Tagged / Student mobility

HE Policy Update for the w/e 9th July 2020

A lot about skills and employment in the “mini-budget” this week.  There is quite a lot on the “poor quality courses” debate, and on the financial impact of the virus on young people and on universities.  Plus some regulatory changes that are starting to look ominous…

A Universities Minister who thinks people shouldn’t bother going to University?

Amidst ongoing rhetoric over allegedly poor quality courses and poor student outcomes (we reported on the Minister’s speech last week) and we report on the debate in the House of Lords below which included some strong lines, including this one from Lord Blencathra:

  • .. we have about 30 useless universities at the bottom end of the quality tables. They are taking fees from students for worthless courses which will not get them jobs, and the fees will never be repaid.”

This week Wonkhe have made it their mission to find these courses – they conclude the data doesn’t bear this out.  Not least because past performance isn’t necessarily any indication of future performance in the jobs market or at a university.  A course whose students may indeed have had poor outcomes 10 years ago might, or perhaps would almost certainly, have changed by now (or what have the QAA, OfS etc been doing all this time and where is the impact of the TEF?).  Of course, the rhetoric muddles institutional outcomes, subject outcomes and the outcomes of particular courses.  It ignores regional disparities in employment opportunities and he different demographic of the students who attend each university.  It also (my pet peeve, as you will know if you read this blog often) assumes that you can look at courses this way because the progression between courses and jobs is linear and therefore all social sciences students go on to have (potentially low earning) careers in community work, so it’s easy, just stop subsidising social sciences.  In fact some of them become Secretaries of State for Education – strange how they forget. Would it have made a difference to his career earnings if Gavin Williamson had studied engineering?  If you think that’s a silly question, that’s my point!

There have been numerous social media and newspaper blogs addressing Michelle’s unfavourable speech last week (delivered at a disadvantaged access conference too).  One does wonder if it was just the clumsiness of her speech writers but it’s probably unfair to blame them. Did she really intend to suggest universities were dumbing down so they could admit disadvantaged students – or was it a general ‘bums on seats’ dig gone wrong?

Wonkhe have long said that Whitehall dislike their Ministers cosying up to the sector – think Chris Skidmore, David Willetts, and even Sam Gyimah did try (though it didn’t really work for the self styled Minister for Students). Donelan is certainly keen to show herself to toe the party line, and we know the refocus on technical education and FE support is coming (and contrary to Augar’s recommendations) will likely result in some level of defunding of HE.

So where does this leave the widening participation agenda? If we listen to the Government or media it seems the sector is to blame, despite the new, stringent Access and Participation Plans rigorously overseen by the OfS (whose golden status also appears to be slipping). Shifting the focus away from the prospective students themselves and shoving them into a deficit model where universities must ‘do’ to correct the disadvantage in their lives. …  Are they planning to stop contextual admissions (note they are still allowed under the new OfS licence condition)?

Just one example,, of the sector push back against Donelan’s speech is found in the gently disappointed Guardian article penned by Chris Husbands (VC Sheffield Hallam)

  • My personal history, and my family’s experience, make me very worried when government ministers lose faithin the power of universities to transform lives.
  • When pushed, very few politicians or journalists can actually identify these courses which “do nothing” or are “low value”.
  • They are odd lines, because they contradict the government’s own ambitions. Michael Gove laid it out for them just a few days before: a future built around “big data, machine learning, artificial intelligence, robotics and further automation, 3D printing, quantum computing”, along with “genetic sequencing and screening, gene editing and other life science and biotech advances”.
  • The 21st century world is a knowledge-led world. Value is generated not through low- or mid-level skills but economic, social and technological transformation. It’s universities which are our best bet for the future because they produce advanced knowledge and research. That’s why all the world’s advanced economies are investing in higher education.

Wonkhe tell us that “Gavin Williamson is expected to give a speech designed to flesh out the government’s post-18 strategy. But don’t expect to like what you hear.” 

Budget

You’ll have read the analyses of the mini budget in the press.  Apart from stamp duty, green homes vouchers,  “eat out to help out” and the VAT cut for food and non-alcoholic drinks, it was mostly focussed on jobs – retaining and creating new ones, with a particular focus on young people.

It was not expected that there would be any announcements about HE, so we should not feel disappointed – this is all about skills and jobs for those who were not planning to go to university in September and face unemployment.

Apart from the headlines, the details are here.

  • Job Retention Bonus – The government will introduce a one-off payment of £1,000 to UK employers for every furloughed employee who remains continuously employed through to the end of January 2021. Employees must earn above the Lower Earnings Limit (£520 per month) on average between the end of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and the end of January 2021. Payments will be made from February 2021. Further detail about the scheme will be announced by the end of July.
  • Kickstart Scheme – The government will introduce a new Kickstart Scheme in Great Britain, a £2 billion fund to create hundreds of thousands of high quality 6-month work placements aimed at those aged 16-24 who are on Universal Credit and are deemed to be at risk of long-term unemployment. Funding available for each job will cover 100% of the relevant National Minimum Wage for 25 hours a week, plus the associated employer National Insurance contributions and employer minimum automatic enrolment contributions.
  • New funding for National Careers Service – The government will provide an additional £32 million funding over the next 2 years for the National Careers Service so that 269,000 more people in England can receive personalised advice on training and work.
  • High quality traineeships for young people – The government will provide an additional £111 million this year for traineeships in England, to fund high quality work placements and training for 16-24 year olds. This funding is enough to triple participation in traineeships. For the first time ever, the government will fund employers who provide trainees with work experience, at a rate of £1,000 per trainee. The government will improve provision and expand eligibility for traineeships to those with Level 3 qualifications and below, to ensure that more young people have access to high quality training.
  • Payments for employers who hire new apprentices – The government will introduce a new payment of £2,000 to employers in England for each new apprentice they hire aged under 25, and a £1,500 payment for each new apprentice they hire aged 25 and over, from 1st August 2020 to 31st January 2021. These payments will be in addition to the existing £1,000 payment the government already provides for new 16-18 year-old apprentices, and those aged under 25 with an Education, Health and Care Plan – where that applies.
  • High value courses for school and college leavers – The government will provide £101 million for the 2020-21 academic year to give all 18-19 year olds in England the opportunity to study targeted high value Level 2 and 3 courses when there are not employment opportunities available to them.
  • Expanded Youth Offer – The government will expand and increase the intensive support offered by DWP in Great Britain to young jobseekers, to include all those aged 18-24 in the Intensive Work Search group in Universal Credit.
  • Enhanced work search support – The government will provide £895 million to enhance work search support by doubling the number of work coaches in Jobcentre Plus before the end of the financial year across Great Britain.
  • Expansion of the Work and Health Programme – The government will provide up to £95 million this year to expand the scope of the Work and Health Programme in Great Britain to introduce additional voluntary support in the autumn for those on benefits that have been unemployed for more than 3 months. This expansion will have no impact on the existing provision for those with illnesses or disabilities in England and Wales.
  • Job finding support service – The government will provide £40 million to fund private sector capacity to introduce a job finding support service in Great Britain in the autumn. This online, one-to-one service will help those who have been unemployed for less than three months increase their chances of finding employment.
  • Flexible Support Fund – The government will increase the funding for the Flexible Support Fund by £150 million in Great Britain, including to increase the capacity of the Rapid Response Service.1 It will also provide local support to claimants by removing barriers to work such as travel expenses for attending interviews. 2.21 New funding for sector-based work academies – The government will provide an additional £17 million this year to triple the number of sector-based work academy placements in England in order to provide vocational training and guaranteed interviews for more people, helping them gain the skills needed for the jobs available in their local area.

More detail is also provided on measures announced by the PM on 30th June.

There are some research-related announcements.

  • Office for Talent – The government will create a new Office for Talent based in No.10, with delivery teams across government departments. The Office will focus on attracting, retaining and developing top research and science talent across the UK and internationally.
  • Direct Air Capture – The government will provide £100 million of new funding for researching and developing Direct Air Capture, a new clean technology which captures CO2 from the air.
  • Automotive Transformation Fund – Building on the announcement last year of up to £1 billion of additional funding to develop and embed the next generation of cutting-edge automotive technologies, the government is making £10 million of funding available immediately for the first wave of innovative R&D projects to scale up manufacturing of the latest technology in batteries, motors, electronics and fuel cells. The government is also calling upon industry to put forward investment proposals for the UK’s first ‘gigafactory’ and supporting supply chains to mass manufacture cutting-edge batteries for the next generation of electric vehicles, as well as for other strategic electric vehicle technologies.
  • World-class laboratories – The government will provide a £300 million investment in 2020-21 to boost equipment and infrastructure across universities and institutes across the UK

Guardian report on the new Office for Talent.

NHS investment

  • NHS maintenance and A&E capacity – The government will provide £1.05 billion in 2020-21 to invest in NHS critical maintenance and A&E capacity across England.
  • Modernising the NHS mental health estate – The government will provide up to £250 million in 2020-21 to make progress on replacing outdated mental health dormitories with 1,300 single bedrooms across 25 mental health providers in England.
  • Health Infrastructure Plan – The government will provide a further £200 million for the Health Infrastructure Plan18 to accelerate a number of the 40 new hospital building projects across England.

And on the education estate (not HE):

  • Further Education (FE) estate funding – Building on the £1.5 billion commitment for FE capital funding made at Budget 2020, the government will bring forward £200 million to 2020-21 to support colleges to carry out urgent and essential maintenance projects. This will be the first step in the government’s commitment to bring the facilities of colleges everywhere in England up to a good level.
  • School estate funding – The government will provide additional funding of £560 million for schools in England to improve the condition of their buildings and estates in 2020-21. This is on top of the £1.4 billion already invested in school maintenance this year.
  • School rebuilding programme – The government has announced over £1 billion to fund the first 50 projects of a new, ten-year school rebuilding programme in England. These projects will be confirmed in the autumn, and further detail on future waves will be confirmed at the Comprehensive Spending Review. Construction on the first sites will begin in September 2021.

LEP funding for local infrastructure:

  • Local infrastructure projects – The government will provide £900 million for shovelready projects in England in 2020-21 and 2021-22 to drive local growth and jobs. This could include the development and regeneration of key local sites, investment to improve transport and digital connectivity, and innovation and technology centres. Funding will be provided to Mayoral Combined Authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships.

Budget context

A slightly different response to a PQ about supporting graduates through the gloomy economic outlook from the Universities Minister:

Douglas Chapman: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what plans he has to support graduates looking for employment (a) during and (b) after the covid-19 outbreak.

Michelle Donelan:

  • Our economic priority is to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on our economy as far as possible. This is an incredibly difficult period for everyone, and we understand that graduates are likely to feel concerned as they enter a far tougher job market than those before them.
  • Some universities are going above and beyond to support those graduating this summer, providing extensive online careers advice, including webinars offering interview and CV-writing tips and skills and follow-up one-to-one calls. However, we need all universities to step up and play a key role to help graduates take the next step, whether into work or further study.
  • The recently announced National Tutoring Programme creates an opportunity for graduates to apply for tutoring roles providing support for pupils and schools in the most disadvantaged areas. More details of the programme will be available shortly.
  • We know that post-graduates often secure employment in higher skilled and higher paid employment than graduates and non-graduates. The government can support with the financial burden of accessing a master’s degree with a loan of up to £11,222. Where graduates are considering a career in teaching, tax-free postgraduate bursaries of up to £26,000 are available for trainee teachers starting initial teacher training in 2020/21, depending on the subject in which they train to tea

The Institute for Fiscal Studies have published COVID-19 and the career prospects of young people and a report on the ‘Prolonged cost’ to young people from COVID-19 career disruption.

The new IFS research, funded by the Turing Institute, shows that the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to severely disrupt the career progression of young workers, suggesting that negative economic impacts on this age group may last well beyond the easing of the lockdown. The new research finds that:

  • Over the last decade, young people starting out in the labour market have increasingly been working in relatively low-paid occupations, many of which are in sectors hardest hit by the COVID-19 crisis – for example, hospitality and non-food retail.
  • The growing importance of those ‘lockdown sectors’ as employers of workers at the start of their careers is primarily due to an expansion of the accommodation and food industry. The share of workers starting their careers in this sector increased by about 50%, from 6% to 9%, between 2007 and 2019.
  • As other sources of wage growth have dried up, young workers have become increasingly reliant on moving into higher-paying occupations as a source of early-career wage growth. Around 28% of wage growth over the first five years of the careers of workers born in the 1970s could be attributed to moving into a higher-paying occupation. This had risen to 50% or more among people born in the 1980s.
  • The pandemic threatens to have a prolonged negative economic impact on young people by reducing demand for the jobs that are typical among early-career workers and making it harder for workers to find better opportunities than their current jobs.
  • The government should have a particular focus on the challenges facing the young as it attempts to manage the labour market impacts of COVID-19 in the coming months.

IPPR, the Institute for Public Policy Research has published a report, Guaranteeing the Right Start, Preventing Youth Unemployment after COVID-19.

  • There is a strong case for bold policy interventions to prevent youth unemployment. Becoming NEET results in a ‘scarring effect’ that lowers long-term employment prospects and earning potential (Gregg and Tominey 2004). Furthermore, those from the poorest backgrounds and with the lowest qualifications are likely to be the worst affected (Henehan 2020). Each person that is out of work and education for six months or more costs on average £65,000 in direct lifetime costs to public finances and £120,000 in wider lifetime costs to the economy and community (Coles et al 2010). But ultimately becoming unemployed is a deep personal crisis with impacts on health, self-worth, identity and status.
  • We recommend the creation of a new ‘Opportunity Guarantee’ for young people: the government should ensure that every young person is either in education or work. The government’s main aim in the short term should be to prevent a rise in youth unemployment as a result of the Covid-19 crisis. But, looking beyond the crisis, they should be aiming even higher: to eliminate all but the most temporary experience of being NEET amongst all young people. This will require government to keep young people in education for longer – but more radically, it also demands a fundamental rethink of labour market policy in the UK (the focus of this paper). This programme should be spearheaded by the prime minster as part of a campaign to inspire businesses to ‘do their bit’, by hiring young people during the crisis as part of an ‘investment in the future of our nation’.
  • Fulfilling this promise will require a new, more active, approach to labour market policy. In recent decades, the UK has embraced a liberal welfare regime, meaning a flexible labour market with limited government intervention, and a welfare system designed to promote ‘work first’ through low replacement rates, conditionality and sanctions. This approach is always questionable, but it is particularly problematic in an environment of high and persistent unemployment. We must now take a more empathetic and interventionist approach, drawing on the Active Labour Market Policies (ALMPs) used more extensively elsewhere. If the UK spent the same proportion of GDP on these policies as other advanced European countries, we would invest £8.5 billion more a year in preventing unemployment. Some of these measures are outlined in this paper but government must also take action for older people as well, for example, through reforming and extending the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

Financial sustainability

And continuing the financial theme, the Institute for Fiscal Studies has published a briefing entitled Will universities need a bailout to survive the COVID-19 crisis? The briefing note examines the resilience of university finances to the likely consequences of the COVID-19 outbreak and the public health response to it.

  • The total size of the university sector’s losses is highly uncertain: we estimate that long-run losses could come in anywhere between £3 billion and £19 billion, or between 7.5% and nearly half of the sector’s overall income in one year. Our central estimate of total long-run losses is £11 billion or more than a quarter of income in one year.
  • The biggest losses will likely stem from falls in international student enrolments (between £1.4 billion and £4.3 billion, with a central estimate of £2.8 billion) and increases in the deficits of university-sponsored pension schemes, which universities will eventually need to cover (up to £7.6 billion, with a central estimate of £3.8 billion). In addition, the sector faces lockdown-related losses of income from student accommodation and conference and catering operations, as well as financial losses on long-term investments.
  • Large sector-level losses mask substantial differences between institutions. In general, institutions with a large share of international students and those with substantial pension obligations are most affected. These tend to be higher-ranking institutions as well as postgraduate and music & arts institutions. Some of the least selective universities, which rely largely on domestic fee income, will also be badly hit if higher ranked universities admit more UK students to make up for the shortfall in their international enrolments. While recently introduced student number caps will constrain some of this behaviour, there are still likely to be falls in student numbers at the least selective institutions.
  • Universities are unlikely to be able to claw back a large portion of these losses through cost savings unless they make significant numbers of staff redundant. In our central scenario, we estimate that cost savings could reduce the overall bill by only £600 million or around 6% without redundancies. The potential for cost savings varies across universities: institutions with a larger proportion of temporary staff will likely be able to make larger savings, but this may impact teaching quality
  • For the university sector as a whole, net losses in our central scenario are only slightly larger than five years of surplus at the pre-crisis level. Assuming that the underlying profitability of universities remains unchanged, the total financial reserves of the higher education sector could still be roughly the same in 2024 as they were in 2019, even without a government bailout.
  • Whether COVID-related losses put a given institution at risk of insolvency largely depends on its profitability and its balance sheet position before the crisis, rather than on its predicted losses from COVID-19. The institutions with the highest predicted losses all have large financial buffers and are therefore at little risk of insolvency. The institutions at the greatest risk tend to have smaller predicted losses, but had already entered the crisis in poor financial shape.
  • In our central scenario, 13 universities educating around 5% of students would end up with negative reserves and thus may not be viable in the long run without a government bailout or debt restructuring. A very tightly targeted bailout aimed at keeping these institutions afloat could cost around £140 million. In comparison, a one-off increase in teaching grants of £1,000 per UK/EU student would cost £1.8 billion but in our central scenario would only push three institutions above the line of zero reserves.
  • There is considerable uncertainty over actual risks to institutions and a trade-off between highly targeted and more general support. And additional support might not be aimed purely at preventing insolvencies. But there is a big gap in cost between a very targeted bailout costing perhaps less than £200 million and the more generalised bailout proposed by Universities UK, which would cost £3.2 billion and at the same time provide very little support to most universities that appear to be most at risk of insolvency; according to our modelling, only two institutions would be pushed above the line of zero reserves by this proposed policy. Government will need to be very clear about the purpose of any bailout package and design it accordingly.
  • Lightly regulated Alternative Providers educate around 3% of all students in the higher education sector. Many of these providers have low reserves and rely almost exclusively on tuition fees for their income. Alternative Providers with a large share of international students are at a significant risk of insolvency, potentially leaving students unable to complete their degrees.

Further to this, the Higher Education Policy Institute has published a response to the report. Nick Hillman, the Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), said:

  • “The IfS report is as lucid and clear as we have come to expect from them. They are right that universities with more international students and bigger pension liabilities are more directly affected by Covid than others and also that institutions which were financially weak before the pandemic are the ones most at risk of actual insolvency. They are also right that the arguments for extra support for universities in the crisis are strong. But that doesn’t mean they’re right overall.
  • “There are three important points to note.
  • “First, the range of projected short-term financial losses for universities, which the IfS calculates at between £3 billion and £19 billion, is so enormous that it’s pretty meaningless in terms of planning ahead. It’s such a huge fan of uncertainty that it doesn’t help either universities or policymakers know where they stand.
  • “Secondly, there are too many reports around at the moment that take old opinion polls of how students might behave as the gospel truth. We know from when tuition fees in England went to £9k that polls which ask students how they might behave are a woeful guide to the future, and the IfS’s figures on student numbers should therefore be taken with a lorry load of salt.
  • “For example, the IfS are assuming there will be 10% fewer UK students, yet the latest UCAS figures show the opposite trend. Who would choose to have a gap year at the moment, when travel and job opportunities are so limited? The IfS are also predicting a 50% drop in EU students as a result of the pandemic, even though 2020 is the last year when they will be treated like home students. Unless there is a major second wave of Covid-19, the IfS’s “central” estimate for the short-term financial losses would be better labelled “pessimistic” and their “pessimistic” estimate would be better labelled “extreme”.
  • “Thirdly, the oddest feature of the IfS report is how very little it has to say on university research. When universities have less income and face big deficits, they can opt to stem the financial losses by doing less research as research generally loses money. Less research would be terrible for the UK as it would hamper the post-pandemic recovery. So the quantity of research that institutions can afford must be a bigger part of the wider conversation about university financing.
  • “There is a strong case for continuing government support for universities of all types because of the jobs they provide, the education they deliver and the support they provide to employers as well as the research they undertake.”

David Kernohan looks under the bonnet.

But it’s ok, because Lord Willetts says foreign investors will be keen to help out, as reported by Research Professional.

University Admissions

The Office for Students finally unveiled their new licence condition on admissions practices at the end of last week, after a very long delay. The consultation results can be found here.

They have changed the time frame from the original proposal so that it is no longer retrospective to 11th March. It is in place until September 2021 so covers next year’s admissions cycle. 

There is a general catch all:

  • This condition…. prohibits a provider from engaging in any form of Conduct which, in the reasonable opinion of the OfS, could be expected to have a material negative effect on the Stability and/or Integrity of the English Higher Education Sector

This is interesting because it doesn’t just mean things that any one university does that could on its own have a material negative effect – but takes into account the cumulative negative effect if lots of universities were to do the same thing.  Deciding what might be covered by this vague and subjective definition will be an interesting process for anyone planning creative recruitment strategies.

To help the sector they have clarified some things that are definitely banned, and some things that are definitely allowed.  As you will see, the gap in the middle is quite big.

Banned

  • They have banned all conditional unconditional offers.
  • They have banned “false or misleading” claims to persuade people from going to another university (surely this would have been subject to action by the ASA in any case).

Allowed

  • the use of an Unconditional Offer in respect of a prospective or existing student who has already attained particular academic achievementswhich are at, or equivalent to, level 3 or above of the Regulated Qualifications Framework;
  • the use of an Unconditional Offer in connection withadmissions policies and criteria which wholly or mainly require a prospective or existing student to demonstrate abilities in a practical way (including, but not limited, by any type of live performance or submission of evidence of abilities through videos, drawings, paintings, photographic pictures, audio recordings, or any other tangible object);
  • the use of an Unconditional Offer in respect of a prospective or existing student who has already accredited prior learning (APL), or prior experiential learning (APEL), that can be accredited under academic regulations that were made and brought into force by the provider before 1 September 2019;
  • the use of an Unconditional Offer in respect of a prospective or existing student who meets all of the following requirements: the student was a private candidate registered to take examinations for A-level qualifications(or other qualifications which are equivalent to level 3 qualifications for the purposes of the Regulated Qualifications Framework) in 2020; and  was unable to take examinations for such qualifications before 31 August 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic or obtain grades for such qualifications on an alternative basis as a result of arrangements put in place by the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (or, as the case may be, the equivalent body in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland); and iii. is seeking admission to a higher education course which will commence before 1 September 2021;
  • the use of a Contextual Offer in connection with implementing any policy which could reasonably be considered as having the primary aim of promoting Equality of Opportunity.

It seems fairly clear that the OfS are intending to restrict unconditional offer-making in all but these cases, although they haven’t actually spelled that out.

Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of the OfS, said:

  • We have previously highlighted that unconditional offers which are conditional on students accepting a university or college as their first choice put pressure on students and distort their decision making. Widespread use of unconditional offers also risks destabilising the system. Our concerns are even more acute in these exceptional times with the shape of the next few months and years still very unpredictable, and information, advice and guidance less readily available than it may normally be.
  • ‘However, we have ensured that the condition explicitly permits unconditional and contextual offers that are clearly in students’ interests, and which support the transition into higher education for the most disadvantaged students.
  • ‘Students can also be reassured that they should not expect to have any offers that they have already received withdrawn, and where there are good reasons for them to receive an unconditional or contextual offer in future, there is no reason that this cannot go ahead.
  • ‘This condition is designed to avoid instability during the current uncertainty, and to protect students and the higher education sector in these extraordinary circumstances: it will not continue past September 2021. This should allay concerns that we wanted to extend our powers permanently, which we have no intention of doing.
  • ‘The condition is a necessary and proportionate means to ensure the stability and integrity of the English higher education sector, to protect students’ interests and to preserve a diversity of choice for students into the future.’

An anonymous senior figure in an English university has responded in a HEPI blog:

  • Conditional unconditional offers are explicitly ‘prohibited in all circumstances’ but the condition applies to: conduct … which, if repeated by other providers, is likely to have a material negative effect on the stability and/or integrity of the English Higher Education Sector (whether or not there is any form of express or tacit coordination, and whether or not a provider is able to anticipate the actions of other providers).’
  • Except for cases where applicants are required to ‘demonstrate abilities in a practical way’ – which are explicitly exempted – I think we can predict the end of all unconditional offer making.
  • As the OfS says, a ‘provider needs only to consider the possible negative effects on stability and integrity if other providers did follow suit.’ As the conceptual universe is overflowing with what is possible, it is unlikely that any university will argue that it is not possible that their unconditional offer-making will have negative effects.
  • Many within and outside the sector will not lament the passing of unconditional offer-making. Whatever your views on their relative merits, they had become a stick with which to beat us long before the pandemic hit. But hang on; that’s a problem. The original consultation stated that ‘the conduct that the condition seeks to address is specific to the circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic’.
  • No one can plausibly claim that the problem of unconditional offers is ‘specific’ to the pandemic. And while there have been worries about the alleged 30,000 unconditional offers made in the first few days of the pandemic, the OfS’s power will not be retrospective. So these will stand.
  • Indeed, given the current stage of the recruitment cycle, the new power will have marginal effect on 2020 recruitment. However, as it will last until 30 September 2021, it will apply through next year’s recruitment cycle. And, unless the OfS know something few others do, the new power will apply outside the pandemic.
  • One cannot help feeling that the bucket of ordure that was poured over the OfS in response to their original consultation so staggered them that it has taken this long to think of a face-saving way to rescue something from a poorly-argued consultation. Even with grade inflation, it would have warranted no more than a 3rd.
  • Still, one should not be ungenerous. The OfS may have done the sector a great favour. Unconditional offers are very much a collective action problem – if one university offers them, so must others. So a centrally-imposed rule is almost certainly the right approach.
  • However, one can still legitimately worry about the consultation outcome. The OfS was not consulting on the acceptability of unconditional offers; it was consulting on pandemic-specific conduct. The OfS seems to have used the exercise as cover to do something it has wanted to do for a long time.

Research

REF & Roadmap – Following last week’s announcement on the R&D roadmap which promises to investigate and reduce bureaucracy (and UKRI’s intention to consider overhauling REF after 2021) Wonkhe have a nice blog on how they do it in the Netherlands.

The roadmap also contained public funding pledges which intended to attract domestic and international private investment. BEIS have issued a report describing the ‘leverage’ that can be expected. They’ve also published the analysis of the economic modelling behind the 2.4% R&D target under the Industrial Strategy banner.

And the roadmap itself is still subject to much comment and articles continuing to analyse the nuance behind the words. Daniel Zeichner Co-Chair of the Universities APPG stated:

  • [the document was] a curious roadmap—much more of a ramble through a complicated landscape where everything gets a mention.
  • Measures to make the UK more attractive to international researchers are welcome, although whether they will undo the self-inflicted harm caused by leaving the European Union, and ill-considered immigration policies, remains to be seen.
  • Anyone following this roadmap will doubtless recognise much of what is described but will wonder about the destination—little surprise that at the end, we find that we have finally arrived at the start of a conversation.

Research Lottery – THE report on a consortium (including UKRI) who are experimenting to judge whether funding certain types of research project by random selection would reduce unconscious bias. Professor Wilsdon, Research on Research institute, stated:

  • When you are sitting on panels, you can often easily spot the really outstanding applications – or the stuff that isn’t much good – but there is also a middle level of proposals that will probably lead to valuable research where it is very hard to choose between candidates. The distinctions between them are so fine-grain that it is sometimes quite hard to defend why you chose one over another – it is this area where grant funders can be susceptible to implicit bias, whether that is linguistic, institutional or gender bias.
  • [Another]…big motivation is making the process more efficient and whether lotteries can be designed that make the application process faster and lighter touch.
  • However, the “killer question” about lottery-based funding systems is “whether they help to fund better research”. We have no idea about this so far, but we will begin to look at this in the study.

The consortium are also tackling whether grant application criteria lead to inequalities in research funding, whether new definitions or alternatives to excellence can be found, and a six-country study in how research cultures can be made more diverse and inclusive.

ECRs – HEPI has a new blog analysing the R&D Roadmap which draws out the 5 points most relevant and positive to the Early Career Researcher experience:

  • Focusing on the person and attributes (more than uncontrollable citations, grants won, publications achieved)
  • Addressing negative research culture
  • Improving diversity and inclusion within research
  • Addressing the instability of short term grants and contracts
  • ‘New Deal’ for PhD student funding

Of course, these are all intentions and it remains to be seen how to tackle the trickier aspects, particularly in a post-pandemic financially squeezed world, however it is a start.

Parliamentary questions:

Student Number Controls

The Lords debate of the regulations which will bring the student number control into being covered the usual topics, including the limits on the devolved nations recruitment of English students, impact on students from disadvantaged backgrounds,  whether there were other incentives that could support universities.

The Lords comments are interesting because we get some different viewpoints. Here’s a little selection.

Lord Blencathra’s comments were notable:

  • First, I am appalled that many universities are ripping off students by refusing to refund part of their fees for non-existent teaching. Over the last six months, university lecturers were on strike for five weeks—more than 1 million students got no teaching whatever. Now, there is no teaching because of Covid-19, and still universities are running the equivalent of Ponzi schemes, like Bernard Madoff racketeers, taking money for a non-existent product while paying themselves huge dividends. I am sorry, but they deserve to be lambasted. Any commercial company which failed to deliver on a contracted service would have to pay compensation. I hope my noble friend can compel our universities to behave honourably.
  • Secondly, I see that the department is considering changing to post-results applications and university courses starting in January. This change is long overdue, and I commend it. It is nonsense to offer conditional places based on predicted results. I hope that the Government will push on with that excellent initiative as soon as possible.
  • Finally, I know my noble friend will not say so, but we have about 30 useless universities at the bottom end of the quality tables. They are taking fees from students for worthless courses which will not get them jobs, and the fees will never be repaid. We desperately need more technical colleges and more skills training, as the Prime Minister said on Tuesday. Will my noble friend look to convert these back to good polytechnics which could do good for the country and real good for young people, rather than them playing at being poor-quality universities?

Lord Chidgey (LD): 

  • My Lords, in the context of this higher education SI on fee limits and student support, Michelle Donelan MP, the Universities Minister, said yesterday: “ higher education should be open to all … who are qualified by ability and attainment.”
  • True social mobility would put students, their needs and career ambitions first—be that in HE, FE or apprenticeships—and must be funded accordingly.

Lord Desai (Lab)

  • My Lords, I find this regulation a little strange. We have faced a surprising pandemic, and some universities have tried to defend themselves against possible losses by recruiting more people than they are supposed to. As far as I can understand these complex things, the universities which have offered more places than they are supposed to will be punished, not this year but next year. That is the kind of Stalinist rationing I do not understand.
  • If universities are taking the initiative to defend themselves against the adverse effects of the virus, they should be rewarded, because they are looking ahead. At least next year, if you are going to punish them for this, please punish them mildly, spread the punishment over more than one year and, if possible, do not punish them at all, because they are doing good work and we need good-quality higher education. Therefore, this is the time not to be harsh on universities but to be kind to higher education, just as the Government are very kind to companies that are going bust and banks which are failing, and so on. If you are being kind to everyone, why not be kind to higher education as well?

Lord  Blencathra  (Con)  said he was “appalled” that universities would not refund students for lost teaching as a result of strikes and then the pandemic. He supported changes to post-result  applications. Finally, he said there should be more technical colleges, and that the bottom 30 universities should be converted “back to good polytechnics.”

Baroness Altmann (Con) asked whether there would be an appeal process for institutions who felt they were treated unfairly by regulations; about the impact of the use of student loan data; and whether smaller specialist higher education institutions could be exempt from these controls.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay:

  • Regarding the consultation period, that the Universities Minister had meetings with representatives across the sector, including Universities UK. The research package announced recently by the Government was UK wide.
  • With regards to devolution, Parkinson said the problem was acute in England; and there was not an intention to interfere with devolution. He said that the ” funding of English-domiciled students is not a devolved matter “; and that devolved nations would be able to continue setting their own fees.
  • On the point of disadvantaged students, Parkinson said the Government expected higher education providers to support such students; and that the Department of Education was seeing to identify steps to assist this.  Apprenticeships would be excluded from number controls.
  • Parkinson said that the issue of the quality of providers was a condition of registration with the Office for students. Appeals for providers regarding controls would be considered on a case-by-case basis.
  • For students from  migrants  families, Parkinson clarified that individuals who had spent the previous three years in the UK could access support equal to most other students.
  • The Government cared about the HE  sector  and the opportunities it provided to all whom use it.

The regulations were approved.

Post-pandemic recovery

The Department for Education published guidance entitled Higher education: reopening buildings and campuses.

This document is designed to help providers of higher education in England to understand how to minimise risk during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak and provide services to students, keeping as many people as possible self-isolating and out of educational settings if they are symptomatic, practising good hand and respiratory hygiene and keeping 2 metres apart from those they do not live with wherever possible. From 4 July, where 2 metres is not viable, reducing the distance down to a minimum of 1 metre can be used but only if appropriate mitigation is in place.

The House of Commons Library have published Coronavirus: Easing lockdown restrictions in FE & HE in England exploring the student number controls, re-opening campuses, graduate employability and lack of catch up funding for FE colleges.

EU Students and Student Mobility

Student Mobility – The Times have an opinion piece discussing the building blocks that the UK alternative to Erasmus should incorporate.

EU Students – An Oxford academic is calling for a Government funded EU scholarship scheme to attract high quality European students into British universities. Research Professional report on a survey by a European student website (Study.eu) where 84%  of potential students said they would “definitely not” study in the UK if their fees roughly doubled to the same amount paid by non-EU international students. 60% of the respondents would have begun university in the 2021-22 academic year.  Study.eu Chief Executive Gerrit Bruno Blöss stated: It is unfortunate that the political process leads to such negative consequences for students and universities…UK’s universities have a lot to offer, but they are facing strong competition on the continent.

T levels

Ahead of the skills and training announcements set out above, Gillian Keegan, Minister for Skills and Apprenticeships had already announced a new package of support to help employers and FE providers deliver high-quality industry placements for T-levels.

  • T Levels – high-quality technical alternatives equivalent to three A Levels – have been created in collaboration with industry experts so students gain the skills they need to succeed in the workplace and so businesses can access the workforce they need to thrive.
  • A unique part of a T Level will be the completion of a high-quality industry placement – of at least 315 hours, or approximately 45 days – where students will build the knowledge and skills and develop the confidence they need in a workplace environment.

The package includes:

  • New guidance setting out the key roles and responsibilities for providers and employers, and a new guide for students to help them prepare for their placement, with hands on support and advice so everyone can get the best experience possible.
  • Additional delivery models for employers and providers including new models for the way industry placements can be delivered in the Construction and Engineering & Manufacturing routes, to reflect modern practices, and allowing Capacity and Delivery Fund placements to be delivered over two academic years, to bring them in line with T Levels, with a reduced delivery target of 25% for the 2020/21 academic year, to reflect the impact of the coronavirus on employers.
  • In recognition of the impact of coronavirus on employers, the government will extend the Employer Support Fund pilot, launched in September 2019, to offer financial support to employers in selected regions where funding is a barrier to them hosting high-quality industry placements. The Employer Support Package, a suite of online guidance, case studies and workshops to help employers to host high-quality industry placements, will also continue: and
  • The government will also procure an organisation with the appropriate expertise to support 2020, 2021 and 2022 providers to help them deliver high-quality placements in line with the delivery guidance.

Gillian Keegan, Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills said:

  • The first three T Levels in Design, Surveying and Planning for Construction, Digital Production, Design and Development and Education and Childcare will be taught from September 2020 with more rolled out gradually between 2021 and 2023. The new qualifications will play a key part in rebuilding the economy after the coronavirus outbreak, boosting access to high-quality technical education for thousands of young people so they can progress to the next level, whether that is getting a job, going on to further study or an apprenticeship.

Other Parliamentary questions

There were a lot of questions on tuition fees for healthcare/nursing students.

Other news

Skills: The EU have set out a 5-year Skills Agenda with policy priorities and targets bringing industry, education and employment agencies together. While this focuses only on EU states it is interesting to note the similarity to the UK context with the increased focus on skills and tackling employment gaps. Including a Council which will make recommendations on vocational education and training.

Force Majeure: If you like a short technical read there is a blog from Shakespeare Martineau on the force majeure clause which allows for extraordinary occurrences in relation to delivery of contracts. The blog takes apart the OfS expectation that it won’t apply to students commencing in 2020/21 questioning whether the OfS position is correct:

  • While all providers have been planning and making strenuous efforts to deliver programmes in the wake of the pandemic, the OIA’s view presupposes that they can simply now return to the status quo ante in September, any deviation from provision as originally promised being a matter of expedience or discretion for the provider and therefore subject to students’ consent.
  • Students who will enrol for the first time in September 2020 will have been made offers which reflected the delivery models of a pre-COVID world, and they will have accepted their offers on those terms. The pandemic nevertheless continues, the threat of transmission subsists, the spectre of a second peak looms larger with each easing of the lockdown, and there is no clear guidance on whether and how providers can resume delivery as promised and safely. Pubs and restaurants, which are permitted to re-open from July, are doing so but in a way that is significantly different from the services we all enjoyed consuming until March.  Why are HE providers different?
  • The OIA clearly believes that, given the passage of time since the outbreak, providers have had time to mitigate its effects.  That may well be the case, though some providers would argue otherwise.  Mitigating effects now for September enrolments, however, does not mean that providers can fulfil promises made pre-COVID without any changes from offers originally made and accepted.  The OIA’s dismissal of force majeure reliance is therefore hard to understand and unhelpful to providers facing an increase in student complaints.

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HE policy update for the w/e 21st September 2018

Tuition Fees – means testing?

The Higher Education Policy Institute and Canadian Higher Education Strategy Associates have published a joint research paper on means-tested tuition fees for higher education – Targeted Tuition Fees – Is means-testing the answer? It explores the different funding approaches around the world considering the three major approaches to subsiding students in HE:

  • Equal subsidisation, resulting in a system of free tuition
  • Post-hoc subsidy (eg. England) in which those with smaller financial returns pay less
  • Pre-hoc subsidy, in which reductions in net price are given to poorer students, usually through a system of grants

Targeted free tuition starts from the notion that income-contingent fee loans do improve access but don’t do enough to help those from the poorest households, many of which are extremely debt adverse, and it leads to these families ruling out attending HE. Targeted free tuition suggests means testing and offering those on lowest income partial or full exemption from tuition fees.

The report concludes that “targeted free tuition has both an attractive political and economic logic: it provides benefits to those who need it without providing windfall gains to those who do not. Evidence from several countries over many years tells us that students from poorer backgrounds have a higher elasticity of demand than students from wealthier ones. Put simply, there is far more value for money in reducing or eliminating net tuition for low income students than there is in doing so for wealthier ones”.

Nick Hillman (HEPI) spoke on the report during the Today programme on Radio 4 on Thursday.

Means testing tuition fees is another interesting contribution to the Post-18 Review discussion.  It would of course, increase costs, just at the time when the accounting treatment is about to change and the existing costs become more visible.  You’ll remember we reported last week that the Post-18 Review report is delayed awaiting outcomes on the decision of how to account for student loans, but will Phillip Augar use the delay to cogitate further on tuition fees?

There is an interesting debate, though, about the tension between means testing families at one level (as already happens for maintenance loans) and then basing everything on the graduate premium – i.e. the income of the graduate not the family.  The government will say that the current position is fairer because the amount repaid is all based on graduate income, whereas under this system the merchant banker children of WP families would repay nothing.  The opposing side was expressed on Radio 4 by Polly Mackenzie of Demos. She said that technocratic solutions developed by policy wonks would not solve the problem of student finance. That the public were emotionally opposed to debt and the system is too broken to survive, regardless of the merits of rebranding, renaming or tweaking it.

Alex Usher, the Canadian author of the paper writes for Wonkhe in A case for means-tested fees.

While Becca Bland from Stand Alone highlights that students with complex family situations which approach but don’t quite meet categorisation as an independent student fall through the means testing cracks and all too often can’t access sufficient funding to access or complete HE study. See Family means-testing for student loans is not working.

Education Spending

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) released its annual report on England’s education spend. On HE it summarises:

  • Reforms to higher education funding have increased university resources and made little difference to the long-run cost to the public purse. Universities currently receive just over £9,000 per full-time undergraduate student per year to fund their teaching. This is 22% higher than it was in 2011, and nearly 60% more than in 1997. Reforms since 2011 have cut the impact on the headline measure of the government’s deficit by about £6 billion per cohort entering higher education, but the expected long-run cost to the taxpayer has fallen by less than £1 billion.

The report hit the headlines for the decline in FE spending; this heightened the current speculation that FE spend may be addressed through the post-18 tertiary education funding review. Research Professional report that the IFS write a

  •  “key challenge” facing the higher-education system in England is “ensuring the quality of education provided in a market where students lack good information about the return to their degrees”.
  • “The challenge for the government is to define and produce the metrics on which it wants universities to perform, and incentivise universities to take these metrics seriously.”

The article notes that the TEF, which originally planned to link higher tuition fees to outcomes, would have incentivised HE providers to focus more on their performance metrics. However, a respondent from Exeter University challenged the IFS’ statement, saying:

  • All of this is out of touch with the reality of UK universities. In fact we are awash with metrics and we study them obsessively. Even when the TEF was decoupled from financial incentive, we took it no less seriously. Just look at how the results are received – and celebrated, or challenged.”

The key points from the IFS report:

  • 16-18 education has been a big loser from education spending changes over the last 25 years. In 1990-91, spending per student in further education was 50% higher than spending per student in secondary schools. It is now 8% lower in real terms.
  • FE also suffers from dwindling mature student numbers – the total number of adult learners fell from 4 million in 2005 to 2.2 million by 2016, with total funding falling by 45% in real terms over that period. However, spending per learner has remained relatively constant at £1,000 per year
  • 19+ FE is now sharply focussed on apprenticeships – making up almost half of all Level 2 qualifications undertaken by adults, compared to less than 10% in 2005. They also make up about two-thirds of all Level 3 adult learners
  • At the event launching the report panellists debated T-levels concluding that the new qualifications wouldn’t raise per student funding levels for sixth forms and FE colleges. Any additional funding would only cover the increased number of teaching hours required. The panel also debated whether a focus on occupational and technical skills would leave people vulnerable to economic and trade shocks.

Higher Education

  • Universities receive £28,200 per student to fund the cost of teaching their degrees, with 60% rise since 97/98 largely attributable to tuition fee reforms [Note: this is likely the average tuition fee value across the full duration of a degree, it doesn’t divide perfectly to the £9,250 fee level because fee levels vary for longer four year degrees and placement years.]
  • The expected long run taxpayer cost of providing HE is £8.5bn per cohort. Since 2011 the £6bn reduction in the teaching grant only translates into £800m of savings per cohort, because:
  • The lowest earning 40% of graduates repay £3,000 less student loan over their lifetime than had they started in 2011 (owing to the higher repayment threshold).

Responding to the IFS report Geoff Barton, Association of School and College Leaders, played on the gulf between FE and HE funding levels:

  • “Parents will be horrified to learn of the damage that has been done to sixth forms and colleges by severe real-terms cuts in government funding. They may also wonder why the basic rate of funding for each of these students is just £4,000 compared to tuition fees at university which can be as high as £9,250. [Is Geoff touching on dangerous ground here? Few people want to take out loans to access FE provision!]
  • There is no rhyme or reason for the extremely low level of funding for 16-18 year-olds, and without the additional investment that is desperately needed more courses and student support services will have to be cut in addition to those which have already been lost. It is a crucial phase of education in which young people take qualifications which are vital to their life chances and they deserve better from a government which constantly talks about social mobility.
  • The government’s under-investment in 16-18 education is part of a wider picture of real-terms cuts to school funding which is putting hard-won standards at risk.”

Other fees and funding news

Mis-sold and overhyped: The Guardian ran a provocative article Mis-sold, expensive and overhyped: why our universities are a con claiming universities haven’t delivered on the social mobility and graduate wage premium that politicians promised. If you read to the end you’ll see the author is actually in favour of scrapping tuition fees and increasing levels of vocational provision.

Transparent Value?: Advance HE blogs How does HE create and demonstrate value? Arguing there is

  • too little focus, for example, on the value created for the economy and society, for research, and for collaborations with business. If value is always reduced to short-term financial value this creates a degree of inequality between different stakeholder groups….. we live in a world where there is no collective understanding of value… The nature of value is changing, and it’s changing higher education’s direction. The blog also tackles what it means to be transparent.

Graduate Employability

The OfS have blogged on improving graduate employability.  They say:

  •  more than a quarter of English graduates say they are over qualified for the jobs they are doing. Yet we know that many businesses also say they struggle to find graduates with the skills necessary to the job. This apparent mismatch between what a university education may deliver and what employers say they need underlines the importance of keeping employability in sharp focus throughout students’ experience of higher education.

The blog goes on to highlight the OfS consultation which sets out tough targets for improving employment gaps.  The OfS call for more work placement opportunities:

  • Many employers are now offering degree apprenticeships and this is important and welcome. But we also need more work placement opportunities. It cannot be right that so many students, especially those on courses with little vocational element and those without the right networks, have no access to good work placements or holiday internships while they are studying. This means they are more likely to face a cycle of internships, too often unpaid, after they graduate before they are able to get lasting graduate employment.

Apart from calling for more work-based time the blog’s advice for improving graduate employability is limited to stating:

  • Students need to take up every opportunity available to them during their time in higher education to help improve their employability and get a rewarding job.

The blog also announced that the OfS will launch a competition in October for projects testing ways of improving progression outcomes for commuter graduates (who remain in their home town during study and after graduation).

Pre-degree technical internship – Research Professional writes about a Danish trial scheme which gives students work experience in technical subjects before they commence at university. The scheme consists of a four-week internship undertaken before the degree start date which provides insight into how the learning and knowledge will be applied in practice The trial aims to reduce high dropout rates of 20% on Danish technical courses, with dropout soaring to 30% for students with lower graded prior academic qualifications.

Gender Pay Gap – The Telegraph highlighted how the gender pay gap is apparent even at lower levels of qualification. In women choose lower-wage apprenticeships than men the Telegraph describes how the professions with a dominant female workforce are lower paid, for example women tend towards lower paid child development careers whereas engineering and construction receive higher remuneration.

Admissions

UCAS have published their latest 2018 cycle acceptance figures which sum up the confirmation and clearing period, key points:

  • In England, a record 33.5 per cent of the 18 year old population have now been accepted through UCAS.
  • 60,100 people have been accepted through Clearing in total so far, 150 more than the equivalent point last year, and a new record. Of those, 45,690 people were placed after applying through the main scheme (compared to 46,310 in 2017), and a record 14,410 applied directly to Clearing (compared to 13,640 at the same point last year).
  • A total of 30,350 EU students have been accepted (up 2 per cent on 2017), alongside a record 38,330 (up 4 per cent) from outside the EU.
  • The total number of UK applicants now placed is 426,730, down 3 per cent on 2017, although this comes alongside a 2.5 per cent drop in the number of 18 year olds in the UK population.
  • 495,410 people are now placed in full-time UK higher education through UCAS so far, a decrease of 2 per cent on the same point last year.

Explore the data more through interactive charts here.

Clare Marchant, UCAS’ Chief Executive, said: The highest ever proportions of young people from England, Scotland, and Wales have been accepted, and record numbers of people have a place after applying through Clearing, with their exam results in hand. [Interesting given continued calls for a post-qualification admissions process.]

She continues: The enduring global appeal of studying an undergraduate degree in the UK is clear from the growth in international students with a confirmed place, both from within and outside of the EU. The overall fall in acceptances reflects the ongoing decline in the total number of 18 year olds in the UK’s population, which will continue for the next few years, and follows similar patterns to application trends seen earlier in the year.

Wonkhe describes the data in Drama Backstage? Clearing statistics in 2018 and the Independent’s article says Universities feeling the pinch will have taken generous view of entry qualifications to full places.

Nursing recruitment continues to fall, the UCAS figures for England show a further drop of 570 less students for 2018/19. Last week the NHS figures highlighted a crisis with record levels of vacant nursing posts – just in England the NHS is short of 40,000 registered nurses. Lara Carmona, Royal College of Nursing, said:

  • “When there are tens of thousands of vacant nursing jobs, the Government’s own policy is driving down the number of trainees year after year. These figures are a harsh reminder for ministers of the need to properly address the staffing crisis that is putting safe and effective treatment patient care at risk.
  • This piecemeal approach to policy-making is futile. We urgently need comprehensive workforce plans that should safeguard recruitment and retention and that responds to patients needs in each country. This should include incentives to attract more nursing students.
  • The Government must bring forward legislation in England, building on law in Wales and the current draft bill in Scotland, that ensures accountability for safe staffing levels across health and care services.
  • And where is the review of the impact that those 2015 reforms had? [The removal of the nursing bursary and introduction of tuition fees.] The Department of Health and Social Care promised this two years ago and it is high time it was published.”

However, the response to a parliamentary question on Monday saw the Government remain steadfast to the funding changes:

Q – Caroline Lucas: To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, if he will make it his policy to reintroduce bursaries for nursing degrees; and if he will make a statement. [172541]

A – Stephen Barclay: The removal of bursaries and introduction of student loans for nursing degrees has increased the number of nursing degree places that are available. Latest Universities and Colleges Admissions Service data for September 2018 show that there are still more applicants than places available for nursing courses.

As such we have no plans to reinstate a bursary cap on places, which would limit the number of places available.

Electoral Registration

The Office for Students published Regulatory Advice 11: Guidance for providers about facilitating electoral registration. It requires Universities to work with all geographically relevant Electoral Registrations Officers to provide sufficient student information to maintain the electoral register. Good practice case studies for electoral registration are included at Annex A (pages 7-12).

The Office for Students (OfS) has published Regulatory Advice 11: Guidance for providers about facilitating electoral registration, for registered providers in England. Any provider may be randomly selected for scrutiny, but attention will be focused on those where issues have been raised, in particular from electoral registration officers. Good practice and case studies show how universities should take a risk-based approach on the issue, and also raise awareness of democratic engagement and electoral registration.

Staff Migration

The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) published their final report on European Economic Area migration within the UK this week. Here are the key points:

Labour Market Impacts:

  • Migrants have no or little impact on the overall employment and unemployment outcomes of the UK born workforce
  • Migration is not a major determinate of the wages of UK born workers

Productivity, innovation, investment and training impacts

  • Studies commissioned point towards immigration having a positive impact on productivity but the results are subject to significant uncertainty.
  • High-skilled immigrants make a positive contribution to the levels of innovation in the receiving country.
  • There is no evidence that migration has had a negative impact on the training of the UK-born workforce. Moreover, there is some evidence to suggest that skilled migrants have a positive impact on the quantity of training available to the UK-born workforce.

Public finance and public fund impacts

  • EEA migrants pay more in taxes than they receive in benefits. The positive net contribution to the public finances is larger for EU13+ migrants than for NMS migrants.
  • However, net fiscal contribution is strongly related to age and, more importantly, earnings so that a migration policy that selected on those characteristics could produce even higher gains.

Public service impacts

  • EEA migrants contribute much more to the health service and the provision of social care in financial resources and through work than they consume in services.
  • In education, we find no evidence that migration has reduced parental choice in schools or the educational attainment of UK-born children. On average, children with English as an additional language outperform native English speakers.

Summary of recommendations for work migration post-Brexit:

  1. General principle behind migration policy changes should be to make it easier for higher-skilled workers to migrate to the UK than lower-skilled workers.
  2. No preference for EU citizens, on the assumption UK immigration policy not included in agreement with EU.
  3. Abolish the cap on the number of migrants under Tier 2 (General).
  4. Tier 2 (General) to be open to all jobs at RQF3 and above. Shortage Occupation List to be fully reviewed.
  5. Maintain existing salary thresholds for all migrants in Tier 2.
  6. Retain but review the Immigration Skills Charge.
  7. Consider abolition of the Resident Labour Market Test. If not abolished, extend the numbers of migrants who are exempt through lowering the salary required for exemption.
  8. Review how the current sponsor licensing system works for small and medium-sized businesses.
  9. Consult more systematically with users of the visa system to ensure it works as smoothly as possible.
  10. For lower-skilled workers avoid Sector-Based Schemes (with the potential exception of a Seasonal Agricultural Workers scheme)
  11. If an Agricultural Workers scheme is reintroduced, ensure upward pressure on wages via an agricultural minimum wage to encourage increases in productivity.
  12. If a “backstop” is considered necessary to fill low-skilled roles extend the Tier 5 Youth Mobility Scheme.
  13. Monitor and evaluate the impact of migration policies.
  14. Pay more attention to managing the consequences of migration at a local level.

Following last week’s MAC report on international students the sector has speculated that the above recommendations have been influenced by the Home Office and so are likely to be acted upon. Furthermore, during her interview with Nick Robinson this week the Prime Minister said that an immigration policy will be published later in the Autumn. This may be published as an Immigration white paper (a Government statement of intent in relation to immigration, white papers sometimes invite sector response on some small details or call for public support). The PM has also hinted that EU nationals won’t receive special treatment (which is one of the report’s recommendations) and Sajid Javid has been reported saying that EU nationals will face visas and caps. However, immigration is one of the key Brexit bargaining points, one which David Davis, speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme this week, declared wouldn’t be resolved until late on in the negotiation stages.

With the report’s recommendations to support high skilled migration, and previous Governmental assurances towards university academics, the recommendations haven’t sounded any alarms within the HE staff sector. However, universities that rely on EU talent to bolster medium skilled professional roles could face difficulty.

  • Wonkhe report that: An unlikely coalition of 11 right-of-centre think tanks from both sides of the Atlantic has published a joint report – reported in the Sun – calling for the free movement of people between the USA and the UK for anyone with a job offer.
  • The Sun names it an ‘ideal post-Brexit free-trade agreement’. However, the model US trade deal was vehemently opposed by Global Justice Now who state that: trade deals are not the place to negotiate free movement provisions.
  • Universities UK said: “It is good to see the MAC acknowledging many of the positive impacts that skilled European workers have on life in the UK.”
  • The Russell Group was less enthralled stating: “This was a real opportunity to steer the UK towards a more modern and intelligent immigration system, but the recommendations are unimaginative”.

Meanwhile British Future’s National Conversation on Immigration (which Wonkhe says is the biggest ever public immigration consultation – 19,951 respondents) was published this week finding:

  • Only 15% of people feel the Government has managed immigration competently and fairly;
  • Only 13% of people think MPs tell the truth about immigration;
  • Just 17% trust the Government to tell the truth about immigration.

Wonkhe report that: The research concludes that the public wants to hold the government to account for delivering on immigration policy promises, as well as more transparency and democratic engagement on the issue.

The survey also calls for:

  • 3 year plan for migration including measures to increase international student migration
  • Clarity on the status of EU students after Brexit transition
  • Review Tier 4 visa processes
  • Post-study work visa for STEM graduates
  • All universities should produce a community plan, involving university staff and local residents
  • And, a new wave of universities to “spread the benefits that HE brings more widely across the UK”

On the new universities it continues:

  • These institutions should focus on local needs and account for the diverse nature of the places  in which they are established. We recommend that these new institutions specialise in regional economic and cultural strengths and have strong business and community links. They should also be part of a strengthened life-long learning system with clear routes from apprenticeships, through further education and into higher level studies. But these new universities must be new and not repurposed further education colleges.
  • There are a number of ways that a new wave of university building could be financed, so that the burden does not fall on the taxpayer. While students and research grants provide everyday revenue, the capital costs of a new university could be raised through capital markets.
  • There should be clear obligations placed on these new universities to deliver additional courses below degree level, to support lifelong learning, promote good links with employers and to boost the skills of the local population.

International Students

A Research Professional article revisits the MAC Commission’s failure to challenge Theresa May’s refusal to remove international students from the net migration figures. However, it believes Britain’s declining share of the international student market can be saved by the following seven actions:

  • The Home Office should establish a “friendly environment policy” for international students, with improved post-study work options and streamlined visa processes to match our competitors such as Australia.
  • The Department for Education, supported by the Home Office, should roll out an improved Tier 4 pilot based on recruiting from target growth countries such as India and Nigeria.
  • The Home Office must simplify visa procedures and reduce burdens on Tier 4 university sponsors.
  • The Department for International Trade must reinvigorate the “Education is GREAT” campaign, working with universities to maximise impact.
  • The Department for International Development should allocate a proportion of foreign aid spending to providing scholarships and pathway programmes, match-funded by universities.
  • The Home Office and the British Council should review the number and location of English language test centres to attract the brightest and best students, not the richest.
  • The government should immediately announce a continuation of home fee status for EU students in 2020 and beyond.

It concludes: A whole-of-government approach must be adopted and a firm national target for education exports should be set. Education policy and migration policy should support each other in a common commitment to that target. Only then can the UK stay ahead of its competitors in attracting international students and strengthening education exports.

There was also a parliamentary question on last week’s MAC international student’s report:

Q – Steve Double: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, with reference to the Migration Advisory Committee report entitled International Students in the UK, published on 11 September 2018, what assessment he has made of the potential merits of the recommendations in that report; and if he will make statement.

A- Caroline Nokes: We are grateful to the Migrant Advisory Committee for their balanced and comprehensive review into International Students in the UK. We will be carefully considering the recommendations made in the report and will be responding in due course.

Artificial Intelligence

Advent of AI leads to job refocus

The World Economic Forum report The Future of Jobs 2018 believes AI and automation technologies will replace 75 million jobs leading companies to change the human role resulting in 133 million new roles by 2022. The WEF report suggests that full time permanent employment may fall and there would be ‘significant shifts’ in the quality, location and format of new roles. The report highlights skills and the need for companies to invest in upskilling their workforce. Saadia Zahidi, Head of the Centre for the New Economy and Society at the World Economic Forum, said: While automation could give companies a productivity boost, they need to invest in their employees in order to stay competitive. Meanwhile this CNBC article which describes the WEF report claims that AI and robotics will create 60 million more jobs than they destroy.

A parliamentary question on AI was responded to this week:

Q – Lord Taylor Of Warwick: What assessment they have made of public perceptions of artificial intelligence ; and what measures they will put in place to ensure that the uptake of this technology is done so in a transparent, accountable and ethical manner.

A – Lord Henley: The Government is aware of a broad range of views on the potential of artificial intelligence . The independent review on artificial intelligence in the UK stressed the importance of industry and experts working together to secure and deserve public trust, address public perceptions, gain public confidence, and model how to deliver and demonstrate fair treatment.

The new Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation (CDEI), AI Council and Office for Artificial Intelligence (OAI) were set up to deliver the recommendations of the review, and therefore have a crucial role to play.

Ethical AI safeguards, including transparency and accountability mechanisms, will be scrutinised and improved through the new Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation – the first of its kind anywhere in the world. The £9m Centre will advise on the safe, ethical and innovative use of data driven tech and help negotiate the potential risks and opportunities for the benefit of consumers.

The UK already has a strong and well respected regulatory environment, which is an integral part of building customer confidence and trust in new innovations. The Government is committed to ensuring that the public continues to be protected as more artificial intelligence applications come into use across different sectors. We believe creating an environment of responsible innovation is the right approach for gaining the public’s trust, and is ultimately good for UK businesses.

Technological Change

Vince Cable, Leader of the Liberal Democrats, spoke on technological change at the autumn party conference:

In the face of relentlessly advancing new technologies, it is easy for people to feel powerless and threatened.  So we have to understand and regulate some of the technologies coming down the track.
Jo Swinson and I are setting up a commission to look at how to turn emerging technologies from a threat into an opportunity.

And if we embrace these technologies, imagine the potential. The potential for robotics in care homes; for machine learning which can detect the first signs of malignant tumour or detect fraud for blockchain which can enable massive, secure, clinical trials and quantum computing which can out-compute computers.  Britain could and should be a leader, investing massively in our science and technology base.

Research

After eight months working together, the UK Parliament and the Devolved Administrations have co-authored a four-page briefing on Research Impact and Legislatures. The work has fed into the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021 draft guidelines on submissions and panel criteria. It is also noted that Parliament features in 20% of REF 2014 impact case studies.

Three former Higher Education Academy directors have launched OneHE, a global membership network and collaboration platform focused on effective learning and teaching. It will award innovation grants selected by community vote. UK membership fees start at £3 a month.

Other news

  • Student Accommodation: A Government press release: Savvy students know their renting rights aims to educate students not to put up with dodgy landlords and poor accommodation when the new laws come into force on 1 October. It sets out a checklist of items that students should be aware of and links to the Government’s ‘How to’ guides on renting safely.
  • UCU have published Investigating HE institutions and their views on the Race Equality Charter calling for UKRI to increase the level of an institution’s research funding in recognition of their achievement of the Race Equality Charter. They also recommend an annual audit of the university’s progress in addressing BME attainment gaps. The Mail Online cover the story leading with University professors should be taught about ‘white privilege’ to make campuses more inclusive, union says.
  • And Chris Husbands strikes back in the Guardian article: Other countries are proud of their universities. The UK must be too stating: there’s never been a time when universities have been more important to more people than they are now. Our futures depend on them.
  • Free Speech: Andrew McRae (Exeter University) pushes back to Sam Gyimah highlighting the Conservatives’ failure to uphold free speech in his personal blog – Free speech: whose problem is it really?
  • Mental Health: Sam Gyimah has written to all Vice-Chancellors to urge them to lead the pathway to good student mental health within their institution. However, a Research Professional article criticises the call asking where the research base is to inform such strategic decisions. The writer goes on to state that the UK degree classification system may create stress and replacement with a US grade point average system might be better. She continues there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to tackling student mental health as each institution is different, but universities could help by improving students’ sense of belonging to combat feelings of loneliness.
  • UKRI: Tim Wheeler has been appointed as Director for International within UKRI. Previously Tim was Director for Research and Innovation at NERC, and his role before was Deputy Chief Scientific Adviser (UK Dept for International Development) which included providing science advice to Ministers. Tim remains a visiting professor at the University of Reading.

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