Tagged / student accommodation

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

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

Parliamentary News

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

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

House of Lords HE Debate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuition Fees

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

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

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

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

A – Michelle Donelan:

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

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

Student Accommodation

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

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

The BBC has covered the news of the Bill.

Parliamentary questions:

Government’s Support Package for HE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dods summarise the key points of the Policy Exchange paper:

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

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

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

Parliamentary questions:

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

New guidance as lockdown “eases”

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

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

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

Q – Who is allowed to go to work?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q – How will you make sure it is safe?

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

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

On lab based researchers returning to work research Professional write:

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

Easing back to Education

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

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

And these published after the announcement:

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

General Public Opinion on easing lockdown

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

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

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

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

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

Augar Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nursing students

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

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

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

There was also a parliamentary question on the topic:

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

A – Michelle Donelan:

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

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

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

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

Graduate Outlook

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

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

Some other stats:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Labour Market Statistics

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

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

Skills Challenges

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

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

Research

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

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

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

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

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

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

Access, Participation and Success

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

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

Parliamentary questions:

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

Changes in Further Education

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

FE Week cover the story, excerpts:

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

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

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

On the planned changes the DfE have stated:

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

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

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

Parliamentary Questions

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

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

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

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

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

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 6th May 2020

Dissection of the Government’s HE support ‘package’ has dominated all this week and the Sutton Trust have a new report reminding us of the importance of considering disadvantage within HE access and participation.

HE ‘package’

The Government announced its ‘package’ to support the HE sector through the financial trauma caused by C-19. It has dominated all HE news this week so we’ve included a big feature on the most relevant content here. We will outline the facts, then unpack and interpret it, followed by sector stakeholder reaction, and a little humour.

The package doesn’t provide new money for the HE sector, it is not a bailout, rather it moves payments forward (a bit) to ease cash flow and, although it has not been explicitly stated, the Government continue their watch and see approach awaiting the outcome of the autumn term recruitment. There may be some emergency cash earmarked for OfS distribution should recruitment turn disastrous, however, Government have consistently stated they will not bail out what they consider as poor quality or failing HE providers and this will be an absolute last resort.

The ‘package’ has been about as popular as the proverbial regifted toiletry set from Great Auntie Doris. While the wait and see is an understandable policy measure (universities are way down the priority list, and it isn’t “urgent” (yet),  the C-19 crisis has finally provided an opportunity for the Government to change aspects of admissions and quality that were previously limited by institutional autonomy (as enshrined in the Higher Education and Research Act 2017). While student number controls and new licence conditions are described as temporary, there may be long term impacts of these changes.

The (English) package aims to stabilise admissions across all providers as the recruitment of domestic students takes higher precedence against the expected drop in international student enrolment. To this end:

Stabilising admissions

Temporary student number controls will be put in place for domestic and EU students for academic year 2020/21, to ensure a “fair, structured distribution of students across providers”. These measures mean that providers will be able to recruit students up to a temporary set level, based on provider forecasts, which allows additional growth of up to 5% in the next academic year. We await more details of the actual numbers by institution.

If a provider does not abide by its student number controls, the Government will reduce the sums available to the provider through the student finance system in the subsequent academic year.

The Government have also made funding provision for an additional 10,000 places on top of 5% growth student number controls. 5,000 of these places are ringfenced for students studying nursing or allied health courses. The remaining 5,000 places will be allocated at the discretion of the Secretary of State for Education. Again, we await more details of where these will go.

The OfS is running a consultation on a new temporary condition of registration which intends to  prohibit (registered) HE providers from any form of conduct which would have what they describe as a negative effect on the stability and/or integrity of the English HE sector.

  • Examples include conditional unconditional offers, mass unconditional offers, offers not linked to prior educational attainment, tempting students with incentives such as free laptops (a strange choice of example given the current virtual learning concerns for disadvantaged students) or cash incentives.
  • Any admissions tactics which are considered to put undue pressure on students or conduct leading to commercial advantage over other providers are a big no no, with a whopping fine per case (£500,000+) if the institution breaches this. The justification for the fine is to negate the positive financial effects any institution would feel from the recruitment boost as a result of engaging in the prohibited behaviour.
  • There is also concern over how the OfS intend to implement this retrospectively – with some concerns it may seek to outlaw and punish activity that was not prohibited before the C-19 crisis. The proposal is to look back to behaviour since 11th March and for patterns or linked actions by institutions since then.
  • Although this is a consultation, the sector is expecting the conditions to be implemented and there are questions over how temporary it will actually be given the expected long term effect of C-19 on university finances. This condition is seen as a significant erosion into the autonomy of universities over their admission policies which has always been enshrined in law, most recently in the HERA legislation.
  • OfS have blogged regulator warns of penalties for recruitment practices.

UUK is working on a new sector agreement and statement of fair admissions practice. Including adhering to a new principle where HE providers will not put undue pressure on students, and new rules to restrict destabilising behaviours such as use of unconditional offers at volume. Both key aims the Government has been trying to influence for several years.

Wonkhe added more detail on the conditions:

  • Outlawed actions would include making conditional unconditional offers, making a lot of unconditional offers (or very low offers), offering gifts or discounts designed to attract students away from their original choices, and making false or misleading statements (including comparative claims) about one or more providers.
  • Outlawed actions would also include using financial support packages made available by the government for purposes that do not serve the interests of students or the public, failing to secure the standard of qualifications awarded to students, making offers to international students that significantly lower the academic or language requirements for a course, taking advantage of OfS relaxing particular regulatory requirements during the pandemic, and even “bypassing, or seeking to bypass, the admissions processes of the University and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), where the provider would normally use UCAS processes”.
  • If that all sounds wide, it’s because it is. It’s another of these huge, open-to-interpretation regulatory nets designed to catch all sorts of behaviour. It’s significant – the new condition would enable OfS to consider imposing penalties that would “cancel out any financial benefit to providers of acting inappropriately”. It doesn’t so much chip away at as kick a big chunk out of institutional autonomy. But the question remains whether now is the right time for providers to kick up a fuss about autonomy, when the sector is desperate for financial support?

Research Professional reported that failing to abide by “voluntary requirements” is also included. Quite the catchall! On the conditions consultation Research Professional state: …But these are not normal times. The condition—which is out for consultation but is almost certain to be implemented—could even be “actively renewed” in the future. Take a look at RP’s article here –  well worth a read! Key excerpts:

  • When considering a fine, the OfS would look at whether universities have stuck to Universities UK’s framework on fair admissions practices for 2020-21, agreed as part of the government’s so-called bailout package to help institutions through the coronavirus crisis.
  • But Smita Jamdar, head of education and partner at law firm Shakespeare Martineau, warned the proposals in the consultation were “so much broader” than admissions and could mean the condition applied to institutions’ actions in other areas such as employment.
  • “It has got a huge potential for unintended consequences”, Jamdar told Research Professional News, adding it was a “quite frightening set of proposals when you put it all together”. Jamdar also warned universities could expect fines to be handed out if the current proposals are carried out, and pointed out that breaches could be back-dated to 11 March. “It’s quite clear they are putting this in place and they intend to use it,” she said.

Smita has more detail on her viewpoints in her own blog on the topic.

Supporting Students

The last few years have seen an increase in the number of students entering clearing, many joining the admissions process for the first time at clearing having not previously applied to university. The government package sets out to boost the role of clearing – and specifically the adjustment part of it – even further.

In conjunction with UCAS the Government have arranged for both ‘placed’ and ‘unplaced’ students to have a greater – or at least more visible – opportunity  to change their choice of provider/course once they receive their grades. This will be supported by a new service that can suggest alternative opportunities, based on their achievements, their course interest, and other preferences.

UCAS is also working with BBC Bitesize to give students enhanced advice on applying to university and Clearing. In the weeks leading up to results day, UCAS will be running a high-profile and multi-channel campaign, ‘Get Ready for Clearing’.

This fits well with the Government’s agenda – they are concerned that able students, especially disadvantaged ones, are not accessing high tariff ‘prestigious’ institutions– and therefore not receiving the social mobility employment boost associated with graduating from certain HE institutions. As has been pointed out by many, this does not support the stability of the sector, and confirms that protecting the sector is not the government’s first priority .

  • The 5% increase cap will allow room for growth and many “prestigious” institutions will have a significant amount of capacity as they usually take high numbers of international students, who are expected not to come this autumn. This is interesting as these same institutions have fought back for a long time against arguments that “foreign” students take places that home students could take. The reality of course is that international students help to fund places for home students by paying higher fees – so the financial impact of this change in balance is quite complex.
  • The UK is still coming out of the demographic dip and there was already increased competition for domestic students. The lowest tariff institutions are expected to fare worst. These may be the institutions which also have the lowest financial reserves, take the highest number of disadvantaged and local students, and have higher associated drop out rates (at least partly as a result of their student profile). A gloomy picture given the Government has stated it won’t bailout “failing” or “poorer quality” providers.
  • However, a little discussed element in recruitment is localisation – students attending institutions near to them locally or regionally. This year, students may choose to stay close to family for lots of reasons, including ongoing restrictions on travel, or a wish by students to stay closer to home. Given the publicity about rent payments this summer, some new students may decline to commit to accommodation contracts and choose to stay closer to home instead.

On the 5% admissions cap Research Professional state:

  • That is quite a loose cap and for some institutions it represents the opposite of a bailout—they will feel that the pistol has been fired for open season on their students. For universities struggling to recruit before the pandemic, the news that other institutions can now maximise recruitment of the limited number of UK school leavers will seem like the government has just poured a bucket of water into an already sinking canoe.

Wonkhe comment:

  • From a student perspective, the offer is even thinner – the Office for Students has clarified that universities can allocate student premium funding and expenditure committed in access and participation plans to provide additional financial support for students, which is far from addressing the economic impacts of Covid-19 on students’ families or the inherent lack of protections in the system for students.

Michelle Donelan also confirmed that students should continue to pay full tuition fees even if provision from Autumn 2020 is online. While this supports Universities (and stops Government from having to fund even more to stabilise them) there is, of course, a policy point emphasised in her tweet: To be clear, we only expect full tuition fees to be charged if online courses are of good quality, fit for purpose & help students progress towards their qualification. If Unis want to charge full fees they will have to ensure that the quality is there. Reading the comments to Donelan’s tweet also paints an interesting picture of the public’s perspective.

Student Fee Petition

The Commons Petitions Committee has rejected the government’s initial response to a petition requesting the reimbursement of 2019-20 student fees due to Covid-19 and industrial action. The committee felt the initial response did not address the issue directly. The petition received 336,265 signatures (see this map of the signatures’ locations, including Bournemouth West – BU’s constituency). The Petition is now awaiting a date for a parliamentary debate (which may not be as exciting or drastic as it sounds, and potentially will go over the same Government messaging we have heard already).

The petition stated:

  • All students should be reimbursed some of this year’s tuition fees as universities are now online only due to COVID-19, with only powerpoints online for learning materials which is not worthy of up to £9,250. Furthermore, all assessments are being reconsidered to ‘make do’ and build up credits.
  • Field trips have also been cancelled which our tuition fee was to pay for. There is also no need for accommodation which students have paid between £4,000-£8,000 for in advance and adding to their student debt. Lastly, the extended strikes of this year have severely disrupted student-staff interaction and personalised help, with staff not replying to emails or available for meetings. Grading is also being delayed. Overall, university quality is poor this year and certainly not worth up to £9,250.

If you scroll down on this page you can read the Government’s response to the petition. The Petition’s Committee rejected the government response. They require the Government to provide another response because they felt that the response did not directly address the request of petition. Once the Government issues a further response it will be published on the same page.

Parliamentary Question:

Q – Caroline Lucas: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, whether (a) his Department and (b) the Student Loans Company plan to provide support to (i) current and (ii) prospective students whose parents have lost their jobs as a result of the covid-19 outbreak by (A) facilitating access to full maintenance loans and (B) reinstating maintenance grants. [38455]

A – Michelle Donelan:

  • Many higher education providers will have hardship funds to support students in times of need, including emergencies. The expectation is that where any student requires additional support, providers will support them through their own hardship funds. Contact details are available on university websites.
  • In addition, students will continue to receive payments of maintenance loans for the remainder of the current academic year, 2019/20. Students who need to undertake additional weeks of study on their course in the current academic year may also qualify for additional long courses loan to help with their living costs.
  • Parents who have lost their jobs and whose income has dropped by 15% or more in the current financial year will be able to apply to Student Finance England to have their children’s living costs support reassessed for the 2020/21 academic year from 1 August 2020 onwards. This will increase the amount of support students and prospective students are entitled to in 2020/21.
  • Information for parents on how to apply for a current year assessment is available on the Student Finance England website at: https://media.slc.co.uk/sfe/currentyearincome/index.html.

International Students

The Government has stated it will work to update the International Education Strategy, designed to support the recruitment of international students, by autumn 2020, in respond to the impact of COVID-19.

They have also restated the commitment to a graduate immigration route launching in summer 2021, giving international students (who graduate summer 2021 onwards) the right to remain for two years after their studies and providing an incentive to study in the UK. This includes students who have already started their courses, even if, due to coronavirus, they have needed to undertake some of their learning remotely.

The Government is ‘applying discretion’ to ensure that international students are not negatively impacted if they find themselves in a position where they cannot comply with certain visa rules as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Much of the media coverage on the prospects of international students to commence HE provision in autumn 2020 has been negative. However, several opinion surveys have hinted that prospective students remain committee to UK study. Here is another one – Wonkhe report that it might not be all bad news for international recruitment – a new survey today from IDP Connect finds that 69 per cent of a sample of nearly 6,900 prospective students applying to universities in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK, and the US are intending to commence their studies this year as planned. Only 5 per cent expect to abandon plans to study overseas.

However, the UK face to face nature still seems to be the sticking point. Wonkhe continue: The survey found a huge willingness to start learning in January 2021 if this meant that the course could begin with face-to-face learning. Just 31 per cent would be happy to start online and move to the campus later on. Exposure to international culture is clearly a key component of the decision to travel for study.

Of course, another unanswered question is what happens if lockdown goes really long – would the post-study work visa still be honoured if all of the course is delivered online and the student is never resident in the UK?

Financial Sustainability

The Government will bring forward the second term tuition fee payments (expected to be worth £2.6bn) for providers so that they receive more cash in the first term of academic year 20/21 to help with cashflow issues. Currently HE providers receive the tuition fee payments in this profile: **25% on October, 25% in February, 50% in May. Instead the second payment will be brought forward – it’s not clear when it will be paid.  That’s not a big shift.

Alongside this the Government have reiterated that HE providers are eligible to apply for Government support schemes, including the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS), Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CLBILS, COVID Corporate Financing Facility (CCFF) and the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. All of which are not straightforward for the HE sector due to the sources from which our finance comes. However, the OfS estimates these schemes could be worth £700m to the sector.

It comes with strings attached. HE providers are expected to make efficiencies. Furthermore, the bringing forward of tuition fee payments will mean very careful management of finances to cover the whole academic year and avoid fresh cashflow problems further down the track.

The Government state that they

  • will only intervene further where we find there is a case to do so, and only where we believe intervention is possible and appropriate, and as a last resort. In such instances, DfE will be working with HMT and other Government departments to develop a restructuring regime, through which we will review providers’ circumstances and assess the need for restructuring”.

The sector has interpreted this as bespoke individual support, with a host of conditions attached (potentially including losing land), and the erosion of the management of the institution.

Research Professional comment:

  • The £2.6bn on offer is neither a grant nor a loan. It is an advance payment of tuition fees from the next academic year. Theoretically, this will smooth immediate financial shortfalls. But it will also mean that universities have to cut their cloth further down the line.
  • A haircut is coming, says the department. The advance payments will “help universities better manage financial risks over the autumn, including taking steps to improve efficiencies and manage their finances in order to avoid cash flow problems further ahead.” ‘Efficiencies’ is an ominous word at the best of times… It is very clear indeed that the government has no appetite to bail out badly run universities.

The Government has also set aside £100 million to purchase land and buildings to create new or expand schools and colleges. While this money isn’t solely for purchasing HE assets many HE institutions do have large estates with substantial potential. Once again, the Government has thought carefully about its ideals and seen an opportunity to acquire land to meet its policy ideals. During Theresa May’s time as PM one of her big pushes (which was unsuccessful) was to bring HE, FE and schools together in collaboration to improve quality, opportunity and cohesion within communities. Sharing resources and expertise. Potentially acquiring land and placing conditions on failing institutions seems another wizard wheeze for overcoming the reluctance of the HE sector to get behind the initiative.

Wonkhe comment:

  • The Government expects [that] access to the business support schemes, reprofiling of public funding and student number controls should be sufficient to help stabilise most providers’ finances, and that should certainly be the first port of calls for providers.
  • This implies that a calculation has been carried out using OfS financial sustainability data and projections on student numbers that may or may not turn out to be accurate. We can’t see those calculations, as OfS’ annual report on the financial sustainability of the sector is missing in action. The sector would want to see the workings so that if the wider situation follows worst-case scenarios (mass deferrals of current students, even worse international numbers, etc.), the government could be approached with a freshly minted begging bowl.
  • That ominous paragraph also describes the development of an HE “restructuring regime” in which DfE would review providers’ circumstances and assess the need for restructuring – and where action is required, this will come with “attached conditions.

And some breaking news – the OfS on 6th May published the outcome of their recent consultation on cuts to OfS spending. Bad timing, as the cut in budget and the consultation all started before the pandemic hit.

A selection of Parliamentary Questions

Q – Colleen Fletcher: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what assessment his Department has made of the effect of the covid-19 outbreak on (a) the number of (i) international student numbers and (ii) domestic student numbers intending to take up a university place in the 2020 academic year and (b) research and innovation funding. [39637]

And

Q – Rachel Hopkins: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps his Department is taking to support UK universities affected by reduced international recruitment as a result of the covid-19 outbreak. [38988]

A- Michelle Donelan:

  • We are very grateful for the work that universities are doing in supporting students, undertaking ground-breaking research and providing specialist equipment. We are working closely with them to understand the financial risks and implications that they might face at this uncertain time.
  • The COVID-19 outbreak will have an impact on international students. The government is working to ensure that existing rules and regulations relating to international students, including visa regulations, are as flexible as possible under these unprecedented circumstances.
  • My right hon. Friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, has also announced an unprecedented package of support, including the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and a range of business loan schemes, to help pay wages, keep staff employed and support businesses whose viability is threatened by the outbreak. We recently confirmed universities’ eligibility for these schemes, and we are working closely with the sector, the Office for Students (OfS) and across the government to understand the financial risks that providers are facing, stabilise the admissions system and help providers to access the support on offer. [This response was provided before the package was announced.]
  • The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and UK Research and Innovation analysts are working closely with the Department for Education, OfS and wider non-government stakeholders to undertake a rapid programme of analysis to better understand the impact of COVID-19 on a range of research institutions including universities and analyse suitable policy responses.

Q – Emma Hardy: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps he is taking to engage with (a) small and specialist higher education institutions, (b) institutions that are not members of Universities UK and (c) universities in remote, rural and coastal areas on their financial sustainability as a result of the covid-19 outbreak. [41578]

A – Michelle Donelan: answer here, but it doesn’t specifically mention rural or coastal universities

Research

In England, the Government will bring forward £100 million of quality-related (QR) research funding for the current academic year for ‘vital’ activities to address some of the immediate pressures being faced for university research activities and “to ensure research activities can continue during the crisis”. The QR top up is intended “to offset short-term impacts caused by the coronavirus outbreak, including alleviating immediate cash flow issues and where other income which would normally pay for research is no longer available”. Research Professional state: This does not come close to the cross-subsidy that research receives from the £7bn in tuition fee income that international students provided last year.

A joint DfE/BEIS Ministerial Taskforce – the University Research Sustainability Taskforce – will also form, jointly led by Science Minister, Amanda Solloway, and Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan.

It aims to act as an advisory forum for ministers and will:

  • share information and intelligence about the health of the university research and the knowledge exchange carried out by and within HE providers
  • identify potential impacts on the sustainability of university research and knowledge exchange directly arising from the response to coronavirus
  • share intelligence on government and other sources of funding for research, and develop approaches building on these to address the impacts of coronavirus and protect and sustain HE research capability and capacity
  • where possible share evidence of the impacts on university research and knowledge exchange of the taskforce’s advice

The Government have stated they expect universities will also want to develop their own proposals to build an efficient, effective and sustainable research and development system, focused on driving recovery. (See Chris Skidmore’s comments below.)

Research Professional have this to say:

  • It is the research proposals that have received the most criticism. A £100 million advance on quality-related funding represents just 5 per cent of what Universities UK had asked for…Why, then, was there so little in this announcement about shoring up research? If the research budget is due to double in five years, why the reluctance to spend now?
  • Writing exclusively for Research Professional News today, former universities minister Chris Skidmore appears to think there is more on the way—accepting that while £100m “may not be what the wider sector was hoping for…it remains a promising start”…“This first £100m of additional QR funding should be welcomed, but universities should try to do all they can to demonstrate its vital importance for the Covid-19 recovery—by going out to sell its benefits together,” he says. “Ideally, institutions should publicise and highlight where this money will go, working in collaboration where possible to demonstrate its necessity.
  • …Was there a clue too in the statement from Research England’s executive chair David Sweeneyyesterday? He said: “The higher education package announced today builds on some detailed proposals recently from UUK…English universities will want to similarly develop more detailed proposals to build an efficient, effective and sustainable R&D system and Research England looks forward to working with them and the government to achieve that end.” In the politesse of statements from senior civil servants, ‘universities will want to’ usually means ‘universities should hurry up and get on with’.
  • Following the announcement of the underwhelming bailout plan, we spoke to several well-placed figures in the research firmament. According to one of them, the government feels that while there has been some good thinking on the education side from universities, there has been less thought on the research side. They have “talked turkey on education, now it is time to talk turkey on research”, we were told.
  • In other words, ministers are not simply going to release £2bn into university accounts without a quid pro quo. As a number of sources close to government told us yesterday, there will be no substantial cash injection for research without recognition from universities that they have a shared responsibility to contribute to the post-coronavirus recovery. In other words, what are universities going to put on the table and what is the government going to get out of it? We understand that the government is looking for movement on topics such as: regional inequality, or levelling up; skills and training; and precarious contracts for researchers. 
  • …By allowing the Office for Students to consult on sweeping new powers, universities have put their admissions autonomy at risk. Do they really want to do the same with research in return for the false security of 100 per cent full economic costs?

Meanwhile Wonkhe note that:

  • UKRI hasupdated its useful “guidance for the research and innovation communities” to incorporate research focused aspects of yesterday’s government announcements. It links to Research England’s brief note on the funding advance related to next year’s QR allocation.

And Scotland have announced their own £75 million research boost for Scottish universities.

The Guardian has an article by Chris Skidmore

On HEPI former director Bahram Bekhradnia describes the proposed student number cap as “unworkable”.

Legal firm Pinsent Masons ran the article UK higher education restructuring ‘inevitable’ without targeted support stating the UK university sector should brace for potential insolvencies and reluctant mergers as the medium term impact of the coronavirus pandemic becomes clear. They base their analysis on the London Economics & UCU report of several weeks previous (the report has not escaped criticism for aspects of its calculations and assumptions).

Wonkhe also have lots of blogs, of course, here are some:

And Michelle Donelan also responded to a parliamentary question outlining the Government’s package.

Finally Research Professional’s spoof column Ivory Tower has a particularly good grasp of the ‘bailout’, especially as it was published in advance of the Government’s announcement of the ‘support’ measures. Do read Spads: bailout for a little light relief. (If you hit a log in page from the link select Bournemouth University and then log in with your BU username and password.)

What next?

The support package has been announced and whilst the dust is settling sector press is asking what next for the ‘new normal’? Both Wonkhe and Research Professional (RP) ran features on it on Wednesday. RP considered the new normal from the institutional perspective of what could open and how social distancing could be maintained. The blog is a neat consideration of the complexity of the HE context. Excerpt: The pressure will therefore be on institutions to open their doors for educational business as soon as possible, especially given student grumblings about paying full fees for courses that are now being delivered entirely online. However, as an educational setting, it is probable that universities can expect to be handed guidelines by the Department for Education as well.

Wonkhe tackle risk, audit and the student interest but from a strategic University Board perspective. Here are their series of blogs:

RP also state that AdvanceHE is launching an international project this week to help university leaders share information and find solutions to the difficulties posed by a socially distanced campus.

Education Select Committee

The Education Select Committee met this week to question Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson. Much of the Committee session focused on school aged children alongside disadvantage and SEN concerns; exam grades for FE courses including BTECs were touched upon. HE content has mainly been superseded by the Government’s support package announced after the Committee met. However, it also covered international students (no answer from Williamson), the difficulty in taking English language tests, and there was still no answer on nursing tuition fees. Dods summarise the nursing exchange:

Halfon [Select Committee Chair] said that “apparently” the Department for Education had not clarified whether nursing students who worked for the NHS during the pandemic would still be paying tuition fees. Pressed on this, the secretary of state said he would come back to the committee.

The Minister reiterated that a response to the Augar review is still expected around the time of the next Spending Review. Also that T Levels will go ahead in the original timeframe set out because the introduction of T-Levels and raising the status of vocational qualifications was “one of the most important tasks this Government had”.

Finally Johnson asked about domestic students who were stuck at university alone and unable to return home. The Government would “very much” want to facilitate their return, Williamson said.

On lessons the DfE have learnt from the crisis Williamson thought there were many. The ability to support children within the home and through holidays had been really transformed, he said. The department recognised that resources could be much more rapidly shared and they would be looking at how this could be used to reduce the workload for teachers. Additionally, by moving tribunals online, the department were getting through them much more rapidly, the committee heard. (Summary of the Minister’s response supplied by Dods.) The Education committee also published Ministerial letters for transparency:

Sutton Trust

The Sutton Trust published a brief on the impact of covid-19 on university access. The research surveyed 511 university applicants (pupils aged 17 to 19); found that working class applicants are more likely to be worried about the impact on them than their middle-class peers. Also that almost half of university applicants think that the coronavirus crisis will have a negative impact on their chances of getting into their first-choice university. The report also covers poll of 895 current university students raising their financial concerns resulting from the pandemic.

Access, Participation & Success

Social Mobility Commission

Chair of the Social Mobility Commission, Dame Martina Milburn, has resigned. The press points out that the social mobility commission has lost two Chairs in 2.5 years. Her predecessor Alan Milburn resigned (en masse with all other members of the Commission) in frustration at the Government’s failure to do more to tackle social mobility. Dame Martina stated she was resigning “with deep regret, and after several sleepless nights”  her substantive role as Group Chief Exec of The Prince’s Trust required her full commitment. Her letter states:

  • I am extremely proud of what has been achieved at the Commission in the last two years – appointing the 12 very diverse commissioners, re-establishing the secretariat and commissioning a variety of reports from the State of the Nation to an employers’ toolkit. Currently, we have 16 reports in the pipeline, have conducted a popular series of webinars for employers and have begun to form partnerships with bodies such as the metro-mayors and with other important commissions. We have also brought the social mobility charities together and appointed a range of social mobility ambassadors.
  • However, it is not nearly enough and given the strong links between social mobility and poverty I fear this current crisis will only serve to make social mobility harder than ever. My reflections from my time in office are that appointing a Chairman on three days per month, as I was, has proved a real challenge. To make an impact, what the secretariat needs is an executive chairman on at least three days per week or a different structure perhaps something more akin to that of the Children’s Commissioner?

She also stated that either of the Deputy Commissioners she appointed are capable of taking over her role.

Education SoS Gavin Williamson responds to her letter here.

Other blog posts

  • The BAME degree-awarding gap is likely to be an even bigger issue now. Gurnam Singhreflects on what universities should do next (Wonkhe blog).
  • The University Mental Health Advisors Network (UMHAN) blog covers the OfS briefing on supporting student mental health. Excerpt: given the disruption to normal study patterns, and potential longer-term changes to higher education as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, it is possible that universities and colleges will see new patterns in their students’ mental health and wellbeing emerge. They also plan a White Paper setting out good practice and recommendations.
  • The Guardian has an article written by the Master of Birkbeck explaining why unconditional offers for foundation years are important for social mobility

Finally another Guardian piece bringing to life the rhetoric around disadvantaged students struggling with online access

Disadvantaged Catch Up Plan

The Education Policy Institute has published a policy paper with proposals to prevent the disadvantage gap from increasing due to C-19. Before the outbreak of Covid-19, EPI research found that disadvantaged children are already on average one and a half years of learning behind other pupils by the time they take their GCSEs.

Graduate Employment Outlook

Wonkhe report that

  • the Office for Budgetary Responsibility (OBR) forecast of a 6.1 percentage point increase in the unemployment rate due to the impact of Covid-19 will have a disproportionate effect on the employment prospects of young people, according to a new briefingfrom the Resolution Foundation. Graduates would have a 13 per cent lower likelihood of being in employment three years after completing their education, with non-graduates seeing an even worse impact.
  • There’s also bad news on pay – with forecasts suggesting real hourly graduate pay would be, on average 7 per cent lower two years on. But the recession will disproportionately hit sectors where young people tend to work – non-food retail, hospitality, travel, the arts, and entertainment. One year after having left full-time education, more than one-third of non-graduates, and more than one-in-five, graduates would expect to work in a sector that is now mostly shut down.
  • The briefing suggests that – as in previous recessions – young people will be more likely to remain in education rather than enter the workforce. However, the demographic dip will make it easier for the government to offer support for those making this decision.

Youth movement:

  • 70 of the country’s leading youth charities, employer groups and experts have united to form the ‘COVID-19 Youth Employment Group’, a cross-sector emergency response to rising concerns about the economic and educational impact of coronavirus on young people. The Youth Employment Group is led by Impetus, the Youth Futures Foundation, The Prince’s Trust, Youth Employment UK and the Institute for Employment Studies. It will design, deliver, and campaign for solutions to the immediate and long-term impact on young people’s employment prospects, particularly those who already face considerable challenges entering the labour market.
  • As research increasingly warns of the potentially catastrophic impact on young people’s future employment prospects, there is a clear need for a rapid cross sector approach. The group will work to ensure young people receive quality support now, as well as helping plan for a healthy recovery of the youth labour market post-lockdown.
  • The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has warned that younger workers will be hit the hardest, as they are nearly two-and-a-half times more likely to work in a sector that is now shut down. The research also shows that on the eve of the crisis, sectors that shut down as a result of social distancing measures employed nearly a third (30%) of all employees under 25; compared to just one in eight (13%) of workers over 25.
  • The group’s membership meets virtually every week as they begin to pool together expertise and develop rapid solutions during and after lockdown. They have set up a LinkedIn Groupfor those interested.

Parliamentary updates

Online Voting: Chair of the Commons Procedure Committee, Karen Bradley, has written to Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle to confirm that the remote voting system for MPs is now ready to go live. The confirmation stated the system is suitable ad secure as long as MPs behave: MPs will have a “personal responsibility to ensure the integrity of the system”, a warning against letting others vote on their behalf. And with a tone as stern as the OfS’ she emphases: It is highly likely that any action by a Member which led to an authorised person casting a vote in a division would constitute a contempt of the House and a breach of the Code of Conduct, and would be likely to be punished accordingly.

Parliamentary Questions 

Schools – Q – Alex Sobel: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, whether his Department plans to allow parents who are in the covid-19 at risk groups to decide whether their children return to school, when schools reopen. [39792]

A – Nick Gibb: Schools will remain closed until further notice, except for children of critical workers and vulnerable children.

Heath Professions – Training – Q – Geraint Davies: To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, whether final year trainee (a) doctors and (b) nurses will be charged tuition fees while working for the NHS during the covid-19 outbreak. [37381]

A – Helen Whately:

  • Medical students and student nurses will continue to be required to pay tuition fees for their final term. Given the extended length of medical degrees, which can be up to six years in length, Health Education England pay medical student tuition fees from year 5 of study.
  • As part of the Government’s COVID-19 response, current year 5 medical students are currently being graduated by their medical schools early to enable them to apply for Provisional Registration with the General Medical Council, and if they so choose to deploy in to Foundation Year 1 posts. Those that do so will be contracted from the date they start their employment and employed under the 2016 terms and conditions for doctors and dentists in training. They will also continue to get their National Health Service bursary and student maintenance loan.
  • Year 3 nursing students have been invited to opt in to paid placements in the NHS. All students who do opt in to support the COVID-19 response will be rewarded fairly for their hard work. Students will be getting a salary and automatic NHS pension entitlement at the appropriate band. They will also still receive their student maintenance loan and Learning Support Fund payments too.
  • Decisions about the NHS workforce in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, including the funding that they provide for students, are a matter for the devolved administrations of those countries.

Scam Risk

C-19 and lockdown have increased fears that loved ones, particularly those newly venturing online, will experience attempts by scammers to obtain money, resources and personal information. You may be familiar with the work of BU’s National Centre for Post-Qualifying Social Work and Professional Practice. Professors Keith Brown, Lee-Ann Fenge and their close knit team have published many freely available downloadable guides in recent years, worked closely with Government agencies and held successful parliamentary receptions to raise the awareness of policy makers. The team have a new publication out – Scams the power of persuasive language. Do download it to take a look and share with loved ones, neighbours and vulnerable contacts. All the team’s publications on fraud, scams, mental capacity and advanced care planning can be accessed here.

Inquiries and Consultations

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

New consultations and inquiries this week:

The Skills Commission have launched a new inquiry, entitled; The Workforce of the Future – ‘Learning to earning’ transitions and career development in a challenging labour market.

Other nes

Student complaints: The Office of the Independent Adjudicator for HE (OIAHE) published the 2019 annual report setting out:

  • The number and outcomes of complaints received and closed
  • Examples of the complaints students make
  • Trends and common themes in complaints and lessons learnt

NUS VP for HE Claire Sosienski Smith commented on the report release making the same calls for action as in previous weeks:

  • “We know that next year, the number of complaints as outlined in the report might look quite different: NUS’ Coronavirus and Students Survey of 10,000 students showed that 74% of students are worried about the impact of the pandemic on their final qualifications and 20% of students who had been offered online learning did not agree that they were able to access it adequately. A lot of providers have been leading the way by offering ‘no detriment’ policies, to ensure that their students’ attainment is not unfairly captured by end of year exams this year. We believe a policy of no-detriment should be the way forward for the sector as a whole.
  • Students need a safety net, and urgently. The OIA is a fantastic service to make students more powerful, but it is set up for individuals or for small groups of students on courses. The pandemic has impacted every single student in the UK, and we need a national-level, government solution to this problem: that can only be the ability to redo the year at no extra cost, giving students the chance to make up for the education they are missing out on, or have their debt and fee payments written off or reimbursed.”

Graduate Outcomes: HESA announced dates for the publication of the first datasets from the Graduate Outcomes survey –  high-level findings on 18 June and the full release (including provider level data) on 23 June. This is a month’s delay to existing plans, and reflects the time required to prepare and assure data under lockdown conditions.

Virtual Open Days: Wonkhe have a thought nudging article on the benefits of a virtual campus tour for recruitment.

Evidence based policy making: Research Professional report that trust in science in at a record high in Germany with approval for evidence-based policy skyrocketing.

Apprenticeships: The Government have published their annual update on the apprenticeship reform programme. It reports progress towards the 3 million starts apprenticeships target between 2015 and 2020. The Government have achieved 69.6% of the 3 million target (2.09 million starts). Much fuller detail on other factors within the apprenticeship report is contained in the above link.

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 1st May 2020

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

Students in the lockdown

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

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

A – Michelle Donelan:

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

And:

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

A – Michelle Donelan:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More parliamentary questions:

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

A – Michelle Donelan:

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

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

A – Will Quince:

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

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

A – Michelle Donelan:

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

Universities and the crisis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Guardian ran Ministers split over bailout package for universities.

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

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

New Normal

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

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

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

Parliamentary Business/Updates

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

Employability after the crisis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Research

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

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

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

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

Knowledge Exchange Concordat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Social Mobility and Widening Participation

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recommendations:

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

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

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

Brexit

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

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

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

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

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

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

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 31 January 2020

A bumper edition covering lot of news across all the HE interest areas. We have also done a special edition on this week’s big OfS’ report analysing the future of HE Access and Participation.

 Parliamentary News

Select Committee elections were held on Wednesday with some big names being elected. Here are the Chairs of the Committees most relevant to BU’s interests.

  • Education – Robert Halfon (unopposed). Robert was the Chair of the Education Select Committee under the previous Parliament. He has a wealth of experience within Education and is willing to speak out to challenge and push agendas. Most recently he has been a strong supporter for FE to receive more funding and for technical education to become a mainstream alternative to the academic route with equal parity of esteem.
  • Science and Technology – Greg Clark. Greg has a wealth of related experience. He was Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (which Science sits within) from 2016-19, Minister of State for Universities and Science 2014-15, and a list of other related junior minister roles as long as his speeches. He was also did a stint in Opposition as Shadow Minister for energy and climate change in 2008-10.
  • Health and Social Care – Jeremy Hunt. Jeremy was the Minister for Health from 2012-2018. His ministerial period saw several bold and controversial decisions putting him at odds with the Royal College of Nursing and other major stakeholders. He stated that his role as Health Minister was “likely to be my last big job in politics” during the protests over the junior doctor contracts. He also stated he felt he was doing the “right thing” and “making difficult decisions to have better care for patients and deliver [the] manifesto commitments”.
  • Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy -Rachel Reeves (unopposed). Rachel is a Labour MP and chaired this Committee under the previous Parliament since 2017. She was an economist in her pre-political career.
  • Digital, Culture, Media and Sports – Julian Knight. Julian fought off Damian Collins for the Chairmanship. Damian was the previous  Chair of this Committee since 2016.
  • Defence  – Tobias Ellwood. Local MP Tobias was a Defence Minister under Theresa May’s government. During this period he handled the responses to defence parliamentary questions and lead several areas of defence policy.
  • International Development – Sarah Champion
  • International Trade – Angus MacNeil
  • Foreign Affairs – Tom Tugendhat
  • Environmental Audit – Philip Dunne
  • Environment, Food and Rural Affairs -Neil Parish (unopposed)
  • Exiting the EU – Hilary Benn (unopposed)
  • Home Affairs – Yvette Cooper (unopposed)
  • Housing, Communities and Local Government – Clive Betts (unopposed)
  • Northern Ireland Affairs – Simon Hoare (North Dorset MP, continues his Chairmanship of this Committee which commenced in 2019).
  • Justice – Bob Neill
  • Transport – Huw Merriman
  • Treasury – Mel Stride (unopposed)
  • Welsh Affairs – Stephen Crabb (unopposed)
  • Women and Equalities – Caroline Nokes (unopposed)
  • Work and Pensions – Stephen Timms

Global Talent Visa and other immigration news

The new fast tracked visa scheme aiming to attract scientists, researchers and mathematicians opens on 20th February. The bespoke Global Talent route will have no cap on the number of people able to come to the UK, replacing the Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) route. UKRI are to endorse applicants from the scientific and research community.

The route aims to:

  • Enable UK-based research projects that have received recognised prestigious grants and awards to recruit top global talent, benefitting HEIs, research institutes and eligible public sector research establishments
  • Double the number of eligible fellowships, such as Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions, the European Research Council and Human Frontier Science, which also enable individuals to be fast tracked.
  • Continue to ensure dependents have full access to the labour market.
  • Preserve the route’s flexibility by not requiring an individual to hold an offer of employment before arriving or tying them to one specific job.
  • Provide an accelerated path to settlement for all scientists and researchers who are endorsed on the route.
  • Provide for an exemption from our absences rules for researchers, and their dependants, where they are required overseas for work-related purposes, ensuring they are not penalised when they apply for settlement.

Home Secretary, Priti Patel, said: The UK is a world leader in science, with research and innovation that changes lives being undertaken every day in this country. To keep the UK at the forefront of innovation, we are taking decisive action to maximise the number of individuals using the Global Talent route including world-class scientists and top researchers who can benefit from fast-tracked entry into the UK.

Business and Energy Secretary Andrea Leadsom commented: Leaving the EU gives us new freedom to strengthen research and build the foundations for the new industries of tomorrow. By attracting more leading international scientists and providing major investment in mathematics, we can make the UK a global science superpower and level up our country.

Professor Julia Buckingham, President of Universities UK stated: We share the Prime Minister’s vision to position the UK as a magnet for global science and research talent. The Global Talent visa is a positive step towards this for UK universities…Universities are globally connected and this announcement signals that the UK remains open to talent from around the world. Our universities carry out life-changing research and our knowledge base, economy, and wider society will benefit from the international staff we can attract through this visa route.

Immigration – salary threshold recommendations

In June 2019 the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) was tasked to review immigration related salary threshold levels, the threshold calculation mechanism, exemptions, and whether there should be regional salary thresholds. By September the requirement to consider how an Australian-style points-based immigration system could be introduced in the UK, with the aim of strengthening the UK labour market was added onto their task list. They were asked to consider how additional flexibility could be added to the operation of salary thresholds by awarding points for migrants’ attributes and whether these points should be tradeable (i.e. allowing points for some attributes to make up for a lack of points for others), which migrant characteristics should be prioritised and what lessons can be learnt from international comparators. The Chair of the MAC, Professor Alan Manning, has written to the Home Secretary to introduce the Committee’s findings. Manning will continue as Chair of the MAC until the end of February 2020 to ensure continuity during this key period. Here is the full report – A points-Based System and Salary Threshold for Immigration. Or if you don’t fancy wading through the 278 pages the summary at pages 5-11 gives the key points.

Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of UUK, responded to the report:

  • Some of the MAC recommendations are a step in the right direction, recognising the importance of employer demand but concluding the skilled entry route needs reform. While there is welcome recognition that the salary threshold of £30k was too high, there should be a further reduction to attract the diverse workforce, including lab technicians and language assistants, who are vital to supporting the success of our universities. We are also concerned that standard salary levels in higher education sectors would no longer be recognised, meaning it will be harder to attract international talent into key lecturer roles. Our recent polling showed the British public overwhelmingly believe that immigrants should be welcomed into the country on the strength of their skills and potential and not be judged on their salary alone.
  • Combined with the recently announced changes to Tier 1 a package of positive immigration reforms is developing but needs further improvement. The Government must ensure that new immigration arrangements avoid potential unintended negative consequences for the ability of universities to attract the brightest talent with minimal barriers and to continue our world leading research and teaching.

Research news

Maths

The new global talent route is accompanied by £60m funding available per year to double funding for new mathematical sciences PhDs, as well as boost the number of maths fellowships and research projects. This is part of the Government’s ambitions to considerably boost R&D spending.

  • “Also announced by the Prime Minister was a significant boost to the UK’s world-leading mathematical sciences community, increasing support for this key discipline and expanding the pool of trained mathematicians.
  • Up to £300 million of additional funding will more than double the current funding for the mathematical sciences delivered by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)”.

Research Professional say:

  • It is also “subject to business case”, so it might never see the light of day. Nonetheless, the £60m commitment in principle is to be welcomed, and will provide £19m of additional funding for PhD studentships (double the existing funding, ministers say). There is also £34m of additional funding for “career pathways and new research projects”, and £7m a year extra to be shared between Bristol’s Heilbronn Institute for Mathematical Research, the Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences in Cambridge and the International Centre for Mathematical Sciences in Edinburgh.

Reduction of research bureaucracy

  • “In line with the commitment to reduce administration for researchers and innovators, UKRI has also announced that applicants to UKRI will no longer be required to provide a ‘Pathways to Impact’ plan or complete an ‘Impact Summary’ within grant applications from 1 March 2020.
  • The impact agenda remains incredibly important and UKRI exists to fund the researchers who generate the knowledge that society needs, and the innovators who can turn this knowledge into public benefit.
  • Pathways to Impact has been in place for over a decade and we recognise the research and innovation landscape has changed since its implementation and impact is now a core consideration throughout the grant application process.
  • The move supports UKRI’s ambition to create a stronger research and innovation environment that is focussed on supporting talented people and realising the full potential of their work.”

Research Integrity paper: See the paper here.

Research Professional say:

  • Universities should be doing more to ensure the integrity of their research and to retain the trust of society at large, says a paper from League of European Research Universities.
  • The Leru paper published on 24 January is co-authored by Antoine Hol, a law professor at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, and Inge Lerouge, an ethics and integrity coordinator at KU Leuven in Belgium, with an input from its thematic group on the issue.
  • “Universities should be at the forefront of developing and implementing new approaches to research integrity that will maintain and strengthen the confidence of the public, governments, research funders and end users,” say Hol and Lerouge in the paper.
  • Among their recommendations are that universities should devise and share research integrity guidelines, appoint specialist personnel on the issue, and make integrity education mandatory for students.

Chris Skidmore speech on research and innovation (24th Jan)

  • I have, as science and research minister, commissioned UKRI to publish new data today on how their investments are balanced across the regions. This is a first step on the way to greater transparency of where our money is going
  • …Because it will be crucial, if we are to level up R&D funding, that we not only strengthen existing capacity in every corner of the UK, but also that we can support emerging excellence in universities and institutions that are growing their research capability. We are determined to provide the funding and support to achieve this.
  • Already I have announced a record increase to Higher Education Innovation Funding, bringing it to £250 million per year, which will turbocharge universities’ knowledge exchange activities. We have launched the first round of the Expanding Excellence in England Fund, we’ve got the first phase of the Connecting Capabilities Fund up and running, and we’re already well into the second round of the Strength in Places Fund.
  • We are embarking on the largest ever expansion of university R&D right across the UK.
  • And when it comes to supporting and growing excellent university research departments all over the country, I fully recognise the value of QR. Perhaps in the past, our focus on challenge-led funds masked a decline in that important mainstream of basic, curiosity-driven research.
  • But this isn’t about picking one type of research over another. All should be lifted if we are to succeed. Already last year I worked to deliver the first real terms increase in QR in England for over a decade. And I want to do so again this year. But I also want to ensure that we are ‘levelling up’ university departments right across the country. Not just making it easier and quicker to apply for funding.
  • But critically, we need to think very carefully about how all of our schemes, including QR, can benefit existing institutions in all regions. I am determined to support existing institutions, right across the country, to work with you to foster and build networks. We can already see how universities are working together in networks like the N8 group of research-intensive institutions in the North, or Midlands Innovation, or GW4 in the South West. I want us to build on these partnerships, to develop new alliances between existing universities, driving up collaboration, developing deeper partnerships with industry, and working together at scale.
  • ….Because universities are not just engines of growth, or producers of skilled human capital. They are complex organisations, with complex relationships with those around them. Relationships that need to be nurtured, developed and brought to bear for the benefit of us all.
  • And it’s why it was so important that Research England published the next steps on the Knowledge Exchange Framework last week. It is hard to overstate the importance of this – it is a huge step on the journey towards levelling up. The KEF will provide universities with that all-important strategic driver, putting knowledge exchange right at the heart of universities’ missions, on a par with their teaching and research. Let me be clear – the KEF will not be some meaningless, bureaucratic, tick-box exercise. It is about empowering institutions to shift up to a higher gear, not just in commercialisation or technology transfer, but elevating their entire purpose as institutions – institutions that have such extraordinary potential to make a positive difference to their towns, cities and regions.
  • And our review of HEIF will help us take this even further.
  • …And when it comes to improving academic life, I am committed to working with you to improve your working conditions, to address the issues raised by Wellcome Trust in their report on research culture last week, and again by UCU in their report earlier this week. I want to work with you on developing a Research People Strategy for the next decade, a new overarching approach to transforming research practice and culture.
  • I want more research – but I also want better research. For I want our investment to ensure our R&D landscape is above all sustainable for the future. And that means investing sustainably in people. This is of course about building the pipeline of talent. But I also want to recognise and reward best practice in how research is being administered. So in return for increasing funding, I want to see research departments equally commit to transforming their environments. Not just by reducing bureaucracy, and fully embracing networked and open research. But also by improving reward and recognition for staff. Supporting and nurturing early career researchers who need time and space to develop, but also those with significant experience and wisdom. Giving our backing to initiatives like the Declaration on Research Assessment. And the UKRI committee on research integrity. Adopting modern approaches to knowledge exchange and technology transfer. And tackling long-standing issues around bullying and harassment.

Regional Context

A Place Strategy for UK R&D will be published in the summer, aiming to ensure funding builds on strengths of the regions. And the government will examine how the UK’s catapult centres can strengthen R&D capacity in local areas, improving productivity and contributing to greater prosperity across the UK.

Read the full UKRI data – Regional distribution of funding for research and business.

Research – Future Frameworks

A parliamentary question on the future frameworks

Q – Lord Fox: To ask Her Majesty’s Government when they intend to respond to the report by Professor Adrian Smith and Professor Graeme Reid Changes and choices: advice on future frameworks for international collaboration on research and innovation, published on 5 November 2019. [HL453]

A – Lord Duncan Of Springbank:

  • Sir Adrian and Professor Reid’s report ‘Changes and Choices’ makes overarching recommendations which highlight the importance of stabilising and building on the UK capability, it presents opportunities for the future funding landscape of UK research and innovation globally, and it also provides options should the UK decide not to associate to Horizon Europe.
  • The Government is carefully considering the recommendations including how this might inform future policy and plans to publish a response in due course.

Engineering & Construction

The Engineering and Construction Industry Training Board (ECITB)  have launched a new Graduate Development Grant programme costing £5 million. It will support the key leadership and management skills through an apprenticeship style training scheme for graduates embarking on engineering construction careers. It is planned to support at least 150 individuals each year with each graduate receiving £12,000 over three years. The new scheme is part of the ECITB’s new business plan, is in line with employers’ October 2019 decision to raise the industrial training levy, and will help tackle the major challenges facing the engineering construction industry. This includes the need to deliver £600 billion worth of major infrastructure projects over the next decade, replace an ageing industry workforce, and supporting the transition to a net zero carbon economy. The high-level postgraduate apprenticeship style programme is interesting because, while the Government is committed to technical education to deliver Britain’s industrial strategy priorities, there has been criticism that apprenticeship levy funds have been too often used for higher level training at the expense of the level 2 and 3 apprenticeships. However, in this case skills gaps and employer support for the training runs contrary to the sector criticism

Chris Claydon, Chief Executive of the ECITB, said: “Across the engineering construction industry there is both a need to recruit and train the highly skilled workforce of the future and also to round off individuals’ academic learning with the soft skills required by employers. We have listened to calls from industry employers to fund graduate training in a similar way to apprenticeships and we are proud to support the investment employers make in their new recruits.”

Languages

Languages have been of interest for a third week running. This week the British Council have published a report on gender differences in language learning and how some schools have trialled methods to close the gender gap. The report was compiled by EPI and finds that boys’ entry and performance in GCSE languages is persistently lower than girls, with a pupil’s gender a stronger predictor of outcomes than a pupil’s level of disadvantage. These trends are salient because overall entries for languages have significantly declined in recent years. Key findings: 

  • There is a significant gender gap in GCSE modern foreign languages: girls are more than twice (2.17 times) as likely as boys to achieve a pass (Level 4).
  • Just 38% of boys sat GCSE languages in the 2018 cohort, compared to half (50%) of all girls.
  • The gap is so pronounced that gender is a stronger predictor of success in languages than a pupil’s level of disadvantage: a female pupil from a poorer background is more likely to outperform a male pupil from a more affluent background.
  • While nationally the gender gap in entry and attainment is wide, there are a number of schools in England that have ‘beaten the odds’, by successfully boosting the participation and performance of boys at GCSE level. These are schools that would be expected to have lower than the average language attainment for boys, given their context, but in practice have performed well. You can read what worked in the full report from page 31 onwards and there are useful charts on pages 37 and 38 illustrating some of the approaches that were successful with boys in 31 schools.

One of the recommendations in the report is that Ofqual should continue to address the difficulty of the assessment of language GCSEs to enable more inclusive language learning for all abilities. It should monitor the impact of its recent intervention to adjust French and German grading, and consider whether similar adjustments are needed for other languages.

David Laws, Executive Chairman, Education Policy Institute, said: Progress on the uptake of languages in schools has lagged. Our Language Trends research shows that the more disadvantaged you are, the less likely you are to learn a language at school (Language Trends 2019)… Strikingly, once we control for a range of pupil characteristics, including disadvantage and prior attainment, girls are over twice as likely as boys to enter and achieve at least a grade 4 (equivalent to the old “C” grade) in a language GCSE.

 Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: Gender stereotypes limit opportunities for both boys and girls. While schools do a great deal to provide all students with a broad and balanced curriculum, as this report shows, gender continues to shape the subjects chosen by pupils at GCSE . Girls are more likely to study languages, boys more likely to study physics – and this gender bias limits life chances for both. Schools can open up those horizons for both sexes, however Government policy is in many cases a barrier to this.

The Value of HE

HEPI has published a series of blogs on the value of HE.

Rachel Hewitt from HEPI wrote about 2020 being the year of value:

  • “Already this year, however, there has been a bigger drive in this area, with the Office for Students releasing a consultation on the money they distribute through teaching grants due to the Department for Education setting out a reduction of £58 million. The Secretary of State for Education and the Office for Students are therefore making judgements about the value of higher education in deciding where to allocate the more limited resources.
  • With the Conservative manifesto commitment to ‘tackle the problem of low value courses’ in mind, this feels like the first step in a process over the next year. This year will see the outcomes of the independent review of the Teaching Excellence Framework published and the Government’s response to the Augar review, providing plenty of opportunities to consider ways to identify courses not believed to be up to scratch – or providing good enough returns to the taxpayer. With significant spending pledges made elsewhere throughout the election campaign, this may be the beginning of university’s own period of austerity.
  • While the Government might be less likely to let a university go under than their rhetoric implies, they may be quite happy to let plenty of courses they do not see as important or cost-effective go to the wall. Instead of universities needing to make the case for why their funding should not be cut, the sector will need a strong argument for why the courses they are offering the government are high quality and high value to both students and the taxpayer. And if they do not want the methods of doing this to be LEO data or TEF, they should be thinking closely of what alternatives they can offer.”

Kim Ansell (from AdvanceHE) wrote about articulating value:

  • “Following a successful pilot project to test and evaluate a different way of understanding, reporting and demonstrating value, Advance HE built on work by the British Universities Finance Directors Group (BUFDG) and engaged mission groups and a small group of institutions in Let’s Talk Value, which looks at value through the lens of integrated thinking and reporting. This is a principles-based framework which helps organisations to think and report holistically considering all the resources or ‘capitals’ at their disposal, beyond just financial capital – for example, intellectual capital and human capital. This approach promotes a mature discussion about performance, provides transparent and authentic board oversight and helps a whole institution connect to a purpose and strategy.
  • So what does it mean for universities in practice?

o   It develops a collective vision of what value means for an institution, framed around its purpose and taking into account external factors.

o   It re-defines reporting as a tool to tell a consistent story to stakeholders about the unique value proposition of an institution.

o   It enables an understanding of the value of all resources and how they work together to create value by using strategic resources more holistically (such as people, knowledge and relationships and social capital).”

The latest (by Nick Hillman) is about taxpayer contribution:

  • “The many changes to student funding in England over the past 20-odd years have created a system in which it is thought that taxpayers cover around 45% of the costs and students / graduates around 55%. Of course, this is a guess incorporating some heroic assumptions: you cannot know for certain until we know how well graduates will do financially in coming decades, plus we don’t know if the repayment terms will be changed again.
  • However, if public funding should reflect the scale of public benefits, then we possibly have it about right, at close to 50:50 – though some might say we should slightly rebalance the burden towards taxpayers a bit, so that they pay a little more than half rather than a little under half.
  • Yet, intriguingly, despite calling for big changes to student funding, the Augar panel did not envisage a shift in the proportions paid from public and private sources. Their review called for a shift in public funding from loans to grants. But they still envisaged taxpayers picking up half the tab and students / graduates picking up the other half.
  • And as the wheels in Whitehall and Westminster grind slowly on, we should consider this: the overall idea that working out the split between public and private benefits and then charging taxpayers accordingly is unlikely to convince many people in the corridors of power…..The argument can seem overly insular and naïve, as well as unpersuasive, to public funders for three reasons.
    • First, it ignores the almost limitless demands of taxpayers – which will be uppermost in the minds of policymakers as we approach the spending review. Some of these might be educational (like early years’ provision or primary school class sizes) and others might have little direct link to education (like A&E waiting lists and better transport infrastructure). Whether they actually want to or not, many students and graduates seem willing to pay more than half of the costs of their higher education, given the proportion of school leavers moving on to higher education has gone up despite the increases in cost. Asking them to continue doing paying (or even to pay more through higher fees or tougher repayment terms) frees up resources for other things in education and elsewhere, including items which are generally deemed more urgent priorities by voters.
    • Secondly, we don’t apply the argument that public funding should reflect the ratio of public and private benefits to other areas of public policy. We don’t generally say, for example, that many of the benefits of healthcare are personal and thus seek to charge individuals accordingly for them – indeed, we don’t even try to recover the costs from progressive income-contingent repayments. Nor on the other hand, do we tend to argue that because some benefits of, say, private schooling are public (think of all those extra Olympic medalsOscars and Nobel Prizes that we win), then the state should fill independent school coffers. (Although I look forward to hearing if this claim is made at today’s HMC / IDPE / AGBIS conference on independent school bursaries.)
    • Thirdly, arguing that public funding should reflect public benefit plays into the hands of those policymakers who want to defund courses that look like they have particularly low financial returns – deemed low quality courses’ in the 2019 Tory manifesto. If we argue public funding of courses should match the public value of those courses, then we also have to accept that public funding should be low when the public value is low.
  • This is not an argument for less public funding of higher education. I have often written of:

Admissions

Coverage of UCAS data released this week suggests that at this early stage the number of conditional unconditional offers is declining. Wonkhe report that 75% of providers who currently use the dreaded “conditional unconditional offers” predicted to no longer do so in 2020. The data isn’t publically released until 6 Feb and Wonkhe’s blog is useful because it contains a tableau chart through which we can gain more hints. The UCAS prediction that conditional unconditional offers are decreasing is based on the number of early offers (but it is really too soon to tell)

Conditional unconditional offers are where a provider turns a standard offer dependent on the student achieving certain grades into an unconditional offer where they can enter the institution without reaching those grades if they agree to make the provider their first choice of institution.  The Government, and schools, are vehemently opposed to this practice. They state it causes pupils to perform more poorly in their exams and sways their choice away from other institutions (particularly higher tariff institutions) where the individual might be better placed or have better long term prospects.

Research Professional (RP) write that the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, is considering whether conditional unconditionals are breaching students’ consumer rights: “students are being let down by the universities that are using these offers to get students through the door”.  Moreover, Gavin is in favour of a full admissions overhaul describing it as an opportunity for the sector to get its house in order. Today he committed to: “Under no circumstances are ‘conditional unconditional’ offers justified and I will write to all universities continuing them asking them to end this practice.”

RP report that according to the UCAS end-of-cycle data there were:

  • 33 providers whose conditional unconditional offers accounted for 1% or more of their total offers made last year, up from 29 providers in 2018.
  • At 17 providers, conditional unconditional offers accounted for 20% or more of their total offers made—a net increase of two providers compared with 2018.

There were seven providers where conditional unconditional offers made up more than 50% of the total offers made to students, compared with two providers in 2018: Falmouth University (68%); Canterbury Christ Church University (66%);  the University of Lincoln (59%); Birmingham City University (56%); Bournemouth University (56%; and De Montfort University (55%). Four (including BU) have confirmed they will not make conditional unconditional offers for the 2020 recruitment cycle.

RP continue:

According to UCAS Medium-tariff providers (as determined by the average number of UCAS points required to get onto a course) are most likely to make a conditional unconditional offer..

  • In 2019, 13.7% made by medium tariff providers were conditional unconditional (up 1.3% on 2018)
  • It was 9.4% lower-tariff and 3.3%t for higher-tariff institutions.

Clare Marchant, Chief Executive of UCAS, stated: “Early indications point very strongly to a behaviour change in 2020. We forecast as many as 75% of universities and colleges which made conditional unconditional offers in the 2019 cycle will no longer make these in 2020.

Whilst we predict a fall in these types of offers, we will likely see universities and colleges deploy other offer-making strategies, including direct unconditionals, in this competitive market.”

Research Professional make a tongue in cheek response:  As Playbook has said before, it could be considered harsh for the political powers that be to introduce a more marketised higher education and then get annoyed when universities start competing like they are in a market. 

OfS welcomed the predicted decline in these types of offers and reminded the sector that their review of the HE Admissions system, including considering a post-qualification admissions system would begin soon. Nicola Dandridge stated: We will shortly be launching a review of England’s admissions system, working with partners from across education to ensure that we have a system of admissions which is fair, easy to understand, and allows students to demonstrate their achievement and potential. This review will build further evidence about unconditional offers and their impact in the context of the entire admissions system.

Equality Data

The UCAS end of cycle data also highlights that:

  • more students in receipt of free school meals (fsm) are attending high-tariff universities – the between fsm students (18.9%) and other students (35.6) is at a record low.
  • Students from a less advantaged background are more likely to study closer to home

And Wonkhe’s David Kernohan has a more nuanced delve into the offer making data here (scroll down to the bottom half of the email).

Student Accommodation

The Minister for Universities gave a speech on students accommodation this week, raising a number of concerns and outlining some possible solutions.

  • As your Universities Minister, I am keen to ensure that no student is exposed to the types of issues we sometimes see in the news; no student should be left in the lurch due to late completion, priced out of adequate accommodation or end up in a building with too few social spaces that can leave them feeling isolated or lonely.
  • Tackling these awful and disappointing issues will require sustained collaborative effort. That’s why I called together students, sector bodies, universities, PBSA providers and regulators just before Christmas, to make sure their voices are heard on how we work together to identify solutions in this new decade.
  • I’ve had a chance to reflect on the fascinating insights that came out of this summit, and I am struck by the opportunity student involvement can pose for developers and universities.
  • Meaningful consultation with students in the design of rent structures can help ensure timely rent payments while easing money worries and boosting wellbeing. Involving students, universities and local authorities at the design stage of new accommodation allows individual places to ensure they have the right mix of rooms and spaces for their specific student population, and makes sure students are happy with what they’re paying for.
  • Some messages were not as positive. It is not right that accessible accommodation is often the most expensive option available to students; if disabled students are forced to pay premium prices for suitable rooms, this is tantamount to a tax on disability, and cannot be allowed to continue.
  • Speaking to some of you in the sector, I have been impressed by the real-life benefits that have been realised through partnership-working. There are so many positive examples of this; I want to continue to see PBSA suppliers notifying universities early of construction delays so impacts on students can be minimised, and of accommodation managers developing information sharing arrangements to deliver support to struggling students.
  • … We also need to look at what the latest updates to the Unipol and UUK accommodation codes should be. I want us to consider not only what we can do to strengthen compliance with them, but also to hit developers hard in the pocket if they refuse to seek code accreditation.
  • We all need to think hard about the quality and availability of accommodation information to students and their families, including its costs and where the profits go. Students must have access to the right facts to be able to make the right choices – they have consumer rights. And I want us to think about what the best-practice models of PBSA provision are and how we ensure the sector adopts them.

Fee changes

A statutory instrument (SI) with implications for HE was laid in the House of Commons on the 24th January: The Education (Student Fees, Awards and Support etc.) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2020.  The regulatory changes will become law on 13th February 2020 although there is an objection period window ending on 12th March 2020. You can read all the changes here, below are the most relevant changes:

  • To provide that a student who has been granted indefinite leave to remain in the United Kingdom as a victim of domestic violence or domestic abuse is eligible to receive funding in respect of a further education course, an undergraduate higher education course, a master’s degree course or doctoral degree course, or a course at the European University Institute
  • To provide that a student who transfers from a full-time course which started before 1st August 2019 to an accelerated course which started on or after 1st August 2019 will be entitled to apply for a fee loan for their accelerated course up to the higher limits that apply for an accelerated course starting on or after 1st August 2019 and grants and loans for living and other costs.
  • Makes provision in circumstances where a student’s household income is based on the incomes of both parents, or a student’s parent and the parent’s partner. In these circumstances, where the parents’, or parent and partner’s, income falls by 15% or more compared to either the “prior financial year”, or the previous financial year, the Secretary of State may assess the parent’s, or parent’s partner’s, income for the current financial year.
  • In relation to a course which begins on or after 1st August 2020, to provide that a student who has previously received a grant under regulation 33(1) of the Education (Student Support) Postgraduate Master’s Degrees (Wales) Regulations 2019 is not eligible for a master’s degree loan.
  • To provide that when a student repeats a module or similar unit of work forming part of a master’s degree, that repeat study is not funded.
  • In relation to a course which begins on or after 1st August 2020, to provide that a student who is in receipt of funding under the Educational Psychology Funded Training scheme is not eligible for a doctoral degree loan.
  • To increase the maximum amounts of master’s degree and doctoral degree loans for students beginning those courses on or after 1st August 2020.

Social Mobility

We’ve done a special feature on this week’s big news – the OfS report which analyses the future of HE Access And Participation by amalgamating all the HE providers’ Access and Participation Plan targets to create a national change picture. Read it here.

Other news

Merchandise: Brexit will be a major historical event. The Conservatives are celebrating Brexit with some thoroughly British official merchandise. The tea towel is my favourite!

Student health: Derek Thomas MP used Prime Minster’s Questions to highlight that 40% of students haven’t seen a dentist in the last year. He asked whether the PM would meet with him to resolve this inequality, Boris agreed.

Antisemitism: The Government has announced new funding to help universities tackle antisemitism.
The new funding will enable 450 student leaders, journalists and academics to be taken to Auschwitz over the next three years. They will be expected to educate tens of thousands of students on their return. Specifically, students will participate in a seminar which will deal explicitly with campus-specific issues and how to identify and tackle antisemitism. The student programme will be delivered by the Holocaust Educational Trust in partnership with the Union of Jewish Students, following a successful scheme ran in 2018-19. To drive engagement amongst the student population, the programme is planned to work with influential student publications and media, as well as student leaders and networks to disseminate the messages they have heard first hand to tens of thousands of students across the country. Alongside the announcement Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick is urging all universities and Local Authorities to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism.

Fire Safety: A Parliamentary question on university fire safety –

Q – Steve Reed (Croydon North): To ask the Secretary of State for Education, how many university vice-chancellors have replied to his letter of November 2019 on the issue of fire safety procedures and safeguards across university residential, teaching and research accommodation. [5444]

A – Chris Skidmore (Kingswood): We are pleased to see that the engagement with the letter of 18 November… to all 138 higher education institutions has had a 100% response rate. The safety of pupils, students and staff remains ministers’ highest priority. Since the Grenfell fire, the department has worked closely with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, as part of the cross government programme to remediate buildings with potentially dangerous cladding, including student accommodation. That approach will continue, and we welcome the package of measures to improve building safety standards announced on 20 January by my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government. We are already looking at ways to ensure the education estate complies fully with the updated advice to building owners, announced as part of that package, on actions they should take in relation to cladding.

MATHS Resit: Mathematics in Education and Industry have published a report investigating the feasibility of a new maths GCSE curriculum for post-16 resit students which tackles a recommendation from the Smith review – “In view of the low GCSE resit success rates and new GCSE requirements the DfE  should review its 16-18 resit policy with the aim that a greater proportion of students…attain appropriate mathematical understanding by age 18. The report outlines a curriculum for a new qualification that focuses on the maths needed for everyday life and work, which also has sufficient rigour to meet the requirements of a GCSE qualification. It recommends that such a post-16 maths GCSE qualification should be developed and that it should have the same status as GCSE Mathematics at the same grade.

Maintenance Grants: This Parliamentary Question gives no hints on the Augar Review outcomes the sector is waiting for

Q – Caroline Lucas: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what recent assessment he has made of the potential merits of introducing non-repayable maintenance grant funding in (a) further and (b) higher education. [5382]

A – Chris Skidmore: The independent panel’s report on the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding was published in May 2019. The government is considering the recommendations made in the report, including those relating to maintenance support for higher education and further education students. The government will conclude the review alongside the next spending review.

Overseas Campus: If you ever wondered how universities with an overseas campus are monitored here is your answer:

Q – Lord Storey: To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they inspect the overseas campuses of UK universities. [HL478]

A – Baroness Berridge: UK higher education providers with degree-awarding powers are responsible for the academic standards of their awards and for the quality of provision, irrespective of where or how courses are delivered or who delivers them. The external review of Transnational Education (TNE) has been carried out by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) on behalf of funders, regulators and UK providers since it was established in 1997. As higher education is a devolved matter, each nation of the UK will deliver quality assurance of TNE according to the process adopted for higher education institutions within its jurisdiction.

Historically, QAA has carried out TNE reviews, which have included a range of activities including overseas campus inspection, scrutiny of partnerships from the UK end including video conferences with providers, and the analysis of data on TNE provision.

The process for carrying out TNE review activity for UK higher education institutions has been the subject of a recent consultation which ended in January 2020, carried out by Universities UK International, Guild HE and QAA.

The consultation responses are currently being considered and the future model of TNE review, including overseas campus inspection, will be decided through this process and the consulting organisations will jointly analyse the responses and develop an action plan.

Micro aggressions:

Q – Dr Julian Lewis: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, whether he plans to take steps in response to proposals by Sheffield university to pay some students to monitor and report on statements made by other students which might be regarded as micro-aggressions; what progress he has made on bringing forward proposals to safeguard free speech in colleges and universities; and if he will draw the lessons of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four to the attention of college and university staff during this 70th anniversary year of the author’s death. [5319]

A – Chris Skidmore: This government will ensure that our universities are places where free speech can thrive and work to strengthen academic freedoms. The freedom to express views openly, challenge ideas and engage in robust debate is crucial to the student experience and to democracy. Lawful freedom of speech and the right to discuss all kinds of issues is an integral part of our higher education system.

Under the Education (No 2) Act (1986), higher education providers have a specific duty to take reasonably practicable steps to secure freedom of speech within the law for staff, students and visiting speakers. Higher education providers also have clear responsibilities under the Equality Act (2010).

Higher education providers should discharge their responsibilities fully and have robust policies and procedures in place to comply with the law and to investigate and address incidents reported to them. Universities, as autonomous bodies regulated by the Office for Students, should ensure that they are balancing their legal duties carefully and proportionately.

The government worked with the Equality and Human Rights Commission, who published clear guidance in February 2019 on freedom of speech in higher education to support higher education providers and students’ unions in delivering their duties.

The government will be looking closely at how well higher education providers are meeting their obligations and will consider whether further action is needed, working with a range of partners.

Schools: There was a written ministerial statement on the new application system for initial teacher training and the pilot scheme being trialled in the South West. Education Minister Gavin Williamson announced £24 million investment for North East schools to tackle challenges in the region through extra teacher training and greater access to employers and universities for young people.

Equality Charters:

Q – Caroline Lucas: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, if he will take steps to ensure that universities use universally accessible (a) student surveys and (b) data collection processes to monitor university compliance with equality charters; and if he will make a statement. [6062]

A – Chris Skidmore: Higher education providers (HEPs) are independent and autonomous institutions. While we recognise the work of Advance HE and the value that both the Race Equality and Athena Swan charters bring to the sector the government does not compel HEPs to participate in equality charters.

However, progress on addressing both gender and racial equality in HE has been unacceptably slow, particularly for minority ethnic staff securing senior university leadership positions. It is essential that HEPs urgently address those institutional and cultural barriers standing in the way of women and minority ethnic staff and students so that everyone who has the potential to thrive at university, does so.

The government has brought forward sweeping reforms of higher education to tackle equality of opportunity through the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 (HERA). This includes a mandatory condition of registration which, for the first time, requires all higher education providers registered with the Office for Students (OfS) to publish data including the number of applications for admissions, offers made and acceptance rates broken down by gender, ethnicity and socio-economic background. The OfS has issued guidance to higher education providers on how to comply with the transparency condition.

The OfS has also made available online an interactive dashboard of data, which will help to evaluate access and participation at specific universities and colleges. The dashboard can be used to compare different student groups (for example, disabled students or students by their ethnic background) and their peers, and reveal gaps in access, continuation, success and progression. More information is available at the link.

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HE Policy update for the w/e 15th November 2019

Breathe – in four weeks the general election will be done and dusted, meanwhile we’ve listed the key information sources and looked at the education related pledges made so far. Of course, the HE sector has been busy too with research funding, postgraduate satisfaction, student accommodation, more free speech, value for money, and widening participation under the microscope this week.

Research

Research Fundermentals have a blog from Wonkfest on discussions with John Kingman (Chair UKRI, ex-Permanent Secretary to the Treasury). Key points:

  • UKRI has challenges because the core funding is ‘tight’ – which has consequences for the system
  • The 2.4% GDP research and development (R&D) spend target is a ‘stretch target, but not necessarily a crazy one.’ He emphasised that the target was for the economy as a whole, and two thirds of R&D happens in the private sector. He felt using public money to ‘crowd in’ private investment was a sound policy. With both the Government and Opposition backing the 2.4% target he stated the sector should be very pleased about this strong cross-party consensus.
  • UKRI ready to administer the Government’s promise to underwrite UK involvement in European funding, however he couldn’t say how this will ‘play out,’ he would be arguing strongly for UK science, and was already ‘heavily involved’ in policy discussions.
  • On international engagement we was more reticent – ‘We’ve got to think hardheadedly,’ he said, ‘and consider what benefits will come from any links we make.’ There should not just be memoranda of understanding and photo calls just for the sake of it.
  • Kingman was positive about Darpa and didn’t see it as a sign the government want greater control of research funding: ‘I see this as part of a wider jigsaw…It should be wholeheartedly welcomed.’
  • On talent Kingman stated: Developing the next generation of researcher is a priority for UKRI. Those working in science are pressured to deliver results quickly. To do so, ‘we need incredibly talented people…and we need to worry about people as much as money.’ UKRI are focused on encouraging and supporting early career researchers and believe research (especially science) needs to be seen as a positive option by people before they leave school. He also stated UKRI should ‘own it’ because there is much to do on equality, diversity and inclusivity.
  • Kingman was in favour of REF and believes research has benefited from the system. He agreed REF isn’t perfect and need to continue to develop but that, for him, there was still a strong case for the dual support system, regardless of the legal obligation to continue it, and that we ‘shouldn’t put all our eggs in one basket of project research.’
  • Kingman was not in favour of prescriptive regional funding, and believes research should be funded wherever it was found.

On Wednesday the PM made a speech on ‘unleashing the potential of the whole country’ in which stated he would double funding for R&D to £18bn in the “biggest ever increase in support for R & D”. Theresa May’s government committed £7 billion extra R&D funding over five years as part of the 2017 Industrial Strategy, and set the target of reaching 2.4% by 2027. Earlier this year, Johnson said he would “double down on our investment in R&D”, and committed to making an extra investment of £2.3 billion in 2021/22. The science, research and innovation community support the 2.4% target but few believe it is achievable without considerable levels of private investment. With the new announcement that the Conservatives would commit to £18bn this would provide a major boost. Of course, there are not yet details about how this spending will be balanced between competing areas of R&D.

Other commitments made in the speech included investing more in electric vehicle technology and creating a Britain that would lead the world in tackling climate change and reach net zero by 2050. In his own words: “not because we hate capitalism, not just by gluing ourselves to the tops of tubes trains or whatever, as important as that may be, but because it is precisely companies like this one [the London Electric Vehicle Company] that make the brilliant technical breakthroughs that will enable us to cut CO2 and go carbon neutral by 2050”.

Venki Ramakrishnan, President of the Royal Society, responded to the announcement: “Successful science is not based on money alone. We will also need to maintain full participation in European funding schemes and the collaboration that they promote, rather than trying to replace them.” (Source: Wonkhe/Financial Times.)

Postgraduate Student Satisfaction

AdvanceHE have published the 2019 Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey (PTES).

The Office for Students has announced that they will have a new measure of postgraduate satisfaction so this is likely to become an area of focus for the regulator.

  • “Overall satisfaction is high and has remained consistent over several years. The one exception to this was in 2018, when a temporary dip in satisfaction appears to be related to UCU (University and College Union) strike action. Despite the strong scores, satisfaction levels remain slightly below those reported by undergraduates through the National Student Survey (NSS).
  • …institutions across the sector score particularly highly for providing effective resources (e.g. library, IT, subject-specific) and information, although organisation (logistics, guidance, communication) and assessment (criteria and timeliness) continue to be rated least positively. …The main specific aspect that requires attention is how to provide opportunities for postgraduate taught (PGT) students to be involved in decisions about how their course operates, which scores consistently lower than all the other measures in the survey.
  • In 2019, for the first time, we have conducted detailed analysis of the open comments, specifically around suggestions for improvement. This analysis identified some key areas of consistency with the quantitative analysis, building a clear picture of some areas to prioritise across the sector. In particular, these included how teaching staff provide support and how the course is organised.
  • A relatively small proportion, 20%, had considered leaving their PGT course to date, which compares favourably with similar data collected at undergraduate and postgraduate research (PGR) level – and is an endorsement of the levels of support provided across the sector.
  • In terms of ethnicity, the results go against the stark White/BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) contrast that we have previously found at undergraduate level. Instead, there is a more nuanced picture, with Black, Chinese and White students reporting strong satisfaction levels, contrasted by evidence of a more disappointing experience for Asian and Mixed students, as well as those of “Other” ethnicity. A particular challenge for investigating the concerns of these cohorts lies in the fact that they are comprised of a range of different subgroups, each of which may be facing their own particular issues.
  • There is a strong picture among overseas students, who tend to report a very positive experience. One of the factors contributing to this is that overseas students tend to spend little time working for pay. Our analysis shows that time spent working for pay can link strongly to a greater likelihood of leaving the course, and hence the high levels of retention among overseas students are likely to be strongly linked.
  • Motivations for choosing an institution can vary, but analysis highlights how the type of motivation can be linked to the subsequent quality of the experience. Where students have chosen an institution based on reputation (of tutors, course or institution) or content of course, they tend to go on to be much more satisfied than those for whom the choice may have been a more restricted one – e.g. based on the location of the institution of whether there was funding available.”

According to PTES, Black postgraduate taught students are more motivated to progress to a higher-level qualification than white students – which is interesting in the context of the recent Leading Routes report which found that only 1.2 per cent of UKRI-funded PhDs over the last three years went to Black or Black mixed students.

Mental Health

The OfS have published an insight brief on mental health – Mental health: Are all students being properly supported? It highlights that students who report a mental health condition are more likely to drop out of higher education, less likely to progress into skilled work or further study, and graduate with a first or 2:1 – compared to students without a declared mental health condition.

Key points:

  • PT students from deprived areas are most likely to report mental health conditions
    Whereas PT students from advantaged areas were least likely to report a mental health condition
  • Black students with a declared mental health condition have low continuation and attainment rates.
  • Full time students declaring a mental health condition has more than doubled in the last five years (1.4% in 2012-13 to 3.5% in 2017-18)
  • Females are more likely to report a mental health condition (4.7% females report; 2% males report)

The report does mention the distinction between a clinically diagnosed mental health condition and the broader mental ill health/distress.

Participation and Attainment

School Families: The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has re- launched the Families of Schools Database. This is an online database for schools to compare themselves against other institutions nationally by a range of criteria (e.g. levels of free school meals pupils, or similar disadvantage/poverty area measures). It aims to help schools understand more about their disadvantage attainment gaps. Every school in England has been placed into ‘families’, based on the characteristics of pupils who attend them. The EEF hopes schools will use this as a springboard to learn from, and collaborate with, the most successful schools in their ‘family’ of similar schools.

Analysis published by the EEF found that the national disadvantage gap would be significantly reduced if schools are able to help their disadvantaged pupils reach at least the average performance achieved by their 30 most similar schools.

Educational Cold Spots: just before Parliament entered purdah Robert Halfon questioned whether the extension to the DfE Opportunity Areas which tackle the national cold spots (including West Somerset) was a suitable use of Government funding and whether it provided value for money. However, the Government have reconfirmed their commitment and stated that the funding is beginning to boost GCSE grades.

Social Mobility: The Sutton Trust has published their Mobility Manifesto aiming to influence politicians to embrace social mobility at the heart of their election campaign. It covers fairer school admissions, early education, widening access to universities, banning unpaid internships, degree and higher apprenticeships, and best practice in widening access in employment. Below is the light touch summary on each. Incidentally in the run up to the vote for the new speaker of House of Commons, The Sutton Trust CEO wrote to all the candidates to urge them to commit to tackling unpaid and unadvertised internships in Parliament.

Residential Model

HEPI and UPP (a major student accommodation provider) have published Somewhere to live: Why British students study away from home – and why it matters examining the ramifications of the choice of most students to move away from home to study. Excerpts:

  • ‘There are many problems with the residential university. It is expensive – and becoming ever more so. It disadvantages those students who do not live away from home and those young people who never get a chance to attend university. It can alienate and exclude others, especially the communities who live around the campus. And yet, residence is undeniably popular and remains desirable, despite its costs. By tracing its history, we can also consider its future, and how it might come to serve the interests of all.
  • Demand for student accommodation remains strong, with many young people still wishing to leave home to benefit from a fully immersive higher education experience.
  • The report considers how the issue of the value-for-money of accommodation has emerged as a key area of focus for both the NUS and the OfS in the wider context of the affordability of going to university.’

The report also looks to the future and how diversity drives need – what student accommodation should be like in the future; what proportion of students should live away from home; how costly should it be to live in bespoke student accommodation; and what support should be on offer?

Here are the key points:

  • For the overwhelming majority of UK undergraduates, attending university means leaving home. It is certainly a distinctive feature of British higher education, and one that marks Britain out from both its nearest neighbours and its most obvious comparators.
  • In Britain, in the academic year 2017-18, just over 80% of full-time students left home for study. On average, 36% of European students live in their parental home. In America nearly 40% of students live at home and 77% attend college in their home state.
  • Student accommodation is now worth something like £53 billion in the UK. Struggling to keep up, even traditionally residential universities are having to invest millions in providing new housing – with Cambridge borrowing nearly £1 billion and Oxford recently agreeing a joint venture with Legal and General worth £4 billion.
  • Residence has an effect on the host communities, who may find themselves irritated, changed and outpriced by the students who live within them.
  • ‘Commuter students’, do not always have such rounded and fulfilling experiences as other students, and they sometimes do not benefit from their higher education as much as those students who reside at university.
  • If universities are to remain residential for most, they still need to think about those who are excluded or disadvantaged precisely because they do not share the same benefits as the overwhelming majority who do study away from home.

Recommendations:

  • Although there are some examples of good practice, universities as a whole must do better at providing appropriate information about accommodation to prospective students. This means offering accurate details about the true cost of living.
  • Universities should review how they support their students: both those who live on campus and those who do not. There is a need to better integrate commuter students.
  • The design of accommodation should be reviewed by universities and other providers alike. As a report published in 2019 outlines, many developments have not been designed with student wellbeing in mind.
  • Both government and accommodation providers need to address an increasingly unsustainable rise in rents.
  • Universities should review how their accommodation policies affect the local community and how their resources can be shared.

Freedom of speech

The Policy Exchange have had another “go” at free speech in universities in their report, enticingly titled “Academic Freedom in the UK”..

It starts with an allegation of political discrimination which *may* be violating academic freedom and confirms that there is really no evidence of a problem:

Britain’s universities are world-leading. Yet there is widespread concern that, instead of being places of robust debate and free discovery, they are being stifled by a culture of conformity. Universities have a particular role in upholding free speech in society more broadly, with academic freedom central to this. The danger is that academic freedom is being significantly violated due, in particular, to forms of political discrimination.

There has to date been a lack of good evidence, specific to the UK, which confirms or disconfirms whether academic freedom is being infringed beyond a small number of high profile cases. In addition, beyond statements like the ‘Chicago Principles’, which affirm the value of free speech in universities, there is a relative lack of policies which would protect academic freedom. The link between academic freedom among faculty and freedom of speech amongst students has also not been thoroughly explored in a UK context.

New polling by Policy Exchange supports three key findings.

  1. There is evidence of a chilling effect for undergraduate students. For instance, on Brexit, only 4 in 10 (39%) of Leave-supporting students say that they would be comfortable espousing that view in class.
  2. Despite such chilling effects, a significant proportion of students are consistently supportive of academic freedom. This figure is likely to be between 3 out of 10 to a half of students.
  3. Support for academic freedom is significantly affected by the context in which one considers the issue. In particular, it is affected by whether one is exposed to narratives that affirm either the need to create safe spaces for disadvantaged groups who have been subject to systemic oppression, or the value of free speech in preventing censorship and in promoting liberty and the free exchange of ideas. These findings reinforce the need for, and value of, policies which protect academic freedom

But it goes on to set out a framework anyway.  The key to this seems to be the Chicago Principles, as referred to above, plus a system of “champions” across the sector and a new charter-mark for viewpoint diversity.

Universities should:

  1. Adopt an academic freedom commitment, such as the Chicago Principles, that clearly states that ‘debate or deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even most members of the University community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed’.
  2. Appoint an Academic Freedom Champion (AFC), reporting directly to the Vice-Chancellor, with the power to investigate complaints of political discrimination across the Higher Education Institution (HEI), and to recommend actions as appropriate.

The Office for Students should:

  1. Appoint a National Academic Freedom Champion who would have the power to investigate allegations of academic-freedom violations from academics and lead on enhanced monitoring requirements or other sanctions where appropriate.
  2. Impose an obligation on HEIs to have a senior person responsible for protecting academic freedom in each HEI, and to have an Academic Freedom Code of Practice.

The Government should:

  1. Establish a statutory duty of non-discrimination for political and moral beliefs and judgments for the purposes of employment in higher education.
  2. Extend the existing statutory duty to ensure freedom of speech and academic freedom to include students and Student Unions, as well as those involved in governance in HEIs.

Civil society should:

  1. Incorporate academic freedom as a criterion against which universities are measured in international rankings of universities.
  2. Establish an Academic Freedom charter organisation, awarding kitemarks to HEIs for their demonstrated commitment to political anti-discrimination and viewpoint diversity.

The report has been criticised by David Kernohan on Wonkhe: who calls the underlying research a “terrible survey” and says that “The recommendations are nonsensical.”

This section is interesting (page 15):

Are academics brainwashing students?

When asked how most students acquired their opinion on the Peterson and Greer cases, 68% said social media. This was by far the most important influence on student opinion on these issues, with parents well down the list at 14%. New partisan online news sites like Vox, Buzzfeed, Breitbart, the Mail or the Guardian came in at 8%. University lecturers and schoolteachers both scored a paltry 1%. This suggests that the content of what students are learning is not directly shaping their worldviews on the speech issue. A further data point in favour of this interpretation is that older students (those 20-25) were 19 points more likely than 18-19 year olds to back the free speech position over emotional safety. It must also be emphasised that more research is needed to test this finding as some of this effect may be due to mature students. While it is reassuring that students do not appear to be directly influenced by their University experience to oppose free speech, given the range of opinions on this issue, it is important for universities to consider how their policies, structures and culture can encourage support for free speech rather than inadvertently suppress it.

A limitation of this polling is that it does not probe the social influence that lecturers may exert on students, through the way that they speak about and present politically-salient topics in their teaching. For instance, it is unknown whether the 6 in 10 Leave-supporting students who do not say that they would be comfortable expressing that view in class are cautious of how other students would react, or of how their lecturers may react. Further work is needed on this too.

And an interesting Times article –  Students have every right to ban speakersexplores a very different perspective of how politically and media savvy Gen Z students are, how they care about world issues, and how they avoid the pitfalls of being drawn into furious Twitter rows that older generations are floored by.

General Election 2019

We list below some sources of information on the election:

HEPI’s latest is about how manifesto promises don’t really mean much for HE:

“Finally, it is also worth remembering that the biggest higher education policies tend not to feature in election manifestoes at all. That was true of:

  • Tony Blair’s introduction of tuition fees;
  • Tony Blair’s tripling of tuition fees;
  • David Cameron and Nick Clegg’s tripling of tuition fees; and
  • George Osborne‘s abolition of maintenance grants.”

Last week there was a lot of press coverage about students voting tactically and it is rumbling on – HEPI referred to it in a student voting report: this has been widely cited as a storm rages on social media about student voting.  For the record, students can register both at home and at their university address but it is illegal to vote twice.  BU and SUBU have been working together to promote student registration and we will be sharing impartial information with students about policies nearer the time.  The voter registration deadline is midnight on 26th November.

Sky News has announced they will hold a 3 way head to head debate on 28th November between Johnson, Corbyn and Swinson (Swinson a late add to the line-up after the Lib Dems complained to ITV about their exclusion).

Finally, in parliamentary news, last week Sir Lindsay Hoyle was elected the new Speaker of the House of Commons. He is a Labour MP and former deputy speaker. He has pledged to be a “neutral” speaker and highlighted his desire to restore respect to the Commons. He also stood on the platform of safeguarding the welfare of MPs and staff.

Local candidates

Candidate selection closed on 14th November.

  • BCP have announced the candidates in Bournemouth East, Bournemouth West, Christchurch, Mid Dorset and North Poole and Poole:
  • Dorset Council have announced the candidates for North Dorset, South Dorset, West Dorset (and they overlap with some of the above too)

Party Education pledges so far

These all come with a pinch of salt because the manifesto pledges have not yet been published…

Labour  

Labour’s pledges sit within their National Education (cradle-to grave) Service (which they have been talking about for a long time and which are therefore relatively well developed),  They plan to:

  • expand adult education and lifelong training, including:
    • increasing reach of basic skills provision (on Tuesday they published research stating the number of adults currently learning is at its lowest point since 1996, and the number of people achieving basic skills qualifications has plummeted since 2011).
    • Retraining for adults (improve job chances, tackle displacement through automation/AI, and address skills shortages/meet changing needs of industry and the climate emergency) they expect to reach an extra 300,000 people per year and “throw open the door” for adults to study.
  • Ensure vocational education is considered on a par with a university degree, in particular they aim to increase the flexibility adult learners receive to resolve the mature tensions.
  • Support adults studying with 30 hours of free childcare for all 2 to 4 year olds.
  • They also state they will involve employers in designing qualifications to ensure the training equips them with the right skills.

The ‘free’ education covers:

  • any adult without A-level or equivalent qualification to attend college and study for free;
  • every adult a free entitlement to six years of study for qualifications at level 4-6 (undergraduate degrees and equivalents such as Higher National Certificates and Diplomas, Foundation Degrees, Certificates and Diplomas of Higher Education in areas such as rail engineering technicians, nursing associates, and professional accounting technicians);
  • provides maintenance grants for low income adult learners to complete their courses;
  • gives workers the right to paid time off for education and training;
  • Make sure everyone has access to the information they need to return to study through a national careers advice service.

Angela Rayner also told BBCR4 Today programme that a Labour Government would crack down on high wages for vice chancellors, and abolish university tuition fees. It will be interesting to see if this makes it into the manifesto.  Labour’s ‘rescue plan’ for the NHS also includes a promise to restore bursaries for student nurses and tackle the staffing crisis. There are also proposals to extend statutory maternity leave to 12 months, legislate for menopause friendly workplace policies and fine firms who fail to report on gender pay gaps.

Healthy Young Minds: Labour have also pledged £845 million to put a qualified counsellor into every school across the country, to combat the long waiting times for treatment and the lack of mental health services available to young people. The commitment is considered timely as it dovetailed the publication of the National Education Union’s league table of underfunded schools which found that there are just 18 out of 533 Parliamentary constituencies where per-pupil funding will be above its 2015 level in real terms.

Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrats have proposed a “skills wallet” providing every (English) adult with £10,000 to spend on education and training throughout their life. People would get the money in three instalments: £4,000 at 25; £3,000 at 40 and another £3,000 at 55. Individuals, their employers and local government will be able to make additional payments into the wallets. Access to free careers guidance will also be provided.  They intend to fund this by reversing government cuts to corporation tax – returning the business levy to its 2016 rate of 20%. However, they would consult on their proposal and therefore would not bring it in until 2021-22.

Liberal Democrat Shadow Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Secretary, Sam Gyimah, (ex-Conservative Universities Minister, of course) stated:

  • “By stopping Brexit and investing in our Skills Wallets, Liberal Democrats will empower people to develop new skills so that they can thrive in the technologies and industries that are key to the UK’s economic future and prosperity.”

Conservatives

The Conservatives have been tight lipped about their manifesto intentions (not unexpected – they published their 2017 manifesto far later than the other parties). So far they have proposed a National Retraining Scheme for adults needing to update their skills for work. Prior to purdah Johnson also made the schools funding pledges. On Thursday they promised to cut immigration numbers ‘overall’ after Brexit if elected to government. Home Secretary Priti Patel said the party would not set an “arbitrary” target if it wins the election, having failed to meet previous targets, but the policy ambition is in line with the Conservative’s agenda for a points-based system based on skills and other factors. And they intend a NHS visa scheme (reduced application cost, 2 week decision fast track, 5 year visa) to run alongside the introduction of the points based system in 2021. The scheme has been criticised because it fails to consider worker retention and critics feel it doesn’t address how dependent the UK is on clinicians from abroad. Priti stated: “We will reduce immigration overall while being more open and flexible to the highly skilled people we need, such as scientists and doctors.”

They Conservatives have also attacked Labour’s immigration policy in their own published report by the Conservative Research Department. They argue that Labour’s official immigration policy is to ‘maintain and extend free movement rights’, which includes closing down all detention centres, providing unconditional rights to family reunions, scrapping immigration targets and maintaining and extending free movement of peoples , including outside of the EU through facilitating an open-borders policy. It notes that Labour voted against specifically ending free movement (Public Bill Committee Immigration and Social Security Coordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill fifth sitting motion).

The Conservatives claim there are leaked Labour documents whereby Corbyn’s team have been reviewing ways of extending visa schemes to allow thousands of unskilled immigrants access to the UK. Finally the Conservative paper refers to immigration under the previous Labour Government where between 2003 and 2008 there was a 91% increase in employment levels accounted for by foreign nationals. Dods report that the Conservatives have been pulled up on their claims and Shadow Home Secretary Dianne Abbott stated it was “more fake news from the Conservative party’s make-believe research department”.

SNP

The SNP campaign focuses on the NHS and pledges an NHS protection Bill which “would explicitly prevent any future UK government from signing up to any agreement that made the NHS, in any part of the UK, a bargaining chip of any kind in any future trade deals”. This is in response to Trump’s interest in access to the NHS in a US/UK trade deal (which the Conservatives have strenuously denied). They also push for a second Scottish independence referendum. Labour who, should they be in a position to form a minority government would rely on the support of the SNP, have suggested they would permit another independent referendum however, Corbyn has been heavily criticised this week as he will not commit to a timeframe for it to be held.

Lots if interest groups will also publish their calls for policies:

MillionPlus have published their Manifesto entitled; The soaring twenties: investment, innovation and inclusion in UK higher education. They ask parliamentary candidates to commit to six key pledges that will boost the country by embracing, engaging and enhancing what modern universities have to offer to students and the economy. Key Pledges:

  • Increase current levels of investment in line with inflation and guarantee sustainable resourcing for universities to provide world-leading education for students
  • Restore maintenance grants for students from lower income backgrounds
  • Reform the student visa system to attract global talent to study across the UK
  • Invest 3% of GDP in research and innovation to boost our national productivity
  • Improve student financial support so mature and part-time students can better access higher education in a way that works for them
  • Recognise modern universities as being at the heart of technical education and pivotal providers for a skilled public service workforce

The British Academy has published a Manifesto for the Humanities and Social Sciences setting out 6 priorities for the Government to tackle. It includes supporting a sustainable HE sector and highlights that skilled arts, humanities and social science graduates fuel the service sector (80% of the economy) and asks for a funding system which maintains the breadth of subjects at both FE and HE. You can read the other priorities such a research environment and global talent here.

The final word

And the Institute for Fiscal Studies are warning the main parties about their ambitious spending pledges being made during this election campaign. Lord Gus O’Donnell, President of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, spoke on BBC R4 Today to explain that spending pledges could only be met by increased taxes. He said:

  • “When you look at the big capital spending increases – it’s about £50bn for Labour, £20bn for the Conservatives – do we have the capacity? The civil servants who are writing their briefing packs for the incoming ministers for various parties will be thinking, ‘well what could you spend this on’? ‘What’s, as it were, shovel ready? Will you get good value for money if you rush at it this quickly?’ So I think there’ll be lots of bottlenecks.”

Other news

Pay Gap: Thursday was Equal Pay Day where, due to the 13.1% pay gap, women have (on average) effectively stopped earning for the rest of the year. The Fawcett Society have launched a campaign today “right to know” which would allow women the right to have access to equivalent male counterparts salary details. They have a Bill drafted and will be pushing for MPs to introduce it in the new Parliament. The Lib Dems have also pledged to compel large companies to publish data on employment demographics for gender, BAME and LGBT employees.

Labour have pledged to eradicate the gender pay gap by 2030 through measures such as fines for organisations that fail to report on the subject, and by extending the reporting requirement from firms with 250 or more employees to those with more than 50.

Value for Money: HEPI have a new blog by Sir Nigel Carrington (VC, University of the Arts, London) on the multifaceted nature of value for money in degree provision. While this is a topic where we’ve regularly heard all the arguments this is a nice simple blog that brings the points together.

Multi-skilled engineers: IMechE have published an article, Adapt or Perish, on the growing trend (and challenge) of multidisciplinary engineering teams. The changing job market and AI revolution is creating a need for engineers to be technically fluent in a wider range of areas alongside collaboration and problem solving skills. Early-career engineers stated that they left university without skills such as coding and augmented reality, and that their degrees were often out of sync with the future needs of the industry.

The article states that embracing life-long learning will become a way of life for engineers at all career stages as new, disruptive technologies come into play. However, the research suggested that there is currently a mismatch between what higher education is delivering at masters level and what industry actually needs.

Italian or Chips?: This week’s best read has to be the (statistically modelled) article demonstrating how the Brexit leave / remain voting significantly correlates with the dominant type of fast food restaurant in the constituency area. Fish and Chips correlate with a leave vote, Italian with a remain. Without spoiling the amusement factor it is worth noting that Fish and Chips dominant constituencies also tend to be less diverse, and that the influence of holding a degree trumps all culinary effects. Worth a look at the map just to see the startlingly regional patterns in takeaway preference!

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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 14th December 2018

A busy week in politics, and for policy too.  Not looking any quieter as we approach the end of the year, either.  We will do a short update next week because the ONS report on student loan accounting is due and there are likely to be interesting reflections on that through the week.

Student loans and accounting

Ahead of the big ONS announcement on Monday about accounting for student loans, there is a House of Commons library report: Student loans and the Government’s deficit

Following concerns from parliamentary committees, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) is re-examining how student loans are recorded in the Government’s deficit (which is the difference between the Government’s spending and its revenues from tax receipts and other sources). The ONS will announce its decision on 17 December 2018. (more…)