Tagged / STEM

HE policy update for the w/e 23rd August 2019

A quieter week for HE policy, however, there’s news on the KEF and lots of other relevant content.

STEM for Britain

As a member of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee BU’s early career researchers and PhD and post-doc researchers all have the opportunity for exposure of their work through the annual poster competition. Posters are being accepted for the following areas:

  • Biological and Biomedical Sciences
  • Chemistry
  • Engineering
  • Mathematical Sciences
  • Physics

Prizes will be awarded for the posters presented in each discipline which best communicate high level science, engineering or mathematics to a lay audience.

Please share this information with ECR, PhD and PDR colleagues and those who work directly with them. This is a rare opportunity to showcase work within parliament at this level. All the shortlisted posters will be shared during a parliamentary reception in March 2020 and there will be the opportunity to talk about the research directly with policy makers.

The poster competition is open now please contact Lisa Andrews, RDS Research Facilitator, for more details and to enter.

www.stemforbritain.org.uk

Mental Health

The House of Commons library has a briefing paper setting out data on the prevalence of mental health conditions in higher education students in England and outlines the action higher education providers, the government and the Office for Students are taking to help students with mental health issues. It also flags up how students can get support.

From the briefing:

  • Student mental health has been the subject of a number of reports as students are increasingly declaring mental conditions and reporting issues with stress and poor mental wellbeing. It has been suggested that student mental health is in ‘crisis’.
  • The proportion of students who disclosed a mental health condition to their university has increased rapidly in recent years.
  • Surveys of students have found much higher rates of mental ill health than those disclosed to universities. A recent survey found that 21.5% had a current mental health diagnosis and 33.9% had experienced a serious psychological issue for which they felt they needed professional help. Survey responses are confidential and are likely to give a better idea of the full extent of mental ill health.
  • Many factors have been suggested as contributing to the rise in cases of mental ill health among higher education students – work pressures, moving away from home, financial worries, or more generally higher education institutions are said to be feeling the impact of the rise in metal health conditions among the 16-25 age population.
  • The effect of mental health issues on students can be serious and can lead to consequences such as: academic failure, dropping out of education, poorer career prospects and in the worst cases suicide.
  • Concern has been expressed about the availability of support for students with mental health conditions and the response of universities and higher education institutions.
  • In 2017 Universities UK, published Stepchange Mental health in higher education. Stepchange provides a framework to help higher education providers embed good mental health across all university activities.

Placement Premium

A Chartered Management Institute commissioned survey finds 3 in 4 parents believe that qualifications that combine with work experience and study are the best way to prepare young people for the workplace.

With record numbers of young people going through university clearing, the survey also shows that:

  • Parents rate degree programmes that combine work and study over traditional university degrees.
  • Nearly two thirds of parents (64%) favoured a degree apprenticeship with a major company like Rolls-Royce over a degree at Oxford or Cambridge (36%).
  • Nearly three quarters (73%) rated a degree that combines full-time work with study over a traditional 3 year university degree based on lectures and seminars alone (27%).
  • 71% of parents also wanted all graduates to have the opportunity to develop management, enterprise and leadership skills.

Rob Wall, Head of Policy at CMI said: “Innovations like degree apprenticeships – which bring together work and study, and allow apprentices to apply their learning in the workplace – are hugely attractive to employers. Our survey shows that they are now increasingly popular with parents, with the vast majority rating a degree apprenticeship with a FTSE 100 corporate over a traditional 3 year degree at a top university. Our message to all those young people receiving their GCSE results this week is that, whatever your results and whatever path you take next, developing those employability skills like self-management and leadership will always give you an edge in a competitive jobs market.”

 FE Funding Push

The Association of Colleges are capitalising on the recent announcement that there will be an accelerated spending round by the end of September. They have issued a paper to the Treasury and the DfE making recommendations for tertiary education. In headline their proposals cover the full remit of college work and request a one-off cash injection of £1,114m in revenue and £240m in capital. The paper capitalises on the Augar Review which discussed the lower funding rates and investment in FE education. It covers the items you would expect such as a higher funding rate for all FE provision, better pay and status for FE teachers. It also suggests a ten year funding plan for education. A larger adult education budget to support retraining, improve skills and develop lifelong learning (at a one-year cost of £250 million).

Of relevance to HE are the apprenticeship funding reforms they suggest (at a one year cost of £200m).

  • Increase funding for non-levy employers and for young people. The non-levy budget should increase by £200 million and all 16-to18 year olds should be funded through the education budget to guarantee their training opportunities.
  • The increase in degree apprenticeship numbers is a concern because these involve high costs and because it appears that obligations previously covered by tuition fees have been shifted onto the apprenticeship budget. It would seem more appropriate for apprenticeships at level 6 and above to be funded from the higher education teaching budget, regulated by the Office for Students and operated with the same rules on equivalent and lower qualifications as loan-supported programmes.

They also suggest a development fund for higher technical education (one year cost of £40m).

  • For students, it would be simple to offer the same tuition fee cap, student finance rules and teaching grant funding as offered for degree-level study. For colleges there needs to be a modest fund to support set-up costs which precede the relevant income because enrolments take time to build.

On regulating to protect students and employers while maximising impact:

  • Colleges spend a growing and disproportionate share of their budgets on administration and compliance and account for themselves to two different parts of the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA), to the Office for Student (OfS), to Ofsted, to local enterprise partnerships and combined authorities, to the Home Office, to lenders, pension funds and any other funding organisation. Some complexity is unavoidable but there is a case for the DfE group to consider whether there are ways to focus regulation more clearly on activities that benefit students and employers, to cut compliance costs and to place simpler duties on college governing bodies to account for the public investment they receive.

David Hughes, Chief Executive, Association of Colleges, said:  After making great efficiencies over the last decade, there is a strong consensus now that colleges need major investment to put them in a position to be able to thrive and from that position to be able to maximise the impact they can have. The UK’s industrial strategy identifies skills as an issue across a range of priority sectors and the need for action to avoid shortages. Without thriving colleges, this priority will not be met.

  • Total expenditure on 16-19 education fell by 17.5% in real terms between 2010-11 and 2016-17, while the funding allocated to 16-19 education fell by 13% in real terms between 2013-14 and 2017-18.
  • The funding rate for students aged 16 and 17 in education in 2018-19 has been frozen at £4,000 since 2013-14, while the funding rate for students who are already aged 18 has been frozen at £3,300 since it was cut by 17.5 % in 2014.
  • The government is currently consulting on ambitions to build a “new generation” of higher technical qualifications at levels 4 and 5 for T-level students to progress onto. The introduction date of 2022 has been set to fit with the first cohort of T-level students, who will start their two-year level 3 qualification in 2020.

Labour’s Education Policies

Recent news has detailed Jeremy Corbyn’s efforts to amalgamate enough support that should the autumn vote of no confidence succeed he may be able to form a temporary caretaker Government. Labour are hoping for an early General Election and Wonkhe have covered all their recent Education related announcements into one blog.

KEF

Research England have published the outcomes of the Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF) consultation and pilot exercise. Final decisions on the KEF will follow later in 2019.

  • 72% of responses agreed the KEF should be an annual, institutional-level, metrics driven exercise.
  • The respondents commented on the balance between running a low burden exercise at the expense of losing valuable detail.
  • Significant themes within the report were noted as:
    • The (mostly) output metrics do not necessarily capture the quality of knowledge exchange activity
    • Varied responses on how often the KEF should take place, although the report notes the majority favoured an annual exercise.

Below follow the main points picked out of the KEF report narrative

Clusters The KEF clusters institutions together, BU is in cluster E.

  • “The conceptual framework underpinning the analysis and the variables and methods employed were broadly well received, with the majority of respondents somewhat agreeing or agreeing with these aspects, and the resulting composition of the clusters. There was less consensus on whether the clusters would help fulfil the stated aims of the KEF (Q6.4), and the purpose of allowing fair comparison. Although a majority agreed to some extent, there was a higher level of ‘disagree’ responses than for Q6.1-6.3.”
  • “In regard to the overall approach to clustering (Q6.4) it is worth noting that the majority of negative responses were ‘somewhat disagree’. This is borne out by the associated commentary, with the most common response (105 respondents) welcoming the clustering approach, with only 10 respondents making critical comments on the overall concept. Respondents indicating an overall ‘slightly disagree’ or ‘disagree’ tended to be for very specific reasons. For example, while broadly welcoming the concept of clustering they disagreed with the range of variables used. Other more negative responses were driven by consideration of whether clustering helped the KEF meet its aims (and how businesses and other users might use or interpret them), with more agreement on their positive role in enabling fair comparison between HEIs.”

“There were a substantial number of points in the commentary focussing on the descriptions and presentation of the clusters:

  • There were a significant number of comments relating to the cluster descriptions – e.g. describing a cluster as having HEIs with ‘limited world leading research’ could be seen as negative in itself, and that it may be better to frame cluster descriptions on what the institution does do, rather than what it doesn’t.
  • Multiple requests to provide a brief introduction into what the clustering is for, how the descriptors work and how the cluster names (which are random letters) were assigned. It was noted that this was particularly important for external audiences.
  • Approximately 15% of responses suggested clusters may be confusing for businesses and other users or they suggested that there should be flexibility for users to be able to group institutions in different ways that were more relevant to them.
  • There was some concern that whatever the intent, the clusters will be seen as a hierarchy in their own right (10%).
  • That there is still too much variation within clusters (although we would argue that the KEF proposals include further steps to normalise for size, and the scaling of metrics mitigates this).
  • That specialist institutions are difficult to place in clusters, but most respondents making this point stated that this approach was still preferable to not using clustering or a comparable method to aid fair comparison.”

“There were also multiple comments and suggestions on the variables used to create the clusters, including on the role of professional services staff not being represented, concerns that variables were too heavily skewed towards research activities, and that 3* (as well as 4*) REF outputs should be used.

 “Overall, there was no clear consensus from the responses received on a course of action that would satisfy all and no appropriate alternative models were proposed that would meet the requirements of providing a means of fair comparison. Given that the concept of clustering was well received for those in the main clusters, it is unlikely the fundamental approach to this aspect of the KEF proposals will change….

Perspectives and metrics

“For the proposed perspectives and associated metrics, we asked for feedback on both the overall range and balance, and also views on the metrics proposed under each perspective.

  • A majority agreed that a sufficiently broad range of KE activity was captured (72%), although a sizeable minority of 26% disagreed to some extent”
  • The range of perspectives were welcome with around 40% of responses agreeing that they broadly captured a sufficient variety of KE activity. However, around 15% of responses felt that the individual metrics within the perspectives were too narrow to adequately capture the full range of KE activities undertaken by HEIs.”

“The majority of recommendations for KE activities that could be considered for inclusion in the KEF fell into four key areas:

  • Contribution to public policy
  • International partnerships
  • Partnerships with SMEs
  • HEI-HEI collaboration

Other common themes expressed in the commentary related to:

  • The timing of the HE-BCI review and the subsequent impact on the KEF. …
  • How the quality and sustainability of partnerships with business can be captured e.g. regular student placements, repeat business, voice of the customer.”

On working with business:

“A significant number of responses considered there was a disconnect between the broad nature of the perspective title ‘Working with business’ and the proposed income metrics. The metrics were considered by over a quarter of respondees to be very narrow, and not reflective of the full breadth of knowledge exchange activities undertaken in HEIs. In particular 15% of respondees felt that income from use of specialist facilities and equipment should be included as a useful indicator of interactions with business.”

“The nature of the metrics as income measures brought feedback across a number of points:

  • Some argued that income is not an appropriate proxy for impact and does not well reflect the quality of the interactions. A number of alternative metric areas were suggested such as repeat business, length of relationships or nature or number of strategic partnerships.
  • The opportunities for undertaking consultancy and contract research and the income value of that activity will be impacted by the local economic context, particularly for some types of interactions e.g. with SMEs.
  • Across all disciplines, but especially in the public and third sectors, it was considered that a significant proportion of knowledge exchange activity is not monetised and so not well reflected in the metrics.
  • The role of students is seen as significant by about 10% of respondents, either through the close relationships developed with businesses through degree apprenticeships or placement work, or directly by supervised services delivered as part of their course or extra curricula activity.

About a fifth of respondees provided feedback on the use of ‘academic FTE’ as the denominator for two of the metrics. While 4% expressed support for the use of academic FTE to account for the size of the institution, 10% considered it to be misleading to restrict it to academic staff when a signification proportion of knowledge exchange activity is undertaken by professional services staff or students. Some 5% requested a clearer definition of who is included in ‘academic FTE’ and 2% felt that it would be more relevant to restrict it to research active academic staff.”

On local growth and regeneration:

“We recognise that this metric on its own does not sufficiently capture the breadth of activity in this area and therefore have proposed the use of additional narrative. The feedback from respondents verified this view, with over a quarter expressing support for the use of narrative. The primary areas of concern expressed for the proposed metric were:

  • The metric was considered by over 20% of respondees as unhelpfully focused on income, it was felt that this is a less effective proxy for impact within local growth and regeneration.
  • Around 14% of respondees noted that the metric was very narrow as a standalone metric and needed to be part of a wider basket of metrics. A further 5% of respondees felt that the metric was too poor to be used at all and suggested that the perspective should be ‘greyed out’ until additional metrics could be identified. It was considered that the forthcoming HESA review of the HE-BCI survey may be an opportunity to find additional metrics. …
  • Inconsistency of returns to the HE-BCI survey were believed to impact this metric in particular, ….
  • A small number of respondees felt the use of academic FTE as a denominator was inappropriate, with a wide variety of reasons cited.

A number of alternative or additional metric areas were suggested by respondees:

  • The investment that individual institutions make to their local areas, either through the local supply chain, direct regeneration investment in cash or in kind was viewed by over 10% of respondees as a helpful addition.
  • While 9% suggested that activity and income related to local industrial strategies and related government funding such as city deals, regional growth funds or local growth funds should be included.

A small proportion of respondees (4%) also looked to create links to the strategies and action plans being developed by institutions who have signed up to the Civic University Commission’s Civic University Agreements.”

On IP and commercialisation:

“A wide range of comments concerned timeframes around these metrics including:

  • The concentrated nature of income-generating commercialisation activity within relatively few institutions and its ‘lumpy’ nature (i.e. that volumes vary significantly year-to-year) means the metrics in this perspective may not be relevant to some institutions, and that it would be hard for external audiences to draw conclusions from them (18% of respondees).
  • Whether the proposed three year time series and normalisation by research income was appropriate for measuring spin-out performance, given the long time-lags involved. Would a longer time series of 10+ years be more appropriate?
  • The time lags between research being undertaken and spin-out creation was seen as particularly problematic for the metric of ‘research resource per spin-out’. Several respondees also expressed concern that given the relative ease of creating a spinout that this metric may create a perverse incentive to incorporate spin-out companies too early, or where a more appropriate exploitation route existed.

This question also elicited specific suggestions for new metrics based on other areas of the HE-BCI collection:

  • In addition to licensing income, nearly 10% of respondees argued that the numbers of licenses granted (whether or not they generate income) may also give a useful indication of performance. Numbers of free licenses could (subject to a rigorous treatment that differentiated end-user licenses from other forms) indicate active exploitation of IP (the licensee having gone to the effort to enter a formal agreement) where impact rather than income generation was the primary driver.
  • Other common suggestions focused on proportions of patents or licenses generating income (indicating active exploitation), rates of disclosures, or ratios of disclosures to patents and IP income (indicating effective translation of disclosures).
  • There was also a group of suggestions for metrics which focused less on income and more on capturing results from enterprise structures and IP exploitation strategies that do not focus on income generation, such as social enterprises, open innovation strategies or open source products and software.”

On public and community engagement

‘Public and community engagement’ received the lowest average score when participants were asked to rate their percentage agreement…while the inclusion of the perspective in the KEF was broadly welcomed, there was also a clear message that the metric did not adequately capture the range of activities undertaken by HEIs in this area.

  • Around 17% of respondees suggested that the current metric of time per FTE was not adequate to capture performance or quality of the events recorded, with an additional 12% of respondees suggesting that this risked the role of professional services staff being overlooked.
  • The consistency of reporting in Table 5 of the HE-BCI return (Social, community and cultural engagement: designated public events) was a concern for 15% of respondees, highlighting the need for clearer guidance on how this information should be recorded across the sector.
  • The inclusion of narrative was welcome, but 10% of respondees raised the concern that it was not assessed and would therefore not be viewed as of equal value to metric element of the perspective.

Additional metrics that were suggested included:

  • The number of times that university assets are opened up to the community in some way
  • HEI investment in brokerage
  • Public involvement in research
  • Metrics collected by public relations and marketing departments e.g. the number of academics/professional staff blogging on external sites, social media interactions, media appearances by academics, or coverage of research
  • Number of performances or events and the associated number of attendees.”

Use of Narratives:

The NCCPE concluded that there is strong rationale for adopting and adapting the approach to narrative within the KEF. Whilst the proposed template delivers some effective prompts that elicited useful information, there was considerable variety in the level of specificity and supporting evidence provided in the pilot drafts.

The NCCPE have provided specific recommendations to Research England on how the templates and use of narrative could be improved to draw out more relevant and consistent information. Alongside the consultation responses these recommendations are informing the development of the KEF.

Respondees showed an exceptionally strong preference for the provision of an overarching institutional statement being provided by the HEI with 89% agreeing to some extent (and almost half strongly agreeing). 101. This was echoed through the written responses which expressed the broad view that an overarching narrative would be beneficial and that it should be provided by the institutions themselves. There was also a strong articulation that the local economic context needs to be considered to place knowledge exchange activities in context, and that it may be appropriate for Research England to provide this data in a standardised format

A number of respondees felt that an overarching statement could also be a useful tool to demonstrate an institution’s overall strategic goals in relation the perspectives. This may help mitigate any perceptions of relative ‘poor’ performance in areas that were not of strategic importance to a particular HEI. However, it was recognised that this would be difficult to achieve through the visualisation. Other voices expressed concern that the statements could become marketing tools with little added value.

And finally: We note the concerns expressed in both the consultation and pilot regarding timing of implementation and potential overlaps with the REF and TEF. We will pay regard to this when agreeing implementation timescales.

You can read the report in detail here.

Widening Participation and Access

  • National Care Leavers Week will be held on 24-31 October 2019.
  • Estranged Students Solidarity Week is 25-29 November 2019
  • Former Prime Minister Theresa May recently announced plans for a new body, the Office for Tackling Injustices (OfTI), to monitor government efforts to tackle “deep-seated societal injustice”.

Inquiries and Consultations

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

New consultations and inquiries this week: Lords inquiry in Ageing: Science, Technology and Healthy Living

Other news

Arts rise: The DfE published information on GCSE entries on results day. It highlights that entries to arts subjects have risen by 3.2% to 320,000. The DfE see this as positive new because previously the EBacc was criticised as squeezing these subjects out of the curriculum because of the opportunity to select them was less than other curriculum models. The news sits alongside a 3.7% rise in entries to EBacc subjects and an increase in foreign language entries (particularly Spanish and French). For more detail, including the key stats for other subjects click here.

T levels: The House of Commons Library have one of their helpful briefing papers on T Levels: Reforms to Technical Education which provides an overview of the proposals to reform the technical education system.

Student Debt Sanctions: the CMA have taken action causing the University of Liverpool to change their student debt penalty policy. They will no longer issue academic sanctions – such as the as the removal of library or email access – for students who have debts which are unrelated to their fees. Susan Lapworth, Director for Competition and Registration, at the Office for Students, said: “We welcome today’s announcement that, following CMA action, the University of Liverpool has formally committed to drop academic sanctions for students with debts, for example for accommodation costs, that are not related to their tuition fees. The fair treatment of students is important to us as a regulator. All universities and other higher education providers should be mindful of today’s CMA announcement and ensure that their debt collection policies comply with consumer law. Our own regulatory framework sets out the need for universities to demonstrate they are complying with consumer protection law, and we will continue to support the important work of the CMA on these issues.”

AI job displacement scheme: On Tuesday new Education Minister, Kemi Badenoch, announced an extension in the roll out of a pilot programme aiming to help adults whose jobs may change due to new technologies – such as automation and AI – to retrain and get on the path to a new career. The Get Help to Retrain digital service will now be rolled out to the West Midlands and the North East following success in Liverpool City during the summer.

Student Grants: The Student Loan Company are raising awareness of their practitioners’ page. They are also sharing information on their grants –  Childcare Grant; the Adult Dependants’ Grant; and the Parents’ Learning Allowance – to ensure those eligible apply for the funds.

Market Signalling: HEPI have a new blog exploring the marketisation of HE alongside the Augar Review and institutional autonomy.

Unconditional Admissions: The most effective and fairest admissions system continues to be debated this week. A provocative Wonkhe article makes the barest nod to grades asking what if all university offers were unconditional? The comments at the end are well worth a read too as sector colleagues suggest other alternatives and admissions tweaks, primarily moving away from the overreliance on A level grades. And The Guardian have an article which suggests social class is a barrier to good A level/exam performance.

PQA: Post qualification admissions. Mary Curnock Cook, ex-CEO of UCAS, explains the factors that made her turn from determined to implement post qualification admissions to remaining with the current system.

OfS Student Tool: The OfS have a new online tool for prospective students which launches in September: Discovering Uni: planning your HE journey.

NEETS: Office for National Statistics published the quarterly stats on 16-24 year olds who are classified as NEET (not in education, employment or training).

  • There were 792,000 young people in the UK who were NEET; this number increased by 28,000 from January to March 2019 and was up 14,000 when compared with April to June 2018.
  • The percentage of all young people in the UK who were NEET was 11.5%; the proportion was up 0.4 percentage points from January to March 2019 and up 0.3 percentage points from April to June 2018.
  • Of all young people in the UK who were NEET, 41.6% were looking for, and available for, work and therefore classified as unemployed; the remainder were either not looking for work and/or not available for work and therefore classified as economically inactive.

The report details examples of specialist projects (Medway, Southwark, Blackpool) which have effectively decreased the NEET population.

Schools Funding: One of Boris’ campaigning objectives was his pledge to increase the minimum per pupil funding level for English schools – this House of Commons Insight Guide has an interactive mechanism which checks which schools within a constituency area will see an increase against the £4k (primary) and £5k (secondary) proposed thresholds.

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Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

 

 

Funding Call: Knowledge Frontiers – International Interdisciplinary Research

The British Academy has opened Funding Call: Knowledge Frontiers – International Interdisciplinary Research 2020, funded by the UK’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. The deadline for submissions and UK institutional approval is 23 October 2019 at 17.00 (UK time), awards up to £200,000 for duration of 24 months, projects must begin on 1 April 2020.

The British Academy is inviting proposals from UK-based researchers in the humanities and social sciences wishing to develop international interdisciplinary projects in collaboration with colleagues from the natural, engineering and/or medical sciences. The Academy is looking to fund applications that break new ground in the collaborations – international and interdisciplinary. The purpose of each project will be to develop new international research ideas.

The Academy encourages partnerships with researchers in low-income countries, however applications focused on any country are welcome.

Applications must demonstrate an innovative and interdisciplinary approach yielding new conceptual understandings, developing ground-breaking research and energising innovative collaborations between the humanities and social sciences on the one hand, and the natural, engineering and/or medical sciences on the other, related to one or more of the following themes:

  • Hazard and Risk
  • Cultures of Forecasting
  • Meaning of Resilience

RDS is currently working with cross-disciplinary group of BU academics to develop a proposal. If you are interested either to join the existing group or willing to lead/create a new group, please contact Research Facilitator Ainar Blaudums for further details by the middle of August.

HE policy update for the w/e 26th April 2019

Brexit

No news, just speculation this week.  We’re currently predicting nothing will change and the UK will leave the EU without a deal on Halloween, even though that is the only option that MPs seem to be able to agree that a majority of them don’t want.

There was a PQ, though, on Horizon 2020

Q – Gordon Marsden: To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, what discussions he has had with (a) Universities UK, (b) UK Research and Innovation, (c) Office for Students on whether the UK will participate in the Horizon Europe scheme from 2021 following the extension to Article 50.

A – Chris Skidmore:

  • I chair a High Level stakeholder group on EU Exit. This group meets monthly to discuss EU Exit issues related to universities, research and innovation and is attended by a wide range of stakeholders including Universities UK, UK Research and Innovation and Office for Students.
  • Horizon Europe is still being negotiated through the EU Institutions, but we have been clear that we would like the option to associate to the Programme. Further details on Horizon Europe need to be finalised before we can make an informed decision on future UK participation.
  • In any scenario, the Government remains committed to continuing to back UK researchers and innovators by supporting measures to enable world-class collaborative research.

Election news

The local elections are of course real elections of people who are likely to be in place for 4 years and which relate to real issues, unlike the EU ones.  The two new unitary authorities in Dorset are holding their first elections since coming into existence in April.  They will both hold whole council elections this year and every four years afterwards.  Some unitary authorities (including Southampton and Portsmouth) elect a third of their members on a rolling cycle, missing the fourth year (in which county council elections are held instead – they still have one in Hampshire).

You can read about candidates

And don’t forget to make time to vote next Thursday!

The lists for the EU elections are final now too.  This website is adding statements and other profiles gradually (also profiles for the local elections next week).  Remember, you vote for parties not individuals in the EU elections and it uses a “list” system – and EU nationals can vote as well (as long as they are registered).  The BBC has a useful explainer.  It’s a bit complicated!  If you are intrigued by this D’Hondt voting system, Research Professional have  illustrated it with a sector example using mission groups.

 Graduate Employment

The DfE have published the Graduate labour market statistics covering graduate, post-graduate and non-graduate employment rates and earnings for England in 2018.

  • In 2018 the graduate employment rate (87.7%) was marginally higher than the postgraduate rate (87.4%), and substantially higher than the employment rate of non-graduates (71.6%). However, since 2011 the employment gap between graduates and non-graduates has narrowed by 3.1%
  • At 76.5%, the proportion of postgraduates employed in high-skilled roles in 2018 exceeded that of graduates (65.4%) and non-graduates (22.9%).
  • In 2018, the median graduate salary (£34,000) was £10,000 more than the median non-graduate salary (£24,000). Postgraduates earned an additional £6,000, with a median salary of £40,000.
  • Similar positive trends in median salaries since 2008 for all qualification types, across both population cohorts, suggests that the nominal earnings growth of graduates and postgraduates over this period has not come at the expense of non-graduate salary growth. These nominal rises do not, however, account for inflation and therefore do not reflect changes in individuals’ purchasing power over this period.

The Government have welcomed these figures as evidence of the value of a degree, but has warned that there is further to go in tackling the disparities between different groups.

Universities Minister, Chris Skidmore, said:

  • We have record rates of 18-year-olds in England going into higher education so I am delighted to see that there continues to be a graduate premium and students are going on to reap the rewards of their degrees.
  • However, this Government is clear that all graduates, no matter their gender, race or background, should be benefitting from our world-class universities and there is clearly much further to go to improve the race and gender pay gap.
  • We have introduced a range of reforms in higher education which have a relentless focus on levelling the playing field, so that everyone with the talent and potential, can not only go to university but flourishes there and has the best possible chance of a successful career.”

Widening Participation & Achievement

POLAR, which is used as a measure of deprivation, has long had its critics yet it has outlasted other measures (such as NS-SEC). It’s survival has been in part due to the absence of other usable and reliable indicators that are available to the sector. However, the statistic’s days may be numbered as speaking at events Universities Minister, Chris Skidmore, has agreed with disgruntled audience calls for change and recently he took to Twitter to state he is ‘keen’ to ‘replace POLAR as a metric for measuring widening participation’. When asked what to replace it with the Minister didn’t make a response but Colin McCaig a well-known WP researcher highlighted how POLAR hides disadvantage even within in the most affluent categories in this Tweet.  Read more on the Twitter feed for interesting comments including individualised data and caveats around using free school meals and the Multiple Equality Measure gets a mention.

Wonkhe have an article and tableau chart exploring the access and participation data set.

Intergenerational Unfairness

The Lords Select Committee on Intergenerational Fairness and Provision have published the Tackling intergenerational unfairness report. It calls on the Government to take steps to support younger people in the housing and employment market, and deliver better in-work training and lifelong learning to prepare the country for the coming 100-year lifespan. The report concludes that the actions and inaction of successive Government have risked undermining the foundations of positive relationships between generations.  You can read the report in full here. Here are the most relevant points:

  • Both the Government’s fiscal rules and the way it conducts spending reviews encourage an often damaging short-term approach. They need to be reformed with a new fiscal rule focused on the Government’s generational balance of debt and assets and a more transparent spending review process.
  • Younger people are disadvantaged by an education and training system that is ill equipped for the needs of the rapidly changing labour market and all generations will need support in adapting to technological change in the course of what will be longer working lives. Post-16 vocational education is underfunded and poorly managed. The Government’s apprenticeships strategy is confused and has not achieved the desired effect.
  • The Government should respond to insecure employment amongst young people by ensuring that employment rights cover all those in genuine employment by ensuring that worker status is the default position
  • The Government should substantially increase funding for Further Education and vocational qualifications. Many students would be better served by pursuing vocational educational pathways. The current system of funding and access is inefficient, complex and risks perpetuating unfairness between those who access Higher Education and those who do not. We must rebalance the value attributed to Higher Education and Further Education.
  • The Government’s National Retraining Scheme should be extended and scaled up to prepare for the challenges of an ageing workforce and technological development. This should be targeted throughout the life course and must adequately reach those who are not employees.

In response to the report Julian Gravatt, Deputy Chief Executive at the Association of Colleges, said: “Society is changing and young people of today will be working later into their lives than previous generations. At the same, economic uncertainty means that we need to have as many skilled people as possible – colleges will be central to this. The cuts to the education system have had big implications over the last decade. Many young people are leaving education without the qualifications needed to get on in life. Some of the ones who are gaining degree qualifications are often finding themselves in low-skilled jobs.”

Digital Skills

Apprenticeships and Skills Minister Anne Milton has unveiled new plans to boost digital skills for adults. Her plans centre on new qualifications aimed at those with low or no digital skills learn to “thrive in an increasingly digital world”. They will be available for free to anyone over the age of 19, and are based on rigorous national standards. At the moment, one in five adults lack comprehensive digital knowledge.

The new offer will comprise:

  • A range of new essential digital skills qualifications, available from 2020, that will meet new conditions and requirements set by independent exams regulator Ofqual, also published today (note: this does not appear to be online yet, but I can send it over if you need it).
  • Digital Functional Skills qualifications, available from 2021, that will support progression into employment or further education and develop skills for everyday life.

Anne Milton said:

  • “I want people of all ages to have the skills and confidence they need for work and everyday life.  Being online is more important than ever and yet one in five adults in the UK don’t have the basic digital skills that many of us take for granted. This is cutting many people off from so many opportunities – from accessing new jobs, further study and being able to stay in touch with friends and family.
  • I am thrilled to launch the new ‘essential digital skills’ qualifications which will give adults the chance to develop a whole host of new skills to help get ahead in work, but also to improve their quality of life overall.”

Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries, Margot James, said:

  • “The new entitlement will give everyone the opportunity to participate in an increasingly digital world and take advantage of digital technology, whether it is using a smartphone, learning how to send emails or shopping online.
  • Implementation of the new entitlement will be complemented by the work of our Digital Skills Partnership to boost digital skills at all levels – from the essential digital skills that support inclusion, to the digital skills we increasingly need for work, right through to the advanced digital skills required for specialist roles.”

At the same time, the Government published their response to their consultation on improving adult basic digital skills.

  • 61% of adults with no basic digital skills are female.
  • 76% of those with no basic digital skills are retired.
  • Estimates on internet use in the UK estimate that adults who self-assess they have a disability are four times more likely to be off line than those who do not.

Actions:

  • The DfE has also published standards setting out the digital skills needed for life and work. In addition the DfE has updated the essential digital skills framework. This has been designed to support providers, organisations and employers across the UK who offer training for adults to secure their essential digital skills.
  • The DfE will consult on draft subject content for new digital FSQs, which will replace legacy ICT FSQs. They plan to work with employers, Ofqual and awarding organisations to develop the new digital FSQs for first teaching from 2021.

Immigration and post-study visas

An amendment to the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill has been tabled by former universities minister Jo Johnson and Paul Blomfield, the Labour co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on international students, with cross-party support  – it is backed by nine select committee chairs including Robert Halfon, chair of the education committee; and Nicky Morgan, chair of the Treasury committee.

The proposed amendment would also prevent a cap on the number of international students,without parliamentary approval.  You can see the amendment here on a fairly lengthy list of amendments – it’s on page 17 of 22 so far (NC18)

Flexible Learning & Augar

Oral questions in the House of Lords led to an exchange on flexible learning and questioning of when the Augar review would report.

Baroness Garden of Frognal: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they have taken to encourage flexible lifelong learning in higher and further education.

Viscount Younger of Leckie (Conservative and acting as Government’s spokesperson): My Lords, in 2017 we committed £40 million to test approaches to tackling barriers to lifelong learning to inform the national retraining scheme. This includes £11.4 million for the flexible learning fund, supporting 30 projects to design and test flexible ways of delivering training. We also provide financial support for higher education providers and part-time learners. The independent review of post-18 education and funding is considering further how government can encourage and support part-time and distance learning.

Baroness Garden of Frognal (LD): … [we have] seen dramatic declines in adult learners since the Government’s policies that changed funding. Will the Minister agree that, for all the fine things he has mentioned, the Government’s response to the post-18 review of education and funding is the very best opportunity to tackle post-18 student finance, broaden learning options, encourage lifelong learning and make progression routes more obvious?

Viscount Younger of Leckie: Yes, the noble Baroness is correct. I am certain that Philip Augar, in his review, will take these matters into account. I also note that the Liberal Democrats have sent some recommendations to Philip Augar; I have no doubt that he will take account of them as well.

Baroness Greengross (CB): It is now seven years since the 2012 reforms, which everyone seems to agree are partly responsible for this staggering decline in part-time and mature study. The OU briefing says that there is a 60% fall in part-time undergraduate numbers and a 40% fall in the number of mature undergraduates. Lifelong learning says what it is on the tin—but if we wait another seven years for something to be done to encourage it, a whole generation of potential beneficiaries will not be here to benefit. So does the Minister not agree that this is a matter of extreme urgency?

Viscount Younger of Leckie: The noble Baroness is correct. I reassure the House that the post-18 review, which aims to ensure that there is a joined-up system, is due to report shortly. It will consider the issues around part-time and distance learning.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean (Con): My Lords, now that the Treasury has been required to change the fiscal illusion funding that encourages all higher and further education to be funded through student loans, should the Government not look at restoring direct grants to institutions so that they are able to run these courses? The Augar review was promised for November last year, and then January—and we are still waiting. What is the delay? The Economic Affairs Committee of this House set out very clearly what needed to be done to sort out this problem. Why can the Government not get on with it?

Viscount Younger of Leckie:  I reassure my noble friend that there is no delay, as far as I am aware—”shortly” is the word that I am using. The Government will respond to the proposals that Philip Augar produces by the end of the year. But the Government plan to invest nearly £7 million this academic year for 16 to 19 year-olds in education or training, including apprenticeships.

Lord Watson of Invergowrie (Lab): My Lords, the Government’s 2012 higher education funding reforms have resulted in a drop of something like 60% in part-time undergraduate study. The noble Viscount and indeed other Ministers use as a defence the Augar review recently referred to, saying that no government action can be taken in advance of that—but that does not stand up to scrutiny. Last September, the Department for Education announced the introduction of maintenance loans for face-to-face part-time undergraduates, which was meant to be extended to part-time distance learners this September. But last month, the Universities Minister used a Written Answer to slip out the news that distance learners were no longer to have that access support available to them. Will the noble Viscount explain why, when he talked earlier about barriers to learning, his department believes that that decision will assist in reversing the downward trend of those indulging in part-time education?

Viscount Younger of Leckie: The issue of whether distance learners should receive maintenance grants was considered very carefully and rejected. But the Government are absolutely dedicated to stopping the decline in the number of part-time students. In other words, it has reduced. We have made a number of changes to support part-time and mature learners. This academic year, part-time students are, for the first time ever, able to access full-time equivalent maintenance loans

Parliamentary Questions

Academic Offences

Q – David Simpson: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, how many students had their university degree award rescinded due to cheating or plagiarism in each of the last three years.

A – Chris Skidmore:

  •  The information requested on degrees rescinded because of academic offenses is not held centrally. In 2016, the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) found there were approximately 17,000 instances of academic offences per year in the UK.
  • The use of companies that sell bespoke essays to students who pass the work off as their own undermines the reputation of the education system in this country, and devalues the hard work of those succeeding on their own merit.
  • The government expects that educational institutions do everything in their power to prevent students being tempted by these companies. The most recent guidance from the QAA highlights the importance of severe sanctions of suspension or expulsion if ‘extremely serious academic misconduct’ has been discovered.
  • On 20 March, my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Education challenged PayPal to stop processing payments for ‘essay mills’ as part of an accelerated drive to preserve and champion the quality of the UK’s world-leading higher education system. PayPal is now working with businesses associated with essay-writing services to ensure its platform is not used to facilitate deceptive and fraudulent practices in education. Google and YouTube have also responded by removing hundreds of advertisements for essay writing services and promotional content from their sites.
  • In addition, the department published an Education Technology strategy on 3 April which challenges tech companies to identify how anti-cheating software can tackle the growth of essay mills and stay one step ahead of the cheats.
  • We are determined to beat the cheats who threaten the integrity of our higher education system.

Apprenticeships

Q – Jim Shannon: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, whether apprenticeships are age restricted; and whether they are designed to entice any particular demographic.

A – Anne Milton:

  • Individuals in England can apply for an apprenticeship whilst they are still at school but must be 16 or over by the end of the summer holidays to start an apprenticeship. There is no upper age limit. Apprenticeships offer people of all ages and backgrounds the opportunity to earn whilst they learn.
  • We are encouraging participation from under-represented groups, including people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, people with a learning disability or learning difficulty, and those from disadvantaged backgrounds, so that everyone can benefit from the increased wage returns and employment prospects that apprenticeships offer. We are also working to improve gender representation in sectors where it is needed, such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

STEM

Q – Chris Green: To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, what steps he has taken to increase the skills for people working in STEM research

A – Chris Skidmore: The Government recognizes the need to enhance the UK’s research talent pipeline and increase the number of opportunities on offer for highly-skilled researchers and innovators and has taken steps to do so. For example, in June 2018 we announced £1.3bn investment in UK talent and skills to grow and attract the best in science and innovation. This includes:

  • £900m invested for the UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship which is open to the best researchers from around the world.
  • £50m invested to existing programmes that are delivered through UKRI which include 300 additional PhDs, 90 additional Knowledge Transfer Partnerships, and up to 300 PhD additional Innovation Placements
  • £350m invested for prestigious National Academy fellowships.

Other news

EU support: The Scottish Government has announced that EU citizens who study a Further or Higher education course in Scotland in the 2020/21 academic year will be charged the same tuition fees and will get the same fee support as Scottish students for the entirety of their courses. This follows the previous commitment to continue funding for 2019/20. They have confirmed that this offer will stand even if current legal obligations to EU students cease to apply when the UK exits the EU.

Criminals on campus: HEPI’s new blog, The hardest (higher) education policy question of all? considers what should happen when students break the law or conduct themselves in a socially unacceptable manner (non-academic offences). It questions where to draw the line in expelling a student from their course. Viewing expulsion as clear cut and a priority when there is the need to safeguard the welfare of the victim or other students. However, balancing continued access to the course becomes a trickier decision for minor offences. Furthermore the statistics highlight that access to education within incarcerated communities reduces future crime and improves life chances. So a University may expel a student for an offence far less serious than an incarcerated student may have been sentenced for but receives access to a degree. The blog points to information and guidance sources and urges the sector to begin thinking the issue through properly now, predicting a rise in the number of tricky future decisions which potentially institutions could be unprepared for.

T levels: There is a House of Commons briefing paper on the T Level qualification reforms (select the ‘Jump to full report’ link from here).

Careers: This briefing paper on careers provision in England covers the full education system from schools to HE (select the ‘Jump to full report’ link from here).

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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 27th July 2018

Parliament is now in recess until 4 September.  But it has been a busy week nonetheless

Research

2020 Funding Guarantee – This week the Treasury confirmed that funding through EU programmes will be guaranteed by the UK Government until the end of 2020, even if Brexit results in No Deal. Previously the Government had made the guarantee until March 2019, it has now been extended. It also means that funding secured before the end of 2020 will be guaranteed for its full duration – continuing to be paid until the project runs to its scheduled completion. The Government is keen that applicants continue to bid for funding during the turbulent negotiation period and that UK organisation continue to benefit from funding post-Exit. It provides security for funding secured through the European Regional Development Funding and Horizon 2020 projects.

Elizabeth Truss, The Chief Secretary to the Treasury, said:

  • “The government is continuing to work towards a deal with the EU and under the terms of the implementation period the UK will continue to participate in the programmes financed by the current EU Budget until their closure. As a consequence, the Treasury is extending the government’s guarantee of EU funding to underwrite the UK’s allocation for structural and investment fund projects under this EU Budget period to 2020. The Treasury is also guaranteeing funding in event of a no deal for UK organisations which bid directly to the European Commission so that they can continue competing for, and securing, funding until the end of 2020. This ensures that UK organisations, such as charities, businesses and universities, will continue to receive funding over a project’s lifetime if they successfully bid into EU-funded programmes before December 2020. In addition to this guarantee, the government will establish a UK Shared Prosperity Fund. The fund will tackle inequalities between communities by raising productivity, especially in those parts of our country whose economies are furthest behind. A departmental Minute providing full details of the liabilities associated with this announcement has been laid in the House of Commons.”

 Philip Hammond, Chancellor of the Exchequer, said:

  • “We continue to make positive steps towards getting the best possible deal with the EU – one that works for the whole of the UK. The guarantee we are making today however means that, even in the unlikely event of a no-deal, our businesses, universities and local authorities can be confident that they will continue to receive the funding they successfully bid for from any EU programme.”

For those with a keen interest the official statistics detailed the UK’s participation in Horizon 2020 are available here. Commenting on the statistics Layla Moran (Lib Dem Education Spokesperson) said:

  • “As these figures show, UK universities have benefited from Horizon 2020 funding to the tune of hundreds of millions of pounds – helping to keep them at the forefront of innovation and research, and rated among the best in the world.”

REF 2021

The draft guidance and criteria detailing the arrangements for REF 2021 have been released for consultation with the sector. The consultation can be viewed here. The press release on the consultation states:

  • The four UK funding bodies want to ensure that equality and diversity continue to be supported within the REF and are embedded throughout the exercise. The arrangements for taking account of the effect of staff circumstances on productivity during the assessment period are a key part of ensuring this, and views are invited through the consultation on the proposals set out in the Guidance on submissions. The proposals seek to address concerns raised during the 2016 consultation and the detailed development of measures about how staff circumstances can best be recognised in the new submission process.

BU will be responding to the consultation.

Refreshed research relationship with India – Sam Gyimah co-chaired the Science and Innovation Council meeting in India which resulted in new funding and closer working for nuclear and health, and renewed an agreement on environmental challenges, arts and humanities. The Council was originally formed to strengthen Britain and India’s science, technology and innovation relationship. This year’s meeting focussed on the rapid growth of the UK and India’s joint research portfolio and recognised the strength of the bilateral relationship – India as the fastest growing research power and the UK as a major, high-quality research power. The bilateral research collaboration has seen exponential growth from £1 million in 2008 to £400 million by 2021.

Indian Minister for Science and Technology, Dr Harsh Vardhan said: Technology Cooperation is the key to the future. India and the UK should work on sustainable, affordable, and low energy consumption technologies.

Sam Gyimah said:

  • The UK believes in the power of research and development to tackle global challenges and improve people’s lives for the better. India is the fastest rising research and innovation power in the world, and so I’m excited by the huge potential for enhanced collaboration as we support high-quality, high-impact research that changes lives.

Brexit White Paper

The Brexit White Paper Legislating for the Withdrawal Agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union was published. The White Paper confirms that the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill will:

  • be the primary means by which the rights of EU citizens will be protected in UK law;
  • legislate for the time-limited implementation period; and
  • create a financial authority to manage the specific payments to be made under the financial settlement, with appropriate Parliamentary oversight

There are specific mentions to trialling immigration for staff and students, recognising professional qualifications, and Horizon Europe.

2A: Rights related to residence (p 12)

  1. Further to the Statement of Intent on the EU Settlement Scheme published on 21 June 2018, the Home Office laid before Parliament on 20 July 2018 the Immigration Rules 34 for a private beta phase, involving the EU citizen employees and students, who choose to take part, of 12 NHS Trusts and three Universities in the North West of England. This will enable the Home Office to test the relevant processes for the Scheme before it is rolled out on a phased basis from later this year. The Scheme will allow individuals to gain immigration status in UK law. This status will not affect in any way the rights of EU citizens and their family members under the free movement directive which will continue to apply during the implementation period. Other aspects of the agreement will be delivered through administration and do not require legislation, such as the commitment for forms to be “short, simple, [and] user friendly”35 which will be implemented through the Home Office’s streamlined digital application process for the EU Settlement Scheme.

2C: Mutual recognition of professional qualifications (p 13)

  1. As set out in the Government’s recent White Paper on the future relationship, the UK has proposed that, after the implementation period, there should be a system for the mutual recognition of professional qualifications, enabling professionals to provide services across the UK and the EU. This system would be broad in scope, covering the same range of professions as the Mutual Recognition of Qualifications Directive. These arrangements will be provided for, as necessary, in separate legislation. The recognition of professional qualifications is devolved in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, except where the regulation of the profession is reserved to Westminster. As set out above, the UK Government is committed to working closely with the devolved administrations on these matters.

4A: The scope of the financial settlement (p 29)

  1. The financial settlement does not cover any costs that might be associated with the UK’s future relationship with the EU, as these will be part of our future relationship. For example, as the recent White Paper on the future relationship set out, there are some specific European programmes in which the UK may want to participate, such as Horizon Europe. If so, and this will be for the UK to decide, it is reasonable that an appropriate contribution should be made. These decisions are subject to negotiations on our future relationship with the EU, and future decisions of Parliament.

 Participation in the European Union annual budgets in 2019 and 2020 (pp. 31)

  1. Under the financial settlement, the UK will contribute to the EU’s budget in 2019 and 2020, which covers the implementation period following the UK’s withdrawal. The UK will also benefit from the implementation of the budget as if it had remained a Member State over this period.101 This means that the UK will continue to draw advantages from the normal management of projects and programmes funded through the current Multiannual Financial Framework until their closure, whether they are managed by the UK Government (such as the European Regional Development Fund) or directly allocated to beneficiaries from EU institutions (such as Horizon 2020).

Unconditional Offers

With exam results looming unconditional offers hit the press, leading to an inevitable link to standards – and hence to grade inflation. There is a lot to think about, moreover will this year’s admissions cycle bring the whole system into question?

Mary Curnock Cook has written a blog on HEPI suggesting that VCs should agree not to use them (is that an anti-competitive arrangement, which the CMA might have something to say about?)

And Nick Hillman has written a blog pointing out a number of things that commentators often miss when discussing this. highlights below

  • The autonomy of universities over whom to admit is enshrined in primary legislation. ..This means the room for action on restricting unconditional offers is strictly limited without a change to the law. …
  • Moving to a system of post-qualification admissions, as exists in other countries, may have some advantages. I…. But, unless post-qualification admissions were to be accompanied by a minimum entry standard, it wouldn’t automatically tackle the issue of higher education institutions letting people in with lower grades …
  • …one important driver is the falling birthrate 18 years ago…So of course institutions need to fight harder to recruit entrants. The tide will turn again, but not until the early 2020s onwards.
  • There are different sorts of unconditional offers. Some do have strings attached…
  • If, when the exam results roll in, an applicant feels they have accepted an unconditional place a little too rashly or has simply changed their mind, they can ask the institution that has given them an unconditional offer to release them
  • …if unconditional offers counter some of the negatives arising from our hyper-selective university entrance system by delivering more diverse student bodies, they can’t be all bad.

Our personal view @policyBU, for what it is worth, is that this is a bit of a storm in a teacup.

  • It is strange that HE is set up as a market but then participants are criticised for competing – unless they are doing so unfairly. There is no criticism of scholarships, which also have potential to distort choices – I realise that they are incentives to do well at A level instead of incentives (perhaps) to “take the foot off the gas” but even so, they are potentially using fear of student debt to encourage students to make choices in a very similar way?
  • It is also odd to insist that students are consumers who need to make educated choices and then pounce on one particular option because students can’t be trusted to make the right decision. We trust students, in our current system, to pick 5 institutions from many, choose amongst thousands of courses, make complex tactical decisions about which offers to accept so that they have a realistic firm and insurance choice (not easy if most institutions offer at your predicted grades), and then for many, navigate clearing, making tough decisions with little information under great pressure.  So all of that, and then we say that they can’t be trusted to know that an unconditional offer is a marketing tool and factor that into their decisions.  My tiny local focus group of 17-19 year olds said “we’re not stupid!”
  • What are we worried about?
    • Bad choices – remember they picked the institution that gave them the offer as one of their top 5. And as Nick Hillman says, they don’t have to go through with it.
    • Drop in A-level grades – well maybe, for some. My tiny focus group said “A levels are hard.  Taking the pressure off is a good thing”.  I think we need evidence that this affects not just A-levels but drop-out rates, degree outcomes and employment outcomes before we decide how much this really matters.  (And if we’re being really cynical, how much of this argument is driven by schools focussing on A level outcomes for their own league tables?)
    • Sacrificing standards? Really?  An UO made on the basis of predicted grades, even if they go on to get less good A level results as a result, doesn’t reduce university standards.  The students have the same potential as they always had to do well at university.  That seems to be an argument against contextual offers and UOs for reasons related to WP and wellbeing – which is a whole different argument (and not a good one).
    • What did my tiny focus group think was the main problem? “It’s a bit annoying when people have one and you don’t.  Especially if they go on about how they don’t need to work.  But they are the annoying people anyway.  It’s the parents who get stressed about it, because they think it’s not fair.”.  So there.

The UCAS report on unconditional offers says:

Of the 58,385 students receiving at least one unconditional offer, the UCAS report says that “42,100 unconditional offers selected as firm in 2018, with a further 9,185 selected as insurance” – so assuming that students will only accept one unconditional offer, that means that 88% of students who receive at least one unconditional offer accept an unconditional offer as either firm or insurance – around 20% of all applicants.  That suggests that it is working for universities – and that there is unlikely to be reduction in the number of such offers.   Interestingly, it was also noted at ULT last week that there is a rise across the sector in the number of first applicants through clearing – so students who don’t apply in the usual cycle but wait until they have their grades.  There were also reports last year of an increase in the number of students trading up in clearing when they did better than expected.  So looking at all these factors together, there may be some truth in the suggestion that the current system is showing cracks and may not be sustainable in the long term.

The unconditional offers story is often linked to perceptions of falling standards, as you’ll see below: “bums on seats”, “sacrificing standards in a bid to attract students” and so on.  Reform have retweeted their recent report “A degree of uncertainty” today.  We wrote about this in a policy update on 22nd June.

Wonkhe have an article here:

  • “The Department for Education’s “further information” on the ministerial quote says that: “The increase in unconditional offers runs the risk of admitting students who will not benefit from the courses. This rise risks students making the wrong decision for their futures, and is irresponsible of universities.” It could be true, but do we have the evidence? This is a case of anecdote driving policy without a full exploration of whether the problem is a significant one, or what the solutions might be.”

The BBC has the story:

  • How have universities responded?  Alistair Jarvis, chief executive of Universities UK, said: “While there has been a steady growth in the number of unconditional offers made, they still account for a small proportion (7.1%) of all offers made by universities.  Unconditional offers, when used appropriately, can help students and ensure that universities are able to respond flexibly to the range of applicants seeking places. Universities UK will continue to work with Ucas to monitor trends and any impact unconditional offer-making might have on student attainment. It is simply not in the interests of universities to take students without the potential to succeed.”
  • What does the government say?  Universities Minister Sam Gyimah said: “The rise in unconditional offers is completely irresponsible to students, and universities must start taking a lead, by limiting the number they offer.  Places at universities should only be offered to those who will benefit from them, and giving out unconditional offers just to put ‘bums on seats’ undermines the credibility of the university system. Along with the Office for Students, I am closely monitoring the number being issued and fully expect the regulator to take appropriate action. Unconditional offers risk distracting students from the final year of their schooling, and swaying their decisions does them a disservice – universities must act in the interest of students, not in filling spaces.”
  • The University and College Union said unconditional offers made a mockery of exams and put students “under enormous pressure to make snap decisions about their future”.
  • UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: “The proliferation of unconditional offers is detrimental to the interests of students and it is time the UK joined the rest of the world in basing university offers on actual achievements instead of on guesswork.  Unconditional offers can also encourage talented students to take their foot off the gas, instead of striving for excellence.”  [UCU published a paper on this recently – see the policy update on 22nd June – but it was very light on the impact on student outcomes]
  • The Association of School and College Leaders urged universities to stop the practice of unconditional offers.

The BBC story goes on

  • UCAS says they have, traditionally, been offered to: mature students who have already achieved their qualifications to meet entry criteria, those applying for creative arts courses, after submitting a portfolio, or following a successful interview or audition. Artistic flair is likely to be viewed as a better indication of potential than traditional grades, reduce the stress some students may feel during the high-pressure exam period, supporting students with mental health difficulties, as one of the many different approaches universities use to attract and retain interest from students in a competitive marketplace.

This last one is the problem – seen by many – including the Minister, it seems – as a sinister way of eroding choice and protecting university finances to the detriment of students.  But of course, as pointed out in the Wonkhe blog – that’s how a market works:

  • [Ouch]: “Rather than cry foul at every new report, and every data release in the sector, the minister should think about why we’re here. And, if he doesn’t like the symptoms, spend more time looking at the causes. The marketisation of higher education has driven the growth in unconditional offers (among other less-than-ideal results): if you don’t like the consequences, offer something different. As for OfS, it could be a more effective regulator if it weren’t buffeted by the latest whim of a minister in search of a headline.”

The argument takes several forms all highlighted above:

  • it’s anti-competitive and leads to poor choices AND falling standards in universities (headlined in the Telegraph and the Independent).
  • the system is broken and we should make offers after grades are known  e.g. the Guardian headline
  • it damages student outcomes because they don’t try as hard at A level (all of the above)

The Daily Mail says: “Experts have previously said the rise is due to oversupply of university places following the lifting of the numbers cap. It means universities are in strong competition with each other, leading admissions tutors to use unconditional offers to snap up as many students as possible.”

Also the Sutton Trust have reposted their report from last year on admissions and access (Rules of the Game).  The Sutton Trust report doesn’t mention unconditional offers, but summary says:

  • In addition, students must make their course choices based on predicted rather than actual A-level exam grades. Evidence shows that the majority of grades are over-predicted, which could encourage students to make more aspirational choices. However, high attaining disadvantaged students are more likely to have their grades under-predicted than their richer counterparts. This could result in them applying to universities which are less selective than their credentials would permit.
  • Almost 3,000 disadvantaged, high-achieving students – or 1,000 per year – have their grades under-predicted. Additionally, low attaining disadvantaged students are more likely to be matched to courses with similar students, while low attaining but advantaged students are far more likely to be overmatched: to attend courses with higher ability peers.

Apart from A level results, could it have an impact on longer term student outcomes (such as employment)?  Does it in fact affect WP students disproportionately – either because they are predicted lower grades and so don’t get unconditional offers, or because they take a “safe” unconditional option rather than the one that is best for them (I’m trying to avoid the implication that a lower tariff university is a less good one, because that’s another minefield, as we’ve already explored elsewhere, but it is what we think the minister probably means when he talks about wrong decisions).  For more context on this see our policy update on 6th July, on part-time and mature students.

Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of Universities UK, responded to the criticism of unconditional offer making by stating:

  • While there has been a steady growth in the number of unconditional offers made, they still account for a small proportion (7.1%) of all offers made by universities.
  •  Such offers can be made in a number of circumstances, including offers to applicants who already have qualifications. And to applicants with extensive practical and relevant experience for courses such as music or journalism. They can also be awarded where evidence suggests applicants are clearly on track to exceed the required entry grades, and to applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds with the potential to do well at university with additional support.
  • “Unconditional offers, when used appropriately, can help students and ensure that universities are able to respond flexibly to the range of applicants seeking places. Universities UK will continue to work with UCAS to monitor trends and any impact unconditional offer-making might have on student attainment. It is simply not in the interests of universities to take students without the potential to succeed.”

NSS

From DODS.  The Office for Students have published the National Student Survey 2018 results finding that overall satisfaction is 83 per cent in comparison with 84 per cent last year. Eight per cent were neither satisfied nor dissatisfied with their higher education experience and the remaining eight per cent were dissatisfied. The Survey captures the views of over 320,000 students and is conducted by the OfS and UK higher education funding bodies.

70 per cent of eligible students from 413 universities and colleges across the UK took time to give their feedback on their experience. The results will also be published on the Unistats website in August 2018, providing valuable evidence to inform potential students’ choices about where and what to study.

Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of the Office for Students, said:

  • ‘While we have seen overall satisfaction fall by one percent, many questions have maintained their satisfaction levels including the student voice, academic support, learning resources and assessment and feedback questions.
  • ‘We run the NSS to help ensure that students’ voices are heard and understood – so that universities and colleges can work to give all students a positive experience of higher education. The NSS is a highly credible and long-established survey which continually achieves a very high response rate. The results are an invaluable tool for universities and colleges to improve students’ experience of higher education.
  • ‘While I am pleased to see the overall satisfaction rate remains high, the data shows that there is more work to be done to ensure all students have a high quality and fulfilling experience of higher education that enriches their lives and careers.
  • ‘We will ensure the survey remains a valid and useful resource and review the changes providers are making in response to the survey’s findings.’

Universities Minister Sam Gyimah said:

  • ‘The student voice is the most important voice, and the National Student Survey is a vital tool that provides an invaluable insight into the student experience.
  • ‘It is brilliant to see continually high satisfaction rates but we need to keep improving. That is why I want to see universities and colleges using this data to enhance and develop their offer for those choosing to study there.’

National Student Survey results 2018 (Web)

Mental Health / Occupational Therapy

Q – Luciana Berger: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, pursuant to the Answer of 3 July 2018 to Question 158740, on Students: Occupational Therapy, what plans he has to include occupational therapists in the (a) development and (b) introduction of a University Mental Health Charter.

A – Sam Gyimah: The University Mental Health Charter announced on 28 June 2018 will encourage universities to demonstrate a level of excellence in supporting students’ mental health. This will be an important feature of an institution’s offer to prospective students and their families.

The Charter is being driven by Student Minds and will start to go live in 2019/20. Development, led by the sector, will begin this year and will include consultation with institutional leaders and staff from across their organisations, mental health practitioners (including occupational therapists), students’ unions and students.

Student Loans

The House of Commons Library published a briefing overviewing the sale of the student loan book. It gives background to the sale and discusses the impact of the sale on borrowers and whether value for money was achieved by the sale. Some excerpts from the briefing:

  • The first loans which were introduced in 1990 were known as ‘mortgage –style’ loans, these loans were superseded in September 1998 by income-contingent loans. The entire mortgage-style loan book has been sold off to private investors as a result of three separate sales which took place between 1998 and 2013.
  • In December 2013 the Government announced its intention to sell off some of the English income-contingent loan book. Subsequently George Osborne said that the removal of the cap on student numbers in 2015 would be funded by the sale of more student debt to private companies. In the event the expected sale did not occur due to the market conditions at the time and the policy stalled. However, a sale remained Government policy and was referred to in the Autumn Statement 2014, the Budget 2015 and in the March 2016 Budget.
  • Finally in February 2017 it was announced that a sale would go ahead and the first sale of income contingent loans was completed in December 2017. The sale covered loans issued by English local authorities that entered repayment between 2002 and 2006. The sale achieved £1.7 billion from 1.2 million loans with a face value of £3.5 billion held by over 400,000 borrowers. This represented a write off of 51 per cent of the face value of the loans. The briefing goes on to describe issues around the sale concerning the value for money of sales and the impact on borrowers.

Lords Debates

The House of Lords also debated fees this week when the Government’s HE spokesperson, Viscount Younger of Leckie, made a motion to approve the Fee Limit regulations. That the “maximum fees for students undertaking undergraduate courses in the 2019-20 academic year would remain at 2018-19 levels for the second year running, saving students up to £255.” The regulations would ensure the Office for Students had the powers to set maximum fee limits for home students studying at providers in England that are subject to a fee limit condition in 2019-20; while also allowing the Government to implement the new regulatory framework under HERA in full.

Viscount Younger also explained the regulations also amended the Fee Limit Condition Regulations so students already holding an equivalent or higher-level qualification undertaking pre-registration, nursing, midwifery and other healthcare courses will be defined as qualifying persons and benefit from maximum fee limits.

The Opposition’s Education spokesperson, Lord Watson of Invergowrie, called for separate regulations to be brought in. He said the system was “unfair and inefficient” and highlighted the Public Accounts Committee’s criticism that the student loan system was “economically unsustainable and damaging to social mobility”. Lord Watson also questioned whether a Government initiative could reversal of the decline in part-time and distance learning.

In response Viscount Younger raised the Tertiary Fees and Funding Review, assuring “an overarching principle, that the system gives everyone a genuine choice between high-quality technical, vocational and academic routes“.  He said there was a need to ensure value for taxpayers and students and a focus on student experience. He noted the review would conclude early in 2019 and the Government’s response to the review would follow.

The full text of the fees debate is available here.

The Lords also debated the Transparency Duty. The Duty requires HEIs to publish data on application, offer, acceptance, completion and attainment rates of students broken down by ethnicity, gender and socioeconomic background. Viscount Younger announced that the Office for Students would be launching a formal consultation and holding events in August and September in respect of additional data it might request on applicants and students with additional protected characteristics, such as disability and age. These findings would be published in early 2019.

Baroness Garden of Frognal (Lib Dem) questioned the minister how much resource it would take universities to supply the information required as there had been no impact assessment conducted. On widening participation she asked if the Government would use “UCAS’s multiple equality measure, which records the multifaceted nature of educational disadvantage.”

Lord Lucas (Con) expressed his dissatisfaction with current WP practice describing a “decade of bad practice” in how universities spent money. In full he said:

  • My Lords, I very much welcome these regulations. For a long time since the introduction of the higher-level fees, there has been a large expenditure by universities on trying to widen access, but to my mind it has been carried out in a most disappointing manner. Universities are mostly research institutions that understand how research works, but a lot of these expenditures have not been accompanied by evaluation, by publication of what does and does not work or by any sharing of expertise between institutions so that this common enterprise can work better.
  • I hope that there are some but I have not seen any examples of universities working with other elements of government or the third sector to try to tackle the underlying problems. A lot of these problems are deep…the principal reason that some of these communities do not send many people to university is not down to what the universities do or do not do; it is down to the problems inherent in those communities. The best way for universities to tackle this problem is by working with other agencies active in those communities to try to achieve something wider and more co-ordinated. I would love to see more examples of that.
  • I really hope that my noble friend can assure me that this decade of bad practice is coming to an end, that we will be able to see exactly how universities are spending this money, that the Government, through the OfS, will expect publication of evaluation, that they will expect collaboration, and that they will expect a sector-wide drive towards better performance with a lot of the collaboration that that requires. I think that everybody is aiming in the same direction in terms of what we want to achieve, and it is very unsatisfactory that such huge expenditures are not being used efficiently and effectively.

Lord Adonis (Lab) said the publication of data would not improve assess itself but was a tool to that end, he raised concern on the role of the OfS in facilitating the establishment of procedures to publish data and not concentrate on changing the culture at universities.

Viscount Younger of Leckie responded to points raised in the debate and stressed that there needed to be transparency at vice-chancellor and senior leadership level and universities should offer value for money to students.

Recess

As Parliament is in recess until 4 September your policy update may change frequency. We’ll bring you a summary of the news once it reaches a critical mass.

Consultations

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

New consultations and inquiries this week:

  • Purpose, remit and scope of Advance HE
  • Arts & Humanities Research Council – strategic delivery plan
  • Commons Science and Technology Committee inquiry into Balance and effectiveness of research and innovation spending
  • REF 2021 guidance and criteria consultation
  • Cyber security
  • Forensic Science

Other news

  • DfE: The DfE published their annual report for 2017-18. The infographics provide a neat summary of changes from the wider early years to HE sector.
  • Schools funding: A parliamentary question noted that Institute of Fiscal Studies research showed an 8% fall in per pupil school funding since 2009-10. The Government’s spokesperson responded: The IFS have confirmed that per-pupil funding for pupils up to 16 will be more than 50% higher in 2020 than in 2000.
  • Stats: HESA released their Experimental Statistics: UK Performance Indicators 2016/17 detailing participation, non-continuation, DSA and employment rates. It includes data from Alternative Providers.
  • Careers Offer in Schools: A report from the Careers and Enterprise Company, Closing the Gap, notes patchy engagement with industry.
  • IP: Lord Smith of Finsbury has been appointed as the new Chair of IPReg the Intellectual Property Regulation Board from 7 September.  The Government also promoted their IP liaison officers this week who provide help and advice for those reaching out to South East Asia, China, Brazil and India.
  • Which?: Anabel Hoult appointed as Chief Executive from 1st October.
  • STEM: Sam Gyimah responded to a parliamentary question on STEM and ICT HE course uptake since 2012. He said total acceptances to STEM subjects for UK 18 and 19 year olds had increased by 24% between 2012 and 2017 -an increase of 14% for all subjects over the same period.

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

Free speech still in the news

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

HEPI say about the report:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Student Loans, RPI & HE Funding

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

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

The Times explain the financial trickery:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Retail Price Index

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

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

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

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

HE Funding

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

Cost Effective Universities – Student Spending

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

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

The rest of the analysis highlights familiar student finance themes:

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

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

There is an interesting section showing student spending habits.

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

Research Commercialisation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Research Funding and Talent

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

A – Sam Gyimah:

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

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

A – Sam Gyimah:

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

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

A – Sam Gyimah:

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

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

LEO

Robert Halfon (Conservative) questioned Sam Gyimah on LEO

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

AND

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

A – Sam Gyimah:

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

Mental Health

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

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

Technical Education

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

A – Anne Milton:

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

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

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

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

Consultations

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

Other news

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

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

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

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

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

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

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

Fees & Funding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Immigration – borders open for science

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

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

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

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

Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes, stated:

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

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

In his speech Gyimah stated:

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

Gyimah went on:

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

Gyimah went on to:

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

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

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

Mature students and cold spots

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

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

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

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

Clare Marchant, UCAS’ Chief Executive, said:

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

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

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

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

“Strategic and sustained work to:

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

Meanwhile the OfS is going to ensure:

“Pressure for individual universities and colleges to:

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

Sector-wide support for:

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

And Chris Millward also wrote a blog:

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

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

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

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

Part Time Students and ELQs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Viscount Younger of Leckie noted that:

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

Motion agreed.

Digital Accord

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

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

Digital Secretary Matt Hancock said:

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

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

 LEO data accessible through Unistats

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

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

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

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

Parliamentary questions

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

Nick Gibb:

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

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

Victoria Atkins:

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

International Students

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

Baroness Williams Of Trafford :

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

Mental Health

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

A – Sam Gyimah:

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

Health

NHS Recruitment Drive

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

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

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

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

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

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

Health and Social Care Secretary Jeremy Hunt said:

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

Health Minister Lord O’Shaughnessy stated:

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

Recess

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

Consultations

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

New consultations and inquiries this week:

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

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

There have also been outcomes published to several items:

Other news

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

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

 

HE Policy update for the w/e 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 executive of the Office for Students, said in a statement that “if there is artificial grade inflation this is not in the interests of students, employers or the higher education sector”. She added that work was “currently under way by the OfS and other partners to assess the complex issues” tackled in the report.”

The BBC story is here.

With the counter arguments, Jim Dickinson writes on Wonkhe:

  • ““Establishing causality is problematic, yet the correlational evidence suggests that when tuition fees rise, so does the proportion of top degree outcomes”. Maybe that big investment means they’re working harder. Maybe more students are working hard to achieve the standard. Maybe teaching has improved, and assessment has become more diverse. Maybe more students are taking resists. After all, “inflation itself must be driven by factors that directly translate into universities awarding higher marks”.
  • Trouble is, the report then goes on to look at all the other reasons that the sector has cooked up for the miracle. A pro-VC from UEA is mocked for citing improved entry qualifications, though without mentioning the student to staff ratio shift from 18:1 to 13:1 in the rest of his quote. Degree algorithm fiddling is cited, recycling a debunked quote. And without any reference to hard work or student support or assessment techniques, it then finds a handful of academics’ anecdotes to say they’ve been pressured to lower standards. Cue the A-levels chorus of “we worked harder and so did students” from the sector, falling on deaf ears in the press and the think tanks.”

There is an interesting comment in response on the Wonkhe article:

  • “Quick summary of previous responses, querying the assumption that grade inflation is necessarily bad.
  • 1) If attainment gaps have closed (e.g. male/female gap, affluent/deprived student background gap, white/ethnic minority gap) by the under-achieving group catching up with the higher-achieving group, grade inflation is probably a positive thing.
  • 2) If average marks awarded have risen (i.e. it is not just the case that the degree classification proportions have shifted), and if positive skew in the distribution has not been replaced with negative skew, this indicates that grade inflation is not the only potential explanation.
  • 3) Even if grade inflation as conventionally understood has occurred, the cure could be worse than the disease. The cure could take the form of students undermining each other rather than working collaboratively, seeking to manipulate or complain against lecturers, students motivated by mark gain rather than a desire to learn (not the same thing), even higher levels of mental health anxiety than present.
  • 4) In most subjects, students achieving first class degrees do not have better career outcomes than students with lower second class degrees. This suggests that employers do not rely on degree class as a signal and have developed effective recruiting mechanisms”

The sector wasn’t standing still on grade inflation before this week’s announcements. UUK were already tackling the issue:

  • The first element of this work responds to the specific request to clarify how the sector defines degree classifications. This work is on course to produce a reference document by September, and this will aid the transparency and consistency of approaches to degree classification and standards across the sector. The work is founded on the view that students should be assessed against clear criteria rather than setting quotas for the number of students who can achieve a 1st or 2.1. Quotas can demotivate students and devalue the level of knowledge gained over the course of their studies.  The reference document is intended as a practical tool to aid academic practice and to improve understanding of the classification system, including among employers. The reference point will also be useful for new providers who gain degree awarding powers without prior validation by an existing degree body, and the established academic frameworks that come with this relationship. However, it will still be essential for universities to set and maintain their own academic standards, rather than simply marking against an off-the-shelf set of criteria.

This is also discussed on Wonkhe. There is also a need for the sector to take meaningful and timely action to respond to stakeholder concerns on grade inflation, as other contributions to Wonkhe and elsewhere have suggested in recent days. UKSCQA will lead the coordination of a sector response on this issue.”

HEPI have published a guest blog – The hard truth about grade inflation – by Dr Andrew Hindmarsh, Head of Planning at the University of Nottingham, and he also oversees the preparation of data for the Complete University Guide. It busts a number of theories:

  • So-called grade inflation has been greatest at universities with low average tariff scores and least at those with high average tariff scores.  One explanation for this could be that the average tariff score has increased more at universities where the average score was lower to start with. If those low tariff score universities had had entry standards that had been rising faster, then you might expect there to be an impact on the subsequent attainment of the students. See Graph 3 shows that this has not been the case. In fact, the average tariff score of universities in quartiles 1 to 3 have all gone down, while only those in quartile 4 (the highest) have gone up.
  • What about teaching quality – could that explain the pattern of changes?  Could it be that the universities with the best teaching quality have seen outcomes improve the most? One possible measure of teaching quality is the TEF (Teaching Excellence Framework) outcomes. …the hypothesis fails – it is the Bronze institutions which have seen the biggest changes in degree outcomes.
  • The questions on teaching in the NSS could be an alternative measure of teaching quality and this time there is a run of data so the change in NSS scores can be correlated with the changes in degree classification.However, once again the hypothesis fails: there is no correlation between the change in NSS scores on questions 1 to 4 between 2013 and 2016 and the change in degree classifications
  • So, what is going on?  There are plenty of hypotheses left which our database cannot test. One change that has been happening is an increasing use of the full range of marks, particularly in Arts subjects. In the past, there was a tendency to avoid giving high marks with those above 80 in the Arts being very rare indeed. These high marks are much more common in the Sciences, particularly the numerical sciences, where it is possible to achieve maximum marks on mathematical problems. However, many universities are now actively encouraging all subjects to use the full range of marks with the result that, when an average mark is calculated, this is more likely to fall above a particular class boundary as the higher marks pull up the average. This hypothesis also explains why the proportion of first-class degrees has risen faster than the proportion of 1st/2:1s as you would expect more of the high marks to be obtained by students already at or close to a first-class standard. The conclusion must be that this is a complex subject and, while some explanations for changes in degree classifications can be ruled out, there are plenty more to be considered. The accusation that grade inflation is the cause needs to be justified with evidence rather than simply asserted as if it were a self-evident truth.

We’ll have to wait for the outcome of the OFS work referred to above to see what happens next.

Sam Gyimah gave a reassuring answer to a parliamentary question this week. It was focused on the TEF but if extrapolated into the context of the single national assessment recommended to tackle grade inflation it is reassuring to know the Government doesn’t anticipate going even further to observe ‘classrooms’.

Q – Gordon Marsden: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what discussions he has had with the Office for Students on the merits of observing teaching as an element for assessment in the teaching excellence framework.

A – Sam Gyimah:

  • Higher Education (HE) institutions, as independent and autonomous bodies, are responsible for the range and quality of the courses they deliver. Assessing the performance of an institution through observation would jeopardise the autonomy of the HE sector.
  • The Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF) uses a range of existing metrics related to teaching and learning to make an assessment of teaching excellence, alongside a submission of evidence from the providers themselves. The metrics used for the assessment are all well-established, widely used and trusted in the HE sector. The department consulted extensively on the metrics used in the TEF.
  • My right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Education has not discussed with the Office for Students, the observation of teachers as an additional element within the TEF.

Senior Pay Guidance

The OfS has now issued guidance on VC and senior pay. Universities are required to report and justify the VC’s total remuneration package and details of senior staff paid over £100,000. OfS will publish these details across the sector annually commencing in 2019. Nicola Dandridge commentedThe Office for Students is today setting out our increased expectations around senior pay. Higher education providers will have to give us full details of the total pay package of their vice-chancellor. In addition, they will have to provide detailed justification of this package. As part of this, we will be looking at the ratio between the head of institution’s pay and the pay of the other staff at the institution. This will provide additional visibility and transparency – and enable us all to ask tough questions as necessary.

In response to the guidance UCU general secretary Sally Hunt noted of the OfS requirements: much of the information being called for is already available in universities’ accounts or through freedom of information (FOI) requests.

The guidance was well covered in the media this week: Times, Guardian, THE, Independent.

In the Independent article Michael Barber is reported as stating the OfS will look for salaries that ‘stick out like a sore thumb’… such as … “Like a modest size university, and you are regional and you are not playing globally, and your pay is the same as a top university competing in the global market for research.”

Political Crystal Ball

Dods (political monitoring consultants) have produced a series of short policy lookahead guides contemplating what is coming up politically in the following spheres over the next six months:

Admissions

The Post Qualifications Admissions – how it works across the world report was released on Tuesday comparing the UK’s HE admissions system with that of 29 other countries worldwide. The document critiques the UK’s system of offering a HE place before a student’s final grades are known, particularly noting the unreliability of provisional grades (only 1 in 6 accurately predicted).

The report calls for more than just post-qualification offer making. It outlines enhanced support for choices and decisions and a pre-results preparation week to aid social mobility (see page 17 onwards).  The report does acknowledge the benefits of the current pre-qualifications admissions system: it aids students from under-represented backgrounds because they are often predicted higher grades than they achieve (page 5); changing to a post qualifications system would squeeze teaching as exams would need to move earlier in the year, it would also reduce the time HE providers have to consider applications and decide on whether to offer a student a place.

The report was commissioned by UCU and compiled by Dr Graeme Atherton (Director of social mobility organisation NEON). Given the author’s champion of disadvantage it’s interesting the report has received conflicting responses with no clear consensus of whether a change would support or further hinder underrepresented or disadvantaged groups in society.

UCAS responded to the report stating changing to a post qualifications admission system would force structural change to the school system and stating it would be harder for poorer pupils who would have to make decisions after they had finished their exams and left school. Clare Marchant (UCAS): “students from disadvantaged backgrounds would be less likely to have access to teachers and support in making application choices“.

Meanwhile The Sutton Trust argue that Atherton’s claim that under-represented students receive higher predicted grades is incorrect stating ‘high attaining disadvantaged students are more likely to have their grades under-predicted than their richer counterparts. This could result in them applying to universities which are less selective than their credentials would permit.’

UCU’s press release leads a further attack on unconditional offer making. Unconditional offers were previously seen as a supportive measure for social mobility, for example, for a young student within the care system who needed stability and security over their university destination prior to giving up their living accommodation.  However, unconditional offers have increasingly received poor press over the last two years claiming students become lazy and don’t try so hard at exams once they have a guaranteed offer or that it pushes an able student towards a lower tariff university when their results would be accepted at a more prestigious institution. Concerns were also raised about unconditional offers last week at Buckingham’s Festival of HE.

The BBC has covered the report.

The report also highlights some of the challenges that the other systems face.  One notable issue in some European countries is that almost automatic admission based on results plus low fees leads to huge dropout rates, e.g. in France.  And if the focus is almost exclusively on grades it’s likely another subset of WP students will be disadvantaged. The report raises some questions but it would be interesting to do an analysis of other metrics such as completion and satisfaction, and WP indicators as well as graduate outcomes.

There are other issues with the current system that have been raised in recent times – e.g. concerns about the role of personal statements and the role of social capital.  Given the author’s day job at the National Education Opportunities Network (NEON), there is a focus in the report on equity in the system.

The article below raises the question of conflict of interests – would such a system reduce or increase game playing in the competition for students?  – note last week’s discussions in Buckingham about unconditional offers (which many commentators see as a “bad thing”).

Research Professional have a great article on the report. As the article notes there is unlikely to be a rush to review this given all the other government priorities.  But as new A levels come in, raising uncertainty about grades this year, might there be more applicants choosing to use clearing to trade up or take a year to consider and apply afterwards.  And whether over time this might therefore become more of a priority for review?

Erasmus+

On Thursday there was a debate in the House of Commons on the Erasmus+ programme and discusses the future position of the UK with regard to the scheme post Brexit. The House of Commons Library have produced a briefing note on Erasmus+.

Some fun facts on Erasmus+ taken from the briefing:

  • The EU sees Erasmus+ programmes as a means of addressing socio-economic issues that Europe may face like unemployment and social cohesion.
  • 10,944 students in higher education in the UK participated in the 2016 applications for study placements abroad through the Erasmus+ scheme.
  • In 2015-16, the most popular host countries were France (2,388), Spain (2,131), Germany (1,312), Netherlands (701), and Italy (687).The UK was the 7th highest participating country in the programme in 2015.
  • The total value of all Erasmus+ projects funded in the UK has increased in each year from €112million in the 2014 ‘call’ to €143million in 2017.
  • The Erasmus+ programme is run on run seven yearly cycles and the current cycle will end in 2020.
  • The UK Government has promised to underwrite funding that was due to continue after Brexit and UK citizens are currently encouraged to apply for funding under Erasmus+.
  • On 30 May 2018 the EU Commission announced that it is proposing that for the next cycle starting in 2021 any country in the world will be able to participate if they meet set requirements. It is unclear at present what the UK’s participation in Erasmus+ will be after Brexit but the announcement opens up the possibility of the UK’s continued involvement in the programme.

The Future of the Erasmus+ Scheme after 2020: House of Commons Debate

The Erasmus+ debate span a number of topics: social mobility, UUK’s Go International project, strategy for how students would continue exchanges with EU universities in the event of a Brexit no deal.

Sam Gyimah stated: he recognised that international exchanges were “important to students, giving them social mobility and widening their horizons, and it is valuable to our soft power.”  And to clarify the Government’s position on the future participation of Erasmus+ post 2020 within the uncertainty of Brexit he committed that the Government would “discuss with the EU the options for future participation as a third country, as the Prime Minister has made clear, on the basis of a fair and ongoing contribution. So we have accepted that we will want the option to participate and we know we must pay into the programme, but obviously we want the contribution to be fair and we will have to negotiate the terms.” He reassured the House that the Government were “actively engaged in the discussions on the design of the programme and we have made the EU aware of our desire to participate in the programme, and there is a lot to welcome in the framework proposals.” On cost, he said the Government had noted “the proposal for the budget to be doubled, so we need to discuss our participation based on a sensible and hard-headed assessment of the UK’s priorities and the substantial benefit to the EU should the UK decided to participate.”

Read the full text of the debate here.

STEM skills

The Public Accounts Committee has been running an inquiry into Delivering STEM skills for the economy  and published a report on Friday. STEM is recognised as essential to the future of UK industries and the Government has been running initiatives to improve STEM skills in the workforce including a substantial focus on STEM curriculum in schools. Although some initiatives to address STEM skills shortages have been successful there remain problems:

  • Women remain underrepresented in STEM courses and jobs – only 8% of STEM apprenticeship starts are undertaken by women.
  • In 2016 only 24% of those with STEM degrees were working in a STEM field six months after graduation.
  • The Government has focussed on schools to grow the next generation of skilled STEM workers. However, the report finds that the quality of careers advice in schools is patchy at best, perpetuating misconceptions about STEM careers. In addition, the way that schools are funded will restrict the likelihood of pupils moving to other, more STEM-focused learning providers, such as the new institutes of technology.
  • The Government is also unable to accurately assess the volume of the STEM skills shortage.
  • To make better informed decisions, [Government] departments also need to tackle the apparent lack of industry and commercial experience on their STEM boards and working groups.

Government departments spent almost £1 billion between 2007 and 2017 on initiatives to encourage more take-up of STEM subjects.

The Committee made 8 recommendations:

  1. Following publication of the Migration Advisory Committee report in September 2018, BEIS and DfE should, within six months, set out the further steps they will take to ensure that STEM skills shortages are addressed.
  2. DfE should set out what specific steps it will take to ensure that Skills Advisory Panels are sufficiently aware of national and global skills supply issues to be fully effective.
  3. By summer 2018, the departments should review the membership of all STEM boards and working groups, and address any shortfalls in expertise—for example, in industry knowledge or experience in STEM learning and work.
  4. DfE must identify as soon as possible whether financial incentives for teacher training have delivered value for money, and report its findings to the Committee as promised (i.e. have the teachers remained in the profession).
  5. By the end of 2018, the departments should establish, and start to monitor progress against, specific targets relating to the involvement of girls and women in key STEM learning programmes such as apprenticeships.
  6. DfE should make better use of data on career destinations and salaries to incentivise young people to work towards careers in particular STEM sectors where there is higher need. As part of its plans to improve the quality of careers advice, DfE should work with Ofsted to consider rating the quality of advice provided in schools.
  7. As a matter of urgency, DfE needs to develop a clearer plan for how new types of learning institution, such as the institutes of technology, will attract the numbers of students they need to be viable.
  8. DfE should ensure it has effective monitoring systems in place to quickly identify apprenticeship programmes that are not fit-for-purpose, along with poor quality provision, and the action it will take in each case

Meg Hillier MP chaired the inquiry, she commented:

“Warm words about the economic benefits of STEM skills are worth little if they are not supported by a coherent plan to deliver them. Government must take a strategic view, properly informed by the requirements of industry and the anticipated impact of Brexit on the UK’s skills mix.

But Government also needs to sharpen its focus on the details, from providing sound advice to pupils through to ensuring schools have the right skills in the classroom and STEM-focused institutions are properly supported. Poor-quality apprenticeships must be weeded out and there is still much work required to address the striking gender imbalance in STEM apprenticeships.”

Read the Committee’s press release: Sharper focus needed on skills crucial to UK productivity

STEM Parliamentary Questions

Q – Robert Halfon: what assessment he has made of the potential contribution of students with a qualification in Design and Technology GCSE to filling the skills gap in engineering.

A – Nick Gibb:

The design and technology (D&T) GCSE is a useful qualification for those pupils considering a career in engineering. The Department has reformed the D&T GCSE to ensure that it is a valuable qualification and includes the knowledge and skills sought by leading employers. Content has been aligned with high-tech industry practice with strengthened technical, mathematical and scientific knowledge.

Q – Robert Halfon: what information he holds on the reasons for the decline in the number of entries to Design and Technology GCSE since 2010

A – Nick Gibb:

Design and Technology GCSE entries have declined since before 2010. In 2016/17 over 150,000 pupils in England entered a Design and Technology (D&T) GCSE at the end of Key Stage 4, which is over 25% of all pupils (data source).

Subject experts identified a number of issues with the previous suite of D&T GCSEs. They advised that the GCSEs were out of date, did not reflect current industry practice, and lacked sufficient science, technology, engineering and mathematics content. These issues could have had an effect on take up. One issue was that there were six separate GCSEs focusing on different materials (such as resistant materials and textiles) or particular aspects of D&T (such as product design and systems and control). These did not allow pupils to gain a broad knowledge of the design process, materials, techniques and equipment that are core to the subject. The Department has reformed the D&T GCSE to address these issues. There is now just one GCSE title which emphasises the iterative design processes that is at the core of contemporary practice and includes more about cutting edge technology and processes. The new GCSE now effectively provides pupils with the knowledge they need to progress to further study and careers, including in high-tech industries.

Q – Robert Halfon:  what steps he is taking to revise the national curriculum to ensure that students are prepared for T-levels.

A – Nick Gibb:

  •  T-levels will provide students with knowledge and the technical, practical skills needed to get a skilled job. They will also allow students to progress into higher levels of technical training including degree courses in subjects relevant to their T-level.
  • My right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State announced in April that he would make no changes to the National Curriculum within the lifetime of this Parliament; and there should be no need to do so to prepare pupils for T-levels. All state schools are required to teach broad and balanced curricula that will provide young people with the skills and knowledge they need to undertake post-16 education and training; and the design of T-levels will take into account the knowledge and skills that pupils obtain through the current National Curriculum and reformed GCSEs.

TEF

The DfE has published the research report: TEF and informing student choice: Subject-level classifications, and teaching quality and student outcome factors. The report notes that TEF was introduced to measure teaching quality and student outcomes to drive up teaching quality within the HE sector and inform prospective students so they can make more informed choices when choosing a HE institution. The research behind the report consider the methodology behind how subject level TEF could be delivered and gathered applicant and student views on what was important to them. The report will help inform the next iteration of the TEF.

Here are the key conclusions:

  • For subject level TEF CAH2 was preferred due to its accuracy for making subject-level classifications, and is considered most sufficient for providing information to help applicants choose where to study. (See here from bottom of page 39 to understand CAH2.) It was recognised some the CAH2 categories needed rewording, particularly subjects allied to medicine which needs more in-depth consideration. The Broad (7 subject) classification system was not helpful to applicants.
  • The study also highlights a number of teaching quality and student outcome factors that could be considered when further developing subject-level TEF. It’s important to consider teaching quality factors that have a short term impact on student satisfaction whilst at University with those having a longer term impact (such as graduate outcomes). There were a handful of factors that were low on the analyses and potentially, from a student perspective, could be deprioritised from subject-level TEF development. This includes teaching staff contracts, class sizes and the academic qualifications of teachers.
  • The research looked at the awareness and influence of the TEF awards on students currently or about to start at a HE institution.
    • 2/5 (two-fifths) of 2018/19 applicants were aware of what TEF refers to;
    • 1/8 had used the TEF to inform their choice of institution, or intended to do so.
    • 1/4 were aware of the TEF award given to their first-choice institution.

The research stated that as TEF becomes more embedded, we would expect applicant and student awareness and usage of TEF to grow over time, and the results from this research will form the baseline against which future awareness and student engagement can be measured.

The research concluded:

  • The study demonstrates that applicants and students would value the introduction of subject-level TEF ratings. Around three-quarters of all applicants and students (68 -78%) reported that they would find subject-level TEF awards useful while only a tiny minority (3-5%) suggested it was of no use. Applicants that were aware of the provider-level TEF and its purpose were also more likely to consider subject level TEF to be useful.

Some parliamentary questions from this week relevant to the TEF:

Q – Gordon Marsden: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what discussions he has had with the Office for Students on the adequacy of the metrics for the Teaching Excellence Framework.

A – Sam Gyimah:

  • To enable students to make the best decisions about their future, it is important that they have consistent independent information about the courses they are considering. The Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF) metrics focus on what matters to students: teaching quality, the learning experience, and student outcomes. The development of subject-level TEF will give students more information than ever before. The department has worked collaboratively with the Office for Students (OfS), and the Higher Education Funding Council for England before that, throughout the development of the TEF.
  • The metrics used for TEF assessments are all well-established, widely used and trusted in the HE sector. We consulted the sector extensively on the design of TEF, including the metrics to be used, in 2016. We have recently concluded a consultation on subject-level TEF and the OfS has completed the first year of the pilot of subject-level TEF. Findings from those exercises, including on the operation of the metrics, will be shared between the department and OfS and will inform the further development of the TEF.

Q – Dan Jarvis: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what assessment he has made of efficacy of untrained PhD students being employed by universities to teach undergraduates.

A – Sam Gyimah:

  • The Higher Education Statistics Agency collects and publishes data on the teaching qualifications of academic staff, but this does not enable an assessment of the efficacy of those staff or any PhD students that are teaching in universities. The Higher Education and Research Act enshrines the principle that higher education institutions are autonomous organisations with freedom to select, appoint, or dismiss academic staff without interference from government. However, the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF) recognises and rewards excellent teaching in higher education. The Teaching Quality measure within the TEF core metrics uses data from the National Student Survey, including student views of the teaching on their courses. In addition, the new Office for Students published its regulatory framework in February of this year. This includes a condition that all registered higher education institutions must deliver well designed courses that provide a high quality academic experience for all students – and that providers should have sufficient appropriately qualified and skilled staff to deliver that high quality academic experience.

Science and Innovation Investment

On Thursday Greg Clark (Secretary of State, BEIS) highlighted new investment in UK talent and skills to grow and attract the best in science and innovation.  Key points:

  • £1.3 billion boost to attract and retain world-class talent and guarantee the UK’s position at the forefront of innovation and discovery through the modern Industrial Strategy
  • Prestigious £900 million UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Future Leaders Fellowship Scheme – open to best researchers from around the world the investment will fund at least 550 new fellowships for the brightest and best from academia and business

The inaugural UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship Scheme will receive £900 million over the next 11 years, with 6 funding competitions and at least 550 fellowships awarded over the next 3 years. The investment will provide up to 7 years of funding for early-career researchers and innovators, including support for part-time awards and career-breaks, providing flexibility to researchers to tackle ambitious and challenging areas. For the first time ever, this type of scheme will now be open to businesses as well as universities. The scheme aims to help the next generation of tech entrepreneurs, business leaders and innovators get the support they need to develop their careers. It is open to best researchers from around the world, ensuring the UK continues to attract the most exceptional talent wherever they may come from.

Complementing the Future Leaders Fellowship Scheme, the Royal Society, Royal Academy of Engineering, British Academy, and Academy of Medical Sciences will collectively receive £350 million for the prestigious fellowships schemes. This funding will enhance the research talent pipeline and increase the number of fellowships on offer for high skilled researchers and innovators.

Over the next 5 years, £50 million has been allocated through the National Productivity Investment Fund for additional PhDs, including 100 PhDs to support research into AI, supporting one of the Grand Challenges within the Industrial Strategy and ensuring Britain is at the forefront of the AI revolution.

There was a Parliamentary Question about UKRI this week.

Q – Nic Dakin: To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, what steps he is taking to ensure that UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) fulfils its mission to push the frontiers of human knowledge and understanding by appointing active research scientists to the UKRI Board.

A – Sam Gyimah: In line with the Higher Education and Research Act (2017), the Government has appointed UKRI Board members with experience across research, innovation and development, and on commercial and financial matters. This enables the UKRI Board to support and hold the organisation to account, ensuring it delivers effectively, rather than to supply discipline-specific expertise. That expertise is provided by the councils, who are uniquely positioned to understand the latest challenges and opportunities in their specific field, and they include a range of experts, including active researchers.

New LEO data

The DfE have issued the Graduate outcomes (LEO): subject by provider, 2015 to 2016, and have also published employment and earnings outcomes of graduates for each higher education provider broken down by subject studied and gender. The longitudinal education outcomes (LEO) data includes information from the Department for Education, Department for Work and Pensions and HM Revenue and Customs. The release uses LEO data to look at employment and earnings outcomes of higher education first degree graduates 1, 3, and 5 years after graduation in the tax years 2014 to 2015 and 2015 to 2016.

Main Document: Graduate Outcomes (LEO): Subject by Provider, 2015 to 2016

Full data release: Official Statistics, Graduate outcomes (LEO): subject by provider, 2015 to 2016

Consultations

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

New consultations and inquiries this week:

  • Gender stereotypes in advertising
  • Growth in creative industries
  • Home Office immigration charges

Other news

Resignation: The Trade Minister, Greg Hands, resigned this week in protest at the Heathrow expansion. George Hollingbery has been appointed. Previously George was Theresa May’s Parliamentary Private Secretary.

Environment: Research Professional report on the Plastics Pollution Research fund. And there is a parliamentary question on the Environment Plan.

Q – Baroness Jones of Whitchurch: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they have taken to involve scientists, economists and environmentalists in developing a set of metrics to measure the progress of the 25 Year Environment Plan; and when those metrics will be published.

A –  Lord Gardiner of Kimble: We have engaged with scientists, economists and environmentalists from a number of external organisations since January to inform the development of a comprehensive suite of metrics and indicators.We will engage further with interested parties over the summer to canvas views on what this suite of indicators and metrics ought to cover. This will be achieved through a combination of publicly available briefing papers and targeted technical meetings with individual organisations and small groups of interested parties. The package of metrics we propose will then be subject to a further period of formal consultation in order to ensure we get this important measure absolutely right.

HE Sector Finances: The House of Commons Library has released information on HE Finance Statistics.  It considers how the balance and make-up of university income and expenditure has changed over time, particularly since 2012. Summary from Dods: After many years of increased income, expenditure, more staff and students, the higher education sector in England especially faces on ongoing fall in income from the public sector, falling numbers of some types of students, particularly those studying part-time and much less certainty about the future make-up and nature of the sector as a whole. This has meant that the future public/private funding mix, size and role of the sector are the focus of more attention than at any time in the recent past.  This note gives a short factual background on changes in income, expenditure and staffing since the sector took its present form in the mid-1990s. It also gives some information on variations between institutions. It includes data on all Higher Education Institutions in the UK.

Social Impact of Sport: The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee held an evidence session on the social impact of participation in culture and sport this week. The witnesses stated that sports, arts, and cultural provision yielded significant social benefits, including educational and health benefits. However, it was noted that data collection and analysis needed to improve to fully demonstrate this. There was discussion that good programmes were underway but best practice needed to be shared more effectively and communication of what was available needed to improve. It was felt that the Government should link up the various programmes underway and communicate the holistic benefits of sporting and cultural interventions. Contact Sarah for a fuller summary.

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HE Policy Update (w/e 20 April 2018)

A week of intense debate over fees, artificial intelligence, student nurses and the decline of part time provision. Enjoy!

Fees, fees, fees…and the HE Review

HEPI’s Free and Comprehensive University

HEPI have published a new blog The Comprehensive and Free University by Professor Tim Blackman (VC Middlesex, but writing personally). In essence it argues for free fees and a greater focus on the comprehensive university model (institutions that service their regional community with less focus on entrance requirements, generally less research intensive too).

Blackman commences by tackling the current HE Review. He highlights that because the Government have informed the ‘independent’ panel conducting the HE Review that abolishing tuition fees isn’t an option there is already a political bias. He addresses the arguments against abolishing fees (unfair – non-graduate taxpayers footing bill for those that will become higher earners and unaffordable to the public purse) and raises cross-generational fairness (older graduates had no fees and maintenance grants). Instead he feels the simple solution is to raise income rates within the higher and additional tax bands (effectively raising the repayment threshold to £45,000). He notes approx. 66% of graduates are within these tax bands (so 34% are non-graduate high earners that would contribute). He states the cost of abolishing fees is £7.5 billion per year and that increasing the higher rate tax from 40% to 45% (and the additional rate from 45% to 65%) would fully cover the £7.5 billion.

This approach would see the Treasury holding these taxation purse strings. So a pertinent question is – how much of this funding would actually reach universities and who would be the winners and losers from the Government’s allocation method? Currently the funding going direct from students to Universities is a neater, perhaps fairer, system from the University prospective and one that many within Government appear keen to retain. As the tax would be retrospective we could question whether student number controls be reintroduced, at least until the Treasury was confident the public purse would be repaid. And surely there would be even more focus on graduate outcome earnings?

Returning to Blackman, he isn’t a fan of writing off the loans of existing graduates, despite the unfairness of their being the only paying meat within the chronological free tuition sandwich. He feels those paying off their loans will “know that new cohorts paying no fees will still contribute if and when they become higher earners”. He also doesn’t propose the re-introduction of maintenance grants (as the tax income wouldn’t cover this) and states its right for students who chose to move away from home to study to take out a loan to do so. Blackman believes far more students should study locally and the costs commuter students incur to study at their nearest university could be partly met by public transport discounts funded by reducing the subsidy away from the over-60’s away free travel. Note, adjustments for rurality or areas without public transport aren’t adequately addressed.

At first Blackman’s suggestions that only students that are willing to take loans and pay fees should attend a distant institution appears socially regressive. After all it seems to close down student choice – preventing selection of an institution dependent on whether the course content best fits their interest, selection for the perceived quality of the institution, or attending a prestigious institution for the reported employment outcome boost. There is a clear hit to social mobility in expecting those in the poorest areas, who may be most debt adverse to only attend their nearest institution. What if their local institution doesn’t deliver their programme, e.g. medicine. Is Blackman suggesting the choice would be loans and fees or abandon their career aspirations? Blackman defends his localism by explaining that moving away to attend university residentially is a colonial legacy, and happens less in other countries (America, Australia). He sees moving away as a perk which would only continue via the loan system. He states:

A policy of encouraging local study has many benefits. It is less costly to students and taxpayers, greener in transport terms and would take pressure off many local housing markets. It also offers an option for phasing in free higher education. Just as going to university ‘in state’ in the United States means considerably lower fees than studying out of state, free higher education in England could at least initially be restricted to studying ‘in region’, based on the Government Office regions abolished in 2011. Studying out of region would mean paying a regulated fee, at a level to be decided, but similar in principle to how students from Scotland pay fees to attend English universities.

He does go on to address the social mobility elements:

…of course, [its] potentially an argument against this idea if local study becomes the only choice for many people from low income households because they cannot afford the out-of-region fee or lack the resources to maintain themselves away from home. This would only really be an issue of educational disadvantage if the effect was to narrow the choice of types of university or course, but this choice is already narrowed by ‘top’ universities using academic selection in a way that excludes many such people, whose prior attainment tends to be significantly lower than those from better-off households.

Blackman feels the answer lies within requiring all universities to have more diverse intakes – socially, ethnically and by ability: Institutional quotas incorporating a required balance across entry grades and social background – basically an elaboration of current access benchmarks – would provide a basis for the diversification I advocate even without initially confining free higher education to local study. But it would enable such a policy to be managed so that there are enough free local places for the range of prior attainment in any region.

Above all, at a time when young people are under pressure from so many directions, and the number of part-time adult learners is collapsing, abolishing fees and using higher rate tax bands to pay for it would be an important statement about those who are successful in their careers and businesses investing in young people and adult learning.

Blackman pushes back against HE sector criticism that it is seen as the only way and discredits other vocational routes by weaving in the Government push for more flexible methods of degree delivery:

It also seems possible that with this review we will see the progressiveness of student loans for degree study being criticised as a market distortion, tempting students who would be better opting for shorter vocational courses or apprenticeships. Not only does that threaten to undo the progress made so far with widening access to degree study, but it fails to address far more important issues about what we are teaching and how, such as replacing outmoded academic years and credit with more flexible competency-based learning and assessment.

Blackman does believe there is a risk that student number controls could be reintroduced, even with the current fee loan system by noting that the Treasury’s purse isn’t unlimited. The expected future rise in the number of young people aspiring to enter higher education (as outlined in HEPI report 105) will challenge any funding system, but loans no longer mean that student number controls are off the agenda given the level of taxpayer contribution to settle unpaid debt and support high-cost subjects. The idea that fees and loans would guarantee university autonomy and funding has also worn thin with the Office for Students’ new regulatory regime and a further fees freeze.

Loan Interest Rates

The RPI inflation rise created renewed criticism this week as it means student loan interest rates will increase to 6.3% in September (up from 6.1%). Much of the controversy stems from the use of RPI which has been denounced as inappropriate method for student loans (RPI is no longer used as a national statistic). The Government now uses the consumer price index for many calculations and there have been calls for it to be applied to student loans.  The Guardian ran with the story: Ministers under fire as student loan interest hits 6.3% on Wednesday. To put this into context re-read Martin Lewis’ explanatory article for his clear explanation of why (for 83% of students) the interest rate rise won’t mean they ever pay more. Here’s an excerpt:

The interest doesn’t change what you repay each year

You become eligible to repay your student loan in the April after you leave University.

From this point, students must repay loans at a rate of 9% of everything they earn above £25,000 each year (or more technically £2,083 a month). So if you earn £30,000, as that’s £5,000 more than the threshold, you repay 9% of it – which is £450 a year.

This means the amount you owe (the borrowing plus interest) never has an impact on what you repay each year. I know people really struggle with this, so let’s pick out of the air a current salary of £35,000 (purely done for maths ease as it’s £10,000 above the threshold) and look at how different levels of borrowing impact your repayments – though the same principle applies whatever you earn.

  • Student loan & interest: £20,000. Your earnings: £35,000.
    As you repay 9% of everything above £25,000 your annual repayment is £900.

 

  • Student loan & interest: £50,000. Your earnings: £35,000. 
    As you repay 9% of everything above £25,000 your annual repayment is £900.

 

  • To get silly to prove a point: student loan & interest: £1 billion. Your earnings: £35,000. 
    As you repay 9% of everything above £25,000 your annual repayment is £900.

 

As you can see, changing what you owe – even to the absurd level of £1 billion – simply doesn’t impact your repayments (you may find it easier to listen to my BBC Radio 5 Live student finance podcast to understand this).

 

HE Review and Fees

At UUK’s Political Affairs in HE Forum on Thursday HE fees received frequent mention. A wide range of personal views were stated: Conference Chair Stephen Bush (New Statesman) opened by declaring the days of £12,000 fees are gone. Katie Perrior (previous Director of Comms at No 10) highlighted how if the Government can only make a measly concession on fees its better ’not to go there’ with the nuance the review should focus on wider issues instead. Her take was that the review outcome would tackle loan interest rates and perhaps address maintenance grants. Speaking officially in the session on the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding Philip Augar (Chair of the HE Review panel) set out to bring the audience ‘up to date’ and provide an ‘inking into the panel’s current thinking’. The official word on the HE Review is that it will be much broader than a review of fees, covering far more ground. The review has to fit with the Government’s objectives to reduce the deficit and the national debt, and decisions must be taken based on evidence.

The panel are approaching the review based on two questions:

  1. What should the tertiary education system be doing for the country (what are its objectives)?
  2. How does the current system match up to this?

The panel are subdividing the evidence between economic and social objectives.

Economic requirements for tertiary system:

  • Skills
  • Innovation (expectation for the tertiary system to create innovation)
  • The assertion that FE and HE is crucial for economic dynamism
  • Value for money (one of the biggest issues)
  • The premise that all must be done transparently and in the most official manner
  • There must be a balance of contributions between state and employers

Social elements:

  • Improving life chances
  • Accessible education and training
  • Cultural issues – education fostering good citizenships and interaction
  • Excellence – any changes must not risk the sector’s academic excellence

Philip confirmed workstreams matching and measuring against these criteria were currently in progress, including reference and focus groups across the range of students, employers and providers. He stated he felt there was ‘room to improve value and coherence’, and then promptly left the conference for a pressing parliamentary engagement before questions could be asked.

Other members of the panel were:

Rt Hon Lord Willetts, former Universities and Science Minister​ (Conservative)

Professor John Denham, Professor, University of Winchester and former government minister (Labour)

Each went on to give their opinion of the HE Review.

Willetts presented a supportive stance for Universities and felt the problems and challenges within tertiary education mainly lay outside of the University sector. He felt the review should tackle:

  • The underfunding of FE
  • Strengthening non-university routes
  • Part time and mature HE opportunities

He felt the current fees model was the best way (for young, full time, undergraduates) – but that the grievances over the interest rate should be addressed. He was clear that fees were over-debated and echoed the need to move away from fees to tackle the more pressing above three issues he described. On part time and mature he felt an entirely different funding model (non-loan) is needed.

An interesting point he highlighted is that public spending on apprenticeships now exceeds public spending on Universities.

 

John Denham presented a range of more complicated messages questioning whether the HE system is actually producing what the UK economy and students need, specifically on graduate underemployment. He felt how an institution responds to the funding system is pivotal – more than what the funding system is.

Although Denham is a Labour party member, and while he conceded that abolishing fees is attractive, he doesn’t feel it’s the answer. He noted if fees are abolished but everything else stays the same the result will be a costly system that delivers exactly as it does already (and doesn’t tackle any of the systemic problems – widening participation, achievement gaps, graduate outcomes). Denham’s argument was that the HE system can be made cheaper. He also noted that the investment in FE is ‘pathetically low’ and requires addressing [although presumably not at the expense of the HE sector – which the current system of direct fee payments from student to institution provides a limited safeguard against].

Quality of Apprenticeships & Skills

On Tuesday the House of Commons Education Select Committee met to consider the quality of apprenticeships and skills training. Witnesses called to provide evidence were:

  • Mark Dawe, Chief Executive, Association of Employment and Learning Providers
  • Lady Andrée Deane Barron, Group Education and Central Skills Director, Central YMCA
  • Petra Wilton, Director of Strategy and External Affairs, Chartered Management Institute

The session focused on apprenticeships and what support could be offered to apprentices who were struggling. There was discussion about entry level requirements to apprenticeships and whether they would be able to recruit the kind of able candidate who could not suit or afford university.

Dawe was sceptical of the idea that everyone should be a level 3 or level 4 apprentice. He stated there was a lack of level 2 apprentices and the UK really needed more of these.

Degree-level apprenticeships were discussed with Lucy Powell (Lab/Co-op, Manchester Central) explaining that the committee had met a lot of degree-level apprentices, and despite the impressive quality of candidate, many had needed an A grade in their maths exam to win a place. She questioned what this meant for social mobility.

Dawe responded that high grades did not necessarily differentiate between different social classes. However, many organisations were considering different ways of assessing potential candidates, e.g.  Dyson has an “amazing programme” full of “incredible applications“. Dawe argued the more high-grade students who moved in, the more tertiary education would transform. Petra Wilton presented statistics to argue that apprenticeships were supporting social mobility: 49% of apprentices were aged 30, 52.5% were female, and 51% were from disadvantaged regions. She went on to say the all age process means that those that did not get a degree the first time round, had access now and ‘failed graduates’ found it opened their career prospects in ways “they had never imagined“.

It was also noted that travel cost support for apprentices would particularly benefit those living in rural areas and could improve attendance at face to face delivery sessions.

More generally it was argued that the external evaluation of apprenticeship quality requires improvement to support employer deliver and stronger progression pathways are needed.

Other apprenticeship news

DfE’s Apprenticeship and levy statistics note a drop in apprenticeship starts – down by 31% (25,400 starts in Jan 2018 compared to 36,700 in Jan 2017). The Independent covered the story noting ‘the structure and implementation of the apprenticeship levy has acted as a barrier and brake to skills development’.

Artificial Intelligence

The House of Lords Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence has published AI in the UK: ready, willing and able? following their recent inquiry. The inquiry concluded the UK is capable of being an AI world leader and a great opportunity for the British economy. Excerpts:

As soon as it works, no one calls it AI anymore …

Artificial intelligence has been developing for years, but it is entering a crucial stage in its development and adoption. The last decade has seen a confluence of factors—in particular, improved techniques such as deep learning, and the growth in available data and computer processing power—enable this technology to be deployed far more extensively. This brings with it a host of opportunities, but also risks and challenges, and how the UK chooses to respond to these, will have widespread implications for many years to come.

‘Access to large quantities of data is one of the factors fuelling the current AI boom.’  The report describes how balancing data gathering and access with personal privacy needs careful change. To do this means not only using established concepts, such as open data and data protection legislation, but also the development of new frameworks and mechanisms, such as data portability and data trusts.  A nod is made to safeguarding amid the recent scandal too: ‘Large companies which have control over vast quantities of data must be prevented from becoming overly powerful within this landscape’.

The report calls for:

  • Government and the Competition and Markets Authority to proactively review use and monopolisation of data by big technology companies
  • To ensure use of AI does not inadvertently prejudice the treatment of particular groups in society. Government to incentivise the development of new approaches to the auditing of datasets used in AI, and to encourage greater diversity in the training and recruitment of AI specialists.
  • Create a growth fund for UK SMEs working with AI to scale their businesses; a PhD matching scheme (costs shared with private sector) and standardisation of a mechanism for spinning out AI start-ups (based on University research).
  • Increasing visas for overseas workers with valuable skills in AI.
  • An AI Council is formed to rationalise the hopes and fears associated with AI and to inform consumers when artificial intelligence is being used to make significant or sensitive decisions.
  • Government investment in skills and training to mitigate the digital disruption to the jobs market that AI is likely to exacerbate. The National Retraining Scheme may be vital, needs to be developed in partnership with industry taking on board lessons learnt from the apprenticeships scheme. More AI in children’s curriculum. Conversion courses (3-6 months) to meet needs of researchers and industry.
  • The Presenti-Hall Review (intellectual property management in AI) recommendations be endorsed and the government commit to underwriting, and where necessary replacing, funding for European research and innovation programmes.
  • Law Commission should provide clarity regarding the adequacy of existing legislation should AI systems malfunction, underperform or otherwise make erroneous decisions which cause harm.
  • AI developers to be alive to the potential ethical implications of their work and the risk of their work being used for malicious purposes. (This was discussed on Monday 16th’s Today programme on Radio 4). Funding applications should demonstrate consequential understanding of how the research might be misused. 5 principles were proposed to form a shared ethical AI framework.

Read the report in full here.

The report has been heavily criticised by the Institute of Economic Affairs (see their press release) who state: The recommendations on how the UK can become a global leader in Artificial Intelligence are off the mark. While the report contains numerous uncontroversial and welcome suggestions on such topics as increased use of AI in the National Health Service, more visas for talented technologists, and the need to make public sector data sets available to the private sector, many of the recommendations would hamper the development of AI domestically and antagonise foreign innovators.

The report acknowledges the need to make it easier for universities to form “spin-out companies,” which are effectively startups with university ownership of intellectual property. Reform of the current spin-out procedure is necessary, though that is only a small part of the large amount of regulatory barriers for startups in the UK. It is not enough to care only about university research when the large American companies criticized for being too large were not university spin-outs themselves. 

 

It is helpful that the UK’s Parliament is examining the opportunities that artificial intelligence creates. However, it would do better to focus on removing the barriers currently in place, rather than developing new ones.

 

Do read the short press release for critique on other elements of the Lords report if you have an interest in this area.

UKRI – Interim Executive Chair

UK Research and Innovation have appointed Dr Ian Campbell as the new interim executive chair of Innovate UK. Campbell will take over from 4 May until a permanent Executive Chair is appointed. His background is within aging, life sciences, medical devices and diagnostics.

Dr Ian Campbell said: “I am absolutely delighted to be appointed as interim Executive Chair of Innovate UK. Our role as the business-facing arm of UK Research and Innovation is more important than ever as we seek to meet the target of spending 2.4% of our GDP on research and development. Innovate UK, working together with all the research councils has a key role to play in realising that ambition through flagship programmes such as the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. I am really looking forward to working with and leading our fantastic team to make sure that businesses have the support they need.”

Here is the press release on the interim appointment.

 

Widening Participation & Achievement

HE’s influence on life and death

Nora Ann Colton (UCL) blogs for Wonkhe to explore the link between lack of HE provision and high rates of mortality within cold spot areas. Excerpt: In 2014, HEFCE published maps that revealed “cold spots” in higher education provision across England. These maps revealed gaps in subject provision, student mobility, and graduate employment. Though this work was significant in providing useful information for higher education providers and local authorities, there is more to the question of educational “cold spots”. There has always been an understanding that a lack of employment opportunities, poverty, and deprivation lead to higher mortality rates, but recent research suggests a link between a lack of higher education provision and high rates of mortality.

Nora highlights Blackpool as an example of ‘death by no higher education’ where demand for professional occupations is increasing and fewer and fewer jobs are available for lower skilled workers. Nora discusses the research demonstrating that better-educated people live in less-polluted areas, tend to be less obese, are more physically active, are less likely to smoke, and do not as frequently engage in risky behaviours. She argues against an economically focussed reductionist approach to HE:  A reductionist approach to higher education, its mission, and its impact fails to recognise the profound effect that it can have on an individual in terms of shaping their quality of life, health and life expectancy. Nora calls for the sector to re-consider their messaging:

If a university education is the best signifier of future good health and high earnings, the higher education sector needs to get its messaging right. This approach requires that we recognise that higher education and the missions of universities are more than simply getting a student a job. Institutions must work with the government and the health sector to ensure these life changing outcomes. The higher education sector needs to start adopting this approach to fulfil its role in ensuring that we not only have a better-educated working population, but a healthier one as well.

 

PARLIAMENTARY QUESTIONS

Disabled Students

Q – Sir Mark Hendrick: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what assessment his Department has made of the effect of the introduction of the £200 self-contribution for disabled students who are in receipt of disabled student allowances on (a) the take-up of the equipment needed to study independently and (b) trends in the level of participation of disabled students; and if he will make a statement.

A – Sam Gyimah: The most recent data show that, for full-time undergraduate students domiciled in England, 4,600 fewer students were in receipt of equipment Disabled Students Allowances (DSAs) in 2015/16 than in 2014/15. The main reason for this fall is that the £200 student contribution to the costs of computer hardware took effect from September 2015.

This government remains committed to supporting disabled students in higher education, both through DSAs and through supporting higher education providers’ efforts to improve the support they offer their disabled students. Alongside this commitment, we are keen to better understand the impact of DSAs on eligible students, including that of recent DSAs reforms. We have commissioned a research project to explore this – we will respond to the research findings when they are available in spring 2018.

WP Statistics

HESA have released their statistical UK performance indicators for 2016-17 using the Polar 4 measures. This link gives a good summary, or for a brief insight Wonkhe note:

6.6% of UK-domiciled full-time first-degree students received Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA).

On the non-continuation rates of part-time first-degree entrants, and rates of resumption of study after a year out – of the 31,155 full-time, first-degree entrants who did not continue into their second year in 2015/16 10% resumed study at the same provider the following year. The release also shows that, two years after entering higher education, around a third (33.5%) of part-time students had terminated their studies. The Open University accounted for 83% of these students.

Lifelong Learning (House of Lords)

On Tuesday the House of Lords debated Lifelong Learning. Baroness Garden of Frognal (Lib Dem) opened the debate by discussing the huge decline in part time degree uptake and stated the higher fee system was “undoubtedly one of the major factors that prevents adults from upskilling or reskilling” She asked the minister to comment on fee changes and its impact on disadvantaged groups. Shadow spokesperson for education, Lord Watson of Invergowrie, agreed that fees were a cause of decline and raised questions on the Government’s target for apprenticeship starts.

The impact of technology creating changes within employment and employment opportunities was raised and the Baroness called on the minister to comment on the Made Smarter review (proposes to digitally upskill 1m people over the next five years through an online platform). Lord Knight of Weymouth (Labour) stated a lifelong learning culture was vital as technology will force multiple career changes within an individual’s life. He concluded that radical reform was needed and “not just tinkering with a redundant system“.

The Baroness stated craft and creativity had “been squeezed out” of the school curriculum in favour of academic content and she asked the Government to discuss their engagement on this topic, along with how the Government were encouraging adults to learn languages.

She said that Government should recognise that lifelong learning was critical and explicitly give the recommendation that all universities should “consider how best to support this educational provision, either through developing a more flexible curriculum or producing open educational resources.” Lord Addington (Lib Dem) added the importance of lifelong learning and skills for those with dyslexia and other hidden disabilities.

Baroness Bakewell (Lab), a member of the Artificial Intelligence Committee, asked if the post-18 review of funding would confront the fourth industrial revolution.

Lords Spokesperson for Higher Education, Viscount Younger of Leckie, discussed the points made throughout the debate and stated that ‘lifelong learning was becoming increasingly important due to a number of trends and challenges that are shaping the future of work in the UK.”

He outlined the various Government schemes and initiatives that aided in the development of skills throughout life which included the national retraining scheme, career learning pilots, the flexible learning fund and the outreach and cost pilots. He stated that the response to the T-level consultation would be released “very soon.”

On barriers to part-time learning he said that the review of the post-18 education-plus funding would look at how we can encourage flexible and part-time learning to allow people to study throughout their lives.

Nursing Students

Earlier in the academic year some nursing students were overpaid on their student loan.

Helen Jones asked a parliamentary question to follow this up:

Q – Helen Jones: what estimate he has made of the number of nursing students who have received incorrect payments from the Student Loans Company and who have been told that money will as a result be deducted from their future payments.

While the parliamentary question hasn’t been answered yet (due on Monday) the Government have responded on how they intend to recover the funds from nursing students who have been overpaid on their student loan. Additional payments of up to £1,000 and a deferred re-payment scheme have been set up. The Government says affected students can apply for this additional, non-repayable, maintenance support for the rest of this academic year if they are facing hardship. The Student Loan Company will also defer the recovery of the overpaid funds until affected students have finished their courses and can afford to repay. Overpaid students will be eligible for normal support as per usual in the next academic year.

Sam Gyimah stated: “My priority has been to ensure none of the affected student nurses should suffer hardship as a result of an administrative error. These short-term, practical steps will provide immediate help for those who need it so they can concentrate on their studies and their future careers without concern.”

The Royal College of Nursing have responded:

“This is a small but welcome recognition of the problem. But it does not go anything like far enough. Student nurses will still struggle to pay bills and childcare costs and they must not be forced to turn to loan sharks or even quit their studies as a result. 

“This was not a problem of their making and we will not let them pay the price. The overpayment mistakes must be written off and they need money this month without a bureaucratic nightmare.

“This announcement lacks detail and we will keep asking the difficult questions until students have the answers.”

Parliamentary Questions

Student Loans – Appointment

Q – Gordon Marsden: To ask the Secretary of State for Education when he plans to appoint a new permanent chief executive of the Student Loans Company.

A- Sam Gyimah: The Student Loan Company’s (SLC’s) Shareholding Administrations (the Department for Education, the Welsh Government, the Scottish Government and the Northern Irish Executive) are working closely with the SLC Board on the appointment of a new permanent CEO. This appointment will take place as soon as possible.

TEF

Q – Gordon Marsden: To ask the Secretary of State for Education when he plans to appoint the independent chair of the review into the Teaching Excellence Framework.

A – Sam Gyimah: My right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State is planning to appoint a suitable independent person to report on the operation of the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework by autumn 2018. The department is currently engaged in a process for identifying people who have both the required experience and can command the confidence of the sector.

 

STEM

Q – Gordon Marsden: what discussions he has had with the (a) Home Secretary and (b) Secretary of State for the Department for Exiting the European Union on universities being able to continue to recruit academics to teach STEM subjects after the UK leaves the EU.

A– Sam Gyimah: The government recognises that the ability to continue to attract Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) academics from across the EU post-exit is a priority for the higher education (HE) sector. That is why departments are working to ensure the interests of the HE sector are represented in EU exit planning, and the government has been clear that the UK will remain open to academic staff and researchers from Europe and beyond.

To help provide certainty to current and prospective EU academics, in December 2017 we reached an agreement with the EU that EU citizens living in the UK when we exit will be able to get on with their lives broadly as now, and enjoy rights such as access to healthcare, benefits, and education. We will extend the December deal to those that arrive during the implementation period, but EU citizens who arrive here during this period must register with the Home Office after three months residence in the UK.

We are considering the options for our future migration system and a crucial part of this work is the government commissioning the Migration Advisory Committee to assess the impact of EU exit on the UK labour market. Their report in September will help to inform our thinking.

Elsewhere, the government is taking steps to increase the supply of important STEM skills, including by supporting new institutions such as the New Model in Technology and Engineering and the Institute of Coding, where a consortium of employers and universities will ensure HE courses meet the needs of the economy.

Contract Cheating

Q – Stephen Timms: what assessment he has made of the prevalence of fraudulent dissertation-writing services for university students; and what plans he has to address that practice.

A- Sam Gyimah: Higher education providers, as autonomous organisations, are responsible for handling matters of this nature, including developing and implementing policies to detect and discourage plagiarism. To help providers tackle the issue, we asked the Quality Assurance Agency, Universities UK and the National Union of Students to produce new guidance, which was published in October 2017.

This guidance is the first set of comprehensive advice for providers and students on the subject. It makes clear that where providers are working with others to deliver programmes, such as through validation, care should be taken to ensure that partner organisations are taking the risks of academic misconduct seriously. Providers are also encouraged to consider steps to scrutinise potential partners’ processes and regulations when developing validation arrangements. This is in line with the wider expectations set out in the UK Quality Code for Higher Education which all providers must meet. The code establishes the fundamental principle that degree awarding bodies have ultimate responsibility for academic standards and the quality of learning opportunities, regardless of where these opportunities are delivered and who provides them.

Going forward, I expect the Office for Students to encourage and support the sector to implement strong policies and sanctions to address this important issue in the most robust way possible.

2019/20 EU student fee levels

Q – Hilary Benn: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, whether non-UK EU students starting university courses in the UK in academic year 2019-20 will be charged home student fees for the full duration of their course.

A – Sam Gyimah: Applications for courses starting in 2019/20 do not open until September 2018, and we will ensure EU students starting courses at English Institutions in that academic year have information well in advance of this date.

 

Consultations

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

Other news

Social Media: a new All Party Parliamentary Group has launched on Social Media and Young People’s Mental Health and Wellbeing. It will be chaired by Chris Elmore MP (Labour).

Disadvantage: An Education Policy Institute report comparing educationally disadvantaged pupils within England with other nations has concluded England needs to double the number of disadvantaged pupils achieving the top GCSE grades to match the performance of the best nations.

Industrial Strategy: Ministers have announced £8 million for innovation to tackle global climate change and prepare for natural disasters as part of the Industrial Strategy for Commonwealth countries.

Transition to work: Stephen Isherwood writes about the stark differences between academic and working life in Communicating the university-to-work transition to students.

He states we underestimate the difficulties of the transition that students have to make when they start full-time work. That it’s a myth that employers expect fully work-ready hires who don’t require any development, but the spectrum of experience ranges from the student who hasn’t even had a bar job, to those with a one-year placement and more. The biggest development need is found in the complex areas of working with others. “Teamwork” is vague – a term used to describe managing up, dealing with conflicts, and working across complex team structures – University group exercises don’t match up to this. Real on the job experience is valued most and graduates with meaningful work experience are more employable. Isherwood states employers think that interns are much more likely to have the skills they seek than those without work experience:

But not all work experience has to be gained via a city internship in a gleaming Canary Wharf skyscraper. Work experience comes in many forms. Pulling shifts in a restaurant often involves dealing with demanding people. A student on a supermarket till can see around them the business decisions that companies make on a day-to-day basis. The fact that fewer and fewer young people are now working part-time during their school years is a problem.

Students who interview well demonstrate how they proactively developed relevant skills. A problem with course-related group work examples is that everyone has them. Employers are more likely to hire the student who has done more than they were told to, and can explain how they overcame difficulties and got stuff done.

He concludes:

It’s in the interests of employers, universities, and the students themselves to improve transitions into work. The more students gain meaningful experiences to develop the skills that will get them started in their career, the deeper their understanding of their strengths, and the easier and quicker they will transition to the world of work.

The Guardian ran a related article this week: Working while you study: a means to an end or a career opportunity.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

65111                                                                                 65070

 

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

 

HE policy update for the w/e 19th January 2018

A quieter week policy-wise following the cabinet reshuffle.

New minister – new set of priorities?

Our new minister has been fairly quiet as he settles in and thinks about the many priorities – we expect that the PM wants him to focus on the “major review” – and despite pressure he has refused to get drawn into a discussion of details. He gave a formal response to a parliamentary question earlier this week:

Q – Wes Streeting (Labour): To ask the Secretary of State for Education, if he will publish the (a) scope, (b) timetable and (c) membership the review panel for the review of university funding and student financing announced by the Prime Minister in her speech to the Conservative Party Conference in October 2017.

A – Sam Gyimah (Conservative, new Universities Minister):

As stated in the Industrial Strategy white paper published on 27 November 2017, the government is committed to conducting a major review of funding across tertiary education to ensure a joined-up system that works for everyone.

As current and significant reforms move into implementation, this review will look at how we can ensure that the education system for those aged 18 years and over is:

  • accessible to all;
  • supported by a funding system that provides value for money and works for both students and taxpayers;
  • incentivises choice and competition across the sector;
  • and encourages the development of the skills that we need as a country.

The government will set out further details on the review in due course.

And the minister spoke at Queen Mary University of London this week in a date agreed while he was still at the Ministry of Justice – clearly the subject matter had moved on given his new appointment. The discussion was covered by Wonkhe – it seems to have been a balanced and reasonable set of responses from someone who is thinking carefully before leaping into the fray.

Of course there has been plenty of advice for the new minister – from calls for him to get stuck into Brexit discussions to defend research funding, mobility etc. (he did vote remain, after all), to questions about the freedom of speech agenda and BME students at Oxbridge (he was one).

UKRI

John Kingman has been named as the permanent chair of UK Research and Innovation, officially taking the role in April. He has been acting as the interim chair to date to support the shadow running and new set up of the organisation. The Commons Science and Technology Committee are required to ratify his appointment. Also reported in Times Higher.

Freedom of speech

The debate over free speech continued in the Parliamentary Joint Human Rights Committee this week. NUS VP Doku has called for the number of events with freedom of speech issues to be published to quantify if the ‘issue’ is government rhetoric or genuinely needs tackling. Wes Streeting (MP Ilford North and former NUS President) claims the challenges are “overstated” and that Prevent has had the greatest impact on freedom of speech. He continued that no platforming, under NUS policy, was only used to prevent racism and fascism.

International Students

The Home Affairs Committee published Immigration policy: basis for building consensus calling on the Government to make it a clear and stated objective of public policy to build greater consensus and trust on immigration as part of major overhaul of immigration policy making. Read the short summary.  The report does not consider specific policy options for EU migration. The Committee will examine these once the Government publishes its forthcoming White Paper on immigration.

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

  • “The Government has a responsibility to build consensus and confidence on immigration rather than allowing this to be a divisive debate. But that requires a transformation in the way that immigration policy is made as too often the current approach has undermined trust in the system.
  • The net migration target isn’t working to build confidence and it treats all migration as the same. That’s why it should be replaced by a different framework of targets and controls. And frankly the system needs to work effectively. As long as there are so many errors and so many problems with enforcement, people won’t have confidence that the system is either fair or robust.”

The Report recommends:

  • An Annual Migration Report setting out a three-year, rolling plan for migration.
  • Clearer and simpler immigration rules, underpinned by principles and values – including the contributory principle, supporting family life and safeguarding security
  • Replacing the net migration target with an evidence-based framework for different types of immigration that takes into account the UK’s needs. There should be no national target to restrict the numbers of students coming to the UK, and at a minimum the Government should immediately remove students from the current net migration target.
  • An immigration system which treats different skills differently. There is clear public support for the continued arrival of high-skilled (not just highly paid) workers who are needed in the economy. Immigration rules should allow UK businesses and organisations easily to attract top talent, with restrictions and controls focused more on low-skilled migration.
  • Immigration plans should be linked with training plans to increase domestic skills in sectors and regions where there are skills gaps that need to be filled through migration.
  • A national integration strategy and local authority led local integration strategies

The report also notes:

  • “In calling for more international students to come and study in the UK, universities must be mindful of local impacts of large numbers of students and work with local authorities to help manage pressures on housing and public services. Universities should be expected to consult local authorities on future student numbers in their area.”

Mayoral pressure

The Financial Times ran an article noting how seven cross-party metro mayors have united to press the Prime Minster to provide a ”more open and welcoming message” to overseas students. The mayors have also written to the Migration Advisory Committee. The FT quotes the letter:

  • As the UK prepares to leave the EU, it is important that any future immigration system acknowledges the vital contribution international students make to regional jobs and growth. This includes projecting a more open and welcoming message for international students.

The letter combines last week’s HEPI report showing the huge net financial benefits international students bring with HESA data illustrating a downturn in international student numbers. The FT critiques the letter which uses 2016/17 data stating most students would have applied for their courses before the Brexit result was not known. What the FT fails to consider is that a lower conversion rate between application and enrolment does support the premise that Brexit has caused a fall in student numbers.

The Migration Advisory Committee is due to report to Government in September 2018, however, think tank HEPI is campaigning for an earlier response.

Widening Participation

Grammar Schools- A Financial Times article More grammar schools and lower tuition fees are not the answer covers the cabinet reshuffle (the widely reported demise of Justine Greening for blocking the PM’s school agenda) and draws on Education Policy Institute research:

  • On grammar schools, EPI analysis is very clear — more selective schools might deliver a small exam grade benefit to those who gain entry, but at a cost to those (poorer) children who do not pass the entry test. More grammar schools are therefore likely to worsen the country’s social mobility problem.

Meanwhile A Guardian article aiming to criticise Damian Hinds suggests that Theresa May is still determined to push grammar schools through

BME withdrawal – The Guardian considers the influence of social cultural and structural factors in Why do black students quit university more often than their white peers? The article quotes the Runnymede Trust (think tank) 2015 report: “University institutions have proved remarkably resilient to change in terms of curriculum, culture and staffing, remaining for the most part ‘ivory towers’ − with the emphasis on ‘ivory’.”

Admissions – In Robin hood and the America dream a Dorset born educator and careers advisor compares the HE admissions differences between Finland, America and the UK, and contemplates their social mobility implications.

STEM

A National Audit Office report: Delivering STEM skills for the economy has been published this week. It suggests Government initiative to improve the quality of STEM provision and take up of these subjects and rectifying the skills mismatch has met with some success. However, it pushes for Government departments to create a joined up vision sharing their aims, and a co-ordinated cross departmental plan, the delivery of which can then be examined for value for money. The report notes that the STEM gender gap continues.

Technical education

The House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee continued its examination of the economics of higher, further and technical education across two sessions. The first session considered the differences between UK education provision and comparable economically advanced countries (e.g. Germany). The panel discussed how FE could be enhanced, which countries integrated FE and HE effectively, and methods of encouraging lifelong learning. The narrowing of subjects after GCSE was also criticised. The following session address whether HE was currently prioritised over technical education, and whether this produces individuals with the necessary skills. Apprenticeships and T-levels were discussed in detail.

Enterprise and Entrepreneurship

The QAA has published Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Education: Guidance for UK HE Providers. The guidance says

  • all students should have an opportunity to engage with Enterprise and Entrepreneurship, and to align it with their subject(s) of choice. This will enable them to identify and seek out new opportunities; have higher aspirations in their careers; be resilient; and better adapt to change”.
  • Learning about and experiencing Enterprise and Entrepreneurship while at university can have several benefits. It gives students alternative perspectives on their career options and ultimately, the confidence to set up their own business or social enterprise.”

The guidance aims to inform, enhance and promote the development of Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Education and includes description of good practice.

Consultations

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

Other news

Full on: In the brave new world of accelerated degrees and intensified courses a Wonkhe blogger talks about working and studying (MSc) full time. She says universities can make studying more accessible to employees and employers by:

  • Teach modules in intensive blocks, e.g. 3 days, rather than spreading across a whole term
  • Provide assignment information well in advance of deadlines, ensuring no deadline clashes between other modules on the same programme
  • Sharing reading lists, presentations and essay topics well in advance of a module beginning – so the employed student can start reading and have an overall understanding of the subject area before attending lectures.
  • Careful structuring of the courses are important, as is the option to switch to part time study
  • Access to robust pastoral care and academic check ins

On the employer side the blogger notes that planning a balanced workload with her managers and knowing when key work deadlines fall within her academic calendar. She also recommends employers take a personalised approach to their employees study/work balance. For some this could me changing their hours or work pattern for all or part of their course.

  • “Studying is challenging. Working is challenging. Doing both at the same time certainly isn’t a walk in the park. However, employers and universities can help employed students to make it work.”

The Smart Machine Age: A Financial Times article describes the changes associated with the smart machines age and the skills graduates will need to develop.

  • Smart technology is already moving beyond manufacturing into the service industries and the professions, such as medicine, finance, accounting, management consulting and law. Businesses will reduce their headcount, because humans will only be needed for jobs that technology will not be able to do well: involving higher order critical, creative, and innovative thinking and/or emotional and social intelligence.
  • When they graduate, a student’s multidisciplinary skills should contain at least the following: scientific method; root cause analysis; unpacking assumptions; critical thinking purposes and questions; insight processes; design thinking; premortems; and after-action reviews .They ought to have emotional and social intelligence; the ability to collaborate and to know how to learn and develop their cognitive and emotional capabilities.

Graduate Recruitment: High Fliers have published The Graduate Market in 2018 noting a 4.9% decrease in the number of jobs available for 2017 graduates. They state this is the first drop in 5 years. The decrease was sharpest in the financial and banking sectors. Part of the blame was, of course, attributed to Brexit effects. Press coverage: The Times, The Guardian and The Telegraph (who note supermarket Aldi is now offering graduate salaries comparable with law and investment banking starter salaries).

Political inventions: It cannot be disputed how often HE has featured in the news in the last year. A Times Higher article reports on a (PA Consulting) Vice-Chancellor survey which reality checks the press, suggesting that some of the furore was politically motivated and often without genuine substance.

Woodgates, PA’s head of education, sums up that university leaders felt under siege.

  • Before the [2017 general] election, universities were still seen as one of the jewels in the crown of UK plc, and suddenly we seem to have moved to a world where nothing is different but the political narrative is that universities are a bit of a problem: they don’t provide value for money, their teaching quality is not very good, and vice-chancellors are overpaid.
  • Most of our respondents felt that this is fundamentally politically driven by the fact that Labour did well courting the youth vote and the Tories have responded to that, but there was also a feeling that the sector hasn’t done a very good job of responding to that and needs to be more proactive.
  • The sector has got locked into a position of responding to a political narrative rather than asserting their own narrative about the value they add: in relation to research, but also in relation in education, [and] the fact that they are very important players in social and economic development.”

What students want: The Guardian ask students what they would like the Office for Students to focus upon

Antisemitism on campus: Communities Secretary Sajid Javid announces £144,261 of funding for a new programme to support universities in tackling antisemitism on campus. The programme will be delivered by the Holocaust Educational Trust and the Union of Jewish Students and will involve 200 students and university leaders from across the country visiting the former Nazi concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau. It is expected that the 200 university student leaders who visit Auschwitz-Birkenau will then go on to deliver activity that engages a further 7,500 university students.

Communities Secretary Sajid Javid said:

  • “We all have a duty to speak out in the memory of those who were murdered during the Holocaust and all those, today, who are the subject of hatred and antisemitism. Holocaust education remains one of the most powerful tools we have to fight bigotry. The Holocaust Educational Trust has been hugely successful in teaching school children about where hatred, intolerance and misinformation can lead. That’s why I am proud that the government will fund this new programme to tackle antisemitism, prejudice and intolerance on university campuses.”

Josh Holt, President of the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) said:

  • “ UJS are very grateful that our partnership with HET is being recognised and supported by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. The resources committed today will enable a substantial expansion of student and university leaders receiving the education and training needed to combat antisemitism and prejudice on campus. Sadly we have seen a distressing increase in swastika graffiti, Holocaust denial literature and politicisation of the Holocaust on some UK campuses. We are determined to combat this and welcome this significant contribution to our longstanding work bringing students of all faiths and backgrounds together to create cohesive campus communities.”

The new programme will be jointly funded by the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Department for Education, building on the Holocaust Educational Trust’s highly successful ‘Lessons from Auschwitz’ programme for school students.

Subscribe!

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

JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

Standing up for Science workshop for STEM & social science early career researchers

Sense about Science is holding a Standing up for Science workshop at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society on Thursday 30 November 2017. This full day event is for STEM and social science early career researchers (PhD students, post-doctoral fellows or equivalent).

Want to find out how to make your voice heard in public debates about science?

Image result for voice of young science workshop

At this workshop, you will meet researchers who promote science in the face of hostility and are recognised for their achievements, learn from respected science journalists about how the media works, how to respond and comment, and what journalists want and expect from scientists.

These workshops are very popular and places are limited.

To apply, please complete the application form and email Rachel Bowen (rbowen@bournemouth.ac.uk) to let her know that you wish to attend.

Closing date for applications: Monday 13 November, 5pm.

 

Image result for sense about science workshop

For more details about the workshop, get in touch with Ana Skamarauskas (ana@senseaboutscience.org).

An annual event to celebrate women in STEM

events

The WISE Awards is an annual event, a special opportunity to recognise inspiring organisations and individuals actively addressing the core concerns of WISE: promoting science, technology, engineering and mathematics to girls and women.

For the past few years we have been delighted that the WISE Awards were presented by Her Royal Highness, The Princess Royal.

The daytime conference includes presentations, panel discussions and workshops is the perfect event to compliment the WISE Awards ceremony held the same evening.

Click here for more information.

Women in Coastal Geoscience and Engineering (WICGE) Network

IMG_3231

Panel discussion, launch of the WICGE network on 8 Mar 2016 (Sydney, Australia). From left to right: Professor Robin Davidson-Arnott (University of Guelph, Canada), Dr Luciana S. Esteves (Bournemouth University, UK), Dr Shari Gallop (Macquarie University, Australia) and Professor Julie Cairney (School of Aerospace, Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering, University of Sydney).

I am very proud of being one of the founding members of the Women in Coastal Geoscience and Engineering (WICGE) network, officially launched on 8 March 2016 during the 14th International Coastal Symposium in Sydney, Australia. The idea to create WICGE was led by Dr Shari Gallop (Macquarie University, Australia) and Dr Ana Vila-Concejo (University of Sydney), who was also the first women to chair the International Coastal Symposium (the largest conference focused on coastal science). To join WICGE or just to find out more, please click here.

The event was attended by about 70 conference attendees (male and female as you can see in the photo) and it created an opportunity for the keynote (Prof Julie Cairney), the members of the discussion panel (named in the photo caption)  and attendees to shared their experiences. It was interesting to learn that members of the panel, including myself, expressed that they were not aware of gender inequalities and/or discrimination in their work environment at first. The reasons for this late realisation were varied, including a common feeling of ‘I thought I was the problem‘ or the simple acceptance that certain attitude towards woman was just ‘as always is‘. As Shari Gallop indicates in this blog about the WICGE launch, another contributing factor may be the fact that, in the academic environment, the imbalance greatly increases towards the more senior positions and is not as evident at early career stages.

Another common theme in the discussion was that we (men and women) are guilty of unconscious bias, a prejudice deep-rooted in long-established social behaviours, which are now increasingly questioned, but changing incredibly slowly.  Most people (and therefore our society) are stubbornly averse to change. Where and when change is required, it does not come easy; it takes huge effort and time to get the message across. Even when we understand the need for change, it may take a while until we are able to embed in our lives new ways of doing (or being). It becomes evident then the importance played by continuing and widening the open debate about diversity, equality and fairness to raise awareness and educating us all, especially about the little things we can do to make the big changes we need. And this is why we need WAN, WICGE , the Aurora Programme, Athena Swan and the growing number of initiatives aiming to promote equal opportunities and a fairer working environment for all of us.

Luciana S. Esteves, Faculty of Science and Technology, Department of Life & Environmental Sciences