Tagged / student finance

HE policy update for the w/e 1st October 2021

It’s conference season, so official news is thin,  However we have a fascinating change in roles and responsibilities for HE, some updates from the Labour conference and some good news about research funding.

Ministerial sharing

Late on Friday Parliament confirmed that Michelle Donelan’s role will be renamed Minister of State for Higher Education and Further Education. As we explained in last week’s update she shares the skills remit with Alex Burghart MP who is the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Minister for Skills). Here is how they share the remit – it is interesting to see the thinking here with WP and student experience in HE being split off (and given to Alex Burghart) and quality and funding staying with MD.

Donelan:

  • strategy for post-16 education
  • higher technical education (levels 4 and 5)
  • further education funding and accountability
  • lifelong learning entitlement
  • Institutes of Technology and National Colleges
  • universities and higher education reform
  • higher education quality
  • student finance (including the Student Loans Company)
  • coronavirus (COVID-19) response for universities, higher education institutions and further education services (jointly with Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Minister for Skills))

Burghart:

  • further education providers including provider finances and workforce
  • T Levels and qualifications reviews (levels 3 and below)
  • apprenticeships including pre-apprenticeships [and presumably degree apprenticeships]
  • adult education, including the National Skills Fund and the UK Shared Prosperity Fund
  • Skills Accelerators and Industry Training Boards
  • careers education, information and guidance including the Careers and Enterprise Company [this includes HE]
  • reducing the number of young people who are not in education, employment or training
  • student experience and widening participation in higher education
  • international education strategy including education exports and international students
  • coronavirus (COVID-19) response for universities, higher education institutions and further education services (jointly with Minister of State (Minister for Higher and Further Education))

Labour Party Conference

Shadow Universities Minister, Matt Western, critiques the Government’s education policies and states Labour’s approach in this Research Professional article. There is also this more in-depth article by Andy Westwood, Manchester’s Professor of Government Practice looking at where the priorities for policy should be for both major parties.

Here are the summaries (provided by Dods) from some of the most relevant Labour Party fringe events.

Wonkhe report on Kier Starmer’s leadership address: A commitment for research and development spending to rise to 3 per cent of GDP, familiar from both the 2017 and 2019 Labour manifestos, was the only offering in Keir Starmer’s 2021 conference speech for higher education. In a speech that drew heavily on his family background, the leader of the opposition noted in passing that he was the first member of his family to attend university, and spoke about the need to invest in the skills – including digital skills – of young people. You can watch the speech on YouTube or read it online.

Research

  • Recurrent research funding from Research England will remain at current levels during 2021-22, but additional one-off funding will be available to support providers in “building back better” after the pandemic. In total, an additional £132m will be distributed next academic year – and will support knowledge exchange including support for government priorities, research degree programme recovery, preparatory work in enhancing research culture, and the sustainability of specialist research providers. BEIS guidance to Research England emphasises the need to help the sector manage the impact of the pandemic, the need to work in partnership with the OfS on areas including support for postgraduate research students, and RE’s role as a major funder of Jisc in maintaining research infrastructure. The additional funding allocated today returns the balance of QR to project research funding to the government target of 64p in the pound. (Wonkhe summary)
  • The Government has published a study into the technical feasibility, cost and economics of space-based solar power (SBSP), as a novel generation technology to help the UK deliver net zero. The main attribute of SBSP is the ability to deliver clean, baseload energy at day and night throughout the year and in all weathers. SBSP is the concept of collecting solar power in a high earth orbit and beaming it securely to a fixed point on the earth. The Government says that recent technology and conceptual advances have made the concept worthy of consideration by the UK.
  • The Ministry of Defence has published a Data Strategy for Defence, outlining its vision for data and setting outcomes to be achieved by 2025. It aims to ensure data is treated as a strategic asset to support decision-making and make Defence more capable and efficient. The Strategy also gives a structure for data leadership that unites all Defence organisations. It will drive Defence to evolve how data is organised, shared and used to deliver better outcomes, giving battlespace advantage and business efficiency.
  • The Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy has released guidance for bidding for Horizon Europe funding. The guidance covers funding eligibility, specific support for different sectors, and where potential bidders can obtain more detailed advice. (Wonkhe)
  • Chemistry: Unless people feel they belong, they are unlikely to thrive in our profession. The Royal Society of Chemistry published A sense of belonging in the chemical sciences. Researching what belonging means to chemists and what helps or hinders their sense of belonging in the chemical sciences. They state: Belonging matters. It affects chemists’ ability to share ideas, try new things, collaborate and ultimately to enjoy their work and stay in the profession.
  • THE: Ethical research – Stefano Caria argues that randomised control trials can be delivered more ethically without compromising quality

Parliamentary Questions:

Freedom of Speech (HE) Bill

Politics Home analyses the potential cost for the HE sector to implement the HE Free Speech Bill in  Freedom of Speech Bill Could Cost Universities And Student Unions £48m. Excerpts:

Universities and students’ unions could see collective costs of up to £48.1m from the likes of legal insurance premiums to protect from claims that would be allowed under the Bill, according to the Department for Education’s own impact assessment… concerns over the price tag have already been raised by some MPs at Committee Stage.

Familiarisation costs, costs of complying with regulation and enforcement, administrative paperwork costs, and the cost of updating and introducing new codes of practice for student unions could also contribute to the new financial burdens.

Lawyer Smita Jamdar continues to speak out about the Free Speech Bill in the Times’: It’s absurd to use legislation to enforce free speech on campus – A bill to prevent perceived threats to free speech at universities is not the answer.

Student Matters

Student Loan Repayments

The Financial Times (FT) announced the Government plans to reduce the salary threshold level at which graduates start repaying loans. They state it aims to save the Treasury money and push more young people towards cheaper vocational education. [Although when have technical or equipment heavy subjects ever been cheaper?]. …Chancellor Rishi Sunak wants to overhaul student financing in his spending review ahead of next month’s Budget, reflecting Treasury concerns that the taxpayer is footing too great a burden of funding university courses.

Graduates currently begin repaying their loans when they earn £27,295. The Augar Review (2019, still no full response from the Government, promised for the spending review…maybe) recommended the threshold be lowered to £23,000 which was the median non-graduate earnings at the time. While HEPI modelled a cut to less than £20,000.

The FT reports that no final decisions have been taken but one minister said a £20,000 threshold was considered to be “a bit low.”… A figure of £23,000 could save the Treasury just under £2bn a year, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, a think-tank, while a graduate earning the current threshold would have their take-home pay cut by more than £800 annually, after deductions due to this month’s increase in National Insurance contributions are taken into account.

FT report the DfE as stating it was continuing to consider “the recommendations made by the Augar panel carefully”. Augar also recommended cutting the cap on annual tuition fees from £9,250 to £7,500 — such a cut would be welcomed by students.

There are the usual lines about rethinking HE as the default option and ensuring all those with the talent and desire to attend higher education are able to do so, whilst ensuring that the cost of higher education is fairly distributed between graduates and the taxpayer.

FT: Henry Parkes, a senior economist at the Institute for Public Policy Research, said lowering the threshold would be “virtually indistinguishable from a tax rise targeted at young workers alone”… HEPI director Nick Hillman said the option was better than alternatives, bringing “very significant” savings “without seriously harming on-the-ground services”.

Here is David Willetts’ paper published by HEPI:  How to boost higher education and cut public spending.

Willetts was the Universities and Science minister (2010-14) both he and Nick Hillman (HEPI Director) were instrumental in introducing HE tuition fees. Brief summary:

  • Higher education has fallen out of favour. But it boosts earnings, wellbeing and the prospects of people and areas left behind. Conservatives are increasingly worried that graduates are left wing but the Party’s problem is with young people more widely. The best way to tackle this problem is by helping them fulfil their aspirations – to own their home, get a decent job, and – yes – go to university.
  • It is in the interests of students that universities are well funded. But that should not come at the expense of taxpayers. It is wrong that forecast loan write-offs have risen from 28% under the Coalition to 53% today.…This is the result of the mistaken decision to raise the repayment threshold to £25,00 and index it thereafter…. Too many graduates have the depressing experience of their student debt rising each year when they could be paying it off. That’s why I believe the repayment threshold should be brought back down to £21,000 saving £3 billion of public spending a year.
  • Universities are crucial to levelling up and boosting earnings as well as delivering vocational training. That means breaking down old-fashioned assumptions about universities shaped by the long dominance of the Oxbridge model. Higher education comes in many forms. The so-called “bad” universities are very useful indeed in vocational training and applied research. They are anchor institutions boosting local economies across England…Universities are a great national asset. We should use them and build more of them.
  • More graduates in an area boosts the earnings of non-graduates. The levelling up agenda means we need more university students from low-participation areas. That is unlikely to be achieved if it is a zero-sum game dependent on lowering participation in high participation areas.
  • There should be a quinquennial review of the levels of fees and loans so they can be recalibrated as the labour market and the economy change.
  • …universities should have the opportunity of taking a stake in the debt of their own graduates so they gain if their graduates’ earnings rise.

An interesting point on apprenticeships: …higher level apprentices were more white, more male, less likely to be disabled and less likely to be from a deprived area. Social barriers to apprenticeships may be one reason why disadvantaged groups have rapidly increasing levels of participation in higher education which has more diverse and open recruitment.

Willetts is also opposed to the binary divide forcing 16-19 year olds to choose between T levels and A levels. He sees a clear role for universities in the delivery of higher technical provision. He is in favour of the Lifelong Loan Entitlement but caveats that mature students are more averse to loans than younger students, who can see the promise of the graduate route whereas it may be harder for older people to shift career. It is likely therefore that take up of the four-year loan entitlement will be greatest among younger students. This is an opportunity to move to four-year degrees, a historic opportunity to tackle England’s worst education problem – early specialisation.

Wonkhe highlight that Willetts’ paper calls for the repayment threshold of £21,000 would return it to the original recommended level set by the Browne Review. Wonkhe also highlight an aspect that the Government may find pleasing – that providers should be allowed to hold their own graduate debt, and should be supported by the Student Loans Company in contacting their own graduates.

Arguing against the lower repayment threshold Martin Lewis of MoneySavingExpert warns the Government against possible retrospective changes to the terms and conditions of existing student loan contracts.

  • If repayments continue to remain at 9% of earnings, that would mean students having to pay around £400/yr more; meaning the lowest earning graduates would end up paying more, and for longer.
  • My concern here is there is no note on whether this change may or may not be retrospective and whether this change would hit those who have already signed contracts – and remember, the student loan is a contract, to repay.
  • In my view, it would be an absolute breach of natural justice to retrospectively change the terms of a contract that people have signed and I would certainly raise my voice very loudly again. We cannot allow a reverse contractual change.
  • In 2015, Martin hired lawyers to investigate a judicial review looking at preventing the Government from freezing the student loans repayment threshold. The 2019 Augar report into student loans also agreed with Martin’s view not to make retrospective changes to the system.

MoneySavingExpert.com approached Government to comment on the legitimacy of the FT’s article. The Government spokesperson stated: We do not comment on speculation in the run up to fiscal events. We’ll see what happens on 27 October, although we expect more leaks and the arguments to flare in the run up.

NUS:

  • We would be totally opposed to any plans on reducing the salary repayment threshold for student loans. Like the Government’s decision to increase National Insurance contributions, this burden targets people earning lower incomes – after eighteen months of such hardship, and with the looming hike in energy prices set to hit millions of the most vulnerable this winter, the injustice is simply astounding.
  • They should get their priorities right, end the marketisation of the higher education sector and scrap tuition fees. The Government must re-envision education, and begin to view it as a right for all, not a product that can be bought and sold for individual gain. Only then can we begin to build the student movement’s vision of a fully- funded, accessible, lifelong, and democratised higher education system.

With both Martin Lewis and NUS lined up to oppose any retrospective changes to the student loan repayment thresholds for recent graduates the Government may well consider if retrospective changes are a battle they wish to begin. The FT article tested the opinions and reaction very well at a key point before the Treasury makes its move, a deliberate leak perhaps.

Covid Vaccinations

NUS research:

  • At least 83% of students are fully or partially vaccinated.
  • Three in five students moving into halls of residence are concerned about Covid-19 related risk of living with others.
  • Only 11% of those moving into halls disagreed that students should test for Coronavirus in advance.

NUS: Despite reports of low levels of vaccine uptake among young people and students a very high number are vaccinated against Covid-19. By August 2021 83% of students had received at least one vaccination and a further 9% either having it booked in or intending to book. Given our survey closed over one month ago, this figure is now likely to be considerably higher.

Parliamentary Question: Visas for students studying abroad (clarification on departmental responsibility)

Admissions

Lots of news this week on the 2022 exams. Here are the main links:

  • Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi  has made an announcement on  adaptations to the 2022 summer exams
  • Ofqual’s approach to grading exams and assessments in summer 2022 and autumn 2021
  • Wonkhe summarise: Ofqual and DfE have set out plans for level three qualifications taken in 2022 and 2023. With exams expected to return, there will be advance information provided on the focus of exams to focus students’ revision in subjects, and support materials like formulae sheets in maths. Grade boundaries next year will be set by exam boards to reflect a midway point between 2021 and 2019 – and are expected to return to the usual grade profile by 2023. Results for exams next year will return to their normal format, with AS and A levels being released on 18 August, and GCSEs on 25 August. There’s also a similar document on arrangements for vocational and technical qualifications. The BBC, the Times and i News cover the announcement.
  • Alongside this, Ofqual is consulting on contingency plans for 2022 – which would involve the use of teacher assessments to determine grades in the event of further Covid-19 (or other) disruption. The consultation ends on 13 October 2021.

Access & Participation

Wonkhe: The Disabled Students’ Commission has published guidance on disabled graduate employment. Designed to help disabled graduates transition into the labour market, the guidance recommends that universities tailor their employability, career and enterprise guidance to disabled students’ needs. Elsewhere, the guide calls on employers to ensure that work experience and internship programmes are inclusive of disabled graduates.

The Social Mobility Commission launched a sector specific toolkit to encourage socio-economic diversity and inclusion in the creative sector workforce. It aims to widen access to the creative industries for people from working class backgrounds to tackle the ‘class crisis’ in the sector (27% workers from working class background, 23% music and performing arts).

  • It offers practical support and guidance to creative employers on how to identify and remove invisible barriers that arise at every stage of the employee journey.
  • The unique structures of the creative industries workforce are cited as driving this imbalance, with factors including the high numbers of ‘professional’ jobs within the sector, an entrenched reliance on freelance workers as well as an abundance of unpaid internships creating additional barriers to entry for those from low socio-economic backgrounds.
  • Disproportionate numbers of those in senior roles who attended private school or Oxbridge may also have served to perpetuate understandings of cultural ‘fit’ and accepted behavioural codes within the creative industries, presenting an additional barrier to those from low socio-economic backgrounds.

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.

There are a wealth of specialist and research inquiries and consultations at present. See the policy influence digest for their listings. Contact us if you don’t already receive the digest.

Other news

Unistats dataset: Wonkhe –  The Higher Education Statistics Agency has published the first iteration of the Unistats dataset for the 2021-22 academic year. The release adds information on graduate experiences drawn from the Graduate Outcomes survey.

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HE policy update for the w/e 24th September 2021

Lots of people news – the latest high profile sector appointments announced as the ministerial shuffling finishes. The Commons sessions highlight the cost the Freedom of Speech Bill may have for the HE sector and there are briefings, reports and lots of interest surrounding student financing.

All change, please!

Haven’t they just had a ‘holiday’? Parliament has entered recess for the party conference season. While this might offer a temporary break from the repetitive and dispiriting Freedom of Speech Bill arguments (“oh no it doesn’t”…”oh yes it does”) we can expect familiar themes to waft around in the media during the Conservative party conference as new ministers and their junior counterparts rush to impress in their new positions.

The ministerial reshuffle continues into this week with the responsibilities of some of the junior ministers still to be officially confirmed. A Government department has undergone a name change to refocus its agenda. The former Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) is now the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. This statement outlines the new department’s responsibilities with the change intended to embed levelling up commitments and policy on governance in the United Kingdom and elections within a single department which already manages relationships with local communities, local government and the housing sector.

Science, Technology and Research minister Amanda Solloway has been moved to the Whip’s Office. She is replaced by George Freeman (also see this THE article on George).

As you will have spotted from our update last week the Education team had a massive overhaul and only Michelle Donelan, Universities Minister, remained in post. Baroness Barran sits in the Lords chamber with responsibility for the school system.

Here is the top level DfE team as currently stands:

  • Nadhim Zahawi, Secretary of State for Education
  • Michelle Donelan, Minister for Universities
  • Robin Walker, Minister for School Standards
  • Will Quince, Minister for Children and Families
  • Alex Burghart, Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills
  • Baroness Barran, Minister for the School System

Michelle Donelan will attend Cabinet and has some responsibility for apprenticeships and skills within her expanded ministerial brief. Alex Burghart was appointed as the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills to lead on technical education including the qualifications review and the new T levels but MD’s job description gives her joint responsibility for post-16 education strategy with him.

Guido Fawkes outlines the SpAd movers and shakers including:

  • Kwasi Kwarteng has scooped up Marcus Natale from No. 10’s research and briefing team as a new policy SpAd to cover the energy and climate change brief.
  • Nadhim Zahawi has Tom Kennedy and Iain Mansfield (Iain is former Head at Policy Exchange and ex DfE civil servant).

The Sutton Trust cabinet analysis tells us that of the 30 Cabinet ministers:

  • 47% of the new Cabinet attended Oxbridge (was 50%) – quite a lot higher than the party or overall Commons rates (27% Conservative MPs, 24% of all MPs attended Oxbridge).
  • with 60% of new Cabinet privately educated, a decrease of 5% (compared to 29% of MPs overall were privately educated);
  • and 27% were both privately educated and attended Oxbridge.
  • Nadhim Zahawi (Secretary of State Education) was privately educated and attended UCL.
  • Michelle Donelan attended a comprehensive school and went to York university.

Appointments

A number of high level positions have recently changed hands or been reconfirmed.

Andy Haldane has now been confirmed as the new Head of Levelling-up within the Government. He is the former Bank of England chief economist and will join as a permanent secretary in the Cabinet Office on secondment from the Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) for 6 months. He will head up the Levelling Up Taskforce that will report jointly to the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. Prime Minister, Boris Johnson MP, said: Andy is uniquely qualified to lead our efforts to raise living standards, spread opportunity, improve our public services and restore people’s sense of pride in their communities. Andy Haldane said: Levelling up the UK is one of the signature challenges of our time. It has also been a personal passion throughout my professional career.

Health Education England announced the re-appointment of its chair, David Behan, and that of his non-executive colleagues on the board, Liz Mear and Andrew George. All three will continue in their roles until 2024.

Dr Jo Saxton has taken up her post as the new Chief Regulator at Ofqual (replaced interim Simon Lebus). One of the key challenges facing the new chief regulator will be tackling grade inflation, as well as finalising plans for the 2022 assessment series. Dr Saxton said: As chief regulator, pupils and students will be at the heart of every decision we make at Ofqual: their best interests will be my compass.

Heidi Fraser-Krauss is now in post as the new Chief Executive of Jisc. She was previously Executive Director of Corporate Services at the University of Sheffield and replaced Paul Feldman who is retiring after six years in office. Her appointment was announced in June.

6 new non-executive directors have been appointed to the UKRI board. Their backgrounds provide a blend of business, scientific and technological expertise. They will work with UKRI’s Chair, Sir Andrew Mackenzie, to support and challenge UKRI to maximise the benefits from government investment into R&D and help secure the UK’s status as a global science superpower. They are: Sir Ian Boyd, Dr John Fingleton, Professor Anthony Finkelstein, Priya Guha, Nigel Toon, and Ruwan Weerasekera.

The Student Loans Company is moving its headquarters to Glasgow.

Free Speech

Freedom of Speech in HE remains big news this week as consideration of the Bill continued with the final evidence hearings this week. Here are the most notable points in brief:

Cost

  • Emma Hardy (ex-Shadow Universities Minister) – It is worth pointing out that what is proposed in the Bill does not come cost-free. The impact assessment estimated that the cost of compliance with the Bill would be around £48.1 million. Bearing in mind the points I have made previously about the overlap with the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education and the confusion that some students will have, it seems fairly ludicrous that the Government wish to spend £48.1 million replicating something that already exists in another form.
  • Matt Western (current Shadow Universities Minister): …she is absolutely right: this is not just something that already exists, but something that exists relatively cost-free. The cost of £48.1 million that she has mentioned—which is the Department’s estimate of what the Bill will cost student unions and universities across the country—should not be ignored.
  • Matt Western: That must be a real concern: the simple fact that you can bypass all the processes and go straight to court. The clause should therefore be removed or at least amended to reflect the Government’s own views on how they wish the tort to operate.

Misuse: Matt Western:

  • …We have wider concerns that the Bill will create a culture of lawfare against universities. Clause 3 does not restrict the tort to those who personally feel that their speech has been restricted or those who have been directly affected. It therefore risks opening up vexatious claims against universities from those who seek to do them harm. As Dr David Renton and Professor Alison Scott-Baumann said in their written evidence, the Bill means that, “any lecture, seminar or guest speech could lead to a lawsuit.”
  • They pointed out that the statutory tort element of the Bill will open the floodgates to civil litigation and forms of lawfare, most likely from well-funded American groups on the hard right, or perhaps groups such as the Chinese state Communist party.
  • …we will see ambulance chasers, for want of a better term. There will be people putting their cards around student campuses who are looking for opportunities to be mischievous and to make money out of situations that can be manufactured on our campuses.

Cost and Misuse

  • Matt Western paraphrased evidence from Smita Jamdar, Lawyer, Shakespeare: Some of the cases may be small claims, where even if the university is successful in defending the claim, it will not recover its legal costs. Even getting rid of vexatious claims by striking them out can be expensive. So there are significant costs for the university whatever happens…a few thousand pounds in every case could be spent getting rid of claims that are either very trivial or unmeritorious generally.”––[Official Report, Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Public Bill Committee, 7 September 2021; c. 48, Q90.]
  • MW: Do the Government really want to take money from hard-hit students and place it into the hands of far-right holocaust deniers or… those state actors wishing to do us harm?

Ranking: Universities Minister Donelan: the amendment seeks to introduce a requirement on the Office for Students to publish an annual report that would assess and rank higher education providers on their compliance with their freedom of speech duties.

Fines: Michelle Donelan confirmed that the level of fines levied by the Free Speech Commissioner would be subject to parliamentary scrutiny – no further detail was provided.

Impartiality: The independence of the intended Free Speech Commissioner was also discussed.

Exemptions: Wonkhe have a short blog explaining why Michelle Donelan has chosen to exempt the students’ unions attached to individual colleges at Oxford and Cambridge from the Student Union Freedom of Speech duties proposed by the Bill: It’s one rule for most SUs and no rules for Oxbridge 

Costs – loans, grants, and student withdrawals

It comes as no surprise that the House of Commons Library have published a raft of new briefings relating to student finance. MPs are busy buffing up on student finance ahead of the spending review and party conferences. And the sector awaits the Government’s decisions on final outcome of the Augar review rather than the drip drip of changes and warnings of change to come that have been received so far. While it might not have been big news this is the one waiting in the wings.

I will confess I’m a Commons Library brief fan. Even so do take the time to read Student finance in England: How much would it cost to bring back grants? Spoiler: about £0.7 billion for £3k grants if it replaces the loan and isn’t in addition to loans. The brief also explains why receiving a grant wouldn’t change the repayment amounts for low income students – only the minority that go on to become high earners would see a reduction in loan repayments (because lower income students will not fully pay the debt back before the cut off). However, it would likely cut the debt for disadvantaged graduates from £60k to £45k – although one has to ask whether this would really tip the scales to progress to HE for debt adverse graduates.

If we’ve whet your appetite the Commons Library has more briefings in this series –

Both Abolition of maintenance grants in England from 2016/17 and The value of student maintenance support gives more background on changes to maintenance support.

They also have an introduction to student finance in England providing the basics which will be suitable if you are new to this field.

There is also How much do graduates pay back? which outlines the current financial transactions and repayments from graduates.

Meanwhile two new reports have been published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) – one on the tuition loan system, and one on post-HE geographical mobility and graduate earnings.

Tuition Loan system: The impact of living costs on the returns to higher education was commissioned by the DfE and finds that it would be essentially impossible for the Treasury to save money on university tuition fees in England without hurting graduates on average earnings in favour of their wealthy peers. Key findings and recommendations:

  • Despite its many flaws, the current system does have the desirable characteristic that it is progressive: the highest-earning borrowers repay by far the most towards their student loans, and lower-earning borrowers pay less.
  • The chancellor should use the income tax system rather than student loan repayments as a way of raising revenue from the highest-paid graduates.
  • Increasing the repayment rate on student loans would be the most straightforward way to raise more money, but seems to be both politically unpalatable and economically misguided.
  • Lowering the income threshold at which loan repayments start – currently £27,295 – would see more graduates facing an effective marginal tax rate of 50% on their salary and employer’s national insurance contributions when the new health and social care levy takes effect. Non-graduates would face an equivalent rate of just 42%.
  • A more realistic alternative on the table is to extend the loan term for student loans. At the moment, all outstanding student loans are written off 30 years after students start repaying, which generally happens in the year after they leave university. Many commentators, including the authors of the Augar Review, have suggested extending the loan term to 40 years.
  • Researchers estimate that each year-group of domestic undergraduates costs the government about £10bn. Approximately 80% of students will never repay their loans in full, with the IFS’s modelling suggesting that 44% of the value of the loans will be written off.
  • Researchers at the IFS have constructed a calculator, in partnership with the Nuffield Foundation, showing the options and costs available to the Treasury.
  • Looking at post-graduation living costs, and how this might impact tuition loan repayments, they find there are indeed large differences in where graduates from different universities live after leaving education – around 60% of individuals who attended university in London still live there at age 27, while less than 20% of graduates from institutions outside of London live in London at age 27.

Ben Waltmann, senior research economist at IFS, said: With a series of tweaks to the student loans system, successive chancellors have painted themselves into a corner.  The system is expensive but there is essentially no way to raise more money from it without hitting borrowers with average earnings more than the highest-earning ones. If [Sunak] wants to raise more from the highest earners, the chancellor will need to use the tax system.

Nick Hillman, Director of the HEPI and the architect of the 2012 regime during his SpAd years, said the IFS’s analysis confirms that many of the changes being suggested would make the system less progressive: It’s absolutely crucial, however, not to lose sight of the fact that half of all people still do not benefit from higher education. So any assessment looking at graduates only does not show the true distributional impact on the country as a whole. That sounds like a call to back the Government’s graduate metrics and value for money judgements.

Student Loans Company – withdrawals and guidance note: Wonkhe summarise the Student Loans Company (SLC) data release on early-in-year student withdrawal notifications between academic years 2018-19 and 2020-21. The overall withdrawal rate across England, Wales and Northern Ireland rose by 6 per cent compared to the previous academic year, with a total of 32,364 students leaving their courses before completion. However, the total number of withdrawals still lies below the number seen in 2018-19.

The SLC also published an information note setting out the 2021/22 funding arrangements for undergraduate and postgraduate students following the lifting of covid-19 restrictions.

Graduate Mobility: Returning to the second IFS report: London calling? Higher education, geographical mobility and early-career earnings (again commissioned by DfE) this finds that HE enables graduates to move to places with better career prospects, but that this also leads to a ‘brain drain’ from the North and coastal areas.

HE leads to higher geographical mobility:

  • At age 27, around 35% of graduates and 15% of non-graduates have moved away from the travel to work area (TTWA) where they lived at age 16.
  • Around two-fifths of the difference in mobility between graduates and non-graduates can be explained by differences in their background characteristics, such as socio-economic status, prior educational attainment and area of origin. All else equal, graduates are 10% more likely to have moved by age 27 than non-graduates.
  • Graduates of more selective universities are more mobile, even controlling for background characteristics and subject choice.

Graduates move to places with better labour market opportunities.

  • Graduates tend to move to large cities, especially to London – around a quarter of graduates who do move go to London. In contrast, non-graduates do not disproportionately move to London and other large cities.
  • In general, places with high average earnings attract graduates through migration. Graduates who grew up in places with low average earnings are more likely to move away.
  • For a given level of average earnings, cities attract and retain more graduates than other areas. In addition to London, Brighton, Bristol and Leeds all gain large numbers of graduates through migration.
  • By enabling people to move to labour markets that offer better career opportunities, higher education appears to reduce inequality of opportunity between people who grow up in different areas.

Ethnic minorities and those from low socio-economic backgrounds are less likely to move, and the effect of higher education on mobility is much weaker for these groups.

  • People from the bottom socio-economic status (SES) quintile are 16% less likely to have moved by age 27 than people from the top SES quintile, though most of this difference can be explained by differences in prior attainment and other background characteristics.
  • Young adults of Indian and Pakistani ethnicity are around 7% less likely to have moved by age 27 than White British people, even controlling for differences in background characteristics.
  • Higher education appears to have a much smaller impact on mobility for low SES and ethnic minority groups. All else equal, young people from the poorest families are only around 4% more likely to move if they graduate from university. Black and Asian graduates are no more mobile than Black and Asian non-graduates.
  • Of those who do move, low-SES graduates are less likely to move to major cities than graduates from higher-SES backgrounds, even controlling for background characteristics.

Graduates gain higher earnings from moving.

  • On average, male graduates who move earn 10% more at age 27 than otherwise similar graduates who do not move. For women, the estimated gain to moving is 4%.
  • Estimated ’moving premiums’ are very similar across SES and ethnic groups, with the exception of Asian women, for whom movers earn less than stayers.
  • Subject impact – moving is associated with little/no gain in earnings (controlling for background characteristics) in nursing, education and social care, but very large gains among graduates of law, technology, languages, business and economics – particularly for graduates who move to London.
  • This suggests that moving to certain areas might be necessary to take full advantage of the returns to some degrees.

Patterns of mobility exacerbate regional inequality in skills.

  • Rates of higher education participation vary hugely across the country. Less than 20% of people born in the late 1980s who grew up in Grimsby and Wisbech went on to get degrees, compared with over 40% of those from Tunbridge Wells and High Wycombe.
  • Many cities that gain large numbers of graduates through migration – such as London, Brighton, Leeds and Bristol – already have relatively high levels of higher education participation.
  • In contrast, many places with low levels of higher education participation, such as Grimsby and Wisbech, further lose graduates through migration.

Xiaowei Xu, Senior Research Economist at the IFS and an author of the report, said: In moving from more deprived areas to London and other cities, graduates improve their own career prospects, but this exacerbates geographical inequality in skills. As well as ‘levelling up’ educational attainment across the country, policymakers should think about how to attract and retain talent in places that are currently less well-off.

Wonkhe have a blog on the IFS report: Should graduates move to get better jobs? Excerpt: What’s coming through here for me is more evidence that having a university in your area is a great way to have more qualified young people staying in your area – be they originally from there or from elsewhere. 

And on the dichotomy: for the good of some local areas, we could get better at keeping graduates in the area they studied. But for the good of graduates, we should make it easier to move away. Traditionally, individual benefit has trumped societal benefit in Conservative policy – I look forward to one arm of government telling graduates to stay where they are to level up struggling areas, and then another labelling the courses low quality because they lead to low salaries and unskilled jobs.

Research

  • Wonkhe outline the REF arrangements: The Research Excellence Framework (REF) team has writtento higher education providers in the UK to provide details of the arrangements for publishing the REF 2021 results. Institutions will receive their own REF results under embargo on 9 May 2022, with the full publication of REF 2022 taking place on 12 May. Institutions will also receive the full results under embargo on 10 May, with feedback on their REF submissions arriving in June.
  • The Government’s Regulators’ Pioneer Fund has awarded £3.7m of funding to 21 projectsto propel cutting-edge innovation across the UK. The Fund awards projects that help support the country’s regulatory environment to keep pace with technological advances of the future such as using drones to transport vaccines. The Fund is part of wider government work on regulation. This includes the recent Reforming the Framework for Better Regulation consultation and the Better Regulation Committee, chaired by the Chancellor, which aims to drive an ambitious reform agenda ensuring the UK’s regulatory framework is fit for purpose and delivers the government’s strategic objectives.
  • National AI Strategy published.
  • Wonkhe blog: Forging prosperous pathways for early career and postdoctoral researchers.
  • Commons Oral Questions – What steps his Department is taking to establish the UK’s position as a world leader in science, research and innovation.

Admissions, Access & Participation

HEPI have an interesting personal blog which looks at how a student attended a combination of access programmes which both informed and supported successful application and settling in at the chosen university. The individual and parent seem self-motivated and found a range of opportunities they confidently accessed. The blog makes suggestions for universities on what is important.

NEON report on a BBC article which highlights admissions bias. The BBC reported this week that out of the 132 UK universities, listed by UCAS, just nine had a higher offer rate for black applicants. The article also highlights that, in Wales, all institutions had a higher offer rate for white, rather than black, applicants. The article highlights the experiences of three Welsh pupils as they talk about the factors that influence their future choices. Commentating on the data Dr Jason Arday, associate professor of Sociology at Durham University, said the figures highlight that higher education is “systematically disadvantaging particular minority groups” through unconscious bias of admissions teams and programme leaders.

Interestingly, David, one of the interviewees stated:  When you’re looking for universities you have to look for a place that suits you. Sometimes looking for that place might not be on paper the best university, but it’s the best university for you…I know that’s not good or fair, but it’s what I’ve done to have the best university experience.

Anecdotally this is recognised as a regular student phenomenon, after all it is all about personal choice. However, the Government would see this as a failing of the sector, they would like David to feel comfortable and apply to the highest tariff institution his ability would stretch to. It is unrealistic to expect HE to be all things to all people but where do we draw the line? Is the fact that David feels like he belongs less at one institution a failing, is it a combination or personal factors, or is it a demographic which perpetuates and if so – how big a factor is admissions in perpetuating the diversity of the student body?

TASO is tendering for the extension of its research portfolio into supporting student mental health, reducing equality gaps for disabled students, reducing equality gaps in employment and employability, survey scale validation for widening participation and success. They’re all calling for a diverse set or organisations to join the evaluation panel. We can look forward to the conclusion of the successful tenderer’s work in the above challenge areas in the future.

A short insightful Wonkhe blog from Martin at the National Deaf Children’s tackles the difficulties of the continuing Covid related restrictions on campus. It covers problems with mandated mask wearing and auto captioning on remote learning. Important factors which relate to the OfS’ agenda about a student’s experience of quality within their HE institution.

Levelling Up

The Institute for Government published Levelling up an analysis paper in which they examine what the Government actually means by ‘levelling up’. It stated the levelling up agenda lacks clear objectives, with policies often contradicting ministerial rhetoric about decentralising power. It highlights these three aspects for the Government to urgently address:

  1. Is government prioritising the most deprived people or the lowest economic output areas?
  2. What is the role of regional cities in the levelling up agenda?
  3. Does levelling up mean decentralising power or not?

They also note that many of the levelling up policies give most decision-making power to central government – which jars with government rhetoric. The Levelling Up Fund, Towns Fund and Community Renewal Fund are all centrally run and rely on local areas bidding for money. This gives central government a lot of power in deciding where funding goes and what types of projects are eligible.

These analyses recognise that the Government is due to publish a white paper on levelling up this autumn and suggests a further five questions the white paper should address. More content here.

Accompanying the paper is also the explainer report on the Towns Fund

International

PQs

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

Non-graduate esteem: text Wonkhe describe Education divide a Social Market Foundation publication championed by the former Leader of the House of Lords Baroness Stowell which characterises the gaps between graduates and non-graduates as “the most important division in Britain today”. Noting evidence that a person’s level of education is currently the best predictor of voting behaviour in the UK – and the “domination” of politics, media, and business by graduates – the report will argue that the non-graduate majority often feel “ignored and excluded”.

Stowell recommends that politicians and businesses should do more to “restore the social norms” that previously offered non-graduates esteem and respect in society – and that those holding non-graduate jobs such as those in public transport and retail should be seen as authority figures. There are also calls for employers to offer non-graduates opportunities to progress and lead.

Student Loan calculator: Wonkhe – The Institute for Fiscal Studies has released an interactive calculator for examining how different reforms would affect student loans in England. The calculator produces estimates of the costs and consequences of changes to variables such as the loan term, the repayment threshold, and the interest rate. The Guardian covers the tool.

Careers: Wonkhe tell us – The House of Commons Library has published a research briefing on careers guidance in English schools, colleges and universities. The briefing covers the current state of careers guidance and how the Skills for Jobs white paper plans to strengthen existing services.

Emergency contact: The Information Commissioner’s Office blogged about Sharing personal data in an emergency – a guide for universities and colleges.

UCAS Policy Groups: UCAS is looking for new members to join their nation-specific – English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish – Policy Groups. These new groups will represent the diverse interests of UCAS’ customers and stakeholders, and their progression to UK post-secondary education including higher education (HE) and apprenticeships. Their principal role is to influence and inform UCAS’ policy positions and supplement the work of UCAS Council, which advises the UCAS Board. UCAS invites new member applications from across the sector and aims for these advisory groups to be a diverse community with different views, approaches and insights – colleagues from a broad range of backgrounds, demographics and cultures are therefore encouraged to send their expressions of interest. The groups will meet twice a year. Members will be expected to be active in the sector, engage with the group, contribute to its activities, and seek views and feedback from their own networks and other groups. The current list of members, vacancies and Terms of Reference can be found on the groups and forums web page. Contact the policy team if you are interested in this opportunity.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                              Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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HE policy update – w/e 10th September 2021

Hello everyone!  After a long (not always hot) summer, we are pleased to be back with a catch up of all the summer news to get you ready for the exciting policy things we have to look forward to.  Some of it was highlighted in the Secretary of State’s speech at the UUK conference this week (see more on this below). Back in May we did a horizon scan (here for BU readers) which covers most of it.  A quick reminder of the things we have to look forward to:

  • The two big bills: the Skills bill and the Freedom of Speech bill.
  • Outcome of the PQA consultation run by the Department for Education – GW was not specific about when we can expect it, but it could be relatively soon. Questions still remain about the mechanism for change, as it’s not within the current remit of the OfS, and the plans they were consulting on couldn’t be implemented without a sector wide big bang approach.  “Persuasion” would seem to be the most likely approach, with a threat of legislation if not.  It’s controversial because universities have autonomy (at the moment) on admissions.
  • On that point about autonomy, we can expect the response to Augar (finally) with the Comprehensive Spending Review, which is now planned for 27th And strong hints from GW that minimum entry requirements will be part of that.  Billed as a way of controlling the spiralling cost of the student loan book, they can actually implement that one despite the autonomy thing, by saying that it’s fine, they just won’t fund student loans for those who don’t meet the requirements.  Although headline grabbing, it is unlikely to make a huge difference to actual student numbers across the UK.  And of course it will be challenged as a retrograde step for social mobility and levelling up.
  • So while we’re talking about social mobility, GW had things to say about that too, using had some dodgy data on outcomes to remind us that he believes that the growth in student numbers is supported by recruitment onto low quality courses that just shouldn’t be allowed. The current OfS consultation on licence condition relating to quality is part 1 of two, the second consultation due in the Autumn will be about absolute minimum baseline standards.  Taken together, these changes to the regulatory framework are very significant, not just in the implications for potential future funding arrangements but also in terms of the internal quality assurance and governance implications.
  • And linked to all that, we are also expecting a consultation on a new TEF framework in the Autumn.

You must have missed all this?  No?

Freedom of Speech Bill

Evidence on the HE Freedom of Speech Bill was heard in Parliament as part of the Committee Stage consideration of the Bill. This is a controversial Bill partly because the sector claims there isn’t a significant problem and commonly-cited example are either misrepresentations or overstate the problem. Also, in practice, implementation of the legislation will be very difficult given the scope for conflicts with other bits of legislation.  One person’s legitimate protest might be seen as an attack on another person’s right to speak freely, just as one person’s expression of free speech can be experienced by another person as a hateful attack linked to identity.  Where the lines will fall and who will draw them will be extremely controversial.

If you are interested in some of the thorny difficulties do read Research Professional’s coverage of this week’s sessions here, and this article features an academic who is in favour of the Bill.

There was also a separate parliamentary exchange on freedom of speech – content followed the Government’s favoured lines.

One of the witnesses presenting evidence to Parliament was Smita Jamdar, Partner and Head of Education at a law firm. She has written a short and informative blog calmly highlighting the drawbacks and limitations of the Bill. It is worth a read. Snippets:

  • If there is a dispute whether speech is or isn’t ‘within the law’ how can a body like the OfS judge that? That is and should be a matter for the courts. Interestingly, in the US, when the Trump administration proposed withholding funding from institutions that did not protect the constitutional right to free speech, it ultimately concluded that there would need to be a court decision that the constitutional right had been infringed before a regulatory or funding body could impose a penalty. 
  • …the new Director of Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom… [should] be able to demonstrate impartiality…At the moment it will be an appointment of the secretary of state. There should be more safeguards around the appointment process.  
  • The bill defines free speech as the freedom to express views without ‘adverse consequences’, and this is both practically and philosophically absurd to try to enforce by legislation. We cannot legislate human nature, so while universities can facilitate free speech, they cannot and should not police people’s reactions to it, except to the extent that those reactions breach expected standards of conduct.  
  • I think all they [universities] can do is ensure they facilitate the right to speak and to act where anything is done that constitutes a breach of its disciplinary codes. They cannot be responsible for as abstract a concept as ‘adverse consequences’.

Spending Review, Fees & Student Loan rates

On Tuesday the Chancellor launched the 2021 Spending Review (SR21), which will conclude on 27 October 2021 alongside an Autumn Budget. The three-year review will set UK government departments’ resource and capital budgets for 2022-23 to 2024-25 and the devolved administrations’ block grants. Here’s the letter.

The Spending Review is significant for the HE sector as we are awaiting the official Government response to the Augar Review, particularly on which elements might be adopted. Since the report Augar has distanced himself from the fee cuts which made all the headlines, however, the Government is looking to reduce the cost of funding HE and student loans in particular, as well as seeking to refocus its contribution towards its national priorities.

As this parliamentary question highlights changes may come in a number of forms including changing the terms of student loans retrospectively.  Wonkhe have a blog –  Will Westminster ministers dare to lower the student loan repayment threshold after a week of concern about the tax rates facing graduates? Jim Dickinson reads the runes.  As mentioned above, requiring a minimum level of prior achievement to qualify for a student loan has also been on the cards since GW dragged it out of the back of the Augar report in January. Having a GCSE in English may be part of that after stories of a scandalous approach to grammar and spelling in university assessments hit the headlines earlier this year – that has found its way into the OfS quality regime now as well.

If you enjoy the speculation around the Budget you may like to read this Resolution Foundation briefing note which explores the Chancellor’s choices ahead of the autumn spending review.

Returning to student loans, Universities Minister Michelle Donelan, has issued a written ministerial statement announcing a temporary reduction in the (Plan 2 & postgraduate) maximum student loan interest rate due to the recent decline in the prevailing market rate for comparable unsecured personal loans. The maximum Post-2012 undergraduate income contingent repayment student loan interest rate and the postgraduate income contingent repayment student loan interest rate will be 4.1% between 1 October and 31 December. From 1 January 2022, the Post-2012 undergraduate and postgraduate income contingent repayment student loan interest rates will revert to the standard rate +3%. Further caps may be put in place should the prevailing market rate continue to be below student loan interest rates. More details in the DfE press release.

Meanwhile the House of Commons Library have published one of their lovely briefings on undergraduate student finance.

If your work interests cover student loans you’ll probably want to take in the full paper. He’s a teaser on living costs:

How much do students spend on living costs?

The 2021 Student Money Survey from Save the Student found that:

  • On average, students across the UK spent £810 per month on living costs. Just over half of this figure was spent on rent.
  • Spending was below average in Scotland (£781 per month), Wales (£800), and Northern Ireland (£756). Within England costs varied from £751 per month in the North West to £896 in London.
  • 66% of students worked part-time to help fund their education. This is lower than in previous surveys due to the pandemic’s impact on businesses.
  • 65% of students received a maintenance loan, 38% received some form of grant scholarship or bursary.
  • 66% of students received some support from their parents. On average this was worth £121 per month.
  • 76% worried about making ends meet, 60% said their maintenance loan was not large enough, and 43% said they had not been made aware of the full range of funding options available to them such as scholarships, grants, and bursaries.

Research

Open Access.  UKRI published its long-awaited Open Access Policy, determining which route to publication the funder will support with its £8 billion annual budget. Under the new rules, any UKRI-funded articles submitted for publication after 1 April 2022 will need to be made openly available with immediate effect on publication. The policy is not without controversy. The announcement follows a two-year consultation period with institutions, researchers and publishers—some of whom have criticised the plan, citing worries about profits and freedom for researchers to publish in their venue of choice. It also includes a new requirement for monographs, book chapters and edited collections published from 1 January 2024 to be made open access within 12 months of publication. UKRI will provide increased funding of up to £46.7m per annum to support the implementation of the policy.

For peer-reviewed research articles, key requirements of the new policy include:

  • immediate open access for research articles submitted for publication on or after 1 April 2022
  • either via the version of record in a journal or publishing platform, or by depositing the authors accepted manuscript (or if permitted by the publisher the version of record) in an institutional or subject repository
  • CC BY licence and CC BY ND by exception, including a requirement to notify publisher of licensing at the point of submission.

Key requirements of the new policy for monographs published on or after 1 January 2024 include:

  • the final version of a publications or accepted manuscript being made open access via a publisher’s website, platform or repository, within a maximum of 12 months of publication
  • CC BY licence preferred, but NC and ND licences are permitted.

To support successful implementation of the policy UKRI will work with the sector to put in place supporting interventions, including:

  • substantially increasing UKRI funding support for open access in recognition that this is required to meet the new policy intent and the extension of our policy to long-form outputs
  • dedicated funding to Jisc in support of sector open access negotiations, with guidance and infrastructure to aid the up-take of UKRI compliant open access options
  • continuing our work to support culture change around publication, in that research should be recognised for its intrinsic merit rather than where it has been published.

R&D Spend. The Office for National Statistics published the annual estimates of research and development performed and funded by business enterprise, higher education, government, UK Research & Innovation and private non-profit organisations:

  • Expenditure on research and development (R&D) that was performed in the UK rose by £1.3 billion (3.4%) to £38.5 billion in 2019; but this was the lowest percentage growth since 2013.
  • The largest components of R&D expenditure were the business sector at £25.9 billion (67% of the UK total), followed by the higher education sector at £9.1 billion (24%).
  • Total R&D expenditure represented 1.74% of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2019; the long-term trend has been for very small growth over time with the value up from 1.59% in 2008 and 1.72% in 2018.
  • Funding of UK R&D from overseas increased by 4.1% to £5.6 billion in 2019 compared with 2018; this was 0.8% higher than the peak in 2014 of £5.5 billion.
  • The UK spent £577 per head of population on R&D in 2019; this is up from £561 in 2018.

ODA.  Universities UK International (UUKi) published the findings from their ODA survey 2021 which set out to understand the impact of ODA R&D funding on UK universities and how the UK can continue to use ODA R&D with developing countries in support of the UN SDGs and UK strategic priorities.  Recommendations:

  1. There must continue to be significant public funding available for research on global challenges as defined by the UN SDG framework in partnership with LMIC partners, whether as part of the ODA budget or the R&D budget
  • ODA-funded R&D schemes such as GCRF and Newton have helped UK HEIs to engage with global challenges and create partnerships with researchers and institutions in LMICs.
  • Universities and their partners want to continue working to address global challenges. The source of funding is less important than the activity which it supports.
  1. Funding for research programmes, once confirmed by a UK funder, must be guaranteed for the life of the project to ensure that legal commitments are met.
  • Policy and funding stability are critical to developing long-term, sustainable and impactful research partnerships.
  • The impact of mid-project grant terminations or cuts on LMIC partners is acute. The UK’s reputation as a trusted partner is severely undermined by such actions.
  1. Future global challenges funding should include dedicated support for universities to build LMIC partnerships through mobility and other career development opportunities, laying the foundations for successful projects further down the line.
  • Universities have benefitted from a flexible funding mechanism (GCRF QR/institutional/block awards) which has allowed them to build fruitful partnerships through pump-priming and career development activity.
  • These types of activities are a key part of research and development but are now at risk. Funders should consider how these activities will be supported in future allocations.
  1. Equitable partnerships should remain a core principle of any future funding for global challenges.
  • LMIC partners should not be overburdened by administrative requirements.

Quick News

  • The Government announced in injection of £113 million for the UKRI  Future Leaders Fellowships scheme, in total the Future Leaders scheme is promised £900 million over a 3-year period. Science Minister Amanda Solloway: Supported by £113 million, the Future Leaders Fellowships will equip our most inventive scientists and researchers across the country with the tools to develop and bring their innovations to market quickly – all while helping to secure the UK’s status as a global science superpower.
  • Wonkhe blog: Alternative metrics that better reflect the attributes of good-quality research are needed.
  • The Regulatory Horizons Council has published a new report on the future of technological innovations and how regulation can act as an enabler. The paper evaluates the future socio-economic context in which technological innovations will be delivered from 2021-30. The results are based on a series of interviews with experts focused on engineering and energy, health and life sciences, and digital data and cyber technologies.
  • UKRI announced support for 200 doctoral students to work on pressing research challenges with UK businesses through a £24 million investment. The studentships are through ICASE –  Industrial Co-operative Awards in Science and Technology.
  • Researcher organisation Vitae, supported by UKRI, has published their latest survey results on the impact of the pandemic on researchers and research activities. Familiar themes emerge – poor mental health, increased bullying and Covid caring responsibilities and shielding had a big negative impact, but regaining the commute time and unexpected opportunities were positives. It also questioned the perception of researchers on their future careers:
    • 24% predicted a very negative impact of COVID-19 on their career prospects (this rises to 34% of postgraduate researchers and 28% of research staff)
    • 60% predicted a negative impact or a very negative impact on their career prospects. This rises to 65% for those with child-caring responsibilities and 62% for female researchers.

UKRI say: One of the key action points highlighted in this survey is for UKRI to drive ahead with our work to improve research culture. We will continue to work collaboratively to promote and support an inclusive, respectful and safe working culture, including through our ongoing implementation of the recently launched People and Culture Strategy.

Williamson speaks…

Gavin Williamson, Secretary of State for Education, spoke at the UUK annual conference this week. Below are the key points, none of which are new news, although chilling in terms of tone.  The content was as per the Research Professional predictions.

There has been relentless parodying of GW on twitter and in the press after he spoke about the importance of face to face contact – through a video link.   Wonkhe have entertaining coverage of the speech. Post-event Research Professional’s short write up was cynically entertaining too.

Quality:

  • We need to recognise that just sending kids with low academic achievement into universities isn’t going to magically change them into highly mobile graduates – indeed, it’s more likely to lead them to failure and poor outcomes. And that there is no substitute for the hard grind of driving up standards.
  • Quality is what will deliver a meaningful qualification that offers the right skills and preparation for a working life. And quality is what will justify the huge investment that students are making to study. But quality covers more than teaching. Quality extends to the value of the degree. You represent the best of the best but to keep that reputation for excellence, you must be vigilant in showing that the degrees awarded to students are a reliable indicator of academic achievement.
  • Students and employers need to know that a degree means something. And not all degrees are created equal. There have been too many instances where pockets of low quality have undermined the teaching or value for money that students and taxpayers rightly expect.
  • …It is so disappointing to see some in the field of higher education cling to the myth that the quality of a course or degree makes no difference to a student’s outcomes. While it may be comforting for some institutions, what it is actually saying is that they don’t believe in education.

Back to campus: 

  • I think all of us would agree that every student is entitled to expect a high-quality, rich learning experience. As they plan their futures, they will be asking themselves how best they can get it… The [Student Academic Experience Survey] survey shows that in-person teaching is now one of the top three areas singled out for improvement by students. This is something we cannot ignore. While the switch to online teaching was a necessary and vital way of keeping young people learning in as safe a way as possible, we have now moved on and students quite rightly expect that they can study in person alongside other students
  • …What I do want to make clear is that I do not expect to see online learning used as a cost-cutting measure. If there’s a genuine benefit to using technology, then it should be done – and Sir Michael Barber’s Digital Teaching and Learning Review sets out some of the opportunities. But that is not an excuse to not also deliver high quality face-to-face teaching…And let’s face it, in this new era of choice students don’t have to settle for poor value.

Admissions: The last two years have emphasised the importance of delivering on our plans for PQA – not only to stabilise the system but to empower students to have the very best opportunities to succeed. That is why I am determined to accelerate our plans to bring forward this important reform

Access & Participation:

Working with schools is still in favour, higher level technical provision remains a goal – disappointing that Williamson links it with a statement on disadvantage (i.e. it’s for other peoples’ children), and are SpLD students to be further disadvantaged? Note alternatives such as assistive technology are not mentioned by Williamson.

  • …we will shortly be appointing a new Director of Fair Access and Participation…. I’d like to see our access regime re-centred on the principles of equality of opportunity and high standards, and to see higher education providers working in partnership with schools to drive up attainment.

A confusing bit on technical education:

  • I believe more universities should be more willing to carve out expertise in more technical fields, excelling on a different set of axes to those used by the traditional league tables. Too often, this can be interpreted as meaning ‘everyone must have prizes’, or that all universities and courses are equal. This is not what I mean: Professor David Phoenix’s Social Mobility Index demonstrates that some universities, such as my old university of Bradford, Aston and Imperial College and others, perform particularly strongly at transforming students from disadvantaged backgrounds into highly employable graduates. A real-world focus is not about lowering aspirations, but achieving excellence through a focus on STEM, applied research, close links with employers and a ruthless focus on employability.
  • Lowering the bar for certain groups of students serves no one. It is patronising to expect less from some students under the guise of supporting them. Effective academic writing requires good spelling, punctuation and grammar from every student.

Wonkhe on Access:

  • Millward is leaving, and will shortly be replaced by someone that DfE appoints who Williamson is confident will: [From the speech]“See our access regime re-centred on the principles of equality of opportunity and high standards, and to see higher education providers working in partnership with schools to drive up attainment.”
  • That’s code for ‘less equality of outcomes, please’ – handy if your access outcomes would be affected by OfS causing the shuttering of some provision based on the where the baseline is – and to drive home the point, he also said this about subjects with a proceed figure of under 50%: [From the speech]“Students recruited on to such courses should not be able to be counted against a university’s access targets for access.” That’s actually a pretty significant statement. We all know that some subjects ‘carry the weight’ on access in some universities – and it’s long been argued that it’s bizarre that OfS doesn’t publish APP data at subject level by provider, a problem if you’re trying to understand social mobility in medicine or law or whatever. Looks like that will shortly change.

Wonkhe correcting the line on apprenticeships –

  • Williamson’s speech was largely a collection of the government’s greatest hits…and repeats of dodgy lines like this one on apprenticeships: “Five years after completion, the average Higher Apprentice earns more than the average graduate.”
  • That that’s a stat skewed by a very small number of high level apprenticeships in “leadership” that are primarily taken by people already in well-paid jobs – something in other speeches he’s appeared keen to put a stop to – was not mentioned.
  • And confusingly we got both “we need to do something for the 50% that don’t go to university” and “we need to change the choices of many that do”. Young people deserve to have choices, but only ones approved by DfE. Who is it that the government’s reform agenda is designed to address again?

Research Professional weren’t impressed with Williamson: The rest of the speech bordered on incomprehension and mutual contradiction as the education secretary said that “sending kids with low educational attainment to university will not turn them into high-flying graduates” before going on to praise David Phoenix’s social mobility index, which demonstrates precisely the ways in which universities turn disadvantaged entrants with poor results on paper into [checks notes] “high-flying graduates”.

Culture wars:

  • Yet too often, some universities seem more interested in pursuing a divisive agenda involving cancelling national heroes, debating about statues, anonymous reporting schemes for so-called micro-aggressions and politicising their curricula. Vice-chancellors who allow these initiatives to take place in their name must understand that they do nothing but undermine public confidence, widen divisions, and damage the sector.
  • I call on you to help bring our nation together, instead of driving our nation apart. Rather than manufacturing offences from the past, let us instead come together to tackle injustice and promote equality for the students and staff on today.

University spending: The Augar review concluded that the amount spent on teaching seemed low, while around £1,000 was spent per student on corporate activities and around £500 per student on marketing…I remained concerned that the sector isn’t doing enough to shift more of its income towards direct activity that improves learning outcomes or vital services like mental health support, and less on its own administration…As recipients of tens of billions of pounds of public money, universities have a duty to be careful stewards of taxpayers’ money. Our world reputation is built on the confidence we have in our academics, in their passion, their drive and their commitment to the pursuit of knowledge. We need to free them to do what they do best.

Also covered in the full speech: Lifelong loans, short course funding, something confusing about “modules”, antisemitism.

Rethinking HE

Education think tank EDSK published Value-able lessons. Here’s a teaser-

  • The debate over ‘low value’ HE has reached a stalemate. Numerous government ministers both past and present and the independent review of post-18 education…have criticised universities for delivering degree courses that do not offer sufficient ‘value’ – primarily in the form of higher graduate salaries and better employment prospects.
  • … The level of outstanding student loan debt was an eye-watering £161 billion at the end of 2019/20 and is set to grow by £15-20 billion every year for the foreseeable future. It is no wonder, then, that the Government is keen to reduce the cost to taxpayers of the Higher Education (HE) system, which is why bearing down on supposedly ‘low value’ courses is a tempting proposition.
  • … it is difficult to see how an HE institution (HEI) can confidently identify, let alone reduce, the provision of ‘low value’ courses if they are not privy to how ‘value’ is being defined. This may explain why HEIs have largely dismissed the accusations of ‘low value’ degrees while also questioning the metrics and approaches being employed to justify such criticism. In doing so, the HE sector has inadvertently given the impression that they are keener to defend the status quo than they are to put forward any alternative solutions to the Government’s financial predicament.
  • the ‘value’ of an institution or course is ultimately a subjective judgement
  • Neither the HE sector nor the Government are blameless in the debate over ‘low value’. The sector has been quick to criticise the Government’s stance on ‘low value’ courses and institutions without offering alternative solutions. At the same time, the Government has focused too much on what it doesn’t want from HE without explaining what it does want instead. If the Government continues to rail against ‘low value’ HE without describing a clear vision for what a ‘high value’ sector looks like, there can be few complaints from ministers if universities continue down their present path. What’s more, the notion that politicians and civil servants can judge the ‘value’ of any course or institution across the country based on little more than graduate salaries, employment outcomes or drop-out rates is not a tenable proposition from either a policy or statistical perspective. The DfE and OfS should acknowledge that the subjectivity surrounding the concept of ‘value’ is precisely why they must allow the choices of students, employers and other stakeholders to drive out ‘low value’ HE rather than trying to intervene themselves.

If you’ve read this far you’ll probably feel this all seems quite reasonable. Click here and scroll down to a succinct version of Recommendations – they certainly suggest a shake up of the HE sector.

Admissions

Record high numbers of students were accepted for undergraduate full time programmes in 2021-22 – UCAS: This means 37.9% of the entire UK 18 year old population is due to start a full-time undergraduate course, also a new high and surpassing last year’s equivalent figure of 36.4%. The number of disadvantaged students accepted has increased from 22.6% in 2020 to 23.5% in 2021. EU students numbers continue to plummet while non-EU international student numbers are up 5%. Less students (34% less) were placed through Clearing likely because record high grades meant more students were confirmed for their first choice programme. Overall, across all ages and domiciles the volume of students accepted is slightly down (less than 2%) on 2020 – however, Clearing remains open and final figures will be announced before Christmas.

UCAS have updated their interactive stats dashboards with the new data, and if you prefer words to hard numbers there is also a blog from UCAS’ Head of Data on Wonkhe.

Exam results – Education Select Committee (held 7 September)

Schools minister, Nick Gibb, was question by the Education Select Committee about the 2020-21 grade inflation. The Committee Chair asked if the Department was responsible for the widespread grade inflation and wanted to know what the driving factors were. Gibb responded that they were talking about a teacher assessed system, with very clear quality assurance processes in place. They had a lot of long conversations with stakeholders to get the best system that they could for their assessments. Gibb added that all exam results were backed up by the evidence that teachers had produced. He thought that teachers were the best people to estimate what grades their students should get.

On the gender based attainment gap in the exam results Gibb stated they were taking any attainment gap seriously and addressing it. The reasons for the differences were peculiar to this year and last year and were not an attainment trend. Gibb said that he did not think that it was right to draw wider conclusions about the education policies in place based on this attainment gap between boys and girls.

On private versus state education Gibb was questioned whether the grades actually represented the gap between the independent and state sector because of the differential learning loss that happened. Gibb responded that the independent sector was largely selective and was getting very high grades in general. The percentage increase actually showed trends that were existent even pre-pandemic. Gibb finished by saying that they had always tried, through reforms, to make the state sector competitive with the independent one and the gap between the two was narrowing each year before the pandemic.

On future exam results a Committee member asked what process was in place to balance fairness for future cohorts and maintain assessment standards.

Ian Bauckham (Interim Chair of Ofqual) stated that the decisions for 2022 would be slightly different than those taken for 2021. There were a range of risks and considerations that they would take into account, including the significant rise in high grades that they had seen in previous years, as well as fairness towards students. Bauckman ensured the Committee that they would reach a view that balanced all their interests and was cognisant of the risks involved while also being fair. It was stated that decisions on the 2022 exam system would be publicised in October. With a consultation to be launched imminently on what information would need to be gathered in the event that in-person exams cannot go ahead in 022. Gibb stated that his view was to assume exams would go ahead but to also prepare for the worst. Information on current appeals (relating 2021 results) will be published in December. The Chair asked if the grade inflation for 2021/22 would be compared to that in 2019 or that in 2020/2021. Gibb replied that this was a very technical and difficult decision that they would make public in October.

In Education Questions this week Nick Gibb stated the grading system would remain the same and that rumours of A** grades were just rumours.

Exam Results

Statistics from the DfE on A-level results day showed that:

  • Comparison of grades between this year and last year showed no notable changes in historic disparities between groups of students and types of school; 88.4% of grades are A* to C at A level, compared to 87.8% in 2020.
  • There was a 15.8% increase relative to last year in the proportion of grades at A and A* in academies, compared with 15.2% in independent schools. That represents a 5.7pp increase in the proportion of grades at A and A* from last year in academies, compared with a 9.3ppt increase in independent schools.
  • In real terms, this means there are 1.21 times more A and A* grades in academies, compared to 1.17 times more A and A* grades in independent schools, in 2021 compared to 2020.
  • Maths remains the most popular subject at A level with a 3.8% increase in entries this year;
  • 4% increase in STEM subjects, with 1.9% more girls taking A levels in Maths and 8.3% more in Physics, building on significant progress in this area since 2010.
  • Over 340,000 certificates awarded to a wide range of students who have undertaken Level 3 vocational and technical qualifications, with results broadly similar to previous years.

Access and Participation

Research Professional report on the IPPO review – details below.

  • The coronavirus pandemic has caused widespread disruption to universities’ widening participation initiatives, according to a report commissioned by the Department for Education.
  • “rapid evidence review” carried out by the International Public Policy Observatory, a collaboration between think tanks and universities, found that Black, Asian and minority ethnic school leavers and those from lower socioeconomic groups had achieved lower grades in 2020, after changes to exams caused by the pandemic, than their benchmark cohort in 2016.
  • Working-class school leavers were also more likely, as a result of the pandemic, to be rethinking their plans to attend university, while the training of teachers and healthcare workers has been particularly badly hit by education closures.
  • The study, undertaken after a recommendation by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, is one of four evidence reviews relating to the pandemic’s impact on different levels of education.
  • It suggests that mentoring, plus financial incentives and support with university entrance applications, could help mitigate some of the negative effects on students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

You will also be interested in the potential changes ahead for Access and Participation mentioned in Gavin Williamson’s speech above.

Parliamentary Question – what steps he is taking to ensure students from low socio-economic backgrounds can progress to university following the removal of BTEC courses.

International

Parliamentary Questions: International Student vaccinations; International students quarantine hardship: International students facing significant financial hardship as a result of the requirement to quarantine in a managed quarantine facility can apply for hardship arrangements, including deferred payment plans. In exceptional circumstances reductions and waivers may be granted. We will continue to keep our hardship policy under review.

International students were also mentioned several times in this short Q and A debate. Minister Williamson side stepped the questions on quarantine and hardship.

International student recruitment: Why aren’t we second? Part 2: UUK International (UUKi) published analysis stating that UK universities are losing ground in the race for international students because of high costs, visa difficulties and limited marketing in the face of rising competition from other countries. The report makes a series of recommendations for cementing the UK’s global popularity as a study destination and achieving the UK government’s ambitions for international student number growth. UUKi say the analysis draws on in-depth research and focus group interviews with prospective students, alumni, and recruitment agents in eight recruitment markets in three categories: where the UK should maintain its position (Nigeria, Saudi Arabia), regain its standing (India, Pakistan) and develop its recruitment (Brazil, Indonesia, South Korea, Vietnam).

The study reveals that students consider cost effectiveness, return on investment and career options when choosing a study destination abroad. The factors influencing their decision most include affordability (especially scholarship availability), post-study work opportunities, welcome and safety, and the quality of education.

The costs and benefits of International student to the UK economy: HEPI published a major international student report along with Universities UK International (UUKi) this week updating their previous in-depth analysis. Dods summarise the report:

Every part of the UK is financially better off – on average by £390 per person – because of international students.  The research finds that just one year’s intake of incoming international students is worth £28.8 billion to the UK economy.  

 Economic benefits

  • The tuition fee income generated by international students studying in the UK, as well as the knock-on (or ‘indirect’ and ‘induced’) effects throughout the UK economy associated with UK universities’ spending of this international fee income on staff, goods, and services;
  • The income associated with the non-tuition fee (i.e. living cost) expenditure of international students, and the subsequent knock-on effects of this expenditure throughout the wider economy (i.e. the indirect and induced effects); and
  • The income associated with the spending of friends and family visiting international students whilst studying in the UK. Again, this expenditure leads to subsequent knock-on (indirect and induced) effects throughout the UK economy.

Public costs

  • The teaching grant costs incurred by the Office for Students, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, the Scottish Funding Council, and the Department for the Economy for Northern Ireland to fund higher education institutions’ provision of teaching and learning activities (for EU students only);
  • The costs associated with the tuition fee support (through loans and/or grants) provided to EU students studying across the home nations; and
  • The costs associated with the provision of other public services to international students or their dependants. This includes the costs associated with public healthcare (net of the NHS Immigration Health Surcharge); housing and community amenities; primary and secondary-level education received by dependent children; social security; public order and safety; defence; economic affairs; recreation and culture; environmental protection, and other general public services. We also include the costs associated with ‘non-identifiable’ public expenditure incurred by the UK Exchequer on behalf of the UK as a whole (e.g. expenditure relating to the servicing of the national debt), as well as expenditure on overseas activities (e.g. diplomatic activities etc.). This approach underestimates the economic benefits and overstates the economic costs associated with hosting international students in the UK. As such, the estimates of the net economic impact and the benefit to cost ratios should be considered at the lower end of the plausible range.

Soft Power: HEPI also published their annual Soft-Power Index for 2021 considering the impact of world leaders who were educated in countries other than their own.

Student Mobility: Turing

The Government has published which institutions will receive funds under the new Turing Scheme for 20212/22:

  • 363 projects funded (out of 412 applications)
  • At a total fund cost of £96,215,683
  • For 40,032 placements
  • 8% of the placements are for participants from disadvantaged backgrounds

Student Voices

Wonkhe have been listening to the incoming Student Union Officers across the country and have an interesting new blog highlighting 7 similarities in the Officers’ manifestos and concerns. They suggest it clues the sector in on key concerns for the current student body. The blog is worth a read and here are the 7 factors to watch out for in short form:

  1. Focus on diversity.
  2. Volume of complaints.
  3. Access to people and things on a “course”.
  4. Consistent standards/fairness – “how is it allowed or tolerated that one module leader can return your email in a week and another six – and nobody even says sorry”. Also there’s renewed interest in the courses that subsidise other courses.
  5. Done to/authoritarianism – the lack of a plan or any meaningful monitoring behind big policy issues at many universities. “I asked what the actual plan was to close the gap and I was told to discuss that ‘offline’” and “the target is two weeks but they never publish the data” are the sorts of comments that have come up with fascinating regularity. 
  6. Students as activist consumersIt is about people responding to emails, tackling pockets of manifestly poor teaching and reducing wait times to see mental health triage. This is the most interested in education – its regulation, its economics and the system that underpins its delivery – I can ever remember SU officers being. Increasingly, it feels more and more like they want students to be treated like humans in a mass higher education system – which will need more than pockets of goodwill and a policy review, and much faster feedback cycles than the NSS.
  7. Deep concern over learning loss, grade inflation and mental health – proactive clubs, reaching out, early identification and academic and mental health support

Meanwhile HEPI have a collection of essaysWhat is the student voice? Thirteen essays on how to listen to students and how to act on what they say. It includes:

  • Students as governors: walking the tightrope and shouting into the void
  • What do students think and how do universities find out?
  • Disabled students: the experts we forget we need
  • Using surveys to represent the student voice and demonstrate the quality of the experience
  • The virtuous loop: capturing the student voice through course and module evaluation
  • The student voice at the heart of the system (but only when they’re thinking what we’re thinking)
  • The Office for Students’ Student Panel in their own words
  • The importance of the NUS for representing the voices of students
  • Restoring the real student voice
  • Students’ voices in curriculum design
  • The student voice and accommodation
  • Mature students: a silent or a silenced voice?
  • International students in the UK – perspectives put in context

Parliamentary Questions

  • Ethnicity degree outcome gap
  • AntisemitismAdoption of the IHRA definition is only a first step, and while the government considers that adoption of the definition is crucial, it is not enough on its own. That is why I will continue to work with the sector to ensure it better understands antisemitism and does more to end it.
  • Students not benefiting from the 30 hours free childcare provision because not classified as working.

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.

There have been a myriad of new consultations and inquiries over the summer. The above document contains only those relevant to general HE matters. Academic colleagues will likely wish to peruse the wider list of specialist consultations and inquiries that may be relevant to their research interests. This is shared each week through the policy influence digest. Contact us if you are not a subscriber but wish to access this list.

Other news

Online learning: Wonkhe report – Two-thirds of students rated their experiences with online learning positively, but only a third felt that universities were listening to their concerns. That’s according to Jisc’s annual student digital experience insight survey, which found that just over half (51 per cent) of students received support in their transition to digital learning. With a majority of students reporting barriers such as poor wifi connection and a lack of specialist software, Jisc calls on universities to better support students through digital infrastructure and online-specific course design.

Inclusion & academic confidence: The UPP Foundation Student Futures Commission published their interim report – read the key points in this Wonkhe blog which set out priorities for supporting student success post-Covid.

Complaints: The Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIA) published their third set of case studies outlining complaints about changes to course delivery and assessments, accommodation, and disciplinary action arising from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. It includes examples where the HE provider has agreed to settle the student’s complaint because of the OIA’s decision in a similar case.

Nursing: Nursing workforce (very short) debate in Parliament (Lords) on 8 September.

Cyber security: Wonkhe blog – Offering flexible working conditions to skilled IT professionals could mean the difference between flunking and surviving a cyber-attack, says John Chapman.

NSS: Wonkhe – The Office for Students has published data for its key performance measure 10, which tracks the proportion of students who responded positively to the National Student Survey question on overall satisfaction. This number dropped 7.4 percentage points compared to the 2019-20 academic year, reaching an all-time low of 74.9 per cent. OfS says it is “working on a target for this measure”.

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

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

BU welcomes the Minister for Universities

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

Comprehensive Spending Review – and all its ramifications

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

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

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

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

Research

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

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

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

Research parliamentary questions

A selection of Wonkhe blogs relevant to research interests:

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

PM’s Lifetime Skills Guarantee

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

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

Boris also said:

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

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

Association of Colleges responded to the PM’s speech:

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

The Institute of Economic Affairs is less convinced:

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

Skills Productivity Appointment

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

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

Education Committee session

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

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

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

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

Lifetime Skills Guarantee and Post-16 Education

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

Here are the key points in brief:

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

Skills Gaps

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

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

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

Augar Review

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

Excerpts:

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

Student loans

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

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

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

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

The great annual migration

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

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

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

During the questions the Government was critiqued for:

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

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

Wonkhe dissected the statement mistakes too and added:

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

NSS to LEO

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

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

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

And the implications of the virus….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They found:

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

The article acknowledges that:

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

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

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

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

Parliamentary Questions

Access & Participation

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

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

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

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

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

Exams cancelled?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PQs

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can read the full report here.

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

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

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 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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JANE FORSTER                                         |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                   Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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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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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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 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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