Tagged / student finance

HE Policy Update for the w/e 20th May 2020

A bumper week (again) – here is your easy way to catch up on everything all in one place

Student support

Emma Hardy, the Shadow Universities Minister, has written to Michelle Donelan (Government’s Universities Minister) to highlight students facing significant hardship.

  • In our last meeting we discussed the fact that many university students needed urgent financial help to cope with the extraordinary circumstances they find themselves in. You assured me you were confident that every university would be in a position to help every student in genuine need through its hardship funds. However, after speaking to universities and the NUS I do not share your confidence.

She goes on to describe universities so overwhelmed by the demand for hardship funds they have begun crowdfunding and another university with tricky fund rules which Hardy says prevents those most at need from applying. She also explains that students without children are ineligible for Universal Credit, and few have been furloughed due to the nature of their part time work contracts.

  • I do not have to emphasise the fact that it will mostly be those students who have overcome the greatest barriers to get to university who will be affected the most. I have already heard concerns from those in the sector that the drop-out rate will be higher this year and the news I am hearing, about the failures of hardship funds to support all those who need help, adds to my worry… It cannot be right for their welfare to be considered the sole province of individual universities, which under current circumstances means consigning it to the luck of the draw—a lottery which has left some unable to manage…I would urge the Government to take a pro-active role and I would welcome any proposals for guaranteeing there is adequate financial provision for the young people who have been caught in this storm.

Research Professional say:

  • This is not a shouty letter venting outrage but one that begins by thanking the minister for listening to different points of view, before shining a light on an area of government failing.
  • There has been no mention so far of universities in the UK government’s strategy for national recovery after lockdown. This is something of an oversight and one that the opposition parties might want to start asking questions about as we all begin to emerge from our houses blinking into the early summer sunlight.

They also highlight that the Shadow letter doesn’t set out suggestions for how the Government should support students. Their daily email runs through some possibilities and effectively discounts them.

Student Petition: And if you’ve been wondering what happened to the student petition to have tuition fees reimbursed due to this year’s strike and the loss of face to face teaching due to C-19 the official word is – The Committee decided to take further oral evidence on this petition, from the relevant Government minister.

Parliamentary questions

Financial Stability

The Government listened to the measures UUK requested on behalf of the HE sector and issued their support package cherry picking the elements that fitted with the Government’s aims and doing little other than moving payments forward with the rest. Research Professional have an interesting article rethinking it all from Pam Tatlow (ex-MillionPlus Chief Executive).

  • The deal that universities need to support them through the coronavirus crisis is not the one that they asked for. Nor is it the one that was begrudgingly put on the table by the Westminster government, which is little more than a lend-lease agreement with strings.

The article critiques the UUK approach in compiling and launching their request to Government.

  • UUK’s first requests focused on research…Its proposals would undoubtedly have benefited the small group of universities that receive the lion’s share of taxpayer-funded research monies. In the event, only a very modest amount of quality-related funding (£100 million) has been brought forward.
  • Universities that have used international fees to subsidise their reputations as world leaders in research will undoubtedly claim that without additional funding they will no longer be financially viable. This may well be so, but if such a bailout is forthcoming there should be conditions attached. For example, these institutions could be required to demonstrate that they are financially viable within five years based on their UK activities.
  • UUK’s own estimates suggest that there may be up to 15 per cent fewer home and European Union students progressing to university in 2020. It is therefore difficult to understand its proposal that universities in England and Wales should be able to recruit up to 5 per cent more students than the numbers they forecast
  • Nor do the elaborate rules and stern warnings from the Office for Students about unconditional offers and admissions practices add up. All a university higher up the hierarchical food chain has to do is issue many more offers at lower grades in the first place, leaving the majority to keep afloat by reducing courses, student opportunities and staff.

Pam concludes:

  • The right deal for universities has to mean a return to collaboration and an end to the market that has bedevilled higher education for a decade. It has to mean a return to the idea (which students have never abandoned) that studying a subject that you love for its own sake is as good a rationale for higher education as the money that you will earn (or probably not earn to the same extent in a long recession).
  • It has got to mean more and not less funding for social justice, giving the students who study at the most socially inclusive institutions the same resources as those whose institutions are well endowed through decades of public funding, private endowments and capital investment.
  • And of course it must mean a return to the direct funding of universities, the restoration of maintenance grants and an end to the tuition fees that have restricted the ambitions of those who would have liked to study at university when they were older, or to return to study, including as postgraduates and part-time.
  • Universities, with all their talents and ideas, should be on the front line and on the front foot in arguing that the crisis should not be paid for through extra taxes and pay freezes but that the government should borrow to invest, especially in higher education as a right for all.

Parliamentary questions

Education Select Committee

The House of Commons Education Select Committee met virtually to explore the effect of the coronavirus on children and young people’s services (including HE). You can read a summary of the sessions compiled by Dods here, one by Research Professional here, Wonkhe’s version is here, or watch the full Committee sessions here. In brief it covered:

Session 1

  • 2020/21 recruitment ramifications will not be known until September.
  • The Government’s support package isn’t enough to support the HR sector. Criticism included that it simply brought forward payments rather than provided additional funds and that the student number cap benefitted the wealthier universities at the expense of locally based universities.
  • Students have lost their supplementary incomes and are struggling financially. Wellbeing, mental health and the option to redo the year without cost were mentioned. Concerns over PhD students were raised.
  • The increased workload on HE staff was a concern.
  • The student rent situation was discussed and calls were made for the Scottish move to release students from their private rental agreements to be adopted in England.
  • Quality of online tuition was discussed covering that it wasn’t what students had expected from their degree programme and online access and assessment issues. (The Financial Times has a nice counterpoint to this emphasising the positive benefits since the move online, and why is should continue to some degree.)
  • There was discussion on fees being revisited during the pandemic.
  • The importance of how UCAS ‘control clearing’ was mentioned.
  • UCU stated Government should indicate when universities should reopen their campuses rather than it being an individual decision taken by the university itself. Research Professional give this aspect a lot of coverage in their description of the Committee’s session. iNews specifically covered this aspect of the session, as did the Telegraph.

Session 2

  • Session 2 focussed on disadvantaged students. The OfS reiterated the importance of the access and participation targets, including discussion on degree apprenticeships. The access gap and unconscious bias faced by black and disadvantaged communities were mentioned. The OfS stated they believe the next 5 years will show the biggest step forward in social mobility and social justice for 2 generations.
  • On a return to ‘normal’ campus based learning in autumn 2020 OfS stated that they required universities to be as clear as possible in explaining students what to expect if they accepted an offer. They did not want any promises of a return to university life when it might not be possible. The Times and BBC covered this.
  • OfS stated there were not any HE institutions at immediate risk of collapse but they do expect the financial sustainability of the sector to be affected by the pandemic and C-19 poses serious risks to the sector. They also stated that international students were not being chased simply as cash cows. Research Professional disagree and name SOAS as teetering on the financial edge.
  • OfS stated they have disseminated good practice examples in student mental health and accommodation and that sharing good practice examples is a powerful way to influence the agenda.
  • OfS dodged an answer to whether student paying full tuition fees was justifiable if they were only receiving partial online learning stating it was a ‘live’ question and that it depended on the quality of the university provision. However, at present students should pay full fees and if the provision is inadequate take this up with the Office of the Independent Adjudicator.
  • Chair, Robert Halfon, followed up on how OfS judged quality to which they responded they measure through output indicators and student complaints. (Wonkhe give this a mention here.)

Research Professional cover the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee who have

  • issued a 19-page letter to prime minister Boris Johnson, setting out “10 key lessons the UK government should learn from its experience of handling the first months of the pandemic”. The Chair of the Science and Technology Committee is the ex-Secretary of State for BEIS, Greg Clark.

Virtual Parliament

Prospect Union, who represent staff working in the Houses of Parliament, will be resisting government plans to cancel the virtual parliament and bring MPs back to Westminster as early as next month over fears about safety and the practicality of social distancing. Prospect says it will work with government on restoring any essential functions but that the key elements of the system must be retained for now. Politics Home have an article on the return to parliament schism.

However, a survey by The House says only 23% of MPs believe the virtual ability to ask questions and take part in debates remotely via video link should be retained. Only 11% believed the right to vote remotely under any circumstances should be retained. Although 55% agreed that remote or proxy voting for MPs unable to attend due to ill health should be retained and there was some support for parental leave remote measures. MPs representing remote areas of the country (such as the Outer Hebrides) have called for online voting to continue and emphasised it would stop a huge amount of unnecessary journeys by MPs and 35% agreed MPs on overseas trips should be allowed to vote remotely. Yet only 19% of MPs agreed that MPs with constituencies over 4 hours travel away should be allowed to vote remotely. Some MPs are opposed to the remote working because it would restrict access to

  • get hold of government ministers in person. The fact that we can nab the chancellor of the Exchequer in the division lobby is worth an awful lot. I think that would be a huge mistake.

Another says

  • Though the temporary measures are working “reasonably well”, he fears that MPs could risk losing out “on reading the mood of the room and picking up water cooler chat” if they continue to work remotely in the future. He adds: “I am sceptical about this becoming the default. I don’t ever want to be the moaning voice on the screen and the wall that you can basically mute and ignore.”

Others point to gender equality and greater diversity measures that can be achieved through the technologies.

Conference Recess

The Labour Party has cancelled their annual September conference due to C-19. It remains to be seen if the other parties will follow suit and Parliament will continue to sit rather than take recess.

Autumn opening

The Financial Times talks of a blend of online and in-person education post pandemic, not just as a temporary measure but as a more accessible and comprehensive overall offer. It states it

  • could revolutionise universities, help them survive the economic crisis and bring higher education to tens of millions of people who have never set foot on campus…Many “left-behind” adults everywhere would love to learn from home, get qualifications and change their lives, especially if the pandemic has left them jobless…We need more adult learners. Their numbers in the UK almost halved between 2004 and 2016…As lifespans expand, and technology changes, we should top up our education over the decades, while keeping our jobs and families. University is wasted on the young…Blended teaching could help more students enter higher education, argues Chris Stone of Oxford University’s Blavatnik School of Government. He proposes a model in which some students spend a month on campus, then months studying from home, before returning to campus for the final weeks. That would allow universities to teach multiple cohorts a year, cutting tuition costs…Anita Pilgrim, who teaches at the UK’s Open University, which pioneered blended learning, cautions that remote learners need lots of support. Her university has educational advisers who help students find a study-life balance, apply for funding, access resources for dyslexia etc…Teaching online has shortcomings — but so does in-person teaching.

OfS, UUK, Advance HE and the QAA are all rumoured to be putting together guidance for the HE sector on autumn 2020 possible commencement. Whilst answering questions at the Covid-19 press conference Grant Shapps, Transport Secretary, stated that: The education secretary will be returning to the subject and providing guidance. Meanwhile more and more sector sources are acknowledging that the teaching model is likely to be a blended approach from the autumn.

Wonkhe have a blog ostensibly about student spirit with a nice slant looking at how online interaction and socialisation worked well during lockdown for a sporting tournament. Rather than the deficit approach of what has been lost during lockdown it illustrates new self-organised approaches which were different and positive.

On Tuesday evening Cambridge University stated it intended to conduct all teaching online possibly with some smaller in-person taught groups if social distancing could be achieved. Of course, they intend to adjust their model in-year should restrictions be relaxed or further curtail contact.  The University of Bolton takes a completely different approach – they intend to open for in-contact teaching: be able to study and engage in person regularly with other students and staff. With students allocated 12 hours on campus per week. Of course, the remaining time will be topped up by online and self-study.

Wonkhe cover both stories and provide media links:

  • Cambridge may be one of only a few universities that could still expect a full, or near-full cohort to start in the autumn with the year ahead expected to be online – as other providers that have struggled to recruit in the past may yet find it challenging to convince students to turn up to a fully online academic year. The position is complicated further by the fact that the college system may not be an easy point of comparison for others that rely more on large lectures.
  • The news was originallybroken by Varsity, was picked up last night by the BBC, and is covered this morning by the Times, the Mail, the Telegraph, the Express, the Evening Standard, the Guardian, the Independent, the Tab, the FT and is on the Press Association It’s also on several international news sites including Forbes.
  • Meanwhile, the University of Bolton has moveddecisively in the other direction, announcing a number of technical measures – from temperature sensors, to queueless catering, to bike loans – to support a return to campus in the autumn. Manchester Evening News has the story, and the university has released an animated video.

Here is the full list of Bolton’s intended changes to enable on campus teaching:

  • Providing regular socially distanced face-to-face tutorials, laboratory experience, access to arts studios and specialist facilities, etc
  • Implementing an effective scheduling system, limiting significantly the number of students on campus at any one time to keep you secure
  • Dividing sessions for access on campus into set times per day, for example, possibly between 8am-2pm and 2pm-8pm
  • Strictly observing recommended social distancing guidelines at all times
  • Installing sophisticated airport style walk through temperature scanners at every building entry
  • Making bicycles available for loan by students, enabling them to avoid crowded public transport
  • Providing on-campus bike parks as well as car parks
  • Ensuring there are adequate additional sanitiser stations
  • Providing and making the wearing of face coverings on campus compulsory for the foreseeable future to safeguard the safety of those around you. In exceptional circumstances, such as misplacing or forgetting face coverings, students will be issued with replacements
  • Carefully managed walking routes including one-way navigation
  • Multiple ‘learning zones’ being created across the campus, by identifying and transforming large spaces into areas featuring tables with plastic dividing screens to allow communication between people facing one another. (E.g. The ground floor of the National Centre for Motorsport Engineering will be cleared to become such a zone and other areas will also be repurposed)
  • Additional self-service, café-style takeaway food and drink stations to minimise queues
  • Instigating a rigorous cleansing programme throughout all university buildings.

On Bolton the Manchester Evening News says:

  • Students are currently using video calls to take classes virtually and the campus is unable to reopen until the government gives the all clear.
  • This will mean widespread changes to create a ‘new normal’ on campus and enable all students to physically attend the university campus safely at specified sessions.
  • During those sessions they will be able to work in laboratories, studios and workshops, attend tutorials, meet other students or converse with their tutor, on top of continuing their learning online.

This British Council article on how Chinese Universities are returning (in part) to face-to-face teaching contact is worth a quick skim through.

Parliamentary questions:

Access, Participation & Success

This week one of the main discussion topics has been access to university and disadvantaged success whilst at university. This isn’t surprising – as lockdown ‘eases’ and contemplation of what the autumn 2020 restart may consist of, alongside the constant recruitment conundrums – attention focuses more and more on how the national situation may play out for equalities.

Advance HE have a blog on the entrenched structural inequalities in HE. Looking through the lens of the student lifecycle in the UK, these have resulted in many challenges, including:

  • Underrepresentation of specific student groups: both generally, and in different disciplines, levels of study, and types of institution.
  • significant degree awarding gaps for different student groups – particularly relating to ethnicity (and gendered intersections) and disability.
  • differential experience of safety and harassment
  • unequal progression to highly skilled employment, and postgraduate study
  • teaching staff and senior academic staff who do not yet reflect the diversity of student cohorts.

OfS have relaxed the monitoring requirements of the Access and Participation Plans, whilst emphasising institutions should still do all they can to deliver the chosen goals. Advance HE continue:

  • all these external drivers – APPs (or equivalents), transparency returns, funded projects, Equality Charters – should ultimately be considered instruments collectively working to achieve a greater aim: a vision of an equitable student learning experience. The test of COVID-19 is how embedded that aim is in an institution’s vision of what sort of educational experience it can and wants to provide coming out of this crisis, and for whom.

The article concludes with 5 suggestions to keep student equity momentum going.

SRHE published the blog: Paid, unpaid and hidden internships: still a barrier to social mobility.

It explains the different sources of data from which to judge whether and how big an issue unpaid internships are. At the end of the article it puts the current data into perspective:

  • These findings show that, whilst unpaid internships appear to be declining in most sectors, they are still a key access route in some key industries and occupations and that this is likely to present a barrier to entry for less privileged graduates. The fact that graduates with better grades or from more prestigious institutions are more likely to do the paid internships reinforces findings from previous studies that suggest paid internships are more competitive and sought after. The findings also show that participation in graduate internships, paid or unpaid, is more commonplace in less vocational subjects, such as mass communication and documentation, historical and philosophical studies and creative arts and design. This may suggest that graduates of these subjects feel more need to supplement their educational qualifications with internships to ‘get ahead’ in an increasingly competitive graduate labour market.

The Wonkhe blog In this pandemic, admissions policy is being developed in real time urges organisations to work collaborative on the principles of admissions implying the Government will impose changes if the sector doesn’t move on its own consensus and practice first. It also states

  • Now is certainly the time to think about what to do if demand for places drops significantly in September. If selective courses start forecasting to under recruit in 2020 then maybe some of this demand can be absorbed by a greater focus on helping previously excluded WP students gain access to these programmes and a new way of thinking about how these courses recruit and select students.

Another Wonkhe blog, Delivering remote support for neurodiverse learners. this time by an assistive technology trainer, highlights the positive and negatives within an online learning environment for some students. The comments at the end that remind about autism are worth a read.

The admissions problem isn’t just about “prediction” takes a good gallop through why the use of predicted grades will double hit disadvantaged students, mentions other contributing factors, and gently calls for admissions reform.

Andrew Ross from University of Bath talks digital outreach.

A Bridge Group blog argues we should ensure that disadvantaged students are admitted to university at the same proportion as previous years so as not to lose progress on widening participation after the lockdown.

The OfS published a briefing note on the needs of students without family support during the pandemic. It covers all the main concerns and aims to share ideas, case studies, and signposting between universities to support these most vulnerable of students. Examples include:

  • offering personalised financial support in the form of hardship funds and graduate bursaries
  • tailoring mental health and wellbeing support and providing a buddy system to mitigate the isolating effects of lockdown
  • prioritising the provision of internet access, laptops and any other necessary course equipment for care experienced and estranged students.
  • The importance of addressing challenges faced by prospective students – whose access to information, advice and guidance to make informed choices for next year may have been affected by school closures.

And Wonkhe report that:  An open letter promoted by NUS and UCU is circulating regarding specific reasonable adjustments during the pandemic for disabled, chronically Ill and neurodivergent PhD students. It argues that many actions being taken by universities and funding bodies do not provide for the differentiated impacts and pressures experienced by disabled, chronically ill or neurodivergent students – or if they do, frame them entirely as matters of “health and wellbeing” rather than marginalisation, inequity, or structural discrimination.

It’s foster care fortnight and care leavers across the UK have amalgamated their definition of care into an online collaborative poem.

Wonkhe report that: New research from the Cardiff University’s Children’s Social Care Research and Development Centre finds that young people who were either in care or care-experienced at 13- or 14-years old, had significantly lower expectations of attending university than their peers. The report recommends that social workers, teachers, and higher education providers can all contribute to closing this gap.

Marginal prospective students

The Research Professional (RP) blog All being equal reports that TASO (Transforming Access and Student Outcomes in HE) met this week with RP stating that:

  • One worry is that Covid-19 will not only widen existing gaps but also make it harder to collect the evidence needed to find what works in reducing them. The group has already had to cancel plans to assess the effectiveness of summer schools, since none are happening this year. Given all this, the ambitious target set by the OfS to eliminate gaps in entry and dropout rates and degree outcomes between different groups of students in higher education within 20 yearslooks to be at risk.

However, they report that

  • Anna Vignoles, professor of education at the University of Cambridge, suggested Covid-19 could also potentially offer “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a big widening participation intervention”.
  • While going to university just to hide from a difficult labour market is not ideal, the evidence still points to higher education generally benefiting young people both economically and psychologically, Vignoles said. The chances are that they will be better off if they go. And she suggested to Playbook that stronger communication from higher education institutions was needed to make this happen.
  • Her main concern is for the students “at the margins”—not those who have always assumed they will be going to university. It is these “marginal” students who will suffer most from a bad labour market, she says, including the many apprentices likely to see the firms they work for go under, leaving their qualifications up in the air. Higher and further education institutions need to work together to help this group, she argues—and by this, she means those higher education institutions with traditional roots in their communities, that are used to responding to local skills needs.

Science Outreach for School Pupils

UKRI is funding to I’m a Scientist, Stay at Home! a school-age outreach platform for pupils to engage with STEM research during the school closures. UKRI say it is a unique programme where students can engage with scientists over fast-paced online text-based chats. Pupils can ask them anything they want such as: What’s the nearest meteorite to us? What’s your favourite thing about being a scientist? These chats are complemented with lesson plans for teachers to engage their students and at the end students vote for their favourite scientist. Part of the UKRI’s vision for public engagement is to nurture a future generation passionate about research and innovation and they state that I’m a Scientist provides a safe, moderated space for students to be inspired by science through conversations with active research staff.

UKRI state that with limited opportunities for practical science classes and engagement with research, I’m a Scientist provides a unique opportunity for classes to reconvene and explore cutting-edge scientific research together. Taking part in I’m a Scientist has been shown to help students get a better understanding of research and gain confidence in asking questions about science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). It also supports researchers to improve their communication skills and enables them to engage with young people from regions across the UK.

Medical Research Council (MRC) has funded the Medical Research Zone with around 30 MRC-funded researchers and technicians engaging in conversations with school pupils.

Tom Saunders, UKRI Head of Public Engagement, said:

  • “This is a great opportunity for us to support STEM teaching during this difficult time for everyone. I’m a Scientist, Stay at Home! will inspire young people about research and the role it plays in our lives as well as provide a great way for UKRI researchers and technical staff to engage with young people,”

Parliamentary questions

Postgraduate Education

HEPI and the British Library have published a 154 page report: Postgraduate Education in the UK. It considers the changing postgraduate landscape over the last decade. It takes a pre C-19 perspective, however, it does tackle how postgraduate education was affected by 2008 recession – when students sought out additional education to help surmount the economic challenges and when those who already had postgraduate qualifications fared better than others in the labour market.

The 8 page executive summary is a quicker read for those with only a passing interest.

Some key Points taken mainly from HEPI’s press release:

  • There were 566,555 postgraduate students in 2017/18, of which 356,996 (63%) were in their first year – up by 16% since 2008/09
  • Two-thirds (65%) of new postgraduates are studying for Master’s degrees, 10% are taking doctorates or other research degrees, 7% are doing teacher training and the rest (18%) a range of diplomas, certificates, professional qualifications and modules
  • The most popular discipline is Business & Administrative Studies (20%), followed by Education (14%) and Subjects Allied to Medicine (12%). Research postgraduates (64%) are more likely to study STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) but most taught postgraduates (68%) take non- STEM subjects
  • Just over half of new UK-domiciled postgraduates (53%) study full-time, reversing past trends favouring part-time study – back in 2008/09, most postgraduates (59%) were part-time students
  • More than half (60%) of new postgraduate students at UK institutions come from the UK, while one-third (32%) come from outside the EU and 8% come from EU countries. The majority of Master’s students (53%) come from outside the UK
  • The female:male ratio among new postgraduates is 60:40, or 62:38 among UK-domiciled students alone. This reflects greater female participation over time – in 2008/09, the overall female:male ratio was 55:45
  • The gender ratio varies considerably by discipline: women are in a big majority in Subjects Allied to Medicine (77%), Veterinary Sciences (72%) and Education (70%) and men are in a big majority in Engineering & Technology (78%), Computer Science (76%) and Mathematics (71%). Males outnumber females among PhD researchers (51%)
  • White men, particularly disadvantaged White men, are less likely to undertake postgraduate study than others. Among UK-domiciled postgraduate entrants from the poorest areas, 64% are women and 36% are men
  • The proportion of postgraduate students aged under 30 has grown from 52% to 57% since 2008/09, reflecting a broader decline in people accessing lifelong learning opportunities
  • The introduction of £10,000 Master’s loans for home / EU students in 2016 has had a big positive impact: UK-domiciled student numbers grew by 29% in one year and by 59% among those from the most disadvantaged areas. The loans have also encouraged above-inflation fee increases
  • The number of people taking Taught Master’s courses grew by 30% from 2008/09 to 2017/18, but the total has been volatile, particularly among UK students. Among all new postgraduates, just over half (51%) were full-time Taught Master’s students in 2017/18 (Table 3.1 and p.23).
  • Between 2008/09 and 2017/18, UK-domiciled postgraduate entrants increased by 10% but students from overseas grew faster: EU-domiciled student numbers increased by 11% and non-EU international students grew by 33%
  • Chinese students formed 38% of the non-EU postgraduate cohort by 2017/18. Such heavy reliance on a single country exposes universities to greater risk from geo-political events
  • Since the referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union, the number of new postgraduate students from EU countries has fallen (by 2% in 2017/18 and another 2% in 2018/19), but the reduction in the value of the pound contributed to a 10% increase in non-EU postgraduate starters in 2017/18
  • The great recession following the 2007/08 financial crash witnessed a marked rise in Master’s take-up, as employment opportunities were restricted and people brought forward their plans to study
  • The abolition of post-study work visas (announced in 2011 and implemented in 2012) had a negative impact on demand for postgraduate study, most notably within India. The announcement that this policy is to be reversed is welcome but needs communicating quickly and clearly
  • Women have a bigger boost to their earnings from postgraduate study, earning 28% more than women with only undergraduate degrees – the comparable figure for men is 12%. But women with postgraduate qualifications still earn 14% less on average than men with the same level of qualifications
  • In the last crash, employment among those with postgraduate qualifications was slower to fall and faster to recover than for those with only a first degree, which may signal how the labour market will respond to the current Covid-19 crisis
  • Demand for postgraduate education is likely to grow over the long term: there could be an additional 22,750 undergraduates moving directly to postgraduate study by 2030 in England alone. While Brexit could mean a drop of around 11,500 EU postgraduates, successful implementation of the UK Government’s International Education Strategy could see an increase of 53,000 in other overseas postgraduates by 2030, although this partly depends on how the world recovers from the current Covid-19 crisis
  • Transnational education, where people take UK qualifications abroad, has seen substantial growth, more than doubling since 2007/08 to 127,825 postgraduates in 2017/18 and overtaking the number of overseas postgraduate students in the UK. Students studying in this way are excluded from the other figures in the report.

Dr Ginevra House, report author, describes her concerns for fair access to postgraduate study:

  • Despite a tumultuous decade, including the 2008 financial crash, restrictive changes to visas and Brexit, the UK’s postgraduate sector has emerged bigger and more diverse than ever before. However, the gains in fair access to postgraduate education – and by extension the professions – delivered by the introduction of Master’s loans may yet stall as rising fees consume most of the funds, leaving little or nothing for living costs. Other challenges to fair access remain, with under-participation by males, by White British students, and by those from less advantaged backgrounds. When writing this report, the Covid-19 pandemic had yet to reach its current height, but the risk posed by universities’ increasing reliance on international students was evident. The crisis is providing a timely reminder of the importance of a diverse and balanced student body to weather future shocks to the system, supported by government policies that foster international co-operation and mobility of the world’s brightest. With the shadow of a new recession ahead, combined with a rapidly changing, more automated job market, postgraduate education has never been more important, to build the highly skilled, knowledgeable, flexible and independent workforce needed to tackle the challenges of the future.

Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI, said:

  • ‘A proper study of UK postgraduate education is long overdue, given the growth it has enjoyed in recent years and the changing demographics of postgraduates. Postgraduate qualifications are increasingly expected by employers and more people want to achieve them. In some respects, postgraduate education now more closely resembles undergraduate study, with today’s postgraduate students more likely to be women, full-time and young. A higher proportion of postgraduate students are also from overseas. The higher education sector is in the midst of an horrendous and unprecedented crisis that is pulling the rug from under our institutions. But the story in this report is a positive one, showing the power of higher education to do good, extending people’s options, delivering the skills employers need and pushing forward the boundaries of knowledge. Another big positive in this report is the power of public policy to help individuals. The introduction of taxpayer-supported loans for postgraduate study has opened doors that were previously locked for many people who wanted to continue studying. If international postgraduate numbers fall, some courses will become unviable – this is true even if there are more home postgraduates because of the higher fee levels for international students.

Wonkhe describe the media sources covering the report:

The report is covered in the Times, the Telegraph, and ITV. HEPI also has a response to the report from Diana Beech, Head of Government Affairs at the University of Warwick [and who used to write for HEPI]. And Research Professional also describe the report in: Avoid ‘shocks’ by diversifying postgrad intake, says think tank.

Following on, some days later, Wonkhe state:

  • What that [HEPI] report didn’t set out to cover was what it’s like to study at postgraduate level, especially if you’re doing so with a view of trying to enter academia. And so today’s publication of initial findings of a survey by the Student Mental Health Research Network and Vitae exploring the impact of Covid-19 on doctoral and early career researchers provides a complementary and concerning picture.
  • Of the early career researchers whose contracts end in 2020, only 10 per cent report their funding has been extended. Only 12 per cent of doctoral researchers said their institution has provided an option to extend their doctoral studies. The impacts on research progress are largely negative, ranging from reduced access to essential software and reduced ability to collect and analyse data, disseminate findings, and maintain contact with colleagues to widespread stress about work, future plans, and finances. Four-fifths of doctoral researchers are showing some level of mental distress.
  • For many students, postgraduate study and early career research are a high-stakes endeavour, whether because of the investment of time and money, or because they’re trying to accrue enough academic capital to take the next step in a hugely competitive career path. It’s not entirely surprising, then, that a crisis like Covid-19 is causing serious distress – many of these people were walking on a knife edge before the pandemic hit.

Research

Research Professional have been on a reporting mission to find out all they can about the University Research Taskforce. They describe the run around they got trying to obtain the names of the taskforce members. The membership list is here and on the membership RP say: That is a lot of know-how in the room: the people who know the right questions to ask but also have their hands on the levers that might actually lead to solutions.

On the group’s purpose RP state:

  • The terms of reference for the group have not been released, but Playbook understands that this membership will be flexible—waxing and waning—depending on the topic under discussion. The taskforce certainly has some firepower and no shortage of issues to discuss.
  • However, it is clear from this membership that universities are very much outnumbered by politicians and civil servants. The purpose of this group is not to receive future requests for a bailout from higher education.
  • Rather, it is there to gather evidence on the state of university research during the Covid-19 pandemic, to look at possible policy solutions and to present all this in a coherent way to the big bosses who really matter: the UK Treasury, the prime minister’s office and the leaders of the devolved nations (in that order).
  • There is no union representation, nor are there multiple voices from the mission groups that represent smaller but no less important research efforts in higher education. There is a strong sense that this is a task and finish group that will put something of substance on the table, even if it is not necessarily something that universities have a casting vote over.
  • It is to be hoped that, when the need arises, the taskforce will take soundings from independent voices in university research—such as a Graeme Reid, a Richard Jones or an Athene Donald—because it is always wise to consult those you are about to do something to before doing it to them.

PG Research Degrees – The UK Council for Graduate Education released a guidance note on the potential impacts of Covid-19 on the delivery of postgraduate research degrees and the institutional support doctoral candidates should expect to receive, including possible mitigation strategies. And as mentioned earlier there is an open letter circulating which request reasonable adjustments and time extensions for chronically ill and neurodivergent PhD students as a result of C-19.

New UKRI Head – Professor Ottoline Leyser has been appointed as the new CEO of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and will replace Sir Mark Walport on 29 June. One of her key functions will be to guide the delivery of the government’s ambition to increase investment in R&D to 2.4% of GDP by 2027, establishing the UK as a global hub for science and technology.

Professor Ottoline Leyser commented:

  • UKRI has a unique opportunity to make a profound contribution to tackling the many challenges facing the world. During my career, I have seen the power of genuinely collaborative cultures to catalyse the transformative thinking needed to create effective solutions. I look forward to working with the UKRI team to ensure that the UK’s superb research and innovation system continues to work for everyone, by pioneering new partnerships, developing innovative funding models and strengthening international collaboration.

You can read UKRI’s press release on the appointment here, the Government’s press release here and Research Professional’s coverage here. Research Professional have also dug two articles by Ottoline out on UKRI (written in 2018 as UKRI was about to begin official operations) and the REF.

UKRI also published their preventing harm policy for safe research and innovation environments this week.

The British Academy have published a comment ahead of their formal response to the UKRI Open Access Review Consultation.

Other Research News

Mental Health

UUK have updated their mental health framework in Stepchange Mentally Healthy Universities. The framework calls on universities to take a whole university approach, meaning that mental health and wellbeing is considered across every aspect of the university and is part of all practices, policies, courses and cultures. The four areas cited in the framework are: Learn; Support; Work; Live. These map onto the University Mental Health Charter, developed by Student Minds.

Recommended actions within the new framework include:

  • demonstrating visible leadership and senior ownership of mental health as a priority to promote open conversations and sustain change
  • working closely with students and staff to develop mental health strategies and services
  • ensuring accessible and appropriately resourced support for mental health and wellbeing for all students and all staff
  • focusing on staff mental health; inclusion of mental health in staff performance discussions and provision of appropriate training for line managers and supervisors
  • clarification of the key role of academic staff in supporting the mental health of students through appropriate training and development
  • commitment to assessments and course work that stretch and test learning without imposing unnecessary stress

The Guardian have an article looking at the value and changes to Nightline mental health support on its 50 year anniversary.

Admissions – offer making

The sector is (almost) over talking about OfS’ intention to obtain temporary powers to prevent what OfS consider unscrupulous admissions behaviour that is not in the student interest. There is a consultation currently open on the topic. However, HEPI have a new blog written by Dean Machin (Jane’s equivalent over in Portsmouth) – The Office for Students’ new power: a ‘necessary and proportionate’ response to the pandemic, or not wasting a crisis? – challenging the OfS thought process on the student interest. The blog concludes by calling on the OfS to address 6 concerns:

  1. Will the OfS publish its evidence that the proposed non-compliant conduct has systematically and non-trivially increased since 11 March?
  2. Given the Government’s prompt action on 23 March, why has the OfS taken so much longer to act?
  3. Will the OfS publish the criteria it will use to form its opinion on whether the new condition is violated and what constitutes a material negative effect?
  4. Will the OfS explain how it understands the ‘student interest’ in this area and what steps it has taken to get students’ views on the student interest in the pandemic?
  5. Has the OfS considered the effect on students’ interests of fining universities potentially millions of pounds just at the time they are expecting a significant decline in income? This question should be viewed in light of the fact that the Government support package for universities includes no extra funding.
  6. Finally, if the problems the condition seeks to solve are pandemic-specific and created by the conduct of a small number of universities, why is the condition ‘broad and onerous‘ and why will it be in force until at least the middle of 2021?

In fact the OfS have published frequently asked questions including covering the time-limited condition of registration and other topics (although the regulatory answers are a bit hard to navigate).

Degree Apprenticeships and Social Mobility

The Sutton Trust have published COVID-19 and Social Mobility Impact Brief #3: Apprenticeships. Here I include detail only on the aspects most relevant to HE.

Many young people from disadvantaged backgrounds undertake apprenticeships. They are more likely to be concentrated in apprenticeships at lower levels, be paid lower salaries, and work at smaller companies. At early April, employers surveyed reported that on average just 39% of apprenticeships were continuing as normal, with 36% having been furloughed and 8% made redundant. 17% of apprentices had their off-the-job learning suspended.

The Sutton Trust has previously raised concerns over degree apprenticeships and the prioritisation of spending in the levy. Degree Apprenticeships (level 6 and 7) are dominated by those from less deprived areas – there are twice as many degree level apprentices from the wealthiest areas as there are from the poorest.

The number of degree apprenticeships has grown rapidly, from 756 in 2015/16 to 13,587 in 2018/19.

  • Since 2017, there has also been a big rise in other degree-level apprenticeships, award qualifications equivalent to a degree but not from a university, from just 19 four years ago, to 8,892 last year.
  • Much of this growth has not benefitted young people, with more than half of degree apprenticeships taken up by people over 30
  • Senior leadership courses – equivalent to an MBA – have expanded significantly, growing six-fold from 552 to 3,410 in 2018/19
  • Conversely, the proportion of young apprentices from deprived communities taking degree level apprenticeships up has fallen (from 9% in 2016 to 6% last year).
  • The number of older apprentices from well-off areas has more than doubled (from 5% to 11%), leading to a growing access gap for those under 25.
  • Senior leadership and chartered management courses alone now make up almost half (46%) of the entire degree apprentice cohort as employers look to put their senior staff through these courses rather than train younger, less affluent employees.

Recommendations

  • At a time of economic downturn and limited resources, apprenticeship levy funding should not be spent subsidising senior executives taking MBA-style qualifications, but should instead be focused on providing new opportunities for young people facing a challenging labour market. The Government should consider a maximum salary ceiling for levy-funded apprentices to avoid it being spent on highly paid and well qualified senior staff. Employers could also be required to top up level funding for certain categories of apprentice or conversely incentivise apprenticeships to increase opportunities for groups who need it most.
  • The priority for current apprentices should be to continue training where possible, even when on furlough or if redeployed within a company
  • In order for apprenticeships to deliver on the social mobility agenda as we come out of the coronavirus crisis, social mobility and widening opportunity should be an explicit criterion in the government’s review of the apprenticeships levy.

FE Week covers the brief with good volume of content on degree apprenticeships.

International Students

The surveys and speculation on international students’ intention to commence UK universities in autumn 2020 disagree. Some predict dire impacts with low recruitment, others suggest there will only be a smaller reduction. Wonkhe round up two news points from this week:

A new survey from QS suggests that seventy two per cent of prospective international students are interested in starting their UK course online this autumn. This breaks down to 46 per cent being definitely committed to the idea, and 26 per cent being unsure. Sixty-two per cent of international students have had their plans to study abroad affected by Covid-19.

The Russell Group has set out proposals to support international recruitment, which includes further improvements to visa conditions and a new international marketing campaign. PIE news has the story.

Research Professional also cover the Russell Group’s proposals in Big Ask and talk of the Group distancing themselves from UUK after the Government snubbed their bailout proposals. Excerpts:

  • The government is being asked to continue “reforms to ensure Britain remains a globally attractive destination for students”. What this means in practice is passing “the two-year post-study work visa through emergency immigration rules (secondary legislation) immediately”. The Jo Johnson-Paul Blomfield amendment has yet to pass into law and surveys suggest it is not well known among prospective international students.
  • The Russell Group also wants: international students to be prioritised in visa applications once travel restrictions are lifted; the government to increase the visa to 30 months to give UK universities a competitive edge; students to be allowed to apply for their visa six months in advance rather than three, to avoid those taking online classes facing the prospect of starting courses and then potentially being refused a visa; visas to be extended for current students affected by the pandemic; rules to be relaxed on monitoring students in the UK, such as reporting to police stations; European Union students to be allowed to apply to the EU settled status scheme; and universities to be allowed to conduct their own language capacity assessments.
  • The problem is that “many overseas governments do not recognise degrees which are comprised of significant amounts of distance learning. This lack of recognition could deter students from studying in the UK where they fear their qualifications will not be recognised.” This is a particular concern in China, the UK’s primary market for international students… Accordingly, the Russell Group is calling on the government to work with the international community to agree reciprocal recognition of online classes following the impact of Covid-19. The problem is also that international cooperation is in short supply at the moment, especially where popular nationalism encourages both protectionism and undercutting of rivals.
  • Recently, one forlorn international recruitment expert in the north of England told Playbook that if the student cohorts did not return to Leeds, Sheffield, Manchester, Nottingham and Durham, the economic impact would be like closing the mines all over again. That might be an argument worth making to those still aspiring to level up.

Graduate prospects and student employment

The Resolution Foundation published a report on young workers in the coronavirus crisis using evidence from a survey they conducted. The report finds that younger and older workers have experienced the brunt of the hit to jobs and pay, with the very youngest in the most challenging position.

  • A third of 18-24-year-old employees (excluding students) have lost jobs or been furloughed, compared to 1 in 6 prime-age adults.
  • Similarly, 35% of non-full-time student 18-24-year-old employees are earning less than they did prior to the outbreak, compared to 23% of 25-49-year-olds.
  • The proportion of 18-24-year-old non-fulltime students who have lost their main job since the coronavirus outbreak began (9%) is three times as large as the figure across all employees
  • Young people are more likely than other age groups to work in atypical jobs. Recent analysis shows that people in atypical work are concentrated in ‘shutdown sectors’ directly affected by lockdown measures, such as hospitality and non-food retail.
  • Those aged 25-39 are most likely to be working from home during the crisis, and most likely to expect to do more of this in the future. Conversely, the youngest employees and those aged 55 and older are the most limited in what they can do from home.

Maja Gustafsson, report author said:

  • Our findings show the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus crisis on the youngest and oldest earners. These employees are more likely to have lost work or been furloughed due to the crisis than those of prime age, and have experienced the biggest pay swings with large proportions losing earnings. Government support through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is helping many of these affected workers get through the crisis. As the crisis continues to unfold, comprehensive support across ages and targeted support for the very youngest workers will be essential to minimise the damage done, and especially to minimise long-term employment and pay scarring for the young.

The Institute of Student Employers has issued a report on the graduate labour market and Chief Executive, Stephen Isherwood, writes for the Guardian. He explains there are still glimmers of hope for graduate employment – although overall volume is down (12% cut in graduate jobs and 40% cut in placements) many employers are still recruiting or delaying induction programmes until later in the Autumn. Furthermore, certain sectors are not anticipating a downturn and this alongside vacancies in key sectors (STEM and digital) offers many opportunities. The article states interviews, assessments, and seeking out recruitment talent have been online for some time, but C-19 has increased the overall volume of virtual activity and that we can expect this increased practice to continue post-virus:

  • Many of these practices are long-term trends accelerated by coronavirus. Even though broadband can falter, interviews and assessments are delivered faster and more economically online. Employers won’t revert to labour intensive methods as business returns to normal. Finally, Stephen warns about the lure of a Masters. Stating There is absolutely nothing wrong with the pursuit of postgraduate study for the love of learning, if students are making an informed investment decision. And warning that some employment sectors did not value a Masters above an undergraduate degree.

The Financial Times has an article which begins with the doom and gloom outlook (worst economy since the Depression, UK hiring intentions at their lowest level in 15 years). However, it goes on to highlight how some larger firms are running their summer programmes online with almost-guaranteed jobs at the end to fill their need for ‘fresh blood’.

  • … the onus on companies that can work virtually to step up and prevent this generation from paying a disproportionate price. We’ve had a lot of talk during this crisis about stakeholder capitalism and the need to prevent economic scarring. This is one of those moments where push comes to shove.
  • …the big Wall Street banks, including Goldman Sachs, Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase, are pushing ahead with online summer programmes and will bring in thousands of new trainees on schedule in the autumn. “We want to be there for our communities. We need new blood to make sure that we can forge ahead,” says Ryland McClendon, who runs career development programmes for JPMorgan. Citi has also guaranteed that participants in its abbreviated summer intern programmes will be offered full-time jobs in 2021, as long as they meet minimum requirements. “We saw an opportunity to relieve some of the stress and uncertainty so many young adults are feeling right now, especially those preparing to enter a job market in the midst of great economic uncertainty,” bank executives explained in a
  • That is not only admirable but good business. Recovery from Covid-19 may come slowly. But, when it does, some companies will have well-trained young staff ready to get to work. Others will only have a string of disappointed youngsters with bitter memories. 

Wonkhe have new blogs:

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

New loans: The Guardian have an explainer article on loan application following the Student Loan Company who have urged prospective students to apply for their 2020/21 loans early to ensure they don’t face delays.

Devolved consequences: Both Wales and Scotland are reporting significant consequences of C-19 on universities finance, recruitment and stability. If you are interested in the devolved position Wales Fiscal Analysis has issued a paper.

Home School: The Institute for Fiscal Studies has published a report on learning during the lockdown focusing on the experience of children.

Immigration: With the Immigration Bill passing the vote Wonkhe talk about the Impact Assessment: The Impact Assessment for the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill suggests that 20 per cent of EU/EEA students would be deterred by newly applicable visa requirements – around 15,000 per annum during the first five years of the policy, an estimate of up to 25,000 fewer EU higher education students in the UK by academic year 2024-25 relative to the baseline.

However the projections of an increase in non-EU/EEA international students following the implementation of the Post-Study Work Visa dwarf these changes – a 10 per cent increase in enrolments would mean an estimated annual increase of around 25,000 over the first five years of the policy. The projected increase in international tuition fee income would be between £1 billion and £2 billion over the first five years.

Behavioural changes and migration flows are notoriously difficult to predict, so the document cautions that these figures are indicative only.

Home working: in non-policy news the CMI have found that many managers have found working from home a largely positive experience and intend to incorporate it into their regular working week post-virus. And New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern urged employers to  consider flexible working options, including a four-day week , as part of efforts to rebuild the economy after the pandemic.

Online graduation: Wonkhe have a comedy round up of the latest (mainly American) virtual graduation antics.

Post Covid Society: Politics Home cover a survey by The House (parliament) on MPs expectations of a post Covid society.

  • Three quarters of MPs believe taxes will increase to fund public services in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.
  • Almost two-thirds of MPs believe pay for NHS and care workers should be higher, while 56% say the pay packets of key workers such as bus drivers should also increase
  • 72% of MPs agree that “taxes will increase to fund public services”, while 83% agree that “the state will play a greater role in the economy”
  • 73% agree that “tough spending choices will have to be made” – but just four in ten would back cuts to public services to rein in spending
  • Freezing public sector pay was opposed by the majority of MPs
  • 90% believe that unemployment will be higher
  • 65% agree that “people will be kinder to each other” after the pandemic – but just 10% say politics will “be less partisan”
  • Just 8% believe the public will have more trust in politicians
  • 51% of MPs support a further extension to the Brexit transition period (49% don’t)
  • On handling coronavirus 9 in 10 MPs believed the NHS had performed very well, with half of those selecting performed ‘very well’. 60% of MPs surveyed believed the police had performed well. 63% of MPs felt the British media had performed poorly (10% felt had performed well).
  • Conservative opinion on the debt is split. Some warn against increasing taxes to pay off the debt accumulated from tackling the virus. However, a number of Conservative backbenchers would prefer Sunak to pursue economic growth and pay off the obligations over time.

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

HE Policy Update as at 25th March 2020

Welcome to your new mid-week update! If you missed our admissions special last week, you will also not have seen that we are moving away from Friday afternoon e-mails because we want to support your wellbeing. Nothing much has changed on admissions yet, by the way, so that one is still worth reading.

 Government Updates

Parliament is commencing recess early today (at close of business on Wed 25 March). This will allow MPs to return to their homes and self-isolate with their families. In normal circumstances, recess would end and parliamentarians would return on Tuesday 21 April, however they are not expected to return this year. The Houses of Parliament are ill-equipped to continue normal business remotely. The beautiful, old buildings are crumbling and do not have the high-tech infrastructure to manage remote voting systems. There was much talk of a need for electronic voting in the tight votes over Brexit (with MPs coming in from hospital in wheelchairs or appearing a very few days after having babies) but they haven’t found a way yet. Select committees may be able continue remotely via video link. Home broadband is so much more reliable than trying to get a Wifi signal in Parliament!

The Coronavirus Bill 2019-20 has completed its stages in the House of Lords (just after 4pm on 25th March) and has gone for Royal Assent. The Coronavirus Bill gives the executive wide ranging and unprecedented powers, which will allow them to continue to govern without Parliament over the next few months if necessary.

The House of Commons Library has published a research briefing covering the education provisions in the Coronavirus bill in more detail. The Explanatory Notes and Impact Assessment explain more on the financial implications of the Government’s powers to close educational institutions. Should the government decide to compensate providers, it may be able to provide funds to “approved (fee cap)” institutions using powers under s39 of the Higher Education and Research Act (“Financial support for registered higher education providers”). For “approved” providers these powers could not be used – it is assumed that wider powers for the government to deploy public funds would apply, but this is not certain.

The impact assessment also suggests that, should a provider be sued for breach of contract or under customer protection rules regarding the provision of accommodation or education, force majeure is believed to apply. The Bill also gives the Office for Students a specific power to disregard its conditions of registration for providers.

Research Professional report that the Government’s response to the Augar review:  “has been kicked even further down the path after chancellor Rishi Sunak told cabinet that the 2020 comprehensive spending review, due this summer, would be delayed because of the pandemic. The Augar response is expected to be published alongside the review.

University education in the pandemic

Monday night announced the lockdown for the UK population, meanwhile three Ministerial letters winged their way to English HE and FE institutions and apprenticeship providers. The Universities Minister wrote (link on Wonkhe here):

  • to curtail the practice of unconditional offers
  • to offer DfE support as institutions move towards online provision
  • clarification on Tier 4 visa issues which will arise from shifting to online provision
  • mitigation for enrolment difficulties (with support from the Home Office, the British Council, UCAS, and Ofqual)
  • student residences and support services particularly for students who are unable to return ‘home’ such as care leavers, estranged students, and international students.

Within the FAQs it was stated that DfE will be working closely with the HE sector and OfS, as regulator, to ensure that we understand the potential financial implications of the issues and risks Covid-19 is bringing to bear on the sector, and to keep abreast of developments.

Summer Exams

The Minister issued a Written Ministerial Statement on the impact of Covid-19 on summer exams. Below is the sector stakeholder reaction to the impact of summer exam cancellations: 

The heads of University Alliance, the Russell Group, GuildHE, and MillionPlus  put out a joint statement confirming that universities will do all they can to support students and ensure they can progress to university:

  • We know many students are anxious about what the cancellation of exams and assessments might mean. Our message to students is: we understand and universities are here for you. Universities are committed to doing all they can to support students and applicants and ensure they can progress to university. This will involve being flexible and responsive in their admissions processes. We want to reassure students who have applied to university, or are thinking of doing so through clearing, that every effort will be made to ensure they are not disadvantaged in any way by the decision not to go ahead with exams this summer.

Association of Colleges (AoC), Chief Executive, David Hughes said:

  • “The cancellation of the 2020 summer exam series is the right decision. However, it will have unsettled the many thousands of students who were preparing for exams and assessments in the full range of qualifications and they will need reassurance about alternative arrangements which support their progression plans. The whole education system will need to work together to ensure that no young person is disadvantaged as a result of the cancellation. There are many challenges to overcome to achieve that, but this is also an opportunity to reconsider some aspects of our high-stakes exam regime. We are working with the Department for Education and Ofqual to ensure that the particular challenges faced by colleges and students are understood. Any decisions about assessment and accreditation for the students affected need to take into account the college context because nearly two thirds of all 16-19 year old students study in colleges. Colleges are determined to play their part in helping to safeguard the educational and progression opportunities of every student affected.”

The AoC also made the following recommendations:

  • The guarantee of a place in post-16 education for every student affected by the cancellation of the 2020 summer exam series.
  • Additional resources to increase teaching time for all 16-19 year olds in 2020/21, make up for the lost teaching time in 2019/20 and support catch-up classes and skills development.
  • A national record of achievement and reference system for recording students’ capabilities and achievements in a common and comprehensible way as they transfer between institutions.
  • The development of national online tests in English, maths and other subjects, to support receiving post-16 institutions in advising and guiding students to make appropriate choices for 2020/21.
  • A revision of the English and maths condition of funding in light of the cancellation of GCSEs this summer.
  • Employer agreed skills standards and accreditation requirements for entry-level employment in various sectors and the use of nationally approved skills tests to provide the evidence of students’ skills that employers need.

Teach First wrote to the Secretary of State for Education, calling for:

Support for disadvantaged children to learn at home

  • Internet providers to lift data caps for vulnerable households.
  • Technology firms to provide safe devices for children most in need to be able to study.
  • Energy companies to provide electricity for disadvantaged pupils to learn from home.

Fair exam grades

  • Many young people face uncertainty about their exam grades and futures. We must ensure that steps are taken to award grades fairly and prevent further increases in inequality. Marks linked to past performance could disadvantage hard working pupils, teachers and improving ‘turnaround’ schools.

Long-term support to recover

  • When schools return support must be weighted towards those serving disadvantaged communities. This must be a priority to prevent the attainment gap between rich and poor pupils from growing.

Finally HEPI have a blog – School performance tables are cancelled – should university league tables be cancelled too?

Unconditional offers

On unconditional offers, the Minister’s letter on 20th March followed our update last Friday and, as predicted, criticised those providers who had switched offers to unconditional in reaction to the news about exams.  It was followed by a request on 23rd March to put a two week moratorium on any unconditional offers.

As Research Professional report the Government was unprepared for this quick response from some within the sector. During the pause period the DfE will continue to develop the methodology of how grades will be awarded to students not sitting exams and consider how the application process should be run. The Minister has threatened that any institutions not complying with the ban will undergo regulatory interventionWe will use any powers available to us to prevent such offer making on the grounds that it is damaging to students and not in their interests.  UUK have supported the intervention.

On practical matters UCAS have extended the admissions deadline. Students usually have to decide which university offers to accept by early May. UCAS have confirmed the deadline will be extended by two weeks. UCAS states: Universities and colleges will also have additional time to assess applications and adjust their processes in these unprecedented times… We will email students this week with information on their new May decision deadline, and ensure they understand they have additional time over the coming weeks to make their decisions.

Research Professional (RP):

  • The government is clearly not on top of the situation. On 18 March, rather than mandate the closure of universities, Williamson said that he would support the decisions of vice-chancellors. Less than a week later, universities are being threatened with regulatory action… Vice-chancellors will have acted not out of malice but with the best of intentions to offer comfort to anxious applicants—that’s what comes of sending mixed messages.
  • Donelan says that switching offers to unconditional “risks destabilising the admissions system, increasing financial uncertainty and volatility for all institutions at a time when universities are already facing significant pressures”. The minister wants universities to “avoid actions which might not be in students’ best interests simply to maximise their intake over other universities”.
  • That was probably not the idea behind the switch to unconditional offers, but in a sign of how quickly the world is changing…

The Government’s edict that no new unconditional offers can be made has stimulated debate. Some speculate they may capitalise on the pause to take future action banning all or most unconditional offers (the OfS Admissions consultation has been understandably paused for now). Many lament the impact of the ban on the disadvantaged students who were always intended to be the main recipients of unconditional offers to alleviate some of the turbulence in their lives.

Meanwhile the DfE has reminded students and parents that they are not obliged to accept an unconditional offer and even if they have they can release themselves to explore other options during clearing. DfE state that the release process was introduced last year to support student choice and promote flexibility, and nearly 30,000 students used this functionality.

The OfS press release language is very interesting – they have assumed right up front that NO unconditional offer is in the best interest of a students – they may relax that when they come up with their guidance, but we shall see.

  • ‘Universities and colleges must stop making offers that are not in the best interests of students. They should not make any unconditional offer or amend existing offers for at least two weeks while Ofqual develops the details of the new system.
  • ‘Many universities and colleges have been responding to the enormous challenges of coronavirus with innovation and ingenuity. But it is critical that every university and college puts the student’s interest first in these difficult times. 
  • ‘So, I want to make it very clear to any university or college – and its leaders and governors – that if any university or college makes unconditional offers or adjusts any offer to students during this two week moratorium we will use any powers available to us to prevent such offer making on the grounds that it is damaging to students and not in their interests.

So although they have not done anything about it yet, except issue a review and now a short-term suspension – you could read this as them having already made up their mind and expecting to judge the sector retrospectively against the outcome.

We will let RP have the final word: As higher education pauses admissions activity, it is time now for the government to come up with a workable solution. No more mixed messages: some clarity is needed. As the government has realised on the economy and social distancing, a laissez-faire approach will not see us out the other side of this crisis.

Media coverage: The BBC, The Times and FE Week.

Research in the pandemic

The Under-Secretary of State for Science, Amanda Solloway issued a letter thanking the HE sector for the Covid-19 research and urging institutions to prioritise supporting colleagues (employment terms and conditions) who are working on mitigating this crisis. Skills Minister Gillian Keegan wrote to colleges and training providers and Scottish HE minister Richard Lochhead also issued a letter.

REF 2021 will be pushed back to adjust for the effects of Coronavirus. Currently, the 31 July 2020 census date will be retained. However, the final submission deadline will be delayed. No date for the submission has yet been set but universities have been told they can expect an 8 month notice period when the new date is announced. BU is continuing with the mock REF exercise but will review future timelines as appropriate.

Student Loans

The Student Loans Company has confirmed third term payments will be made as normal even with most teaching moving online.

Zamzam Ibrahim, NUS National President, commented:

  • NUSis pleased that the Department for Education and the Student Loans Company have responded to the strong concerns that we and our member students’ unions have raised in the last week by confirming third term payments will be made as normal, despite the many changes to teaching arrangements made by universities in response to the pandemic. We will continue to work with them to ensure clear communication to students and to ensure students are treated fairly. 
  • Where a students’ family income falls significantly in the year of study, they can ask for a reassessment of their student finance if they are not already receiving the maximum levels of support, and so students should contact the relevant student finance agency as they may be able to receive more support.
  • Students’ income will already be affected as many rely on part-time jobs in hospitality and retail – while we welcome the Chancellor’s commitment to support those who lose employment income we are concerned that those students who are self-employed or who work in the gig economy will not be supported, and most full-time students cannot claim benefits. We need to ensure a safety net is in place for these students, either by extending the wage protections or ensuring access to hardship funding in universities and colleges.

Several parliamentary questions relating to student loans repayments were asked this week. Most have already been superseded in the Government’s announcement that repayments will continue as normal but be reassessed and cease if an individual’s income drops below the repayment threshold.

Last, Peter Lauener was appointed as Chair of the Student Loans company. He replaces Andrew Wathey who was in the role on an interim basis.

The Student Loans Company has announced the temporary closure their contact centre. They state:

  • [We are] closing our customer contact centres temporarily for new and existing students, and for any customer in repayment.
  • The closure of our customer contact centres will not impact summer term maintenance payments to students or tuition fee payments to education providers. These payments will be made as normal. New and existing students in England and Wales can continue to apply for student finance and we will continue to process any applications that have been received as quickly as we can.
  • We are working to restore service at our contact centres as soon as we can and we will provide further information on this over the coming days.

Brexit

A poll on Coronavirus set out to measure the public’s support for the Government’s actions to limit the spread of the virus. It shows favour for a practical potential policy U turn on extending the Brexit end of transition phase. You Gov say: despite it being one of the most dramatic debates in British politics just weeks ago, a majority of the public (55%) would now support extending the Brexit transition period as negotiations have now had to be delayed. A quarter (24%) are still opposed, while 21% say they don’t know.

You can read the full poll analysis here.  An interesting further point is made about the need for the Government to appeal to the young to ensure they understand the seriousness of the crisis and follow social distancing (and now lockdown) requirements. You Gov say: While Boris is still divisive, the public are warming to Rishi Sunak and Chris Witty. Because of this, the Government needs think carefully about its messengers to make sure they are best cutting through with the public.

Parliamentary Questions

Covid-19 Support for Universities

Q – Dan Jarvis: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps his Department is taking to support universities during the covid-19 outbreak. [32182]

A – Michelle Donelan: The Department for Education has indicated that it will not be possible to answer this question within the usual time period. An answer is being prepared and will be provided as soon as it is available.

Covid-19 – Student Accommodation/Online Learning (both due for answer on Thursday)

Q – Rosie Duffield: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, if he will take steps to ensure that universities allow students to terminate their accommodation contracts early without incurring financial penalties during the covid-19 outbreak.

This is due for answer on Thursday – here is the link to follow the response. If you have trouble accessing the response (sometimes they change the link when they add the answer) contact us and we’ll locate it and send it over to you

Q – Stuart Anderson: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, whether he is taking steps to ensure that online access to learning is put in place for pupils and students at schools and higher education institutions that have not developed online resources; and if he will make a statement. [34409]

Disability: Q – Sharon Hodgson: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what assessment his Department has made of the effect on the health and wellbeing of students in higher education with visual stress of the removal of colorimetry funding for those students.

A  – Michelle Donelan: The department is in discussion with the Association of Dyslexia Specialists in Higher Education as to whether any additional types of assistance would be appropriate for students with a diagnosis of visual stress.

And there is one on brain injuries disability funding.

Access: Q – Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Viscount Younger of Leckie on 6 November 2018 (HL10959), whether they are now in a position to ensure that higher education providers have access to free school meals data at the start of the undergraduate admissions cycle as part of measures to widen access to higher education.

A – Baroness Berridge:

  • Everyone with the talent and capability to succeed in higher education should have the opportunity to benefit from a high-quality university education, regardless of age, background or where they grew up.
  • So that providers are identifying talent in areas of disadvantage, they need to use good-quality and meaningful data. We encourage higher education providers to use a range of measures including individual-level indicators, area data (such as Participation of Local Areas, Index of Multiple Deprivation or postcode classification from ACORN), school data, intersectional data such as Universities and Colleges Admissions Service’s (UCAS) Multiple Equality Measure, and participation in outreach activities.
  • We are actively considering how we can make available free school meals data, taking in to account relevant data protection legislation, and will continue to work closely with UCAS and the Office for Students to this end. In general, we are looking to make data as illuminating as possible.
  • The government believes that every young person with the potential should have the opportunity to access higher education, if it is right for them. A person’s background or start in life should not determine their future.

Disability Employment Gap: Q – Marco Longhi: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what steps she is taking to support people with mental disabilities (a) into and (b) to remain in employment. [30042]

A – Justin Tomlinson:

  • The Government is committed to reducing the disability employment gap and seeing a million more disabled people in work by 2027.We help disabled people, including those with mental health conditions and learning disabilities, return to and stay in work through programmes including the Work and Health Programme, the new Intensive Personalised Employment Support Programme, Access to Work and Disability Confident.

Mental Health: Q – Preet Kaur Gill (Birmingham, Edgbaston): To ask the Secretary of State for Education, pursuant to the oral statement of 18 March 2020, what steps he is taking to ensure that children and young people whose educational institution is closed are able to access mental health services provided through those institutions. [32157]

A – Vicky Ford (Chelmsford):

  • The department is working with NHS England and Public Health England who are providing guidance on seeking mental health support, including guidance for parents and carers of children and young people on addressing mental health and wellbeing concerns during the COVID-19 outbreak. Where in place, mental health support teams are also actively considering how they continue to deliver a service to support children and young people.

Industrial Strategy: Q – Alex Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, what progress has been made on meeting the objective in the Ageing Society Grand Challenge to ensure that people can enjoy at least 5 extra healthy, independent years of life by 2035. [29943]

A – Helen Whately:

  • Delivering the Ageing Society Grand Challenge (ASGC) mission will require complex systems thinking across a number of areas and we are already working closely across Government, industry, academia and the voluntary sector to do this.
  • We have invested £98 million through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund Healthy Ageing programme to enable businesses, including social enterprises, to develop and deliver services and products to support people as they age. We have also announced Andy Briggs as the ASGC Business Champion and our plans to establish the UK Longevity Council.
  • In 2019, the Department published the consultation document ‘Advancing our Health: Prevention in the 2020s’, which has the ASGC mission at its core and sets out the commitments to contribute towards achieving it.

Skills Gaps: A question on skills gap vacancies and whether qualifications and apprenticeships can fill the gaps.

Free Speech: Q – Marco Longhi (Dudley North): To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps he is taking to protect freedom of speech and promote diverse debate within universities. [30031]

A – Michelle Donelan (Chippenham):

  • This government has committed to strengthen free speech and academic freedom and ensure our universities are places where debate can thrive. My right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Education has made it clear that if required he will look at changing the underpinning legal framework. We have made it clear that if universities do not uphold free speech, the government will.

Student Accommodation

Safely managing student accommodation through the crisis is a tricky process for the HE sector. Thorny issues include: ensuring adequate safeguards where students are self-isolating and moving back to the family home is not possible or inappropriate; requirements for students to continue paying for accommodation or pay retainers whilst not in residence; student evictions as providers close down student residences; concerns over 2021-22 contract pressures. Here are two blogs on student accommodation. On Research Professional Fiona McIntyre reports that universities have been told to pressure firms in charge of private halls of residence to make sure no student is left without a place to stay during the coronavirus epidemic, while the Student Loans Company has said that third-term payments will proceed as planned.

And on Wonkhe Eva Crossan Jory from NUS describes the crisis facing student rents resulting from coronavirus, and what universities, private halls operators and government should do to avert it.

Wonkhe also report that: Student accommodation providers Unite and Liberty Living have promised not to charge students for accommodation for term three if email notification is received before 10 April. Arrangements will be made to support students who need to stay on in accommodation through term three and beyond.

Student Trust

HEPI have a blog from Mary Curnock Cook on Connectedness, Trust and Student Engagement. Excerpts:

  • A new report from Enlitened, part of the Student Room Group, looks at how ‘connected, engaged and supported’ undergraduate students are in the UK. In a classic virtuous circle, the report suggests that feeling connected is highly correlated with trust, and trust increases with awareness of and confidence in university resources. Addressing these areas quite directly could help universities significantly improve theirstudents’ overall experience, as well as helping prepare them better for the world of work. It goes without saying that in the current coronavirus crisis, universities resorting to remote working and online learning will soon feel the pinch if they don’t have some connectedness-credit in the bank.
  • The research suggests that only just over half of students feel ‘connected’ to their university. Connectedness is a wider and more nuanced concept than student experience because it signals a whole range of propensities from supporting the university more generally, being prepared to help it out or give it the benefit of doubt when things go wrong, to getting actively involved in the university’s success. But it goes further than this because this new research indicates that connected students are more likely to trust their university, and when they trust their university, they will be more likely to seek support with emotional and wellbeing issues as well as more prosaic issues such as academic or financial support. 
  • Feeling connected and trusting the university will also help overcome the lack of confidence and shyness that respondents cited as some of the key barriers that stop them from accessing support. This is important as 63 per cent of respondents reported to have kept their mental wellbeing concerns to themselves in the last year, without seeking help from their university. With the findings showing that third year respondents are more likely than both second and first year students to keep concerns around anxiety, stress, depression, and academic and financial issues to themselves, trust and self-confidence seems to erode rather than deepen as students progress through their courses. Unsurprisingly, students with disabilities are even more likely to hold back from asking for help.

Also buried in the report is an astonishingly low engagement level with student unions (which also score relatively poorly on the National Student Survey). Given that peer support is often the first port of call for students in distress, it’s worrying that only 12 per cent of respondents said they trusted their student union and only 3 per cent would go to them for information and support.

Friends and family remain the most trusted source of support for students for a range of anxieties and concerns but it’s worth noting that students are also likely to turn to online resources. The anonymity of online help is often a draw for students shy or lacking in confidence to seek face to face help… With universities across the sector reporting huge increases in demand for student support services, online resources and apps can be vital in making sure that students know about and connect with their university services when they need help.

BU has two 24/7 anonymous online platforms and support services – the Employee Assistance Programme for staff and Big White Wall which supports staff and students. There is also a wellbeing section on the staff intranet.

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:

Other news

Student Nurses: Next week student nurses will join the ‘front line’ to support the NHS as the nation battles Covid-19. The Times covers whether they should be paid.

Home Working: As the majority of the nation converts to home working on a more regular basis than usual the Office of National Statistics have published their research which investigates to what extent different people within the labour market work at home, either on a regular or occasional basis (pre-crisis).

Of the 32.6 million in employment, around 1.7 million people reported working mainly from home, with around 4.0 million working from home in the week prior to being interviewed for the survey.

  • Around 8.7 million people said that they have worked from home; this is less than 30% of the workforce.
  • Some industrial sectors, such as transportation and storage, accommodation and food services, and wholesale, retail and repair provide relatively few opportunities for people to work from home.
  • Other industrial sectors, such as information and communication, professional, scientific and technical activities, financial and insurance activities, and real estate activities, provide far more homeworking opportunities.
  • Occupations requiring higher qualifications and experience are more likely to provide homeworking opportunities than elementary and manual occupations.
  • Younger workers are the least likely to be working from home, whereas those who continue to work beyond State Pension age are increasingly likely to be working from home.

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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 3rd January 2020

The end of 2019 saw a flurry of announcements and planning documents as the government issued detailed notes on the Queen’s Speech, building on their manifesto commitments, and the Office for Students issued a detailed annual review with an accompanying blog giving some ideas about what is coming up next.

If you missed our policy update on 20th December which covers these things in quite a lot of detail, you can read it here.

Focus on drop-out rates

One thing that was trailed in the OfS review and accompanying blog was a concern about continuation and completion rates.  This is of course not new, continuation is a metric in the TEF and this is an area of focus in Access and Participation Plans across the sector.

From Research Professional:

  • Universities minister Chris Skidmore has said institutions should be held “individually responsible” for a surge in students abandoning their studies. Skidmore said it was “essential” that universities improve their dropout rates and called for universities to provide better support for students once they have enrolled on courses.
  • His comments on 3 January came as an analysis by the Press Association of the Higher Education Statistics Agency data found around two-thirds of UK universities saw an increase in their dropout rates between 2011-12 and 2016-17.
  • “Universities need to focus not just on getting students through the door, but making sure they complete their course successfully,” said Skidmore. “It’s essential that dropout rates are reduced. We cannot afford to see this level of wasted talent.”
  • But he said each university and even individual courses should be held “individually accountable for how many students are successfully obtaining a degree” so that it can be transparent where there are “real problems” with dropout rates.
  • In March 2019, former education minister Damian Hinds told universities that high dropout rates could make people think they are only interested in “bums on seats”rather than supporting students. He also promised that the Office for Students would pressure universities to reduce non-continuation rates and would take action if improvements were not made.
  • Commenting on the Press Association analysis, vice-chancellors’ body Universities UK said many universities have plans to support students once they at university, including the access and participation plans English universities must submit to the Office for Students.
  • “Universities are committed to widening access to higher education and ensuring students from all backgrounds can succeed and progress,” a UUK spokeswoman said. “However, it is clear that non-continuation is still an issue and institutions must continue to work to support students to progress and succeed at university.”

Headlines have been highly critical of the sector.  We have not been able to access the analysis itself, but the news outlets are mostly reporting the same data: Daily Mail: Abertay University in Dundee had the largest increase, from 3.5 per cent to 12.1 per cent. In England, Bedfordshire University saw the biggest rise, from 8.3 per cent to 15.2 per cent. Seven institutions had a rise of more than five percentage points, while 19 had an increase of more than three percentage points.

Student Loans overhaul

The BBC reported on 30th December that the SLC would be modernising repayment information with a new online service in 2020.

  • A new online repayment service will launch in 2020, offering graduates more up-to-date balance information, the Department for Education said. Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said the changes would make it easier for students to “understand their balance” and “manage their loan”.
  • To prevent overpayments, the government is also urging graduates to switch from salary deductions to direct debit towards the end of their loan.
  • Universities minister Chris Skidmore said: “With more and more people enjoying the benefits of a university education, it’s only right that graduates have easy access to the information they need about repaying their student loan. “I urge all graduates to use this new service and to join the direct debit scheme as they approach the end of their loan to ensure a smooth end and not repay more than they should.”
  • An SLC online repayment website does currently exist, but the new repayment service will have more up-to-date information than graduates are currently able to access, the Department for Education said.

You can read more on the DfE website here

Brexit – it’s not over until it’s over

Parliament passed the second reading of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill just before Christmas with a majority of 124.  It will be back in front of Parliament on 7, 8 and 9th January.   The BBC have helpfully summarised it for us, and also what has changed since the Theresa May version (which was never actually published):

What does the WAB actually cover? Among other things:

  • It sets out exactly how the UK will make “divorce bill” payments to the EU for years to come
  • It repeals the European Communities Act, which took the UK into the EU, but then reinstates it immediately until the end of 2020 when the transition period ends
  • It contains language on how the new protocol on Ireland – setting up what amounts to a customs and regulatory border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain – will work in practice
  • It sets out areas in which the European Court of Justice still plays a role in the UK, and makes the withdrawal agreement in some respects “supreme” over other areas of UK law
  • One of those areas may be in the arbitration procedure for disputes about the withdrawal agreement. The bill introduces a duty for the government to report on this
  • It prohibits any extension to the transition period beyond the end of 2020, even if a free trade deal isn’t ready in time
  • In the section on citizens’ rights it sets up an independent monitoring authority (IMA) with which EU nationals in the UK can lodge any complaints about the way the government treats them
  • In several policy areas, particularly in Northern Ireland, the bill gives ministers a lot of power to change the law (through secondary legislation) without MPs getting to vote
  • It introduces a duty for the government to report on its use of the arbitration procedure for disputes about the withdrawal agreement

What’s been changed? A number of clauses in the previous version of the bill have been removed. They include:

  • The possibility of an extension to the transition period and the procedures around that. The bill now prohibits ministers asking for an extension.
  • Workers’ rights protections – the government says these will now be part of a separate bill.
  • Checks and balances that MPs were offered as an inducement to pass the old bill in October. For example, the requirement for the government’s negotiating position on the future relationship with the EU to be approved by Parliament has gone. And the government’s position no longer needs to be in line with the political declaration – the non-legally binding document that accompanied the withdrawal agreement and sets out aspirations for the future relationship.
  • A clause on child refugees. The bill removes the requirement, introduced by Lord Dubs,to agree a deal that if an unaccompanied child claims international protection in the EU, they may come to the UK if they have relatives living in the country. The new bill only requires a government minister to make a statement setting out policy on the subject within two months. Between 2016 and 2018, 426 unaccompanied children came to the UK in this way.

Given that all the Conservative Party candidates had to sign up to supporting it, it is very unlikely to fail.

But because some of you might be missing the Parliamentary “fun and games” of 2019, we thought we would bring you the latest list of amendments – it’s 42 pages long so far and likely to grow again by Tuesday.  Of course, which ones are debated are partly down to the (new) Speaker as we all learned last year.  not surprisingly some of them relate to the things that have been removed:

  • Quite a few relate to sorting out the Ireland/Northern Ireland protocol and related issues– described by some as a “border down the North Sea” although before the holiday the PM was still denying that there would be checks or paperwork between the UK and NI.
  • Some relate to an extension of the implementation period – e.g. must extend if a deal is not reached by a date in June unless the House agree otherwise (one says by 1st June, one says by 15th and they attach different conditions. One has a security partnership as well as a trade deal.
  • A weird one saying that Big Ben will ring when the UK leaves the EU.
  • Quite a few amendments about EU citizens’ rights including for unaccompanied children
  • Some trying to restrict the power of the government to make regulations under the new law, e.g. on human rights or tax, or devolved government
  • Some relate to Parliamentary sovereignty over the future relationship with the EU. There is also one about “non-regression from EU standards”, one about mutual recognition and standards and one about a “level playing field”.
  • There is one that requires the devolved governments to approve the Act before it can come into force and two requiring the House to endorse economic impact assessments of the measures under the Bill before they are implemented.
  • There is one about workers’ rights
  • There is one about participation in the European Medicines regulatory network, one about Euratom, one about a security partnership.
  • There are three about a customs union and a single market
  • There is an unusual one about “probity of the Ministers of the Crown” requiring Ministers to make a personal declaration that they have complied with the 7 Nolan Principles of Public Life in relation to the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. There is also one about a public inquiry into the events leading up to withdrawal and one about an independent review of the impact of withdrawal.
  • There is one about Erasmus+ being a negotiating objective

The problems with apprenticeships

The BBC has a story about “fake” apprenticeships.  They aren’t actually fake – just alleged to be not doing what they were intended for – which the report writers define as courses that “relate to helping young people get started in a skilled job or occupation”.

Half of apprenticeship courses in England have been accused of being “fake” by an education think tank.

  • The EDSK report says the apprenticeship levy – paid by big employers – is being used on low-skilled jobs or relabelling existing posts, rather than training.
  • Tom Richmond, the think tank’s director, said the apprenticeship scheme was “descending into farce”.
  • But a Department for Education spokeswoman defended apprenticeships as becoming “better quality”.
  • The apprenticeship levy is paid by large employers, who contribute 0.5% of their salary bill into the training fund.
  • But since 2017, the report claims £1.2bn from the levy has been spent on jobs “offering minimal training and low wages” or on “rebadging” jobs already offered by employers as apprenticeships.
  • In its first full year of operation, the levy raised £2.7bn and this is expected to rise to £3.4bn by 2023-24.
  • Apprenticeship spending is too often used on “existing adult workers instead of supporting young people into the workplace”, the report warns.
  • The report also criticises £448m spent on apprenticeships aimed at degree and postgraduate level.

You can read the report here.

  • The most costly higher-level apprenticeship has been the ‘Accountancy / Taxation Professional’ course at Level 7 (equivalent to a Master’s degree), which has used £174 million of levy funding since 2017 by claiming to cover roles as diverse as Financial Accountants, Management Accountants, Tax Accountants, Tax Advisers, Tax Specialists, External Auditors, Internal Auditors, Financial Analysts, Management Consultants, Forensic Accountants and Business Advisors. For a single ‘apprenticeship’ to cover such a breadth of respected and wellpaid jobs is questionable, to say the least.
  • In addition, the ‘Senior Leader apprenticeship’ – aimed at CEOs, CFOs, senior military officers and Heads of Department among others – can include an MBA, which explains why it has quickly become a major source of revenue for business schools and consumed over £45 million in just two years.
  • Inappropriate rebadging of training courses also extends beyond the world of business and finance. The ‘Academic Professional apprenticeship’ – designed by 23 Higher Education (HE) institutions including the University of Oxford, the University of Durham and Imperial College London – is an overt attempt by these organisations to relabel their university academics as ‘apprentices’ to use up the university’s own levy contributions. The fact that you typically need a PhD to be accepted onto this levy-funded training course confirms that it bears no relation whatsoever to any genuine apprenticeship.

The report also makes some recommendations:

INTRODUCING A WORLD-CLASS DEFINITION OF AN ‘APPRENTICESHIP’

  • 1: The Department for Education should introduce a new definition of an ‘apprenticeship’ that is benchmarked against the best apprenticeship systems in the world.
  • 2: The Department for Education should restrict the use of the term ‘apprenticeship’ to training at Level 3 only.

SETTING A NEW VISION AND OBJECTIVE FOR THE LEVY

  • 3: The apprenticeship levy should be renamed the ‘Technical and Professional Education Levy’ and all work-based learning from Level 4 to Level 7 should be renamed ‘Technical and Professional Education’ (TPE).
  • 4: Bachelor’s degrees and Master’s-level courses that have been labelled as ‘apprenticeships’ should be excluded from the scope of the TPE levy.
  • 5: The existing co-payment rate of 5 per cent for apprenticeships should be replaced by a tiered co-payment rate for all TPE programmes from Levels 3 to 6, starting at 0% co-payment for apprenticeships at Level 3 up to a 75% co-payment for Level 6 programmes.

REVISING THE FUNDING AND REGULATORY FRAMEWORK

  • 6: The current system of 30 ‘funding bands’ from £1,500 to £27,000 should be replaced by five ‘price groups’ for apprenticeships at Level 3 and higher-level TPE programmes.
  • 7: The 10 per cent ‘top up’ invested by government in the HMRC digital accounts of levy-paying employers should be withdrawn.
  • 8: Ofsted should be made the sole regulator for any apprenticeships and technical and professional education funded by the new TPE levy, including provision in universities.

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

JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

HE policy update for the w/e 13th December 2019

It’s a full moon on polling day and the results will be announced on Friday the 13th! Superstitions aside we’re issuing your policy update early this week before the election outcomes are announced so you can focus on all the educational news. Fear not, we’ll bring you all the election fall out and early outcome scenarios in a post-election special edition.

Measuring Up the Educational Manifestos

We’re not including the myriad of speeches and party declarations this week. However, worth a short mention is the Education Policy Institute (EPI) who have (like many others) analysed the five main parties’ manifestos, compared them against EPI costings, and considered what the impact would be from an independent perspective. They conclusions don’t paint the rosiest of futures for the education sector:

  • Although all parties have made bold pledges about reducing opportunity gaps and raising educational attainment, the policies in their manifestos are unlikely to deliver on these aspirations.
  • Despite a large proportion of the attainment gap between poor children and the rest emerging before entry to school, party policies seem to focus on improving childcare for employment and cost of living reasons, rather than focusing on high quality early years education. While Labour and the Liberal Democrats are making major funding commitments in this area, there are serious questions about whether their policies can be delivered effectively and secure high quality and value for money over the limited implementation periods envisaged. The Conservatives give no indication of whether they will take action to improve the quality and progressiveness of early years entitlements.
  • All major parties are pledging additional funding for schools, colleges and special needs education – with Labour and the Greens committing to the biggest increases. This could help to deliver effective interventions and may improve teacher retention. But under Conservative policies, there will be a relative shift in funding away from schools with higher levels of disadvantage – and this attempt to “level up funding” could widen the disadvantage gaps in attainment. Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats may have under-estimated the cost of their policies on free school meals, and this could require funding to be diverted from other parts of the schools budget.
  • Large policy differences have opened up between the parties over school inspection, school testing and performance tables. The current system of accountability is in need of improvement, but education research suggests that Labour and Liberal Democrat plans to scrap primary tests and move to lower stakes inspection could damage attainment, and might particularly pose a risk to improving outcomes for the most vulnerable learners. The Conservatives do not commit to improving the current system or addressing any of its negative incentives and impacts.
  • Party policies on post 18 education are particularly disappointing. Labour proposes that its most expensive education policy should be allocating around £7bn to scrap university tuition fees, even though this may not improve participation, or the access of vulnerable groups. The Conservatives offer few policies on higher education, and the one concrete measure (reduced interest rates on student loans) would disproportionately benefit higher earners. The Liberal Democrats appear to be offering a similar “Review” to those included in their two previous manifestos.
  • While all parties are committed to additional education funding over the years ahead, there is a high level of uncertainty about the revenues which have been earmarked for such funding. The Conservative plans assume that the growth impact of Brexit will be moderate; the Labour plans assume the same, and also rely upon large tax revenues from a limited number of sources; meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats are banking on a “Remain Bonus”, and revenues from uncertain sources such as tax avoidance. With all parties, it is unclear how education spending plans would be altered if the projected revenues isn’t realised and cuts have to be made.

Natalie Perera, Executive Director and Head of Research at the Education Policy Institute, said:

  • “All of the main parties are united by one thing – bold ambitions to raise attainment and close gaps. However, our analysis shows that while each party has some well-designed and helpful policies, none has a properly evidence-based strategy to meet their ambitions”

A NUS General Election survey with healthcare students found that 68% of students (with a loan) are more likely to vote for a party because they plan to bring back maintenance grants post-election. Claire Sosienski Smith, NUS Vice President (Higher Education) also mentioned the NUS Homes Fit for Study Report which said 1 in 6 students are unable to keep up with their rent payments. She said “we know that a student finance system based on individual debt is fundamentally flawed.” This was reinforced by the recent General Election survey with 2 out of 3 students stating they did not have enough money left to pay for everything once they had paid their rent and 43% rely on their bank overdraft. Healthcare students particularly raised issues of having to fund placement expenses up front, inadequate hardship funding systems and paramedics who are unable to access reimbursement for placements.

Also hitting the news this week are the health care courses at risk due to the bursary removal recruitment crisis – podiatry, radiotherapy, prosthetics, orthoptics, and mental health and learning disability nursing. BU’s Steve Tee, Executive Dean of HSS, is quoted in the article:

  • Now the bursary has been taken away there are specialist courses with small numbers nationally that have been put at risk. This is intensified if the course is in an area like radiography, which requires expensive kit. Why would a university invest if they are only getting 20 people?”

Grade Inflation

There is an interesting article on Wonkhe by Mark Corver of dataHE. Sarah was lucky enough to hear him speak at Wonkfest and explain how claims about grade inflation rely on inaccurately data.  The data modelling actually suggests grade deflation –a double whammy for students. The article is a little technical but worth a read to understand why the Government’s claims are being refuted. It also has a high number of comments at the bottom of the article showing how engaging it is (and as Wonkhe only publish the ‘most interesting’ comments we can imagine there was a lot more chatter than published). Some excerpts to get you started:

  • It is likely that the true attainment of today’s young people is being seriously underestimated, putting them at a disadvantage, and damaging universities in the process.
  • ..there might be areas where this powerful grade deflation could be causing problems for young people and universities. Here are two examples.
  • The first is the damage from the charge that the sector is “dumbing down”. This has that – in contrast to the past – universities are now admitting people whose attainment is simply not good enough for higher education. That the average A level grades for UCAS acceptances has been going down provide fuel for this view… If you correct for the modelled grade deflation (Figure 8), average grades held by UCAS applicants who get into university have not been going down. They have been going up.
  • The second problem is where post-2010 grade data is used for analysis through time. Particularly so if that analysis is used by government to pursue policy. Which takes us back to those sharply worded complaints of degree grade inflation that the government has levelled at universities, and its calls for action to stop it. These rest on Office for Students statistical models of degree grade inflation. A level attainment is a very powerful factor in that model. And rightly so because the stronger your A level grades the better your odds of getting a higher class degree.
  • But the way the model is built effectively assumes that A level grades are an absolute measure of educational attainment that are stable through time. With this model construction, if universities maintain their academic standards then it is inevitable that the neglected A level grade deflation will pop up as degree grade inflation. But it would be a false signal. Degree quality would be unchanged. It is the measure of the input quality that has changed.
  • Our proposed A level grade deflation might not be a big enough effect to account for all the degree grade increases seen. But it would be a very substantial effect. We think that this, and other potential weaknesses in the model, do amount to reason enough to look again at the models and their conclusions. Meanwhile, government might want to think again about its pressure on universities to make it harder for students to get “good” degrees. Otherwise a double whammy for young people looms: those who have already been hit by deflated A level grades risk being hit again with a lower degree class than their attainment deserves.

Student Finance & Accommodation

Clear Accessible Finance Information throughout the Student Lifecycle

In June UUK and NEON published The Financial Concerns of Students. They said that the available information on tuition fees and the student loan system in England is often inaccessible and unclear, and that students want more information on how universities spend tuition fee income. The main findings were:

  • Prospective and UG students need clearer and better-targeted financial advice on the full implications of taking out a student loan.
  • Prospective students are uncertain what universities spend tuition fee income on.
  • Living costs are a more significant concern for current UG students than the level of tuition fees.
  • Strong agreement that going to university generally helps graduates to earn more money in the longer term (64% of prospective students and 77% of UG students).
  • More than half of students believe they should make some contribution to the cost of their education.

Since the report NEON and UUK ran a student finance information advisory group consisting of sector experts from nationwide leading organisations who work with prospective and current students to communicate student finance information. This week the group published Improving the provision of information on student finance and have proposed a Student Finance National Education Programme which recommends how to ensure student finance is more understandable and accessible for all (including family members). In summary:

  • Student Finance Information should be more coherent and collaborative – government and information providers should develop and sign up to an industry standard of core messages.
  • Teachers, schools and parents vary in their capacity to support prospective students’ decision making – leading to access gaps. Approaches and activities offered to schools should be underpinned by a more robust, funded, national careers policy than exists at present. Specific parental information is important as they are one of the most influential actors on the young person’s decision.
  • Take a student lifecycle approach to the provision of information required. Focus on sharing information during study and post-graduation (differentiated for particular groups of students) as well the prospective student stage.
  • The UK’s student population is larger and more diverse than ever before. A national education programme on student finance must reflect this diversity with a balance of different approaches to information sharing. It should reflect the needs and circumstances of prospective and current students, from school leavers to those in work considering study, and those with caring and other commitments. There is potential to strengthen a range of different approaches, such as online and face-to-face provision, and explore implementing tailored approaches for groups like mature students and care leavers.
  • Policymakers need to adopt a more strategic approach to the provision of information on student finance and be more ambitious in their goals particularly on coherence. A strategy should be developed collaboratively and in consultation with students, those who advise them, and student finance information providers. This strategy should aim to provide more than a basic level of information at the pre-higher education stage and ensure that students have a level of knowledge enabling them to make the right choices for them, based on an understanding of the costs and benefits of higher education prior to, during and after study.

Wonkhe have a blog on the topic: How we communicate student finance needs a re-think.

Accommodation

Wonkhe report that Commercial Estates specialist Cushman and Wakefield have reported on the level of private student accommodation. Key points:

  • 87% of new student beds are delivered by the private sector
  • The average ensuite accommodation is priced at 70% of the level of the maximum student loan. (NUS recommends rent by no more than 50% of maximum available.)
  • There are 23% more places in private halls since 2013
  • Demand for student accommodation rises 30% faster than can be built (although there are huge increases at some providers balanced by decreases elsewhere). Research Professional state – the top five universities for recruitment accounting for 41% of all growth in the last five years while the bottom five universities by student growth have seen a 29% decrease in student numbers.

The Times covers the report in the (very short!) Students struggling to find affordable accommodation.

Research Professional also covered the report in their own way highlighting concerns over absence of affordable student rooms stating that private student accommodation blocks are becoming more luxurious but affordable options remain scarce.

Eva Crossan Jory, vice-president for welfare at NUS echoed this and called for rent controls to stop prices spiralling further. “This is the latest report to confirm the increasing cost of accommodation has created a real affordability problem for students,” she said, adding that “reform is urgently required.”

Social Mobility

HEPI have released a wide range of content this week. Their policy note (prepared by colleagues at Exeter University) on Social Mobility has particularly been picked up by the media.  The note begins by stating

  • Much of the heavy lifting on widening participation in higher education to date has been undertaken by newer and less selective higher education institutions. The access challenge therefore remains greater at more selective institutions. They could learn from the best practice that exists in less selective universities.
  • It will take nearly a century for highly-selective universities in England to raise the participation rate for 18-to-30-year olds from the least advantaged areas to the existing participation rate for 18-to-30-year olds from the most advantaged areas.

Interestingly they state that if the number of degree places at the selective institution remains static (i.e. doesn’t grow) the number of places for advantaged pupils would need to fall by as much as 10,000, which is one-third of current annual intakes [to meet social mobility targets]. To meet the targets highly selective universities would need to double their places over the next 20 years to ensure all young people access the same participation rates as the most advantaged students. An extra 19,400 18-year old students from the least advantaged areas would need to enrol each year at highly-selective universities to equal the current participation rate of 18-year olds from the most advantaged areas.

Other recommendations:

  • Social mobility rankings for universities should be established, measuring outcomes for disadvantaged students.
  • The Office for Students should challenge highly-selective universities to expand student numbers in innovative ways to diversify intakes, including degree apprenticeships, foundation years and courses for part-time and mature learners.
  • Universities should undertake a social mobility audit, benchmarking their work on outreach, access and academic and pastoral support for disadvantaged students.
  • Universities should also consider using random allocation of places for students over a certain minimum academic threshold (as has occurred in other countries).

On Contextual Admissions the report states:

  • Universities have long taken into account the context of prospective students when assessing their potential. Contextual admissions are used in many ways – giving students a taste of university life, establishing which candidates should be interviewed or offering a degree place on lower grades.
  • But too often universities operate in the dark, worried that reduced offers will damage their reputations. ‘How low can we go?’ is the first question, sometimes followed by ‘how can we keep this out of the public eye?’ What is baffling for applicants is that contextual information is used differently from one university department to another. Research suggests that more consistency and transparency is needed.

Later the policy note acknowledges how university league tables have ‘chilling effects’ on universities’ efforts to promote social mobility. But rankings are here to stay.

  • The problem is that league tables punish universities for improving social diversity. Perversely, the tables do not generally measure the gains made by students. Universities gain higher rankings for the higher A-Level entry grades they demand – a direct disincentive to award lower grade contextual offers or consider applicants without traditional academic qualifications. Dropping down the newspaper rankings and losing status can mean fewer future applicants from the very groups a university is trying harder to attract. A succession of government representatives have tried in vain to convince newspaper compilers to reform their rankings.

Instead the policy note authors suggest that social mobility rankings could bring balance to the importance placed on current attainment based ranks.

On the place lottery:

  • Post-qualification applications would open up more radical possibilities. Universities could use random allocation of places for students over a certain threshold of A-Level grades. This is the fairest way of selecting equally-qualified candidates for degree courses. Lotteries have been used widely in education. You might compensate losers in the lottery – such as guaranteeing a place at another institution. Dutch medical schools select the highest academic performers by traditional means, and enter lower achievers into a lottery.
  • The benefit of these schemes is their simplicity. Admissions tutors have amassed a battery of criteria designed to distinguish between thousands of equally well-qualified applicants: personal statements; teacher recommendations; predicted exam grades; essays; university admissions tests; interviews; and much more. But how much of this data add to predicting which candidates are best suited for degree courses? And how much does the complexity alienate potentially excellent applicants?

The policy note concludes:

  • The time has come for a simpler, more transparent, consistent and honest system of university admissions, recognising that A-Level grades (still less predicted grades) are no longer the gold standard of entry.
  • Failing to find ways of expanding university places will prompt acrimonious battles over who secures degree places – a clash of the classes – with politicians, parents and students questioning the fairness of university admissions.
  • Universities need to embrace a cultural shift in the support provided for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, seeing greater diversity as an opportunity to enrich the academic experience for all students and staff.

The Times takes up the HEPI report arguing for most selective universities to allocate places to all those meeting the A level grade criteria threshold by lottery (with a fall back place at another University for students who do not ‘win’ the lottery).

HEPI have also published a reply to the paper on their website by Tim Blackman, VC of the Open University.

  • “‘Elite’ universities are described as such simply because they are so selective. They are the grammar schools of the higher education sector and cause the same problem for other universities as grammar schools cause for other schools. This problem is that they cream off students who have had all the advantages that enable them to be academic high-achievers at school, concentrating these students in institutions that are full of other students like them, making all universities less diverse and denying other universities a mix of abilities that is likely to enrich their learning environment and benefit everyone.
  • Lee is silent about the many, often post-92, universities that have become the secondary moderns of the higher education sector because of the self-perpetuating prestige of highly selective institutions. While the measures he advocates would help diversify these institutions, they would do so at the cost of other universities that do not have the prestige that comes with the academic snobbery that pervades British higher education.
  • Reluctantly, I have come to the conclusion that the only way to address this problem is to return to student number controls at an institutional level and require institutions to use entry quotas banded by grades above a minimum matriculation requirement to create mixed ability intakes across the board. This would be a requirement of their access or outcome agreements. There could be some exceptions; in The Comprehensive University I suggested that a regional distribution of research universities could be excluded on the basis that they explicitly prioritise research over education and the unique open access mission of The Open University would continue to serve a valuable role.
  • What I do not think is a good idea is to advocate more audits and more league tables. The sector is already creaking under the number of reports and returns it is required to complete, paradoxically never including institutions’ own strategic plans and institutional performance indicators. There are many progressive incremental reforms that can be made – I would add to Lee’s list the scandal of part-time distance learning students being denied access to maintenance loans in England – and in that sense his note is certainly to be welcomed. But there are great dangers in a one-sided argument that frames the debate as one that is just about access to ‘elite’ universities.”

Meanwhile Prospect Magazine takes a differing tack arguing that education is no longer a path out of the social mobility trap and that a greater focus on creating better jobs is a solution.

Finally Wonkhe have a new blog on the transformative experience of HE for care leavers.

Mental Health

Student Minds have created the University Mental Health Charter – a set of principles to ensure student and staff mental health becomes a UK wide university priority. The principles will inform the Charter Award Scheme which will be developed during 2020 to recognise universities promoting with excellent mental health practices. This summary contains the key recommendations under various topics such as transitioning to university, learning and assessment, support services, managing risks, residential accommodation, and proactive interventions. There is a timeline highlighting the next steps as the Charter Award Scheme is developed and piloted. The Scheme is due to launch in Winter 2020.

Student Minds highlight that the Charter has drawn on all the current evidence, research and sector context to ensure its real world validity for the university sector. It states it isn’t intended to be definitive and encourages institutions to combine the elements to fit the local context. Future work will review the Charter and refresh it as new evidence emerges with a major review every 3-5 years. In conclusion Student Minds state:

  • It is not expected that universities will aim to fulfil each of these themes perfectly (no such a thing exists), but we hope they inspire discussion, thought, new interventions, evaluation and learning. The evidence we have suggests that progress on each of these themes will bring us closer to a moment when our universities are mentally healthy environments.
  • Universities are incredible places. Within our universities we have established the basis of science, unravelled the mystery of DNA, discovered stem cells and even located a long lost King under a car park. Improving the mental health of students and staff is within our ability, given time, resource and commitment. We hope the University Mental Health Charter helps to make a contribution to this process.

Mark Fudge, Chair of the University and Colleges Division for the British Association of Counselling, responded to the Charter’s publication:

  • Student Minds’ University Mental Health Charter is a step in the right direction and something for the higher education to sector to aspire to… But higher education leaders need to ensure they invest in counselling services to ensure they have enough resources so student have access to a range of mental health and wellbeing support options while at university.
  • There are thousands of students who are accessing counselling services every year. These services are at the forefront of supporting the most disenfranchised and vulnerable university populations.  They don’t just offer counselling but all sorts of group work, training and other support. They are often under-resourced, but they are having a positive impact on students’ lives and universities need to see that and invest more in them.
  • Universities need to invest in all forms of mental health support so that students have access to a range of options when they need them.”

Immigration

Universities UK has published a public poll (data available here). British adults were interviewed on their attitudes towards the immigration of university staff coming into the UK. Had there not been a purdah period for the General Election the timing of this poll would have hit whilst the Migration Advisory Committee considers how to implement a points-based immigration system and a salary threshold for international staff. Key points:

  • 87% strongly agree that it is more important that the UK’s immigration system attracts university staff who are highly skilled than it being more important that the UK’s immigration system attracts university staff who are highly paid (3% felt high pay was an important factor to allow immigration).
  • 89% agree that scientists, academics and their support staff are valuable to the UK, with half (51%) saying they strongly agree. 3% disagree.
  • 85% agree that it is important for the UK to be a world leader in science and research. 5% disagree.
  • 82% agree that the UK should try to compete with other major economies to attract scientists, academics and their support staff. 7% disagree.
  • 69% said that a UK points-based immigration system should be designed so that scientists, academics and their support staff score highly.

Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of Universities UK, commented on the findings:

  • “Technicians, researchers, and language assistants are all vital in supporting both high-quality teaching and innovative research at our universities. These skilled roles are critical to the ongoing success of our universities. As the UK prepares to leave the EU, it is more vital than ever that the UK remains a world leader in science and research and continues to attract international talent at different stages of their careers – from support staff and technicians to Nobel Prize winners.
  • If a new immigration system were to have a salary threshold, Universities UK has called for a threshold of £21,000 which would allow recruitment for most technician and language assistant roles in the higher education sector. This polling shows the strength of feeling among the British public that immigrants should be welcomed into the country on the strength of their skills and potential rather than facing a system that judges them on their income. This is vital for the UK to continue to lead the way in research and education.”

Wonkhe reported that a linked report from Universities Scotland had similar attitudinal findings with 78% of Scottish adults agreeing that the immigration system should support the entry of academics and support staff. The National covers the Scottish perspective.

Other news

Political untruths: Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price published a new draft law on Thursday that would make deliberate lying by politicians a criminal offence. The bill states “It shall be an offence for an elected representative acting in their capacity, or an agent acting on their behalf, to make or publish a statement they know to be misleading, false or deceptive in a material particular”. Adam was interviewed by Sky News highlighting how Parliament had changed: “Unfortunately we are normalising a dishonesty, we used to have conventions, social mores and norms etc. you know people used to resign in parliament if they mislead”. Adam said the push for the lying law was triggered by the misleading and false information such as Conservative HQ rebranding their twitter account to appear to be a fact checking service alongside other politicians Brexit claims which the EU have refuted.

Student Vote denied: The Independent report on the c.200 Cardiff Halls students who registered to vote but were not informed their application was incomplete and have been denied the vote. The student quoted in the article selected her address from a pre-filled drop down list but later discovered it had not registered her because it did not contain her room number. NUS called for Cardiff Council to resolve this unacceptable outcome. The Council said they had not been able to contact the c.200 people who supplied the incomplete addresses to register them in time.

Gamification: A Wonkhe article considers whether gaming could be a positive outreach method (alongside more traditional current efforts) in Simulation games: can gaming break barriers to university?

System Working: NHS Digital has published  a briefing on workforce challenges in the NHS:

  • As part of the drive to offer staff incentives to stay in the system, trusts are seeking to collaborate with local partners to make it easier for staff to move between organisations. Initiatives like rotation agreements and staff ‘passports’ have the dual benefit of creating a varied developmental employment offer for staff who might otherwise look outside of the system for new opportunities, and creating a more efficient mechanism for filling vacancies where they arise.
  • Our workforce has a substantial role to play in driving the progress of system working. How we work with our valued workforce to enable closer relationships between trusts and other health and care organisations, and how we support staff throughout periods of change and transformation, will be an important determinant of how systems work in collaboration to tackle workforce pressures and drive integrated care

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HE policy update for the w/e 19th July 2019

The big news this week was the defeat of the Government’s wishes to prevent an amendment which aims to hinder the prorogation of Parliament. Chris Skidmore made what may be his last speech as Universities Minister. Few HE reports were issued and the main thrust this week focussing on skills within industry including apprenticeships and the launch of the national retraining scheme. Have a lovely weekend, refuel and shore yourself up ready for Parliamentary changes next week!

Parliament

When we write next week we’ll have a new Government with (probably) a swift Ministerial reshuffle. The media has few hints about who will get what job, aside from some key Conservatives jostling for ministerial position.

Hints include:

  • Matt Hancock challenging Boris’ stance on energy drinks – Boris wants to remove the sugar tax, Matt want to ban the drinks. Is it enough to boot him out of the Health Secretary role despite his declaring for Boris when he removed himself from the leadership race?
  • Gove (Environment Secretary) has stated Boris would make a ‘great Prime Minister’ and on both Boris and rival Hunt he states: “We can trust them both to do the right thing on every critical issue” whilst warning that time is running out to stop climate change. On this note he described Boris as having been “passionate about the environment for decades… [upon first meeting Boris Gove recalls that Boris] described himself to me without prompting as a passionately green Tory and in every role he has had he has championed the environment”. The media is awash with stories that this is Gove’s pitch to remain as Environment Minister. When Gove was asked if he wished to stay on in the Ministerial spot he stated he had merely been giving in the speech a “personal indication of the way which I would hope policy to develop, whoever does this job”.
  • Amber Rudd has performed a political U turn and dropped her opposition to a no-deal Brexit. The Spectator claims she is a ‘reasonable bet’ for Ministerial office. Interesting, especially as she is backing Hunt for PM.
  • Plus Justine Greening, Sam Gyimah, local Sir Oliver Letwin, Sarah Newton, Minister Margot James all showed their stripes this week and voted against a 3-line whip in the amendment aiming to hinder Boris’ potential prorogation of Parliament (more on this below).
  • Similarly four ministers failed to ingratiate themselves when they abstained on the amendment vote – Rory Stewart, long term Cabinet member Greg Clark, current Chancellor Philip Hammond (long rumoured to already have been off the list anyway) and Justice Secretary David Gauke.
  • And Chris Skidmore gave a speech which he said might be his last as Universities Minister –although he has also said he would like to stay.

Change is inevitable.  Boris (assuming it is him) has said all his Ministers must support a no deal Brexit.

The Guardian has this to say on the Cabinet spots: Johnson is adamant that he has not been offering jobs to anyone before entering No 10, as appears likely to happen next Tuesday. He has even declined to say that Hunt will be allowed to stay in the cabinet. It remains to be seen whether he will forgive Gove for his betrayal in 2016, although senior Eurosceptics believe he will extend the hand of friendship with a cabinet post.

Meanwhile the Lords are trying to safeguard against Boris prorouguing Parliament (assuming Boris becomes PM). In an amendment to legislation the Lords defeated the Government by 272 votes to 169. While we have seen various opposition and backbencher parliamentary challenges aiming to prevent no deal or the prorogation this is the first real success.

Last week former PM John Major spoke out and threatened action against Boris’ refusal to rule out closing down parliament to pass no deal. This week it appears the Lords may have been tipped into action by Boris’ team suggesting that if Boris becomes PM he is considering holding a Queen’s Speech to set out his legislative plans at the start of November – such a move would usually close down Parliament for the preceding two weeks – meaning MPs would be unable to vote against a no-deal in the run-up to the crucial Brexit deadline.

On Thursday afternoon the Commons debated the final stage of the Northern Ireland Bill (considering the Lords above amendment) – this is the legislation the amendments are being made to hindering the prorogation of Parliament for Brexit. Despite a Government 3-line whip the MPs voted to uphold the Lords amendment and this amendment blocks suspension of Parliament between 9 October and 18 December unless a Northern Ireland Executive is formed. It the NI Executive is not in place MPs must be recalled to debate Northern Ireland issues (of which Brexit is the key current issue) at this point. Notable for their vote against their party whip are: Justine Greening, Sam Gyimah, local Sir Oliver Letwin, Sarah Newton and the Minister Margot James who promptly resigned her DCMS ministerial post. Twelve other conservative MPs voted against the Government’s wishes. Four cabinet ministers abstained: International Development Secretary Rory Stewart, Business Secretary Greg Clark, Chancellor Philip Hammond, and Justice Secretary David Gauke. Leadership hopeful Jeremy Hunt ‘accidentally’ missed the vote and took to Twitter to say he would have voted based on Government wishes. 30 other Conservative MPs abstained, including local MP Simon Hoare. Universities Minister Chris Skidmore and Education Secretary Damian Hinds voted with the Government’s wishes. See the listings here for the full who’s who details on the votes.

The amendment places another road block against the prorogation of parliament. However, the power to request the Queen to prorogue remains with the PM so it could still happen. What is most interesting is that the Government’s defeat in this vote shows the potential for Conservatives to rebel and vote down the next PM in support of a Labour motion of no confidence.  However, this would be  an extreme action for Conservative MPs as doing so would precipitate a general election with the risk of MPs losing their constituency seats and potentially Labour (or a coalition group) forming a new Government.  Many rebels have been suggested that they would stop short of this.

WP Speech from Universities Minister

Universities Minister Chris Skidmore spoke on widening access and participation on Monday. He visited Birkbeck University which has a big widening participation agenda and classes are held during the evenings only. The Minister visited because he wanted to learn from Birkbeck’s flexible, ‘step-on, step-off’ approach to higher education for the future. And that’s why we’re expanding the range of options available to students today. The Minister states the Government’s agenda is all about students making choices, which are best for them. He goes on to highlight key points:

  • We are putting extra resources into higher technical education and apprenticeships. So, as well as offering a range of world-leading higher education courses, we’d like to ensure that vocational and technical training options of equal quality are available across the entire country, so that all 18-year-olds are able to select the pathway that best suits their aspirations and potential. But…higher level education is not just for 18-year-olds. Here…we see the ultimate in flexible teaching models combined with high impact research, which all goes to show that part-time and mature students are right to expect the highest quality experience and outcomes.
  • This government recognises the importance of studying part-time and later in life, and the huge range of benefits it can bring to individuals, employers and the wider economy. We acknowledge there has been a 57% decline in the number of students in part-time higher education since 2010-11 – many of whom will be mature. And we recognise the need to rectify this since, as the world of work changes, it is important people are able to retrain and reskill as they need, so they don’t get left behind. According to research by the Centre for Social Justice, it is expected that anywhere between 10 and 35% of the UK workforce will need to reskill in the next 20 years. 
  • The Minister goes on to detail the changes aimed to support part time and mature students – access to maintenance loans and access to loans for STEM courses for ELQs (students who already have a degree or equivalent level qualification). But we know we still need to do more – both to encourage students to study part-time and later in life, and to encourage all higher education providers to develop their offers to appeal to those students. The Minister mentions the OfS’ work on Access and Participation Plans and how institutions plan to tackle barriers and problems for mature students.
  • In 2018, for the first time ever, over 20% of English 18-year-olds living in the lowest participation neighbourhoods entered higher education. And the data just released on 2019 applications shows further significant progress… But, we cannot rest on our laurels… we’re still not getting the most disadvantaged students into the best possible courses for them. Our widening participation data shows White boys on free school meals have the lowest progression rates to higher education. And there are still significant regional differences to address across the country.
  • To make sure our efforts to improve access and participation are as effective as they can be, we need to be willing to look at the system as a whole, and to take a whole-system approach to outreach and widening participation activities… we cannot offer just generic support. What we need is support tailored to different student groups – including commuter students, postgraduate students, mature part-time students, international students, care leavers and estranged students, disabled students, students from Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) backgrounds, and students from the poorest parts of our society. And let’s not forget the need to support the inclusion of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transsexual (LGBT+) students… Inclusion needs to be at the heart of all institutional policy. Because it is only when inclusion becomes mainstream that we will deliver a sea change in attitudes – putting an end to the old myth that university is only for a certain type of person, from a certain type of background.
  • That’s why I welcome the review of admissions being undertaken by the Office for Students (OfS)… Experimenting with contextual admissions is one part of this. Contextual admissions involve universities reflecting on the circumstances within which students’ attainment has been achieved; for example, the nature and overall performance of the school they attend, their socio-economic background, or perhaps a difficult personal situation. Most universities already do this to some extent, but I would like the most selective, in particular, to be more ambitious in making contextual offers to recognise the untapped potential that many disadvantaged students have. There is good evidence to show that students who have had offers reduced by several grades can make excellent progress at university, provided the right support has been put in place for them.
  • Ensuring we [institutions] are using the right data, measuring the right things, and using data in the right way is a key priority for me
  • The Minister went on to state a reformed student information resource would be launched in the autumn including LEO data, the innovative digital tools developed through the Open Data Competition and the OfS review of Unistats. The UCAS new student hub to enable applicants more personal searches and advice was mentioned too.
  • And the OfS is promoting and supporting greater and faster progress to support disadvantaged students…all [HEI’s] need to be able to access high quality evidence of what works to enable them to make a step change in closing the gaps between students – in access, experience, and outcomes. This is why the new [OfS] Centre for Transforming Access and Student Outcomes (TASO) is so important.
  • Unpaid internships are mentioned too: let’s not forget the work we can be doing to support graduates into the world of work at the end of their studies… we shouldn’t turn a blind eye to the fact that it is at this point of the year that some students and fresh graduates fall prey to unpaid internships to gain experience and get a foot on the jobs ladder.
    Recent research by the Sutton Trust showed that the minimum cost of carrying out an unpaid internship here in London is £1,019 per month. So, we should be doing everything we can to stop these work placements being a privilege of the rich and making careers support more visible on campus to steer students in the right direction.
    Employability needs to be weaved into the system – not just by careers teams but also by academics, who equally have a role to play in making students aware of the transferable skills they are gaining from their higher education. It’s obviously not great news when almost half (49%) of young people aged between 17 and 23 believe their education has not prepared them for the world of work – as revealed by a survey from the CBI in November last year.
  • And, as this may well be my last higher education speech as Universities Minister, I want to thank the sector for all I have seen and for all it is doing in continuing to make our universities and colleges accessible, inclusive and open to all.

 Degree Apprenticeships

Universities UK has launched the Future of Degree Apprenticeships report arguing the qualification  provides significant opportunities for employers to diversify their workforce, increasing the opportunities available to young people, and widening employers’ talent pools. It suggests that the link between apprenticeship policy and the Industrial Strategy needs to be strengthened to ensure provision in key sectors can flourish. This is in line with the recent Government position on focussing degree apprenticeships into specified key sectors and stemming the (expensive) significant growth in higher level apprenticeships which has displaced some lower level provision (see 12 July policy update for more on this). UUK suggest that encouraging development of more level 4 and level 5 apprenticeships and progression pathways will bring flexibility and is a direct appeal to the Government during the Higher Technical Education Reform consultation period.

The report recommendations sound familiar:

  • The Government should lead a campaign to promote the benefits of degree apprenticeships to employers and the public, including better careers information and guidance at an earlier age in schools, and the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) should make the application system for degree apprenticeships as straightforward as it is for undergraduate degrees.
  • The Government should invest in initiatives to support social mobility, lifelong learning, and growth in degree apprenticeships among underrepresented groups.
  • The system should develop to meet current and future demand for higher level skills in areas such as digital technology, management, and public services, to boost regional economies.
  • Make it easier for employers to include a degree within their apprenticeships where they see it adding value to their business and to their apprentices, and streamline processes and reduce unnecessary costs in the system.

Professor Quintin McKellar CBE, VC, University of Hertfordshire stated: Degree apprenticeships provide an opportunity for employers to work closely with universities to develop high-quality programmes that meet key skills needs, fill occupations that are experiencing shortages and deliver them in an innovative and flexible way. They provide opportunities for employers to recruit talented staff with potential, and to develop and upskill existing staff.

Industry Skills Focus

The new Peterborough University has surveyed employers in its quest to directly produce graduates which serve national shortages but particularly fit the skills needs of local employers. Retaining graduate talent in the local area is another key priority. The survey is interesting because it provides feedback from employers on what they see as the most useful degree programmes.

  • The most popular areas were business, IT and digital, and sustainability skills. These areas of learning were judged to have been favoured because of their general importance to a range of business sectors.
  • Employers also said that skills in mechanical and structural engineering, mathematics, science and certain health and social care skills were in demand now, and would continue to be so in the future.
  • Newer and rapidly progressing technology featured strongly in the responses, with artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and software development highlighted as likely to be in significant demand in the future.
  • Sustainability, primary environmental management and the circular economy were also identified as areas where skills will be needed in the future.

(Note: employers selected their most useful degree programmes from a slightly limited range, based on what Peterborough is proposing to offer.)

Interesting for the Government’s achievement of the Research Development target is that 83% of the industry respondents stated they would use the university’s research functions with manufacturing, advanced manufacturing and materials companies the most enthusiastic about the prospect.

Peterborough Mayor, James Palmer, said: We have always said that this university will be delivery and should engage with the local business community from development through to operation in order to turn out the kinds of technical skills needed in our local economy. Not only that, but the way skills are delivered is also important, and we can see from the survey that courses which involve work placement or work-based study were revealed to be very popular…We need this university to help retain and attracted talented people to the local area, to drive up the levels of aspiration and to offer a secure, proven educational pathway to better life chances, fulfilling careers and the skills that will be in demand in the 21st Century economy.

Councillor John Holdich, Leader of Peterborough City Council and Deputy Mayor of the Combined Authority said: Our aspiration is for a university for Peterborough which is rooted in the needs of the local economy and supplying the skills demanded by local employers. This in turn will help our young people into well-paid, secure jobs fit for the rapidly evolving 21st Century workplace. Our employers have told us quite clearly what skills they need and the industries likely to prosper in future years which will now be used to shape the curriculum to be offered by the university.

 National Retraining Scheme

The DfE have launched a National Retraining Scheme to support people whose jobs are at risk to adapt to technological change. Current figures suggest that 35% of jobs will change due to automation within the next 20 years. The scheme is starting in the Liverpool City Region with help provided through a new digital service Get Help to Retrain. It aims to support those at risk to identify their existing skills, explore local job opportunities and where to go to find training courses to gain the skills they need to progress. As the scheme is available through an online digital method we hope those needing the support do have sufficient digital literacy to access the service.

Education Secretary Damian Hinds said:

  • “Technologies like AI and automation are transforming the way we live and work and bringing huge benefits to our economy, but it also means that jobs are evolving and some roles will soon become a thing of the past.
  • “The National Retraining Scheme will be pivotal in helping adults across the country whose jobs are at risk of changing to gain new skills and get on the path to a new, more rewarding career.
  • “This is big and complex challenge, which is why we are starting small, learning as we go, and releasing each part of the scheme only when it’s ready to benefit its users

You can read the DfE written ministerial statement on National Retraining Scheme here.

Student Loans Company

You may recall the effectiveness of the Student Loans Company was questioned in 2018 following high profile resignations, their use of social media to determine the estrangement status of students, and the revelation of concerning levels of poor mental health within the workforce.

Universities Minister, Chris Skidmore issued a Written Ministerial Statement on the Tailored Review of the Student Loans Company stating the organisation remained relatively fit for purpose, despite significant operational challenges which include high turnover of staff, and is meeting the majority of its performance targets.

On moving forward the Minister states: The SLC’s own Transformation Programme seeks to address some of the issues and the Tailored Review provides additional and complementary recommendations. The Department for Education is committed to working with the SLC and other stakeholders to develop and implement an action plan to take forward all 39 recommendations.

Parental financial top up

Which? have released findings revealing the scale of parental support for children studying at university. In a survey of 846 parents of both current and prospective undergraduate students, a quarter admitted to cutting back on big expenses, such as holidays.

  • More than eight in ten parents of current students said they were funding their child in some way while they were studying.
  • Half of parents said that the overall cost of university was more than they expected and it caught them off guard.
  • Some parents took a second job to cover their child’s university expenses. Two thirds of parents manage the extra costs through their normal employment pay levels whereas a quarter fund the child through their savings. Two in five parents state they had to cut down on their day to day spending, not just luxuries such as taking holidays.
  • When asked what expenses they were helping to cover, parents of current students listed accommodation, bills and food (56%), study materials (37%), outings and hobbies (28%), and even tuition fees (10%).
  • Yet one fifth of parents stated they didn’t know exactly what their child was spending their additional top up money on
  • The survey states parents of current undergraduate students in our survey said they are putting their hand in their pocket to the tune of £360 per month, on average.
  • A separate Which? survey to students found nearly half of respondents underestimated the price of accommodation and course expenses.

Which? use the news article to highlight the range of student finance options available and to urge parents of younger children to use the calculators and tools to begin financially preparing in advance of their child commencing university.

Graduate Regional Earnings

The DfE has released the LEO data detailing regional findings in HE graduates earnings.

  • Almost half of all graduates residing in the same region as their HE provider 5 years after graduation. If a graduate now lives outside of the region of their provider they are most likely to have moved to London.
  • Some of the movement away from provider region will be graduates returning to their home region. One year after graduation a very high proportion of graduates (82%) are in the same current region as their original home region (43.7% who studied in the same region and therefore never left their home region and 38.3% who chose to study in a different region and subsequently returned.)
  • Graduate earnings are highest in London but graduates earn more, on average, than non-graduates in all regions of England with the gap in pay relatively similar across the country but greatest in absolute terms in London (around £5,000) and in percentage terms in the South West (around 22%). The report acknowledges that the regional itself has a significant effect on earnings.

Read more here.

Education Committee funding report

The Education Committee has published the report from their inquiry into school and college funding. It calls on the Government to fix the broken education funding system, commit to a multi-billion cash injection for schools and colleges and bring forward a strategic ten-year education funding plan.

See the report for all the school related findings; here we focus on the key points relevant to FE.

  • The report shows that further education has been hardest hit, with post-16 funding per student falling by 16% in real terms over the past decade.
  • The capital funding landscape is becoming increasingly concerning. The Department must make the strongest possible case to the Treasury for a multi-billion pound funding increase in the next spending review, and ensure this is aligned with the requirements for a ten-year plan.
  • The continued underfunding of post-16 education is no longer justifiable. These budget pressures are the result of political decisions that have had enormous impacts on young people’s educational opportunities and undermined attempts to tackle social justice. The Department must make the case to the Treasury for a post-16 core funding rate raise from £4,000 to at least £4,760 per student, rising in line with inflation. This is needed to ensure pupil services can be provided at minimum acceptable levels, and prevent institutions from having to cut back still further on the breadth of subjects offered.
  • It is clear that Pupil Premium is being used to plug holes in school budgets rather than being directed at disadvantaged children.  The Department should also introduce a 16–19 Pupil Premium scheme. The Department should additionally develop a data-sharing system to ensure FE institutions can identify disadvantaged students automatically.
  • A ten-year plan for education funding is essential. It would provide schools, colleges and the Department with much needed strategic direction and financial certainty. The short-termism and initiative-itis that characterises the Department’s current approach cannot afford to continue.

Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the Education Committee, said:

“Education is crucial to our nation’s future. It is the driver of future prosperity and provides the ladder of opportunity to transform the life chances of millions of our young people. If it is right that the NHS can have a ten-year plan and a five-year funding settlement, then surely education, perhaps the most important public service, should also have a ten-year plan and a long-term funding settlement.

Recess

Parliament will enter recess shortly after the new Prime Minister is announced. We’ll issue a policy update next Friday 26 July, then there will be a break for a few weeks followed by a bumper edition catching you up with the summer news.

Consultations

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

Don’t forget! – There’s still time to response to BU’s internal consultation gathering colleagues view on transparency and openness in health and social care research to inform our response to the HRA Make it Public consultation.

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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 5th July 2019

A slightly quieter week in HE policy, dominated by the release of the latest NSS data, which if course has policy implications as:

  • it will be included in the next iteration of the TEF (which looks at three years of data) subject to any changes to the TEF after the independent review, and
  • potentially either directly, or indirectly via the TEF, in any OfS designed methodology for assessing quality linked to the implementation of the Augar recommendations (if that happens).

 Review of Post-18 Education and Funding

The Lords have been debating the implications of Augar. This week the Lords debated more of the substance of the Augar review. As expected much of the session was about the FE agenda and regularly mentioned the importance of apprenticeships.

It was emphasised that because of future automation of jobs it is essential for the full post-18 system to be flexible and to enable all ages to dip in and out of learning.

The Lords HE Spokesperson, Lord Younger, reiterated familiar messages for young people about making informed choices and for technical routes to receive equal status with academic. “To ensure a genuine choice for young people, and to give employers access to a highly skilled workforce, we want to see a system where technical education has the same weighting for a young person as an academic route.”

Lord Younger raised (familiar) issues that the Government raises:

  • further growth in three-year degrees for 18 year-olds [but a] lack of a comprehensive range of high-quality alternative routes (technical or vocational path)
  • Degree outcomes and quality of provision – That a degree doesn’t always ‘set them [young people] up for a bright future’…’analysis shows that this is not always the case’. Studying for a degree is expected to benefit those undertaking it, with improved employment opportunities and a wage premium alongside wider individual well-being and other social benefits. Low-value outcomes are not just about economic returns. High-quality provision in a range of subjects is critical for our public services and for culturally enriching our society. The LEO data on labour market outcomes was mentioned as a step in the right direction.
  • In universities, we have not seen the extent of increase in choice that we would have wanted. The great majority of courses are priced at the same level and three-year courses remain the norm, when some courses clearly cost more than others and some have higher returns to the student than others. It is right that we ask questions about choice and value for money.
  • Young disadvantaged still less likely… than their more advantaged peers to attend the most selective universities or to have the support that they need to complete their degree successfully and achieve a 2.1 or a First.
  • large increases in the number of unconditional—or conditional unconditional—offers…and the potential impact that these offers can have.
  • concerns about the serious issue of grade inflation.

However, he said: I share the Secretary of State’s strong belief that both the HE and FE sectors can, and should, continue to thrive together.

Lord Storey (Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Young People and Education) criticised HE for stating proposed fee cuts would affect disadvantaged students and result in reducing outreach programmes and held up FE as a shining light and poor cousin in comparison.

  • “The media headlines [about Augar] were not about the [FE/HE] rebalancing of vocational education but all about the impact on our universities. I do not think it was a helpful message from the spokespersons of the wealthiest universities that, should their income suffer, one of the likely cuts they would have to make was to their outreach activities. Their budgets for increasing diversity and encouraging disadvantaged students would be the first to be cut. This was not a particularly helpful or thoughtful comment on the review.”
  • “[The] media paid scant attention to what was said about England’s 200 further education colleges, which are the backbone of our vocational training provision. Our further education colleges represent the essential engine to meet our growing skills gap.”

He went on to criticise the elitist view that schools and parents judge their pupils’ success by how many go to university….But actually, a vocational education or apprenticeship might be better for many young people. Further education is often seen as for other people’s children…With schools incentivised to direct their students into the school sixth form and then to university, many students are not even told about the vocational options or apprenticeship routes open to them. He continued on to criticise schools for not providing enough support or information on apprenticeships.

Baroness Tessa Blackstone (Labour Independent) also focussed on FE requiring more resources. In relation to HE she said:

  • “I greatly welcome the recommendation to reduce tuition fees for undergraduates to a maximum of £7,500…I can think of no other example where the price of a public service to the user, in this case graduates, has been increased by so much at once. There are several unfortunate outcomes, including the need for huge write-offs of unpaid loans, leaving a large problem for the public finances in the longer term, and the disastrous decline in part-time and mature undergraduates.
  • I welcome the recommendation to return to government grants to make up for the loss of fee income but regret that it is focused on STEM subjects. We must stop perpetuating the myth that science and engineering courses hugely outweigh others in their usefulness and value to the economy and society”

On FE she called for the need to rebalance spending priorities towards the 50% of the population who do not go to university and “I end with a plea to the Government: please mend your ways and put the FE sector at the centre of the education system”.

Several Lords highlighted doubt that if tuition fees were cut, income shortfalls for universities would be made up by some form of Government grant (including Lord Patten and Lord Blunkett). Lord Blunkett said it was naïve to believe the Treasury would make up the shortfall and criticised the calculations behind the Augar review as “ingenious creative accounting, which led to the belief that it would be possible, on an annualised basis, to present the changes at £700 million”.

There was also criticism of the potential formula shifting funding away from humanities to STEM subjects as “absurd”.

Lord Patten on Brexit said:

  • “These are turbulent times; I hope that we will not add to that turbulence the gale force of a complete overhaul of university financing. We should help universities over the next period; the Government have so far been unprepared to say how they see the way forward.”

Whereas on the increase to £9,000 fees Lord Adonis (Labour) said:

  • universities did not actually require…that degree of cash infusion. Indeed, they were not capable of absorbing it…it was expected that most courses would be at £6,000 and that the fees would be varied. What happened, of course, was that every university went straight up to £9,000. Universities could barely absorb the cash…. it is striking that, for a lot of courses in universities now, the fee level is higher than the actual cost of delivering the course.

The Lord Bishop of Winchester said Augar proposals weren’t extreme enough. Even after restoring the teaching block grant and reintroducing maintenance grants the Bishop said:

  • such steps are insufficiently radical. They do not, for example, address anxieties about student debt that are particularly acute in professions such as nursing, where some 50% of nursing and midwifery trainees are mature students with other family, caring and financial commitments. Nor will they address the equally crucial crisis in staff retention, already visible in nursing, and in social work and teaching. As a matter of public policy, we need to create more effective ways to incentivise people to join public-service focused professions and to avoid unintentional disincentives for the higher education institutions that educate and train them—for example, by placing too much weight on graduate earnings as a measure of institutional effectiveness. May I suggest to the Minister that a more radical approach would be through a public service covenant… undergraduates would commit to several years post-registration service to the NHS in return for their loan balance being written off.

Lord Blunkett welcomed the recommendations for part time students, the maintenance grants and support for FE learning. He criticised the LEO data for not including self-employment, the size of the employer (level of affordable pay) or regional fluctuations in earnings. He emphasised the importance of universities an anchor institutions within a community, particularly for the disadvantaged and urged: If we damage the university sector in our country by cutting funding to teachers and reducing numbers or discriminating against particular courses because the national press do not like them, we will regret it down the line.

Lord Bichard highlighted that the reduction in HE fees is insufficient to change the mindset of prospective students, not least when the term for repayment is extended from 30 years to 40 years, the income threshold at which loans are repaid is reduced from £25,000 to £23,000 and the interest charges, post graduation, remain at 6%… Taken together, these fee proposals are regressive, with the well-off paying less—something like £25,000 less during their life—while those on middle and lower earnings will pay some £12,000 more, according to the DfE. Given that the review recommends that the Government make good the loss of income to institutions as a result of these fee changes, and given that the fee changes are not going to benefit students in any great respect, this seems to be a flawed set of proposals. He also highlighted that the review does not tackle the issue of affordability for mature and part time students, including the lack of part time/distance maintenance loans. The Lord highlighted how the opposite policy in Wales has resulted in a 35% increase in part time UG students.

Lord Kakkar raised the substantial cross subsidisation of research activity through tuition fees and challenged the Government to consider how justifiable recommendations on increased support for further education and lifelong learning could be reconciled with the need to stabilise the research base in universities (which delivers the Government’s research and development targets and is crucial to the industrial strategy).

Lord Kerslake said the Augar review was unable to make sound HE related recommendations because it was hampered by the Government’s red lines:

  • the review having to reconcile four conflicting elements in its brief: delivering a headline reduction in student fees; sorting out the chronic funding issues in further education; avoiding a cap on student numbers; and keeping within the current funding envelope.
  • Those four things individually make sense but collectively they do not. They risk significantly weakening higher education finances, while doing little to assuage young people’s feeling of unfairness about the costs that they currently incur. Freezing fees for a further three years will amount to a real-terms reduction of 14% once the rising costs of pensions are taken into account. Fees will then have been frozen for a decade, apart from a £250 increase in 2017.

And on robbing the HE Peter to pay the FE Paul Lord Kerslake said: There is no great nobility in austerity that should compel us to transfer funding from one part of the sector to the other.

Baroness Garden of Frognal (LD) welcomed the reports sensitivity to the need to align the skills system with the needs of the economy and deliver high quality alternatives to traditional three-year residential undergraduate degree. She also championed investment in community adult learning facilities to support adult learners who need more informal settings to study within.

The Opposition Spokesperson for Higher and Further Education, Lord Bassam of Brighton, was keen to point out that cross subsidisation through research grants and international student recruitment was not possible for all universities and not every university has the option of seeking new student markets abroad. “These smaller, modern local universities tend to have the most diverse intake of young people and are therefore core engines of social mobility. They are most vulnerable.”

APPG Universities

Alistair Jarvis has written for the APPG University Group on Augar: the good, the risks and the challenges. He expresses concern for the removal of loan support for foundation years and the restrictions on degree apprenticeships were students already have a degree. On the challenges he covers:

  1. Universities need to work with Government to develop and enable a system that supports lifelong learning – identifying current barriers, proposing solutions, and addressing the practical issues on delivering a credit-based system and lifelong loans.
  2. We need a vision for universities’ role in delivering level 4 and 5 – to include identifying opportunities for universities to grow their role and strengthening partnerships with FE to meet skills needs.
  3. Rising to the challenge to properly define ‘value’ for students and supporting universities to address value concerns. This must include a more nuanced definition of value, beyond just salary outcomes, and considering how this can be measured.
  4. Evidencing the steps universities are taking to promote efficiency, improve understanding of a university cost base and promote further efficiency.

He states UUK are working on all four of these but there is an undertone that the Government needs to meet the sector halfway.

Brexit and EU students

The Minister for Universities has confirmed that EU students will continue to be eligible for UKRI post-graduate training support for courses starting in 2020/21, for the duration of their courses.  This is good news and follows the similar announcement made in May. about EU undergraduate students accessing student finance.

Value for Money

We’re likely to see the value for money debate coming back into focus as we head towards the late autumn spending review. The RAB (the Government’s accounting value for spending on loans that won’t be repaid) has risen to 47% (+2% since last year). Education SoS, Damian Hinds, spoke about the rise:

It is often overlooked just how much the Government, and therefore the taxpayer, contributes to student loans being taken out in England…Today’s figures highlight just how progressive our system is, but also reiterates the need for universities to deliver value for money on courses – not just for students, but the taxpayer as well.

The  DfE said that the data also highlighted that the Master’s loan system does not require any subsidy from the government, with the majority of students studying at this advanced level going on to pay back their loans in full.

HE fee levels are a key aspect of Augar and were an important campaigning point in the last general election. We can expect the new Conservative leader to reveal their standpoint on fees early in their tenure (assuming they survive Brexit).

Research Funding

The Universities and Science Minister has confirmed an additional £91 million for university-led research.

  • “£2.2 billion research funding for English universities for 2019 to 2020 announced today to help translate our researchers best ideas into reality
  • “an overall increase of £91 million including an additional £45 million for quality-related research (QR) funding – representing a real-terms increase of 2.3%
  • “the move forms part of government’s Industrial Strategy commitment to boost R&D spending to 2.4% of GDP by 2027 – the highest ever level of R&D investment in the UK”

Commenting on the announcement of £91 million in additional university-driven research funding, including a £45 million increase in QR funding, Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said:

  • “This is a significant investment into the future of research in the UK, and a positive step towards the government’s target to invest 2.4% of GDPinto R&D.
  • “Quality-related research funding plays a key role in developing new talent, strengthening research culture and building the skilled workforce the UK needs if we are to perform effectively as a modern knowledge economy.
  • “With many of the greatest research discoveries and advances having evolved from curiosity-driven research, it is critical that we continue to invest across all subject disciplines.”

The detailed budget allocations are available on the Research England website.

 Student Representation

SUBU’s Sophie reflects on student representation:

Summer is a time of change in Students’ Unions as incoming elected Full-Time Officers begin the handover process and re-elected officers start making plans for the year ahead. In SUBU, this is Brad Powell’s last week as Vice President Welfare and Equal Opportunities and he will be taking everything he has learned over the last year to channel it into a Master’s degree at the University of Surrey. We welcome Joanna Ann, who was elected by BU students back in March to represent their welfare issues and champion their equality. Her handover has begun and she is being inducted into the responsibilities and expectations of being a representative, which will continue over the summer, joining the re-elected officers; Abidemi Abiodun- VP Welfare, Ade Balogun-  President, Lea Ediale- VP Activities and Lenrick Greaves- VP Education.

Considering so many people develop their understanding of policy and decision-making from undertaking student representative roles – whether in school as a school councillor or perhaps at a local level as a voluntary Member of Youth Parliament, or whilst in University as an elected paid Full-Time officer, or lead of a club or society – the impact that it can have on people’s lives and future job prospects hasn’t been well documented.

Both contenders for the UK’s next Prime Minister, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, were representatives whilst studying at Oxford; Boris as the President of Oxford Union and Jeremy as President of the Conservative Association. I’m sure that if asked, they could tell you at least 3 things about how it helped develop them in relation to where they are today. We have seen funding cuts for youth/student democracy in local authorities as budgets are tightened; without an impact measure of how helpful undertaking student representative roles are, these valuable opportunities continue to be under threat.

As the new Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole council come together and make decisions on funding allocation for services; it will be interesting to see what the future holds for student/youth democracy such as support for UK Youth Parliament in this local area. Currently only Poole has a member of youth parliament and deputy; they now find themselves representing young people across 3 areas, with uncertainty about whether youth parliament will still have a role locally in the future. A Wonkhe article yesterday asked ‘What role should students and their SU’s play in the community?’ and perhaps part of that should be to reinforce the importance of having the student/youth voice at local, regional and national decision-making tables.

This is where we need those who have experienced positive impact from taking part in representative opportunities to talk about how it helped them. On the 22nd June I was invited to the first British Youth Council convention of the year to be their keynote speaker and inspire the newly elected student representatives, talking them through all the different opportunities that they have opened up for themselves by taking part in something so important. I also ran a couple of workshops on leading successful campaigns because I wanted to give back to a movement which has got me to where I am today. British Youth Council is an organisation funded through the Government to ‘empower young people across the UK to have a say and be heard’ and it supports UK Youth Parliament, along with other similar initiatives. I shared my experiences at the convention of being a youth representative from the age of 12 and the opportunities that have shaped me, such as being part of the first group of Members of Youth Parliament (MYPs) to debate in the House of Commons, 10 years ago this year. As I was talking I was struck by how much the support, resources and funding have been cut. Another thing I noticed, and mentioned in my speech, was that one of their key campaigns continues to be the same as when I was in the role –  lowering the voting age for 16 and 17 years olds to have the right to vote, so they too can influence key decisions that affect their lives. Without this important right the voices of young people can be brushed aside. [It’s been debated many times in Parliament but was tabled once again in April of this year as it was not part of the Conservative manifesto pledges.]

If you take the example of Brexit, the referendum took place 3 years ago this month and students who were 16 and 17 at the time did not have the right to vote on something affecting their future. They are now of voting age, but the decision was taken out of their hands.

We’ve seen the impact that Greta Thunberg has had on the world; demonstrating the power that students and young people collectively have when they come together on an issue they are passionate about, as well as doing this above party politics. The UK Youth Parliament demonstrate every year how students and young people are a force to be reckoned with, making national manifesto commitments to supporting mental health, tackling knife crime, and fighting to lower the voting age to 16. We especially see this when they debate in the House of Commons and demonstrate more mature forms of debate than their ‘adult’ counterparts. Here you can see Francesca Reed, former MYP for Poole, introduce a motion in the House of Commons on improving mental health services.

Meanwhile, BU continues to look at ways students can have a voice at different levels of the institution. The importance of the student voice has been enshrined not only in BU2025 but is also a key component of the QAA’s Quality code, which was influenced by SUs around the country (see Wonkhe). It has expectations and practices on how students should be actively engaged in quality assurance and enhancement processes: “effective student engagement contributes to quality assurance and enhancement processes by capturing the voices of all students”.

BU recently completed a Focussed Enhancement Review (FER) on the Student Voice in line with BU2025. BU and SUBU representatives looked at how the student voice can be enhanced in different areas. Students fed into the FER on the Student Voice through their Vice President Education Lenrick Greaves, who was part of the FER, and also through a student consultation event held by the Students’ Union back in May. Work continues on enhancing the Student Voice at BU through a task and finish group. Perhaps more can be done by institutions to show how the student voice is important in decision-making to influence local authorities to do the same. Until then, the question remains about the future of student representation outside of a University setting.

Other news

Future demand: In last week’s policy update we talked about the popularity of particular subjects. This week there is a Wonkhe blog which analyses GCSE and A level data to predict the future demand for a range of degree subjects.

Loan deals: text Moneysavingexpert are urging pre-1998 students to think carefully and pointing out the risks in the letters such students have received offering to wipe their debt if they repay 20% of their loan value. Finance company Erudio currently own these loan books. Read more here.

Disabled Experience: Wonkhe report that Think tank Demos has launched a discussion paper on the experiences of disabled graduates in the UK. The paper considers barriers disabled graduates face in participating in the workforce including using public transport and finding accessible housing, and recommends that a body be created within the Cabinet Office to design a programme to enable disabled graduates to fulfil their potential.

Contract Cheating: Lord Story continues his tireless campaign to bring down the essay mill businesses promoting and profiting from contract cheating. The Lord has tabled a private member’s bill to “make it an offence to provide or advertise cheating services for higher education assessment” in England and Wales.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

HE Policy update for the w/e 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…)

HE policy update for the w/e 7th December 2018

Another lively week in HE policy – starting late last Friday night when the Minister resigned..and we had to wait several days for the new one to be appointed.

New Minister

For those watching HE twitter late on a Friday night, the big news was Sam Gyimah’s resignation over Brexit (amid some whispers from the HE conspiracy theorists that fee cuts are nigh and Sam may have been exiting before the blame falls).  The new HE Minister is Chris Skidmore. We’ve compiled a profile on him here.

(more…)

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

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

Student fees and funding

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

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

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

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

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

So Nick Hillman flags some challenges to the system:

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

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

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

Change the context not the structure

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

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

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

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

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

Graduate tax

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

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

Capping access to fees

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

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

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

As Ant points out:

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

So he suggests instead:

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

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

Skills

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

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

In the introduction, Nick Hillman notes:

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

..and concludes:

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

So what is the solution?  The executive summary notes:

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

And the recommendations are:

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

Sexual harassment in Universities

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

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

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

And the next bit:

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

Access, participation and outcomes

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

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

Essay mills

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

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HE policy update for the w/e 27th July 2018

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

Research

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

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

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

 Philip Hammond, Chancellor of the Exchequer, said:

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

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

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

REF 2021

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

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

BU will be responding to the consultation.

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

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

Sam Gyimah said:

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

Brexit White Paper

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

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

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

2A: Rights related to residence (p 12)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unconditional Offers

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

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

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

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

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

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

The UCAS report on unconditional offers says:

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

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

Wonkhe have an article here:

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

The BBC has the story:

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

The BBC story goes on

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

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

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

The argument takes several forms all highlighted above:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NSS

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

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

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

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

Universities Minister Sam Gyimah said:

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

National Student Survey results 2018 (Web)

Mental Health / Occupational Therapy

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

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

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

Student Loans

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

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

Lords Debates

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

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

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

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

The full text of the fees debate is available here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recess

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

Consultations

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

New consultations and inquiries this week:

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

Other news

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

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

Free speech still in the news

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

HEPI say about the report:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Student Loans, RPI & HE Funding

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

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

The Times explain the financial trickery:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Retail Price Index

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

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

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

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

HE Funding

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

Cost Effective Universities – Student Spending

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

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

The rest of the analysis highlights familiar student finance themes:

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

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

There is an interesting section showing student spending habits.

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

Research Commercialisation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Research Funding and Talent

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

A – Sam Gyimah:

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

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

A – Sam Gyimah:

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

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

A – Sam Gyimah:

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

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

LEO

Robert Halfon (Conservative) questioned Sam Gyimah on LEO

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

AND

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

A – Sam Gyimah:

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

Mental Health

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

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

Technical Education

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

A – Anne Milton:

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

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

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

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

Consultations

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

Other news

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

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

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

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

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

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

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

Fees & Funding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Immigration – borders open for science

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

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

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

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

Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes, stated:

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

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

In his speech Gyimah stated:

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

Gyimah went on:

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

Gyimah went on to:

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

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

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

Mature students and cold spots

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

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

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

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

Clare Marchant, UCAS’ Chief Executive, said:

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

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

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

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

“Strategic and sustained work to:

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

Meanwhile the OfS is going to ensure:

“Pressure for individual universities and colleges to:

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

Sector-wide support for:

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

And Chris Millward also wrote a blog:

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

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

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

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

Part Time Students and ELQs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Viscount Younger of Leckie noted that:

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

Motion agreed.

Digital Accord

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

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

Digital Secretary Matt Hancock said:

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

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

 LEO data accessible through Unistats

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

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

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

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

Parliamentary questions

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

Nick Gibb:

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

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

Victoria Atkins:

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

International Students

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

Baroness Williams Of Trafford :

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

Mental Health

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

A – Sam Gyimah:

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

Health

NHS Recruitment Drive

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

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

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

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

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

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

Health and Social Care Secretary Jeremy Hunt said:

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

Health Minister Lord O’Shaughnessy stated:

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

Recess

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

Consultations

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

New consultations and inquiries this week:

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

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

There have also been outcomes published to several items:

Other news

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

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

 

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

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

The Economics of HE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The key recommendations are:

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

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

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

The report also noted:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Research funding

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

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

A – Sam Gyimah:

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

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

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

Immigration & International Students

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, said:

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

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

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

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

Widening Participation and Achievement

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

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

A – Sam Gyimah:

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

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

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

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

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

A – Sam Gyimah:

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

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

A – Sam Gyimah:

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

Change in turbulent times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Student experience – what students really want and why it matters

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

Student loans – the numbers

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

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

Student Drug Attitudes

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

Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI said:

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

The survey explains student drug use as attributable to:

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

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

Consultations

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

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

Other news

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

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

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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