Tagged / teaching excellence framework

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

JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

HE Policy Update for the w/e 8th June 2018

HEPI Student Experience Survey

The  Higher Education Policy Institute  (HEPI) and  Advance HE  have published a joint  report on student academic experience.  The report was launched at the annual HEPI conference and Sam Gyimah gave the keynote address.

The report includes a lot of insight and is worth looking at – there are some new questions this year too. The headlines focussed on two things – value for money (which has had a step up this year after years of decline) and mental health and wellbeing (which is declining amongst students).

They asked the respondents to consider what influenced their views on value for money – price driving perceptions of poor value and quality of good – perhaps not surprising – and that doesn’t tell the whole picture.  They also asked about how fees should be spent and it is interesting to note that campus development is high.

Commenting on the publication of the 2018 HEPI Student Academic Experience Survey, Yvonne Hawkins, director of teaching excellence and student experience at the Office for Students, said:

  • ‘We welcome the publication of the HEPI Student Academic Experience Survey – this kind of analysis underlines the importance of listening to students and capturing their voices. It also improves our understanding of what matters to them. 
  • ‘While we note the survey’s findings on value for money, and the fact that a slightly higher proportion of students feel they have received good value for money this year, significant numbers of students report not being satisfied with their higher education experience. Overall the results send a clear signal that there is more work to be done. 
  • ‘The concerns identified in the survey about the experience of particular student groups, and about student wellbeing, go to the heart of the OfS’s aim to ensure that every student, whatever their background, has a fulfilling experience of higher education that enriches their lives and careers. 
  • ‘Students have a diversity of perspectives on what constitutes ‘value for money’. We are working closely with our student panel to ensure that we understand and respond to students’ priorities. Our goal is to ensure that students have the information they need to make informed choices, receive high quality teaching and support, and know how providers are spending their income from tuition fees.’

Commenting on the Advance HE and the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) Student Academic Experience Survey, Sir Peter Lampl, founder of the Sutton Trust said:

  • “It is good to see that more students feel their degrees are providing value for money. However, there’s only been a 3 percentage point increase and it’s just not good enough that only 38% perceive they are getting good or very good value from their course.
  • “In sharp contrast 60% of students in Scotland and 48% in Wales – where fees are lower or non-existent – think their courses are good value.
  • “English graduates leave university with debts of over £50,000. A more fair and affordable fees system would increase the number of students who believe they are getting value for money. To do this we need to see the reintroduction of maintenance grants and means-tested tuition fees.”

Value for money

Sam’s speech at the HEPI event focussed on value for money  – linked to student choice.  The Minister referred extensively to the latest IFS research into the LEO (Longitudinal Education Outcomes) data.  The research is here and the LEO data is being released in full on 21st June.

The IFS analysis shows that women who study one of the bottom 100 courses have earnings up to 64% (approximately £17,000) less than the average degree after graduation. For men, it can be up to 67% (approximately £21,000).  The analysis – commissioned by the Department for Education (DfE) – finds that family background has an important impact on graduates’ future earnings, as well as subject and institution choice.

The Minister said

  • “Today’s publication has important and far-reaching ramifications for the debate on value for money in Higher Education.
  • These findings demonstrate that studying the same subject at a different institution can yield a very different earnings premium. The choices that students make about what and where to study does matter.
  • We must build a system where everyone with the ability to benefit from a university education has the opportunity to attend, the information they need to make the right decision, and that when they go to university, they receive a first-rate education that delivers real value for money.

The Minister went on to challenge universities to review their offer to students:

  • The clutch of underperforming degrees is a problem for students – it is likely they include many of the courses whose students feel they are not getting value for money.
  • I believe mass participation in higher education is here to stay and is key to our economic future. But for this vision to be realised in full, universities need to focus relentlessly on value for money.”

In the coming weeks, Sam Gyimah will launch an Open Data competition – the first of its kind in the UK Higher Education sector – allowing tech companies and coders to use government data on universities to help students decide where to apply.

After his recent visit to BU, Sam mentioned us in his speech:

  • One sometimes hears the critique that Britain focuses too much on university degrees and not enough on vocational learning. Vocational and technical skills are vital.
  • But I reject the false dichotomy between university and vocational education. In fact, much of Britain’s best vocational education goes on in degree courses in universities.
  • Take Bournemouth University’s computer animation and visual effects courses, whose graduates have gone on to work on some of the biggest movies of the past decade… In all these cases – and countless others – universities have engaged with the wider world and are delivering courses that combine first-rate education with excellent outcomes for students.

Responding to the IFS report and comments from the minister,  Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of Universities UK , said: “It is right to expect that students receive a high quality education and that all universities offer a high value experience.

  • “A university degree remains an excellent investment. On average, graduates continue to earn £10,000 per year more than the average non-graduate and are more likely to be in employment. When looking at graduate salaries, it is important also to take into account the regional differences and socio-economic inequalities that exist in society, that a university degree cannot fully address.
  • “It is important that we do not use graduate salaries as the single measure of value. Many universities specialise in fields such as the arts, the creative industries, nursing and public sector professions that, despite making an essential contribution to society and the economy, pay less on average.
  • “A priority must be to make sure that all students receive timely and accurate information about different university courses, to ensure that their experience matches their expectations. Universities are keen to work with government to enhance information for students.”

At the conference and since, there has not surprisingly been some pushback on the research and the use that the Minister is making of it.  “The clutch of underperforming degrees is a problem for students – it is likely they include many of the courses whose students feel they are not getting value for money.”

The problem with this assertion of course is that there are no students on these courses. This data is from students who graduated years ago.  Those courses may not be offered any more or will have changed out of all recognition since those students graduated.

And that’s before you start unpicking the other challenges with using this data in this way.  Louis Coiffait from Wonkhe and Pam Tatlow both asked about regional employability differences and the issues with comparing nationally.   See the article on Research Professional here and the Wonkhe article here and here.

The research report itself questions this use of the results (page 10):

  • “Our findings significantly expand understanding of the variation in graduate earnings; however, we cannot argue that our findings can definitely be interpreted as the true causal effect of different subjects and institutions. We use new exciting data and apply sophisticated methodologies to control for the selection into HE courses, and in so doing move beyond the existing literature in UK. However, selecting an institution and subject to study is an inherently non-random process. It reflects the skills and preferences of young people, and may be affected by unobservable traits, such as confidence or other soft skills, that also determine labour market outcomes.”

And

  • “Furthermore, we do not observe identical people (even on observable characteristics) at multiple different institutions and the impact of a specific course may be different for different types of people. We estimate the average effect based on the people that take that course. For example, we are not claiming that all individuals would have higher earnings if they studied medicine.”

Your policy team are finding it rather frustrating to see everything reduced to an average in this way.  Although this sort of comparison might (subject to all of the issues above) make sense for a programme that leads directly to a specific career, it makes no sense at all if graduates are going on to do a range of jobs that bear no relation to each other.

In the old days, if you planned to do languages at university, a careers adviser would suggest that you could go on to teach or be an interpreter (I had that conversation).  Of course even in those days language students actually could go on to do a whole range of things, many of them nothing to do with their language skills, with salaries that varied enormously.

So applicants thinking about a degree in modern foreign languages (if they are interested in salary outcomes at all, which is another question) might be interested in the differences between salaries earned by languages graduates from one university rather than another, if they have a particular career in mind.  If I want to be an interpreter I might (and I mean might) want to know where the best paid interpreters studied.  But a cohort of language graduates from uni b who earned less than a cohort from uni a –where both cohorts include a random number of graduates who teach, become bankers, are academics, translate novels, are civil servants, work for the BBC world service, are ski instructors, lawyers, mountaineers, professional cricket players, work in advertising, are poets, musicians or artists, run a cupcake business, write computer software, work in Sainsbury’s or anything else– really, what is the point?

Whether your degree pays for itself is a function of a lot of things – such as what your degree is, and where you do it, but also what you did before you went there, where you live, where you work, the state of the national and local economy, what career path you choose now and in the future, your gender, your age, your ethnic group, your family background, your disabilities, how hard you work at university and at work, the culture, policies and success of the organisation you work for, your other life choices…and many more.

So putting aside for now the philosophical debate about whether the value of higher education should be measured by salaries, there is also a practical problem here – it just can’t be done.  The timelines are too long and there are too many variables.  And this debate is not just philosophical –the TEF now includes an assessment based on LEO of whether graduates earn above the median earnings threshold – and it might have a role to play in differential fees in the HE review.

Meanwhile Nicola Dandridge wrote for Wonkhe on how the Ofs will address value for money.

  • We will be doing this partly through our regulation of individual providers where our conditions of registration will ensure a common, high quality threshold for all registered providers. These conditions include requirements that applicants and students should be provided with accurate information about their course and their provider, and also that effective arrangements are in place to provide transparency and value for money for all students and taxpayers.
  • At the same time we will seek to empower students to make informed decisions about where and what to study. We will want to ensure that all students have a general understanding of what their higher education experience will be like and how much it will cost – including, as our survey highlighted, additional costs outside of tuition fees. Achieving this depends on the provision of information which makes sense to students. We will seek to empower students to make informed decisions about where they study, and strengthen their ability to challenge poor value for money once they are enrolled. Transparency will be one of the ways we will make this happen.
  • This is still work to be developed and we will be working with our Student Panel and engaging with students and other stakeholders over the coming months to ensure their views inform our response. But our objective is clear: by addressing these common themes, we will have more students reporting that they have received value for money, and that has to be a priority for us all.

Jim Dickinson wrote for Wonkhe on value for money from a different perspective – not related to salaries

  • Inside universities, it’s almost too easy to debunk. You can argue that multiple meanings and motivations make “value” impossible to meaningfully measure. You can argue that the total “money” that is paid varies according to earnings and the rules of the loans system. You can argue that “value” is only created in later life. You can point out that in many cases the money isn’t paid by the user, or that the benefits are to wider society, or that it distorts student behaviour, or that what you get is difficult to compare or that, anyway, it’s all neoliberalism.
  • One of the often-used arguments against this agenda centres on deferred benefits and impacts. “Value is created when students realise their potential”, goes the argument – or it’s created when students “benefit from their education in later life”, or even “when they earn more”- all of which render the measurement of VfM meaningless.
  • But the argument misses the point. Of course, I only get “value” from a TV if I watch it, or “value” from a gym membership if I bother to go. But that doesn’t change the fact that unlike a gym or a TV purchase, university is a public endeavour jointly funded by the taxpayer and the student. Both groups have the right to demand standards in the service being offered. Both groups also have the right to ask that regulation ensures that their money isn’t being wasted.
  • One of the classic public policy mistakes of universities in their response to massification and marketisation has been simply to sneer. But VfM gets deployed by policymakers not just as a fig leaf in return for high fees, but because it’s popular – right across society, there is something simplistically positive about getting good value for money and something viscerally unpleasant about the feeling of being ripped off.
  • Ministers know this. The public wants it. Being part of society rather than above it, spending oodles of its money and engaging with half the population in the endeavour requires engagement with it, not dismissal. And accepting the desire for value for money as a legitimate concept is central to understanding how government policy and the new market regulator will develop over the next decade.

And some more perspectives from Louis Coiffait on Wonkhe here “The argument here is not to ignore money and efficiency, but also not to be too myopic about such things. It’s necessary not sufficient, a means not an end. Money is an output, not an outcome.”   Hurray.

TEF

It’s been a busy week for TEF news with the year 3 results coming out.  Much of the sector press commentary has focussed on the potential for gaming  – a Guardian article criticised the gold/silver/bronze awards system and suggested the Minister would be wise to cancel the TEF, that it doesn’t really measure what it sets out to do and the costs to run it are far higher than the benefits.  There is a planned parliamentary review in 2019

Subject-level TEF continues to be mentioned in parliament. This week Gordon Marsden asked:

Q – Gordon Marsden: what discussions he has had with representatives from universities on his proposals for a subject-level version of the Teaching Excellence Framework.

A – Sam Gyimah: The department has met regularly with university representatives about the development of the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF) at subject level. Between 12 March and 21 May, we also undertook a technical consultation on subject-level TEF. This consultation provided an opportunity for all stakeholders, including universities and other higher education providers, to comment on the proposals for subject-level TEF both in writing and at consultation events.

It was interesting that in his speech, the Minister said very little about it.  We were expecting a defence of it, but there wasn’t one.

Latest News

The latest news on our regularly featured topics.

Immigration – Immigration Caps remain controversial. The HE sector is concerned to maintain freedom to recruit from the international talent pipeline and attract the brightest and best minds to teach and research in the UK – but without additional fees and charges. This week at Prime Minister’s Questions the fear around immigration fees was highlighted in the case of Grimsby Hospital. Melanie Onn MP (Labour) stated that Grimsby Hospital had been forced to pay £50,000 a month on fees for doctors’ visas. 85% of those applications had been rejected because of restrictions that May imposed as Home Secretary. Onn asked if NHS staff would be exempted from the cap. May responded that she was aware of the issue. The Government had already taken action in relation to nurses and were currently looking at recent figures to determine what further action should be taken to solve the problem.

Brexit – A parliamentary question clarifying whether the Brexit White Paper will specifically cover HE matters:

Q – Gordon Marsden: To ask the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, whether the Government plans to include sections on (a) higher education and (b) further Education in the forthcoming Brexit White Paper.

A – Robin Walker: The White Paper will offer detailed, precise explanations of our position, and set out what will change and what will feel different outside the European Union. It will cover all aspects of our future relationship with the European Union, building on the ambitious vision set out by the Prime Minister in her speeches in Mansion House, Florence and Munich.

As the Prime Minister said in her Mansion House speech on 2 March, ‘There are many other areas where the UK and EU economies are closely linked – including education and culture.’ And we will continue to take part in 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.

Senior Pay – The Committee of University Chairs has published The Higher Education Senior Staff Remuneration Code for senior staff.  Commenting on the publication of the new code Nicola Dandridge (Chief Executive, OfS) stated: “Later this month, the Office for Students will publish its accounts direction for universities and colleges. We will set out our increased expectations around transparency for senior pay, and will be expecting all higher education providers to justify how much those who lead their organisations are paid. Where an institution breaches our regulatory conditions, we will not hesitate to intervene.”’ The Universities and Colleges Employers Associated have commented here.

OfS – The Office for Students (OfS) is set to take on a greater regulatory role and be differently focussed than HEFCE was. If you’re not quite sure what the OfS encompasses the House of Commons library have a neat little reference briefing to catch you up. Its sets out how the OfS was established, their duties, the regulatory framework, the Provider Registers, Degree Awarding Powers and University Title, quality and standards, data collection, participation and access and the issues of contention raised against OfS so far.

Admissions – On Thursday the Lords debated equality within Admissions. Contact Sarah if you would like the content of this. – School attainment has kept up with the rise in undergraduates – the growth in student numbers has not lead to university entrants having lower qualifications. This week Universities UK published Growth and Choice in University Admissions. Wonkhe report that since 2010, increased competition for students has emerged in the UK higher education sector  due to the nationwide decrease in the number of 18-year-olds and the removal of student number controls. Universities are now making more offers to a wider range of students throughout the recruitment cycle. The report shows that this has not led to a decline in the prior attainment of the students going to university. As undergraduate acceptances have increased, average student attainment has also risen. The story is covered in the Times here.

Alistair Jarvis, Universities UK Chief Executive, said the analysis shows the changing face of university admissions:

“Reforms to the university system have led to more students, greater choice for them and increased competition among universities. This analysis shows that university entrants continue to be highly qualified and increasing numbers of applicants are accepted with vocational qualifications at all types of universities. This has made it possible for people from a broader range of backgrounds to benefit from a university education.

“There are a growing range of university courses with a vocational focus, from traditional undergraduate degrees such as architecture and engineering to newer courses like degree apprenticeships in cyber security. In fact, four in ten university courses could be considered vocational in some way.”

Nursing Application Decline

Q – Rushanara Ali: To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, what assessment he has made of the effect of the withdrawal of NHS bursaries on the number of applications for nursing degrees.

A – Stephen Barclay: The University and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) published data 5 April 2018 which shows that the number of students applying to study nursing and midwifery has decreased by 13% from this point in the cycle last year.

There is still strong demand for nursing courses with more applicants than available training places. The UCAS data show that up to March 2018 there had been around 1.4 nursing and midwifery applicants per available training place. The university application cycle for 2018/19 is on-going up until 30 June 2018. Applications received after 30 June are entered in to Clearing.

In support of this, Health Education England has recently launched a national clearing campaign to recruit more students to courses in the lead up to the end of clearing, 23 October 2018. Further information is available at: https://www.healthcareers.nhs.uk/knowaboutnursing

Officials in the Department are also introducing the ‘golden hello’ incentive scheme for postgraduate nursing students, which I announced on 9 May.

These payment incentives offer £10,000 to future postgraduates who completed courses funded by loans in the 2018/19 academic year and are anticipated to be contingent on these graduates working in specific fields of the health and care sector including mental health, learning disability and community, including district, nursing.

Digital Student ID Cards

Inside Higher Ed report that Apple and Blackboard are using Near-Field Communications technology to create a digital student ID card for the iphone and Apple Watch. The student’s device can be waved past the card reader for standard services such as taking out library books, gym or halls access, paying for lunch or printing credits. Six American Universities go live with the system this autumn.

Widening Participation & Achievement

Dominating Monday was criticism towards Cambridge for their poor diversity and acceptance of black applications. It was widely discussed on Radio 4 and in the press: Cambridge: BBC, Guardian, FT and TImes. Oxford was discussed in the FT and Wonkhe delved a little more widely in their consideration of Oxford as an institution. Malia Bouattia took to the Guardian to reemphasise the UCAS troubles but also to highlight that racism in education is entrenched as a far earlier age.

On Wednesday UUK and NUS launched a joint call for evidence to help universities tackle the BME attainment gap. Between 2007 and 2016 there was an almost 50% increase in the number of BME undergraduates in England. However, the disparity in achievement outcomes continues – 78% of white students who graduated last year ended up qualifying with a first or a 2:1, 66% of Asian students achieved the same, and 53% of black students. Prior qualifications have an influence on the attainment gap, however are not the whole story.

The BME attainment gap is well known in the sector and many universities are trialling a wide range of initiatives to reduce the gap. However, progress has been slow and inconsistent across the sector.  UUK and NUS have made a direct call to students, their representatives and university staff to identify best practice in closing the attainment gap.

The work aims to:

  • Increase understanding of the barriers to BME student success
  • Identify initiatives that have been successful in addressing this
  • Share experiences and best practice of what works in narrowing the BME attainment gap

A series of evidence gathering sessions and online survey data from students and staff are planned for later in 2018, with the outcome recommendations to be published in December 2018. Parliament have shown interest in this initiative so we can expect the HE Minister and OfS to be pressing universities for faster progress.

Following this call for evidence NEON are encouraging Universities to attend their working group on 13 July (free to BU staff as we are a NEON member).

The place of good careers advice

This week HEPI blogged a manifesto idea from Justin Madders MP: The Class Ceiling report by the Social Mobility APPG on access to the leading professions advocates increasing the use of contextual recruitment, and the Office for Students should encourage exactly the same in higher education.

  • While universities have made much more progress towards this than the elite professions, the exact mechanisms of the recruitment process can too often be a mystery to the young people approaching it. This is particularly prevalent in those from schools without a history of sending pupils to top universities.
  • In relation to this, good careers advice can be transformative for young people and can drive them towards educational opportunities that they have never considered, but it is far too variable. There is a place for much greater collaboration between schools, universities and employers in spreading a ‘what works’ approach, so that as many people as possible find the options that suit them best.
  • This should be part of a far more strategic approach to social mobility, led by government, requiring cross-sector leadership and real collaboration. While there are excellent examples of good practice, too often this work is carried out in isolation.

Youth Employment and Social Mobility – At Prime Minister’s question time this week youth employment and social mobility was discussed:

Alex Chalk (Conservative) noted that the number of children growing up in workless households in the UK was at a record low. He stated that to further drive opportunity and social mobility in the UK, it was vital to support projects like the Cheltenham Cyber Park to ensure children had the opportunity to go as far as their talents would take them.

May, responded that, to continue to lift people out of poverty, helping young people get into the workplace was pivotal. She noted that employment sat at a record high and unemployment at a 40 year low. May concluded there were one million fewer people in absolute poverty since 2010.

Social Mobility featured again in the PM’s questions. This time Thelma Walker (Labour) criticised gaps that had been left unfilled on the Social Mobility Commission following resignations and said that it showed the Government did not take the issue of social mobility seriously. May dismissed the claims, saying the Government had implemented policies specifically to address issues of social mobility.

Disabled Students’ Allowance – There continue to be questions asked about the Disabled Students’ Allowance computing equipment.

Q – Steve McCabe: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, pursuant to the Answer of 26 April 2018 to Question 137102 on Disabled Students’ Allowances, excluding the cost of a standard computer, what other equipment his Department includes as a mainstream cost to participate in Higher Education; and what items are covered by a maintenance loan.

A –Sam Gyimah: Disabled Student Allowance (DSA) is available solely where a student is obliged to incur additional costs while studying as a result of their disability. In the case of computer equipment, it was clear from evidence that this had become a mainstream cost for all students and that disabled students should therefore contribute towards the cost of computer equipment recommended through DSA. On receipt of a DSA Needs Assessment Report, the Student Loans Company will make a decision where necessary as to whether a particular piece of equipment that has been recommended is a mainstream cost or not.

Maintenance loans are available to help fund the costs of study that all students incur. However, the department does not issue guidance to students on how they should spend these funds.

World Access to Higher Education Day – NEON are asking Universities with widening access activities taking place on Wednesday 28 November 2018 to sign up to World Access to HE Day to showcase the activities to an international audience. Follow World Access HE day on Twitter: @WorldAccessHE

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:

And a shameless additional plug for the industrial strategy topical conversations. These are a fab chance for academics to have a mini (2 paragraphs) elevated pitch on their research hitting directly at the heart of Government and sharing your ideas for the future with the public too. The engaging set up allows the public (and other academics) to directly comment and support your research and future vision. An opportunity academics won’t want to miss! Think laterally about how your work fits with the themes of:  AI and data,  Ageing society,   Clean Growth,  and the Future of mobility.  Have a chat with Sarah and then get involved!

Other news

APPG’s: A new register of the All Party Parliamentary Groups (APPG) is available. First up are the Country interest groups, after this all the topical interest groups. Have a browse through and follow those that fit with your work and personal interest areas. APPG’s are cross-party groups convened by Members of the Commons and Lords who come together with a joint purpose and interest in the specified area. The administration of APPGs is often provided by external sector bodies and the APPG members may visit organisations and sites of relevance to their remit. APPGs have no officials status within Parliament, however, some are very successful at canvassing Government and influencing policy making. Some groups are more active than others, and easier to follow. Some have a clear and up to date web based presence, whilst others are more aloof!

Nursing: The Education Committee interrogated nursing degree apprenticeships this week finding low uptake, high supervisory costs, insufficient dedicated learning time and difficulties arising from the inflexibility of the apprenticeship model. Read the summary of the session here.

Rankings: U-Multirank have released their annual world university ranking.

Subscribe!

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

JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

 

HE policy update for the w/e 20th October 2017

OfS Regulation – Free Speech, Compulsory TEF, Student empowerment

The long awaited (and very long) consultation on the role and functions of the Office for Students was published this week. In fact there are several separate consultations (Wonkhe have helpfully grouped them all on one web page):

  • the regulatory framework
  • registration fees
  • Degree awarding powers and university title
  • One about selection of designated quality assessment body for the OfS– QAA is the only candidate
  • One about selection of a designated data body for the OfS – HESA is the only candidate

The consultations are open until 22nd December and BU will be reviewing them and preparing responses – please let policy@bournemouth.ac.uk know if you would like to be involved.

There is a huge amount of detail and a lot of areas for discussion here, but interestingly the Minister and the press chose to focus on freedom of speech yesterday. The Times published an interview with Jo Johnson discussing the proposal that measures to protect freedom of speech should be a condition of OfS registration. The Guardian notes proposed powers for the OfS to fine or suspend the registration of universities that fail to protect the freedom of speech on campus, including student unions that ‘no platform’ controversial speakers. There has been a lot of commentary on this – not least that students’ unions are independent organisations. It is really interesting to note that in the summary of the consultation prepared for students by the Department for Education, freedom of speech is not mentioned.

  • Johnson: “Our young people and students need to accept the legitimacy of healthy, vigorous debate in which people can disagree with one another. That’s how ideas get tested, prejudices exposed and society advances. Universities mustn’t be places in which free speech is stifled.”
  • Sir Michael Barber OfS Chair: “Ensuring freedom of speech and learning how to disagree with diverse opinions and differing views of the world is a fundamental aspect of learning at university. The OfS will promote it vigorously.”

The relevant bit of the consultation starts on page 32 –

  • This consultation includes such a public interest principle, which states that the governing body of an institution must take such steps as are reasonably practicable to ensure that freedom of speech within the law is secured within its institution. This public interest principle will form part of the public interest governance condition…”
  • “The OfS will use ‘indicative behaviours’ to assess compliance with the principles; these are set out in the Guidance on registration conditions. With regard to free speech, for example, one behaviour that would indicate compliance would be to have a freedom of speech code of practice. This should set out the procedures which members, students and employees should follow in relation to meetings or activities, and the conduct which is expected of those individuals. Some of the best examples set out clearly what does and does not constitute reasonable grounds for refusal of a speaker, and the disciplinary actions which would follow a breach of the code of practice. A behaviour that might indicate non-compliance would be where a provider fails to abide by its own freedom of speech procedures”.

There has of course been something of a media/social media storm, with rage from both ends of the political spectrum about those with different views allegedly seeking to stifle or prevent free speech, big disagreements on the role of trigger warnings, safe spaces and “no platforming”, and a number of voices pointing out that universities are already subject to legal obligations on both free speech and the Prevent duty and this is all a bit over-played.

But apart from this issue, the consultation has much broader scope. It sets out the broad objectives for the OfS:

  1. all students, from all backgrounds, are supported to access, succeed in, and progress from, higher education
  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
  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
  4. that all students, from all backgrounds, receive value for money

The OfS will seek to mitigate the risk that each of these four objectives is not met and:

  • “As it does so, the OfS will also seek to mitigate risk that the sector does not deliver value for money for taxpayers and citizens (who are directly involved through the allocation of public grant funding, research funding by UKRI, and the public subsidy to the student finance system). It will also do so while recognising the needs of students from disadvantaged backgrounds, who are less likely to access, succeed in, and progress successfully from higher education, even once their entrance characteristics are taken into account.
  • The OfS will also work with UKRI to ensure that the reciprocal risk around the sustainability of providers which contribute to the vibrancy of the research base is monitored and mitigated appropriately. The flow of information between the two organisations will be crucial to achieving this.”

The many other areas covered in detail include

  • Making TEF compulsory for all HEIs with >500 students
  • Publishing justification of high senior staff salaries
  • Transparency about student transfer (between courses)
  • Empowering students through clearer student contracts

We will look at some areas in more detail in the following weeks.

The impact of universities

Meanwhile, Universities UK (UUK) published a report on the Economic Impact of Universities in 2014-15. Some highlights:

  • In total, the economic activity of universities, the international students they attract and their visitors, supported more than 940,000 jobs in the UK in 2014-15.
  • In 2014-15, universities themselves employed 404,000 people, or 1.3 percent of all UK employment
  • UK universities, together with their international students and visitors, generated £95 billion of gross output in the economy in 2014-15.
  • The gross value added contribution of universities’ own operations to GDP, at £21.5 billion in 2014-15, is larger than that made by a number of sizable industries.
  • UK universities, together with their international students and visitors, supported £14.1 billion in tax receipts for the Exchequer in 2014-15.
  • In total, universities in the UK earned £13.1 billion in export receipts in 2014-15.

Student Loans and Value for Money

The Treasury Committee launched an inquiry scrutinising recent changes to the student loan system. This week evidence was received from Dr Helen Carasso (Oxford) and Andrew McGettigan (freelance author and lecturer). Key points:

  • Experts disagree exactly how much raising the repayment threshold will cost the taxpayer. The system is complex and not even understandable to highly-qualified experts
  • The notion that the written off loans will cost to the taxpayer the same amount with the post-92 as the previous £3,000 fees is publically unpopular
  • The post-92 higher fees is believed to have created more teaching resources within the system
  • McGettigan claimed that higher interest rates for students still studying were purely designed to deal with the rarer issue of rich students taking out loans and investing them elsewhere
  • Varying price for tuition fees by programme is nonsensical – students would be discouraged from choosing courses which were priced lower as it has a status implication (McGettigan).
  • The system has created a series of disincentives for universities to charge anything other than the highest fee (Carasso).
  • Carasso stated an overt graduate tax would be a better accounting method than student loans although it would feel like a penalty. McGettigan expanded suggesting it may destabilise recruitment and retention and potentially encourage drop out or emigration
  • On the sale of the loan book McGettigan stated the old mortgage-style loans had already been sold at a profit, but under the new system the sale of loans would not affect public sector net debt, that any price would be lower than fair value and amount to a loss for the government.
  • Re: marketization of HE Carasso stated it was very difficult for an applicant to make a fully-informed decision (in relation to price and net cost).
  • How should the repayment system best be reformed:
    • McGettigan – the main problem is the large graduate debt. A lower starting debt would mean interest rates would not apply in the same way,
    • Carasso – if the system is too complex to understand that’s a problem. Fees are probably too high, and why is there not an employer contribution mechanism?

Meanwhile the Economic Affairs Select Committee is examining if students get value for money (HE, FE and technical education) through oral evidence sessions. Follow it here

Widening Participation

50% of students are First in Family – This week the Telegraph drew on UCAS data to report that half of students who started a degree last year were first in family to attend HE. However, the article is disparaging as many of these students attended ‘low’ or ‘mid-ranking’ universities and few studied the ‘top’ subjects (listed as medicine, maths and science). The article went on to raise the current headline grabbing debate over fees and value for money and stated: “critics said last night that the figures showed that too many students were attending low-performing universities which charge “outrageous” fees but fail to improve social mobility.”

Whole-institution approach to WP – This week OFFA called for universities to create a step change and accelerate social mobility goals by adopting a whole-institution approach to widening participation, embedding fair access at all levels of the organisation, across all areas of work, and senior management. To accompany the call OFFA released the commissioned report: Understanding a whole institution approach to WP

Les Ebdon (Director, OFFA) stated: “Excellent progress has been made in widening access to higher education for the most disadvantaged young people. But for too long, this progress has only been incremental. We now need to see transformational change.

“Adopting a genuine whole institution approach – where access is a key priority at every level – is the biggest thing a university or college could do to make change happen. This research offers a vital opportunity to make the further, faster progress we badly need to see.

International academics

Q – Stephen Gethins (SNP): With reference to the Government’s policy paper, Collaboration on Science and Innovation: A Future Partnership Paper, published on 6 September 2017, whether it is her policy to extend visa entitlement to the spouses and dependents of EU academics who can work in the UK after the UK has left the EU.

And

Q – Stephen Gethins (SNP): With reference to the Government’s policy paper, Collaboration on Science and Innovation: Future Partnership Paper, published on 6 September 2017, what representations she has received from universities and national academies on the potential effect of changes to freedom of movement on the UK’s ability to attract and retain high quality researchers.

A: Brandon Lewis (Con): The Government recognises the valuable contribution migrants make to our society and we welcome those with the skills and expertise to make our country better still. But we must manage the process properly so that our immigration system serves the national interest.

We have been clear that after the UK leaves the EU, free movement will end, but migration between the UK and the EU will continue and we are considering a number of options as to how this might work. We will be setting out initial proposals for our future immigration arrangements later in the year.

The Government recognises that it is important that we understand the impacts on the different sectors of the economy and the labour market and want to ensure that decisions on the long-term system are based on evidence. On July 2017, we commissioned the independent Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to advise on the economic and social impacts of the UK’s exit from the European Union and also on how the UK’s immigration system should be aligned with a modern industrial strategy… The Government will carefully consider any recommendations made to it by the MAC before finalising the details of the future immigration system for EU nationals.

The Government also regularly engages with sectoral bodies – including those in the scientific and academic sectors ¬- to ensure our immigration routes work effectively to enable businesses to access the talent they need. Their views do, and will continue to, inform our decisions on any changes to the system.

Consultations & Inquiries

The Policy team compiles details of the key HE and niche research consultations and select committee inquiries on the consultation tracker. BU responses to HE consultations are managed by Sarah and Jane.

Let us know you’re interested! We invite colleagues across BU to provide response input, however, if there is a consultation in your area of expertise don’t wait for an invite – contact us on policy@bournemouth.ac.uk – we’d love to hear from you so we can access all the pockets of expertise across BU. Take a look at the consultation tracker to find out if there is a current inquiry related to your role.

New consultations and inquiries:

  • 5 Higher Education and Research Act consultations
  • International students – social and economic impact (link)
  • Science budget and the Industrial Strategy (link)
  • Intellectual Property
  • Decarbonisation in HE sector
  • Enabling Gypsies, Roma and Travellers
  • Regulation of Nursing Associates in England

(See the consultation tracker for links to all these new consultations and inquiries.)

To view the responses BU has submitted to recent consultations and inquiries across all topics click here.

Other news

Teaching excellence: The University Alliance has published Technical and professional excellence: Perspective on learning and teaching.

TEF Gold: HEPI have released Going for Gold: Lessons from the TEF provider submissions. The report breaks down the influential aspects of the provider submissions which the author suggests may have swayed the panel’s final award decisions. While the report is based on opinion it offers suggestions to providers and Government on how to improve the qualitative aspect of the TEF submission. Spoiler alert: BU features frequently within the document.

Alternative Providers: The National Audit Office has published their Follow-up on alternative HE providers. The report notes several area of progress:

  • Non-continuation rates reduced from 38% to 25% (although still 15% higher than the mainstream HE sector) with DfE action taken against 11 alternative providers where dropout rates are unacceptably high. More regular and reliable monitoring data has been called for.
  • Reduction in paying student loans to ineligible students from 4% to 0.5%
  • DfE have strengthened their oversight framework and are acting on third party reports of non-compliance or under-performance.
  • Positive reports of widening access within disadvantaged or under-represented groups of students

However, early data implies graduates from alternative provider’s progress to further study or employment at a lower rate and lower entry salary than graduates from mainstream HE institutions.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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