ireland’s university admissions system: The CAO [Central Applications Office] is best understood as an application clearing house, rather than a strict comparator to UCAS. The system in Ireland is what the UK is now terming PQO: post qualification offers. 

  • …With up to 20 choices to play with, however, students can choose to be very ambitious with some of their choices
  • Students applying to university will have a sense of what they may achieve in the Leaving Certificate, and thus can apply to courses that cover this range, though predicted grades don’t exist in the Irish system…there’s very little penalty to being speculative.
  • …points mean places. Rather than being entry requirements, they specify the lowest points score that gained a place in the previous cycle. When looking at options, students thus need to be aware that this grade can vary wildly from year to year, as the process is based on supply and demand. 

It’s not quite that simple… The nature of the supply and demand system means that the order of preference becomes all important. In Round One, students will be given a place on the course that ranks highest on their list of preferences, with all places below automatically denied. Then, as the rounds progress throughout August and early September, students can be made offers from their higher-ranked preferences, if they open up based on the decisions of other students.

There’s a blog on the Australian system here.

Parliamentary Questions: Universities expected to be flexible in admissions at high ranking institutions so students don’t miss out on places due to Covid related schooling disruption

HE Student Experience

HEPI published the policy note – Students’ views on the impact of Coronavirus on their higher education experience in 2020/21. Findings show students’ increasing satisfaction with online learning and positivity with how institutions ensure the Covid risks are minimised. The survey also shows that some students are spending the majority of their time in their accommodation the majority of students have experienced a decline in their mental wellbeing since the outset of the pandemic.

  • 59% UG students satisfied with online learning (was 42% June 2020, 49% March 2020)
  • 58% of students report poorer mental health than at the beginning of the pandemic (14% better mental health, 28% report no change to their mental health state)
  • 42% of students are satisfied with the university’s mental health services, 16% are unsatisfied
  • 50% are satisfied with the HEI’s other (non-mental health) support services, e.g. careers support.
  • 44% satisfied with student union support
  • 56% happy with how the institution has handled outbreaks of the coronavirus
  • 79% say their HEI experience feels safe (see chart below)
  • 33% of students spend all or most of their time in their accommodation. (Note 51% of students are receiving some face to face teaching nationally.)
  • 60% understand the (Government’s) end of term & Christmas travel window guidance
  • 54% have concerns about the return to university in January 2021

There are colourful charts in the full policy note.

No detriment: Nationally students have been calling for no detriment policies to apply in 20/2021. Wonkhe have a blog. Snippet:

  • I can see a growing number of students signing petitions and commenting on SU forums that they are amazed that “no detriment” policies have generally not survived the summer, and are angry that poor performance this term might end up framed in institutional terms as something that is individual – and somehow their fault.
  • When we say we are maintaining “quality and standards” we may be hiding debates – about whether we mean the standard of that which universities might reasonably provide during a massively disruptive global pandemic, or the standard of attainment we might reasonably expect students to achieve during a massively disruptive global pandemic.
  • …What’s very clear is that the comments from students on the forums and petitions should be seen as coalmine canaries – cries for help and exhortations for some empathy. Complex procedures to address individual failure caused by specific circumstances increasingly look tone deaf to a cohort whose only real shared experience is how miserable it’s all been.
  • Pure “No Detriment” policies may well not fit the bill if there’s not enough pre-pandemic academic performance evidence to establish a floor over. But we’re going to need something…

There’s the usual parliamentary question and response on HE student mental health. And the Universities Minister confirms the Government anticipates using mass testing as students return to university in January.

Research

HEPI have a new blog written by a PhD student who experienced burn out. To support PhD students well-being she recommends:

  • Fostering cohesive online cohorts
  • Strong dedicated representation (Students Union) systems to raise and address issues
  • Hands on training (not virtual) to improve access to and experience of a range of career pathways beyond academia

The blog concludes: PhD funders need to recognise that, with the current financial provision, increasing mental health support services won’t stop the pressures that undermine researcher wellbeing.

£61m boost for Europe’s largest ‘flying lab’

  • Facility for Airborne Atmospheric Measurements (FAAM) have been awarded £61m by the NERC
  • Spread over 10 years, the funding will help to uncover causes behind rising methane in the Arctic, understanding the effect of biomass burning and monitor volcanic gases
  • The Airborne Laboratory will provide ‘world-class’ measurements for the benefit of the UK government, businesses and research community

EoI: Manufacturing Made Smarter innovation hub

  • The Digital Supply Chain Innovation Hub should focus on manufacturing supply chains, looking to digitally optimise and integrate these supply chains from end to end. UK registered businesses and research organisations can apply for up to £10m from ISCF to set up and run a digital supply chain innovation hub

UK-German collaborative research projects announced – the AHRC and German Research Foundation have announced 18 collaborative research projects, bringing together arts and humanities researchers to conduct outstanding research projects which span a wide range of subjects. UK budget of £4.8m matched by €5m for research teams in Germany. Projects will start in early 2021 and are expected to run for at least three years until 2023

UKRI Global coronavirus research and innovation network pre-announcement

  • Individuals of lecturer level (or equivalent) can apply to establish a single international network for research into coronavirus. The network may run for up to 4 years
  • The total fund and maximum grant are £500,000. Applicationsopen on 4 January 2021, and close on 23 February 2021.

Improving health in low and middle income countries pre-announcement – no size or funding limited, proposals that combine expertise from more than one sector to meet a global health challenge particularly welcome. Applications open on 1 February 2021, and close on 8 April 2021.

UKRI formally recognises the contributions of reviewers

  • UKRI will be the first funder to formally credit contributions of reviewers through the Orcid system
  • Reviewers will be issues with a ‘review credit’, which will be publicly displayed in their Orcid profiles

Concerns over future of international development research. In the Spending Review, Sunak said they will reduce the aid budget to 0.5% of GNI from 0.7%. Concerns have been raised that this could represent a missing £4bn a year

Medical Research Council calls for more collaboration to get the most out of key research opportunities. The call comes following the MRC’s independent review

Changing the UK’s intellectual property regime to attract investment in life sciences.

Research Professional writes that just one more formal three-way talk among the European Union institutions should be enough to reach an agreement on the remaining parts of the legislation for Horizon Europe

Withdrawals

The Student Loans Company published in-year statistics on the number of notifications of student withdrawals.

  • The Student Loans Company (SLC) does not routinely publish data on the withdrawal notifications it receives from Higher Education Providers (HEPs). However, during Academic Year (AY) 2020/21 to date, there has been significant public interest in this data in order to contribute towards an understanding of how the COVID-19 pandemic may be impacting students. Therefore, SLC has taken the decision to publish this on an ad hoc basis as experimental statistics.
  • Based on this data, SLC has not seen any increase in student withdrawal notifications for the purpose of student finance in this academic year, compared to the previous two years. In this respect, withdrawal notifications are currently slightly lower than the previous two years for UK & EU students funded by Student Finance England, Student Finance Wales and Student Finance Northern Ireland. Some of this reduction may be explained by the irregular start to the current academic year.

Access & Participation

Estranged students: The OfS released a report at the end of last week highlighting that estranged students are less likely to be awarded a first or 2:1 and more likely to drop out during their first year of studies. Around 3,000 students are classed as estranged when they enter HE each year.

According to the data:

  • The continuation rate of entrants in 2017-18 who were estranged from their parents was 8.2% lower than students who were not estranged – though this gap has reduced from 11.2% in 2014-15.
  • The attainment rate (achieving a first or 2:1) of estranged students in 2018-19 was 13% lower than students who were not estranged.
  • Care experienced students are more likely to drop out and less likely to achieve a first or a 2:1. In 2017-18 the continuation rate of care experienced students was 5.6% lower than that for students who have not been in care. In 2018-19 the attainment rate (achieving a first or 2:1) of care experienced students was 12.1% lower than the attainment rate of students who have not been in care.
  • Students starting in 2017-18 who were eligible for free school meals were more likely to drop out than those who were not – data showing a 5.4% gap. For students graduating in 2018-19, the rate achieving a first or 2:1 was 13% lower for students who were eligible for free school meals compared with those who were not.

There is an OfS blog which addresses the gaps.

Chris Millward, Director for Fair Access and Participation at the OfS, said: We expect universities and colleges to identify and tackle the barriers to success for the student groups identified in this data, so it will help them to develop their access and participation plans during the coming year. 

Care Leavers: Wonkhe: The National Network for the Education of Care Leavers, along with a number of other campaigning and support groups with an interest in care leavers, has written a “message to all vice chancellors and principals”. The message sets out recommendations on key ways to support the academic, social, and mental health needs of care leavers remaining on campus over Christmas.

White Disadvantaged Pupils: The Education Committee continued with their inquiry into left behind white disadvantaged pupils. Dods have provided a summary here. Place and the impact of the family were key facets of the meeting. Excerpts:

  • was important to look at educational underachievement not through the lenses of ethnicity but through the characteristics of the place.
  • …the pandemic did not bring forward new ways of deprivation, but it exacerbated existing ones…On the issue of families, he spoke about a report that came out two weeks ago which found that children had regressed during the time of the pandemic. In his view, this was not solely because of deprivation levels, but also depended on the support structures in the homes.

Level 4/5 and Technical Provision

Assessing performance: With the current Government’s favour for bite sized provision, technical and skills alternatives to the traditional degree, and favouring level 4/5 provision there is a great blog here that considers all the past versions of these. It starts out: As sometimes happens with HE policy, we’ve been here before. Several times. And also comments: In terms of level, a qualification that goes beyond that expected of 18 year olds (level 3) but stays at level 4/5, is a holy grail – which is odd because the problem is that it’s the thing that people aren’t seeking enough. At its worst, it’s the solution that people propose for other people’s children.

It quickly runs through the best and worst covering DipHE, Associate Degree, Foundation Degree, HND, HTQs, and problems with the word ‘technical’.

Gatsby Review Follow Up: The Gatsby Foundation were commissioned by the Government to review level 4 and 5 technical education in England. The review looked at the development of higher technical education in England since the 1944 Education Act, and how it compares with the experience of other countries. (The review was actually published in December 2018.) The original report concluded that England has a very small higher technical sector by international standards – the ‘missing middle’. In the 1960s and 70s, the rapid expansion in university education following the Robbins report privileged full-time degree level study, while many professions increasingly expected degree-level qualifications from new entrants. The Foundation Degree was seen as successful in filling the gap and the decline of part-time student numbers impacted higher technical enrolments. The report describes other countries that embrace a larger role for higher technical education, and agrees with the Secretary of State’s ambition for England to learn from international experience as it builds the technical education system. This week the Gatsby Foundation published Beyond the Missing Middle: Developing Higher Technical Education – a follow up report that they commissioned which explores the international success stories.

The report calls for

  • …further development in the higher technical system – allowing for recognition of prior learning, drawing on workbased learning, and built from modular components.
  • The framework would offer alternative routes, tailored to the needs of different students, to occupational competence. Not only would this approach be well adapted to the needs of adults who are already the prime candidates for HTE qualifications, it would also compete very effectively with most higher education degrees, which rarely offer these flexibilities.

Recognition of prior learning is often a slippery beast. The report suggests: While many countries have sought to develop special procedures for assessing and granting credit for prior learning, these procedures can be cumbersome. An alternative approach, used extensively in different countries, is to grant adults with relevant work experience direct access to the final examinations for a qualification without going through a required programme of study. This allows students themselves to prepare for the examination in a manner tailored to their existing knowledge and skills

Workbased learning is also emphasised and the author argues for apprenticeship style end point assessments to be applied.

There is lots more detail in the full document and Wonkhe have a blog.  Research Professional cover the report too.

International

Dods tell us:

  • Reports suggest that first-year EU students face £800 Brexit bill if not in UK before 2021.  
  • The Home Office said they will not qualify for EU pre-settled status if they arrive after the end of the transition period, even though they have been unable to relocate because of Covid. It potentially means tens of thousands of students will have to pay £348 in application fees for a visa with £470 a year in health charges, both new post-Brexit costs. One issue for EU students who have not started their education in the UK before the end of the transition period is that they cannot evidence their residency with rent receipts, utility bills or bank accounts.
  • According to Home Office rules published on the government website, students only need to provide one document dated in the last six months in order to be granted pre-settled status, including a “passport stamp confirming entry at the UK border” or “a used travel ticket confirming you entered the UK from another country”.
  • In a section entitled “evidence that covers shorter periods of time”,the Home Office states: “these documents count as evidence for one month if they have a single date on” suggesting a short trip to the UK up to and including New Year’s Eve is enough to evince free movement rights.

Parliamentary Questions: Course/professional qualifications admissibility to graduate immigration route not confirmed yet

OfS Annual Review

The OfS published their 2020 annual review. Key points:

  • HEIs are urged to radically improve digital teaching and learning as they continue to negotiate the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Concerns are levied as the pandemic has ‘exacerbated’ existing inequalities – especially those impacted by digital poverty. Certain groups of students are vulnerable – international students, postgraduates and students who are vulnerable by reason of disability or for other reasons
  • The report on digital teaching and learning will look at how high-quality digital provision can be continued and delivered at scale; consider the impact of digital poverty; and explore how digital technology has been used to deliver remote education since the pandemic started.
  • Greater demand for adults to retrain at HE level is expected during 2021. 2021 should be a year when we look more seriously at how courses could be made more attractive and responsive to mature students, and a year when more adults are encouraged to take up such opportunities

Quality (and the OfS current consultation):

  • Poor-quality courses should be improved or no longer offered – the OfS consultation on this is mentioned: [it] proposes a series of measures to define, monitor and take action regarding the quality and standards of courses that do not reach minimum requirements
  • Our proposals would ensure that providers that recruit students from underrepresented groups and with protected characteristics are held to the same minimum level of performance as other providers, and would see consideration given to outcomes at subject level within providers, as well as at the level of the whole provider

The OfS set out actions they plan to take during 2021:

Fair admissions and recruitment

  • Following the update of Discover Uni in autumn 2020, which involved a new look and feel and improved course pages, further content and functionality is planned, including a new and improved compare and search functionality for courses, and more content for international students and mature students.
  • We will continue to be vigilant in monitoring the impacts of the pandemic to take action to support fair admissions.
  • We will work closely with the Department for Education, UCAS and UUK on the next phase of their work. In doing so, we will consider whether there is a case for further investigation of the issues identified in our admissions review, in light of the proposals that emerge during the coming year. In particular, we will consider the extent to which any proposed reforms consider the experiences of part-time, mature, international and postgraduate students. If there is a case to relaunch our review of admissions with a more focused set of considerations, then we will do so.

Ensuring high-quality teaching and learning

  • Conclude our online teaching and learning review.
  • Publish the findings of our consultation on quality.
  • Consult on our future approach to the TEF.
  • Conclude our review of the NSS and publish the findings.

Supporting all students to success

  • Develop further regulatory and funding incentives for mature student participation.
  • Continue collaborating with Uni Connect programmes to build on innovative delivery during the pandemic to support diverse pathways for students applying next year and beyond, including local progression from further education colleges.
  • Work with Student Minds to mitigate the mental health effects of the pandemic.
  • Relaunch the consultation on how universities and colleges should prevent and respond to incidents of harassment.
  • Deepen our understanding of student populations, including the intersections between different groups, through the access and participation dataset and a new Associations Between Characteristics measure.
  • Track student progress from outreach through to higher education and into employment, through the Higher Education Access Tracker and similar services.
  • Develop evaluation practice and the use of evaluation findings through the OfS-funded ‘what works’ centre, Transforming Access and Student Outcomes in Higher Education.

Graduate skills and prospects in the pandemic

  • Evaluate the support for local graduates through our funding, working with further education colleges and universities.
  • Ensure universities and colleges are closing attainment gaps and securing equitable graduate outcomes.
  • Continue to fund courses that provide graduates for industries, such as certain science, technology, engineering and maths subjects, and health and medical subjects.

Research Professional have a short article covering the OfS annual review here.

Anti-Semitism

The Guardian has an opinion piece – The government should not impose a faulty definition of antisemitism on universities.

  • [Education SoS Williamson] threatens to remove funding and the power to award degrees from universities that do not share his faith in the efficacy of the IHRA working definition.
  • This is misguided, for a number of reasons. First, it misconceives the task universities face…structural racism in universities is profound, and racial harassment on campus is widespread. These are problems that universities must address. The imposed adoption of the IHRA working definition will not meet this challenge. It will, however, privilege one group over others by giving them additional protections, and in doing so will divide minorities against each other. For this reason alone, Williamson should pause and consider how best to protect students and university staff from racism broadly as well as from antisemitism.
  • The IHRA working definition is anything but straightforward, and universities already have some tools to deal with antisemitism.

The article goes on to suggest that adopting the definition is symbolic and it is linked with the Labour party’s initial rejection of the definition. It also discusses the pros and cons of the working definition and states: Universities, like everyone else, are sorely in need of good and clear guidance on when speech on Israel or Zionism becomes antisemitic. Sadly, this is not what the working definition provides. In these circumstances, its imposition by the secretary of state appears reckless and brings real dangers.

It concludes: Antisemitism on campus comprises one part of a mosaic of harms and harassment suffered by racial and religious minorities. Jewish students and staff deserve protection, but imposing the working definition will add nothing useful to secure it. 

There was a parliamentary question on what legislative options the Government is considering for HEIs that do not sign up to the definition. Excerpt: officials are exploring how best to ensure that providers are tackling antisemitism, with robust measures in place to address issues when they arise. Options identified by my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Education in the letter include directing the Office for Students to impose a new regulatory condition of registration, and suspending funding streams for universities at which antisemitic incidents occur and which have not signed up to the definition.

QAA

Douglas Blackstock, Chief Executive of the Quality Assurance Agency, has announced he will retire during 2021. Research Professional have coverage (scroll down to ‘Early Bath’) mentioning HERA, TEF and QAA’s move to a subscription body. The article highlights:

  • With Michael Barber on the way out at the Office for Students, the imminent departure of Blackstock provides the government with another opportunity to influence an appointment that could reshape the higher education debate. Such appointments tend to last longer than the ministers that make them.
  • …The QAA has always had a piquant relationship with the Office for Students, at least since the dying days of the old regime at the Higher Education Funding Council for England. It is not so much one of open hostility: it is more like two kids sitting beside one another at the pantomime, passive-aggressively competing over who gets to plant their elbow on the arm rest.
  • The Higher Education and Research Act left responsibility for quality shared between a designated agency and the regulator, but the boundaries were not clearly defined and have become more blurred over time. The Office for Students’ consultation on standards and value hints at a potential external inspection regime for universities, something the QAA might rightly have assumed to be its job.
  • To be accepted on the register of the Office for Students, providers must be in good standing with the QAA. But it has never been clear what store the regulator puts by QAA assessments.
  • The Higher Education and Research Act also requires the Office for Students to work in tandem with Research England, a collaboration that has not always been as proactive as some involved might have hoped. These relationships are the loose ends in the fabric of higher education left by the 2017 reforms. Playbook is only thinking aloud when it asks whether this government might be minded to tidy them up almost five years after Jo Johnson first published his white paper.

 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

Online learning: The BBC looks at whether online degrees will become more ‘legitimate’.

Diversity and inclusion: Dods report that The Office for Students (OfS) have recently published two insightful articles on the implications digital skills and data science courses on diversity and inclusion within the HE sector. In their article on Friday, they reported how the OfS-funded Institute for Coding is finding the flexible, modular, digital skills education can improve diversity in learner cohorts and in the tech workforce overall. They note that demand for talent has grown by 150 percent in the digital tech sector over the past four years, and the implications this has for future learning demand.

Referencing the ‘Digital Skills for the Workplace’ course collection, they note that within the participants:

  • 47% of learners surveyed were women
  • More than half of surveyed learners were over the age of 25
  • 19% of surveyed learners were unemployed or looking for work
  • 48% were working full-time, part-time or are self-employed

The Government’s Digital Strategy has also estimated that, within 20 year, 90 percent of jobs will require some element of digital skills.

In their article, the OfS also discussed new data for AI and data science postgraduate conversion courses, which have shown greater diversity in cohorts, including high admission from Black students, women and students with disabilities. Most importantly, they note that the lack of diversity within these fields can lead to entrenched dataset biases, and that a lack of representative testing in AI “creates an artificial world.”

Both articles highlight the benefits of flexible and modular learning – drawing attention to platforms such as FutureLearn, as well as online courses offered by partner universities on these ventures.

EdTech Start Ups: Jisc and Emerge Education relaunched their step up initiative, which aims to transform higher and further education by matching EdTech start-ups with colleges and universities to solve their biggest challenges. They’ve published a top list of recommended start-ups – new ventures ready to tackle the sector’s five biggest challenges of digital learning, assessment, employability, wellbeing and recruitment. The full list and more details are here.

Back to ‘normal’: An SRHE blog drops a pin in the July 2021 calendar for end of pandemic in the UK with a normal teaching programme resuming in autumn 2021.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                             Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

HE policy update for the w/e 6th November 2020

To combat potential politics fatigue we’ve kept the news from the last couple of weeks short and sharp for you, and to combat lockdown fatigue this is also a COVID-light update.

Parliamentary News

On Wednesday there was a debate in the House of Commons on FE funding.

Research news

Post-Brexit Research Programme Association

Discontent has been growing that institutions sitting outside of the EU community still do not have a cost figure to subscribe to the 2021-27 Horizon Europe programme. Research Professional state:

  • Some of the 16 non-EU countries associated to Horizon Europe’s predecessor tried to probe the Commission during a video call on 19 October, but the Commission could not answer their questions.
  • UUK International estimates the cost will be about €3 billion more than its researchers are likely to win back and stated that the estimated cost “doesn’t look fair”.
  • However, Kurt Deketelaere, Secretary-General of the League of European Research Universities, suggested the Commission’s research department might be being silenced by colleagues negotiating on the EU’s relationship with the UK… But…the UK government might be briefing research organisations to expect higher costs than are really being sought, suggesting the government could be “abusing this situation and wants the university sector to give up on association”.

The details on the speculated calculation methodology are here.

Meanwhile the Guardian speculates on the £3 billion deficit which is shying the Government away from participation. Vivienne Stern, Director of UUK, breaks down the figures here and concludes:

  • “If we get to the end of December and there’s no negotiated outcome,”…the best thing would be to “try to get back to the table on research collaboration”. It was a bridge that could still be built…“with compromise on both sides on the cost question, it is a deal that could be done fairly quickly”.

And Research Professional talk about no deal implications:

  • A no-deal Brexit, or a deal so thin as to have the same practical effects as a no-deal Brexit, would make it harder for British universities to participate in Horizon Europe and Erasmus+ or to secure the mutual recognition of qualifications with European countries.

Parliamentary Questions

Q – Chi Onwurah: To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, whether the upcoming one year Spending Review will provide funding for
(a) a UK replacement for Horizon Europe,
(b) the new Office for Talent,
(c) the new Innovation Expert Group,
(d) schemes to promote diversity within STEM and
(e) implementing the findings from the R&D tax credits consultation; and what the timeframe is for publishing long term funding strategies for those projects.

Amanda Solloway:

  • At the 2020 Budget, my Rt. Hon. Friend Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer announced the Government’s ambitious commitment to increase public spending in research and development to £22 billion by 24/25, putting the UK on track to reach 2.4% of GDP being spent on research and development across the UK economy by 2027.
  • In order to prioritise the response to Covid-19, and our focus on supporting jobs, the Chancellor and my Rt. Hon. Friend the Prime Minister have decided to conduct a one-year Spending Review, setting departments’ resource and capital budgets for 2021-22, and Devolved Administrations’ block grants for the same period. This Spending Review will be delivered on 25th November. (Link)

At PMQs – Chris Skidmore (ex-Universities Minister) noted the importance of R&D, and asked the PM if he agreed that spending 2.4% of GDP by 2027 on R&D would be essential. Johnson said yes, and reiterated the commitment to the 2.4% figure, and an increase investment of £22bn by 2027.

KTP – Innovate UK and UKRI have announced a new Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) scheme, which links the business with an academic/ research organisation and a graduate to help the business innovate and grow through a specific project. Projects can last 12-36 months. Details here.

Codes of Practice REF 2021  – The REF Equality and Diversity Advisory Panel has published a report on university codes of practice submitted in mid-2019 as part of REF2021. The majority of submissions adhered to official guidance and demonstrate the progress made since 2014, such as the appointment of equality and diversity-related roles, support and mentoring for staff, and engagement with Athena Swan and the Race Equality Charter.

Endorsed Funders – UKRI has welcomed input on which funders should be recognised as an endorsed funder under the Global Talent Visa immigration route. Any researcher or specialist who is named/whose role is named on a grant from an endorsed funder can apply for the Global Talent Visa, provided they meet certain conditions. Nominated funders will do additional due diligence, including questions about an organisation’s governance and internal controls, adherence to peer review principles and financial stability. Endorsed funders play no role in the visa process itself. Press release here, consultation here.

PRES

Advance HE have published their annual postgraduate research experience survey (PRES) findings.

  • 80% of PGRs are satisfied with their overall research degree experience
  • Top motivations for taking a research degree programme are interest in the subject (35%) and to improve academic career prospects (27%).
  • 80% of PGRs feel prepared for their future career.
  • Only three in five (60%) are satisfied with the research culture at their institution. Satisfaction dipped by 3% for research culture compared with 2019.
  • Respondents reported slightly higher satisfaction during the Covid-19 lockdown (82%) than those who responded to the survey before lockdown (77%)

Advance HE also state:

  • A significantly larger proportion of PGRs who responded to PRES during lockdown felt that their feedback was valued and acted upon, and comments reveal examples of supervisors going out of their way to engage with and support PGRs.
  • However, the disruptive impacts of the lockdown have clearly been felt with those responding after lockdown considerably less likely to have received formal training for their teaching, and less confident they would complete their research degree programme within their institutions’ expected timescale.

THE has an article suggesting the poor economic and employment outlook is swaying postgraduates away from industry and into an academic career. The data is taken from PRES.

  • 42 per cent of those in their fourth year or beyond who answered in lockdown wanted to stay in academia compared to 35 per cent who responded before lockdown – a difference of 7 percentage points, or 20 per cent.
  • Whereas academic jobs in higher education have been incredibly competitive in recent years, perhaps the reduction in available jobs outside of academia makes an academic career all the more appealing,” says the study, which also found students were far less likely to consider leaving their courses during lockdown than before it. Some 31 per cent of respondents admitted they had considered quitting their course prior to lockdown, which fell to 26 per cent during lockdown.

Canada-UK research collaboration

The UK’s Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) has signed a letter of understanding with Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) for the two organisations to work together to find new ways to improve each respective nation’s infrastructure for supporting research.

Through this partnership, the CFI and STFC will share information on their online infrastructure portals — the CFI’s Research Facilities Navigator and the UKRI Research and Innovation Infrastructure Portal.

The partners will also explore new opportunities for international collaboration between their researchers and research institutions and pursue joint funding of research infrastructure and support for access to these infrastructures in the UK and Canada, and in other countries where the two partners have shared interests. UKRI press release here.

Skills

The Government envisaged a marketized HE sector with healthy competition. However, on the skills front competition for delivering higher level technical education has not been welcomed by all parties.

Wonkhe cover:

  • new essay for Policy Exchange [a right leaning think tank], Technical breakthrough: delivering Britain’s higher level skills, sees Nottingham Trent vice chancellor Edward Peck, along with co-authors Rich Pickford and Will Rossiter, argue that universities are better positioned than colleges to deliver the government’s agenda on higher level skills due to their established expertise, greater resource and organisational capacity and recognition from employers. The essay argues that FE colleges should not be granted taught degree awarding powers except where there is local need, and should concentrate on skills gaps at level three and below. Other recommendations include the piloting of the lifelong learning loan entitlement on a grant basis in areas of greatest need, and the recalibration of the government’s restructuring regime for higher education to include focusing on higher level technical skills and closer alliances with local FE colleges.
  • FE Week has an opinion piece from David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, arguing that there is no need for colleges and universities to compete on providing higher skills training.
  • Debbie McVitty explores the moral and economic arguments fuelling the skills debate.

Research Professional cover the aspects of the report that appear to wish to reinvigorate the old polytechnics:

  • The…co-writers argue that there is “a golden opportunity” to use the expansion of funding for level 4 and 5 qualifications to “move the focus of a significant segment of the higher education sector back towards a broader offer that characterised them before they became universities, whilst also bearing down on costs”. Is this the old ‘bring back the polytechnics’ call but coming from the head of a new university? Not quite. Degrees and research would still be undertaken.
  • “In short, government should seek to pivot the post-1992 ‘applied universities’—and those created since—more towards technical and vocational courses rather than expand or continue further education colleges in an area in which they have very limited experience and expertise,”…“This would not require these universities to stop delivering traditional degrees in a broad range of subjects or undertaking research; indeed it is important to their continued reputation that they do both…However, it would mean that universities would be deploying their considerable resources, organisational capacity and employer links to the benefit of many of the 50 per cent that do not enrol for a full-time university degree at 18. This would be the next step in developing their role to drive social mobility.”
  • Peck was a member of Philip Augar’s review of post-18 funding, so perhaps it is not surprising that his proximity to government thinking has made him wary of pre-empting such a move towards vocational education for post-92s before it is “done to” certain universities.

Lords on Skills – The Lords had a short but very topical discussion on rationalising the number of available qualifications this week. It touched on technical education, how employers value higher level apprenticeships over lower level (therefore are upskilling staff rather than employing new lower level staff), and that the Government’s commitment to a lifetime skills guarantee will not cover 75% to 80% of non-graduate workers who lose their jobs in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic. That is because many non-graduates want higher-level training, rather than just a new level 3 qualification… which led on to call for a flexible HE loan system to access this higher level training.

Education Spending

The Institute for Fiscal Studies released the latest in their series of annual reports on education spending across the learning life cycle with analysis on the major issues facing different sectors.

FE

  • FE colleges and sixth forms have seen the largest falls in per-pupil funding of any sector of the education system since 2010/11, falling by 12%in the past decade – funding per student in school sixth forms fell by 23%
  • In the last academic year, funding per student was £4,600 in sixth-form colleges, £5,000 in school sixth forms and £6,100 in FE colleges
  • Spending on adult education is nearly two-thirds lowerthan in 2003/04 and about 50% lower than in 2009/10
  • Total spending on adult education and apprenticeships combined is still about 35% downon 2009/10
  • There has been a large rise in the number of adults(aged 19+) participating in apprenticeships – from 460,000 in 2010/11 to 580,000 in 2018/19
  • There could be a sharp increase in student numbersin colleges and sixth forms in 2020, due to population growth and the economic downturn
  • Government has provided an extra £400mfor 16-18 education in 2020/21, implying growth in per-pupil spending of 2%, but growth in student numbers could erode much of this increase

HE

  • Estimate the government contribution to HE for this year’s cohort could increase by around 20%, or £1.6bn, around a quarter of which is due to there being around 15,000 extra UK students
  • Costs are higher as we take into account the effects of Covid-19 on previous cohorts’ ability to make student loan repayments
  • Universities face several financial risks, including pension deficits and reduced incomefrom accommodation, conferences and catering, although student number appear to have held up for now

You can view the full list of key findings here (including schools and early years), and the full IFS report here.

Access & Participation

The Institute of Education has a blog on why including first generation HE students is relevant today. They set out to explore whether ‘first in family’ (FiF) is a good indicator for widening participation programmes. How does it compare to the other indicators? Does it capture more or less advantaged individuals and can it be used accurately and reliably?

They found:

  • parental education is a key indicator of disadvantage and that this disadvantage operates through early educational attainment.
  • Our research points to the need to get serious about contextualised admissions
  • The disadvantage that FiF individuals face clearly runs through their schooling career. This WP indicator should be prioritised by universities in the admissions process…The UCAS form should be updated so that applicants have to provide the specific level of education of each parent (for instance, via a dropdown menu)…The goal is to give every university the same, reliable information at the beginning of the application process. Going forward, this self-reported information could be checked against administrative data making the measure verifiable.

They conclude: Calls to change the university application system have been especially strong this year. If we are going to make meaningful, systemic changes, let’s not forget about the goal of widening participation.

The OfS have a new blog: Support for disadvantaged students crucial as selective university numbers rise.

Research Professional covered a HEPI webinar roundtable on the long-term impact of Covid-19 on HE in which Mary Curnock Cook identified the cost of student accommodation and the lack of part-time jobs for students as barriers to access that have been highlighted by the Covid-19 pandemic. Students are now likely to be suspicious of committing to a three-year residential experience when online learning is an inescapable part of the new normal.

Spending Review

The CBI have called for the spending review to invest in human capital to create a workforce ready for the future, including

  • Transform the Apprenticeship Levy into a Skills and Training Levy that will support business to invest more in their people.
  • Introduce a single lifelong learning loan allowance for individuals to help individuals fund training throughout their career.
  • Upskill and retrain by giving all adults in England free access to their first level 2 and 3 qualification.
  • Reinvent job centres as ‘skills centres’ to deliver digital skills, advice and support.

HERR board appointed

Last Friday the DfE announced the newly appointed members of the higher education restructuring regime (HERR) advisory board. The HERR is a scheme for higher education providers in England facing financial difficulties as a result of Covid-19. Appointments last for a fixed two-year period. Sir Simon Burns, former Transport Minister and former Conservative MP for Chelmsford, was appointed by the Education Secretary as the HERR chair. Other board members appointed:

  • Richard Atkins, currently Further Education Commissioner for England and member of the Council at the University of Exeter
  • John Cunningham, former finance director in a range of HE providers

HERR board members appointed to provide accountancy expertise are:

  • Amanda Blackhall O’Sullivan, partner at Ernst & Young
  • Colin Haig, president of R3, a restructuring and insolvency trade body

Events

The Institute for Fiscal Studies are hosting a series of events as part of the ESRC Festival of Social Science. If you are interested (see  list) click the links to register for the online session.

Levelling Up & Civic Agenda

The UPP Foundation have three new offerings on universities’ roles in levelling up and building back better. Their report finds that the Government commitment to a “lifetime skills guarantee” won’t cover 75-80% percent of non-graduate work that is at risk

  • Their analysis of towns and cities suggested that a total of 5m jobs are at risk from the areas most affected by Covid – 3m of which are non-graduate jobs, and 2.4-2.5m of which are not covered by retraining commitments
  • Polling for the report showed that many non-graduates want higher level training, rather than just a new Level 3 qualification, and not motivated to retrain in areas of shortage skill in the economy

In addition, Core Cities UK and 24 universities have called for the establishment of new City Innovation Partnerships (CIPs). They also said that local leaders need greater local flexibility in the delivery of skills, employment and job creation programmes. You can read the full declaration here, and Bristol University’s ‘Unleashing Urban Innovation’ study here, which helped inform the groups work.

Ex Universities Minister Chris Skidmore wrote for Research Professional on how universities can support their local communities and aid recovery from the pandemic:

  • universities should lead the charge in supporting people to gain new skills and new jobs…
  • Beyond coronavirus, there’s another set of political challenges to which universities must respond: Conservatives’ commitment to “levelling up” in deprived communities across the country. At a time when jobs are being lost, we cannot afford for universities to fail in areas such as Teesside, the Midlands, and other regions across the country. Instead, we need them to step up and ask not what the government can do for them, but what they can do for their community.
  • …universities working to raise standards in schools, help the NHS, and support the modernisation of the high street and town centres… 
  • In turn, we should recognise the place-based value of universities as regional institutions, many of which employ thousands of local people in Red Wall seats, and which can continue to regenerate towns, as they have cities. It means thinking about what universities can do for towns near them where they don’t have a campus but which need support…
  • It is fashionable in some quarters to attack universities at the moment. But if they can help tackle the impending unemployment crisis, support retraining and become central to the lives of ordinary people across all our communities, they can lead a long-overdue civic renaissance.

Chris Skidmore will also chair the Higher Education Commission’s inquiry into university research and regional inequalities. The inquiry will explore how research funding might be used by universities to contribute to the government’s ‘levelling-up’ agenda.

Student Complaints

The Office for the Independent Adjudicator is consulting on an approach to respond to large group complaints. They say:

  • In recent years there have been events affecting the higher education sector that have had the potential to lead to large numbers of complaints to us, including the impact of Covid-19 and the unprecedented disruption it is causing. While such events don’t necessarily lead to large groups of students complaining to us, it’s important that we are properly prepared and that we can handle large group complaints in a way that works for everyone involved
  • Wonkhe disagree: Students dissatisfied with their academic experience this term are significantly less likely to make a complaint than others, according to new findings published in our non-continuation survey. Despite the use of complaints procedures being promoted by ministers and regulators as a way for students to resolve concerns, just 40 per cent of dissatisfied students say they are aware of their rights and entitlements and how to complain, compared to 72 per cent of those satisfied.
  • Students considering dropping out are also significantly less likely to complain – with students citing a lack of understanding about their rights, a fear of reprisals in assessment, not understanding the process and not believing that doing so would make any difference to their concerns.

Wonkhe have a blog on what regulators should do to ensure that students can have their concerns heard and addressed.

 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.

New consultations and inquiries:

The Office for the Independent Adjudicator is consulting on an approach to respond to large group complaints. They say: In recent years there have been events affecting the higher education sector that have had the potential to lead to large numbers of complaints to us, including the impact of Covid-19 and the unprecedented disruption it is causing. While such events don’t necessarily lead to large groups of students complaining to us, it’s important that we are properly prepared and that we can handle large group complaints in a way that works for everyone involved.

Other news

Online learning – The future is specialised: Wonkhe asks whether the rapid move to online and forced digital upskilling created by C-19 means  HE’s future will be a more balanced mix of online and face to face learning. David Kernohan thinks strategic specialisation, not technology, will drive the future.

Jisc published ‘Learning and teaching reimagined: a new dawn for higher education?’ suggesting the future is the blended learning model.

Covid cost: iNews tots up the cost of the extra Covid safety precautions in some universities.

Equity Analysis: The DfE released an equality analysis of HE student finance for the academic year 2021/22. It considers the below policy proposals concerning changes to student finance arrangements:

  • Increases in grants that act as a contribution towards the cost of living for students starting full-time undergraduate courses before 1 September 2016 by 3.1%
  • Increases in dependants’ grants for full-time undergraduate courses by 3.1%
  • Increases in loans for living costs for undergraduate courses by 3.1%
  • Increases in loans for students starting postgraduate master’s degree courses and doctoral degree courses in 2021/22 by 3.1%

It concludes that the proposed changes will have a marginally positive impact for those with and without protected characteristics…Although student loan debt may rise, this is largely due to increases in loans for living costs for undergraduate courses and loans towards the costs of postgraduate courses, which if not implemented would make higher education less affordable, and consequently potentially less accessible, for students from lower income backgrounds.

UCAS: Trudy Norris-Grey appointed as Independent Chair of UCAS.

Mental Health: The OfS have extended their mental health platform, Student Space, to run until June 2021. And Research Professional report that OfS is also running a competition for higher education providers, with £1m from the Department of Health and Social Care, to develop and implement projects involving innovative approaches to improving student mental health.

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

Did you know? You can catch up on previous versions of the policy update on BU’s intranet pages here. Some links require access to a BU account- BU staff not able to click through to an external link should contact eresourceshelp@bournemouth.ac.uk for further assistance.

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 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 9th July 2020

A lot about skills and employment in the “mini-budget” this week.  There is quite a lot on the “poor quality courses” debate, and on the financial impact of the virus on young people and on universities.  Plus some regulatory changes that are starting to look ominous…

A Universities Minister who thinks people shouldn’t bother going to University?

Amidst ongoing rhetoric over allegedly poor quality courses and poor student outcomes (we reported on the Minister’s speech last week) and we report on the debate in the House of Lords below which included some strong lines, including this one from Lord Blencathra:

  • .. we have about 30 useless universities at the bottom end of the quality tables. They are taking fees from students for worthless courses which will not get them jobs, and the fees will never be repaid.”

This week Wonkhe have made it their mission to find these courses – they conclude the data doesn’t bear this out.  Not least because past performance isn’t necessarily any indication of future performance in the jobs market or at a university.  A course whose students may indeed have had poor outcomes 10 years ago might, or perhaps would almost certainly, have changed by now (or what have the QAA, OfS etc been doing all this time and where is the impact of the TEF?).  Of course, the rhetoric muddles institutional outcomes, subject outcomes and the outcomes of particular courses.  It ignores regional disparities in employment opportunities and he different demographic of the students who attend each university.  It also (my pet peeve, as you will know if you read this blog often) assumes that you can look at courses this way because the progression between courses and jobs is linear and therefore all social sciences students go on to have (potentially low earning) careers in community work, so it’s easy, just stop subsidising social sciences.  In fact some of them become Secretaries of State for Education – strange how they forget. Would it have made a difference to his career earnings if Gavin Williamson had studied engineering?  If you think that’s a silly question, that’s my point!

There have been numerous social media and newspaper blogs addressing Michelle’s unfavourable speech last week (delivered at a disadvantaged access conference too).  One does wonder if it was just the clumsiness of her speech writers but it’s probably unfair to blame them. Did she really intend to suggest universities were dumbing down so they could admit disadvantaged students – or was it a general ‘bums on seats’ dig gone wrong?

Wonkhe have long said that Whitehall dislike their Ministers cosying up to the sector – think Chris Skidmore, David Willetts, and even Sam Gyimah did try (though it didn’t really work for the self styled Minister for Students). Donelan is certainly keen to show herself to toe the party line, and we know the refocus on technical education and FE support is coming (and contrary to Augar’s recommendations) will likely result in some level of defunding of HE.

So where does this leave the widening participation agenda? If we listen to the Government or media it seems the sector is to blame, despite the new, stringent Access and Participation Plans rigorously overseen by the OfS (whose golden status also appears to be slipping). Shifting the focus away from the prospective students themselves and shoving them into a deficit model where universities must ‘do’ to correct the disadvantage in their lives. …  Are they planning to stop contextual admissions (note they are still allowed under the new OfS licence condition)?

Just one example,, of the sector push back against Donelan’s speech is found in the gently disappointed Guardian article penned by Chris Husbands (VC Sheffield Hallam)

  • My personal history, and my family’s experience, make me very worried when government ministers lose faithin the power of universities to transform lives.
  • When pushed, very few politicians or journalists can actually identify these courses which “do nothing” or are “low value”.
  • They are odd lines, because they contradict the government’s own ambitions. Michael Gove laid it out for them just a few days before: a future built around “big data, machine learning, artificial intelligence, robotics and further automation, 3D printing, quantum computing”, along with “genetic sequencing and screening, gene editing and other life science and biotech advances”.
  • The 21st century world is a knowledge-led world. Value is generated not through low- or mid-level skills but economic, social and technological transformation. It’s universities which are our best bet for the future because they produce advanced knowledge and research. That’s why all the world’s advanced economies are investing in higher education.

Wonkhe tell us that “Gavin Williamson is expected to give a speech designed to flesh out the government’s post-18 strategy. But don’t expect to like what you hear.” 

Budget

You’ll have read the analyses of the mini budget in the press.  Apart from stamp duty, green homes vouchers,  “eat out to help out” and the VAT cut for food and non-alcoholic drinks, it was mostly focussed on jobs – retaining and creating new ones, with a particular focus on young people.

It was not expected that there would be any announcements about HE, so we should not feel disappointed – this is all about skills and jobs for those who were not planning to go to university in September and face unemployment.

Apart from the headlines, the details are here.

  • Job Retention Bonus – The government will introduce a one-off payment of £1,000 to UK employers for every furloughed employee who remains continuously employed through to the end of January 2021. Employees must earn above the Lower Earnings Limit (£520 per month) on average between the end of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and the end of January 2021. Payments will be made from February 2021. Further detail about the scheme will be announced by the end of July.
  • Kickstart Scheme – The government will introduce a new Kickstart Scheme in Great Britain, a £2 billion fund to create hundreds of thousands of high quality 6-month work placements aimed at those aged 16-24 who are on Universal Credit and are deemed to be at risk of long-term unemployment. Funding available for each job will cover 100% of the relevant National Minimum Wage for 25 hours a week, plus the associated employer National Insurance contributions and employer minimum automatic enrolment contributions.
  • New funding for National Careers Service – The government will provide an additional £32 million funding over the next 2 years for the National Careers Service so that 269,000 more people in England can receive personalised advice on training and work.
  • High quality traineeships for young people – The government will provide an additional £111 million this year for traineeships in England, to fund high quality work placements and training for 16-24 year olds. This funding is enough to triple participation in traineeships. For the first time ever, the government will fund employers who provide trainees with work experience, at a rate of £1,000 per trainee. The government will improve provision and expand eligibility for traineeships to those with Level 3 qualifications and below, to ensure that more young people have access to high quality training.
  • Payments for employers who hire new apprentices – The government will introduce a new payment of £2,000 to employers in England for each new apprentice they hire aged under 25, and a £1,500 payment for each new apprentice they hire aged 25 and over, from 1st August 2020 to 31st January 2021. These payments will be in addition to the existing £1,000 payment the government already provides for new 16-18 year-old apprentices, and those aged under 25 with an Education, Health and Care Plan – where that applies.
  • High value courses for school and college leavers – The government will provide £101 million for the 2020-21 academic year to give all 18-19 year olds in England the opportunity to study targeted high value Level 2 and 3 courses when there are not employment opportunities available to them.
  • Expanded Youth Offer – The government will expand and increase the intensive support offered by DWP in Great Britain to young jobseekers, to include all those aged 18-24 in the Intensive Work Search group in Universal Credit.
  • Enhanced work search support – The government will provide £895 million to enhance work search support by doubling the number of work coaches in Jobcentre Plus before the end of the financial year across Great Britain.
  • Expansion of the Work and Health Programme – The government will provide up to £95 million this year to expand the scope of the Work and Health Programme in Great Britain to introduce additional voluntary support in the autumn for those on benefits that have been unemployed for more than 3 months. This expansion will have no impact on the existing provision for those with illnesses or disabilities in England and Wales.
  • Job finding support service – The government will provide £40 million to fund private sector capacity to introduce a job finding support service in Great Britain in the autumn. This online, one-to-one service will help those who have been unemployed for less than three months increase their chances of finding employment.
  • Flexible Support Fund – The government will increase the funding for the Flexible Support Fund by £150 million in Great Britain, including to increase the capacity of the Rapid Response Service.1 It will also provide local support to claimants by removing barriers to work such as travel expenses for attending interviews. 2.21 New funding for sector-based work academies – The government will provide an additional £17 million this year to triple the number of sector-based work academy placements in England in order to provide vocational training and guaranteed interviews for more people, helping them gain the skills needed for the jobs available in their local area.

More detail is also provided on measures announced by the PM on 30th June.

There are some research-related announcements.

  • Office for Talent – The government will create a new Office for Talent based in No.10, with delivery teams across government departments. The Office will focus on attracting, retaining and developing top research and science talent across the UK and internationally.
  • Direct Air Capture – The government will provide £100 million of new funding for researching and developing Direct Air Capture, a new clean technology which captures CO2 from the air.
  • Automotive Transformation Fund – Building on the announcement last year of up to £1 billion of additional funding to develop and embed the next generation of cutting-edge automotive technologies, the government is making £10 million of funding available immediately for the first wave of innovative R&D projects to scale up manufacturing of the latest technology in batteries, motors, electronics and fuel cells. The government is also calling upon industry to put forward investment proposals for the UK’s first ‘gigafactory’ and supporting supply chains to mass manufacture cutting-edge batteries for the next generation of electric vehicles, as well as for other strategic electric vehicle technologies.
  • World-class laboratories – The government will provide a £300 million investment in 2020-21 to boost equipment and infrastructure across universities and institutes across the UK

Guardian report on the new Office for Talent.

NHS investment

  • NHS maintenance and A&E capacity – The government will provide £1.05 billion in 2020-21 to invest in NHS critical maintenance and A&E capacity across England.
  • Modernising the NHS mental health estate – The government will provide up to £250 million in 2020-21 to make progress on replacing outdated mental health dormitories with 1,300 single bedrooms across 25 mental health providers in England.
  • Health Infrastructure Plan – The government will provide a further £200 million for the Health Infrastructure Plan18 to accelerate a number of the 40 new hospital building projects across England.

And on the education estate (not HE):

  • Further Education (FE) estate funding – Building on the £1.5 billion commitment for FE capital funding made at Budget 2020, the government will bring forward £200 million to 2020-21 to support colleges to carry out urgent and essential maintenance projects. This will be the first step in the government’s commitment to bring the facilities of colleges everywhere in England up to a good level.
  • School estate funding – The government will provide additional funding of £560 million for schools in England to improve the condition of their buildings and estates in 2020-21. This is on top of the £1.4 billion already invested in school maintenance this year.
  • School rebuilding programme – The government has announced over £1 billion to fund the first 50 projects of a new, ten-year school rebuilding programme in England. These projects will be confirmed in the autumn, and further detail on future waves will be confirmed at the Comprehensive Spending Review. Construction on the first sites will begin in September 2021.

LEP funding for local infrastructure:

  • Local infrastructure projects – The government will provide £900 million for shovelready projects in England in 2020-21 and 2021-22 to drive local growth and jobs. This could include the development and regeneration of key local sites, investment to improve transport and digital connectivity, and innovation and technology centres. Funding will be provided to Mayoral Combined Authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships.

Budget context

A slightly different response to a PQ about supporting graduates through the gloomy economic outlook from the Universities Minister:

Douglas Chapman: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what plans he has to support graduates looking for employment (a) during and (b) after the covid-19 outbreak.

Michelle Donelan:

  • Our economic priority is to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on our economy as far as possible. This is an incredibly difficult period for everyone, and we understand that graduates are likely to feel concerned as they enter a far tougher job market than those before them.
  • Some universities are going above and beyond to support those graduating this summer, providing extensive online careers advice, including webinars offering interview and CV-writing tips and skills and follow-up one-to-one calls. However, we need all universities to step up and play a key role to help graduates take the next step, whether into work or further study.
  • The recently announced National Tutoring Programme creates an opportunity for graduates to apply for tutoring roles providing support for pupils and schools in the most disadvantaged areas. More details of the programme will be available shortly.
  • We know that post-graduates often secure employment in higher skilled and higher paid employment than graduates and non-graduates. The government can support with the financial burden of accessing a master’s degree with a loan of up to £11,222. Where graduates are considering a career in teaching, tax-free postgraduate bursaries of up to £26,000 are available for trainee teachers starting initial teacher training in 2020/21, depending on the subject in which they train to tea

The Institute for Fiscal Studies have published COVID-19 and the career prospects of young people and a report on the ‘Prolonged cost’ to young people from COVID-19 career disruption.

The new IFS research, funded by the Turing Institute, shows that the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to severely disrupt the career progression of young workers, suggesting that negative economic impacts on this age group may last well beyond the easing of the lockdown. The new research finds that:

  • Over the last decade, young people starting out in the labour market have increasingly been working in relatively low-paid occupations, many of which are in sectors hardest hit by the COVID-19 crisis – for example, hospitality and non-food retail.
  • The growing importance of those ‘lockdown sectors’ as employers of workers at the start of their careers is primarily due to an expansion of the accommodation and food industry. The share of workers starting their careers in this sector increased by about 50%, from 6% to 9%, between 2007 and 2019.
  • As other sources of wage growth have dried up, young workers have become increasingly reliant on moving into higher-paying occupations as a source of early-career wage growth. Around 28% of wage growth over the first five years of the careers of workers born in the 1970s could be attributed to moving into a higher-paying occupation. This had risen to 50% or more among people born in the 1980s.
  • The pandemic threatens to have a prolonged negative economic impact on young people by reducing demand for the jobs that are typical among early-career workers and making it harder for workers to find better opportunities than their current jobs.
  • The government should have a particular focus on the challenges facing the young as it attempts to manage the labour market impacts of COVID-19 in the coming months.

IPPR, the Institute for Public Policy Research has published a report, Guaranteeing the Right Start, Preventing Youth Unemployment after COVID-19.

  • There is a strong case for bold policy interventions to prevent youth unemployment. Becoming NEET results in a ‘scarring effect’ that lowers long-term employment prospects and earning potential (Gregg and Tominey 2004). Furthermore, those from the poorest backgrounds and with the lowest qualifications are likely to be the worst affected (Henehan 2020). Each person that is out of work and education for six months or more costs on average £65,000 in direct lifetime costs to public finances and £120,000 in wider lifetime costs to the economy and community (Coles et al 2010). But ultimately becoming unemployed is a deep personal crisis with impacts on health, self-worth, identity and status.
  • We recommend the creation of a new ‘Opportunity Guarantee’ for young people: the government should ensure that every young person is either in education or work. The government’s main aim in the short term should be to prevent a rise in youth unemployment as a result of the Covid-19 crisis. But, looking beyond the crisis, they should be aiming even higher: to eliminate all but the most temporary experience of being NEET amongst all young people. This will require government to keep young people in education for longer – but more radically, it also demands a fundamental rethink of labour market policy in the UK (the focus of this paper). This programme should be spearheaded by the prime minster as part of a campaign to inspire businesses to ‘do their bit’, by hiring young people during the crisis as part of an ‘investment in the future of our nation’.
  • Fulfilling this promise will require a new, more active, approach to labour market policy. In recent decades, the UK has embraced a liberal welfare regime, meaning a flexible labour market with limited government intervention, and a welfare system designed to promote ‘work first’ through low replacement rates, conditionality and sanctions. This approach is always questionable, but it is particularly problematic in an environment of high and persistent unemployment. We must now take a more empathetic and interventionist approach, drawing on the Active Labour Market Policies (ALMPs) used more extensively elsewhere. If the UK spent the same proportion of GDP on these policies as other advanced European countries, we would invest £8.5 billion more a year in preventing unemployment. Some of these measures are outlined in this paper but government must also take action for older people as well, for example, through reforming and extending the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

Financial sustainability

And continuing the financial theme, the Institute for Fiscal Studies has published a briefing entitled Will universities need a bailout to survive the COVID-19 crisis? The briefing note examines the resilience of university finances to the likely consequences of the COVID-19 outbreak and the public health response to it.

  • The total size of the university sector’s losses is highly uncertain: we estimate that long-run losses could come in anywhere between £3 billion and £19 billion, or between 7.5% and nearly half of the sector’s overall income in one year. Our central estimate of total long-run losses is £11 billion or more than a quarter of income in one year.
  • The biggest losses will likely stem from falls in international student enrolments (between £1.4 billion and £4.3 billion, with a central estimate of £2.8 billion) and increases in the deficits of university-sponsored pension schemes, which universities will eventually need to cover (up to £7.6 billion, with a central estimate of £3.8 billion). In addition, the sector faces lockdown-related losses of income from student accommodation and conference and catering operations, as well as financial losses on long-term investments.
  • Large sector-level losses mask substantial differences between institutions. In general, institutions with a large share of international students and those with substantial pension obligations are most affected. These tend to be higher-ranking institutions as well as postgraduate and music & arts institutions. Some of the least selective universities, which rely largely on domestic fee income, will also be badly hit if higher ranked universities admit more UK students to make up for the shortfall in their international enrolments. While recently introduced student number caps will constrain some of this behaviour, there are still likely to be falls in student numbers at the least selective institutions.
  • Universities are unlikely to be able to claw back a large portion of these losses through cost savings unless they make significant numbers of staff redundant. In our central scenario, we estimate that cost savings could reduce the overall bill by only £600 million or around 6% without redundancies. The potential for cost savings varies across universities: institutions with a larger proportion of temporary staff will likely be able to make larger savings, but this may impact teaching quality
  • For the university sector as a whole, net losses in our central scenario are only slightly larger than five years of surplus at the pre-crisis level. Assuming that the underlying profitability of universities remains unchanged, the total financial reserves of the higher education sector could still be roughly the same in 2024 as they were in 2019, even without a government bailout.
  • Whether COVID-related losses put a given institution at risk of insolvency largely depends on its profitability and its balance sheet position before the crisis, rather than on its predicted losses from COVID-19. The institutions with the highest predicted losses all have large financial buffers and are therefore at little risk of insolvency. The institutions at the greatest risk tend to have smaller predicted losses, but had already entered the crisis in poor financial shape.
  • In our central scenario, 13 universities educating around 5% of students would end up with negative reserves and thus may not be viable in the long run without a government bailout or debt restructuring. A very tightly targeted bailout aimed at keeping these institutions afloat could cost around £140 million. In comparison, a one-off increase in teaching grants of £1,000 per UK/EU student would cost £1.8 billion but in our central scenario would only push three institutions above the line of zero reserves.
  • There is considerable uncertainty over actual risks to institutions and a trade-off between highly targeted and more general support. And additional support might not be aimed purely at preventing insolvencies. But there is a big gap in cost between a very targeted bailout costing perhaps less than £200 million and the more generalised bailout proposed by Universities UK, which would cost £3.2 billion and at the same time provide very little support to most universities that appear to be most at risk of insolvency; according to our modelling, only two institutions would be pushed above the line of zero reserves by this proposed policy. Government will need to be very clear about the purpose of any bailout package and design it accordingly.
  • Lightly regulated Alternative Providers educate around 3% of all students in the higher education sector. Many of these providers have low reserves and rely almost exclusively on tuition fees for their income. Alternative Providers with a large share of international students are at a significant risk of insolvency, potentially leaving students unable to complete their degrees.

Further to this, the Higher Education Policy Institute has published a response to the report. Nick Hillman, the Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), said:

  • “The IfS report is as lucid and clear as we have come to expect from them. They are right that universities with more international students and bigger pension liabilities are more directly affected by Covid than others and also that institutions which were financially weak before the pandemic are the ones most at risk of actual insolvency. They are also right that the arguments for extra support for universities in the crisis are strong. But that doesn’t mean they’re right overall.
  • “There are three important points to note.
  • “First, the range of projected short-term financial losses for universities, which the IfS calculates at between £3 billion and £19 billion, is so enormous that it’s pretty meaningless in terms of planning ahead. It’s such a huge fan of uncertainty that it doesn’t help either universities or policymakers know where they stand.
  • “Secondly, there are too many reports around at the moment that take old opinion polls of how students might behave as the gospel truth. We know from when tuition fees in England went to £9k that polls which ask students how they might behave are a woeful guide to the future, and the IfS’s figures on student numbers should therefore be taken with a lorry load of salt.
  • “For example, the IfS are assuming there will be 10% fewer UK students, yet the latest UCAS figures show the opposite trend. Who would choose to have a gap year at the moment, when travel and job opportunities are so limited? The IfS are also predicting a 50% drop in EU students as a result of the pandemic, even though 2020 is the last year when they will be treated like home students. Unless there is a major second wave of Covid-19, the IfS’s “central” estimate for the short-term financial losses would be better labelled “pessimistic” and their “pessimistic” estimate would be better labelled “extreme”.
  • “Thirdly, the oddest feature of the IfS report is how very little it has to say on university research. When universities have less income and face big deficits, they can opt to stem the financial losses by doing less research as research generally loses money. Less research would be terrible for the UK as it would hamper the post-pandemic recovery. So the quantity of research that institutions can afford must be a bigger part of the wider conversation about university financing.
  • “There is a strong case for continuing government support for universities of all types because of the jobs they provide, the education they deliver and the support they provide to employers as well as the research they undertake.”

David Kernohan looks under the bonnet.

But it’s ok, because Lord Willetts says foreign investors will be keen to help out, as reported by Research Professional.

University Admissions

The Office for Students finally unveiled their new licence condition on admissions practices at the end of last week, after a very long delay. The consultation results can be found here.

They have changed the time frame from the original proposal so that it is no longer retrospective to 11th March. It is in place until September 2021 so covers next year’s admissions cycle. 

There is a general catch all:

  • This condition…. prohibits a provider from engaging in any form of Conduct which, in the reasonable opinion of the OfS, could be expected to have a material negative effect on the Stability and/or Integrity of the English Higher Education Sector

This is interesting because it doesn’t just mean things that any one university does that could on its own have a material negative effect – but takes into account the cumulative negative effect if lots of universities were to do the same thing.  Deciding what might be covered by this vague and subjective definition will be an interesting process for anyone planning creative recruitment strategies.

To help the sector they have clarified some things that are definitely banned, and some things that are definitely allowed.  As you will see, the gap in the middle is quite big.

Banned

  • They have banned all conditional unconditional offers.
  • They have banned “false or misleading” claims to persuade people from going to another university (surely this would have been subject to action by the ASA in any case).

Allowed

  • the use of an Unconditional Offer in respect of a prospective or existing student who has already attained particular academic achievementswhich are at, or equivalent to, level 3 or above of the Regulated Qualifications Framework;
  • the use of an Unconditional Offer in connection withadmissions policies and criteria which wholly or mainly require a prospective or existing student to demonstrate abilities in a practical way (including, but not limited, by any type of live performance or submission of evidence of abilities through videos, drawings, paintings, photographic pictures, audio recordings, or any other tangible object);
  • the use of an Unconditional Offer in respect of a prospective or existing student who has already accredited prior learning (APL), or prior experiential learning (APEL), that can be accredited under academic regulations that were made and brought into force by the provider before 1 September 2019;
  • the use of an Unconditional Offer in respect of a prospective or existing student who meets all of the following requirements: the student was a private candidate registered to take examinations for A-level qualifications(or other qualifications which are equivalent to level 3 qualifications for the purposes of the Regulated Qualifications Framework) in 2020; and  was unable to take examinations for such qualifications before 31 August 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic or obtain grades for such qualifications on an alternative basis as a result of arrangements put in place by the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (or, as the case may be, the equivalent body in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland); and iii. is seeking admission to a higher education course which will commence before 1 September 2021;
  • the use of a Contextual Offer in connection with implementing any policy which could reasonably be considered as having the primary aim of promoting Equality of Opportunity.

It seems fairly clear that the OfS are intending to restrict unconditional offer-making in all but these cases, although they haven’t actually spelled that out.

Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of the OfS, said:

  • We have previously highlighted that unconditional offers which are conditional on students accepting a university or college as their first choice put pressure on students and distort their decision making. Widespread use of unconditional offers also risks destabilising the system. Our concerns are even more acute in these exceptional times with the shape of the next few months and years still very unpredictable, and information, advice and guidance less readily available than it may normally be.
  • ‘However, we have ensured that the condition explicitly permits unconditional and contextual offers that are clearly in students’ interests, and which support the transition into higher education for the most disadvantaged students.
  • ‘Students can also be reassured that they should not expect to have any offers that they have already received withdrawn, and where there are good reasons for them to receive an unconditional or contextual offer in future, there is no reason that this cannot go ahead.
  • ‘This condition is designed to avoid instability during the current uncertainty, and to protect students and the higher education sector in these extraordinary circumstances: it will not continue past September 2021. This should allay concerns that we wanted to extend our powers permanently, which we have no intention of doing.
  • ‘The condition is a necessary and proportionate means to ensure the stability and integrity of the English higher education sector, to protect students’ interests and to preserve a diversity of choice for students into the future.’

An anonymous senior figure in an English university has responded in a HEPI blog:

  • Conditional unconditional offers are explicitly ‘prohibited in all circumstances’ but the condition applies to: conduct … which, if repeated by other providers, is likely to have a material negative effect on the stability and/or integrity of the English Higher Education Sector (whether or not there is any form of express or tacit coordination, and whether or not a provider is able to anticipate the actions of other providers).’
  • Except for cases where applicants are required to ‘demonstrate abilities in a practical way’ – which are explicitly exempted – I think we can predict the end of all unconditional offer making.
  • As the OfS says, a ‘provider needs only to consider the possible negative effects on stability and integrity if other providers did follow suit.’ As the conceptual universe is overflowing with what is possible, it is unlikely that any university will argue that it is not possible that their unconditional offer-making will have negative effects.
  • Many within and outside the sector will not lament the passing of unconditional offer-making. Whatever your views on their relative merits, they had become a stick with which to beat us long before the pandemic hit. But hang on; that’s a problem. The original consultation stated that ‘the conduct that the condition seeks to address is specific to the circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic’.
  • No one can plausibly claim that the problem of unconditional offers is ‘specific’ to the pandemic. And while there have been worries about the alleged 30,000 unconditional offers made in the first few days of the pandemic, the OfS’s power will not be retrospective. So these will stand.
  • Indeed, given the current stage of the recruitment cycle, the new power will have marginal effect on 2020 recruitment. However, as it will last until 30 September 2021, it will apply through next year’s recruitment cycle. And, unless the OfS know something few others do, the new power will apply outside the pandemic.
  • One cannot help feeling that the bucket of ordure that was poured over the OfS in response to their original consultation so staggered them that it has taken this long to think of a face-saving way to rescue something from a poorly-argued consultation. Even with grade inflation, it would have warranted no more than a 3rd.
  • Still, one should not be ungenerous. The OfS may have done the sector a great favour. Unconditional offers are very much a collective action problem – if one university offers them, so must others. So a centrally-imposed rule is almost certainly the right approach.
  • However, one can still legitimately worry about the consultation outcome. The OfS was not consulting on the acceptability of unconditional offers; it was consulting on pandemic-specific conduct. The OfS seems to have used the exercise as cover to do something it has wanted to do for a long time.

Research

REF & Roadmap – Following last week’s announcement on the R&D roadmap which promises to investigate and reduce bureaucracy (and UKRI’s intention to consider overhauling REF after 2021) Wonkhe have a nice blog on how they do it in the Netherlands.

The roadmap also contained public funding pledges which intended to attract domestic and international private investment. BEIS have issued a report describing the ‘leverage’ that can be expected. They’ve also published the analysis of the economic modelling behind the 2.4% R&D target under the Industrial Strategy banner.

And the roadmap itself is still subject to much comment and articles continuing to analyse the nuance behind the words. Daniel Zeichner Co-Chair of the Universities APPG stated:

  • [the document was] a curious roadmap—much more of a ramble through a complicated landscape where everything gets a mention.
  • Measures to make the UK more attractive to international researchers are welcome, although whether they will undo the self-inflicted harm caused by leaving the European Union, and ill-considered immigration policies, remains to be seen.
  • Anyone following this roadmap will doubtless recognise much of what is described but will wonder about the destination—little surprise that at the end, we find that we have finally arrived at the start of a conversation.

Research Lottery – THE report on a consortium (including UKRI) who are experimenting to judge whether funding certain types of research project by random selection would reduce unconscious bias. Professor Wilsdon, Research on Research institute, stated:

  • When you are sitting on panels, you can often easily spot the really outstanding applications – or the stuff that isn’t much good – but there is also a middle level of proposals that will probably lead to valuable research where it is very hard to choose between candidates. The distinctions between them are so fine-grain that it is sometimes quite hard to defend why you chose one over another – it is this area where grant funders can be susceptible to implicit bias, whether that is linguistic, institutional or gender bias.
  • [Another]…big motivation is making the process more efficient and whether lotteries can be designed that make the application process faster and lighter touch.
  • However, the “killer question” about lottery-based funding systems is “whether they help to fund better research”. We have no idea about this so far, but we will begin to look at this in the study.

The consortium are also tackling whether grant application criteria lead to inequalities in research funding, whether new definitions or alternatives to excellence can be found, and a six-country study in how research cultures can be made more diverse and inclusive.

ECRs – HEPI has a new blog analysing the R&D Roadmap which draws out the 5 points most relevant and positive to the Early Career Researcher experience:

  • Focusing on the person and attributes (more than uncontrollable citations, grants won, publications achieved)
  • Addressing negative research culture
  • Improving diversity and inclusion within research
  • Addressing the instability of short term grants and contracts
  • ‘New Deal’ for PhD student funding

Of course, these are all intentions and it remains to be seen how to tackle the trickier aspects, particularly in a post-pandemic financially squeezed world, however it is a start.

Parliamentary questions:

Student Number Controls

The Lords debate of the regulations which will bring the student number control into being covered the usual topics, including the limits on the devolved nations recruitment of English students, impact on students from disadvantaged backgrounds,  whether there were other incentives that could support universities.

The Lords comments are interesting because we get some different viewpoints. Here’s a little selection.

Lord Blencathra’s comments were notable:

  • First, I am appalled that many universities are ripping off students by refusing to refund part of their fees for non-existent teaching. Over the last six months, university lecturers were on strike for five weeks—more than 1 million students got no teaching whatever. Now, there is no teaching because of Covid-19, and still universities are running the equivalent of Ponzi schemes, like Bernard Madoff racketeers, taking money for a non-existent product while paying themselves huge dividends. I am sorry, but they deserve to be lambasted. Any commercial company which failed to deliver on a contracted service would have to pay compensation. I hope my noble friend can compel our universities to behave honourably.
  • Secondly, I see that the department is considering changing to post-results applications and university courses starting in January. This change is long overdue, and I commend it. It is nonsense to offer conditional places based on predicted results. I hope that the Government will push on with that excellent initiative as soon as possible.
  • Finally, I know my noble friend will not say so, but we have about 30 useless universities at the bottom end of the quality tables. They are taking fees from students for worthless courses which will not get them jobs, and the fees will never be repaid. We desperately need more technical colleges and more skills training, as the Prime Minister said on Tuesday. Will my noble friend look to convert these back to good polytechnics which could do good for the country and real good for young people, rather than them playing at being poor-quality universities?

Lord Chidgey (LD): 

  • My Lords, in the context of this higher education SI on fee limits and student support, Michelle Donelan MP, the Universities Minister, said yesterday: “ higher education should be open to all … who are qualified by ability and attainment.”
  • True social mobility would put students, their needs and career ambitions first—be that in HE, FE or apprenticeships—and must be funded accordingly.

Lord Desai (Lab)

  • My Lords, I find this regulation a little strange. We have faced a surprising pandemic, and some universities have tried to defend themselves against possible losses by recruiting more people than they are supposed to. As far as I can understand these complex things, the universities which have offered more places than they are supposed to will be punished, not this year but next year. That is the kind of Stalinist rationing I do not understand.
  • If universities are taking the initiative to defend themselves against the adverse effects of the virus, they should be rewarded, because they are looking ahead. At least next year, if you are going to punish them for this, please punish them mildly, spread the punishment over more than one year and, if possible, do not punish them at all, because they are doing good work and we need good-quality higher education. Therefore, this is the time not to be harsh on universities but to be kind to higher education, just as the Government are very kind to companies that are going bust and banks which are failing, and so on. If you are being kind to everyone, why not be kind to higher education as well?

Lord  Blencathra  (Con)  said he was “appalled” that universities would not refund students for lost teaching as a result of strikes and then the pandemic. He supported changes to post-result  applications. Finally, he said there should be more technical colleges, and that the bottom 30 universities should be converted “back to good polytechnics.”

Baroness Altmann (Con) asked whether there would be an appeal process for institutions who felt they were treated unfairly by regulations; about the impact of the use of student loan data; and whether smaller specialist higher education institutions could be exempt from these controls.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay:

  • Regarding the consultation period, that the Universities Minister had meetings with representatives across the sector, including Universities UK. The research package announced recently by the Government was UK wide.
  • With regards to devolution, Parkinson said the problem was acute in England; and there was not an intention to interfere with devolution. He said that the ” funding of English-domiciled students is not a devolved matter “; and that devolved nations would be able to continue setting their own fees.
  • On the point of disadvantaged students, Parkinson said the Government expected higher education providers to support such students; and that the Department of Education was seeing to identify steps to assist this.  Apprenticeships would be excluded from number controls.
  • Parkinson said that the issue of the quality of providers was a condition of registration with the Office for students. Appeals for providers regarding controls would be considered on a case-by-case basis.
  • For students from  migrants  families, Parkinson clarified that individuals who had spent the previous three years in the UK could access support equal to most other students.
  • The Government cared about the HE  sector  and the opportunities it provided to all whom use it.

The regulations were approved.

Post-pandemic recovery

The Department for Education published guidance entitled Higher education: reopening buildings and campuses.

This document is designed to help providers of higher education in England to understand how to minimise risk during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak and provide services to students, keeping as many people as possible self-isolating and out of educational settings if they are symptomatic, practising good hand and respiratory hygiene and keeping 2 metres apart from those they do not live with wherever possible. From 4 July, where 2 metres is not viable, reducing the distance down to a minimum of 1 metre can be used but only if appropriate mitigation is in place.

The House of Commons Library have published Coronavirus: Easing lockdown restrictions in FE & HE in England exploring the student number controls, re-opening campuses, graduate employability and lack of catch up funding for FE colleges.

EU Students and Student Mobility

Student Mobility – The Times have an opinion piece discussing the building blocks that the UK alternative to Erasmus should incorporate.

EU Students – An Oxford academic is calling for a Government funded EU scholarship scheme to attract high quality European students into British universities. Research Professional report on a survey by a European student website (Study.eu) where 84%  of potential students said they would “definitely not” study in the UK if their fees roughly doubled to the same amount paid by non-EU international students. 60% of the respondents would have begun university in the 2021-22 academic year.  Study.eu Chief Executive Gerrit Bruno Blöss stated: It is unfortunate that the political process leads to such negative consequences for students and universities…UK’s universities have a lot to offer, but they are facing strong competition on the continent.

T levels

Ahead of the skills and training announcements set out above, Gillian Keegan, Minister for Skills and Apprenticeships had already announced a new package of support to help employers and FE providers deliver high-quality industry placements for T-levels.

  • T Levels – high-quality technical alternatives equivalent to three A Levels – have been created in collaboration with industry experts so students gain the skills they need to succeed in the workplace and so businesses can access the workforce they need to thrive.
  • A unique part of a T Level will be the completion of a high-quality industry placement – of at least 315 hours, or approximately 45 days – where students will build the knowledge and skills and develop the confidence they need in a workplace environment.

The package includes:

  • New guidance setting out the key roles and responsibilities for providers and employers, and a new guide for students to help them prepare for their placement, with hands on support and advice so everyone can get the best experience possible.
  • Additional delivery models for employers and providers including new models for the way industry placements can be delivered in the Construction and Engineering & Manufacturing routes, to reflect modern practices, and allowing Capacity and Delivery Fund placements to be delivered over two academic years, to bring them in line with T Levels, with a reduced delivery target of 25% for the 2020/21 academic year, to reflect the impact of the coronavirus on employers.
  • In recognition of the impact of coronavirus on employers, the government will extend the Employer Support Fund pilot, launched in September 2019, to offer financial support to employers in selected regions where funding is a barrier to them hosting high-quality industry placements. The Employer Support Package, a suite of online guidance, case studies and workshops to help employers to host high-quality industry placements, will also continue: and
  • The government will also procure an organisation with the appropriate expertise to support 2020, 2021 and 2022 providers to help them deliver high-quality placements in line with the delivery guidance.

Gillian Keegan, Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills said:

  • The first three T Levels in Design, Surveying and Planning for Construction, Digital Production, Design and Development and Education and Childcare will be taught from September 2020 with more rolled out gradually between 2021 and 2023. The new qualifications will play a key part in rebuilding the economy after the coronavirus outbreak, boosting access to high-quality technical education for thousands of young people so they can progress to the next level, whether that is getting a job, going on to further study or an apprenticeship.

Other Parliamentary questions

There were a lot of questions on tuition fees for healthcare/nursing students.

Other news

Skills: The EU have set out a 5-year Skills Agenda with policy priorities and targets bringing industry, education and employment agencies together. While this focuses only on EU states it is interesting to note the similarity to the UK context with the increased focus on skills and tackling employment gaps. Including a Council which will make recommendations on vocational education and training.

Force Majeure: If you like a short technical read there is a blog from Shakespeare Martineau on the force majeure clause which allows for extraordinary occurrences in relation to delivery of contracts. The blog takes apart the OfS expectation that it won’t apply to students commencing in 2020/21 questioning whether the OfS position is correct:

  • While all providers have been planning and making strenuous efforts to deliver programmes in the wake of the pandemic, the OIA’s view presupposes that they can simply now return to the status quo ante in September, any deviation from provision as originally promised being a matter of expedience or discretion for the provider and therefore subject to students’ consent.
  • Students who will enrol for the first time in September 2020 will have been made offers which reflected the delivery models of a pre-COVID world, and they will have accepted their offers on those terms. The pandemic nevertheless continues, the threat of transmission subsists, the spectre of a second peak looms larger with each easing of the lockdown, and there is no clear guidance on whether and how providers can resume delivery as promised and safely. Pubs and restaurants, which are permitted to re-open from July, are doing so but in a way that is significantly different from the services we all enjoyed consuming until March.  Why are HE providers different?
  • The OIA clearly believes that, given the passage of time since the outbreak, providers have had time to mitigate its effects.  That may well be the case, though some providers would argue otherwise.  Mitigating effects now for September enrolments, however, does not mean that providers can fulfil promises made pre-COVID without any changes from offers originally made and accepted.  The OIA’s dismissal of force majeure reliance is therefore hard to understand and unhelpful to providers facing an increase in student complaints.

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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 1st May 2020

Hi all – we are bit late against our Wednesday deadline this week, we’re sure you’ll understand.  Still lots going on and some of it doesn’t even relate to the crisis – KEF concordat high on your priority list, anyone?

Students in the lockdown

Minister under the spotlight: Universities Minister Michelle Donelan has responded to several parliamentary questions this week, and come under fire for some, perhaps unintentionally misleading, answers during interviews. Most widely reported in the media was her statement responding to a question on supporting student rent costs that students had not been told to return to the family home (as a C-19 distancing safety measure) – “I can assure you that we never instructed students to return to their permanent addresses.” Also causing raised eyebrows were the implications within some of the Minister’s responses putting the onus on universities for certain decisions and support measures – such as blanket hardship support and IT funding (see the parliamentary questions below).

Q – Richard Holden: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps he is taking to ensure that university students in their final year receive the support they need during the covid-19 outbreak.

A – Michelle Donelan:

  • The government is doing all it can to keep staff and students at our universities safe in this unprecedented situation, while mitigating the impact on education. I have written to students to outline the support available and we continue to work closely with the sector, putting student wellbeing at the heart of these discussions…
  • My clear expectation is that universities should make all reasonable efforts to enable students to continue and complete their studies; for their achievements to be reliably assessed; and for qualifications to be awarded securely…The Office for Students has also recently confirmed that providers are able to use the student premium to support students to access IT equipment and internet connectivity where needed. Students will continue to receive scheduled payments of loans towards their living costs for 2019/20. Both tuition and living costs payments will continue irrespective of closures or whether learning has moved online. Many students will be feeling uncertain and anxious and it is vital that students can still access the mental health support that they need. Many providers are bolstering their existing mental health services and adapting the delivery of these services to means other than face-to-face. These services are likely to be an important source of support to students during this period of isolation.

And:

Q – Peter Kyle: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps he is taking to support online learning for disadvantaged university students.

A – Michelle Donelan:

  • As my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer have both made clear, the government will do whatever it takes to support people affected by COVID-19. Despite the significant disruption being felt across the higher education (HE) sector, students rightly deserve the appropriate support and recognition for their hard work and dedication. HE providers take their responsibilities seriously and are best placed to identify the needs of their student body as well as how to develop the services needed to support it. Many HE providers have moved rapidly to develop new ways of delivering courses through online teaching and alternatives to traditional end-of-course exams. When making changes to the delivery of their courses, HE providers need to consider how they support all students, particularly the most vulnerable. This includes students suffering from COVID-19, students who need to self-isolate, international students and students who are either unable or less able to access remote learning for whatever reason, as well as care leavers, students who are estranged from their families and students with disabilities. The Office for Students (OfS) has recently published guidance setting out the actions that it will take to support providers to maintain standards and teaching quality. It highlights flexible models for teaching, learning and assessment that will most likely satisfy OfS quality and standard conditions. On 23 March, the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education published the first in a series of good practice guidance notes that are available to all UK HE providers.
  • HE providers should make all reasonable efforts to enable students to complete their studies, for achievement to be reliably assessed and for qualifications to be awarded securely. Many HE providers will have hardship funds to support students in times of need, including emergencies. The expectation is that where any student requires additional support, such as access to the Internet, providers will support them through their own hardship funds. The OfS have stated that providers are permitted to divert more of their student premium funding to their hardship funds to support students, including through the purchase of IT equipment. Providers should particularly ensure that students in the most vulnerable groups are able to access this support where needed.

On Friday Wonkhe reported that Paul Blomfield, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Students, blasted Universities Minister Michelle Donelan for “failing to acknowledge” concerns raised by 110 MPs from across Parliament – arguing in a fresh letter that the issues “have only become more pressing” over the last three weeks. Reflecting concerns about some institutions’ refusal to adopt “no detriment” policies, Blomfield argues that plans on exams “vary widely” and, for that reason, “create a sense of unfairness” among students.

Student connectivity : HE organisations have called on the Government to provide parity of online access for HE learners during the current crisis. Chief Executives from JISC, the Association of Colleges, Universities UK and UCISA ask the Minister to work with telecoms providers and Ofcom to make all relevant online education sites free for access for UK further education and higher education students and that they be considered a priority group of vulnerable consumers in discussions with telecoms providers. The letter states:

  •  ‘With campuses closed, thousands of students are now learning online at home, where both broadband and access to mobile devices is prohibited by availability, connectivity and cost. The further education (FE) and higher education (HE) sectors have worked very hard to successfully ensure the continual provision of teaching and learning online but, put simply, this is unaffordable and inaccessible for many learners. Not only does this prohibit their education, but it is damaging for their overall wellbeing.’

MPs calling for support for students who usually work throughout their degree and are ineligible for universal credit continues – see this Guardian article. There is another Guardian feature giving the student perspective on hardship (including university hardship funding).

Accommodation: Last Wednesday the Office for Students published a briefing note for universities on how to help students with accommodation problems during the coronavirus pandemic, including worries over rent, access to kitchens and bathrooms shared with self-isolators, and signposting to sources of information. Research Professional cover the guidance here.

Student Loans: The Student Loan Company updated their FAQs with COVID19 content.

More parliamentary questions:

Q – Barry Sheerman: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what representations he has received from disabled students on access to assistive technology via the disabled students’ allowance due to the economic effect of the covid-19 outbreak; and if will make a statement. [37453]

A – Michelle Donelan:

  • Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSAs) provide for the additional costs that disabled students may face in higher education because of their disability. A basic computer is a mainstream cost of study and students are therefore expected to make a £200 contribution towards the cost of any computer recommended as part of their needs assessment. The contribution is for computer hardware only; students are not expected to fund recommended specialist software or training in how to use it.
  • There are currently no plans to suspend the requirement for disabled students to contribute £200 towards the purchase of a computer. The department has not received any representations from disabled students on access to assistive technology through DSA support in relation to the economic effect of the Covid-19 outbreak. It is too early to assess the effect of the Covid-19 outbreak on the employment opportunities for disabled students. These are rapidly developing circumstances; we continue to keep the situation under review and will keep Parliament updated accordingly.

Q – Tommy Sheppard: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, when she plans to respond to Question 30815 of 17 March 2020 from the hon. Member for Edinburgh East. [38568]

A – Will Quince:

  • Students who do not ordinarily have entitlement to Universal Credit (UC) and who receive a maintenance loan or grant through the student finance system, will continue to be able to draw upon this financial support until the end of this academic year.
  • Those who do not receive student finance and who would ordinarily not have entitlement to UC, such as those undertaking a part-time course which would otherwise not be considered as compatible with the requirements for them to look for and be available for work, will have entitlement to UC. We have disapplied UC and both legacy and new style JSA work preparation, work search and availability requirements and related sanctions. This will initially be for a three-month period. After three months, consideration will be given as to whether a further extension is required.

Q – Emma Hardy: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on enabling students that are unable to (a) work and (b) be furloughed to claim universal credit during the covid-19 pandemic. (37820)

A – Michelle Donelan:

  • Students with a part time employment contract should speak to their employer about the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme which has been set up to help pay staff wages and keep people in employment. HMRC are working urgently to get the scheme up and running and we expect the first grants to be paid within weeks.
  • Students suffering hardship should in the first instance contact their provider. Many universities have hardship funds to support students most in need and contact details are available on university websites. Undergraduate students studying on full-time courses will continue to receive their maintenance loan payments as planned for the remainder of this academic year, 2019/20. Eligible students who need to undertake additional weeks of study on their course in the current academic year may qualify for additional long courses loan to help with their living costs.
  • Certain groups of students eligible for benefits such as lone parents will continue to qualify for Universal Credit in addition to their maintenance loans.

Universities and the crisis

Student number controls: you will recall that this is part of the UUK package of measures – a cap on forecast numbers plus 5% (which doesn’t sound like much of a cap anyway given that the OfS keep saying that the forecasts are unreasonably high and suggest a problem with financial sustainability because they won’t be achieved…) –Wonkhe have a blog by Mark Corver suggesting they would cause more problems than they would solve.  Some extracts below:

  • The case for quotas is that by restricting student choice they can divvy up fee income across universities in a way that can offer financial stability. But quotas make a fundamental mistake in placing little value on what students want, assuming that their personal aspirations can be redirected around the system as required. This could well lead to many students opting not to go to university, making quotas of very limited use in helping stability this cycle.
  • The best response to uncertainty is flexibility. Imposing quotas strips both students and universities of the ability to respond to events.
  • A more reliable approach to securing stability is the same as what government is considering across the economy. If a large, but likely temporary, change risks destroying productive capacity then the government considers support until the temporary conditions abate.
  • For some transport operating companies they have done this through partially compensating for the loss of passengers their finances reasonably assumed. They have not proposed offering potential passengers a take-it-or-leave-it offer to buy tickets for journeys they don’t want make to places they do not want to go. Because it would not work.

Remember that UUK bailout package? UUK and Millionplus came out with an additional specific one for the key worker sectors this week.  Working with universities, the government could take a major stride towards mitigating against future capacity shortfalls with a simple three-pronged approach:

  • Supporting students and graduates to become key workers in public services, by offering a maintenance grant of up to £10,000 for all students in training, removing any recruitment caps, and providing fee-loan forgiveness for those remaining in the relevant professions for at least five years.
  • Strengthening and enhancing key public service HE capacity in universities by increasing the funding to the Office for Students to reflect the added costs while creating a new Public Services in Higher Education Capital Fund to enable universities to invest in simulation equipment, additional staff costs and other infrastructure.
  • Retaining and developing key workers in public services, by increasing general staffing budgets and creating a new professional development programme focused on enhancing skills of current key workers in public services and the new NHS volunteer reserve.

Flexible Learning: Advance HE published guidance on flexible learning accompanied by a blog stressing the importance of flexibility: Flexible learning comes of age.

Ex-Ministers speak: Research Professional cover an excellent session in which three past university ministers (Willets, Johnson, Skidmore) discuss the dangers of allowing a Government imposed temporary student numbers cap and instead urge the sector to agree its own self restraint version. International students are also mentioned. The Express also cover Willetts’ comments.

Discussion and speculation over Government’s thinking on university bail out/support measures continued this week.

HEPI have published the blog: Don’t panic…yet? Explaining their perspective as to why Ministers wouldn’t immediately jump to support the HE sector. It contains a couple of fresh perspectives alongside reiterating reasons already stated. In essence the statement:  “Frustrating though it is, it is not unreasonable for officials to want to see this play out a little before making firm decisions that could cost billions of pounds” sums the blog up.

The Guardian ran Ministers split over bailout package for universities.

The Times have a piece explaining that Universities that would benefit well from a rescue package based on research funding are also some of the richest universities. The article reiterates familiar messages including Ministers wanting to wait to find out what the real situation is in September rather than jumping the gun unnecessarily. Excerpt:

  • Smaller, newer institutions are getting the scraps from the table. Yet they can reasonably argue that they will be the ones to spearhead an economic recovery, being in many cases the biggest employers in their areas. They are now doing their own lobbying.
  • “Frustrating though it is, it is not unreasonable for Whitehall officials to want to see this play out a little before making firm decisions that could cost billions of pounds,” Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute and a former government adviser, said.
  • The danger is the Treasury, where officials are not short of self-belief, think they know more about the sector than everyone else and can direct any bailouts to, for example, universities already in financial trouble to make sure they do not go under, rather than seeing the bigger picture of protecting Britain’s research prowess and global reputation.

New Normal

Wonkhe have a lot to say on the ‘new normal’:

  • We’re being asked to consider what living with Covid-19 in the medium to long term might mean.
  • Most universities now think they have this term under control, but it’s September that poses the biggest headache. Universities have done their best to shift the rest of this year’s teaching and assessment online – but it’s starting to become clear that this hasn’t worked for some students and some courses. A big debate about adequacy is coming, as is one about which emergency adaptations, both to teaching and to assessment, will be scrapped or retained (and when). Some of the compromises made mid-crisis may be harder to justify – and charge full fees for – in the autumn.
  • Learning and teaching teams are working around the clock to plan for a full or mostly online student experience from September. This will require much more careful thinking about remote student engagement, and in many cases a full redesign of existing courses…But delivering change on this scale at pace is bound to tax universities to the very limits.
  • If the institutional approach to dealing with this tension is truly in the student interest, then students will at the very least need to be involved in the debate. At the moment, they, like the rest of us, would love to return to a normal that isn’t on offer.

And Wonkhe offer a plethora of new blogs on the topic of what change is to come:

Parliamentary Business/Updates

Select Committee Chair elections – 6 May: The process for election to the coveted BEIS chair has been confirmed. Nominations will open (by email) on 17 April and close on May 4 and must be accompanied by 15 letters of support. Select committee membership is representative of the proportion of MPs elected at the beginning of the Parliament and a balance of Conservative, Labour and members of other parties are agreed in advance of the Committees reforming. This includes which party will chair which select committee. BEIS is chaired by Labour so only Labour MPs will be nominated to stand. The (outsourced) online ballot will elect the chair on 6 May. Chair of the Standards Committee (to replace Kate Green who was appointed Shadow Minister for Child Poverty Strategy) will also take place on 6 May 2020 again only members of the Labour Party may be candidates.

Employability after the crisis

HEPI continue to talk about new graduate career anxiety although the latest offering suggests students feel confident they will find work in Open for business? Students’ views on entering the labour market. This publication was based on a survey of 1,000 full time undergraduate students. HEPI highlight:

  • 79% of graduates feel confident of getting a graduate level job once they graduate
  • However, when asked about their feelings towards entering the labour market:
    • 28% cite anxiety, ahead of confidence (23%), uncertainty (16%) and feeling overwhelmed (16%)
    • 14% selected excitement as their primary emotion, 3% felt relaxed
  • 29% say the Coronavirus pandemic has altered their feelings (71% no feeling change)
  • Almost two-thirds (64%) have a specific career in mind for when they graduate, compared to 18% who do not and 17% who are unsure.
    • 72% intend to go into a career directly related to their degree subject
    • Work experience is seen as important (61%)
  • Students think there are four main factors that make for a successful career: doing something they are interested in (49%), being happy and fulfilled (48%), having stability (47%) and having a high salary (41%).
  • 35% of graduates to be intend to spend up to 2 years in their first role; 24% plan on staying for over three years (19% pumped for 2-3 years; 18% intend to stay less than a year and 3% intend to spend less than six months!

Rachel Hewitt, HEPI’s Director of Policy and Advocacy, said:

  • ‘These results show students feel confident about finding work, but anxious about starting their career. This anxiety has been there since before the current pandemic for many students, but for almost a third the current circumstances have exacerbated these feelings. Universities need to provide as much support as they can for students who are entering the labour market in such uncertain times and employers need to be mindful of these results in their hiring processes.
  • The polling also shows a number of misconceptions that students have about the labour market. Most expect to go into a career directly related to their degree subject, while employers tend to see subject of study as less important than the skills they have gained. Students expect to only spend a short time in their first graduate job, when research shows that many stay in their first role for longer than expected. University careers guidance should seek to tackle these misconceptions, so students are better informed about their future careers.’

In the Foreword to the report, Jonathan Black, Director of Oxford University Careers Service, writes:

  • Students graduating this year could, perhaps, be forgiven for thinking they have lived against a backdrop of uncertain and threatening events: the 9/11 terrorist attacks and subsequent wars, the 2008 financial crisis, the turmoil and division of Brexit, and throughout the period, an increasingly obvious climate crisis. Now, along comes a global pandemic that is beginning to make the previous environment look almost benign and limited.
  • This HEPI report confirms that students’ familiarity with uncertainty is measurable by the fact that the majority of respondents say their perceptions haven’t changed solely because of the Covid-19 pandemic. They remain generally positive about their future – perhaps the optimism of youth who either don’t know or don’t believe the predictions or maybe they see opportunities in the changes to come.
  • ‘This report forms a useful benchmark of how much the pandemic is changing students’ views of their career. The extent, scale, and life of this pandemic and its accompanying economic shock are only just emerging, and there could be a very long way to go before we return to a “new normal”’

Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive, Office for Students responded to the HEPI paper:

  • Coronavirus will clearly have a profound impact on the economy, so it is unsurprising that students are anxious as they enter the next stage of their lives after graduation. However, the skills and experiences of graduates will be crucial to the economy as we rebuild, and there will be many opportunities for well qualified graduates to embark on rewarding careers.
  • The careers services that universities and colleges provide have a crucial role to play in helping to equip students with the confidence and skills they need to find professional employment. Their expertise will be particularly important during these difficult and uncertain times.’

Research

REF: The REF team have published a set of FAQs covering adjustments to the REF (timetable still under discussion) following last week’s webinar discussing the changes needed to adapt for C-19.

Academic Travel: HEPI have a blog considering how conducting PhD vivas online would be a forward step in reducing emissions and make a positive impact on carbon reduction supporting both universities environmental policies and national goals – Conducting PhD vivas online is working fine: there will be no need to return to excessive flying habits. It was inspired by the change in practices forced by lockdown.

Similarly HEPI have another blog on universities achieving carbon neutral status and what this means for academic travel.

Research Professional published Alarm as Covid-19 recovery plan neglects to mention R&D discussing how research and education has been left out of EU roadmap just two days before discussions were due.

Knowledge Exchange Concordat

The Knowledge Exchange Concordat was published on Friday. Research Professional covered the publication announcement here. It was a slight surprise to the sector as originally it was anticipated to be delayed and launched alongside a process allowing providers to explicitly sign up to the Concordat high level implementation plan (which won’t happen until later in 2020). And as Ivory Tower (tongue-in-cheek Friday comedy HE column) so eloquently imagine, lockdown seems a strange time to be launching an outward focussed process – excerpt from Ivory Tower imagined diary of Trevor McMillan, vice-chancellor Keele University:

  • This is definitely the right moment to release the knowledge exchange concordat. I’ve been working on this for a decade.
  • Now is the time to find out how staff in universities are getting out into their communities and interacting with people. Oh, hold on… can I start this again?

(Trevor McMillan is the Chair of the Concordat Committee on real life.)

Wonkhe have a short blog from Trevor McMillian himself  The Knowledge Exchange Concordat: published but not yet activated explaining a little on the concordat and timing:

  • Universities all have different strengths and we are committed to applying them to maximise their impact. When we are through the acute stages of the Covid-19 pandemic there will be the need for an enormous recovery programme to turn around the social and economic deficits that will be left by the current crisis. Universities will have a critical role in this, by engaging staff from right across our disciplinary base.
  • Hopefully, the Knowledge Exchange Concordat will provide a framework in which we can, as universities, ensure that we have the approaches in place to facilitate our staff and students to continue to have a major impact.

Dods explain the basics on knowledge exchange for those less familiar with the purpose of the concordat:

  • Knowledge exchange includes a set of activities, processes and skills that enable close collaboration between universities and partner organisations to deliver commercial, environmental, cultural and place-based benefits, opportunities for students and increased prosperity. This KE concordat therefore seeks to provide a mechanism by which universities can consider their performance in KE and make a commitment to improvement in those areas that are consistent with their priorities and expertise.
  • UK universities received £4.9 billion from knowledge exchange activities in 2018-19, helping fund activities to boost scientific, technological, medical and cultural breakthroughs. More effective knowledge sharing between universities and businesses will be essential in underpinning the Government’s target spend of 2.4% of GDP on research and development by 2027.

David Sweeney, Executive Chair of Research England, said: I am pleased to see the publication of the KE concordat and very much welcome that its development has been sector-led. The concordat provides the means to continuously improve institutional KE performance and I see it as critical in assurance of our funding, especially driving efficiency and effectiveness.”

Joe Marshall, CEO of the National Centre for Universities and Business, said: “Universities’ knowledge exchange activities play an incredibly important role in attracting, supporting and enhancing businesses and other organisations. The Concordat is an important vehicle for universities to proactively show their commitment to collaboration with others and demonstrate to external partners that through self-improvement they want to build better and deeper partnerships.”

And our view: it doesn’t look to have changed much from the version that was consulted on. It still includes aim 3 “to provide clear indicators of their approaches to performance improvement”. They have added more language to the guiding principles. “Working effectively” has become “working transparently and ethically” but the language underneath it is the same. It still includes “continuous improvement” and “evaluating success” as principles. The list of examples is hedged about with more “could” language but we still under the final commitment have to commit to producing an action plan for improvement and consider and respond to feedback from their panel. It still feels more like a regulatory framework than anything else.

Social Mobility and Widening Participation

Care Leavers and Estranged Students: The Care Leavers Progression Project shared several links aiming to support the vulnerable community of care leavers who are disproportionately affected by the crisis:

Disadvantaged school pupils: Education Select Committee Chair, Robert Halfon, is reported in iNews as suggesting retired teachers, graduates and underemployed Ofsted inspectors could support the reduction of the gap in the attainment of disadvantaged children by volunteering to tutor them post-lockdown. Halfon suggests they could be assigned to their local school. TES also covers Halfon’s volunteer army plan, excerpt:

  • “I’m really worried that the left behind pupils get left further behind because they aren’t able to learn during lockdown. So I’ve been proposing a catch-up premium and also a nationwide army of volunteers – including graduates and retired teachers – going in and helping the schools…The research shows if you have half an hour of mentoring three times a week you can advance by about five months.”

The Nuffield Foundation and Bristol University have also published a report highlighting how children in England who have been supported by a social worker at any point during their schooling fall behind educationally by at least 30% by the age of 16. Other findings include:

  • Young children, who needed a social worker before the age of seven, achieved better GCSEs if they had experienced a long-term stay in care than those who had not.
  • Children in need and children in care were more affected by other forms of disadvantage, such as poverty, socio-economic status, special educational needs, and disabilities, which led to lower educational attainment
  • Absence, temporary or permanent exclusions, and changing schools at the age of 15 or 16 were other factors shown to worsen academic performance.
  • A quarter of all children who had ever needed a social worker were still receiving a social work service in the final year of their GCSE exams.

Many parents of children in need interviewed as part of the study said they were living in poverty and struggled to pay for their child’s school needs, such as uniform, computers and internet access. Older children interviewed indicated they liked primary school but regarded secondary schools less favourably, due to their size, complexity and difficulties with teachers.

Recommendations:

  • Make support available for children in care applicable to children in need, such as Pupil Premium Plus payments provided to schools and Virtual Schools which oversee their education.
  • Teacher training for pupils’ well-being.
  • Measures to address the affordability of schooling are cited as other necessary changes.

The report has led to a national call to action, appealing for more comprehensive and coordinated support.

Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England, said: “Too many children in this country are growing up in disadvantage, struggling at home and at school. The educational prospects for many thousands of children in need are, frankly, terrible. Many leave the education system without even the basic qualifications. The government has promised to ‘level up’ across the country, and this must include properly-resourced, cross-departmental strategies for tackling the issues that blight the life chances of the most vulnerable children. The response to the coronavirus shows that coordinated action and political will on funding can have a transformative impact. The ‘new normal’, post-coronavirus, is an opportunity for similar brave action which gives help and support to vulnerable children from their early years and throughout their childhood and tackles the generational problems that have held back so many.”

Brexit

Dods report that the EU’s Chief Brexit Negotiator, Michel Barnier has stated that there has been a “disappointing” amount of progress made between the UK and EU in post Brexit talks. Speaking after talks with his UK counterpart David Frost, Bernier said that the “clock was ticking” and warned that “genuine progress” was needed by June if there was to be an agreement reached on the UK/EU future relationship by the end of the year. Despite talks stalling, and having to be reduced due to Coronavirus, the UK Government is still insisting that it will not request or accept an extension to the transition period beyond 31st December 2020. Under the Withdrawal Agreement, the transition period can be extended by up to two years if both sides agree by 1 July 2020. Barmier told the press conference a joint decision would be taken on 30 June about whether to extend the transition period. “The UK cannot refuse to extend transition and at the same time slow down discussions on important areas,” he said. The UK and EU are failing to make progress primarily on the areas of level playing field arrangements, fisheries and justice. The next round of talks are due to be held the w/c 11 May and 1 June.

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

People News: Stian Westlake has been appointed as Chief Executive of the Royal Statistical Society (RSS). Stian was previously policy advisor to Universities Ministers – David Willetts, Jo Johnson and Sam Gyimah. RSS describe Stian’s previous roles:

  • As an executive director at Nesta from 2009 to 2017, Stian ran the organisation’s think tank. Under his leadership, the team launched a range of initiatives on data and evidence, including the Alliance for Useful Evidence, the Innovation Growth Lab and the Innovation Index (in partnership with ONS), as well as significantly increasing its external income. After this, Stian served as policy advisor to three successive ministers for universities and science. He is co-author of Capitalism Without Capital, a book about intangible investment and the economy. He is also a governor of the National Institute for Economic and Social Research and advisory board member of the Institute for Community Studies.
  • At the RSS, Stian will lead on a programme of activities that take forward its strategic goals, including the Society’s Covid-19 Task Force, Data Manifesto and National Lottery-funded initiative, Statisticians for Society.

Skills Toolkit: The DfE have launched a Skills Toolkit for the public. SoS for Education Gavin Williamson describes it in his written ministerial statement: a new online platform giving people access to free, top-quality digital and numeracy courses to help build up their skills, progress in work and boost their job prospects.

NHS Visas: The Home Affairs Committee has written to Home Secretary Priti Patel seeking further clarification on issues relating to NHS visa extensions.

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JANE FORSTER                                         |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                   Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

Psychological skills for health workers in Nepal

Yesterday  Dr. Shanti Shanker (Lecturer in Psychology), BU Visiting Faculty Jillian Ireland and I produced a short three-minute video for health care workers in Nepal on the topic of living with uncertainty and the COVID-19 virus. Hopefully this will be the first in a series from our Bournemouth University team.  The video is based on work funded by GCRF in the United Kingdom and supported by two NGOs (non-Governmental Organisations): (a) Sheetal Astitva and  (b) Green Taral Nepal as well as Symbiosis International (Deemed University).

This video can be accessed here!

Prof. Edwin van Teijlingen
CMMPH

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 31st May 2019

We’re going early again this week as we have a big focus on this week’s big report, and we’re sure you all want to know (although there is a lot of coverage).  There is other news as well.

Augar recommendations for the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding

So finally, the long awaited report has landed.  Either it changed quite a lot in the last few weeks (no minimum threshold based on 3 Ds at A-level) or the leaks were inaccurate.  Actually the leaks were pretty inaccurate, because although the £7500 tuition fee loan cap is there, there are recommendations to make up the difference.  And that part was very badly trailed, probably because the recommendations are not simple and don’t make an easy soundbite.

The commentary will be extensive and you can read it for yourselves, we’ll give you some links below and recipients of Wonkhe and the Research Professional HE updates will get more in the coming days.  In the meantime:

We think that there is a risk with summarising and cherry picking the “most interesting” bits so we give you the whole set of recommendations below – with a little bit of commentary in places.  There’s some context and narrative first, so skip down to the big table if you want to go straight to the recommendations.

The report defines the purposes of post-18 education – nicely pulled out in a tweet by Mike Ratcliffe.

And the principles:

In setting about our task, we have been guided by a set of principles. Some of these were self-evident to us at the start, others have been developed in the light of emerging evidence during the panel’s life. The principles and their rationale are set out below.

Principle 1. Post-18 education benefits society, the economy, and individuals. The potential benefits of an increasingly educated adult population have guided our work. But increasing the sheer volume of tertiary education does not necessarily translate into social, economic and personal good. That depends on the quality, accessibility and direction of study.

Principle 2. Everyone should have the opportunity to be educated after the age of 18.We have noted the disparity of resources between higher and further education and the steep decline in opportunities for education and training in later life. We have this in mind in seeking to create an integrated and sustainable post-18 system with opportunities for the whole population.

Principle 3. The decline in numbers of those getting post-18 education needs to be reversed. In many developed economies, increased participation in tertiary education has been associated with productivity growth over the past half century but in England – where attention has focused largely on degree-level study – the total number of people involved in post-18 education has in fact declined. This decline needs to be reversed urgently.

Principle 4. The cost of post-18 education should be shared between taxpayers, employers and learners. This was the defining principle of the seminal Dearing Report (1997) and continues to have resonance: the alternatives are simply inconceivable. Getting the taxpayer to pay for everything is unaffordable. Getting learners to pay all their own costs is unfair to those of limited means. Getting employers to pay for the whole system would put too much emphasis on economic value alone. A shared responsibility, in our view, is the only fair and feasible solution.

Principle 5. Organisations providing education and training must be accountable for the public subsidy they receive. The receipt of taxpayer funding, whether this is directly through grants or indirectly through forgiveable loans, carries with it the expectation of transparency and accountability for the purposes to which it is put and the outcomes that it delivers. There should be no sense of entitlement.

Principle 6. Government has a responsibility to ensure that its investment in tertiary education is appropriately spent and directed. The government should consider public spending on tertiary education alongside its spending on other parts of the public sector and should hold the sector accountable whilst respecting its intellectual freedom and academic autonomy.

Principle 7. Post-18 education cannot be left entirely to market forces. The idea of a market in tertiary education has been a defining characteristic of English policy since 1998. We believe that competition between providers has an important role to play in creating choice for students but that on its own it cannot deliver a full spectrum of social, economic and cultural benefits. With no steer from government, the outcome is likely to be haphazard.

Principle 8. Post-18 education needs to be forward looking. The future challenges of technological innovation, artificial intelligence and shorter job cycles will require greater labour market flexibility. The post-18 education system needs to respond to this: doing more of the same will not be enough.

Here is the summary of the proposals from the front of the report itself:

  • Strengthening technical education – England needs a stronger technical and vocational education system at sub-degree levels to meet the structural skills shortages that are in all probability contributing to the UK’s weak productivity performance. Improved funding, a better maintenance offer, and a more coherent suite of higher technical and professional qualifications would help level the playing field with degrees and drive up both the supply of and demand for such courses.
  • Increasing opportunities for everyone – Despite the very large increase in participation in higher education by young people, the total number of people involved in tertiary education has declined. Almost 40 per cent of 25 year olds do not progress beyond GCSEs as their highest qualification and social mobility shows little sign of improvement. Our recommendations seek to address these problems by reversing cuts in adult skills provision and encouraging part time and later life learning.
  • Reforming and refunding the FE college network – Further education colleges are an essential part of the national educational infrastructure and should play a core role in the delivery of higher technical and intermediate level training. Our recommendations are intended to reform and refund the FE college network by means of an increased base rate of funding for high return courses, an additional £1bn capital investment over the coming spending review period and investment in the workforce to improve recruitment and retention. Rationalisation of the network to even out provision across over-supplied and under-supplied areas, funding for some specialised colleges and closer links with HE and other providers would help establish a genuinely national system of higher technical education.
  • Bearing down on low value HE – There is a misalignment at the margin between England’s otherwise outstanding system of higher education and the country’s economic requirements. A twenty-year market in lightly regulated higher education has greatly expanded the number of skilled graduates bringing considerable social and economic benefits and wider participation for students from lower socio-economic groups. However, for a small but significant minority of degree students doing certain courses at certain institutions, the university experience leads to disappointment. We make recommendations intended to encourage universities to bear down on low value degrees and to incentivise them to increase the provision of courses better aligned with the economy’s needs.
  • Addressing higher education funding – Generous and undirected funding has led to an over-supply of some courses at great cost to the taxpayer and a corresponding under-supply of graduates in strategically important sectors. Our recommendations would restore more control over taxpayer support and would reduce what universities may charge each degree student. Universities should find further efficiency savings over the coming years, maximum fees for students should be reduced to £7,500 a year, and more of the taxpayer funding should come through grants directed to disadvantaged students and to high value and high cost subjects.  [see CHAPTER 3 and in particular 3.2 to 3.5 below]
  • Increasing flexibility and lifetime learning – Employment patterns are changing fast with shorter job cycles and longer working lives requiring many people to reskill and upskill. We recommend the introduction of a lifelong learning loan allowance to be used at higher technical and degree level at any stage of an adult’s career for full and part-time students. To encourage retraining and flexible learning, we recommend that this should be available in modules where required. We intend that our proposals should facilitate transfer between different institutions and we make proposals for greater investment in so-called ‘second chance’ learning at intermediate levels. We endorse the government’s National Retraining Scheme, which we believe to be a potentially valuable supplement to college based learning.
  • Supporting disadvantaged students – Disadvantaged students need better financial support, improved choices and more effective advice and guidance to benefit fully from post‑18 education. Our recommendations would provide them with additional support by reintroducing maintenance grants for students from low income households, and by increasing and better targeting the government’s funding for disadvantaged students.
  • Ensuring those who benefit from higher education contribute fairly – Most graduates benefit significantly from participating in higher education – as does the economy and wider society. We therefore endorse the established principle that students and the state should share the cost of tertiary education. We support the income-contingent repayment approach as a means of delivering this fairly, with those benefitting the most making the greatest contribution. However, public misunderstanding is high and better communication is required, including a new name, the Student Contribution System. We believe that more graduates should repay their loans in full over their lifetimes, and recommend extending the repayment period for future students and effectively freezing the repayment threshold. These changes – with the reduction in fees – would apply only to students entering higher education from 2021-22 at the earliest: students starting before then would not be affected. Some aspects of the present system appear to be unfairly punitive and we recommend reducing students’ in-study interest charges and capping graduates’ lifetime repayments.
  • Improving the apprenticeship offer – Apprenticeships can deliver benefits both for apprentices and employers but there is evidence of a mismatch between the economy’s strategic requirements and current apprenticeship starts. Our recommendations, together with recent government reforms, look to make further improvements in the quality of the apprenticeship offer by providing learners with better wage return information, strengthening Ofsted’s role – and thus the quality of providers – and better understanding and addressing the barriers SMEs face within the apprenticeship system. We have considered how best to use the finite funding which is available for apprenticeships and recommend that apprenticeships at degree level and above should normally be funded only for those who do not already have a publicly-funded degree.

And the actual recommendations are at the back:

CHAPTER 2: SKILLS

2.1 The government should introduce a single lifelong learning loan allowance for tuition loans at Levels 4, 5 and 6, available for adults aged 18 or over, without a publicly funded degree. This should be set, as it is now, as a financial amount equivalent to four years’ full-time undergraduate degree funding. [This will be widely welcomed but has the potential to be very expensive if these loans turn out to be written off at high levels over time – the hope will be that these courses will directly lead to improved earnings and so there will be a better chance of repayment?]

2.2 Learners should be able to access student finance for tuition fee and maintenance support for modules of credit-based Level 4, 5 and 6 qualifications. [“bitesize” learning will also be welcomed as a solution for mature students to replace traditional part-time study which has collapsed]

2.3 ELQ rules should be scrapped for those taking out loans for Levels 4, 5 and 6. [this will be widely welcomed]

2.4 Institutions should award at least one interim qualification to all students who are following a Level 6 course successfully. [this is interesting]

2.5 Streamline the number and improve the status of Level 4/5 qualifications.

2.6 The OfS should become the national regulator of all non-apprenticeship provision at Levels 4 and above.

2.7 Government should provide additional support and capital funding to specific FE colleges in order to ensure a national network of high quality technical provision is available. Government should work with the OfS to determine how best to allocate this using, for example, quality indicators and analysis of geographic coverage. [this will be welcomed although the targeting and the suggestions of metrics (a TEF for FE?) may not be so welcome]

2.8 From 2021-22 the fee cap for Level 4 and 5 qualifications currently prescribed by the OfS should be £7,500 – the same as that proposed for Level 6 qualifications and in line with current arrangements for prescribed HE qualifications. Longer term, only kitemarked Level 4 and 5 qualifications that meet the new employer-led national standards should be able to charge fees up to the Level 6 cap and be eligible for teaching grant. From that point, any other Level 4 and 5 courses should have a lower fee cap.

2.9 The current age cap should be removed so that a first ‘full’ Level 3 is available free to all learners whether they are in work or not.

2.10 Full funding for the first ‘full’ Level 2 qualification, for those who are 24 and over and who are employed should be restored.

2.11  The careers strategy should be rolled out nationally so that every secondary school is able to be part of a careers hub, that training is available to all careers leaders and that more young people have access to meaningful careers activities and encounters with employers.

CHAPTER 3: HIGHER EDUCATION

3.1 The average per-student resource should be frozen for three further years from 2020/21 until 2022/23. On current evidence, inflation based increases to the average per-student unit of resource should resume in 2023/24.  [the interesting part here is not the freeze, as that was expected, but the proposal for an increase in 2023/24.  See page 93 of the report – “We believe that the gradual effects of a funding freeze would give HEIs time to rise to the challenge of greater efficiency and redesigned business models, whilst maintaining the quality of provision.  However on current evidence we believe that attempts to generate further savings over this proposed funding freeze would jeopardise the quality of provision”.

3.2 The cap on the fee chargeable to HE students should be reduced to £7,500 per year. We consider that this could be introduced by 2021/22. [so no cliff edge this year, may affect student numbers next year as some defer. They say on page 210 that ALL policies embed in 2021/22 for new students so although it isn’t clear in the section, this would be for new students only.  Also worth noting on page 205 they note that actually students may not be better off under the current scheme in the long run because of changes to repayments (see below) – but explaining that to students (and parents) will be a nightmare – the headline reduction will be what many people see]

3.3 Government should replace in full the lost fee income by increasing the teaching grant, leaving the average unit of funding unchanged at sector level in cash terms. [page 95 “We firmly believe that the total reduction in resources from the fee cut must be matched with an equivalent increase in average per student grant funding from the government, so that the average per student resource to the sector stays level in cash terms]

3.4 The fee cap should be frozen until 2022/23, then increased in line with inflation from 2023/24. [see 3.1 above]

3.5 Government should adjust the teaching grant attached to each subject to reflect more accurately the subject’s reasonable costs and its social and economic value to students and taxpayers. Support for high-quality specialist institutions that could be adversely affected should be reviewed and if necessary increased.

  • [The link to cost was well trailed in the press, but the Secretary of State focussed on the part about social and economic value to students and taxpayers – actually the report covers both. This is worth looking at in more detail – page 95/96 says that the current “system under-funds certain high cost subjects to the detriment of the economy in general and the government’s Industrial Strategy“, that “the current long-term taxpayer subsidy is poorly directed” and that “Government currently has very limited control over the substantial taxpayer investment in higher education”. 
  • There is more detail of the analysis that they did on page 72.
  • They propose that the OfS should carry out a review of the funding rates for different subjects, having “regard to economic and social value and consider support for socially desirable professions such as nursing and teaching”, and then rebalance funding towards high cost and strategically important subjects and to subjects that add social as well as economic value”.
  • They go on: “we would expect some subjects to receive little or no subject specific teaching grant over the £7500 base rate” – and this is where they add in about specialist institutions offering the highest quality provision.
  • This is really interesting stuff – but it is not at all clear how this would work and how economic and social value would be evaluated.  Anyone thinking that the debate over use of raw salary data in this process might be answered one way or the other by Augar will be sadly disappointed – the issue is put firmly into the hands of the OfS.  See also pages 104 and 105 for the things they rejected
  • Critics of using LEO in this context will like this bit on page 87: ““Limitations of the IFS early-career earnings analysis….
    • The data do not distinguish between full and part-time work, which is likely to affect comparisons of earnings between men and women, and they also do not cover the self-employed.
    • The results we discuss are for earnings up to the age of 29 whereas the principal benefit in earnings for graduates tends to arrive in the following decade and thus we would expect full lifetime earnings for most graduates to generate higher premiums than those shown.
    • However, the current data excludes the cost of foregone earnings during study and loan repayments after graduation which need to be taken into account for a full assessment of lifetime returns.
    • Earnings are largely a product of the labour market for particular skills and qualifications and should not be regarded as a measure of teaching quality. They also vary according to location: a graduate working in an economic cold spot is likely to earn less than her or his counterpart working in a hot spot.
    • However, if analysed with care, the data provide an insight into the early career financial consequences of degree study and will be a useful source of information for students, government and HEIs alike.”]

3.6 Government should take further steps to ensure disadvantaged students have sufficient support to access, participate and succeed in higher education. It should do this by:

  • Increasing the amount of teaching grant funding that follows disadvantaged students, so that funding flows to those institutions educating the students that are most likely to need additional support.
  • Changing the measure of disadvantage used in the Student Premium to capture individual-level socio-economic disadvantage, so that funding closely follows the students who need support.
  • Requiring providers to be accountable for their use of Student Premium grant, alongside access and participation plans for the spend of tuition fee income, to enable joined up scrutiny.

[Page 97 says that the current system prioritises access over successful participation, “fails to resource adequately those institutions that admit a large proportion of their students from disadvantaged backgrounds, relies on too limited an evidence base of what works best”.  They want to “discard measures or prior academic attainment and area-based measures of participation” (goodbye POLAR) and look at individual measures of socio-economic disadvantage to ensure that support is better directed.  They want a pupil premium style minimum sum for each student.  They also say that all the other changes should not mean a cut in the overall levels of spend on disadvantaged students.]

3.7 Unless the sector has moved to address the problem of recruitment to courses which have poor retention, poor graduate employability and poor long term earnings benefits by 2022/23, the government should intervene. This intervention should take the form of a contextualised minimum entry threshold, a selective numbers cap or a combination of both.

  • [Here’s a threat, then.  So 3Ds are not dead (see page 100 for the research), and neither are numbers caps.  But imposed on a course by course basis for students that “persistently manifest poor value for money for students and the public”.  They mention indicators such as employment, earnings and loan repayments.  They suggest the caps would be time limited – capping the numbers of students eligible for financial support who could be admitted to the course” (see page 102). 
  • So three years for the sector “to put its house in order”.  That gives the government time to sort our technical alternatives and the impact would be offset but the uptick in demographics from 2021.]

3.8 We recommend withdrawing financial support for foundation years attached to degree courses after an appropriate notice period. Exemptions for specific courses such as medicine may be granted by the OfS. [People are asking questions about this – it’s odd at first glance.  They say (page 103) that “it is not hard to conclude that universities are using foundation years to create four-year degrees in order to entice students who do not otherwise meet their standard entry criteria”.  But is that a bad thing?  The report concludes that it is a bad thing because of the fee and loan implications, and so it would be better to have access courses (usually in partnership with FE) on lower fees, better loan terms and a standalone qualification.  They say have a two year delay on implementing this recommendation]

CHAPTER 4: FURTHER EDUCATION

4.1 The unit funding rate for economically valuable adult education courses should be increased. [no-one will disagree but it will be expensive.  There’s a chart on page 124 which suggests what they mean by “economically valuable”.  It means higher level courses, it seems]

4.2 The reduction in the core funding rate for 18 year-olds should be reversed.

4.3 ESFA funding rules should be simplified for FE colleges, allowing colleges to respond more flexibly and immediately to the particular needs of their local labour market.

4.4 Government should commit to providing an indicative AEB that enables individual FE colleges to plan on the basis of income over a three-year period. Government should also explore introducing additional flexibility to transfer a proportion of AEB allocations between years on the same basis.

4.5.1 Government should provide FE colleges with a dedicated capital investment of at least £1 billion over the next Spending Review period. This should be in addition to funding for T levels and should be allocated primarily on a strategic national basis in-line with Industrial Strategy priorities.

4.5.2 Government should use the additional capital funding primarily to augment existing FE colleges to create a strong national network of high quality provision of technical and professional education, including growing capacity for higher technical provision in specific FE colleges.

4.5.3 Government should also consider redirecting the HE capital grant to further education. [that’s interesting – they suggest that £1billion needs to be invested.]

4.6.1 The structure of the FE college network, particularly in large cities, should be further modified to minimise duplication in reasonable travel to learn areas.

4.6.2 In rural and semi-rural areas, small FE colleges should be strongly encouraged to form or join groups in order to ensure sustainable quality provision in the long term. [consistent with the pressure on schools and academies to combine]

4.7 Government should develop procedures to ensure that – as part of a collaborative national network of FE colleges – there is an efficient distribution of Level 3, 4 and 5 provision within reasonable travel-to-learn areas, to enable strategic investment and avoid counterproductive competition between providers.

4.8 Investment in the FE workforce should be a priority, allowing improvements in recruitment and retention, drawing in more expertise from industry, and strengthening professional development.

4.9 The panel recommends that government improve data collection, collation, analysis and publication across the whole further education sector (including independent training providers). [As noted above, perhaps an equivalent of TEF for FE and all the other related metrics  – on top of Ofsted requirements where they apply.  They compare this critically with schools as well as HE (see page 137)]

4.10 The OfS and the ESFA should establish a joint working party co-chaired by the OfS and ESFA chairs to align the requirements they place on providers and improve the interactions and exchange of information between these bodies. The working party should report to the Secretary of State for Education by March 2020. [These will be interesting interactions.  The OfS is meant to be “light-touch” and “risk-based”, remember.  But it would be good to see them take a more similar approach – as universities registering with the ESFA to provide apprenticeships are aware, the requirements are different]

4.11 FE colleges should be more clearly distinguished from other types of training provider in the FE sector with a protected title similar to that conferred on universities.

CHAPTER 5: APPRENTICESHIPS

5.1 The government should monitor closely the extent to which apprenticeship take up reflects the priorities of the Industrial Strategy, both in content – including the need for specific skills at Levels 3 through 5 – and in geographic spread. If funding is inadequate for demand, apprenticeships should be prioritised in line with Industrial Strategy requirements.

5.2  The government should use data on apprenticeships wage returns to provide accessible system wide information for learners with a potential interest in apprenticeships.

5.3  Funding for Level 6 and above apprenticeships should normally be available only for apprentices who have not previously undertaken a publicly-supported degree.  [ELQ by the back door?]

5.4  Ofsted become the lead responsible body for the inspection of the quality of apprenticeships at all levels.

5.5  No provider without an acceptable Ofsted rating should receive a contract to deliver training in their own right (although a provider who has not yet been inspected could sub-contract from a high-quality provider pending their own inspection).

5.6  The IfATE and the DfE (through the ESFA) should undertake a programme of work to better understand the barriers that SMEs face in engaging with the apprenticeship system and put in place mechanisms to address these, including raising awareness of the programme and making the system easier to navigate.

5.7  The IfATE improve transparency when processing standards that have been submitted for approval. Trailblazer groups and providers should have a clear indication of progress, available on-line, so they can start to plan, recruit and invest within workable timelines.

5.8  All approved providers of government-funded training, including apprenticeship training, must make clear provision for the protection of learners in the case of closure or insolvency.

CHAPTER 6: STUDENT CONTRIBUTIONS

6.1 Continue the principle of loans to cover the cost of fees combined with income-contingent contributions up to a maximum. [NB they have not looked at PG loans – see page 166]

6.2 Set the contribution threshold at the level of median non-graduate earnings so that those who are experiencing a financial benefit from HE start contributing towards the cost of their studies. This should apply to new students entering HE from 2021/22.Adjust the lower interest threshold to match, with the higher interest threshold moving by the same amount. This should apply to new students entering the system from 2021/22. [That’s a reduction from £25,000 to £23,000 at current rates.  Note it went up to £25,000 from £21,000 in 2018 in a hasty attempt by the PM to appeal to the “youth vote” in a move welcomed by many (because the promised indexation for the threshold was abandoned) but also said to be regressive (because it reduced the total amount repaid by the highest earners).  The proposal is that it should be a floating threshold, linked to median earnings, and not implemented until 2021/22, so they expect it would be £25,000 then and when the first cohort of students start repaying it would be around £28,000 (see page 170)]

6.3 Extend the repayment period to 40 years after study has ended so that those who have borrowed continue to contribute while they are experiencing a financial benefit. This should apply to new students entering the system from 2021/22. [This is the big change and is why the main headline fee cut does not save many students much overall]

6.4 Remove real in-study interest, so that loan balances track inflation during study. This should apply for new students entering the system from 2021/22. [This is a tweak, but an important one, because this is one of those optical things that makes students really cross, as they incur interest at 3% plus inflation while studying.  A student on a maximum maintenance loan incurs £3800 in interest while studying on a three year course (see page 172)] 

6.5 Retain the post-study variable interest rate mechanism from inflation to inflation plus 3 per cent. [Many have called for this to be scrapped but the report thinks that’s a trade-off not worth making.  They also don’t adopt the arguments about moving away from RPI to CPI – some will be disappointed]

6.6 Introduce a new protection for borrowers to cap lifetime repayments at 1.2 times the initial loan amount in real terms. This cap should be introduced for all current Plan 2 borrowers, as well for all future borrowers. [This hasn’t been much covered in the press coverage so far – but it is interesting.  It addresses the “squeezed middle” who pay back more slowly and thus pay back more than the highest earners.  As the 40 year period makes that problem worse, this is a mitigation for it (see pages 174/5)]

6.7 Introduce new finance terms under the banner of a new ‘student contribution system’. Define and promote the system with new language to make clearer the nature of the system, reducing focus on ‘debt’ levels and interest and emphasising contribution rates. [Hurray, the rebranding.  Widely anticipated although it will take a mammoth effort to change national cultural expectations on this after everyone from the PM down has banged on about student debt.  This is a huge job.]

CHAPTER 7: MAINTENANCE

7.1 The government should restore maintenance grants for socio-economically disadvantaged students to at least £3,000 a year.

[This is really interesting, has been widely welcomed including by the PM who has taken the credit for it and blamed George Osborne and Sajid Javid for a mistake” in her statement this morning. The report says that this is a particular problem because of the assumption of parental support and that it impacts the choices that disadvantaged students make.   But…is £3000 enough?  The report says (page 192 “Combined with the reduction in the level of tuition fee recommended in chapter 3, this recommendation would see the maximum debt for a disadvantaged student on graduation from a 3 year degree decrease by £15,000, from approximately £60,000 to approximately £45,000”.  They looked at the Welsh system and  said it was not a priority for investment to make such a significant (and expensive) change).

7.2 The expected parental contribution should be made explicit in all official descriptions of the student maintenance support system. [Yes, alongside the other comms challenges, this is a big and important one.]

7.3 Maximum maintenance support should be set in line with the National Minimum Wage for age 21 to 24 on the basis of 37.5 hours per week and 30 weeks per year. [That’s a small cut outside London “We do not believe that students, who in practice are often studying for less than 37.5 hours, should receive a higher income than the minimum received by young people in full-time employment” (see page 193)]

7.4 In delivering a maintenance system comprising a mix of grant, loan and family contribution, the government should ensure that:

  • The level of grant is set as high as possible to minimise or eliminate the amount of additional loan required by students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
  • The income thresholds within the system should be increased in line with inflation each year.

7.5 The new post-18 maintenance support package should be provided for all students taking Level 4 to 6 qualifications. The government should take steps to ensure that qualifications which are supported through the maintenance package are of high quality and deliver returns for the individual, society, economy and taxpayer.

7.6 The OfS should examine the cost of student accommodation more closely and work with students and providers to improve the quality and consistency of data about costs, rents, profits and quality.

[Interesting comments on page 196:

  • “We believe that HEIs retain a responsibility for overall student welfare and delivering value for money and that this extends to university accommodation, whether or not they are the direct provider.”
  • And “The public subsidy of student maintenance, much of which is spent on accommodation, gives the OfS a legitimate stake in monitoring the provision of student accommodation in terms of costs, rents, profitability and value for money”
  • Also “We suggest a detailed study of the characteristics and in-study experience of commuter students and how to support them better.”(page 195)]

7.7 Funding available for bursaries should increase to accommodate the likely growth in Level 2 and Level 3 adult learners.

7.8 The support on offer to Level 2 and Level 3 learners should be made clearer by both the government and further education colleges so as to ensure that prospective learners are aware of the support available to them.

And there’s more

There are also other bits that are not reflected in the many, many recommendations but may be seized on by Ministers and others.  In the section on Market Competition, page 78, the report says that “‘post-18 education cannot be left entirely to market forces’.81 We have already established that England’s market in HE has produced substantial social, economic and personal benefits but have noted that price competition has not developed as was originally expected. This is rational behaviour in a market where price is taken as a signal of quality.”

It goes on:

It is of concern to us that these marketing approaches sometimes include cash and in-kind inducements to prospective students to accept a place. It would be an unacceptable use of public funds for universities to recycle tuition fees, funded by state-subsidised income contingent loans, as gifts over which the state has no recourse. A recent study for Universities UK found “… perceptions that universities are becoming more like commercial businesses, driven by profit” and we would not be surprised if over-enthusiastic marketing had contributed to this perception. We further note three aspects of academic practice that could be interpreted as being a consequence of market competition.

  • Grade inflation. The growth in the proportion of first and upper second-class degrees awarded (see box) has been too great to suggest plausibly that it can be entirely attributed to a genuine improvement in the quality of students’ academic performance. It is not unreasonable to assume that part of the explanation is that academic assessment has become a means of reputational enhancement, albeit how this has happened is unclear.84 We note the intervention in March 2018 on this matter by the Secretary of State for Education.
  • Lower entry requirements. An increasing proportion of students with lower prior attainment are now attending university. We welcome this but not at any price. Low prior attainment, measured by A level and BTEC grades, is associated with dropping out from university studies, to the financial and often emotional cost of the student. From the 2016/17 cohort, as many as 12.8 per cent of students with UCAS tariff points between 0 and 100 (equivalent to D and E at A-level in the old tariff scheme), and 11.6 per cent of students with BTECs at any level, did not progress past their first year of a degree. This is about double the 6.3 per cent drop out rate for students as a whole. For the lowest attaining BTEC students the drop-out rates are well above 15 per cent. At fourteen UK universities, projections of the number of students likely to obtain a degree is below 70 per cent; the lowest has a degree projection rate of 51.7 per cent with 28.1 per cent of its students dropping out entirely rather than transferring or obtaining another award such as a Level 4 or Level 5 qualification.
  • Unconditional offers. Responsibly used, unconditional offers can have benefits, particularly in attracting students from disadvantaged backgrounds – but the emphasis has to be on ‘responsible’. We agree with the OfS that “Universities must not resort to pressure selling tactics in promoting unconditional offers”87 and we note the intervention in April 2018 on this matter by the Secretary of State for Education.

They don’t have a recommendation in this area, but they do use these examples as justification for why the system needs to change – and government given back more control through grants and targeting of funding.

There’s also a kick at TEF: “the use of metrics in the TEF process must be robust and command confidence. The Royal Statistical Society has raised concerns about the statistical validity of the current approach and the risk of the system being “gamed”.72 We await the outcome of the on-going independent review of the TEF, led by Dame Shirley Pearce, which is examining this and other issues.”  It is really interesting to think about what, given this, they think will be the basis for their cost and value-based assessment for the top-up funding.  They manage not to suggest anything.  All they say about it is on page 75: “We expect this assessment to be contested within the sector. Typically, it has been resistant to measures of performance based on inputs (contact hours), outputs (student satisfaction) and outcomes (graduate salaries). There are undoubtedly weaknesses in all of these metrics, including the TEF framework which brings them together, but they give universities important information about their own performance and we encourage the sector to use them constructively.”

And what of employers?  When interviewed during the process, Philip Augar made a lot of the role of employers in the system.  In the opening principles, Principle 4 is “the cost of post-18 education should be shared between taxpayers, employers and learners”.  But there is nothing new here for FE, lots of references to employers working with FE, and of course the apprenticeship levy.

They also address the unintended consequences in terms of the cross-subsidy for research funding (see page 93): “Universities in the UK educate the graduates, especially in STEM fields, needed to achieve this target. Our proposals on rebalancing funding towards high‑cost and high‑value subjects, discussed below, are intended to encourage this and are likely to result in more funding going to institutions with a strong research base. We also make recommendations to protect high quality specialist institutions. We recognise that there will be concerns about the impact of the resource freeze on some institutions with pockets of research excellence. We are of the view that it is for government, business and other interested bodies to fund research adequately and directly.

So what now?  The coverage will be excited and excitable.  Justine Greening has already condemned the whole thing as regressive and called for a radical new student contribution system.  But will a new leader of the Tory party take it up?  Will it get lost in party politics and Brexit?  Will it be too unattractive in terms of cost (remember the spending review) and not attractive enough in terms of attracting voters (young and older)?. They have costed it all (page 204).

We’ll just have to wait and see.  But the main thing is that, despite several menacing bits, when taken as a whole it is not the nightmare scenario for HE that some were predicting, but neither is it a silver bullet.  It’s complex, subtle and intended to work as a package – if existing or new leaders start cherry picking, there is plenty of potential for the nightmare to materialise.  And the OfS have a LOT of work to do.

At a speech launching the review, Theresa May said: “I was not surprised to see the panel argue for the reintroduction of means-tested maintenance grants both for university students and those studying for higher technical qualifications. Such a move would ensure students are supported whichever route they choose, and save those from the poorest backgrounds over £9,000. It will be up to the Government to decide, at the upcoming Spending Review, whether to follow this recommendation. But my view is very clear: removing maintenance grants from the least well-off students has not worked, and I believe it is time to bring them back.”

On reforming tuition fees, she argued: “There is much to be said for the panel’s proposal to cut fees and top up the money from Government, protecting the sector’s income overall but focussing more of that investment on high-quality and high-value courses. I know there are some, including the Labour Opposition, who will reject this finding because they want to abolish fees altogether. Such a move would be regressive and destructive – hurting our institutions and limiting the opportunities for our young people.”

Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner commented: “The report alone does nothing to address the burning injustices facing our education system. With no formal Government response, no extra funding and no guarantee that the recommendations will be implemented by her successor the Augar review epitomises May’s legacy as Prime Minister and this shambolic Tory government –  all talk, empty promises and very little action.”

Speaking on LBC earlier, Chancellor Philip Hammond warned: “We won’t be able to prioritise every area. If we want to be able to spend some of that fiscal headroom that I have accumulated, we first have to get the Brexit issue resolved.”

By the way, as well as the report, there is a whole lot of supporting material including the outcomes of the call for evidence that informed the review. Some nuggets:

  • For student finance, more than half of students responding thought fees should be reduced or abolished. There was a mix of views from providers over whether the fees charged to students at present covered the cost of courses, with views further split about the advantages and disadvantages of applying differential fees for different subjects and how this might work. Student loans were seen by many as burdensome and off-putting, in particular for part-time and mature students. Many respondents suggested that means-tested maintenance grants should be reintroduced.
  • Respondents and respondent groups had a range of views of what constituted value for money in post-18 education including student experience, employability and commercial terms, as well as the wider benefits to society. Some questioned the need for the concept. HE providers and HE employees tended to favour value in terms of student experience and qualifications achieved, whereas students and graduates valued employability and the earnings advantage of a degree, seen as a return on their investment.
    • Overall employability was perceived as the most important measure of value for money, followed by value to society and the student experience.
    • Value for money was considered to be improved either if the cost of education to students is reduced, or if the quality of education and its contribution to the economy and to society is increased.
  • Respondents identified financial barriers as the most common difficulty for disadvantaged students, including debt (both real and the prospect of it), covering costs out of term time and inadequate maintenance support.

And the Tory leadership contest?

New potential candidates are joining the fray all the time.  There are so many it is hard to work out what they all stand for.  The whittling down process can’t start until after 10th June.  Until then we will have to put up with remarkably similar soundbites and some startling announcements as they try to be distinctive.  11 (or 12, or more) views to canvas on every issue that comes up from Augar to football to British Steel.  Oh dear.

This internal squabble really matters – because whoever it is, is going to try and sort out Brexit and nothing else will get done until they do.  The solution might be trying to create a cross party consensus to pass the Withdrawal Agreement legislation and leave with the PM’s deal in October (seems vanishingly unlikely).  Or by going back to Brussels with a backstop unicorn and trying to renegotiate (surely even more unlikely than it was when Parlaiment voted on it).  Or throwing the whole thing up in the air and asking for a long extension for a people’s vote (exceptionally unlikely because any candidate who would go for this will surely not be selected unless they are the last person standing).  Or going for a no-deal Brexit by default, with no legislation if Parliament won’t play ball – surely very unlikely indeed given that this is the only thing Parliamnet agrees on.  Any hint of this would surely spark another Letwin-style rebellion enabled by the Speaker (leading to what, though – there’s no time.  And surely the EU wouldn’t grant an extension in these circumstances).  The timing is critical, because the summer recess takes Parliament to the middle of September, unless they come back early.

And it may all be irrelevant.  If the new leader faces a vote of no confidence fairly early on, and is someone that enough Tories can’t work with (whichever approach they are taking), will enough rebels back it and force a general election?  Then surely the EU would grant an extension.  And all bets would be off, although it seems pretty likely that a general election would lead to another hung Parliament, probably very hung indeed, with a fair number of MPs for the Brexit Party (unless the new Tory leader wins them over) and more Lib Dems and Greens.  So then it would all be about coalitions.  Tricky.

So who could it be?  The BBC have a list although Philip Hammond hasn’t ruled himself out and isn’t on the list yet.  There are some predictions and some more details on The Week here

EU student fees and finance after Brexit

After the recent storm when it was pointed out that EU students would at some point after Brexit stop being eligible for tuition fee loans and “Home” fee status, Chris Skidmore this week confirmed that the current arrangements would continue for students starting courses in 2020-21, continuing the “one year at a time” approach that has been adopted since the EU referendum.

Universities Minister Chris Skidmore said: We know that students will be considering their university options for next year already, which is why we are confirming now that eligible EU nationals will continue to benefit from home fee status and can access financial support for the 20/21 academic year, so they have the certainty they need to make their choice.”

“Work to determine the future fee status for new EU students after the 2020/21 academic year is ongoing as the Government prepares for a smooth and orderly exit from the EU as soon as possible. The Government will provide sufficient notice for prospective EU students on fee arrangements ahead of the 2021/2022 academic year and subsequent years in future.”

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

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

Student fees and funding

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

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

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

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

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

So Nick Hillman flags some challenges to the system:

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

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

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

Change the context not the structure

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

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

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

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

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

Graduate tax

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

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

Capping access to fees

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

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

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

As Ant points out:

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

So he suggests instead:

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

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

Skills

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

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

In the introduction, Nick Hillman notes:

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

..and concludes:

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

So what is the solution?  The executive summary notes:

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

And the recommendations are:

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

Sexual harassment in Universities

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

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

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

And the next bit:

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

Access, participation and outcomes

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

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

Essay mills

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

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HE Policy update for the w/e 22nd June 2018

Another big week in policy land. We’ve big features on grade inflation and post-qualification admissions to get your brain buzzing.

Brexit news for EU citizens setting in the UK

This week the Government released further details on how EU citizens and their families could apply for settled status through the EU settlement scheme.  The link also contains the draft immigration rules.  The Government issued a news story on the settlement scheme, it sets out the 3 steps applicants will complete – prove identity, demonstrate they live in the UK, declare that they have no serious criminal convictions.

Key information on the scheme:

  • It is proposed that an application will cost £65 and £32.50 for a child under 16. For those who already have valid permanent residence or indefinite leave to remain documentation, they will be able to exchange it for settled status for free.
  • The Home Office will check the employment and benefit records held by government which will mean that, for many, their proof of residence will be automatic. Those who have not yet lived in the UK for five years will be granted pre-settled status and be able to apply for settled status once they reach the five-year point. From April 2019, this second application will be free of charge.
  • The new online application system will be accessible through phones, tablets, laptops and computers. The Government will provide support for the vulnerable and those without access to a computer, and continues to work with EU citizens’ representatives and embassies to ensure the system works for everyone.
  • The settlement scheme will open in a phased way from later this year and will be fully open by 30 March 2019. The deadline for applications will be 30 June 2021.
  • The Home Office will continue to engage with stakeholders, including employers, local authority representatives and community groups, about the detailed design of the scheme before the Rules are laid before Parliament.

Immigration Minister, Caroline Nokes, said:   “EU citizens make a huge contribution to our economy and to our society. They are our friends, family and colleagues and we want them to stay. This is an important step which will make it easy for EU citizens to get the status they need to continue working and living here. We are demonstrating real progress and I look forward to hearing more detail on how the EU will make reciprocal arrangements for UK nationals living in the EU.”

Immigration

On Tuesday the Commons Science and Technology select committee debated an immigration system that works for science and innovation. The witnesses highlighted that flexibility and speed of application were essential and advocated for a frictionless reciprocal immigration system between the UK and the EU. Read the full text of the session here.  Key points:

  • Science and Technology to be within the broader immigration system rather than separate special arrangements or a two tier system. A transition period may be necessary.
  • One witness argued for a reciprocal arrangement with EU scientists.
  • It was noted the EU are currently developing a directive allowing free movement within the EU of individuals on science visas from outside the EU.
  • Mobility for short stays is essential, e.g. conferences and discussion groups – these short stays should not require visas.
  • One witness noted the limited ability of small British companies that needed to bring in talent to grow. She raised that this successful navigation of the immigration system was essential and the  needs of small business had to be considered within the general immigration system design.
  • The problems with using salary as a proxy for awarding tier 2 visas was discussed, particularly with the regional variability within the UK
  • One witness argued that research activity needed to be permitted in the indefinite leave to remain rules.
  • The limitations of the shortage occupations list were noted, i.e. retrospective analysis of data created a significant lag within the system and it wasn’t responsive enough. It was postulated that these problems would resolve if the cap was removed.

Parliamentary Questions – Immigration

Sam Gyimah responded to a parliamentary question on visa requirements for students of Indian nationality studying in the UK (full text here) stating there was no limit on the number of genuine international students who can come to the UK to study and

  • “we welcome the increase in study related visa applications from Indian students since last year and the fact that over 90% of Indian students who apply for a UK visa get one. This shows that international students continue to recognise the benefits of studying in the UK, and are responding to our excellent higher education offer.”

Commenting on student immigration, Alp Mehmet, Vice Chairman of Migration Watch UK, said: “Genuine students are, of course, welcome but this is a slippery slope. The last time that the student visa system was loosened in 2009 it took years to recover from the massive inflow of bogus students, especially from India. We cannot afford another episode like that.”

And there was a further question on immigration:

Q – Gordon Marsden: What additional criteria will be used to decide whether (a) India and (b) other additional countries will be eligible for inclusion in the low-risk Tier 4 visa category for overseas students.

A – Caroline Nokes: We have regular discussions with the Indian Government on a range of issues including on visas and UK immigration policy. Careful consideration is given to which countries could be added to Appendix H of the Immigration Rules, taking into account objective analysis of a range of factors including the volume of students from a country and their Tier 4 immigration compliance risk. The list of countries in Appendix H will be regularly updated to reflect the fact that countries’ risk profiles change over time.

There were three further questions on Indian students this week, all received the same response as above.

British Nationals Abroad – home fees?

Q – Paul Blomfield: whether UK nationals resident in the EU who fall within the scope of the Withdrawal Agreement will be treated as home students for the purpose of university fees after December 2020.

A – Sam Gyimah:

  • There are currently specific provisions in the rules that provide access to student support for persons who hold settled status in the UK, and who have left England to exercise a right of residence elsewhere in the Economic European Area (EEA) or Switzerland.
  • We have agreed with the EU that equal treatment principles will continue to apply for those covered by the Withdrawal Agreement. This means that UK nationals resident in the EU (and EU nationals resident in the UK) before the end of the implementation period on 31 December 2020 will be eligible for support on a similar basis to domestic students in the relevant member state. It will be for member states to decide how they will implement the citizens’ rights deal in accordance with the Withdrawal Agreement. Entitlement to student finance and home fees status after 31 December 2020 for those outside the scope of the Withdrawal Agreement is under consideration.

Grade Inflation

Thursday’s headlines for the sector were all about grade inflation, the actual report is here.  The biggest increases are shown on page 16 – Surrey, East Anglia, Dundee, University of West London, Imperial, Huddersfield, Greenwich, Southampton Solent, Wolverhampton and Aston. These charts showing the absolute highest and lowest proportion are interesting and do raise some questions about whether the call for benchmarks is partly driven by the juxtaposition of our oldest and some of our newer universities in this first group.  The arguments about prestige (made in the context of a discussion about REF and TEF) in this HEPI paper by Paul Blackmore come to mind.  “Although the basis on which graduates and employers make decisions is a complex one, some institutions clearly have more powerful signalling effects than others.”

Research Professional have another helpful summary with responses from Nicola Dandridge, Nick Hillman and others

  • Between 1997 and 2009, the proportion of “firsts” awarded increased from 7 to 13 per cent, and in the next seven years it doubled, reaching 26 per cent by 2017. The percentage of students being awarded a 2:1 has also risen from 40 to 49 per cent since 1995, meaning that the proportion of undergraduates awarded either a first or 2:1 has risen from 47 to 75 per cent in the last 22 years. There are now 40 institutions that award firsts to at least 30 per cent of their students. The report, A degree of uncertainty: An investigation into grade inflation in universities, says that one of the most likely explanations for the grade inflation is a lowering of degree standards by institutions. It states that some academics have reported pressure from senior managers to do so, and says that half of universities have recently changed the way that they calculate their students’ final grade so that the proportion of top grades they award keeps pace with other institutions”….
  • “Harriet Barnes, head of higher education and skills policy at the British Academy—which operates the Humanities and Social Sciences Learned Societies and Subject Associations Network—told HE it was “difficult to see how a national assessment would work without encouraging universities to standardise course content and assessment in some way”. “This would threaten academic diversity, limiting students’ opportunities to fully explore their discipline, and undermining teaching by academics who are leaders in a specialist area,” she said. “We also have concerns about the feasibility of learned societies setting national assessments. Not every discipline is represented by a single body, and many are run by volunteers without the capacity to set and monitor assessments.”
  • Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, told HE that asking learned societies to design assessments was “an odd suggestion”, and that it was “surprising to see Reform recommending less autonomy for institutions” “I’ve long been interested in getting learned societies and others more involved in preparing course materials and helping shape courses,” he said, “but it would make most sense to do that for first-year students adapting to higher education rather than those specialising later on in their degree.”
  • Nicola Dandridge, chief exe