Tagged / student finance

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

Fees & Funding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Immigration – borders open for science

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

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

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

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

Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes, stated:

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

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

In his speech Gyimah stated:

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

Gyimah went on:

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

Gyimah went on to:

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

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

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

Mature students and cold spots

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

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

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

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

Clare Marchant, UCAS’ Chief Executive, said:

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

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

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

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

“Strategic and sustained work to:

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

Meanwhile the OfS is going to ensure:

“Pressure for individual universities and colleges to:

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

Sector-wide support for:

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

And Chris Millward also wrote a blog:

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

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

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

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

Part Time Students and ELQs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Viscount Younger of Leckie noted that:

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

Motion agreed.

Digital Accord

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

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

Digital Secretary Matt Hancock said:

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

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

 LEO data accessible through Unistats

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

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

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

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

Parliamentary questions

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

Nick Gibb:

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

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

Victoria Atkins:

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

International Students

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

Baroness Williams Of Trafford :

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

Mental Health

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

A – Sam Gyimah:

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

Health

NHS Recruitment Drive

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

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

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

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

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

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

Health and Social Care Secretary Jeremy Hunt said:

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

Health Minister Lord O’Shaughnessy stated:

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

Recess

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

Consultations

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

New consultations and inquiries this week:

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

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

There have also been outcomes published to several items:

Other news

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

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

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

The Economics of HE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The key recommendations are:

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

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

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

The report also noted:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Research funding

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

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

A – Sam Gyimah:

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

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

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

Immigration & International Students

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, said:

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

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

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

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

Widening Participation and Achievement

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

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

A – Sam Gyimah:

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

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

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

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

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

A – Sam Gyimah:

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

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

A – Sam Gyimah:

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

Change in turbulent times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Student experience – what students really want and why it matters

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

Student loans – the numbers

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

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

Student Drug Attitudes

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

Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI said:

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

The survey explains student drug use as attributable to:

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

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

Consultations

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

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

Other news

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

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

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

HE Policy Update for the w/e 4th May 2018

A bumper policy update for you packed full of political changes and arguments, and BU gets a mention in the House of Commons. Enjoy the sunny bank holiday weekend!

Political News

Amber Rudd resigned on Sunday. Replacing her are Penny Mordaunt and Sajid Javid.

Penny Mordaunt (Secretary of State for International Development) will replace her as Women and Equalities Minister. Penny’s pre-UK political career is varied ranging from magician’s assistant, working in Romanian hospitals and orphanages, and as Head of Foreign Press for George W Bush. Previously she was the Minister of State for Disabled People, Work and Health. Her political interests are care and quality of life for the elderly, healthcare, defence, the arts, and space.

Sajid Javid will replace Amber as Home Secretary. (James Brokenshire will replace Sajid as Housing, Communities and Local Government Secretary). Sajid’s political interests are civil liberties, free enterprise, defence, and welfare policy. Sajid has held a string of parliamentary roles including  Economic Secretary 2012-13, Financial Secretary 2013-14; Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport 2014-15; Minister for Equalities 2014; Secretary of State for: Business, Innovation and Skills and President of the Board of Trade 2015-16, and Communities, Local Government and Housing Secretary 2016-18. Times Higher took to Twitter to remind the HE world that Sajid believes international students shouldn’t stay on to work in Britain post-graduation.

#BUProud – Sam Gyimah praised BU in a recent Education select committee meeting. Questioned on whether the three year full time degree is an outdated dinosaur and whether accelerated or non-standard degrees are the future Sam replied:

  • I will start off, before saying what I think the answer is, by saying that there is some good practice in the sector that is often not acknowledged. For example, 42% of degrees are currently vocational. If you look at what some universities are doing, Bournemouth University, where I was a few weeks ago, is a most effective place at training people for media and film studies. Most people would dismiss some of these things, but if you want to work at Universal Studios, one of the best universities in this country to go to is Bournemouth. They have a focused university curriculum.  

Office for Students (OfS) Strategy and Business Plan

The OfS have published their strategy and business plan.  They set out their familar 4 objectives ( participation, experience, outcomes and value for money). The OfS will deliver their strategy by:

  • Ensuring providers meet the quality threshold (the 24 conditions of registration)
  • Supporting informed student choice about courses and careers
  • Taking action to ‘ensure that the sector is working effectively in the interests of students, employers, and society’.
  • The OfS will publish key performance indicators in the summer to measure the business plan.
  • Being an efficient and effective regulator

The OfS will also measure contributory progress against these cross cutting strategic outcomes:

  • Public trust and confidence in HE
  • National social mobility
  • Equality & diversity within HE and beyond
  • A dynamic national workforce

There is more detail in the Business Plan 2018-19, including:

  • The intention to evaluate the return on investment on access and participation plans and impact work; develop, address cold spots and evaluate IAG; and increase transparency data in relation to access and participation.
  • New providers – address barriers to entry; facilitate alternative forms of provision and develop measures of diversity of provision and innovation (including a work placement measure beyond sandwich placements and the ‘Higher education – business and community interaction’ survey data; also to support growth in technical routes.
  • Deliver NSS and explore new measures and monitoring tools.
  • Develop the OfS approach to student welfare and wellbeing.
  • Remove barriers to student transfer.
  • Continue the TEF, KEF and REF.
  • Develop strategy and processes surrounding student protection and managing market exit.

And much more!

The Knowledge Exchange Framework

Research Professional published a mock Knowledge Exchange rankings table  based on three years of data from the Higher Education Business and Community Interaction surveys.  Hamish McAlpine, senior policy adviser for knowledge exchange at Research England, has written a progress report on work towards the real KEF.  We have been a bit sceptical about the KEF at BU – because something with great potential to measure something of great benefit (going beyond REF impact) looks like being a way to channel more money to those who make money already from commercialisation….

The article is interesting because it is clear that thinking is still evolving – this sentence gives some hope about the value of the framework:

  • “To this end we are looking at creating clusters of institutions with similar capabilities. These include not just staff numbers, but also things such as disciplinary mix, research strengths and intensity, income, student numbers and capital investments.” 

And they haven’t yet decided on the link to funding…..but it still looks as if income is the driver:

  • “Income is only a proxy for impact, but it is the best measure we have at present. Income is also robust and relatively easy to audit. It is not in anyone’s interest to distribute lots of public money based on unsound metrics”

Income is a very unreliable proxy for impact outside STEM.  In her previous role at BU Jane supported a number of projects with HSS that have limited potential to make money (because they help the NHS) but have potential to make a real difference to care and outcomes.  And what about all the work in social sciences – and knowledge exchange projects in FoM and FMC?  So we’re still sceptical about the KEF – but it might be a bit less pointless than it was looking a few months ago.  I’ve added a comment to the article – we’ll see what the response is.

Major review of post-18 education (fees and funding)

We have submitted BU’s response to the HE review and you can read it here.  SUBU’s response is here.

There is a useful article by Gordon McKenzie of GuildHE on Wonkhe.

The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) published their 10 points for the HE review – a useful round up of some of the issues based on HEPI’s own research over the last few years.  Their 10 points relate to:

  • Part-time learners
  • Differential fees
  • Maintenance grants
  • Mixed funding model
  • Uses of tuition fees
  • Misunderstanding among applicants
  • Outreach versus spending on bursaries
  • Accounting treatment of student loans
  • Level 4 and Level 5 qualifications
  • Student number controls

UUK have blogged on their response to the review calling for the review to address confusion about the tuition fees system. UUK note that while the funding system hasn’t deterred young people from full time study (and is beneficial in creating stability for universities) ‘there is a lack of public confidence and understanding of how it delivers value for money for students’. They note those wishing to study flexibly, or part time, or young students who wish to earn whilst they learn aren’t serviced adequately by the existing funding system. They also call for maintenance grants to be restored.

The Universities UK submission makes a number of recommendations, including:​

  • government should, in partnership with universities, provide more targeted information to prospective students on the costs and benefits of higher education
  • universities could develop their value for money statements, to better explain how pricing decisions for undergraduate courses are arrived at. These should explain how the university uses income from tuition fees, and other sources of income, to fund the student experience and other activities such as research
  • to deal with students’ concerns about living costs, new funding should be introduced to restore maintenance grants for those most in need
  • to help address students’ fears of debt, government should remove the interest rate that starts building from the start date of the course, and deliver better financial advice, especially on the difference between student loan debt and conventional debt
  • greater exploration of ways that learners can study more flexibly and piloting preferential loan repayment terms for subjects that address national skills shortages

You can read Baroness Wolf in the TES on what the review is about (not just HE).

From March – the OfS report on student perceptions of value for money: – not providing a definition but see below 

  • Funded by OfS, our SUs led some research into what students think. The purpose was not to definitively answer the question of what ‘value for money’ means in higher education but, rather, to explore value for money from the student perspective. Do students feel they are receiving value for money? Do student perceptions of value for money evolve as they go from school to higher education, and then into the world of work? What can higher education providers – and the OfS – do to help improve the value students perceive they are getting from the considerable investment they have made in higher education?”

Factors that demonstrate value for money:

Maintenance Grant Raid – David Morris wrote for the Guardian this week stating: The government has hinted it will reintroduce maintenance grants, but that there will be no extra money to pay for it. David believes this will take the political pressure out of the tuition fee conundrum because ‘expensive rent is probably far more of a barrier to widening access than expensive fees, since students don’t repay these until after graduation.’ David believes the Government might solve the issue of funding maintenance grants by utilising the current teaching grant. He states: ‘This time around, universities will have to convince government to find additional spending, or it will be their pockets that are raided.’

Political Battles – Martin Lewis (MoneySavingExpert) tackles Chi Onwurah (Labour MP) in BBC Question Time. In essence his fiery response blames both Government and Opposition for making Fees and Student Loans a political battlefield – serving only their own political ends and leaving prospective students bewildered about affordability. He states in itself this is what is putting off even more students because they believe they can’t afford to attend University.

  • Martin: “Look politicians do this all the time and you’re making your political points and you’re doing it and you put off young people from underprivileged backgrounds going to university with a fear of debt by framing it as debt when you know it doesn’t work like that.”
  • “Politicians need to take responsibility, your political football that you and all the parties have used student finance to be has miseducated a generation about how student finance works and it is an abomination you should all hang your heads in shame.
  • Chi comes back to argue that fees are a psychological barrier:  “It is psychological but a lot of the world is psychological Martin, how things are perceived is what informs peoples choices.”
  • Martin: “Then let’s re-educate.”

Watch the short (1 minute) clip here, the Express also covered the argument.

Higher Earning Graduates – Sam Gyimah avoided responding to a parliamentary question on higher earning graduates this week.

  • Q – Jim Cunningham: What estimate he has made of the number of graduate students who are earning over £50k and have begun repaying their student loan since 2010.
  • A – Sam Gyimah: This is a matter for the Student Loans Company (SLC). I have asked the SLC’s Interim Chief Executive, Peter Lauener, to write to the hon. Member for Coventry South and a copy of his reply will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Student Loan Overpayments  –Another parliamentary question revealed that 55% of the nursing, midwifery and allied health professions students who were overpaid by SLC (leading to concerns about how the money would be clawed back), were overpaid by more than £1,000. And the non-repayable support has been confirmed

  • Q – Baroness Thornton: Whether, given that the Student Loans Company (SLC) has accepted responsibility for overpayments to healthcare students and that the SLC told students that they were not being overpaid, the SLC will write off overpayments to physiotherapy and other healthcare students.
  • A – Viscount Younger Of Leckie: The government announced on 18 April 2018 that the Student Loans Company (SLC) will provide support to ensure that none of the students affected by the error suffer hardship. Students affected by this will be eligible to apply for additional, non-repayable, support of up to £1,000 for the remainder of this academic year, and should contact the SLC. In addition, repayment of overpaid maintenance support will be deferred for all students affected until they have finished their courses and can afford to repay. Repayment of overpaid maintenance loans will happen via HM Revenue and Customs in the normal way, which is how students will have expected to repay their loans when they took them out.

Loan Terms – Another week, another student loan parliamentary question – this time Sam’s answer fails to confirm whether the Government will change the loan terms for the post-2012 students, leading to worry over how students may be affected if the post-2012 loans are sold off.

  • Q – Caroline Lucas: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, whether he retains the legal power to revise the terms and conditions of student loans, including those sold to the Student Loans Company; and whether his Department has any plans to standardise those terms and conditions irrespective of the higher education start date of those loans.
  • A – Sam Gyimah: Key student loan repayment terms are set out in legislation, and can therefore be amended through the applicable parliamentary processes. It is important that, subject to this Parliamentary scrutiny, the government retains the power to adjust the terms and conditions of student loans. However, the government has no plans to change, or to consider changing, the terms of pre-2012 loans, including those sold recently.Student loans are subsidised by the taxpayer, and we must ensure that the interests of both borrowers and taxpayers continue to be protected. The review of post-18 education and funding will look at how we can ensure a joined-up education system that works for everyone.

Paramedic Student Loans – A parliamentary question on reclassifying paramedic degrees for existing graduates to access the student loan whilst retraining:

  • Q – Peter Kyle: To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, pursuant to the Answer of 19 April 2018 to Question 135158, if he will classify paramedic science as an exception course to allow those who study it as a second degree to obtain a student loan.
  • A – Stephen Barclay: Since the decision taken by the Health and Care Professions Council on 21 March 2018 to move paramedic programmes to a degree level, the Department of Health and Social Care has been working with Health Education England and the Department for Education to actively review the position of students wishing to study a paramedic programme. This review will consider aligning paramedic courses with other healthcare courses reviewed during the recent healthcare education funding reforms.

Freedom of Speech

The Universities Minister gave a speech on Thursday at a free speech summit calling for new guidance for organisations and students on freedom of speech. Covered by The Times Sam is portrayed as championing free speech way beyond his predecessor (Jo Johnson’s) intent to ‘enforce existing measures’. Sam plans for the OfS to name and shame or fine institutions for failing to uphold his view of free speech. He has announced the intention to create a single set of guidelines ‘to clarify the rules and regulations around speakers and events to prevent bureaucrats or wreckers on campus from exploiting gaps for their own ends’. The NUS is permitted to input into the new rules. See the Government’s press release here.

  • UUK commented:  “Tens of thousands of speaking events are put on every year across the country. The majority pass without incident. A small number of flashpoints do occasionally occur, on contentious or controversial issues, but universities do all they can to protect free speech so events continue.”
  • Sector press has noted that the Joint Committee on Human Rights report (March 2018) did not believe there to be a problem with free speech at universities: we did not find the wholesale censorship of debate in universities which media coverage has suggested. And on the ‘chilling’ (deterrent) effect ‘which is hard to measure’: A much broader survey of students’ opinion would be needed to assess levels of confidence amongst the student body as a whole. Source
  • Free Speech does get a (very limited) mention in the OfS’ new Business Plan – one mention (page 7) ‘Incentivise positive student experiences beyond the conditions of registration – Define and begin to deliver the OfS’ role to promote and protect free speech.’
  • THE also reported on Sam’s speech, ironically noting it was delivered at a ‘behind-closed-doors’ event.
  • Sam wrote for The Times Red Box on Thursday: The time I was almost censored on campus. There is an entertaining range of reader comments following Sam’s piece, only overshadowed by the Twitter glee that the quote Sam opens his article with is misattributed. Whoops.

HEPI Free Speech blog

On Tuesday HEPI got the last word in on Free Speech ahead of Sam’s speech. See their blog Six points about free speech at universities. Nick Hillman commenced with HEPI’s survey statistics on free speech. Most of his six points are familiar:

  1. The current law is ‘in about the right place’ on free speech issues – and notes the need for legitimate limits (terrorism influence, inciting violence, risking safety of others)
  2. Universities have the expertise, the time and resources to debate issues freely
  3. Debate and expose bad ideas to defeat them (not hide away)
  4. HEPI refer to their detailed study of free speech. The blog suggests a quarter of students are illiberal wanting to ban some extreme positions, and HEPI interpret mixed results as confusion amongst students (saying yes to almost any question on free speech, whether supporting free speech, backing trigger warnings or supporting Prevent). It could be confusion, it could be students repeating back the social ideal they may not genuinely sign up to, or it could be poor questionnaire design! But on the confusion the blog goes on to recommend…
  5. Universities need to help students through the complexities of free speech issues (and avoid too much red tape when putting on events)
  6. HEPI don’t believe the situation is as bad as the media portray, however, they note if the sector continues to provide contentious ‘juicy’ examples of threats to free speech then the media will seize on them and further blow the debate out of proportion.

International Students

False Deportation – On Tuesday the Financial Times broke the news of 7,000 international students falsely deported in: Home Office told thousands of foreign students to leave UK in error.  Wonkhe have provided a summary:

  • The Financial Times reports that the Home Office may have ordered up to 7,000 international students to leave the country on the basis of false accusations that they “faked” their proficiency in English. The error allegedly occurred when US-based organisation Educational Testing Services (ETS) carried out an investigation on behalf of the Home Office into cheating in their Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC) in 2014. The investigation results led the Home Office to revoke the Tier 4 visas of around 35,870 students studying in the UK who were suspected to have used proxies to sit the test.  An immigration tribunal heard in 2016 that the computer analysis used to identify fraud had been correct in only 80% of cases, meaning that 7,000 students had been deported in error.  The Home Office told us “the Government took immediate robust action, which has been measured and proportionate and so far 21 people have received criminal convictions for their role in this deception” and noted that courts had consistently found in their favour that evidence in these cases was enough to act on. However, the FT cites a judgement published in 2017 that said that the Home Office’s behaviour was “so unfair and unreasonable as to amount to an abuse of power”.

The Guardian also has the story, noting that new Home Secretary Sajid Javid has been urged to conduct a review.

International Post-Doc Researchers – Earlier in the year HEPI released their report The costs and benefits of international students ahead of the Migration Advisory Committee’s consultation on international students (outcomes expected autumn 2018). At the HEPI launch event there was strong argument for the sectors which need international talent to fulfil economic and business needs but which have low graduate starting salaries. An oral question this week extended this debate to cover post-doc employment:

  • Q – Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): I declare an interest as a trustee of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. Post-doctoral research fellows are a vital part of this country’s research base, and they come from all over the world, including from the EU. What discussions are my right hon. and hon. Friends having with the Home Office to ensure that our future immigration policy is based not on salaries—post-docs often receive pretty miserly salaries compared with their qualifications—but on the skills that we really need in this country.
  • A – Robin Walker: I regularly attend the higher education and science working group chaired by my hon. Friend the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, where we discuss these issues, and we have been feeding into the work being done by the Migration Advisory Committee and the Home Office on that front. The Prime Minister made clear that we will want to continue to attract key talent from around the world, and Britain will want to continue to be a scientific superpower in the years to come. It is essential that we get our policies right on this.

Widening Participation & Achievement

New Fair Access Tsar, Chris Millward, blogs for UUK on the ‘OpportUNIty for everyone’ campaign aiming to promote the work done by universities on social mobility. Chris’ entry into the sector as Director for Fair Access and Participation has had WP buffs pondering whether there will be an entirely different fair access landscape with new directives. Perhaps unintentionally Chris’ blog continues to repeat Les Ebdon’s constant calls for ‘faster change’:  ‘Opportunity for everyone’ shows how universities are opening their doors, but they must build on this for faster change. It perhaps favours a focusing of the WP target groups by specifically mentioning:

  • Young people from identified low participation neighbourhoods (LPN) – concern: access and successful completion
  • White boys from low income families (also within LPN and in receipt of free school meals) – concern: access
  • Mature students – concern: falling numbers accessing HE
  • Black and Asian, and Disabled students – concern: parity of numbers receiving good degree and/or successfully securing a graduate level job
  • Students reporting mental health concerns – concern: better support to complete degree

It notes all universities are expected to narrow their gaps in all these areas. Chris promises the OfS will ‘develop evidence and effective practice guidance, and create opportunities to promote its use’ through a national Evidence and Impact Exchange. You can follow the Opportunity for everyone campaign on Twitter via: #YesUniCan

Brexit – Science & Innovation

The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee have published Brexit, science and innovation (fifth special report of session 2017-19). This gives the Government’s response to the Committee’s previous paper. Here are excerpts from the introduction:

  • The Government welcomes the Science and Technology Select Committee’s report ‘Brexit, Science and Innovation’, and is grateful for the Committee’s positive view on the Government’s input to the EU’s consultation on the shape of Framework Programme 9 (FP9). The Committee’s report highlights key issues that will need to be considered as we leave the European Union and continuing to build the broadest and deepest possible partnership with the EU on Science and Innovations remains a top priority.
  • As made clear in the UK’s position paper on Framework Programme 9, a continued focus on excellence is essential, and the EU and its Member States should facilitate and strengthen collaborative working with other countries on shared priorities for mutual benefit. The principles of excellence and competitiveness that underpin European collaboration drive up the quality of research outputs and contribute to higher skills levels.
  • The Government’s commitment to underwrite Horizon 2020 funding has provided clarity and assurance to UK businesses and universities.
  •  The Government has been consistently clear that the UK is, and will continue to be, a place that welcomes talented scientists and researchers from across the globe to work or study here.
  • We value the strong collaborative partnerships that we have across the EU in the areas of science, research and innovation and recognise the important contribution they make to the UK.

Read the Government’s response to the four recommendations here.

Life Sciences

And just in case you missed it last week here is the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee report – Life Sciences Industrial Strategy: Who’s driving the bus?

Mental Health

OfS blog on the HE partnership who are trialling new strategic methods to support good mental health through the Catalyst funding. The approach is based on UUK’s Step Change framework. Student suicides were in the news this week and there is a parliamentary question asking about national student suicide figures due for answer next week.

Strike law suits

Wonkhe report that some students intend to sue their universities over the strike action. In line with the wishes of the self-appointed “Minister for Students”, some students are now seeking compensation for teaching time lost at the 65 institutions affected by the 14 days of recent USS pension strikes.

Over 100,000 students have signed petitions to complain about the issue and request refunds. However, widespread media coverage has focused on Tel-Aviv/London-based English law firm Asserson, a “disputes” specialist, which has set up a website encouraging UK, EU, and non-EU students to sign up to a class action lawsuit to potentially claim “hundreds of pounds each”. Apparently, it now has over 1,000 signatures, enough to apply for a group litigation order. If the firm can secure funding from a specialist litigation funder for the no-win-no-fee claim, get insurance against a failed claim, and work out how to distribute claimants across institutions, we may see a landmark case. Shimon Goldwater of the firm said this could cost universities “millions of pounds”.

Some institutions have put unspent pay in hardship funds, and those with student contracts will be checking the wording carefully. At the time, Universities UK (UUK) advised students to start with institutional complaints procedures, then if necessary escalate them to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) in England and Wales. The OIA’s annual report came out on Thursday, showing a slight increase in complaints in 2017 – 1,635 compared to 1,517 the previous year. The student-as-consumer trend continues.

Wonkhe’s website also explains how group litigation works and a blogger warns that calls for money back could result in them becoming victims of another compensation scam.

No pause for Purdah

Research Professional explores how a Purdah period needn’t be a gag order. They confirmed that scientists are permitted to make public statements during election campaigns. On 11 April, the Cabinet Office issued revised election guidance for civil servants permitting scientists to continue with their work in the run up to an election.  During the 2017 general election, the UK Research Councils “strongly” advised against issuing press releases about new research. Jeremy Heywood, Head of the Civil Service, stated: the [purdah] principles are not, and have never been about restricting commentary from independent academics.

Fiona Fox (Chief Executive of the Science Media Centre) writes in Research Professional to urge all to get the message out:

This is an important moment for the scientific community, but only if we shout about it. We must make sure that the new guidance is to hand the next time someone tries to use purdah as a reason to restrict scientists from speaking publicly about their research during election time.

UK Research and Innovation in particular has an important role here to ensure that all the academics it funds know about and understand these positive changes. The multiple sets of guidance on guidance, which emphasises what scientists cannot say in elections, should be replaced with a simple statement of what academics should continue to do as normal.

Purdah was never intended to silence scientists, but in the absence of real clarity, some allowed that to happen. Now that we have the clarity there is no excuse to let it happen again.

Consultations

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

New consultations and inquiries this week:

  • The House of Commons Education Committee has launched an inquiry into the challenges posed and opportunities presented by the Fourth Industrial Revolution. As outlined in the inquiry press release, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is characterised by the emergence of a range of new technologies including artificial intelligence, robotics and the internet of things. The changes are likely to have a major impact on both productivity and the labour market, with low and medium skilled jobs most at risk.  The inquiry will examine how best to prepare young people to take advantage of future opportunities by looking at the suitability of the school curriculum. It will also look at the role of lifelong learning and how best to help people climb the ladder of opportunity in the future. Please see further details and links below:

Interesting news

  • If you’re a bit rusty on the different elements of parliament this 1 minute You Tube Video may be for you: Why does the House of Commons Chamber look empty?
  • Trans experience: Wonkhe bloggers examine the experience of trans and gender diverse staff in HE and how matters can move forward more positively.
  • Alumni & data protection: BU’s own Fiona Cowrie writes for Research Professional on how the imminent data protection changes will affect universities’ relationships with their alumni.
  • Personal statements: A role for school’s to supplement second-hand cultural capital by supporting students through tailored super-curricular experiences. A simple read setting out what makes the difference in successful UCAS personal statements.
  • Influencing policy through research: We’ve mentioned this previously and Wonkhe have a new blog post on getting parliament to pick up research and translate it into policy. It lists 10 simple steps to make connections and present your research effectively for policy makers.
  • Useful complaints: A blogger from the Office of the Independent Adjudicator blogs on the impact listening to and acting on complaints can have in: Complaints – student engagement in its rickets form?
  • BTEC students: BTEC students are more likely to fail and not progress to their second year, although the non-continuation rate varies with subject choice. Overall patterns of progression show more BTEC students fail the end of first year examination as compared to entrants with other qualifications. One possible explanation for this is that they are at a different starting point in terms of academic preparedness and understanding assessment expectations in HE. Interventions may therefore need to target support around learning and progression of BTEC students during first year in HE or even earlier to encourage transferable learning.  Subject-wise patterns of progressions for BTEC students show they are less successful in Computer Science and Business Studies as compared to Sports. Interventions and academic support in HE need to be tailored across subject-areas in line with course structure and programme requirements to help BTEC students achieve better educational outcomes. It might be the case that not just inclusive pedagogies across universities, but a collaborative approach between higher education providers and FE colleges, can support the progression of these students better. This is all the more important as BTEC qualifications are acknowledged as contributing to widening HE access.   Read How successful are BTEC students at university? for more detail and interactive charts.

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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 29th March 2018

Industrial Strategy

The Creative Industries Sector Deal has been announced.  You can read the document here.

The press release says:

  • As part of a Creative Industries Sector Deal, to be announced today by the Digital and Culture Secretary Matt Hancock, Business Secretary Greg Clark and Co-Chair of the CIC, Nicola Mendelsohn, more than £150 million is being jointly invested by government and industry to help cultural and creative businesses across Britain thrive.
  • A Cultural Development Fund will also be launched for cities and towns to bid for a share of £20 million to invest in creative and cultural initiatives. The power of culture and creative industries to boost economic growth is evident across the country…[NB Bournemouth is identified as high growth]
  • The Sector Deal aims to double Britain’s share of the global creative immersive content market by 2025, which is expected to be worth over £30 billion by 2025. To seize on the opportunity of this expanding market, government is investing over £33 million in immersive technologies such as virtual reality video games, interactive art shows and augmented reality experiences in tourism.
  • Britain is already leading the way in developing immersive technologies. PWC has predicted that the UK’s virtual reality industry will grow at a faster rate than any other entertainment and media industry between 2016 to 2021, reaching £801 million in value, and that by 2021 there will be 16 million virtual reality headsets in use in the UK.
  • Improving the nations skills is at the heart of the government’s modern Industrial Strategy and to ensure the industry has the skilled workers it needs to deliver this, up to £2 million will be made available to kickstart an industry-led skills package, including a creative careers programme which will reach at least 2,000 schools and 600,000 pupils in 2 years. A new London Screen Academy, with places for up to 1000 students, will also open in 2019.

New Quality Code published

After a consultation proposing changes to the UK Quality Code for HE, (you can read BU’s response here) the QAA have published the new, very short Code. There’s some commentary on Wonkhe here.   It really is short – in a 7 page document there is only one real page of content – but there is more guidance to come.

HE Review

To inform our BU response to the HE Review all staff and students are invited to consider the issues in this (anonymous) 5-minute survey. Please take a look at the survey questions as we’d like to hear from as many staff and students as possible. You don’t have to answer all the questions! The major review of HE will shape the HE system, including how universities are funded for years to come. The survey will be available to staff and students until Friday 20th April.

The Department for Education also published a research report by Youthsight on the influence of finance on higher education decision making

Amongst its findings:

  • University was the only option considered by the majority of applicants (75 per cent), especially those applying to the higher-tariff universities (78 per cent). This was consistent across socio-economic backgrounds. Getting a job and travelling were the main alternatives considered by applicants
  • Financial factors were not the biggest influence on the final decision to apply to university. The most important factors were the desires to be more employable, to achieve the qualification and to pursue an interest in a subject. This was the case for applicants from both the higher and the lower socio-economic groups.
    • Lower socio-economic group applicants placed a higher importance on grants, bursaries and living costs than applicants from higher socio-economic groups, although finance still remained a secondary influence on their decision to apply to university.
    • The course offered (82 per cent of applicants), university reputation (58 per cent), and potential for high future earnings (41 per cent) were the most commonly cited major influences on applicants’ choices about where to study.
    • Differences in bursaries offered, tuition fees charged and the ability to continue living at home were secondary factors when choosing where to study. These factors accounted for three of the bottom four of eleven factors tested that might influence which university to choose. However, they were more important for lower socio-economic group applicants.
  • The maintenance loan, repayment threshold and particularly maintenance grants and university assistance were more important to members of the lower socio-economic group than the higher socio-economic group in alleviating cost concerns.

And the government have published the outcomes of their 2014/15 student income and expenditure survey.  There is a lot of data and there are lots of interesting charts, including figure 2.6 (the influence of financial support on my decisions), table 3.7 (what support English domiciled students received by mode of study), figure 4.3 (breakdown of total student expenditure (this one excludes the tuition fee but there is also a chart that includes it),  figure 4.4 (total expenditure and housing costs).

The data from both these reports will be pored over to support responses to the HE review.

Freedom of speech

The Joint Committee on Human Rights has published its report into free speech in universities. The Committee has also published its own guidance for universities and students:

Charity Commission Response: Charity Commission responds to Joint Committee on Human Rights

The Committee don’t identify many actual cases of free speech having been prevented but note a “chilling effect” (it’s hard to prove a negative, of course). The report identifies factors that potentially limit free speech in universities:

  • regulatory complexity
  • intolerant attitudes, often incorrectly using the banner of “no-platforming” and “safe-space” policies
  • incidents of unacceptable intimidating behaviour by protestors intent on preventing free speech and debate
  • student Unions being overly cautious for fear of breaking the rules
  • unnecessary bureaucracy imposed on those organising events
  • fear and confusion over what the Prevent Duty entails
  • unduly complicated and cautious guidance from the Charity Commission.

Recommendations

  • That an independent review of the Prevent policy is necessary to assess what impact it is having on students and free speech, after evidence the Committee took demonstrated an adverse effect on events with student faith groups
  • That the Charity Commission, which regulates student unions as registered charities, review its approach and guidance, and that its actions are proportionate and are adequately explained to student unions and don’t unnecessarily limit free speech
  • That the Office for Students should ensure university policies proactively secure lawful free speech and are not overly burdensome
  • That student societies should not stop other student societies from holding their meetings.  They have the right to protest but must not seek to stop events entirely
  • That while there must be opportunities for genuinely sensitive discussions, and that the whole of the university cannot be a “safe space.” Universities must be places where open debate can take place so that students can develop their own opinions on unpopular, controversial or provocative ideas
  • Groups or individuals holding unpopular opinions which are within the law should not be shut down nor be subject to undue additional scrutiny by student unions or universities.

Chair of the Committee, Harriet Harman MP, said:

  • “Freedom of speech within the law should mean just that – and it is vital in universities. Evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights showed that there is a problem of inhibition of free speech in universities. While media reporting has focussed on students inhibiting free speech – and in our report we urge universities to take action to prevent that – free speech is also inhibited by university bureaucracy and restrictive guidance from the Charity Commission. We want students themselves to know their rights to free speech and that’s why we’ve issued a guide for students today.”

Some particular points to note:

  • 41 The imposition of unreasonable conditions is an interference on free speech rights. We do not, for example, consider it a reasonable condition that, if a speaker gives an assurance that their speech will be lawful, they be required to submit a copy or outline of their speech in advance.
  • 42 In our view, freedom of expression is unduly interfered with:
    • when protests become so disruptive that they prevent the speakers from speaking or intimidate those attending;
    • if student groups are unable to invite speakers purely because other groups protest and oppose their appearance; and
    • if students are deterred from inviting speakers by complicated processes and bureaucratic procedures.
      It is clear that, although not widespread, all these problems do occur and they should not be tolerated.
  • 60 Whilst there must be opportunities for genuinely sensitive and confidential discussions in university settings, and whilst the original intention behind safe space policies may have been to ensure that minority or vulnerable groups can feel secure, in practice the concept of safe spaces has proved problematic, often marginalising the views of minority groups. They need to co-exist with and respect free speech. They cannot cover the whole of the university or university life without impinging on rights to free speech under Article 10. When that happens, people are moving from the need to have a “safe space” to seeking to prevent the free speech of those whose views they disagree with. Minority groups or individuals holding unpopular opinions which are within the law should not be shut down nor be subject to undue additional scrutiny by student unions or universities.
  • 91 Universities must strike a balance to ensure they respect both their legal duty to protect free speech and their other legal duties to ensure that speech is lawful, to comply with equalities legislation and to safeguard students. It is clearly easier to achieve this if debate is carried out in a respectful and open way. But the right to free speech goes beyond this, and universities need to give it proper emphasis. Indeed, unless it is clearly understood that those exercising their rights to free speech within the law will not be shut down, there will be no incentive for their opponents to engage them in the debate and therefore to bring the challenge that is needed to develop mutual understanding and maybe even to change attitudes.
  • 93 It is reasonable for there to be some basic processes in place so that student unions and universities know about external speakers. Codes of practice on freedom of speech should facilitate freedom of speech, as was their original purpose, and not unduly restrict it. Universities should not surround requests for external speaker meetings with undue bureaucracy. Nor should unreasonable conditions be imposed by universities or student unions on external speakers, such as a requirement to submit their speeches in advance, if they give an assurance these will be lawful.

Migration Advisory Committee report on EEA and non EEA workers

The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) has published its interim update on the impact of EEA and non-EEA workers in UK labour market. This is the first MAC inquiry of two – the second one is the one about students, this was more general and about workers across all sectors.

The update sets out a summary of the views expressed by employers and of the regional issues raised. They add that “these themes seem the best way of summarising the views expressed to us but should not be taken to imply that the MAC endorses a sectoral and/or regional approach to post-Brexit migration policy.” The MAC has also published the responses to their call for evidence, broken down by sector.

The report includes the following findings:

  • The vast majority of employers do not deliberately seek to fill vacancies with migrant workers. They seek the best available candidate.
  • Employers often reported skill shortages as one reason for employing EEA migrants.
  • Many EEA workers are in jobs requiring a high level of skill that take years to acquire. But, some of the claims about necessary skill levels seemed exaggerated.
  • Within occupations, EEA migrants are better educated than their UK-born counterparts.
  • The MAC view is that, from the economic perspective this does amount to saying that it is sometimes possible to hire a given quality of worker for lower wages if they are an EEA migrant than if they are UK-born.
  • To the extent that EEA migrants are paid lower wages than the UK-born this may result in lower prices, benefitting UK consumers. Our final report will also consider these possible impacts.
  • Many responses argued that a more restrictive migration policy would lead to large numbers of unfilled vacancies. The MAC view is that this is unlikely in anything other than the short-term.
  • The MAC view is that it is important to be clear about what the consequences of restricting migration would be.

Research bodies update

This week is the launch of UKRI – it is worth looking at their objectives.

.The Council for Innovate UK has been announced. The members are:

  • Sir Harpal Kumar, who will serve as Senior Independent Member through his role as UK Research and Innovation’s Innovation Champion and work closely with the board
  • Dr Arnab Basu MBE, Chief Executive, Kromek Group plc
  • Baroness Brown of Cambridge DBE FREng FRS (Julia King)
  • Professor Juliet Davenport OBE, Chief Executive, Good Energy
  • Dr John Fingleton, Chief Executive, Fingleton Associates
  • Priya Guha, Ecosystem General Manager, RocketSpace UK
  • Dr Elaine Jones, Vice President, Pfizer Ventures
  • Professor John Latham, Vice-Chancellor of Coventry University
  • Sir William Sargent, Chief Executive, Framestore
  • Stephen Welton, Chief Executive, Business Growth Fund

The REF panels have also been announced – follow this link to see the lists.

Parliamentary Questions

Q Andrew Percy MP

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, whether his Department is taking steps to ensure that prospective undergraduates understand the potential effect of their choice of course on their prospects post-graduation.

  • A Sam Gyimah MP The department is working to make destinations and outcomes data more accessible to prospective students, to help them compare opportunities and make informed choices about where and what to study.
  • On the 12 March 2018, I announced an Open Data Competition. It will use government data on higher education providers so that tech companies and coders can create websites to help prospective students decide where to apply. This competition will build on the government’s Longitudinal Educational Outcomes (LEO) dataset, which gives information on employment and salaries after graduation.
  • Alongside this, my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State has requested that the Office for Students include LEO data on the Unistats website as soon as possible.

Q Angela Rayner MP To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what estimate his Department has made of the value of plan 1 student loans that will not be repaid.

  • A: Sam Gyimah MP: It is estimated that the value of the plan 1 student loan book that will not be repaid was £13.1 billion as at 31 March 2017, when future repayments are valued in present terms. The face value of the plan 1 student loan book was £42.8 billion at this time. This information is in the public domain and published on page 155 of the Department for Education’s 2016-17 Annual Report and Accounts which can be found at:
  • https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/dfe-consolidated-annual-report-and-accounts-2016-to-2017.

Q Angela Rayner MP: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, with reference to the written ministerial statement of 31 October 2017 on government asset sale, HCWS205, what methodology his Department used to decide which loans from the plan 1 loan book would be sold.

  • A Sam Gyimah MP: The loans sold in December 2017 were a selection of loans from the plan 1 loan book issued by English Local Authorities that entered repayment between 2002 and 2006.
  • These loans had the longest history of repayments, the longest servicing history and the most accurate data on borrowers’ historic earnings. This information allowed the government to most accurately value these loans for sale.
  • The government’s objective when issuing loans to students is to allow them to pursue their education regardless of their personal financial situation. Once this objective has been met, however, retaining the loans on the government’s balance sheet serves no policy purpose. These loans could be sold precisely because they have achieved their original policy objective of supporting students to access higher education.
  • Pursuant to Section 4 of the Sale of Student Loans Act 2008, a report on the sale arrangements was deposited in the House libraries on 7 December 2017 (deposit reference DEP2017-0778): https://www.parliament.uk/depositedpapers.

Q: Angela Rayner MP: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, with reference to the written statement of 6 December 2017 on Government Asset Sake, HCWS317, what assessment he has made of the net fiscal effect of the sale of the student loan book after accounting for reduced income arising from lost repayments.

  • A: Sam Gyimah MP: The government only sells assets when it can secure value for money for taxpayers from doing so. In assessing the value for money of the sale, the government took into account repayments foregone on the loans sold. In executing the sale, we achieved a price that exceeded the retention value of the loans sold, calculated in line with standard HM Treasury green book methodology.
  • Selling financial assets, like student loans, where there is no policy reason to retain them, where value for money can be secured and where borrowers are not impacted is sound asset management. The sale ensures government resources are being put to best use and is an important part of our plan to repair public finances.
  • Pursuant to Section 4 of the Sale of Student Loans Act 2008, a report on the sale arrangements was deposited in the House libraries on 7 December 2017 (deposit reference DEP2017-0778): https://www.parliament.uk/depositedpapers.

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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 17th November 2017

Welcome!

There’s a veritable feast of HE policy for you to enjoy this week – lots on the budget and fees and funding, another section of the OfS consultation including quality, consumer protection, student protection plans and student transfers, and an update on engagement with schools.

Fees, loans, funding – and the Budget

Philip Hammond’s imminent delivery of the Budget on Wednesday 22 November has caused a mini flurry of organisations releasing reports and evidence aimed to influence. Here’s UUK’s.

It may be too late. Speaking at Wonkfest on 6 November Jo Johnson’s tone of certainty suggested plans were already ready. Of course it wouldn’t be the first time Johnson’s opinion has diverged from the government on expected policy, nor the first time the Prime Minister makes a last minute policy changing decision….

A Budget snippet that Johnson trailed at Wonkfest, to the consternation of the audience, was the suggestion that universities may pick up the tab for the repayment threshold reduction in the student loan repayment rate. While it may be unwise to speculate, your fearless Policy team will once again have a go:

Option 1: The Government could cut all tuition fees down to a lower level without replacing the lost income universities receive.

  1. This reduces the Government’s subsidy for student loans, however it is socially regressive, because it mostly helps those students who go on to earn most. .
  2. However, that is a purely economic analysis – there are many in the sector and politicians who believe that the impact of loans is not purely financial but has effect on behaviour, discouraging those from poorer backgrounds or who don’t expect to have high earnings from applying at all. That argument is of course countered by those who rely on the data that shows that student participation from low income backgrounds is going up steadily – and that at least until last year, there was a strong upward trend in applications overall (which may now have stalled). Note that OFFA do not support direct financial help as a method for increasing participation (they are usually talking about bursaries but the same may hold true for grants)

Option 2: The Government could reduce or abolish tuition fees for a specific group, such as students most in financial need.

  1. This would reduce the Government’s subsidy for student loans
  2. It is a socially progressive policy which supports the Government’s social mobility aims by tackling the debt adversity of the most disadvantaged students. It would help them to attack Labour’s (regressive) 2017 general election promise to abolish tuition fees – and winning back lost voters is of paramount importance to the Conservatives.
  3. It would be easy for the Government to implement this change quickly – as soon as the 2018/19 intake.

Under this scenario it would unlikely that the Government would replace the lost income to universities – so the impact of this would be to force efficiencies within the sector (Johnson is renowned for saying that HE institutions haven’t experienced austerity and have ‘had it good’ for a long time).

In effect, the fees from richer students would be subsiding the poorer students. Universities with the largest number of low income students would be most affected (with the Russell Group relatively unscathed).

This may be a well-planned long game – the Office for Students will have increased power to interrogate and publish admissions statistics to highlight “gaming” and the new Director of Access and Participation can sanction universities through the TEF for a fall in recruitment of low income students. The use of contextual admissions has also been debated widely in the media in recent weeks.

Option 3: The Government could decide to differentiate tuition fees based on subject, allowing subjects with the highest graduate earnings, employment rates and value added to charge the highest fees. The subject level TEF pilots have recently commenced (over 2 years), so such a decision would seem to be premature. However, a consultation in conjunction with the subject-level TEF outcomes ready for swift implementation in 2019 seems plausible. This approach might also mean that high cost subjects (e.g. STEMM) could remain at the highest chargeable fee, but the government could remove the current funding top ups and so reduce the overall cost (and reduce university income still further). See this Sunday Times article on differentiated fees per subject and institution.

Option 4: There have been suggestions of controlling the number of places for certain subjects based on the jobs needed by the economy. The Lords’ Economic Affairs Select Committee has been conducting a series of oral evidence sessions to investigate The Economics of Higher, Further and Technical Education. There is much more from this debate in the section below but this exchange is interesting:

  • Willetts: Essentially, there is a group of high-earning courses: law, economics and management. There is a group of middle-earning courses, mainly STEM subjects. There are less well-paid graduates. The worst paid are in the performing arts. That is another reason why it proves very difficult to get into differential fees. We could charge more for graduates doing courses with high pay but how then would we exempt fees or justify charging higher fees for skills shortage areas such as STEM or medicine.
  • Adonis: Tiered fees of that kind are precisely what the Australians have.
  • Willetts: Yes, and it is not satisfactory. Australia is in a mess; it has static levels.

Option 5: Continuing in this vein the Government may reconsider the original TEF proposal to set limits on which institutions can charge the higher tier of fees. You will recall that the TEF proposal was to let Gold and Silver rated institutions raise their fees each year- linked to a percentage of the inflation cap, but this idea was postponed in response to feedback from the House of Lords. Using new employability and earnings data (to be included in the TEF from this year) the argument may now be that students studying at an institution likely to result in a highly paid job could reasonably be expected to pay more upfront. And a recent student opinion surveys suggest students would be willing buy into such a ‘guarantee’ (see UPP, page 17). Earlier in the term some institutions within the Russell Group were lobbying for this. However, given that far fewer WP students currently apply or are admitted into the Russell Group institutions this would negatively impact the Government’s social mobility agenda. Of course the government may believe that the OfS provisions on WP will address this.

Option 6: And of course other options that do not hit tuition fees are also available. The Sutton Trust (see later in this Policy Update) would like to see a return to grants. The IFS have published a paper on “options for reducing the interest rate on student loans and introducing maintenance grants” – as two key options for the government, which are being called for – including by UUK. they conclude that both of these options could be done at a reasonable cost in some circumstances but that both would benefit high earning graduates most and make very little difference to the rest. As with an across the board reduction in fees (see above) this would therefore be regressive, but might have a beneficial effect in terms of increasing participation.

Option 7: The current Office for Students regulatory consultation (see below) considers the future use of the teaching grant (the grant to universities topping up high cost subjects, specialist support and innovation). It states the OfS will continue the current approach “but it will also wish to deploy the teaching grant strategically, taking into account Government priorities. This will enable it to influence sector level outcomes…” Could this mean government inadvertently pushing institutions to conform to a similar set of ideals (to attract the money) at a time when institutions need to differentiate themselves to compete successfully for students in a squeezed market? If so it could also be contrary to the regional specialities (responding to place) within the industrial strategy.

And more: Differentiated caps and varying loans might seem unattractive to Government due to its complexities to both administer and communicate to the electorate. It is also poor timing given the significant press covering Steve Lamey’s dismissal from the Student Loans Company after claiming it was a “mess” and badly run.

In last week’s policy update we wrote about HEPI’s paper which revealed the extent to which it can be argued that tuition fees from all students, but particularly international students, subsidise research costs. Jo Johnson has long been rumoured to be vexed at the cross-subsidisation that exists within the sector. So will we see a shake-up aimed at research funding too? Given the instability associated with Brexit, the Government’s focus on industrial strategy to boost the economy, in particular their aim to capitalise on innovation and the commercialisation of research, and the recent cash injections announced for R&D might research survived unscathed? It is not a stretch to imagine that this would disproportionately benefit some institutions more than others given the current rhetoric around outcomes (outputs) and institutional status.

Lastly, Conservative think tank Bright Blue have proposed that universities themselves should contribute financially to the sustainability of the student-loans system by repaying the Government subsidy for student loans. This subsidy is currently estimated as 20-30p for each £1 lent. Bright Blue is quick to remind that the cost of such a subsidy wouldn’t be so high if universities didn’t all charge the highest fee. Bright Blue continues:

  • “Certainly, there are an awful lot of expensive institutions producing graduates with earnings that mean their student loans must be subsidised, costing the taxpayer a lot of money…Thanks to the new Longitudinal Educational Outcomes (LEO) dataset., which uses HMRC and Student Loans Company data to accurately link nearly all graduate salaries to institutions attended, it is now possible to expose such universities. Institutions producing a disproportionate number of graduates who will need their student loans subsidised should contribute a levy to government.”

They go on to suggest that should universities charge less/contribute financially to the write-off subsidy this would enable the Government to better fund lower (FE) qualifications or more modular methods of study.

Delve into the detailed background and some other options in Jane’s blog on the Lighthouse Policy Group: Fees, loans and debt – an Autumn update.

In retrospect, after our dark musings on the Budget, Jo Johnson’s repeated reminder that the sector should not clamour for May’s announced review of HE (as it risks a less advantageous settlement than present) seem like wise words.

IFS – student loans and maintenance grants

As mentioned above, The IFS have published a paper on “options for reducing the interest rate on student loans and introducing maintenance grants” .  Key findings are (our emphasis added):

Interest rates

  • Positive real interest rates on student loans increase the debt levels of all graduates but only increase the lifetime repayments of higher-earning graduates. Removing them does not affect up-front government spending on HE, but it does slightly increase the deficit (due to the slightly confusing treatment of interest accrued on student debt in the government finances). More significantly, it also increases the long-run costs of HE due to the associated reduction in graduate repayments.
  • Reducing the interest rates to RPI + 0% for everyone would reduce the debt levels of all graduates. Debt on graduation would be around £3,000 lower on average, while average debt at age 40 would be £13,000 lower. However, because of the link between income and interest in the current system, this cut would reduce the debts of the highest-earning graduates the most: the richest 20% of graduates would hold around £20,000 less debt at age 40 as a result of this policy, while the lowest-earning 20% of graduates would be just £5,500 better off in terms of debt held at the same age. This policy of switching to RPI + 0% would have no impact on up-front government spending on HE, but would cost the taxpayer £1.3 billion per year in the long run. It would be a significant giveaway to high-earning graduates, saving the richest 20% more than £23,000 over their lifetimes.
  • A less costly policy would be to reduce interest rates to RPI + 0% while studying and leave rates unchanged after graduation. This would reduce the debt levels of all graduates at age 40 by around £5,000. It would be a significantly cheaper reform, costing around £250 million per year in the long run. Again, there is little impact on the repayments of low- and middle-earning graduates, while the highest-earning graduates would be around £5,000 better off over their lifetimes.

Maintenance grants

  • Reintroducing maintenance grants in place of loans also has no impact on up-front government spending on HE, but it results in a large increase in the government cost of HE as measured by the current deficit, due to the differential treatment of loans and grants in government accounting. The long-run cost of this type of policy is typically much lower as a large proportion of the loans that grants would replace are not expected to be repaid anyway.
  • Reintroducing grants of £3,500 under a similar system to that before 2016 would increase deficit spending by around £1.7 billion, but the long-run cost is only around £350 million. This reform would reduce the debt on graduation of students from low-income backgrounds taking a three-year degree by around £11,000.
  • The beneficiaries from this change in terms of actual lifetime loan repayments are students from low-income backgrounds who go on to have high earnings. We estimate that students eligible for the full maintenance grant who are in the lowest-earning 60%of graduates would experience little or no change in lifetime repayments, while those who have earnings in the top 10% of graduates would save around £22,000.

Sutton trust – fairer fees

In contrast to the IFS paper above, The Sutton Trust, a social mobility foundation, has released Fairer Fees which proposes using a sliding scale of means-tested fees and the reintroduction of maintenance grants. This focuses not on the economic effect of changing the structure (which the IFS says is regressive) but on the psychological impact of reducing debt.

They state that implementing these measures would cost the Treasury the same amount as October’s reduction to the student loan repayment threshold. The benefits of the approach are that they would cut average student debt by 50% (psychological benefit encouraging the debt adverse to reconsider HE) but with the greatest beneficial effects on students from low household income backgrounds “it would slash debt among the 40% poorest students by 75%, from £51,600 down to £12,700, and mean those from the poorest backgrounds emerged with two thirds less debt than their better-off counterparts”. The report claims changing to the proposed fee policy would also benefit the Treasury as it would reduce the proportion of graduates never repaying their full loans from 81% to 56% with the overall proportion of debt not paid back to 35%. However, the Treasury may consider these figures in a different light as there would be fewer graduates required to repay their loans because of the reintroduction of maintenance grants. The report makes the following five recommendations:

  1. The government should implement its promised review of higher education funding. While the October reforms were welcome, there needs to be a thorough review of deeper reforms to the system. In particular, the crisis in part-time numbers should be addressed and bespoke solutions explored.
  2. Our proposed solution would be to introduce a system of means-tested fees which waives fees entirely for those from low income backgrounds, and increases in steps for those from higher income households. Significant ‘cliff edges’ between income bands should be avoided as much as possible.
  3. Maintenance grants, abolished in 2016, should be restored, providing support for those who need it most and reducing the debt burden of the least well-off, so that they graduate with lower debt than those from better-off backgrounds.
  4. Losses to higher education institutions through lower fee income should be replaced by increased teaching grants. While this involves greater upfront costs to the Exchequer, it also provides a lever by which government could promote the provision of courses in certain areas such as STEM. This teaching grant compensation would be adjusted to ensure that universities admitting intakes with lower average fee levels would not suffer any drop in income.
  5. Reducing access gaps to university, especially top universities, should be at the heart of government higher education policy. There needs to be a joined-up effort to tackle the persistent access gap for those from lower socio-economic backgrounds across all aspects of higher education, from student finance to the UCAS application process to the use of contextual data by universities in admissions.

Returning to the Sutton Trust’s recommendations it is interesting to note that it doesn’t tackle Lord Willetts’ (ex-Universities and Science Minister) calls for a differentiated loan system for mature and part time students. Willett believes an alternative loan scheme coupled with more diverse degree models would tackle the part time and mature falling student number crisis by ruling out both psychological and financial deterrents. We’ll await the Budget with baited breath to find out if the Sutton Trust (and their accompanying press attention: Huff Post, Independent, Metro) will influence Government spending.

The Economics of Higher, Further and Technical Education

The Lords’ Economic Affairs Select Committee has been conducting a series of oral evidence sessions to investigate The Economics of Higher, Further and Technical Education. The aim of the investigation is to consider whether the funding of post-school education is focused sufficiently on the skills the British economy needs. The transcripts of a particularly interesting session held on 10 October were released this week revealing a stimulating debate. The witnesses were Lord Willetts, Lord Adonis and Paul Johnson (Director of the Institute of Fiscal Studies). Some interesting bits are below:

One third of graduates won’t end up in a graduate job.

  • Willetts: while they may not be in graduate employment when young they have a higher chance of securing graduate employment eventually..   Jobs considered non-graduate in the official standard occupational classifications are becoming more demanding, furthermore graduates seem to change the nature of the work they do just by virtue of their additional skills

Does what the HE system is trying to achieve match labour market outcomes, and how does it relate to other routes people could take?

  • Adonis: due to high fee levels some careers that previously required graduates are now moving to take non-graduates. [Examples given were big accountancy firms and the Civil Service who are recruiting high-level apprentices into graduate roles]. Graduates who previously would have gone to university are “now seizing prestigious high-level apprenticeship opportunities as a way of going straight into careers without having to take degrees and take on debt. I see no reason in principle why that could not go a lot further.” “I see no reason in principle why accountancy, and even the law, which, if you go back two generations, were not graduate careers for many of those participating in them, could not once again become much more vocational careers, where people can train on the job, get qualifications that are recognised in their profession and not have to take on high levels of debt. That is much more the case in German-style economies where the number of graduates is much lower to start with.”

Is student debt discouraging people from attending university and will our economy suffer?

  • Adonis: If you talk to sixth formers and those making decisions at 18 or 19, it is undoubtedly true that they are looking at alternatives to university in a way they were not a few years ago. As the number of high level apprenticeships increases they will become increasingly attractive. I suspect that we will see trends in both directions over the next few years. It will not by any means be just a trend towards more graduates.
  • Paul Johnson: there is no evidence in the data that the fee system has had much effect on the numbers of people going into higher education. There may be an effect later on, and a group of young people may be making different choices, but overall, as far as we can tell, the numbers have not been affected.

Given that many graduates will not repay debt is there any argument to forgive debt in public sector shortages areas (teachers, doctors, nurses)?

  • Adonis: “I tried hard to persuade the Treasury of the virtues of that argument. I did not get very far because it was convinced that… it would be left with almost no debt to collect.”
  • Baroness Kingsmill: In the US debt is forgiven relative to the number of years worked in the dearth sector – for 5 years work you’re forgiven half the debt; for 10 years, you are forgiven the whole lot.
  • Paul Johnson: rather than forgiving debt it’s more effective just to pay them more. Why do it in a roundabout way by forgiving debt?

On technical and vocational training – see the apprenticeships section below for more on this

University – seen as the only option

  • The discussion turned to suggesting young people choose university because it’s the most obvious and easiest to understand route, that there is limited information or advice to support young people who might choose an alternative route.
  • Willets responded: I agree with your point that other routes need to be clearly signalled, but I expect that in a modern western economy the managed transition to adulthood via three years of higher education is the mainstream route people will take. The danger of some people going down the alternative route is that I know who they will be. Eton will not be sending 25% of its kids on apprenticeships. You will reopen the social divide in participation by advantaged and disadvantaged groups.

Discussion of university place number controls was peppered through the committee hearing.

  • Adonis argued against controlling numbers based on the jobs needed by the economy (referencing Robbins): How should we think of universities? Should we try to predict the jobs that people are going to do in 20 or 30 years’ time and allocate places at university in accordance with our predictions? He said, “No, we cannot know”. Instead, he wanted an open, flexible system, heavily influenced by the number of people with the capacity to benefit from higher education.

Decline in part time students – a different loan system needed

  • Willets stated the decline in part time students was one of his greatest regrets in his time as Minister. He continued: The lesson I learn from it is that, rather than the seductive idea that you can have a single pot per person to pay for their education, you need different models for different groups. We extended loans to part-time students thinking it would have the same beneficial effect on them as the loans for full-time students, and all would be fine. The evidence is that the loans for part-time students have not worked. There has been low take up and people have been put off. We need new mechanisms for helping adults to study part-time, and I accept that the loan model has not delivered for them… If at any point we were looking at how to spend limited public money and what public spending would do, rather than spending it on compensating universities for a general reduction in fees, I have a list of things where I think there is a need. Certainly, a public spending package for adult learners, including helping mature students with the cost of tertiary education, be it university or not, would be a high priority.

International Students Fees/Cross-subsidisation

  • Discussion on whether it was right to charge international students a greater fee took place -asking whether the international students were getting value for money.
  • Adonis: if we were overcharging international students they would quite rapidly start to go elsewhere. We seem to be pretty price competitive with other major international education providers, and less expensive than many of the providers in the United States.

Charging differential fees – see the fees section above for this bit

On sandwich courses:

  • Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted: We often hear from companies that the graduates they recruit are not job-ready…do we have the right approach in what we are looking for from university education? Is it delivering?
  • Willetts: I have a sneaking regard for…the extra year sandwich course. We should remember that, now, about half of all university students are doing vocational technical training courses that include time with an employer. We could have taken a different route, but Britain has ended up with a large amount of our professional and technical education now happening in a university context, and that is why university students are absolutely entitled to know which of those routes lead to good, well-paid jobs.

Flexible Degree Models

  • Baroness Harding of Winscombe: How do we get more flexible university education. It feels better with one year or two-year courses and courses you can dip into through a decade, not just three years. That seems to me, from a business perspective, to be a more effective means of building the skills we might need in the modern economy than assuming that all institutions doing three-year courses from the age of 18 to 21 is the right answer.
  • Lord Adonis: The failure to offer two-year degrees is a serious one on the part of universities. One of the effects of stuffing their mouths with money, which is what we have done over the last five years, has been to reduce significantly the incentives on them to do so. The Minister for higher education, in what I think was a very surprising change in the rules, is now allowing universities to charge the equivalent of three years’ worth of fees, taking out state loans over two years, as a way of encouraging them to offer two-year degrees when, surely, the rationale for two-year degrees ought to be that they should be at lower cost and at lower fees for the students.

Evolution of Apprenticeships

Wonkhe have published the blog: How apprenticeships can help productivity and social mobility which considers the evolution of apprenticeship policy. The article favours current government apprenticeship policy and on social mobility states: we have a unique once-in-a-generation opportunity to develop exciting work-based apprenticeship routes for new and underrepresented cohorts of learners. This will call for new patterns of apprenticeship delivery, new partnerships and new thinking.

There was some debate at the Economic Affairs Select Committee on this (see above for the rest);

  • Willets: Sometimes the higher education debate is just the lightning rod for a debate about what kind of structure we think the British economy should have. The German educational and industrial models are closely linked. In a highly regulated labour market, with a large amount of licence to practise that you need to secure to do a whole range of jobs, and apprenticeship routes into those jobs, and provincial banks funding the companies that protect those jobs—in other words, a much more corporatist model—you can also have a whole series of regulated training routes into specific types of vocational employment.
  • Adonis: “…if you are pretty clear what you want to do and which direction you want to go in and it is a commercial occupation, it is better to learn on the job and not accumulate between £60,000 and £100,000 of debt and be less work-ready at the age of 21 than you would be if you started at 18.”

And later on:

  • Lord Layard: I should declare that I work in a university, and I know that the rate of return for university education is reasonable, but the rate of return for apprenticeship and further education is generally found to be a lot higher. Is it not peculiar that we have not put more resources and effort into developing that side of it?…Failure to develop the non-university vocational education route, both at lower and higher levels, is a major cause of the inequality of wages in our country. What is being done about the alternative?
  • Adonis: I do not think that, somehow, we have a weak apprenticeship stream because we have a strong graduate stream. We have a weak apprenticeship stream because the state has not devoted resources, energy and commitment to creating a strong apprenticeship stream. Many of the countries that have them also have very strong universities. It is not a question of regulation; it is a question of proper funding streams, proper qualification systems and a commitment by employers to foster skills among their workforce, which historically has not happened here.
  • Willetts: It is absolutely right that we should promote technical education; we find it in universities, and, by and large, around the world the places that do it well tend to seek university title in the end.
  • Paul Johnson: We still do a very poor job for too many young people in vocational education. We need to focus more on apprenticeships. A serious issue is that Governments have tried, to some extent in the past, and have continually failed serially to make changes happen in an effective way. The serious question is why. Is it about political focus? Is it about resource? We certainly put a lot less resource into apprenticeships than we do into the university system.

Widening Participation – Schools

School Sponsorship

UUK have published Raising attainment through university-school partnerships, a good practice booklet of case studies detailing successful collaborative partnerships between universities and schools to raise pupil attainment and appetite for HE. The case studies are diverse and the booklet concludes that preserving flexibility of arrangements is a key aspect of the sector’s drive to raise standards in schools and remove the attainment gap between advantaged and disadvantaged pupils. Two recommendations are made:

  • focus should be on ends rather than means, with great flexibility over how HE can support schools based on local context and need whilst meeting the Government’s objectives
  • universities and their school partners need access to information on ‘what works’ – the Evidence & Impact Exchange (proposed by the Social Mobility Advisory Group) would support this by evaluating and promoting the evidence on social mobility, and assisting the direction of future partnerships to support attainment, access and student success

At the UUK Access and Student Success summit on Tuesday a Government representative made clear that broader (and effective) forms of partnership working are welcome but that they expect more universities to be involved in a school sponsorship style model.

Background: In December 2016 the Government made clear that they expected universities to be more interventionist proposing that all universities sponsor or set up a school in exchange for charging higher HE tuition fees. The Schools that work for everyone consultation garnered responses to the Government’s aim to harness universities’ expertise and resources to drive up attainment through direct involvement. (Note: the Government has not yet published a response to the consultation feedback.) When the snap election was announced the school sponsorship agenda featured in the Conservative’s manifesto. However, recently there has been little additional push from Government.

Working quietly in the wings throughout this period, OFFA have been urging institutions to make progress against a more diluted version of the Government’s aim – that universities take measures to support school pupils’ attainment and increase school collaboration through the Fair Access Agreements. In this they are acting on the strategic priorities the Government set out for them (originally in February 2016). While the push from OFFA has been to consider school sponsorship they appear to concur with the sector that this ‘one size fits all’ approach is not appropriate. Furthermore, it may run counter to social mobility objectives as encouraging an institution to focus the majority of its required WP spend on just one local school disadvantages pupils in other schools who will no longer receive the university’s support. This approach has faced much criticism from the education sector and from some MPs.

OFFA’s 2018-19 strategic guidance to institutions: It is now imperative to progress and scale up work with schools and colleges to accelerate the sector’s progress….[we are] asking you to increase the pace and scope of your work with schools to raise attainment, so that the teaching and learning outcomes for schools that work with universities are enhanced.  The guidance went on to request detailed information on the specific attainment-focused cohorts, success criteria, and how the work is planned to grow over time.

What will the New Year bring?  It seems unlikely that Government intend to drop the school sponsorship agenda. In spring/summer 2018 the Office for Students will come into its full powers, with a new Director, Chris Millward, at the Fair Access helm. We’ll see of this is a priority then.

Office for Students regulatory consultation

Continuing our series of updates on the OfS consultation – three weeks ago we looked at widening participation, this week we look at quality and standards, and protecting students as consumers. This section includes extensive quotes from the consultation document, reordered and edited to make it easier to follow.  BU will be preparing an institutional response to this consultation. Policy@bournemouth.ac.uk will work with colleagues across BU and collate our response. (Wonkhe have helpfully grouped them all on one web page)

  1. Objective 2: all students, from all backgrounds, receive a high quality academic experience, and their qualifications hold their value over time in line with sector-recognised standards
Consultation question:: Do you agree or disagree that a new Quality Review system should focus on securing outcomes for students to an expected standard, rather than focusing on how outcomes are achieved?

Consultation question:: Would exploring alternative methods of assessment, including Grade Point Average (GPA), be something that the OfS should consider, alongside the work the sector is undertaking itself to agree sector-recognised standards?

The quality conditions are:

  • B1: The provider must deliver well-designed courses that provide a high quality academic experience and enable a student’s achievement to be reliably assessed.
  • B2: The provider must support students, including through the admissions system, to successfully complete and benefit from a high quality academic experience.
  • B3: The provider must deliver successful outcomes for its students, which are recognised and valued by employers, and/or enable further study.

Quality code: “In parallel to this consultation, the UK wide Standing Committee for Quality Assessment (UKSCQA) has issued a consultation on revised expectations for the Quality Code.. The UKSCQA is working to conclude its consultation, and to finalise a revised set of expectations during Spring 2018. ….The new Quality Review system will provide a sound basis for the assessment of the quality and standards conditions, and be able to evolve with the increasing diversity of providers.”

New providers: “To facilitate greater diversity in provision and student experience, the OfS will make it easier for high quality providers to enter the sector. ….The OfS will also reduce the emphasis on a provider’s track record, which risks shutting out high quality and credible new providers.”

Grade inflation: “The OfS will annually analyse and arrange for the publication of information on grade inflation, directly challenging the sector where there is clear evidence of grade inflation”.

It was recently announced that the TEF will also include a new grade inflation metric on the proportion of students awarded different classifications over time. ….The TEF will therefore provider a counterweight to traditional ranking systems, some of which inadvertently encourage grade inflation by giving providers credit for the number of high-class degrees they award without further scrutiny.

A new condition will address this: C1: The provider must ensure the value of qualifications awarded to students at the point of qualification and over time, in line with sector-recognised standards.

Freedom of speech: Much heralded in the press around the launch of the consultation, there is actually very little about this (and it is not mentioned at all in the student summary). There is a lot more detail about the public interest proposal (see the section on the Public Interest Principles below), but this bit is relevant in this context:

  • the provider has set up a code of practice to ensure compliance with the statutory duty in section 43 of the Education (No.2) Act 1986 and compliance with any other applicable obligations in relation to freedom of speech
  • the provider ensures that its governing documents consider its obligations in relation to freedom of speech, and do not contain any provisions which contradict these obligations
  • the governing body abides by its governing documents in practice with respect to any issues around freedom of speech

Objective 3: that all students, from all backgrounds, have their interests as consumers protected while they study, including in the event of provider, campus, or course closure

“Consumer rights are not limited to protecting students from the very worst situations where their provider or course closes entirely. It is also important that students understand what they can expect of their providers in terms of issues such as teaching hours and support available.”

  • Condition D: “The provider must be financially viable and financially sustainable and must have appropriate resources to provide and fully deliver the higher education courses as advertised ….and enable the provider to continue to comply with all conditions of its registration.”
  • Condition E4: “Providers must demonstrate in developing their policies and procedures governing their contractual and other relationships with students that they have given due regard to relevant guidance as to how to comply with consumer law.”
  • Condition G: “The provider must cooperate with the requirements of the student complaints scheme run by the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education including the subscription requirements and make students aware of their ability to use the scheme.”

Consumer law: “The provider is expected to submit a short self-assessment, describing how, in developing its policies and procedures governing their contractual and other relationships with prospective students (and relationships once those students have become current students), it has given due regard to relevant guidance about how to comply with consumer law.”

“In terms of the initial students’ contracts and consumer rights registration condition, the OfS will look at steps taken by providers in relation to prospective students i.e. it will look at policies and procedures governing contractual and other relationships with students who are commencing their studies from the academic year 2019/20, ensuring the policies and procedures are sound to govern the contractual and other relationships with those students once they have become current students.”

“The provider’s self-assessment should be accompanied by supporting evidence, demonstrating how it meets the condition. “

“In order to determine whether or not a provider is complying with the students’ contracts and consumer rights registration condition on an ongoing basis, the OfS’s judgement will be informed by the provider’s behaviour, information submitted by the provider, and any other information available to the OfS, such as whistleblowing / public interest disclosure reports submitted to OfS, or information from other relevant bodies, such as OIA, CMA or Trading Standards.”

Consultation question: Do you agree or disagree that a student contracts condition should apply to providers in the Approved categories, to address the lack of consistency in providers’ adherence to consumer protection law?

Student transfer: “Students should have, and be aware of, the option to transfer. For individual students, like the new parent changing to a part-time course so they can spend more time with family, or the carer who needs to move to another part of the country, but doesn’t want to give up their studies, transfer has the potential to improve their lives dramatically. For students collectively, the availability of student transfer empowers choice and helps drive competition. The OfS will work to ensure students are able to transfer fluidly within and between providers wherever it best meets their needs and aspirations.”

Condition H: “The provider must publish information about its arrangements for a student to transfer. If the provider lacks such arrangements, it must explain how it facilitates the transfer of a student.”

“The OfS will monitor whether providers have procedures in place to facilitate student transfer, along with information about students transferring into courses delivered by their institution …The OfS will use this reporting to raise the profile of student transfer for students, and highlighting successes, best practice, and areas where further work is needed for providers. If necessary, the OfS will go further to promote student transfer and raise awareness among students to help individuals make the choices that are right for them, or even commission research into the means by which transfer could be most effectively encouraged.”

Consultation question: Do you agree or disagree with the proposed general ongoing registration condition requiring the publication of information on student transfer arrangements? How might the OfS best facilitate, encourage or promote the provision of student transfer arrangements?

Student protection plans

“The OfS will be a market regulator, and as such it should not have to be in the business of having to prop up failing institutions, and neither should Government. The possibility of exit is a crucial part of a healthy, competitive and well-functioning market, and such exits happen already – although not frequently – in the higher education sector.”

“However, the OfS’ regulatory framework, and in particular the financial viability and sustainability condition and the OfS’s early warning approach to monitoring, are designed to prevent sudden and unexpected closures. This does not mean departmental, campus or even institutional closures will never occur. Higher education providers are autonomous institutions, and as such are entitled to make their own decisions about any future business model or viability of any particular course or subject.”

“The OfS’ interest is in ensuring that such changes and closures do not adversely affect students and their ability to conclude their studies and obtain a degree. This is why it will be a registration condition for all providers in the Approved categories to have an agreed student protection plan in place (see condition F) – the core purpose of which will be ensuring continuity of study.”

Condition F: “The provider must have in force a student protection plan which has been approved by the OfS (which sets out what actions they will take to minimise any impact on the students’ continuation of study should the provider discontinue the course, subject, discipline or exit the market completely) and the provider commits to taking all reasonable steps to comply with the provisions of that plan.”

“Student protection plans will set out what students can expect to happen in the event of course, campus or department closure, or if an institution exits the market. The plans must be approved by the OfS, and be easily available to current and prospective students. Providers with a low risk of unplanned closure would be required to have light-touch plan “

“Any measures must be feasible and practicable, and be backed up by clear implementation plans. When agreeing SPPs with the OfS the provider may be expected to provide some sort of reassurance on the financial position, which may include additional measures such as financial guarantees, or escrow type arrangements where a higher risk of market exit specifically is identified.”

Electoral registration – The HERA included a provision that the OfS could require providers to take steps to facilitate electoral registration. This is a provider level requirement that does not fit easily under the headings. The consultation says that:

“A healthy democratic society is one which has social justice at its heart. It is also dependent on the active participation of its citizens. The Government is, therefore, committed to helping ensure that everyone who is eligible to vote is able to do so, including students. However, people cannot vote until they have registered to vote and higher education providers have a major part to play in achieving this.“

“The condition will require higher education providers to cooperate with EROs, in accordance with such steps as the OfS considers appropriate. The Secretary of State will issue guidance under section 2(3) of HERA…subject to the outcome of this consultation, we expect this Ministerial Guidance is likely to:

  • reinforce the requirement for higher education providers to co-operate with EROs’ requests under Regulation 23 of the Representation of the People (England and Wales) Regulations 2001 for information on students for the purposes for electoral registration. We want providers to understand that they have a legal obligation to co-operate with these requests
  • include a direction for higher education providers to work in partnership with their local electoral services team to actively promote electoral registration amongst their student populations”

“The Government proposes to review and evaluate the overall effectiveness of this condition, once it has been implemented over a sufficient period to facilitate the gathering of appropriate data in terms of numbers of students who have registered. The evaluation will examine how effective the condition has been at helping increase successful applications from students to join the electoral register. “

More to follow on other aspects of the consultation

Brexit – Parliamentary Question

Q – Dr Matthew Offord: What assessment he has made of the capacity within UK universities and research institutes to continue to investigate the European geo-political area after the UK leaves the EU.

A – George Eustice: The Department has made no such assessment but the Prime Minister explained in her Florence Speech that the UK will continue to take part in those specific policies and programmes which are greatly to the UK and the EU’s joint advantage, such as those that promote science, education and culture.

Other news

Advertising Standards: The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has upheld disputes with six universities claiming to be top or within a top percentage for student satisfaction, graduate prospects, academic discipline, and global or national ranking. Leicester, East Anglia, Strathclyde, Falmouth, Teesside and the University of West London have all been instructed to remove their misleading content. The ASA has stated universities should substantiate such comparative statements by ensuring that the data behind the claim is sufficiently robust and can stand up to impartial interrogation. New guidance for universities on the required standards has been published here.

Press coverage of the ASA’s decisions: BBC, Guardian, and the Times.

Wonkhe have a guest blogger, Charles Heymann, who argues for universities to radically rethink their marketing straplines focusing on the institution’s values.

It remains to be seen if the ASA decisions, which threaten all top claims, will affect the sector’s preoccupation with rankings or influence student and parental opinion of the validity of such rankings.

Undergraduate employment: The Office for National Statistics has been researching undergraduate students’ employment whilst studying. In 2014/15 72.7% of students were in paid employment. Interestingly the South West had the highest employment percentage (77.6%) and London the lowest. Particularly notable for BU is that in East Dorset 9 out of 10 students were counted within the employment figures.

Konfer: This week saw the official launch of phase 2 of Konfer – a collaborative initiative from the National Centre for Universities and Business, the Research Councils, and HEFCE. It aims to open up research, researchers, and services within UK universities to businesses and other organisations looking for collaboration or new ideas, and to translate the research into jobs, innovation and economic growth. Described as ‘Google meets LinkedIn for university collaboration’ it utilises a search facility (search for an expert, a paper, a piece of equipment, a business or charity partner) to connect with the supplier.

David Sweeney, Director of Research and Knowledge Exchange at HEFCE and Executive Chair Designate of Research England, said: “konfer promotes stronger commercialisation, business and policy links and wider societal engagement with publicly funded research. It opens out what universities and research institutes do to a wider audience and I’m delighted to see it reaching full launch stage following development work with universities and businesses of all sizes.”

BU’s Research and Knowledge Exchange Office engaged with Konfer during its early development and continue to develop our involvement.

Immigration: The Home Office has doubled the number of Tier 1 visas, available to those with exceptional talent or promise in the technology, arts, creative and sciences industries. Two thousand visas will now be made available for those endorsed by Tech City UK, the Arts Council of England, the British Academy, the Royal Society or the Royal Academy of Engineering. (WONKHE)

Policy Research Principles: The National Audit Office (NAO) has published their review Cross-government funding of research and development concluding that a more joined up approach is needed for some science based cross-departmental research areas within leadership, research principles and coordinated, prioritised funding arrangements. It concludes that BEIS and UKRI will play leading roles.

Government needs a coherent view of the UK’s research strengths relative to other nations and analysis of funding in key areas of research, so that it can prioritise areas where activity is lagging behind and ensure the UK is investing in the right areas…there is a risk that funders do not have coherent data across research areas on capability, funding gaps, or outcomes of research and development to inform decisions on national priorities and strategic direction..” (Amyas Morse Head of NAO)

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HE policy update w/e 6th October 2017 (belated)

As the focus of the conference season for HE has been fees, loans and debt, we have a slightly delayed policy update with a catch up on this complicated issue, with a few hints of other things to come in our regular update at the end of the week.

Discussions about student finance have dominated the news and chat across the higher education sector consistently since the early summer, with a “national conversation” and now calls for a “major review” – which may or may not be happening. So it seemed like a good time to look at the problem, some of the proposed solutions and what might happen next.

Although of course concerns about student debt, the cost of the government subsidy for student loans and whether university degrees provide “value for money” have been a consistent theme, the general election really brought focus, because of the Labour pledge to abolish tuition fees for new students and the desire to forgive existing student debt. The latter was interpreted by some as a “promise” and others as a “wish”, but the combination allegedly swayed young people in huge numbers to (a) vote, and (b) vote Labour. I have written about this elsewhere – students and young people did turn out in large numbers and many of them did vote Labour – but it is highly unlikely (at least in my view) that this was down to a single issue.

The immediate effect of all this was that in the summer the government postponed the announcement of the anticipated inflation increase to the tuition fee cap in 2018/19 for universities with Year 2 TEF awards (i.e.most universities but not some new or alternative providers). The delay prompted speculation that the rise would be cancelled (despite already being provided for in legislation), and sure enough, just before the Conservative Party conference the Prime Minster announced that there would be no increase in 2018/19 – and also that the repayment threshold for tuition fee loans will go up (from £21k to £25k) from 6th April 2018. The written ministerial statement that confirms all this was issued on 9th October 2017. Note that the upper threshold is also going up and that this only applies to those with loans since 2012.

So what next? The PM announced a “major review” – but did she mean it? The ministerial statement (as the most recent indication) says: “The Government will set out further steps on HE student financing in due course”. In the meantime, Sheffield University have announced their own review.

We will consider some of the options, some of the implications, and make an unwise effort to predict what might happen next.

Option 1: Tinker with the current system

The repayment threshold rise was long overdue, for many, as it was part of the original deal for student loans that was reversed, because the impact of the freeze in the threshold was regressive. This is not just a tweak. The Institute for Fiscal Studies have assessed the cost as over £2.3billion per year in the long run – a “big (and expensive) giveaway to graduates”.

Postponing the inflation based fee cap increase could have implications for the Teaching Excellence Framework. Fee cap increases were a “carrot” to encourage universities to improve their teaching and earn an increased fee through better TEF awards (on hold since the House of Lords pressure on the Higher Education and Research Act before the election meant that plans for differentiated fee caps linked to TEF were postponed).

Those hoping that dropping fee increases (at least for now) means that the TEF isn’t necessary are (at least for now) going to be disappointed – the link to fees was to support the TEF, not the other way around – and so on 9th October 2017, alongside the fee notification referred to above, the Department for Education issued the year 3 TEF specification. The changes were anticipated in the Minister’s big speech at Universities UK on 7th September, and here it is, now renamed the “Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework” (TESOF). So no sign of that being abandoned.

[Notes on TEF: The name change is interesting after so much feedback from everyone that the one thing that the TEF doesn’t measure was teaching quality. The metrics changes this time are limited to including LEO data – longitudinal educational outcomes (employment and salary) and a self-assessment on grade inflation. The subject level pilot is also starting this year, along with a pilot of new metrics on teaching intensity. Remember also that there is a possibility that subject level TEF might also be linked to fees – something that some in the House of Lords thought was a good thing at the time that they threw out the link between TEF and fees – they said it was meaningless at an institutional level but more meaningful at a subject level.]

Changing the interest rate – read the myth busing article from MoneySavingExpert on why this isn’t as obvious as it sounds. There is no question that the headline rate is high but the article points out that different rates apply to students once they graduate according to what they are earning. Nevertheless, students at university right now are accruing interest at 6.1%. And (to the extent that it is repaid) that is helping to fund those who don’t repay.

Give it a new name. This is potentially a flier – after all the TEF has been renamed after the Minister insisted at length that the name was not important and what counted was what the TEF actually did. In a debate with Martin Lewis (of MoneySavingExpert) on 3rd October, Jo Johnson agreed that there was a problem with terminology. Instead of a “student loan” he offered a “time-limited, income-linked, graduate contribution” – which doesn’t trip off the tongue. However cumbersome as a name, this does make it clear the Minister’s position, which is that the fact that the government writes off a lot of debt is not accidental, or a sign that the system is broken, it is a deliberate investment in the cost of education which supports those who cannot afford later to repay it. [

[While we are talking about names, could there be a reconsideration of the name of the Office for Students as well?]

Add more conditions. There has already been a bit of this. In the Minister’s speech to UUK referred to above, Jo Johnson said that the government would:

  • consult on: “making it a condition of joining the register of higher education providers that institutions clearly set out in this way how they will provide their courses so that there is full compliance with consumer law”
  • Introduce a new ongoing condition of registration requiring the governing bodies of [Approved and Approved (fee cap)] providers to publish the number of staff paid more than £100,000 per year and to provide a clear justification of the salaries of those paid more than £150,000 per annum.

So there is an option to add other conditions too – such as giving bursaries, fee waivers for students with financial difficulties etc. But the Office for Fair Access don’t think that bursaries and direct funding are the best way to increase participation – see the blog by Les Ebdon on Wonkhe. And there is still a question about how these are funded (see below).

Option 2: Just cut the cap – or introduce variable caps

One proposal trailed in the newspapers recently as being under serious consideration by the Chancellor as a plan for the November budget, was that the fee cap should just be cut. This is linked in some quarters to the argument (by Lord Adonis and some others) that universities are operating a cartel by (mostly) all charging the maximum fee. The Times Higher Education did an analysis of this:

“According to an article in The Sunday Times on 17 September, Mr Hammond is considering a plan to scrap the current fee cap of £9,250 for home undergraduates and replace it with a maximum of £7,500. The government would then top up the fee with some direct funding per student for those studying higher-cost science and technology subjects. But such a move could mean universities losing £1,750 for students enrolled on any other course.”

Apart from caps linked to TEF outcomes, described above, one solution that has been proposed in a range of forms is that there should be different fees – perhaps enforced by different caps, for different courses. There’s an interesting history lesson here. Of course, this could be more subtle than just allowing the universities with the highest earning graduates to charge the highest fees – the Economist looked at value add recently. Caps could be linked to cost – the Times Higher Education showed an analysis of costs at a subject level in an article on 5th October. This is a very complex argument, because of issues about cross subsidisation across the sector, including for bursaries and research.

Lower fees overall, or lower fees for some courses could lead to courses being cut as well as a big focus on cost savings in institutions. The UUK statistics show that UK undergraduate tuition fees were 27% of total income in 2014-15. Universities spent £14.42 billion on teaching and research, 69% of it on staff costs. Cost cutting will be difficult.

As noted above, Lord Adonis has claimed that universities are running a cartel – opening the door to legal remedies that would force differentiation in fees – but there has been a strong response to this argument.

Option 3: Make someone else pay for HE

The government

The Labour Party’s preferred option is to go back to the old days – scrap tuition fees and centrally fund HE. Many commentators have poured cold water on this idea for two main reasons – affordability, and because they argue that this policy is regressive compared to the current system. If lower paid graduates don’t have to repay their loans, they benefit most from that “income linked, time limited government contribution”, while higher paid graduates do repay (and subsidise the others through the interest rate). There is an IFS report on the impact of the Labour manifesto pledge here.

The affordability discussion is linked to the other objection to this policy – that because it would otherwise be unaffordable, it is inevitable that student numbers will have to be limited – either by the reintroduction of the Student Number Control system or some version of it. It appears that Labour do not agree that this is inevitable.

Many have looked at Scotland – where there are still controls on numbers, and pointed out that free tuition associated with a cap on numbers has had a negative impact on participation amongst lower participation groups.

Of course, it is also government policy to increase the number of young people pursuing technical qualifications, including apprenticeships – which may push down the total number of students at universities, and so may make that less of an issue.

There is a strange potential Brexit bonus here for the government, if not for universities or for the wider economy. It is anticipated that EU students will have to pay international fees after Brexit, and will cease to be eligible for student loans. A Higher Education Policy Institute paper suggested that this will reduce the number of EU students substantially, by up to 31,000 students in one year. Some of these students have loans they don’t repay – so there is scope for a saving in the up front loan funding and a smaller write-off later– although it is limited.

Before the referendum, a House of Commons briefing paper on student loans estimated that 65% of EU students took up fee loans in 2013/14. Some of these students may be taking loans because they can, rather than because they need to (according to UUK, more EU borrowers than English ones repay in full or make large repayments). It has been hard to recover debt from some of these students, although the overall default number is smaller than for UK students; the government’s student loan repayment strategy (Feb 2016) aims to improve collection rates.  For more information about student loans to EU students read the Student Loans Company Statistical First Release – Student Loans in England for the financial year 2015-16

Business

David Green, the VC of the University of Worcester, wrote in the Guardian in July that there should be a return to the pre-2012 system with a twist:

“The pre-2012 system was a reasonable compromise, with students paying approximately one third of the total fees through an interest-free, index-linked government repayment scheme.

Since there are three beneficiaries of higher education, there should be three principal sources of funding: taxpayers, companies and the individual. As well as tuition fees and general taxation, there should be a payroll tax or levy on enterprises with the proceeds earmarked for higher education. Introducing a contribution from companies will ensure that philanthropic funding provides a vital boost without serving as a substitute. “

The levy route is being used to fund apprenticeships – it seems likely that the government will want to see how that works before trying another direct tax on businesses – especially as the link to employment is less direct for HE than it is for apprenticeships.

Universities

In a variation on this theme, Ryan Shorthouse of Conservative think tank Bright Blue suggested that universities should pay towards the cost of funding student loans: “Institutions producing a disproportionate number of graduates who will need their student loans subsidised should contribute a levy to government.

  • That’s an interesting idea, but there are some problems with it. In other markets, suppliers can pay a levy towards the “greater good” e.g. green levies paid by energy companies – these are funded either by increased prices for consumers or reduced profits (and reduced dividends for shareholders).
  • The parallels in higher education don’t work in the same way – fees are capped, so the consumer won’t pay more, and as most universities do not have shareholders and do not pay dividends, the cost would therefore be funded by cutting investment in something else. That seems unlikely to help improve outcomes for students (as was argued by the NUS in relation to differential fees linked to TEF, the outcome is that poor performers have less money to invest in improving performance). There is an interesting Wonkhe article with a US perspective that supports that view here).
  • What this would probably mean over time is that those courses with worse outcomes on salary would be cut. Perhaps that is the desired policy outcome – remove courses that are not “profitable” for society from government funding altogether. And that opens another whole debate about the value of education beyond salaries.

Graduates

There is also the graduate tax option. There’s a 2016 article by Martin McQuillan here and one by Will Cooling here. This could just be a name change for student loans – or something more drastic – one policy trailed recently was that all graduates should pay the tax – regardless of when they studied (but of course, if they didn’t have loans, no-one knows who they are…). The graduate tax still seems to be Lib Dem policy. There is a more recent review of the idea here.

Option 4: Leave tuition fees – focus on maintenance grants

This is UUK’s flagship policy in this area. The most recent article is by Alistair Jarvis for the Telegraph which covers other ground but also refers to their views on maintenance. This was described by Janet Beer, the UUK president, in a speech to UUK’s annual conference on 7th September and in the Guardian here. In a recent THE article, Professor Beer also suggests that the Welsh model of maintenance support alongside fees might be worth looking at for England.

So what’s next?

It is very hard to see where this might go. The hint in the ministerial announcement could suggest there is more to come – the promised review or more tinkering? Certainly no-one will believe anyone who suggests that nothing else will change – the two changes that have been announced were denied energetically until quite recently.

The obvious tinkering option that is still available is interest rates. That might change in the budget – but on top of the repayment threshold change it will be expensive (even though much of the accrued interest is monopoly money – it isn’t repaid so it was never real in the first place). Andrew McGettigan explains how the government accounting works in a blog here.

The Chancellor might announce a more dramatic shift in policy in the budget – but it seems unlikely that he would announce a reduction in the fee caps without more work to understand the implications. He might announce a limited programme of maintenance grants.

And he might announce a review. That would push the issue into the long grass for a while. It seems incredible that there could be another new idea that no-one has thought of yet, given all the words on this subject over the last year.  But there could be.

And if there is a review – a graduate tax of some sort – whether a renaming with other tinkering or a more fundamental change that means graduates pay more than just their own loans– does seem to be a possibility.

And given the context described above, it seems likely that any more fundamental change would be accompanied with a change to the current single fee cap. If the government is going to pay more of the cost of HE –or make business or graduates pay- it is unlikely to accept that all courses should be funded at top of the cap. It is inevitable that the value for money concept would feature somewhere, whether linked to quality, outcomes or costs.  So those who hope for a review need to be prepared for a differentiated fee or funding caps.

Next stop – the budget.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

65111                                                                                 65070

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

HE policy update for the w/e 15th September 2017

REF 2021

As we noted last week, on 1st September 2017 HEFCE published the initial decisions on REF 2021. This does not include decisions regarding submitting staff, output portability or the eligibility of institutions to participate in the REF. There is another consultation on those issues and BU’s response is being prepared by RKEO – please contact Julie Northam if you would like to be involved.  This week, the four UK funding bodies published a summary of the responses to the previous consultation. The document summarises the 388 formal responses to the consultation.

Consultation responses welcomed an overall continuity of approach with REF 2014 and recognised that this would reduce the burden on institutions and panels. Broad support was expressed for the principles behind Lord Stern’s recommendations. There were mixed responses to some of the proposed approaches to implementing the changes, in particular:

  • all-staff submission
  • non-portability of outputs
  • institutional-level assessment
  • open access and data sharing.

Feedback on these areas included concern about their effects on different disciplines or types of institution, their impact on specific groups, in particular early career researchers and those with protected characteristics, and the burden of implementation.

Some highlights:

  • Over a third of respondents suggested that the proposal might result in changes to contractual status, with some staff being moved to Teaching-only contracts. A small number of HEI respondents suggested that they would make such contract changes if the proposal is implemented.
  • “the predominant suggestion (by one-fifth of respondents addressing this issue) was that HEIs should retain a key role in identifying staff with significant responsibility for research”.
  • Many respondents stressed the importance of research independence as a criterion, especially for staff employed on Research-only contracts. The majority of respondents argued for a nuanced approach to the inclusion of research assistants where they could demonstrate research independence. There was some support for using the REF 2014 independence criteria, although many requested clearer guidance to limit the burden on HEIs.
  • Of those who commented on question 9c., asking for views on the minimum number of outputs per staff member, over half supported setting a minimum requirement of one output per person. Over one-third were in favour of no minimum at all. This support was often linked to the use of contracts to determine research-active status and concern about the ability to submit large numbers.
  • Of those who provided a clear view, around three-quarters did not support the introduction of non-portability rules.
  • Just over 50 per cent of respondents to Question 38 agreed in principle with the introduction of an institutional element to the environment template; this support came with a lot of caveats.
  • Almost half of the responses to Question 26 supported the principle of maintaining the volume of impact case studies overall. The majority recognised that this would affect the ratio of case studies required per FTE when applied alongside the submissions of all staff with significant responsibility for research. Respondents were keen to know the multiplier as soon as possible, to enable HEIs and submitting units to plan the number of case studies required.
  • A third of responses agreed that the minimum number of impact case studies per submission should be reduced to one. This was felt to be of particular benefit to smaller submitting units. However, a number of respondents discussed the risks associated with a minimum of one case study.
  • A small number of respondents drew attention to the Teaching Excellence Framework, which was mentioned in the context of incentivising research-led teaching and minimising burden on HEIs. It was stressed that an aligned approach is necessary to avoid creating a division between teaching and research

Office for Students

Higher Education Commission launched its report: ‘One size won’t fit all: the challenges facing the Office for Students’ The report makes recommendations for the OfS, following hot on the heels of those made by the Minister last week – it looks at alternative and niche provision. There’s a Wonkhe article here

Strategic challenges for the OfS:

  • The unintended consequences of policy reform and funding continue to favour the offer of certain modes of study and undermines choice for students
  • The balance between upholding quality and encouraging innovation is not achieved, either damaging the sector’s reputation or meaning the sector does not keep pace with changes in technology and the labour market
  • Innovation and growth in the sector does not effectively align with the industrial strategy or aspirations for regional growth
  • Price variation and two tier provision result in greater segregation across the system damaging social mobility
  • The student experience of higher education is undermined as some providers struggle with competition and funding challenges
  • Institutional decline, and ultimately failure, reduces choice and the quality of provision in certain areas, or damages the student experience or the perceived value of their qualification
  • The Office for Students in its new role as the champion of ‘choice for students’ and ‘value for the tax payer’ must address these challenges. It is hoped that the findings in this report and the recommendations outlined below will aid the new regulator in ensuring the continued success of the sector.

The report includes an interesting overview of how we got to where we are now, and then moves on to look at some knotty issues facing the sector, including alternative models, and a number of themes that arise in that context (such as access, support for students and progression). They look at class and course size, which is interesting given the new TEF focus on “teaching intensity”, practitioner lecturers, industry experience, sandwich degrees and apprenticeships. There is a chapter on funding, costs and fees and of course the report looks at part-time and accelerated courses, also another hot topic for universities as well as alternative providers.   The report also examines some of the perceived barriers to innovation which were cited in government papers – validation (which is described a barrier to innovation rather than entry) and retention being a problematic measure for alternative providers.

The consequences lf all this start in chapter 4 (page 55) where the report turns to recommendations for the OfS as the regulator.

The recommendations are:

  • Universities should learn lessons from the further education sector to create an environment that feels more accessible to students from low participation backgrounds.
  • The OfS should work with HEIs and alternative providers to identify how personalised and industry-orientated provision can be scaled up and replicated across the system.
  • The OfS, as a principal funder and regulator of the HE sector, should develop ways of incentivising industry practitioner involvement in universities.
  • Universities should consider flexible models of placements for sandwich degrees in order to meet the needs of SMEs.
  • The OfS should closely monitor the impact of degree apprenticeships on sandwich courses and other work based learning provision.
  • The OfS should address cost issues around part-time study and accelerated degree programmes, so as to support wider provision of these non-standard modes.
  • We recommend that the OfS monitors the implications of different delivery costs between HE and FE, not least in terms of enabling entry to part-time and mature students.
  • Research should be commissioned by the OfS to better understand how students, especially from disadvantaged backgrounds, can be encouraged to use sources of information more critically in their HE choices.
  • The Office for Students should provide Parliament with an annual report mapping the diversity of provision across the higher education sector, commenting on trends and explanations for changing patterns of provision.
  • The DfE and the EFSA should consider the viability of allowing employers to use the apprenticeship levy to fund work-relevant part-time HE
  • The DfE should consider the extent to which accelerated and flexible programmes could be supported by changes to the funding based on credit.

Fees and funding

There was a debate in the House of Commons this week on an Opposition motion to reverse the legislation on tuition fees – these debates are non-binding and after the DUP said they would support them the government declined to have a formal vote – so they were passed. The same thing happened on a motion about the pay cap in the NHS.   As they were non-binding, this is largely symbolic, but much has been made about the “anti-democratic” implications of this..

Meanwhile, the Resolution Foundation hosted a lively debate on fees and funding – you can see the (very long) recording on YouTube, and the Times Higher did their own short version. Rumours persist that despite Jo Johnson’s staunch defence of the system, No. 10 may be getting cold feet, and the new fee cap for 2019/20 has still not been announced….

And Philip Hammond contributed to the speculation while giving evidence at the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee (reported widely, here is the Telegraph link):

“I do think there’s a significant difference between a graduate who leaves university with a, perhaps, quite significant level of debt and a well-recognised degree in an area which is known to provide strong employment opportunities; and a graduate on the other hand who perhaps has a very similar level of debt but who may not have a degree that is going to enhance his or her employment opportunities in the same way..

“We need to look at…the information we provide to students to enable them to make value-for-money assessments about what they are buying and what it’s going to cost them.”

And to contribute to the debate, the Commons Education Committee have launched an inquiry into value for money in HE. They are inviting written submissions on the following issues by 23rd October 2017:

  • Graduate outcomes and the use of destination data
  • Social justice in higher education and support for disadvantaged students
  • Senior management pay in universities
  • Quality and effectiveness of teaching
  • The role of the Office for Students

JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

65111                                                                                 65070

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

HE policy update for the w/e 8th September

Well, Parliament is back and we have had a lively start to the autumn.

REF 2021

On 1st September 2017 HEFCE published the initial decisions on REF 2021. This does not include decisions regarding submitting staff, output portability or the eligibility of institutions to participate in the REF. There is another consultation on those issues and BU’s response is being prepared by RKEO – please contact Julie Northam if you would like to be involved. Thanks to Julie for these highlights of the announcement:

Assessment weightings:

  • Outputs 60% (down from 65%)
  • Impact 25% (up from 20%)
  • Environment 15% (same but now includes impact strategy)
  • HESA cost centres will not be used to allocate staff to UOAs. Responsibility for mapping staff into UOAs will therefore remain with institutions.

UOA structure:

  • Total UOAs reduced from 36 to 34
  • Engineering will be a single UOA – UOA 12
  • REF 2014 UOA 17 will be restructured to form UOA 14: Geography and Environmental Studies and UOA 15: Archaeology
  • ‘Film and Screen Studies’ will be located and included in the name of UOA 33: Music, Drama, Dance, Performing Arts, Film and Screen Studies
  • HEFCE will continue consulting with the subject communities for forensic science and criminology to consider concerns raised about visibility. A decision is expected this autumn.

Timetable:

  • Impact: Underpinning research must have been produced between 1 Jan 2000 – 31 Dec 2020 andimpacts must have occurred between 1 Aug 2013 – 31 Jul 2020.
  • Environment: Environment data (such as income and doctoral completions) will be considered for the period 1 Aug 2013 – 31 Jul 2020.
  • Outputs: The assessment period for the publication of outputs will be 1 Jan 2014 – 31 Dec 2020.
  • The draft REF 2021 guidance will be published in summer/autumn 2018 and the final guidance will be published in winter 2018-19. The submission will be in autumn 2020.

Outputs:

  • Interdisciplinary research:Each sub-panel will have at least one appointed member to oversee and participate in the assessment of interdisciplinary research submitted in that UOA. There will be an interdisciplinary research identifier for outputs in the REF submission system (not mandatory).There will be a discrete section in the environment template for the unit’s structures in support of interdisciplinary research.
  • Outputs due for publication after the submission date: A reserve output may be submitted.
  • Assessment metrics: Quantitative metrics may be used to inform output assessment. This will be determined by the sub-panels. Data will be provided by HEFCE.

Impact:

  • Impact will have a greater weighting in REF 2021 (25% overall plus impact included in the environment template and therefore weighting).
  • The guidance on submitting impacts on teaching will be widened to include impacts within, and beyond, the submitting institution.
  • Impacts remain eligible for submission by the institution in which the associated research was conducted. They must be underpinned by excellent research (at least REF 2*).
  • The number of case studies required – still not confirmed – HEFCE are exploring this in relation to the rules on staff submission and the number of outputs.
  • Case studies submitted to REF 2014 can be resubmitted to REF 2021, providing they meet the REF 2021 eligibility requirements.
  • The relationship between the underpinning research and impact will be broadened from individual outputs to include a wider body of work or research activity.

Institutional-level assessment (impact case studies): HEFCE will pilot this in 2018 but it will not be included in REF 2021.

Environment: The UOA-level environment template will be more structured, including the use of more quantitative data to evidence narrative content. It will include sections on the unit’s approach to:

  • supporting collaboration with organisations beyond HE
  • enabling impact – akin to the impact template in REF 2014
  • supporting equality and diversity
  • structures to support interdisciplinary research
  • open research, including the unit’s open access strategy and where this goes beyond the REF open access policy requirements

Institutional-level assessment (environment):

  • Institution-level information will be included in the UOA-level environment template, assessed by the relevant sub-panel.
  • HEFCE will pilot the standalone assessment of institution-level environment information as part of REF 2021, but this will not form part of the REF 2021 assessment. The outcomes will inform post-REF 2021 assessment exercises.

Jo Johnson’s UUK speech – the next steps for regulation

Jo Johnson gave a speech at the Universities UK annual conference on Thursday –prefaced by a deluge of press coverage. See the BBC, the Guardian, the Telegraph, for a sample.  He started with a summary of the current state of the national debate on universities:

Recent criticisms of higher education in the UK fall into two distinct camps: we might call them the Statists and the Pessimists. The Statists direct their criticism at student finance. They argue that the most important thing we can do is to abolish tuition fees.” and “The second group of critics, the Pessimists, have an altogether bleaker view of Higher Education. They argue that university is inappropriate for many students, that student numbers should be significantly reduced and that students should pursue other types of post-18 education”.

The Minister rejected the calls for a change to the fee structure, consistent with other speeches over the summer (see the Policy Update for the w/e 21st July 2017).   He said that the “Statist” approach is “bad for social mobility, bad for university funding, bad for taxpayers”. [ See the UUK announcements on this below. In the FT on 8th September, it is reported that Theresa May is soliciting views on tuition fees policy in an attempt to close the generational gap, with Lord Willetts attending a meeting at No 10. So despite the regular assurances of no change, this is still one to watch.] To the Pessimists, his message was that “Post-18 education is not a zero-sum game, where to improve further education we must restrict and ration higher education to a privileged few”. But he said that there must be a strong economic return from a “mass system of higher education”. He highlighted graduate salaries, an increase in GDP and national productivity. [see below for the UUK position on fees and funding]

The Minister referred to concerns about value for money and used the same words as when launching the Green Paper, talking about “patchy teaching”. He also attacked the sector for grade inflation: “There has been a significant increase in the proportion of people receiving firsts and 2:1 degrees over the past five years that cannot be explained by rising levels of attainment. Grade inflation is tearing through English Higher Education. On the face of it, the facts are shocking.Grade inflation can fuel disengagement on both sides – if students know that 80-90 per cent will get a 2:1 or first from a high-reputation provider, there is less incentive to work hard – and less incentive by the provider to focus on teaching.” The Minister attacked league tables for encouraging grade inflation by using first degrees as a metric.

And he listed 5 measures that would deliver value for money:

  • The TEF – including subject level TEF (see more below in the TEF update)
  • A focus on grade inflation – as part of the TEF (see below), and be requiring the OfS to report on degree classifications and challenge providers to explain any data that suggested grade inflation, and calling on the sector to take action themselves, for example by developing a sector-recognised minimum standard. This is something that will no doubt be the subject of debate in the months to come. This could have parallels in some PSRB accreditation systems – an analogy that may be worth exploring.
  • Student contracts -this was also discussed in the July speech (see the Policy Update for the w/e 21st July 2017). This time, the Minister said that the Competition and Markets Authority guidance was only “patchily observed”. The OfS will be asked to “embed in the system student contracts that are clear, quantifiable and fair”. There is a consultation to follow on making this a registration condition.
  • Accelerated degrees – we are waiting for the formal response to the call for evidence last year but a consultation will be taking place on the new fee cap that would be required to support this – allowing providers to charge more than £9250 per year (but with a lower overall cost for the whole programme).
  • VC Pay – the OfS to introduce a new condition of registration that they publish salary data for the top earners and provide a justification, supported by guidance. The OfS will analyse and publish this data. The Minister called for the Committee of University Chairs to develop a new Remuneration Code.

UUK position

In a blog on 5th September 2017, Chris Hale, the Director of Policy of UUK responded to the debate over the summer, referring to a report from UK2020 that was published this week and repeated allegations of the sector operating a cartel to fix prices for degrees.  In a speech presumably written without advance knowledge of what the Minister was going to say, and trailed in the press on Tuesday, the new President of UUK, Professor Janet Beer, VC of Liverpool University did call for changes to undergraduate funding. She referred to “vexed issues and opportunities” and gave a staunch defence of the sector and its contribution to health, happiness and the economy.

On student finance, Professor Beer said that the system was not broken but that it needed to feel fairer, and highlighted three areas for action:

  • Targeted maintenance grants
  • Lower interest rate for low and middle-income earners. [On this point it is interesting to note that this is how it already works – see the blog from Martin Lewis on MoneySavingExpert.com which he tweeted again to respond to this story and the clip below]
  • Ensuring that the benefits of the current system are better understood – e.g. 35% of the cost of educating students is contributed by the government and 75% of students have some of their debt written off.

UUK have now published a Parliamentary briefing on the funding issues.

On senior pay:

  • “It’s understandable that high pay is questioned and it is right to expect that the process for determining pay for senior staff is rigorous and the decision-making process is transparent. It is also reasonable to expect that decisions are explained and justified.”, and continuing:
  • However, the current debate has lost sight of the facts and shows little understanding of the role that present-day vice-chancellors play not only in their own university, but in their communities, regions and on the national and international stage. The role of the vice-chancellor has evolved from leading a community of scholars, to leading large, complex, global organisations; organisations with multi-million pound turnovers, with thousands of staff working in a variety of roles, and which play an increasingly prominent role in the economic prosperity of our regions and nations. First-rate leadership is necessary for a university to be successful, and competitive remuneration is needed to attract the best leaders with the skills to lead these complex global organisations.
  • There have also been questions raised about the pay of our leading researchers and senior professional staff. We should remember that senior staff are choosing to work at our universities to deliver public good when they might otherwise choose to work in the private sector, attracting far higher remuneration. We must not let them be put off by comments that they are not worth it or their contribution is not valued.”

Nick Hillman of HEPI also writes in response that autonomy is more important than regulation in this area: “Just a few months ago, when the Higher Education and Research Act was still in short trousers, there was widespread concern that the Office for Students would not have due regard to university autonomy. Insisting they tackle vice-chancellors’ pay as one of the most urgent priorities (and before they have taken charge) will not assuage such concerns.”

Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) update

In his speech at the Universities UK annual conference on Thursday, Jo Johnson referred to a lessons learned exercise that the government has carried out on year 2 of TEF. This used the UK survey we referred to in the Policy Update w/e 1st September 2017 as well as feedback from a range of stakeholders and desk based research of the metrics. The full report plus the specification are due to be published later in September 2017. These changes will also be included in the subject level TEF pilot. The UUK review is also discussed on Wonkhe here.

  • A new metric on grade inflation (see context in Jo Johnson’s speech above). This will be a supplementary metric which will not form part of the core metrics and the process of assessing the initial hypothesis, but will be considered by the assessors while considering Rigour and Stretch (TQ3). This will be based on a provider declaration and will “record the proportion of firsts, 2:1s and other grades as a percentage of all classified degrees at that provider 1, 2, 3 and 10 years before the year of assessment”.   If the data shows that there has been grade inflation the provider will presumably have to use their written submission to demonstrate how it is being addressed. Also, the number of firsts and 2:1s cannot be considered as evidence for the quality of teaching.
  • Changes to the NSS weighting – these are interesting – particularly as there was no formal weighting for any metrics in the TEF guidance before, and no specific weighting for metrics v the written submission either. That was why there was so much interest when the Chair of the TEF Panel, Chris Husbands, suggested that the role of the NSS in the decisions on TEF should be downplayed. The paper describes this in more details in Annex B – this is a change to the way that the “initial hypothesis” (based on metrics) will be formed.
  • Changes to address the NSS boycott, by averaging the scores across the three years or simply omitting 2017.
  • Part-time providers (those with over 35% part-time students) will also be able to provide additional information relating to their part-time students and a separate assessment will be formed for part-time students.
  • Absolute values: in a change which has been flagged as a nod to the Russell Group providers who received Bronze awards in the TEF (and who, in some cases, complained about the benchmarking process), alongside the benchmarking, the top and bottom 10% values for each metric will also be highlighted (with stars and exclamation marks). This will reinforce a positive or negative flag but can also be taken into account by the assessors – although a star will be ignored if there is a negative flag or a negative flag for a split metric (so that high performing institutions with negative flags for disadvantaged groups cannot benefit). Exclamation marks will be ignored if there is a positive flag.
  • Longitudinal Education Outcomes data (LEO) will be included as “supplementary” data – this will not affect the initial hypothesis but will be considered alongside the submission. The metrics to be included are the proportion of graduates in sustained employment or further study three years after graduation and the proportion of graduates in sustained employment earning over the median salary for 25 – 29 year olds (currently £21,000) or in further study
  • Gaming” – the Director for Fair Access will be given an opportunity to comment on “gaming” has taken place (defined as “a significant alteration in a provider’s student profile since the last TEF assessment, that involves a reduction in the proportion of students from disadvantaged groups”. In extreme cases, this might lead to disqualification.

Separate from all this a research paper by Camille Kandiko Howson of Kings College and Alex Buckley of the University of Strathclyde has been published which looks at the UK Engagement Survey – something that was tipped to be a potential metric for TEF if it was more widely adopted.

Widening Participation

Justine Greening announced that the new Director of Fair Access and Participation when the Office for Students if formed will be Chris Millward, who has been Director of Policy at HEFCE. The new role will have a focus on progression and outcomes as well as access for disadvantaged and under-represented groups in Higher Education.

Brexit

In the meantime, the Brexit negotiations continue and a flurry of papers have been published by the UK government and the EU.  The most interesting one is the one on Collaboration on Science and Innovation. The paper has lots of warm words on collaboration but little detail on what a future arrangement with the EU might look like.  On Horizon 202, the paper suggests that the UK will be seeking “associated” status (it says “associated countries have the same level of access to Horizon 2020 as EU Member States. Associated countries do not have a formal vote over the work programme, but can attend programme committees, which provides them with a degree of influence. Terms of association (including financial contributions) vary, and are determined by international agreements with the EU.“)

The overall conclusions are:

  • The UK wants to continue playing a major role in creating a brighter future for all European citizens by strengthening collaboration with European partners in science and innovation.
  • To this end, the UK will seek to agree a far-reaching science and innovation agreement with the EU that establishes a framework for future collaboration. There are a range of existing precedents for collaboration that the UK and the EU can build on, but our uniquely close relationship means there may be merit in designing a more ambitious agreement. The UK hopes to have a full and open discussion with the EU about all of these options as part of the negotiations on our future partnership.
  • The UK would welcome dialogue with the EU on the shape of a future science and innovation agreement, reflecting our joint interest in promoting continued close cooperation, for the benefit of UK and European prosperity”

Of course, the other interesting Brexit story was the paper we weren’t meant to see – the leaked draft on migration (read more in the Guardian report). The draft proposed work permits for EU citizens with a two year limit, language tests for EU students and ensuring that they have sufficient funds before they come to the UK (which implies that they will not qualify for student loans). None of these things is particularly surprising even if unwelcome – essentially the same type of restrictions would apply as apply currently to international students. What is most interesting about this is the reaction and the timing – Amber Rudd has only just announced a review of the impact of international students and a review into the social impact of Brexit – both of which will not report until September 2018. Damien Green on the Today programme said that the real paper would be launched “in a few weeks” – at the Conservative Party Conference?

Other interesting reading

The Higher Education Policy Institute published:

  • a blog on graduate entrepreneurs and what universities could do to support them
  • a report on the crisis in the creative arts in the UK – looking at what has happened in schools and suggesting that the increased and simplistic focus on graduate employment outcomes will impoverish education and damage outcomes (see the TEF report above).

JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

HE policy update w/e 7th July 2017

Office for Students

Nicola Dandridge (currently Chief Executive of Universities UK) has been appointed as the Chief Executive of the Office for Students (OfS).

  • Justine Greening, Secretary of State for Education, said: “Nicola Dandridge’s knowledge and experience will be key for this important role…The OfS will replace an outdated regulatory system with a framework that can truly respond to the challenges of our 21st Century and ensure the university system meets the needs of the students.”
  • Jo Johnson, Universities Minister, stated: “I am delighted that Nicola Dandridge is taking up this crucial role. Her knowledge and experience of the higher education system makes Nicola an excellent choice to work alongside Sir Michael Barber at the helm of the OfS…The new regulator will rightfully put the interests of students at the heart of regulation and play a pivotal role in reforming one of our nation’s greatest assets – the higher education sector.”
  • Les Ebdon, Director of Fair Access, has also welcomed and commended Nicola and emphasised her connection to social mobility: “…she is ideally placed to take up this important post. I know from the leadership Nicola showed when she chaired the Social Mobility Advisory Group that she has a strong personal commitment to fair access.”

UUK anticipate announcing their new chief executive in September.

Michael Barber is the Chair of OfS, Martin Coleman is the deputy chair, and five other OfS Board members have been confirmed – two Board spots remain open, including the seat for student experience, which was advertised this week.

In other people news, Chris Husbands (VC of Sheffield Hallam and Chair of the TEF panel) has been appointed as the new chair of HESA. Chris stated: “HESA is a jewel in the crown of UK higher education: a trusted source of insightful data and analysis across the higher education landscape in the UK, which helps to shape policy and promote wider understanding and confidence in the sector. High quality data and data analysis is increasingly critical to successful organisations.”

On Tuesday, Sir Mark Walport, the Chief Executive Designate of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) made a speech outlining his vision for the future of UKRI, which you can watch here.

Focus on tuition fees

Labour’s promises to abolish tuition fees (and forgive loans for graduates) have been credited in some quarters as leading to an increase in turn-out amongst young people at the election, and a consequent increase in the Labour vote. Speculation is building about a government response to this. As a result, tuition fees and the loan system have been all over the press this week, with Jo Johnson on Newsnight and the Today programme, and active on twitter.

The voting problem

Did young people turn out in massively increased numbers as claimed immediately after the election? Some suggested more turn out figure above 70%.

  • The BBC reality check uses two polls – a YouGov poll released on 13th June and an Ipsos Mori poll released on 20thYouGov found that about 58% of people between the age of 18 and 24 voted, while Ipsos Mori estimated that it was 54%. Both of those figures are a proportion of all 18- to 24-year-olds, not just those who are registered to vote.
  • That is compared to an Ipsos Mori poll for the 2015 election showing 28% turnout amongst that group, 43% of those registered to vote. The piece adds “The overall turnout (and these are actual figures – not based on polling) was 69%, compared with 66% in 2015, so it appears that the youth vote increased by considerably more than the overall turnout.”
  • See also the Full Fact article

Of course, we don’t trust polls as much as we used to. There’s an interesting pre-election piece on the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) blog and BU’s Darren Lilleker asked about the impact of polls on voting. After the 2015 general election, an inquiry was commissioned into election polls, which concluded that the main issue in 2015 was unrepresentative samples. Accuracy was an issue again during and after the EU referendum. And the same issues arose in the General Election, although the final BBC poll was remarkably close. The House of Lords have appointed a new committee to look at Political Polling and Digital Media, which will report by March 2018 – so maybe that will give us more confidence.

Did the increased number of young voters vote Labour? The BBC reality check says all the polls show a substantial swing to Labour amongst younger voters (18-24).

So was the swing to Labour amongst the young a result of tuition fee promises? That’s a very reductive perspective – surely, students are interested in the same issues as everyone else? And, of course, many among that group do not attend university. HEPI had a piece on student voting intentions in May based on a YouthSight poll. At BU, the Students’ Union (SUBU) organised the only local hustings for parliamentary candidates with all five candidates present. The audience was mostly students and the debate was wide ranging. It covered public sector pay, Brexit, immigration, the economy, housing, security and local matters amongst other things. Tuition fees barely got a mention.

The tuition fees problem

The debate about tuition fees is complex, and highly political. So some key points:

What had happened before the election?

During the passage of the Higher Education and Research Act 2017, issues with fees and loans, and the repayment threshold in particular were regularly discussed, in both houses. There was a debate on a “motion to regret” on 5th April in the House of Lords.

The government amended the bill so that inflation based tuition fee increases (already permitted under legislation, but requiring a statutory instrument to implement each change), now require positive approval by both houses. The inflation-based increase in the cap for students starting in 2018/19 should be announced relatively soon – and is likely to be more than the £250 that takes effect this September.

The government also delayed the differentiated fee cap linked to TEF – see more in our HE policy update from a couple of weeks ago. As I wrote on Wonkhe recently, the link between fee increases and TEF has caused all sorts of problems with the TEF – it isn’t the only reason that the NUS are opposed to TEF and called for a boycott of the National Student Survey (NSS) but it is one of the reasons – apparently 25 student unions supported the boycott, and at least some will not have valid NSS data for the TEF next year.

In the election campaign there was a great deal of debate about the affordability of the Labour commitment to abolish tuition fees – one analysis on Wonkhe here.

Media coverage:

And what is happening now?

Damian Green, the First Secretary of State, called for a “national debate”. Michael Gove explained and defended the current position, and Jo Johnson appeared on Newsnight to defend it.

Jo Johnson argues that the fees improve access to HE for deprived students because of the removal of the student numbers cap, that it provides sufficient funding for universities to offer world-class teaching and research, and is fairer to the tax-paying public. And on Radio 4 today’s programme said that the unpaid written-off debts are the government’s contribution to higher education funding.

There has been speculation that a Conservative manifesto commitment to review Further Education funding will lead to a massive shakeup of university funding – if that is added to a review of tuition fees then change is really on the horizon.

Amongst many blogs and articles on the subject, David Phoenix has written for Wonkhe about why it is time for a review. He argues that while Labour’s abolition of tuition fees isn’t progressive the Conservative alternative doesn’t work either and calls on the sector to find a balanced solution. He writes:  “The majority of students do not object to making a contribution to the cost of their education, but it’s the scale of the contribution that matters. A better balance between the student (or graduate) and state acknowledges that students will benefit financially from their degree, whilst also acknowledging the wider public good of higher education: social mobility, civic engagement, productivity, and innovation.”  Speaking of the recent election result, he states: “It’s clear to me is that young people have, in large numbers, rejected continuity of the current system. We also know that the current funding structure is being quietly rejected by potential mature applicants. The job is now for the universities sector and policy makers to work together to rebalance the system to meet the needs of learners, our economy, and our public services.”

And the Wonkhe article noted above quotes the Dearing Review of 20 years ago, which started the move to debate on tuition fees: “One backbencher in the debate on Dearing nearly 20 years ago presciently remarked: “There is real concern that the Government’s decision not to follow Dearing’s proposal to introduce tuition fees while maintaining the maintenance grant, but rather to abolish the maintenance grant and replace it with loans will, far from widening access, narrow it.” Theresa May – for yes, it was she – hit the nail on the head. Discussions about affordability and access have to take place while looking at the entire student support and HE funding package. Taking a report (as happened with both Dearing and Browne) and cherry-picking politically or economically attractive aspects is not a recipe for a fair or sustainable system.”

Realistically – what might happen now?

Labour are sticking to their policy, despite affordability questions and the regressive nature of the change, and criticism of the repeated – an inaccurate- claim that fewer people from poor backgrounds are going to university.

Looking at the statistics above, it seems unlikely that this policy had as big an impact on the outcome of the election as was initially claimed. Apart from students, the policy may also have been popular with parents – but unlikely to have been a game changer in its own right.

So what will the government do?

  • There might be some sort of review/consultation – it is hard to see that this will result in major changes to the structure but it would look like doing something
  • There might be a change to the interest rate – to delay or reduce the rise that will otherwise happen in September
  • There might be a relenting on the repayment threshold freeze – passed in 2015 for 5 years, so perhaps it won’t be extended
  • They could choose not to increase fees by inflation at all in 2018/19. There is no rule that says they have to; even though they announced that they plan to as part of the White Paper/TEF implementation.
  • There might be more consideration given to maintenance funding arrangements. As noted above, these add hugely to student loans, and disproportionately so for students from lower income families.

It is hard to see more drastic changes than that at a time when there are so many calls on the “magic money tree”. Although I’m still not making predictions in this uncertain world…

International staff and students

Hotcourses insights Brexit report compares global demand for HE over the last 12 months. It finds that international student interest has decreased from 28% to 25.6%, although EU student interest has dropped more substantially from 36.9% to 30.7%. The USA share of the student interest has also dropped, whilst Canada and Ireland have both gained.

Jo Johnson announced the Ernest Rutherford Global Talent Research Fund (£100 million) which aims to attract highly skilled researchers to the UK. Johnson stated: “Rutherford and his immense contributions to science exemplify our vision of a Britain that is open to the best minds and ideas in the world, and stands at the forefront of global collective endeavours to understand, and to improve, the world in which we live…We look forward to welcoming these talented Rutherford research fellows to the UK. The Rutherford Fund will send a strong signal that, even as we leave the European Union, we are open to the world and will reinforce our ambition of making the UK the go-to country for innovation and discovery.”

Widening participation

OFFA and the Open University published a joint report and evaluation tool arguing for more ambitious outreach for mature students

Parliament

As parliament begins to bed down the select committees will re-form and appoint their new chairs.

TES report that Nick Boles, Robert Halfon and Tim Loughton are all contesting for the Education select committee chair. FE week also covers the story.

This week relevant Parliamentary Questions have dovetailed the media interest in tuition fees. Angela Rayner has tabled two PQs (due for answer next week). The first asks the government for a statement on whether they intend to privatise the student loan book. The second asks what estimate has been made of potential revenue in privatising the student loan book.

 

HE Policy Update w/e 7th April

Higher Education and Research Bill: the Bill passed its third reading in the House of Lords this week with little fanfare. An amendment relating to the ‘transparency duty’ (publishing further information on applicants’ backgrounds for better WP policy targeting and transparent admissions) was moved but withdrawn. This followed reassurance from the government that they will require the Office for Students to consult on the transparency duty. Eight minor government amendments were agreed, full details can be read in Hansard. The Bill will reappear in the Commons after the Easter recess, when as noted in last week’s update, the opposition and cross bench amendments are expected to be removed.

Brexit: The Commons Select Committee for Exiting the EU released their report The Government’s negotiating objective: the White Paper. Wonkhe report that not all members of the committee agreed with the conclusions in the report. Pages 68-71 cover science and research and reiterate previous calls from the sector for the immigration system to support researchers and students and for the UK to continue to participate in Horizon 2020.

Tuition Fees: In a non-binding debate in the House of Lords, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara (Labour) moved that the House of Lords regrets the 2016 changes to the tuition fee regulations and loan conditions which have worsened circumstances for some students, particularly WP and part time students. Lord Stevenson stated it is “virtually impossible to challenge what the Government are doing” and suggested that fee increases, the ending of maintenance grants, and introduction of income-contingent tax liabilities had not achieved what they had set out to do for the public purse whilst burdening students with ever-increasing debts. He asked for clarification on the “huge gap” in public finances the system was creating and explained that his motion would call on the Government to report annually to Parliament on the impact on the economy of increasing graduate debt, provide estimates of payback rates and an estimate of the annual cost to the Exchequer of the present system. Stevenson and other Lords also criticised the linking of fees to the TEF.

The voting was close and the motion to regret was agreed by the Lords.

Speaking for the Government Viscount Younger of Leckie expressed his disappointment about the vote and stressed that the Government’s policy intention remained to link fees to the quality of provision via the teaching excellence framework.

A second motion to regret has been tabled for Wed 26 April by Lord Clark of Windermere to move that the House of Lords regrets the introduction of tuition fees and removal of bursaries for NHS students.

Science Communication: The Science and Technology select committee have reported on their inquiry into science communication. The report notes that public interest in science is high and rising yet most people still lack a personal connection or understanding of science, and there is low trust in science journalism. The committee report concurs with the Stern recommendation for REF to synonymise impact with associated policy-making. Furthermore, the Government has abandoned the intended anti-lobbying clause in government contracts and grants because for research grants it sent the wrong message, discouraging instead of encouraging the widest and fullest possible science communication and engagement.

The full report examines communication of science, including through social media and reaching young people. It also tackles the misrepresentation of scientific results in the media. Highlighting inaccurate interpretations of statistics, and distortion of results to sensationalise the story as source of public suspicion. The report calls for government to ensure that a robust redress mechanism is provided for when science is misreported.

It also recommends exploring multiple aspects of diversity, instead of just gender, so young people have a wide range of role models to inspire them to pursue STEM careers. There is an interesting section (paragraphs 13-21) on outreach to schools and young people in relation to the STEM skills gap and whether science communication has a role to play in addressing the STEM gap particularly through redressing negative messaging.

Recruitment: The latest UCAS statistical release reconfirms the known drop in applications – UK students down by 4% (c.25,000), EU 6% down, international applications increase by 2%.

Apprenticeships: It’s been a busy news week for apprenticeships – the Apprenticeship Levy for business is now in force and the Institute for Apprenticeships was launched on Monday. It has been confirmed that degree apprenticeships will be regulated by HEFCE (QAA) through the Annual Provider Review process, with the quality of training provision inspected by Ofsted, except where the apprenticeship standard contains a prescribed HE qualification – this will be assessed through joint working (HEFCE/Ofsted).

A recent Commons select committee report on apprenticeships has criticised the government’s apprenticeship policy stating it will not resolve the skills gaps as it is not sufficiently focussed on specific sectors nor targets key regions where training is lacking. The Committee also warns that schools are still failing to promote non-university routes.

Technical and Further Education Bill: this Bill has been amended and passed by the Lords. The Lords debate noted improvements are needed in learner support when private providers fail, alongside clarity for targeting apprenticeships in the engineering, construction, IT skills shortage areas. The Bill will now return to the Commons. If you would like more

Other news:

The Times covers Exeter University’s online masters degrees – fees will be £18,000 (same fee for UK and international students).

Radio 4 broadcast A Degree of Fraud, which covered the contract cheating services that provide bespoke essays. UK Essays claim to have sold 16,000 essays during 2016. It is reported that students can purchase a guaranteed 2:1 essay within 12 hours for £450. The broadcast also recognises Lord Storey’s campaign for parliament to outlaw bespoke writing services. You may remember this was covered in an amendment to the Higher Education and Research Bill which was withdrawn following reassurance from Jo Johnson who has asked the QAA to take steps to combat the ‘essay mills’.

Wonkhe discuss Hobson’s potentially mobile international student survey and look at the positive and negatives of a branch campus with a nod to the Brexit context.

The Guardian presents case studies of two disabled students who are failing to complete their studies after the reduction in disability benefits. It highlights how the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) is a ‘gateway benefit’ meaning students that lose it are then ineligible to access other supports such as universal credit or carer’s allowance. It is recognised that students with mental health disabilities are particularly affected.

Lily Boulle, student at the University of East London, went to Citizens Advice for help and found she was “locked out” of the benefit system. “There’s absolutely nothing you can get as a student unless you have PIP. It doesn’t make sense.”

The Department for Work and Pensions said: “Disabled students… may be eligible if they need to take time out from studying due to their condition.”

The Equality Challenge Unit published experiences of gender equality in STEMM academia which expresses disadvantages experienced by women academics (more teaching and admin, less research time, less training, limitations due to caring responsibilities) and intersects the data with ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability and age.