Tagged / technical education

HE Policy Update for the w/e 2nd July 2021

A slower news week. this week, in HE policy terms.  Make the most of the quiet while it lasts…

Contract Cheating

Wonkhe have a petite summary of the OfS blog on essay mills: It refers to growing concern about the use of essay mills, highlights that the consequences for using essay writing services can be severe, and notes that legislation to ban essay mills has been brought in in the Republic of Ireland and Australia.

However, two guest bloggers for Wonkhe argue the ban that Lord Storey hopes to bring in won’t work and to neutralise contract cheating universities need to understand the aspects of their marketing that appeal to students. The researchers looked at 95 essay mill websites and reveal some common themes. The short blog is worth a read. A couple of excerpts.

We analysed the promotional rhetoric on 95 essay mill websites. Unsurprisingly, they all stressed the quality, price, and fast turnaround of their service. Beyond that, most of them reinforced the importance of students succeeding on their course.

But around half of them went further – promoting a distinctly hostile view of higher education. It was characterised as letting students down. Critical commentary mainly focussed on assessment processes, including assignment design. Five distinct propositions recurred in the text and images projected on these sites. 

  • One common framing is that assignment tasks are typically irrelevant to personal ambitions. Tasks were described as not simply “boring”: they were unrelated to the interests and passions that had originally made higher education attractive:
  • Assignment tasks are also framed as a distraction from authentic learning. These tasks “take up invaluable study time and are often responsible for students getting behind”
  • The mills also frame the demands of academic communication as unreasonable.
  • They also like to suggest that tutors fail to support students’ assignment work. Assignment-setting tutors were characterised as disconnected from student experience, indifferent to their needs, imprecise in task specification, and often preoccupied with other matters
  • they frequently suggest that the delegation (of assignments) is a rational and an adaptive practice. In the outside world it is noted that:
  • The majority of successful people practice the delegating of huge and ineffective workloads to well-trained professionals”.

The article continues to discuss how universities can address the problem and highlights A&E style tutorial support during assignment periods. Read more here.

Parliamentary News: Bills

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill

Wonkhe: In the Lords, Jo Johnson has proposed an amendment to the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill. Under the former higher education minister’s plans, a note inserted after Clause 15 would make the Lifelong Learning Entitlement available to all regardless of prior qualification, subject of study, intensity of study, or student number restrictions – and forbid the Secretary of State to restrict access in future.

The Second Reading of the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill will take place on Monday 12 July.

Research

It’s all Quick News this week:

  • Dods tell us: Drafts of the UK’s upcoming Innovation Strategy suggest it will be a 10-point plan focusing on seven key areas including quantum, advanced materials, life sciences, genomics, robotics and artificial intelligence. This is according to a Financial Times storyon Friday citing unnamed government sources, which said the strategy will outline plans for new science-focused schools and better access to private funding for tech-focused companies. The strategy will also suggest new pro-innovation policies, seek to cut red tape and confirm plans to increase annual state investment in R&D to £22 billion and set up the new Advanced Research and Invention Agency, according to the story. A government spokesperson said: We do not comment on individual leaks, but it is no secret that we intend for the UK to stand as a world-leading centre for the development of brilliant ideas, innovation in industry, and jobs for the future. The government says the strategy will set out the steps it will take to boost innovation in the UK, including investing more money than ever before in core research, having pledged to increase investment in core UK Research and Innovation and National Academies funded research by more than £1 billion by 2023 to 2024.
  • The Commons Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy Committee has releaseda report on the government’s industrial policy, while agreeing that there were problems with it.
  • The report is critical of the Government’s scrapping of the independent Industry Strategy Council (ISC), which had been chaired by chief economist of the Bank of England, Andy Haldane. The report calls the axing of the ISC a ‘retrograde step’, removing valuable independent scrutiny, insight, and expertise.
  • The report warns that the lack of industrial strategy and oversight risks widening the gap between Government and business at a time when delivering productivity improvements, economic growth and decarbonisation is urgent.
  • While acknowledging that many businesses found the 2017 Industrial Strategy inaccessible and remote from their day-to-day concerns, the report expresses fears that scrapping the strategy risks leaving a ‘fragmented’ and piecemeal approach to solving sectoral problems and enhancing growth opportunities.
  • Ensuring open access policy is as permissive as possible for researchers whilst also achieving public value and affordability, and taking account of the changing landscape in publishing agreements in the UK are all key considerations of the [Open Access Policy] review. The outcomes of the review are due to be published this summer… For peer-reviewed research articles the proposed policy start date will be 1 April 2022, while the policy for monographs is proposed to start from 1 January 2024. UKRI will work closely with stakeholders in the lead up to the policy start dates to ensure any questions or issues are addressed.
  • UK Research and Innovation has announceda new funding model for universities to help increase the impact of their research.
  • The new Impact Acceleration Account (IAA) model represents the start of a range of efforts to improve the effectiveness and influence of funding processes.
  • The IAA will offer a UKRI-wide model with a single application and centralised reporting and monitoring that aims to improve strategic planning.
  • The IAA model will incorporate funding through the following UKRI councils:
  • AHRC
  • Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
  • Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)
  • Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
  • Medical Research Council (MRC)
  • Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC).
  • The opportunity for applications opens on 6 July and will run for three months until 6 October. Following assessment and evaluation, the first of the new harmonised funding awards will then be made from April 2022.

Access & Participation

Care Leavers

The National Network for the Education of Care Leavers launched their new Quality Mark for the inclusion and success of care experienced students awarding it to the 17 institutions who completed the award during the pilot and trail phases. The award has been in production and testing since 2019 and the UPP Foundation funded the initial developmental pilot. Patricia Ambrose, NNECL Director, commented: Our new Quality Mark enables universities and colleges to demonstrate the effectiveness of their support for care experienced students from pre-application through to graduation and beyond.  Building on the excellent legacy of previous work by Buttle UK, the NNECL Quality Mark covers all aspects of the student lifecycle and has been informed by recent research findings and feedback from care experienced students on the types of support they value.

Universities Minister Michelle Donelan has mentioned care leavers in many speeches and letters.  She said: Improving the opportunities available to care leavers as they gain independence and enter adulthood, is a top priority of this government. This new Quality Mark will help ensure students with experience of being in care have the support they deserve, and the information they need to choose the universities or colleges that work best for them. I warmly welcome this evidence-based approach, and encourage all institutions to join this sector-wide effort to provide targeted support for these students, at every stage of their education.

Black Lives Matters and the student voice

A report from Advance HE examines a sample of statements and actions undertaken by UK universities in response to Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests that occurred in the UK and around the world from May 2020.

The report aims to ensure that momentum gathered during the summer of 2020 is not lost and that universities are “encouraged to evaluate their response to BLM and explore the need for further work in terms of anti-racist initiatives and their applicability to other types of intersectional injustice.”

This report does not answer criticisms about how universities responded to BLM nor does it evaluate which universities did what. Rather, it functions as an accessible introduction to how staff working in HE, whether as senior leaders or specifically as EDI practitioners, might ‘build on’ initiatives associated with BLM to advance structural change within their university. The examples identified are not intended as a comprehensive nor representative cut of the HE sector but as an illustrative launchpad for future work. The showcasing of particular initiatives is intended to highlight tactics, wedge points and themes that might inform the design and execution of future actions to address injustice in the sector more widely

It looks at 7 themes:

  • Culture and history
  • Listening and wellbeing
  • Training
  • Research funding, scholarships and internships
  • Tackling the awarding gap
  • Diversity and data
  • Race Equality Charter.

Employment Prospects: Second-general ethnic minority graduates: The Institute for Fiscal Studies has published a report on the educational and labour market outcomes of second-generation ethnic minorities in the UK. It finds:

  • The UK’s second-generation minority ethnic groups are performing well in education, especially in terms of attainment of degree-level education. This is striking because those from ethnic minority groups born or brought up in the UK are much more likely than those from white UK backgrounds to have been disadvantaged in childhood; and we know that childhood disadvantage is in general strongly associated with poorer educational outcomes. 
  • Employment disadvantage of minority ethnic groups still, however, persists.Men and women from most ethnic minority groups have lower employment rates among those economically active than their white majority counterparts. This disadvantage is reduced but not eliminated when we account for disadvantaged family origins. 
  • For those in work, education does offer a route to attaining a higher social class for some minority groups.Indian and Bangladeshi men and Indian and Caribbean women achieve considerably greater levels of occupational success than their disadvantaged family origins might suggest. But this is not the case for Pakistani and Bangladeshi women, despite the fact that they are successful in education

The Telegraph covers the report.

Parliamentary Questions:

Mental Health

The Department for Education has published the results of a study examining the differences in mental health among students and non-students.

The aim of our research project was to improve our understanding of common mental health problems in young people who attend higher education, compared with those who do not. We investigated:

  • whether there were differences in symptoms of common mental disorder between these groups;
  • how these differences changed over time and what might drive them; and
  • whether the mental health of higher education students compared with the general population has changed during the past decade.

We conducted analyses of two large nationally representative cohort studies: the Longitudinal Studies of Young People In England (LSYPE).

Jim Dickinson digs into the detail over on Wonk Corner.

The Department for Education has published a report “Student mental health and wellbeing Insights from higher education providers and sector experts”

Conclusions:

  • HE providers offer a wide range of services and are looking to further develop their services to support their students with their mental health and wellbeing needs and to promote positive mental health and wellbeing. These cover the spectrum from wellbeing initiatives through early intervention activities to targeted support for those with very specific support needs. …..it is clear that many providers view their services in a holistic or fluid manner, with considerable overlap between services to support wellbeing and those to support mental health needs.
  • For many, their work is backed by a clear strategy or policies which have evolved and will continue to evolve over time to address changing environments and emerging challenges. …. However more providers could develop strategies to guide and consolidate their work, following the lead of their peers. The new Mental Health Charter will help providers with this.
  • Providers collect data to try to understand the extent of the demand for support with mental health across their student population drawing on admin data, self-disclosure and in some cases clinical measures. Providers appear to struggle with assessing their students’ wellbeing needs but some use or are planning to introduce student surveys (either bespoke or utilising standardised measures of wellbeing). ….. However, independent external evaluation is rare, and there is a lack of understanding about the real effectiveness of wellbeing support. ….there is a desire to do more to improve evidence and understanding around the influence of HE on students’ mental health and wellbeing, potential mismatches in expectations for and experiences of support, those most at risk and least likely to seek support, and the prevalence and nature of mental health disorders and poor mental wellbeing in the student population.
  • Finally, the research highlights how definitions, language and terminology are still evolving and are sensitive and value-laden which can create challenges for understanding and describing what is happening in the sector and in developing any monitoring. The sector will need to work together – gathering perspectives of mental health experts, providers, and students – to agree a set of terms that will ensure a common understanding.

Sexual Harassment and Wellbeing

We’ve written about the OfS Statement of Expectations before.  Clearly all the pressure around “Everyone’s Invited” has made the Minister feel that she needs to be doing something, so a letter arrived on Friday afternoon.  It’s a combination of reminder and exhortation:

“I wanted to take the opportunity to state how seriously the Government takes this issue, following the recent letter to providers on this subject from the Office for Students (OfS), and meetings I have held with the founder of ‘Everyone’s Invited’ and Universities UK (UUK)”.

There is a threat of further legislation and action on the use of non-disclosure agreements and a reminder that the government considers the OfS document to be a “minimum”.

International

One of the most frequently challenged policies recently has been the Government’s unwavering policy not to permit international students to quarantine in their halls of residence. Instead they are required to pay for hotel quarantine (£1,750 – payment can be spread for those with demonstrated financial need) and there is no guarantee of the level of face to face learning they will received. Wonkhe report on comments by Sanam Arora, from the National Indian Students Union UK, who says that up to 55,000 Indian students are hoping to arrive – but – uncertainty means many are considering their optionsEveryone is deferring their decision till the very last minute… £1,750 on top of fees is quite a significant cost for them. A lot are still in that confused state of should we come, should we not come?

Below we included a parliamentary question on the hotel quarantine highlighting that the Government has not undertaken any special liaison with universities to ensure sufficient hotel quarantine places are available for the peak autumn influx. Instead the Government recommended that international arrivals booked their quarantine place ahead of time to secure a spot.

This week the Scottish Government has approved a trial for incoming international students to quarantine in their on-campus accommodation. The trial will need to demonstrate that the on campus quarantine will meet the stringent safety measures enforced at quarantine hotels. Wonkhe report: It’s not straightforward – some universities would be unable to meet the requirements necessary and there’s nothing similar on the cards for English universities – yet. UUKi’s Vivienne Stern welcomed the news but told the i news: “I think there are going to be questions about how the DHSC in the end feels about travel distance from port of entry to point of quarantine. So it’s not resolved, there’s no discussion of a pilot, it’s simply that we’re in that information sharing phase.” So Scotland’s on campus quarantine isn’t certain yet and the Government maintain that international students entering English universities will use the hotel quarantine system.

Immigration Minister, Kevin Foster, has announced flexibility for visa arrangements to account for the continued uncertainty over the autumn term teaching model. International students are not required to enter the UK until 6 April 2022 to retain their visa.

This concession will extend to cover the first two semesters of the 2021-2022 academic year, until 6 April 2022. This date is encouraged to be seen as a deadline, not a target, and will help avoid a surge in travel and the associated resources needed to comply with quarantining measures, and help manage the arrival of students….An extension to these concessions helps in protecting international students from being further disadvantaged due to circumstances outside their control and allows a greater element of flexibility to start and continue their studies safely. 

Research Professional also have a write up on the visa flexibility and cover other topics such as international students perception of online learning.

Graduate Work Visa: The two-year graduate visa route officially opened on Thursday, meaning graduate can stay for an additional two years without an employer sponsor or minimum salary. There are no limits on the number of graduates able to access this new immigration channel. The specifics are here. And in the face of continued Covid travel restrictions (and the online learning start to the year) the Government has confirmed that student who commenced courses in 2020 that wish to qualify for the visa must enter the UK by 27 September 2021. As mentioned above international students commencing the 2021/22 academic year online will need to enter the UK by 6 April 2022.

Research Professional have a short write up on the graduate visa in their usual entertaining style:

  • the two-year graduate visa that was hard won, in the face of Home Office opposition, by a parliamentary amendment jointly sponsored by former universities minister Jo Johnson and Labour’s Paul Blomfield. It has been on the cards for some time, after the government was shamed into it during the last parliament.
  • As the Home Office put it, “international graduates must have completed an eligible course at a UK higher education provider, with a track record of compliance with the government’s immigration requirements, to apply to the graduate route”. That would be almost everyone.
  • The Home Office says: “Graduates on the route can work flexibly, switch jobs and develop their career as required.”
  • While universities will be celebrating a significant victory at a time when wins are hard to come by with this government, the truth is that the UK is facing a major skills shortage because of both a squeeze on immigration and the effects of Covid.

Careers & Placements

Here are some of this week’s blogs and publications

Digital Curriculum

Various media discussed digital content in the curriculum this week. Below are a selection of the blogs.

Wonkhe’s blogs:

THE blogs:

Higher Technical Qualifications – publications

The Education and Skills Funding Agency published information and guidance on reforms to higher technical education, and the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education unveiled a new quality mark to accompany the Higher Technical Qualifications. The DfE published the Government’s response to the higher technical education consultation and details on their higher technical education reforms.

PQs

  • Universities are eligible for the Higher Technical Education Provider Growth Fund – as long as they meet the criteria.
  • Prevent – feedback from providers
  • Government pleased will the response and volume of applications to the Turing Scheme so far,
  • Study Abroad Programmes 2021-22
  • Students isolating but at the end of their accommodation tenancy agreement can move back home if there is no other choice – under The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Self-Isolation) (England) if someone is legally obliged to move, they are allowed to do so even if isolating.

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

Finance: HESA published the HE Provider Finance Data. Research Professional pick out the elements they find interesting from the data for the unusual end to the financial year as the UK entered the Covid lockdown. You can read their analysis here. The very short version is: …the Hesa data for 2019-20 suggest that the bank balances of most universities were healthy enough, with decent surpluses reported from the Russell Group through to specialist institutions. Perhaps this does not reflect a hit taken in the final quarter of the financial year at a time when the final outcome for the 12-month period had been mostly set. We look forward to next year’s data as a clearer indication of how the pandemic has affected universities.

Exam feedback:  Wonkhe – Should students get individual feedback on exams? Andy Grayson thinks so, and he has ways of delivering it that aren’t onerous.

Student Support: Wonkhe – Post the pandemic, Ellen Buck argues that being more cognisant of the support that students need to transition between spaces, experiences and identities should be core.

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HE policy update for the w/e 4th February 2021

Wonkhe and Pearson have collaborated to highlight what students value about remote and flexible learning aspects. The CMA have called out price fixing which may have increased the cost of good and services provided to disabled students. The Government have announced additional hardship funding to be distributed to students although we still don’t know about the methodology the OfS will use to distribute this. There’s a code for free speech proposed by Students’ Unions. And the appointment of the new Chair of the Office for Students, Lord Wharton, continues to be controversial.

New OfS Chair

The Commons Education Committee held a pre-appointment hearing with Lord James Wharton of Yarm who the Government intend to appoint to become the next chair of the Office for Students. Lord Wharton has stated he will not resign the Conservative Whip if he is appointed to the OfS (this means he will vote as directed by the Conservative party in divisions). While in practice as a Lord it is acceptable that Wharton will act according to his personal political stance, this is still unusual.  Similar concerns were raised when Baroness Harding was appointed as head of NHS Test and Trace and also retained the Tory whip..

Wharton was only appointed to the House of Lords by Boris Johnson in 2020, the current Government has been recognised (and criticised) for its approach to several high level appointments (e.g. Harding and the new Chair of the BBC).

Wharton has little background or previously stated interest in education. Wonkhe have a great blog on the potential appointment, here’s a snide little snippet:  If being put forward for a government-backed role makes Private Eye, you have a problem. The process itself was notably light on educational expertise and heavy on being mates with Boris, and it clearly generated a nomination where educational expertise was not the primary criteria.  The same Wonkhe blog quickly gallops through the content of the Education Committee hearing – it is worth a read to understand Wharton’s priorities and areas where it seems he has some more background reading to do.

Research Professional also cover the story here:

  • However, responding to a question from Tory committee member David Simmonds about the potential difficulties of holding the whip while chairing an independent regulator, Wharton rejected the idea that such a clear conflict of interest was really a conflict of interest at all—and offered assurance that he had held discussions with the other party whips already.
  • “What I have made clear, and what they have agreed, is that on issues of conflict—if they arise—with my role in the OfS, if I’m appointed, they would give me more latitude and understand that I may need to vote against or speak against some of the things the party in government could bring forward.”
  • It sounds to Playbook rather like the independence of the OfS chair will be underpinned by what might best be described as a gentleman’s agreement. Perhaps England’s regulator will adopt this approach to its formal duties when Wharton takes up his role. It would certainly help with the OfS’s desire to be more ‘light touch’.
  • …Another theme Wharton returned to a number of times during the session was the need for more “risk-based regulation”: reducing the regulatory burden for some, but increasing it when required.
  • “In some ways, some of our top universities will not need and should not need to be monitored as closely on quality of output in terms of academic output, for example,” he said. “But there are other areas in which some of those universities are not doing as well as they should.” This was in response to a question about Black, Asian and minority ethnic student access at “top” universities.

You can read the letter from the Commissioner for Public Appointments to the Education Select Committee here (it briefly touches upon some of the controversial aspects mentioned above such as panel membership). The letter was sent in advance of the Education Committee hearing. The letter states: I note that Lord Wharton was assessed as appointable by the Panel, along with three other candidates. The choice between these appointable candidates is entirely a matter for ministers. Williamson’s (pre-hearing) letter stating Wharton as the strongest candidate is here.

Here is Dods’ summary of the Education Committee pre-appointment hearing for the OfS Chair position.

The Government’s announcement confirming who will hold the OfS Chair position can be expected imminently.

Research

Amanda Solloway, the Science Minister, has done an interview with Research Professional in which she describes her personal experience of sexual harassment and discrimination and sets out her mission to stamp it out.

UKRI Chief Executive Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser has a blog on debunking the Einstein myth and increasing diversity of the workforce.

  • …despite the diverse opportunities, many people do not see themselves working in research and innovation. They don’t see it as a place for them…This is perhaps not surprising since a popular image of researchers and innovators is one of Einstein-like geniuses: superhumanly clever, obsessed with their work and driven by pure logic. They work alone in dusty libraries or in labs full of bubbling liquids doing arcane things that will either save the world or destroy it…But researchers and innovators know very well that they are not geniuses marching toward the truth using pure logic. Rather than helping them deal with the inherent insecurities of their work, the myth ultimately amplifies insecurity, leaving the sector riddled with imposter syndrome…So the lone genius perception segregates research and innovation into a remote and alien corner of society that looks unattractive and unwelcoming to the diverse people that the system needs, and it inhibits the collaborative supportive research culture we need to catalyse creative discovery and innovation…Ultimately, we will relegate research and innovation to the margins of our society, making it much harder to reap the benefits and much harder to identify and prioritise the challenges people really care about. We need to build a truly inclusive system that values and nurtures a much wider range of careers and career paths. A good place to start is to change ideas about who is part of the research and innovation system.
  • To get the ball rolling, I am delighted to be collaborating with the Minister for Science Research and Innovation, Amanda Solloway, to find 101 people, doing 101 different jobs that make major contributions to research and innovation, but who are not researchers and innovators. If you are one such person, or work with one and would like to participate in this project please email your suggestion to stories@ukri.org. I am also keen to hear about other ideas and initiatives that could support a more inclusive definition of the research and innovation system.

REF flexibility: At the end of last week the REF team provided more details on the extra support to help universities struggling to complete during lockdown:

  • Universities are no longer required to submit corroborating evidence for impact case studies, however, any evidence should be held by the institution in the event of audit. Uploaded evidence should be submitted by 1 June.
  • Errors can be corrected up to six weeks after the 31 March submission deadline.
  • More information was published on the labelling and delivery of physical outputs and redacting impact case studies for publication.

ARPA

  • UK ARPA ‘should run like a venture capital’ says former Head of Innovate UK. Ruth McKernan, now Chair of the BioIndustry Association, spoke out on 27 January at a Foundation for Science and Technology meeting exploring the UK ARPA which is expected to launch this year with £50 million in seed funding. Ruth advised that the UK ARPA should be designed in the spirit of a venture capital fund in order to reduce red tape and enable the speed and flexibility required to deliver high-risk, high-returns research.
  • Meanwhile on Monday Dods/The Financial Times reported that: new Business Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, is pushing forward with plans to form the anticipated scientific research agency, and that legislation could be drawn up within weeks. As the agency is a standalone organisation, separate from UKRI, it requires its own legislation. The Treasury has authorised £800m of spending on the agency, which will fund “cutting-edge, high-risk, high-reward science here in the UK,” particularly in areas such as AI and data.

JISC – Support research & innovation 2021-23

Towards the end of last week Jisc published their research and innovation sector strategy 2021-23, setting out their seven key theme priorities identified through their engagement with the sector. Dods summarise:

  1. Supporting a new national data infrastructure for research
  • Never before have research and innovation been so dependent on infrastructure, on the capacity of network, security, connectivity and access management. This dependency will continue to grow.
  • Jisc commit to supporting a new national data infrastructure for research, underpinned by their existing Janet Network, cyber security, cloud and data infrastructures and will coordinate the implementation of a flexible set of solutions for institutions and research collaborations.
  1. UK research analytics: understanding systems, cultures, resources and decision-making
  • The data produced through the processes of research management could be used on a greater scale to transform research systems, cultures and decision-making. Exponentially upgraded analytical capacity is needed to build the strategic capabilities of UK research.
  • Jisc will examine the potential for a new UK research analytics platform and service, enhancing their existing analytics capabilities
  1. Recording the UK’s ‘research estate’ in support of a UK-wide research capability
  • The ability to identify, deploy, share and re-use physical and intangible assets that comprise the research estate are central to delivering efficiencies, the civic agenda, levelling up, open research and achieving net-zero. These assets also include the significant infrastructure which gives access to research, including content, library and archival collections.
  • Jisc will explore expanding the well-established digital approaches to the management and use of these assets
  1. Accelerating the achievement, delivery and monitoring of the journey to open research
  • Open research extends beyond the boundaries of open access articles to all research outputs, including metadata, data, code, algorithms and software, as well as the processes of research itself. It will continue to be a high priority for the UK research base, for funders and for Jisc.
  • Jisc commit to helping the UK embrace the full potential of open research by removing barriers, embedding open practices and developing infrastructure to support this potential.
  1. Applied research and knowledge exchange: supporting its commercialisation and deployment
  • The interconnected systems producing world-class research and innovation are increasingly reliant on shared and secure infrastructure to enable their growth. The breadth of academic-industry collaborations and commercial spinouts from academic research is set to grow.
  • Jisc commit to further supporting the acceleration of the impact of and knowledge exchange from research commercialisation through the enhanced use of shared research infrastructure.
  1. Rapid innovation in research management and active research
  • Research integrity, reproducibility and reuse, evaluation and assessment, new and inclusive forms of excellence and the responsible use of metrics are all areas that offer significant potential for greater efficiency and interoperability.
  • Jisc commit to exploring and building on innovative approaches in research management, including enhanced system interoperability, common data repository standards and metrics aggregator models
  1. ‘Research 4.0’: realising the art of the possible
  • Advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, 5G, quantum computing and biotechnologies are set to impact the UK’s world-leading research and innovation sector in the years ahead in ways yet to be imagined.
  • Jisc propose a technical enablers programme focusing on exemplifying leading-edge specialisms and a ‘research reimagined’ programme to better understand this future potential with and on behalf of our members.

Quick News update

  • The British Academy has submitted its pre-budget report to the Treasury calling for Horizon Europe funding to be ring fenced separately from BEIS research funding:
    • The funds required for Horizon Europe association should be additional to the existing budget for research and innovation, in order that we support and build the UK’s reputation as a global research and innovation leader in this period of uncertainty and upheaval.
    • And on ODA: We also wish to emphasise the importance and value of funding for global research and innovation activities through the UK’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) budget. Any reduction in the levels of the UK’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) budget for research and innovation activity will directly harm the UK’s ability to maintain its global position in terms of science and research. We are extremely concerned that even a temporary reduction in funding for scientific research will compromise the ability of the UK to act as a leader in addressing global challenges and building capacity in research talent, particularly at a time when COVID-19 has demonstrated the critical need for global collaboration. Both the £1.5bn Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) and the £735m Newton Fund come under the aid budget.
    • Press release here.
  • Professor Matt Lambon Ralph has been appointed Chair of the Medical Research Council (MRC) Non-Clinical Training and Career Development Panel. Matt was previously Associate Vice-President for Research at the University of Manchester including a focus on early career researchers. The panel is responsible for assessing applications for non-clinical fellowships across the MRC research portfolio. He is expected to sit on the panel for the standard length of four years.
  • UKRI and the Met Office have appointed Dr Gary Fuller (Imperial College London) as the new Clean Air Champion for the Strategic Priorities Fund Clean Air Programme (£42.5 million R&I investment programme). He joins the existing champions Professor Sir Stephen Holgate and Dr Jenny Baverstock. They will bring together outstanding researchers across atmospheric, medical and social sciences to develop practical solutions for air quality issues… equipping the UK to proactively tackle future air quality challenges related to changing emissions, exposure patterns and impacts on vulnerable groups of people.
  • UKRI has a news story on the Innovate UK £134 million in continuity loans to support small businesses drive on with innovative and exciting new products and services. Loans of between £250,000 and £1.6 million have been made to small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) and third sector organisations that would otherwise have struggled to continue with research and development activity.
  • The Public Accounts Committee has launched an inquiry into the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. The Fund awards support for research and development projects under the Industrial Strategy four themes – clean growth, the ageing society, the future of mobility and artificial intelligence & the data economy. It constitutes a significant part of the Government’s commitment to spend £4.7 billion on R&D. The Committee will question senior officials at BEIS and UKRI on the management of the Fund, focussing on the design of the Fund and oversight of its implementation, and the approach taken to considering performance and progress in making the awards. The timing and announcement of the inquiry is interesting – we’ll be keeping an eye on this one.
  • Chris Skidmore writes in Conservative Home highlighting how Brexit has enabled the UK to respond faster on issues such as Covid vaccinations. He continues to argue about a focus on research.
    • With a new American President that believes in the power of science and research, the Prime Minister has found an ally and common ground upon which he can transform into a special science relationship. Focus on ‘shared values’ is intended to be a key part of the G7— what better value could there be to focus upon than investment in research and innovation?
    • A new international research fund, a new alliance of research universities, the chance to forge new international science programmes dedicated to transforming and de-carbonising energy supply… the potential is enormous. Yes, we can build back better, but we can do so much more effectively if we research back better too.
  • The Business Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, has set out plans for a new UK subsidy control system: which will be the long-term replacement for the EU’s prescriptive state aid regime, will allow the UK to be more dynamic in providing support to businesses, including in innovative, R&D-focused industries, to encourage job creation and growth across all parts of the UK. [You’ll remember that state aid was a big issue in the Brexit negotiations at the end of the year].
  • The PM has established a new Taskforce on Innovation, Growth and Regulatory Reform (TIGRR) which will identify and develop proposals across a range of areas that will drive innovation and competitiveness, reduce barriers to start-ups and scale-ups, create opportunities for innovation to make the most of cutting-edge technologies, and support growth and dynamism right across the UK economy. In particular:
    • Opportunities which could drive innovation and accelerate the commercialisation and safe adoption of new technologies, cementing the UK’s position as a global science and technology superpower.
    • Opportunities to reduce barriers to entry in specific markets and make markets more dynamic and contestable across the economy.
    • Opportunities to reduce administrative barriers to scaling up productive businesses; and to tailor any necessary processes to the needs of UK start-ups and SMEs while maintaining the Government’s commitment to high environmental standards and worker protections.
    • Opportunities to improve small business’ experience of necessary regulatory requirements.
    • Sectors of the economy or regulatory frameworks which should be prioritised for further regulatory deep dives.

The Taskforce is expected to report back to the PM in April. Their findings will be considered alongside the Government’s broader economic growth and regulatory agenda.  Cynics will remember the “bonfire of the quangos” under the Cameron government (this FT article reports the National Audit Office report that 285 public bodies were abolished but 184 new organsiations were created at the same time).

Parliamentary Questions

  • PhD extensions – I [Amanda Solloway] regularly meet with … the CEO of UKRI…to monitor how the pandemic is affecting UKRI-funded PhD students and the wider research system. We will continue to monitor the impacts of COVID-19 and UKRI continues to listen and respond carefully as the situation evolves.
  • What effect the 30% reduction in the Official Development Assistance allocation will have on the Government’s ringfenced climate change and R&D funding commitments.

Admissions

There was UCAS data released on 4th February.

Dods summarise the UCAS application and acceptance figures for the 2020 cycle:

There were 2,788,715 applications in this cycle – an increase on the 2019 cycle

  • Across all providers, there were 570,475 accepted applicants
  • There were 156,280 unconditional offers made
  • Providers across the UK had a 71.4% offer rate (72.8% in England, 56.6% in Scotland, 79% in Wales, 77.2% in NI)
  • Among lower tariff providers, this figure was 7%
  • Among medium tariff providers, this figure was 2%
  • Among higher tariff providers, this figure was 9%
  • Offer rates for UK 18 year olds by POLAR4 quintile were:
  • Q1: 78.6%
  • Q2: 78.9%
  • Q3: 79.4%
  • Q4: 79.7%
  • Q5: 80.5%

Key findings and trends:

  • Acceptances to computer science courses have risen by almost 50% (from 20,420 in 2011 to 30,090 in 2020)
  • Acceptances to engineering courses are up 21% from 25,995 in 2011 to 31,545 in 2020 – driven by an increase in demand from UK 18 year olds
  • Acceptances to the newer artificial intelligence (AI) courses have seen a 400% rise in the past decade (from just 65 in 2011 to 355 in 2020)
  • Despite the removal of NHS bursaries in 2017, demand for nursing places is now almost at the same level seen in 2011 (62,920 applicants made a nursing choice in 2020 compared to 63,275 in 2011) and acceptances have grown by 57% – representing an additional 13,635 students
  • With the expansion of medical places in the last few years, acceptances to medicine courses are at the highest level on record, growing 37% since 2017
  • Law increased from 22,720 acceptances in 2011 to 29,105 acceptances in 2020, with substantial increases to both higher and medium tariff providers across this period
  • Business increased from 61,100 acceptances in 2011 to 75,515 in 2020. Growth in acceptances across all provider tariff bands – with by far the largest increase to higher tariff providers
  • Psychology acceptances increase from 16,685 in 2011 to 26,200 in 2020. Again, there were increases across all tariff bands, with medium and higher tariff providers experiencing the largest increases
  • Humanities subjects have decreased in popularity over the last decade. English studies have seen a decrease from 10,020 acceptances in 2011 to 6,980 this year in 2020, and history and philosophical studies from 15,060 in 2011 to 12,870, though the data shows this decline seems to be confined to lower and medium tariff providers
  • Acceptances to modern language degree courses have decreased by 36% – from 6,005 in 2011 to 3,830 in 2020 across all tariff groups. This drop in demand is seen alongside a decrease in language A level entrants over the same timeframe.

Given the reverses in policy (student number controls and centre-assessed grades), the controversy about unconditional offers, last this year was a pretty interesting one for admissions teams.  Some of these things have implications this year too – we still have a ban on unconditional offers, and this year the impact of whatever Ofqual end up with will almost certainly ensure that there are once again more students with higher grades entering university.  The Russell Group are already asking for money to help them take more students in September (again).  And all this is just in time for another huge reversal of approach as the government consult on minimum entry requirements and post-qualification admissions.  Catch up on our policy update from 21st January on minimum entry requirements, and you can read the PQA consultation here (it runs until May, so no rush).

  • A data rich piece by David Kernohan using UCAS data on unconditional offer This was the big story just under a year ago, as despite strong Ministerial and OfS criticism of unconditional offers up to that point, and particularly strong pressure on “conditional unconditional offers”.    When the pandemic hit and exams were cancelled, some universities allegedly made many more unconditional offers, on the basis that it would remove stress for school and college leavers.  Of course, in March, as we went into the first lockdown, Michelle Donelan ordered universities to stop making unconditional offers, in a “moratorium” that later turned into a “time-limited” condition of registration with the OfS that remains in place today.  In their consultation the OfS proposed making the condition retrospective, with a view to penalising those universities who had made offers in the crucial early weeks of March – but this idea was dropped.  We might expect a response to the UCAS data from the OfS, which might not be super positive about it.
  • A piece on subject trends from UCAS data – including what they call the “Chris Whitty effect” as applications increased for health and social care programmes in 2020. This is of course good news for us all, especially given concerns about the impact of the controversial removal of NHS bursaries for these course and the incredible contribution made by many students during the pandemic on placement or starting paid work before the end of their courses.  In the piece, Sander Kristel, Chief Operations Officer at UCAS also looks at numbers for STEM, and the gender divide, and the decline in language students, and in English and humanities subjects too. David Kernohan of Wonkhe contributes some rich data on applications over time, by subject and by provider.
  • And an overview on the overall cycle, again by David Kernohan, with some startling data about winners and losers in terms of student numbers in 2020 and some analysis of student movements. In case you’ve forgotten, as well as a

HEPI has a piece from former universities minister (and former VC) Bill Rammell and education consultant Abhishek Nakhate on the ways that universities can turn knowledge of their applicants into successful recruitment.

Wonkhe also tell us that TES has an opinion piece on the opportunity in the Department for Education’s PQA consultation to uncouple university admissions from A levels completely.

Free Speech

On Monday Wonkhe announced the publication of a collaboration with a group of students leading students’ unions on free speech: Taking the debate forward: A new code to secure and champion freedom of speech and political diversity on campus. Wonkhe also gather together a series of information and recent content on free speech here.

Support for the new code has been given by Adam Clarke, Policy Manager, for the Russell Group. He states:

  • Universities, students and government all want to protect free speech and ensure robust academic debate. Engaging with challenging ideas is a vital element of the academic experience in UK universities.
  • As Wonkhe’s analysis shows, the overwhelming majority of planned students’ union events go ahead, giving speakers the opportunity to present controversial ideas on campus, which students can interrogate.
  • The proposals in this report are intended to help students’ unions broaden the range of views students are exposed to and continue to champion free speech on campus effectively. It sets out sensible additional steps students’ unions can take as independent bodies to protect free speech and how universities can support them in this critical work.
  • The creation of a new free speech code with an explicit goal of increasing the volume and diversity of debates on campuses would help students’ unions go further in their efforts to defend and maintain freedom of expression.

The Minister speaks (and writes, to everyone)

Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan, announced £50 million of new hardship funding for HE providers (to be distributed by the OfS). The Government press release states: The increased financial support comes as the majority of students have been asked to continue their studies remotely, as part of measures to reduce the transmission of coronavirus…The new funding means that universities will be able to help students impacted by the pandemic, for example those facing additional costs for alternative accommodation, loss of employment, or extra costs to access their teaching online. Universities will distribute the funding and will be able to prioritise the funding to those most in need of help. The Government also stated it wanted universities to offer partial refunds for unused accommodation. No doubt the Government are hoping this will head off calls for tuition and rent refunds, at least for a few weeks. The written ministerial statement is here.

Universities Minister Michelle Donelan said:

  • This continues to be an incredibly difficult and challenging time for our students, and I am hugely grateful to all the university staff working hard to prioritise their health, wellbeing and learning during this pandemic. The additional £50 million that we are announcing today will mean we have distributed £70m for hardship in this financial year alone – on top of the £256m of government-funded student premium which universities can use for student support this academic year. This additional support will provide real, tangible help for those students struggling financially as a result of the pandemic. We will continue to prioritise a full return to education as soon possible, in line with public health advice. I am also working with universities and professional bodies to ensure students can graduate as planned.
  • On distributing the funds Wonkhe have stated that the DfE tells us the mechanism for doing so is yet to be determined, and we understand that OfS will shortly be writing to provider accountable officers with a proposed distribution methodology.

On Wednesday Donelan made a statement to the House explaining that HE providers will have flexibility in how they distribute funding to students including to masters and international students. There was also an urgent question from Paul Blomfield in the House of Commons on Wednesday and Jim Dickinson (of Wonkhe) has live tweeted the whole debate – very funny but also rather sad.

If you can face it, you can re-read MD’s original set of late on a Friday night tweets (STUDENT MESSAGES 1- 6) that so enraged so many.

Donelan spoke on Radio 4 stating she wanted to ensure students and HE providers understood that hardship support from this funding shouldn’t be just a one-time offer, that students could return to their providers for additional help later on, where appropriate and if required.

Many organisations published their reactions to the announcement. We’ve picked out the key stakeholders who continue to call for the Government to do more:

  • Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said: While the additional funding is welcome, the government must also acknowledge that student hardship is just one of many increasingly difficult issues facing students, universities and staff at this time. As the serious mental health impact of the pandemic continues to be felt, universities need further funding to alleviate the substantial increases in demand that university wellbeing and support services are experiencing. Although university staff are making huge efforts to offer high quality online learning, the government should provide support that recognises that students are missing out on the wider student experience that they would benefit from in a normal year.
  • Dr Tim Bradshaw, Chief Executive of the Russell Group, said: It is good to see…measures further boosted by the Government with additional funds specifically for students facing difficulties with day-to-day living costs. This group is likely to be far wider than those who would normally be eligible for support through OfS student premium funding.
  • NUS National President Larissa Kennedy said: …this will not be enough to tackle the scale of the issue. If Westminster did the right thing and matched the hardship funding being made available in Wales for students the amount needed would be more than £700m…The pandemic has exposed the flaws at the core of our education system – it functions at the expense of students’ mental health and wellbeing, and through our financial exploitation…We also need a long term solution to ensure that no student suffers in this way again. The Government must adopt a new vision for education, starting with a return to maintenance grant funding and a boost in how much students can access, redressing extortionate housing costs, and moving towards fully funded education so students are never pushed into these kinds of dire financial situations

On Thursday the Minister published yet another open letter to students (sent to universities late on Tuesday).  It repeats much of the content of previous letters, including about how to complain.  You can read the full text of the letter it in the Minister’s tweet here.

In an expansion of the now well established DfE practice of sending open letters to students to be shared by providers (usually arriving late at night, often on a Friday), this time in a burst of creative energy the Minister also wrote to staff at providers.  BU readers can find the message here.

Access & Participation

Social Mobility Commission

We learn the reasoning behind the move of the Commission to the Cabinet office here:

  • This move aligns with a recent recommendation by the Chair of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, the Social Mobility Commission’s (SMC) own recommendation about where it would best fit within government, and with a recommendation by the Education Select Committee in 2018.
  • Moving the sponsorship of the SMC to become a key part of the new Equality Hub makes good sense and puts equality and fairness of all kinds at the heart of government. The move shows how serious this government is about acting on these issues, as part of our levelling up agenda.

There’s a parliamentary question on the Social Mobility Commission’s report Changing gears: understanding downward social mobility setting out the Government’s approach to social mobility and it also mentions the move to the Cabinet Office.

The Social Mobility Commission published its annual review and business plan 2020 this week. They state: In this extraordinarily challenging year, we have made significant strides in influencing government policy, while making meaningful connections with employers and embarking upon an ambitious programme of activities. On the move to the Cabinet Office they state: As we prepare to move to the Cabinet Office from 1 April 2021, we look forward to taking a more influential role in addressing social and regional inequality.

The report has a timeline to highlight the key milestones in 2020 (see further below). And they summarise their achievements as:

  • launching an employers’ programme and microsite for businesses to help recruit more people from disadvantaged backgrounds
  • publishing 13 ground-breaking research reports on aspects of social mobility which got widespread media pick-up
  • reaching out to a younger audience
  • In addition we built up our network of Ambassador organisations to help spread our message, held dozens of seminars, webinars, training sessions and masterclasses, and launched a campaign for increased resources on further education

There’s lots more detail in the report including short summaries and links to the key publications.

Disability – price fixing

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has issued advisory letters to some firms supplying goods and services to disabled university students, following concerns that there may have been price-fixing. The Government press release with more detail is here. Excerpts from the press release:

  • Price-fixing is a serious breach of competition law and can cheat people out of a lower price, which could have been available if competition was working properly.
  • The CMA is concerned that SLC [Student Loans Company] – and so ultimately the taxpayer – may have paid over the odds for certain goods and services because some suppliers agreed prices before providing quotations. This alleged activity could also have reduced the overall amount which disabled students have available for purchasing equipment through the scheme.
  • While the CMA has been considering these allegations, SLC has told the CMA that it is making a number of changes to the way it procures goods and services for disabled students. The changes will increase price transparency and competition amongst companies, and should therefore limit the potential for anti-competitive behaviour to take place.
  • The CMA has not made a legal finding as to whether competition law has been broken at this stage, but it will keep this sector under review, 

Wonkhe have a blog – Is a market the best way of supporting disabled students?

And the Student Loans Company have issued a statement following the CMA’s action stating they welcome the advisory action and that they take these allegations of anti-competitive behaviour within the DSA supplier base extremely seriously… Also they have already embarked on a programme of significant reforms, designed to transform the customer experience, improve the provision of DSA and to make the overall processes more efficient. These reforms will also increase transparency of pricing and increase competition thus limiting the potential for any anti-competitive behaviour. SLC has already procured an e-quotation system, which will allow more suppliers to quote for work and will increase transparency of pricing and competition.

Lost learning

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has published research on the crisis in lost school learning. Dods have summarised the report. The report sets out the potential long-run costs of lost schooling and finds that, as a result of the pandemic, children across the UK are likely to lose at least half a year of normal, in-person schooling. They conclude that, absent a substantial policy response, the long-run effects of this learning loss are likely to be slow-moving and substantial – arguing that, in the end, we will all be less productive, poorer, have less money to spend on public services, and we may be less happy and healthy as a result. They also say that we will probably also be more unequal, with all the social ills that come with it. Key findings:

  • By February half-term, children across the UK will have lost at least half a year of normal, in person schooling. This would increase to two thirds of a year if schools weren’t to reopen as normal until Easter
  • Early evidence already suggests this loss of schooling is contributing to lower educational progress and skills, particularly for disadvantaged pupils
  • Existing evidence on returns to schooling would imply a long-run loss in earnings of £350bn
  • If, the efforts by schools, teachers, children, parents and charities allowed us to mitigate 75% of this effect, the total loss would still be £90bn
  • A large amount of these negative effects are likely to be borne by children from lower-income families, resulting in a likely rise in inequality over the long-run
  • A massive injection of resources is likely to be required to help pupils properly catch up
  • A useful benchmark to judge these plans is the normal cost of half a year of schooling, about £30 billion across the UK
  • So far, governments across the UK have allocated about £1.5bn towards the cost of catch-up – this is highly unlikely to be sufficient to help pupils catch-up or prevent inequalities from widening.

HEPI has a blog by Gwen Morris on “Closing the attainment gap: how disadvantaged pupils have been impacted by COVID-19

Students in the pandemic

Financial woes

Aside from the hardship funding described above, there is more heat than light on this subject.

The APPG for Students released a report from their inquiry into tuition and accommodation costs during Covid-19 making the case for compensation. (Note – an APPG inquiry does not have the same power within Parliament as an official select committee inquiry and the Government is not compelled to respond to it.)

The APPG state the priority is to provide students with the financial assistance they need now – through an emergency hardship fund and full compensation for rents for unused accommodation due to lockdown measures. Recommendations:

  1. The Government should substantially increase hardship funding to address rental costs for student properties they cannot access, lost income, digital poverty and other unexpected cost.
  2. The Government should consider the introduction of means-tested maintenance grants to assist the ‘Covid cohort’ with the costs they face.
  3. The Government should work with landlords to introduce measures to temporarily increase flexibility for student accommodation to allow students to leave contracts they aren’t using more easily, and to reduce pressure on landlords.
  4. Government should establish a ‘Covid Student Learning Remediation Fund’, to allow lost learning to be addressed through provision of educational opportunities not available through the pandemic.
  5. UKRI studentships for PGR students should be extended to allow research to be finished to usual high standards, in circumstances where lockdown has affected access to facilities and resources. Consideration should also be given to support for self-funded students.

Dods have an impartial and clear article on the call for refunds in The House (parliamentary) magazine. It highlights a difficult factor that the sector is fully aware of:  it is unclear what shape a refund of a loan that most would never fully repay anyway would take.  And other tricky elements:

  • So who should pay when customers (i.e. students) feel they are no longer getting value for money? It would be easy to conclude that it should be down to HE providers themselves. But when we consider that many of the restrictions causing these issues come from government-mandated measures, and ultimately from a global pandemic, where to lay the blame becomes less clear.
  • And what is a customer to do once they’ve received a refund, but are still left with what they believe to be a faulty product? Money in the pockets of students might satisfy their initial gripes, but they still might not get what they set out to achieve when they completed their UCAS application.

Wonkhe have a review article going over it all: Someone has to give in the great tuition fees battle. Who will it be? A light read as Jim Dickinson injects some great examples in there. It covers student consent to changes in the curriculum arising from the pandemic. It concludes: Something – or more specifically, someone – has to give here. And if universities have nothing left, it’s either students or DfE. OfS wagging its finger at universities is just fence-sitting. The actual side that OfS picks in the coming battle will tell us everything we need to know both about its real priorities and its “independence“.

Wonkhe also cover a mini legal hiccup relating to the vacation (Christmas) household and their term time address.

Wonkhe report: Accommodation provider Unite has announced it will extend its 50 per cent rent discount until 8 March 2021. The extension applies automatically to students who successfully applied for the original discount. 

The BBC covered a letter written by the VC’s of seven universities calling for the interest on student loans to be scrapped for 15 months to ease the pressure on graduates. I.e. from lockdown 1 to summer 2021. The BBC state that just for first year undergraduates it would cost £33 million. The Government has stated that this wouldn’t support students now, which the hardship funding they announced (in Access and Participation section) will. The Government also reminded that half of students do not fully pay back their student loan. The VC’s letter also highlighted that demands for hardship funds have increased by over 100% in some universities.

On Tuesday the petitions committee met to consider e-petitions:

Guidance: The DfE published new return to campus guidance for HE students and providers. All remains as expected:

  • All teaching to remain online until at least 8 March except for certain practical subjects (e.g. veterinary, policing, medicine)
  • On accommodation and costsit states: Because of the changing position relating to face to face teaching and occupation of accommodation, students’ loan entitlements for the current term will not be reassessed if they are still incurring accommodation costs away from home, meaning that students in receipt of the ‘living away from home’’ loan will retain the maintenance loans paid at the start of term, which will be repaid in the usual way. This should help to ensure students have the financial support they need during these exceptional circumstances. Students who are no longer incurring accommodation costs away from home (e.g. because they have exited their contracts, or moved home permanently), or who no longer wish to receive the higher rate of loan, should continue to request reassessment.
  • On testing: HE providers should set a clear expectation that all students should access coronavirus (COVID-19) testing immediately on their return to university and on a twice weekly basis thereafter (until the end of March). With students who choose not to get tested on return, to self-isolate for ten days.

Quick News: Meanwhile a review published by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has found that the currently unregulated use of Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL) products nearly quadrupled to £2.7bn during 2020 and five million people had used them since the start of the pandemic. This has been flagged as a potential student concern because: The trend of younger people moving away from products such as credit cards and towards new offerings, including unregulated BNPL products was regularly raised by respondents to the review. It calls for the market to be properly regulated as there is significant potential for consumer harm. The Treasury confirmed interest-free BNPL agreements will now be regulated by the FCA. It means that providers will need to undertake affordability checks before lending and ensure that customers are treated fairly, especially those who are vulnerable and struggling with repayments.

Parliamentary Questions: No detriment

Student Experience – retaining some online learning

Dods share that Times Higher Education have published the results and subsequent report of their Digital Teaching Survey, which aims to capture an overview of universities’ digital transitions in response to the pandemic, and the effect this has on students and learning outcomes. You can view the report in full here

Carried out in October and November, the survey attracted 520 self-selecting respondents. And although the majority (334) are from the UK, a total of 46 countries are represented in the responses, spread across all continents bar Antarctica.  Among the findings are:

  • More than half of respondents say the initial move to online teaching had a negative effect on their mental health, and nearly six in 10 believe it hit their students’ mental health.
  • Only a fifth believe that their students value remote education as much as face-to-face, but less than a third think tuition fees should be discounted when instruction moves online.
  • Only four in 10 junior academics believe their reopened universities’ planning for Covid outbreaks is robust, compared with seven in 10 senior managers.
  • Less than a fifth of respondents regard the two-track physical and online approach to teaching as sustainable, while two-fifths regard an online-only future as sustainable.
  • Respondents are mostly unsure whether good online teaching results in stronger learning than traditional teaching, but more than twice as many disagree as agree.
  • More than three-quarters would like online meetings to endure beyond the pandemic.

Wonkhe and Pearson published findings from their latest student experience research: Students’ experiences of study during Covid-19 and hopes for future learning and teaching and Pearson have a blog highlighting the key elements here. They work through what aspects of online and blended delivery should be retained in the short term, what are the areas for longer term strategic development, and what can be gratefully consigned to the dustbin of history.

There seems to be a consensus among university leaders of learning and teaching that while the explosion in online and blended learning of the past year didn’t come about in exactly the way the sector would have chosen, there’s now little sense in reverting back to the way things were before.

In the blog Pearson say:

  • What university leaders may consider heartening and daunting in equal measure is that there are very few elements of online learning and teaching that the students we surveyed would not like to see continue after the pandemic.
  • Also: Despite the positive endorsement of many aspects of online and blended learning, these findings should not be taken as an absolute endorsement of the quality of the academic experience as it’s currently being delivered.
  • Our sense from the survey is that students understand – up to a point – the challenges facing universities and teaching staff and genuinely appreciate ongoing efforts to support them. Students were particularly warm about communications with teaching staff, with 82 per cent agreeing that tutors are responsive when they need them.

And on a quality experience:

  • However, when we asked straight out whether students thought their academic experience had been of sufficiently good quality during the autumn term, only 40 per cent said yes. This increased to 56 per cent for those who had reported their course had been delivered through a mixture of face to face and online.
  • You might argue that students don’t have a sufficiently nuanced understanding of the concept of “quality” to be able to answer that question meaningfully. So we also asked about aspects of course delivery.
  • 32 per cent agreed and 41 per cent somewhat agreed that teaching is intellectually stimulating. 31 per cent agreed and 38 per cent somewhat agreed that their course is clear and well organised. This suggests that for the most part the basics are in place in terms of teaching and curriculum. That said, improving the organisation and signposting of courses in the VLE could be a relatively easy way for universities to further support their students in this area.

The blog also highlights (by comparison to earlier June 2020 survey) that access to feedback, support from lecturers, and access to technology and resources have all improved. Where there’s room for further investigation is in providing a consistently engaging online learning experience and bringing curriculum content to life for students. 

Moving forward – continuing to teach remotely during Covid

63% would like more opportunities for interactions with other students
57% would choose more contact time with tutors

Methods to support monitoring their own progress were also highlighted. The blog states:

Only 35 per cent said they have regular indicators about how they are performing on the course. In a context where students are more isolated and have fewer opportunities to compare notes with peers or talk informally to lecturers, building opportunities for self-assessment of progress can be especially helpful to give students academic confidence and self-efficacy, especially given the finding on students’ sense of their own preparedness for formal assessment. 36 per cent said that more frequent assessments and progress reviews would make a difference to their experience.

Pearson say:

  • Where educators aspire to take forward a rich flexible learning environment that blends face to face and online elements, there’s an opportunity to make some of the latent aspects of learning more explicit through the course design. For example, better user experience (UX) design of VLEs could vastly improve signposting and help set expectations around learning. With flexible learning, educators could be much less constrained by scheduled contact hours, and more able to create curriculum structures and processes that enable students to progress in their learning.
  • Interaction between students need not only take place in the classroom but can be supplemented by online discussion and forums. Curriculum content can be broken down into more manageable chunks that can be digested digitally, and the classroom used for more engaging interactive tasks and activities.
  • Academic skills development can be baked explicitly into learning activities with defined tasks designed to be completed during independent learning time. Crucially, students can be encouraged and supported to develop as independent learners through use of formative self-assessment. And all this could be supported with remote check-ins with tutors and online access to wellbeing, careers and academic support services.
  • it’s clear that, now students have recognised the benefits of a more flexible approach,the direction of travel in meeting students expectations for the future of learning and teaching will be towards a more purposefully flexible approach that draws on the best of both online and face to face learning. Although one does wonder whether it is the institutions rather than the students that needed to recognise the benefits of flexible blended learning. The infrastructure and mindset change cannot be underestimated but we can hope the pandemic accelerated the turnaround of the proverbial educational oil tanker.

Parliamentary Questions

Regulatory

Programmes

  • Increases in students studying video games degrees since 2012/13.
  • A Turing (student mobility) website is coming soon – more information…and setting out the application process in the coming weeks

Augar

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Many of the consultations this year have potential to be transformative for the sector. BU readers can find our response to the OfS consultation on quality and standards here.  You can read the UUK response here and the one from London Higher here.

As we note above, the PQA consultation is live (we are considering a BU response)

Other news

Nick Hillman makes the case that English universities need to cultivate allies – either in wider society or in Whitehall – to prepare for the coming spending review.

Equality: Advance HE published the blog Ensuring continued steps towards gender equality. And Wonkhe report: Advance HE has released the second part of its literature review investigating the prevalence of unconscious bias in teaching and learning in higher education. Bias in the Curriculum brings together best practice from across Advance HE members, recommending that an awareness of curriculum bias be built into teaching, with students invited to co-create interventions to address it.

Youth Mental Health: Prime Minister Boris Johnson has made an announcement on appointing Dr. Alex George as a Youth Mental Health Ambassador

Law Programmes: A new Wonkhe blog – A new qualification route will shape future lawyers – the introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) offers law schools the chance to radically rethink their course offer.

Careers support: Wonkhe report: A report from the City and Guilds Group and Burning Glass finds that just 16 per cent of working adults understands how their skills would transfer to another career. The survey of just over 1,000 adults finds that 21 per cent lacked knowledge of work in other employment sectors, and 19 per cent described a “lack of confidence” in considering a second career. TES has the story.

Low quality courses: Wonkhe comment on a SRHE blog piece stating it explains how the ministerial complaints around standards and “low quality” courses have only become less coherent over the past ten years.

Brexit: Wonkhe reports that The European University Association has published a short briefing into the implications for universities of the final Brexit agreement. The document covers the UK’s withdrawal from the Eramus scheme, cross-border data sharing and trade in educational services, and travel and residence between the UK and the EU.

Youth Unemployment: In December 2020 the Lords Liaison Committee recommended that the House established a new special inquiry committee to consider youth unemployment, education and skills. This report set out recommendations for the Committee to address. They include:

  • The societal trend of prioritising the A-level/University route, the consequences for the labour market and society and what steps may be taken to address this.
  • The funding and support provided for technical education, including apprenticeships, sector-based skills programmes and the national skills fund.
  • The challenges posed by COVID-19 and Brexit to the employment prospects for young people and how these might be addressed.

The Youth Unemployment Committee has now been established in the Lords, the details are gradually being populated here and this link names the members.

Wellbeing:  Just after we sent last week’s policy update a new report was issued by Jisc and Emerge Education Student and staff wellbeing in higher education. It suggests ways in which universities can address student mental health and wellbeing by embracing technology and embedding wellbeing practices into every aspect of university life.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                             Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

HE Policy Update w/e 18th January 2021

The Minister for Universities and the OfS ended the week with the opposite of a charm offensive.  Significant interest in student rent reached a head this week with MPs calling for action and supporting student concerns in Parliament. GCSE and Gavin Williamson announced his alternative plans for exams this summer (spoiler alert: the proposal centres on externally set exams, but they will be marked by teachers and other evidence can be taken into account). Perhaps not surprisingly the political gossip centred on whether Gavin Williamson has run out of road.

The Minister takes to Twitter

So perhaps rather late in the day taking a lead from other leaders who (used to) use Twitter to communicate with the masses, and continuing the pattern that both the DfE and the OfS have had since March of communicating with the sector late at night and at weekends, Michelle Donelan took to Twitter on Friday evening (at 7.16pm).  With the “student message” headings left in, which were surely drafting notes, it looks like it was done in a hurry.  It is safe to say that it hasn’t been very well received, with attacks both from across the sector and also from the group it was probably aimed at – parents (ie voters).

It’s a real issue that the Minister is taking this tone and approach, apart from perpetuating the myth of the £256 million.

And the tone is consistent with the tone the OfS are taking.  They wrote to universities on Thursday.

  • They say that universities should do all they can to deliver the teaching they have promised to students and make alternative arrangements where this is not possible – this may include putting on extra lectures, repeating parts of the course, or offering fee refunds.
  • The OfS does not have legal powers to require refunds to be paid, but it has set out actions for universities and colleges to ensure they continue to meet regulatory requirements so that students can continue to benefit from their education.
  • The regulator has asked universities to assess the extent to which they have met the commitments they made to students in relation to teaching and alternative arrangements, and inform the OfS where there are risks that they may not be able to comply with its regulatory conditions.
  • Universities should assess:
    • whether they were sufficiently clear with new and continuing students about how teaching and assessment would be delivered in 2020-21, the circumstances in which changes might be made, and what those changes might entail
    • whether during the 2020 autumn term, students received the teaching and assessment they were promised and might reasonably have expected to receive based on information provided
    • whether current plans for the 2021 spring and summer term will ensure that students receive the teaching and assessment they were promised and might reasonably expect to receive based on the information provided.
  • The OfS will, where appropriate, take action as the result of notifications from students and others, and is likely to request further details of provider assessments where it has additional concerns.
  • Where students are not provided with clear information about how teaching and assessment will be delivered in 2020-21, or where teaching and assessment are not delivered as promised, universities are expected to actively consider refunds or other forms of redress.
  • The OfS expects each university to:
    • inform students of any further changes to teaching and assessment arrangements, such that these are broadly equivalent to those previously offered to students within the requirements of public health advice
    • inform students about their entitlement to seek refunds or other forms of redress – such as the opportunity to repeat parts of their course that were not delivered this year – if they have not received the teaching and assessment promised
    • provide students with clear information, advice and guidance about the implications of the changes and the options available to them.  This must include clear signposting of the route to complain or seek redress.
  • The OfS intends to publish revised guidance by the end of January on protecting quality and standards during the pandemic. These changes will include guidance on the approach to exams and assessments and the appropriate measures universities should take when considering mitigating or exceptional circumstances.

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the Office for Students, said:

  • “The pandemic is having a profound and ongoing impact on students who are still facing exceptional challenges. Universities and colleges have generally worked tirelessly under great pressure to ensure that students continue to receive good quality teaching, albeit now largely delivered remotely. We have consistently emphasised the importance of universities being clear to students about potential changes to course delivery where face-to-face teaching is not possible.
  • “Of course, we understand the tremendous pressures that the new lockdown imposes on universities and colleges, and some may no longer able to deliver the teaching and assessment arrangements that they said they would. This may not be in their direct control. However, in these circumstances they should do all they can to offer students alternatives – for instance by putting on extra lectures or course content later in the year – and where that is not possible, they should consider providing refunds where appropriate.
  • “Students will also be rightly concerned where they are being charged rent for properties they can’t currently occupy. Some universities have decided not to charge full rent in these circumstances. We are encouraging all universities and colleges who are not already doing so to consider carefully what the appropriate response is to these unprecedented circumstances where students have been asked not to return to their accommodation this term. We are also asking universities to consider what discussions they can have in support of their students with private landlords.”

Lots of commentary is available and will continue to emerge (apart from the responses to MD’s tweets) but here are some:

Admissions

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson wrote to Ofqual Chief Regulator, Simon Lebus, setting out the  2021 exam grading contingency options for consultation (including vocational qualifications). The regulator responded the same day with his own letter (its almost as if he knew what Gavin’s letter would say before he received it!).

And then the consultations came out on Friday and run for two weeks.  The main proposal for GCSEs and A-levels as noted above is externally set exams, sat in school and marked by teachers, used as part of a package of evidence for teacher assessed grades, with moderation and quality controls but no forced ranking or overriding algorithm, and a massive appeals process for all students which must be managed by schools.  On vocational exams it is hard to understand what they are proposing – they want assessments to go ahead and where these are practical and need in person attendance “the assessment will need to wait until it can practically be conducted, and the student is ready.”  The position is different because the relationship between Ofqual and the awarding organisations for vocational qualifications is different, so they are largely leaving it to Pearson and the rest to sort out.

Apart from anything else, this is perplexing for school and college students.  The PM told them exams were cancelled – what he actually meant was that “normal” exams would not go ahead but that assessment would continue which might well (read almost certainly) include formal exams which will in many cases be sat in school.  Lots of people and students welcome the opportunity to have exams.  But those who were anxious about them will now be anxious again.  If nothing else it would reduce anxiety levels to be accurate when making significant announcements.  If the detail wasn’t available (and it was, because they say have been working on it for months) then the PM could just have announced it was being looked at.

Consultation: GCSEs, AS and A Levels

The Secretary of State’s letter says:

  • Based on teacher assessment
  • A teacher’s final judgement on a student’s grade ought to be as late as possible in the academic year to maximise remaining teaching time and ensure students are motivated to remain engaged in education
  • Consulting on what broader evidence teachers require in setting grades and whether the externally set tasks and papers are required or just recommended.
  • Pupils should be assessed based on what they have learnt, rather than against content they haven’t had chance to study (balanced against good enough coverage of the curriculum)
  • Schools and colleges should undertake quality assurance of the teachers’ assessments and grades and provide reassurance to the exam boards. There will be training and support for this and external checks in place for fairness and to ensure consistency between institutions.
  • Changes to the institutional grades awarded as a result of the external quality assurance are expected to be an exception – the process will not involve second-guessing the judgement of teachers but confirming that the process and evidence used to award a grade is reasonable. Changes should only be made if those grades cannot be justified, rather than as a result of marginal differences of opinion. Any changes should be based on human decisions, not by an automatic process or algorithm.
  • A clear and accessible route for private candidates to be assessed and receive a grade – consultation will consult on these options.
  • A clear route for review and appeal of grades (again ironed out in the consultation).
  • No algorithm will be used nor automatic standardisation of any individual’s grades

 Consultation detail:

  • It proposes externally set papers, possibly modular to allow teachers to choose which papers depending on what has been covered, to be marked by teachers and then included in the assessment along with other evidence. Exams to be sat in schools but with potential for online for students who can’t attend.  One of the consultation questions is whether these papers will be mandatory.
  • The main difference from last year is that there will be no forced ranking of students and while there will be moderation by the exam boards (which is surely going to be algorithm based although they can’t use the A word) any decisions have to be made by people. There will be no formal grade boundaries for the exams.
  • The other thing to note is that all students can appeal and the schools have to manage the appeals – a further appeal to the exam board will be on procedural issues only.  Also on timing – the assessment is to be made as late as possible but results will be published early……

Consultation: Vocational and Technical Qualifications (VQTs)

The Secretary of State’s letter says:

  • Students will be able to progress fairly, irrespective of whether they sat an exam in January
  • Assessments should continue, taking place remotely, as adapted by individual awarding organisations
  • Recognition that level of disruption may mean no all internal assessment can be completed by all students
  • Essential assessments will be held in February and March for some students – i.e. where they must demonstrate the proficiency required to enter directly into employment or are needed to complete an apprenticeship – these will continue with protective measures in place.
  • Written exams will not go ahead. Assessments to be held online where they can, where they can’t alternatives will be consulted upon.

Consultation:

The proposed new alternative regulatory arrangements would:

  • permit awarding organisations to develop an approach to awarding qualifications in scope of the Department’s proposed policy on the basis of incomplete assessment evidence. As part of their approach awarding organisations should consider their minimum evidential requirement for awarding these qualifications to ensure sufficient validity and reliability. They should also consider where they need additional assessment evidence from teachers and what form this should take. For qualifications most similar to GCSEs, AS and A levels we would expect awarding organisations to use similar approaches to assessment and awarding. These approaches are currently being consulted on in parallel with this consultation.
  • expect awarding organisations to be mindful of the burden their approach places on centres and learners, and to provide clear and timely advice and guidance
  • require awarding organisations to issue certificates (where appropriate) as normal and to not refer on the certificate to a result having been determined under the alternative regulatory arrangements
  • require awarding organisations to include private learners in their arrangements as far as possible
  • permit awarding organisations to take the same approach for qualifications taken in international markets, provided that this does not undermine the validity of the qualifications. We would also expect awarding organisations to consider and address the risks around malpractice and the particular needs of the international market

In Lebus’ letter to Williamson a few points stand out:

  • we are fully committed to doing all that we can, including making sure teachers are equipped and making use of awarding organisations’ quality assurance processes, so that students’ results are as fair as possible
  • no assessment arrangements can take account of all the different ways that students have suffered from the pandemic.
  • we have been considering together the potential alternatives to exams and other formal assessments for some time and have learned a number of lessons from last summer. Our thinking is well advanced. It is, though, important that all affected by these arrangements have the opportunity to comment on them.
  • We both wish to ensure that accountability for decisions following the consultation is clear and transparent. We understand your final determinations will be reflected in a formal direction to us under the relevant legislation. We will publicly and formally record the decisions we take in light of your direction. [A ‘don’t blame us’ this time warning?!]
  • we will want the consultation to consider the role of externally set short papers.
  • we also wish to support and incentivise students to engage with their education for the remainder of the academic year, including to continue with any non-exam assessment where possible. We propose that the final determination of a student’s grade should take place as late in the academic year as possible. We believe this will give students a greater sense of agency, which is critical to securing widespread acceptance of the outcomes
  • It is important that the consultation makes clear to all, especially those who rely on the results to make selection decisions, that overall outcomes this year will likely look different from 2020 and previous years. This issue will be important for your work with the post-16 and higher education sectors to secure orderly progression and to protect the interests of disadvantaged students.
  • We are acutely aware that all who have a stake in the results this year, particularly students and their parents and carers and teachers, as well as higher and further education institutions and employers, need certainty about the arrangements to be put in place

A selection of this week’s coverage:

The Petitions Committee agreed to schedule debates for the following e-petitions which reached over 100,000 signatures:

However, as Westminster Hall debates have been suspended (as a Covid safety measure) neither will see a debate in the immediate future.

Admissions Reform: Research Professional have an article: There is an “appetite for reform” of the university admissions process, according to the Office for Students’ director for access and participation—but changing the application timetable is not a “magic bullet”.

Research

Kwasi Kwarteng, who was previously minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth, has taken over as Business Secretary as Alok Sharma has gone off to head COP26.

  • Research Professional (RP): One of the immediate issues that Kwarteng will be asked to consider is whether the Research Excellence Framework should be further delayed given the pressures put on university staff by the latest lockdown. No-one has yet been prepared to make the case that ensuring REF returns are made by 31 March is a priority for our newly designated critical workers. RP cover this here and here.
  • Also Research Professional: emails seen by Research Professional News have revealed the close ties between prime minister Boris Johnson’s controversial former adviser Dominic Cummings and the UK’s largest public research funding agency.

The Lords Science and Technology Committee held a session on The contribution of Innovation Catapults in delivering the R&D Roadmap you can read a summary of the session here. It included scrutiny of the catapults role in meeting the Government’s 2.4% R&D target.

UKRI announced the winners of the second phase of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund’s (ISCF) decarbonisation of industrial clusters: cluster plan competition. The six winners sharing the £8 million come from consultancies, development companies, local authorities, partnerships, and consortiums. It is unclear if any have strong links with universities.

NERC appointed four new Science Committee members from the HE sector. And the Wellcome Trust’s new Director of research programmes, Cheryl Moore, will take up the post in May 2021.

Research Fundermentals published their own horizon scan and predictions about what 2021 will mean for research matters.

Research Professional also published these articles:

Parliamentary Questions:

Student Concerns

Despite parliamentary petitions and grass roots campaigning students made small progress with the calls to be refunded for tuition fees during online study and receive rent reductions or get out of their letting contracts. The lobbying quietened down for a while but gained momentum in the last week. Towards the end of last week several Labour MPs signed an early day motion (EDM) calling on the Government to scrap tuition fees and cancel student debt. As it was a manifesto pledge for Labour the EDM wasn’t remarkable.

Next the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Students launched an inquiry into the impact of Covid-19 on university students and calls for compensation.  

The number of parliamentary questions relating to student fees and accommodation costs has grown significantly again, including those relating to healthcare tuition fees and nurses working within the NHS as part of the Covid response. This week rent stories exploded across the media and HE specific sources, students initiated rent strikes, Unite Students (a major student accommodation provider announced partial refunds and concessions) and MPs came out in support of student rental concerns.

BBC – students have pledged a rent strike over unused rooms

Research Professional – universities have been warned that they could be breaking the law by refusing to allow students to return to halls; and:

The UCAS Knight Frank survey was released to a very receptive national audience. Wonkhe describe:

  • a survey of more than 70,000 new and current students between February and November last year. The Student Accommodation Survey finds that between March and June, around 75 per cent of students surveyed reported that they had or were planning to move back home, though there were regional variations.
  • Seventy-two percent of last year’s first year students were not paying rent after campuses closed – 71 per cent of students in other years were paying full rent.
  • The survey also offers an insight into who pays for accommodation – 41 per cent of first years, and 49 per cent of those in other years, reported that their parents or guardians were funding accommodation costs. On average, students living in private purpose built student accommodation (PBSAs) paid £7,200 per annum, compared to £6,650 in university accommodation and £5,900 for students in privately rented accommodation.
  • Sixty-nine per cent of students living in university-owned or PBSAs were happy with their landlord’s approach to Covid-19, compared to just 25 per cent of students in houses of multiple occupancy.

Research Professional add: Unsurprisingly, the ability to terminate tenancy agreements and a degree of flexibility on rent were highlighted as factors behind greater contentment with purpose-built accommodation over other settings…Respondents renting in non-purpose-built housing said private landlords were not prepared to make “any allowances for the impacts of the virus” and had “poor communication or lack of understanding and sensitivity around students’ financial situations and job losses”.

On Wednesday a NUS survey highlights student rental concerns. Wonkhe summarise: The most recent iteration of an NUS survey finds that 69 per cent of students are worried about their ability to pay rent, and 22 per cent have been unable to pay their rent in full in past months. The survey of 4,193 students ran between 6 and 23 November. 

An equally well timed YouGov poll surveyed the nation (so not just those with a vested interest as students or parents of students) on accommodation fees. They asked Do you think students who are unable to return to their student accommodation due to lockdown should still have to pay rent as normal or not?  54% of the public respondents felt that students shouldn’t have to pay anything at all; 30% felt they should pay a reduced rate; 5% felt students should continue to pay their rent in full.

Several MPs and Lords have expressed support for students to be offered some form of package or reduction. David Davis MP tweeted his letter to the Government to support university students who are unable to return to their term-time accommodation. He also stated Unite Students are right to provide refunds to students for periods where they cannot return to their properties and calls on the Government to step up.

This cross-party parliamentary support for student rent forgiveness alongside Boris Johnson acknowledging that the issue needs addressing, and Unite Students’ proactive refunds have been significant progress for this student concern. What remains to be seen is what position the Government will take however, no matter how sympathetic they are to the cause, it is still hard to imagine a Government scheme offering blanket refunds (including private landlords).

A selection of parliamentary questions on tuition fees…

And parliamentary questions on other student matters:

Finally the Petitions Committee published their latest decisions on e-petitions which received over 100,000 signatures and agreed to schedule a debate for:

However, Westminster Hall debates have been suspended (as a Covid safety measure) so the debate will not take place in the immediate future.

Professional Registration

The Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) issued a press release stating they’re in discussion with Universities Minister Michelle Donelan, alongside 17 professional, statutory and regulatory body representatives and Universities UK to address new challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic. The press release states they: discussed a range of barriers affecting progression and graduation in accredited programmes, in order to ensure students are able to complete their awards this summer and progress into the workplace with continued assurance of high standards and competencies.

QAA Chief Executive, Douglas Blackstock said:

  • Throughout the pandemic, QAA has engaged with PSRBs on behalf of our members and with a focus on ensuring students can progress towards the profession they have chosen. These bodies play an important role in protecting public safety and we are grateful that they have been able to adapt flexibly during the pandemic.
  • QAA has worked with professional bodies for many years and will continue to work collaboratively with them, and our members, so that students can achieve professional competencies and learning outcomes and so that standards are maintained.

Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan said: It is absolutely vital that students are able to graduate from their courses this year and achieve the meaningful qualifications that they need to kickstart their careers. Education has been our priority from the start of this pandemic, and we will continue to work closely with QAA, Universities UK and sector bodies, to identify and address any challenges they face during this difficult time.

Will he stay or will he go?

Speculation about Williamson’s continued tenure as Education Minister continues. On Monday Research Professional reported Boris as stating that the education secretary is doing his job “to his utmost ability”. One doesn’t quite know if that is support or censure. The BBC have: Gavin Williamson: How has he survived? It is well worth a read, it begins: Gavin Williamson’s political obituary has been written so many times he must sometimes feel like the walking dead. So how has England’s under-pressure education secretary survived in his job? Or is there a counter-narrative that he’s been unfairly blamed for decisions not really his own? For example, it has been well trailed that Boris went over Gavin’s head in closing the schools during a meeting he didn’t attend – meaning a U turn in one of Gavin’s flagship policies (that schools would remain open). The question of a reshuffle or even just an ousting of Williamson may come down to the reluctance (stubbornness?) of Boris to sack key staff, despite their mistakes and public unpopularity. Or perhaps as the BBC put it Gavin knows where the bodies are buried.

Gavin Williamson was scrutinised by the Commons Education Committee on Wednesday. Prior to the session Research Professional speculated what he might be questioned on in this brilliant article. It mentions many of the major points and issues facing education and HE at present and with only a couple sentences on each it is a great catch up for anyone still stuck in the Christmas cheese or overcome by home schooling.

In the end the Committee had very little direct HE content. There was strong focus on schools and on matters surrounding the alternatives to the 2021 exams (including BTEC) Williamson’s performance at Committee maintained the Government lines and yielded little new information. He appeared uninformed at times and employed famed political techniques such as not answering the question asked, answering a question that wasn’t asked, avoiding apologising and blaming others (schools mostly). However, he was focussed in his answers and less aggressive in tone than in recent appearances. Dods provide a comprehensive summary of the session here.

If you want the short version, there was one question on HE:

  • Asked about financial sustainability for universities, including the challenge for the newer ones with no reserves, and about student accommodation costs.  Rambles about universities giving additional support (?).  Some institutions may be in financial difficulties, he says the restructuring regime is established and ready to go.  Despite concerns there have been no collapses but contingency is ready.  MP says her local university was offered a loan not a grant and some management consultants that they didn’t want or need and they have had to have major staff cuts.  GW says some will have to restructure what they offer and how they run.  Zero empathy for the sector in these replies.   He doesn’t answer the questions either.

And he mentions us at the end when he thanks everyone working in education, including universities.

Graduate Wellbeing Analysis

The OfS have released data for key performance measure 17 – graduate wellbeing. It shows part timers scoring higher on life satisfaction and for feeling that things done in life are worthwhile.

Note – only the respondents who gave the strongest positive wellbeing response were included in the above analysis. For the data and more information start here. It may seem odd to you that the OfS data release only covers this aspect and limited data. It seems odd to us too. One hopes it isn’t the regulator searching for a new stick to beat HE with or engaging in political point scoring.

Education Policy – research / curriculum development

The Education Policy Institute has published two reviews. Curriculum policy in England has been characterised by frequent change in recent decades. In order to identify lessons about how curriculum systems can be better formulated and revised in England, this evidence review outlines how five leading education nations around the world have developed their curriculum systems in recent years.

The first review aimed to understand how leading education nations around the world develop their education policies and examines the education systems of Finland, Japan, New Zealand, Scotland and South Korea – How Leading Education Nations Develop And Reform Their Curriculum Systems.

The second considers the role of research and evaluation in education policymaking in leading nations including Australia, Finland, Japan, Scotland and Singapore. It focuses on how leading countries organise, focus and fund their education research and evaluation, both in the context of major system change and in terms of how each country assesses the effectiveness of its education system.

Access & Participation

The Education Committee continued hearing evidence into the inquiry on Left behind white pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. Dods have provided a summary of last week’s session which covers several aspects relating to HE.

Fair Admissions: The Nuffield Foundation have published Fair Admission to Universities in England: Improving Policy and Practice. Neon describe the report: A new report from the Nuffield Foundation finds that highly selective universities in England are increasingly taking into account the socioeconomic and educational contexts in which applicants achieved their grades when making admissions decisions. However lead author, Professor Vikki Boliver of Durham University argues that universities should be bolder in their approach:

“Universities have taken some tentative steps in a positive direction when it comes to widening access to higher education for students from disadvantaged and under-represented backgrounds. This is encouraging but by being bolder we believe that they can further improve the chances of applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds.”

The report recommends several steps that universities should take including:

  • Reducing entry requirements for contextually disadvantaged applicants by more than just one or two grades.
  • Contextualising all admissions criteria, including GCSE grades, personal statements and interview performances.
  • Ensuring that the new commitments to supporting contextually disadvantaged students to achieve their potential at university are fulfilled.

Overall the report recommends switching from the traditional admissions model, where places go to the highest qualified candidates, irrespective of social background, to a model where prospective students’ qualifications are judged in light of their socioeconomic circumstances. The report also recommends that there is a move towards post qualification admissions and replace POLAR with individual measures of socioeconomic disadvantage which is made available to universities.

Parliamentary Questions:

International & Mobility

Research Professional published: Drop in international first-years made up by other students

On Turing The Times has an opinion piece from Taiwo Owatemi, MP for Coventry North West, on the inadequacies of the new scheme.

Parliamentary Questions

Parliamentary Questions

Sir John Hayes supports the alternatives to HE agenda:

Regulatory

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

Censoring ‘Free Speech’: Students and graduates recruited to work on a free speech campaign have resigned in protest stating their views were censored and they were pushed to conform. There was also anger that they had been signed up without understanding the links between Toby Young’s controversial pressure group the Free Speech Union (FSU) and the project they had been recruited to. The Guardian has the story.

Poverty report: The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has published its annual report on the nature and scale of poverty across the UK. It covers investment in skills and the retraining agenda.

Mental health: The Government have announced they will reform mental health laws.

T levels: The Government announced a £135 million capital fund for T level providers to bid into. The Government press release states: the multi-million pound investment will ensure T Level students have access to the world class facilities and cutting-edge equipment they need to get ahead.

Tech access for disadvantaged pupils: Commenting on the Department for Education’s supply of laptops and other equipment to enable disadvantaged students to access remote learning, Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: It is not credible for Boris Johnson or Gavin Williamson to claim that their priority under Covid is to protect the very same disadvantaged students they have so routinely let down. It is a stain on the Government’s record that they have failed disadvantaged students so badly. The immense disruption in autumn half term, with so many absent from school due to self-isolation or close contact with those in their bubble who were having to self-isolate, was a clear warning that the education secretary needed to properly build the groundwork for a continuity and equity of education for all students. But the warning went unheeded, and in Gavin Williamson ‘s recent announcements on laptop and data roll-out it is abundantly clear he is still weeks away from anything like an adequate response. Schools have been kept waiting for equipment that has been promised to them throughout the pandemic, with last minute delays, changes or retractions of the kit they need becoming an alarmingly normalised response from the Department for Education.  It is surely a no-brainer that schools should be compensated for having to plug the gaps, which are entirely due to governmental sloth. Every child must have access to the equipment they need to ensure they can learn safely from home. When will the government take their responsibility towards these children seriously?  However, speaking at the Education Committee on Wednesday Gavin Williamson painted a very different picture stating the equipment had been sent to schools and some were in line to receive additional items.

Islamophobia: Research Professional published this article Universities fail to see ‘insidious nature’ of campus Islamophobia stating that the report finds improvements are needed by institutions.

EdTech Boom: FE News report that lockdown measures and mandatory school closures in 2020 led to a 71.5% growth of the UK educational technology (EdTech) sector – despite a -11% contraction in GDP overall. Over the course of the pandemic, schools, colleges and universities have had to move lessons online, and many educators, organisations and businesses have developed smarter ways to deliver remote learning. The growth puts the value of the UK EdTech market at almost £3.5bn – with EdTech exports pre-crisis bringing in £170m to the economy, now expected to have topped £292m.

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 3rd December 2020

The Government has announced the requirements for universities to prepare plans for students to return to campus safely in January, flexibilities for 2021 level 2/3 exams have been confirmed, there’s a new report about higher technical education, and the attainment and continuation gap for estranged students is of concern.

Parliamentary News

Local Rebels: The Government experienced a rocky ride as Parliament passed the Covid tier legislation on Tuesday. The Conservative rebels that voted against the Government can be seen here. Notably several local MPs voted against or abstained from the vote. Chope and Drax voted against, Syms said he would vote against (but was unable to vote as he acted as a teller for the no votes), Tobias Ellwood abstained.

WMS – Skills Bootcamps: The DfE published a Written Ministerial Statement from Gavin Williamson (Education SoS) giving an update on the Lifetime Skills Guarantee. It announced the extension of the skills boot camps including to the ‘Heart of the South West’ covering digital skills (software development, digital marketing, and data analytics) and technical skills training such as welding, engineering, and construction. A further £43m will be invested through the National Skills Fund to extend Skills Bootcamps further across the country in 2021.

January Restart

The DfE released the January restart guidance explaining the rules and priorities universities should adhere to for the safe return of students. (Press release here)

  • The return of students should be staggered over 5 weeks – this is to minimise transmission risks from the mass movement of students
  • There is a priority order for students to return with medical, practical and placement students returning first (4 to 22 January) to access their essential face to face tuition. Those with external (e.g. professional body) exams that cannot be moved are also permitted to return.
  • Other students will receive online tuition and return to campus in a staggered manner between 25 January and 5 February. The Government set out a priority order for those in the second phase of return e.g. postgraduates first, new starters last.
  • All students should be offered (the asymptomatic) testing on return to university before tuition recommences, social contact to be curtailed whilst awaiting the results of both tests (3 days apart)
  • Students who returned home over the winter break should not be encouraged to return to their term-time accommodation until their face-to-face teaching is scheduled to resume
  • Students who remained in their term time accommodation over the winter break or those for whom an early return is essential (e.g. those without study space or connectivity within their domicile, international students, students without other suitable accommodation, those who need to return sooner for health reasons). Students who return early due to these reasons and commuter students are expected to be able to access campus facilities such as the library during the period.
  • International students returning from outside of a travel corridor must self-isolate for 14 days, although they can pay for a private test which if negative will reduce the isolation to 5 days.
  • Students who spend the winter break within tier 3 should take a test before they travel, if this is available locally.

In her letter to Vice-Chancellors Donelan stated:

  • We do not underestimate the work that will need to be done to accommodate this plan including moving exams or putting them online and creating more online materials and lessons.
  • This plan is the best way to ensure all students can return and blended learning can resume whilst reducing the risks of mass movement and also ensuring all students can be tested.
  • We continue to support the blended learning model that universities have been using and still consider you, in collaboration with local public health teams, to be best-placed in determining the proportion of online/in-person teaching working that works for your setting. However, where it is deemed safe to do so, we would encourage as much face-to-face learning as possible, recognising the benefits this brings to student experience.

Financial Hardship: The Minister also announced there would be £20 million allocated on a one-off basis to support those that need it most, particularly disadvantaged students. They will work with OfS to produce the detail on this.

One shot: Earlier in the week the Government stated that students would be counted within the ‘home’ household numbers for calculating visitor numbers during the Christmas window. It also confirmed that students are only permitted one visit home between 3 December 2020 and 8 February 2021.

Wonkhe have a blog delving into the detail of the Government’s statutory instrument which covers the student related aspects here.

No plans to cancel A-levels  in 2021 in England

On Thursday Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced extra measures to support students during the 2021 exams:

Students sitting exams and other assessments next year will benefit from a package of exceptional measures to make them as fair as possible and manage the disruption caused by Covid-19

In recognition of the challenges faced by students this year, grades will be more generous, students will be given advance notice of some topic areas, and steps will be taken to ensure every student receives a grade, even if they miss a paper due to self-isolation or illness.

  • exam aids – like formula sheets – provided in some exams giving students more confidence and reducing the amount of information they need to memorise;
  • additional exams to give students a second chance to sit a paper if the main exams or assessments are missed due to illness or self-isolation; and
  • a new expert group to look at differential learning and monitor the variation in the impact of the pandemic on students across the country.

Students taking vocational and technical qualifications will also see adaptations to ensure parity between general and vocational qualifications

Where a student has a legitimate reason to miss all their papers, then a validated teacher informed assessment can be used, only once all chances to sit an exam have passed

Test and exam results will not be included in performance tables this year, and instead will be replaced by attendance information, and student destinations and the subjects taken at key stage 4 and 5

And on remote education within schools and colleges there are updated expectations:

  • Primary schools are expected to provide a minimum of three hours a day on average; secondary schools expected to provide at least four hours’ worth
  • Similar expectations will apply for colleges and other further education providers which take into account the sector’s role in delivering both academic and technical provision

A Government news story tells us that the Social Mobility Commission is contributing to DfE planning process for the 2021 exams. They have recommended the Government:

  • Suspend school performance tables for 2021, as they fail to take account of the disproportionate learning loss experienced by students in areas of deprivation.
  • Work with schools and colleges to develop a clear and consistent system for collecting centre assessed grades that can be used as a contingency measure if individual students are unable to take exams.
  • Offer students the opportunity to take exams in Autumn 2021, without this being considered a ‘resit’. The results would need to be made available in time for UCAS applications for 2022 entry.
  • Support schools with extra resources, such as additional staff and venues, so that they can provide Covid-secure examination environments.
  • Mitigations in content and structure of exams benefit all candidates, and so do not address gaps between those who have struggled with remote learning due to home circumstance and those who have not. As such, while some adjustment (like the reduction in content of English Literature) may be practically necessary and useful, it should not be regarded as a solution.
  • Generosity in grading for 2021 should aim for a midpoint between 2019 and 2020, but following a normal mathematical distribution, rather than replicating the anomalies of 2020.
  • Arrangements for students isolating at the time of exams have to take into account the vast difference in personal and socio-economic circumstances. Home invigilation should be avoided.

For the students progressing to university:

  • Arrangements providing grants and opportunities for gap years for those with fewer familial resources should be retained.
  • At the moment, some courses prejudice those who have done an extra year, and some institutions struggle to accommodate retakes of years because of funding reductions for older students – this could easily be addressed.

Their recommendations aim to ensure equity in the 2021 exam system: Most recognise that there is a widening achievement gap in the nation’s schools and that the impact of coronavirus has disproportionally hit pupils in areas of deprivation.

The Social Mobility Commission statement included:

  • Schools must not ambushed at the last minute on this – they need time to adjust their teaching and their focus in ways that allow them to provide an effective education for the most vulnerable…We must also not fall into the trap of thinking that solutions that benefit all students will address the widening achievement gap. In a competitive exam system like ours, the key worry is that disadvantaged students will be outperformed by their peers whose experience of lockdown has been far smoother and more productive.
  • The key question the commission has considered in setting out our advice is ‘What constitutes a good outcome for the students who have been most disadvantaged this year? Are they better with weaker grades in more subjects, or better grades in the subjects they need?’ We firmly believe that if we can free up schools by taking away some of the pressure of performance tables that we think are unlikely to tell us anything useful about the system this year, then we can allow deprived students who have often suffered the most to be given tailored solutions.

The Government’s invitation to the Social Mobility Commission sits a little awkwardly with the outcomes of Ofqual’s analysis of the 2020 GCSE and A level awards (published late last week) which and concluded that there was “no evidence” that the system systematically disadvantaged poorer pupils or those with protected characteristics. However, the report suggests that there was “some evidence that some 6,300 GCSE entries by low prior attainers with unknown socioeconomic status (most of whom are at independent schools) may have received disproportionately overestimated grades.” The same effect was not seen for A levels.

Ofqual also pointed out that although poorer pupils saw a bigger drop in grades B to E as a result of standardisation, the proportion achieving A* and A grades actually fell by less than it did for pupils from better-off backgrounds.

The new report looked at the centre-assessment grades, calculated grades and final grades issued to pupils. It found that had calculated grades been issued, the results would have been more closely in line with the established relationships between student characteristics and outcomes seen in previous results.

Admissions

A Wonkhe blog explains Ireland’s university admissions system: The CAO [Central Applications Office] is best understood as an application clearing house, rather than a strict comparator to UCAS. The system in Ireland is what the UK is now terming PQO: post qualification offers. 

  • …With up to 20 choices to play with, however, students can choose to be very ambitious with some of their choices
  • Students applying to university will have a sense of what they may achieve in the Leaving Certificate, and thus can apply to courses that cover this range, though predicted grades don’t exist in the Irish system…there’s very little penalty to being speculative.
  • …points mean places. Rather than being entry requirements, they specify the lowest points score that gained a place in the previous cycle. When looking at options, students thus need to be aware that this grade can vary wildly from year to year, as the process is based on supply and demand. 

It’s not quite that simple… The nature of the supply and demand system means that the order of preference becomes all important. In Round One, students will be given a place on the course that ranks highest on their list of preferences, with all places below automatically denied. Then, as the rounds progress throughout August and early September, students can be made offers from their higher-ranked preferences, if they open up based on the decisions of other students.

There’s a blog on the Australian system here.

Parliamentary Questions: Universities expected to be flexible in admissions at high ranking institutions so students don’t miss out on places due to Covid related schooling disruption

HE Student Experience

HEPI published the policy note – Students’ views on the impact of Coronavirus on their higher education experience in 2020/21. Findings show students’ increasing satisfaction with online learning and positivity with how institutions ensure the Covid risks are minimised. The survey also shows that some students are spending the majority of their time in their accommodation the majority of students have experienced a decline in their mental wellbeing since the outset of the pandemic.

  • 59% UG students satisfied with online learning (was 42% June 2020, 49% March 2020)
  • 58% of students report poorer mental health than at the beginning of the pandemic (14% better mental health, 28% report no change to their mental health state)
  • 42% of students are satisfied with the university’s mental health services, 16% are unsatisfied
  • 50% are satisfied with the HEI’s other (non-mental health) support services, e.g. careers support.
  • 44% satisfied with student union support
  • 56% happy with how the institution has handled outbreaks of the coronavirus
  • 79% say their HEI experience feels safe (see chart below)
  • 33% of students spend all or most of their time in their accommodation. (Note 51% of students are receiving some face to face teaching nationally.)
  • 60% understand the (Government’s) end of term & Christmas travel window guidance
  • 54% have concerns about the return to university in January 2021

There are colourful charts in the full policy note.

No detriment: Nationally students have been calling for no detriment policies to apply in 20/2021. Wonkhe have a blog. Snippet:

  • I can see a growing number of students signing petitions and commenting on SU forums that they are amazed that “no detriment” policies have generally not survived the summer, and are angry that poor performance this term might end up framed in institutional terms as something that is individual – and somehow their fault.
  • When we say we are maintaining “quality and standards” we may be hiding debates – about whether we mean the standard of that which universities might reasonably provide during a massively disruptive global pandemic, or the standard of attainment we might reasonably expect students to achieve during a massively disruptive global pandemic.
  • …What’s very clear is that the comments from students on the forums and petitions should be seen as coalmine canaries – cries for help and exhortations for some empathy. Complex procedures to address individual failure caused by specific circumstances increasingly look tone deaf to a cohort whose only real shared experience is how miserable it’s all been.
  • Pure “No Detriment” policies may well not fit the bill if there’s not enough pre-pandemic academic performance evidence to establish a floor over. But we’re going to need something…

There’s the usual parliamentary question and response on HE student mental health. And the Universities Minister confirms the Government anticipates using mass testing as students return to university in January.

Research

HEPI have a new blog written by a PhD student who experienced burn out. To support PhD students well-being she recommends:

  • Fostering cohesive online cohorts
  • Strong dedicated representation (Students Union) systems to raise and address issues
  • Hands on training (not virtual) to improve access to and experience of a range of career pathways beyond academia

The blog concludes: PhD funders need to recognise that, with the current financial provision, increasing mental health support services won’t stop the pressures that undermine researcher wellbeing.

£61m boost for Europe’s largest ‘flying lab’

  • Facility for Airborne Atmospheric Measurements (FAAM) have been awarded £61m by the NERC
  • Spread over 10 years, the funding will help to uncover causes behind rising methane in the Arctic, understanding the effect of biomass burning and monitor volcanic gases
  • The Airborne Laboratory will provide ‘world-class’ measurements for the benefit of the UK government, businesses and research community

EoI: Manufacturing Made Smarter innovation hub

  • The Digital Supply Chain Innovation Hub should focus on manufacturing supply chains, looking to digitally optimise and integrate these supply chains from end to end. UK registered businesses and research organisations can apply for up to £10m from ISCF to set up and run a digital supply chain innovation hub

UK-German collaborative research projects announced – the AHRC and German Research Foundation have announced 18 collaborative research projects, bringing together arts and humanities researchers to conduct outstanding research projects which span a wide range of subjects. UK budget of £4.8m matched by €5m for research teams in Germany. Projects will start in early 2021 and are expected to run for at least three years until 2023

UKRI Global coronavirus research and innovation network pre-announcement

  • Individuals of lecturer level (or equivalent) can apply to establish a single international network for research into coronavirus. The network may run for up to 4 years
  • The total fund and maximum grant are £500,000. Applicationsopen on 4 January 2021, and close on 23 February 2021.

Improving health in low and middle income countries pre-announcement – no size or funding limited, proposals that combine expertise from more than one sector to meet a global health challenge particularly welcome. Applications open on 1 February 2021, and close on 8 April 2021.

UKRI formally recognises the contributions of reviewers

  • UKRI will be the first funder to formally credit contributions of reviewers through the Orcid system
  • Reviewers will be issues with a ‘review credit’, which will be publicly displayed in their Orcid profiles

Concerns over future of international development research. In the Spending Review, Sunak said they will reduce the aid budget to 0.5% of GNI from 0.7%. Concerns have been raised that this could represent a missing £4bn a year

Medical Research Council calls for more collaboration to get the most out of key research opportunities. The call comes following the MRC’s independent review

Changing the UK’s intellectual property regime to attract investment in life sciences.

Research Professional writes that just one more formal three-way talk among the European Union institutions should be enough to reach an agreement on the remaining parts of the legislation for Horizon Europe

Withdrawals

The Student Loans Company published in-year statistics on the number of notifications of student withdrawals.

  • The Student Loans Company (SLC) does not routinely publish data on the withdrawal notifications it receives from Higher Education Providers (HEPs). However, during Academic Year (AY) 2020/21 to date, there has been significant public interest in this data in order to contribute towards an understanding of how the COVID-19 pandemic may be impacting students. Therefore, SLC has taken the decision to publish this on an ad hoc basis as experimental statistics.
  • Based on this data, SLC has not seen any increase in student withdrawal notifications for the purpose of student finance in this academic year, compared to the previous two years. In this respect, withdrawal notifications are currently slightly lower than the previous two years for UK & EU students funded by Student Finance England, Student Finance Wales and Student Finance Northern Ireland. Some of this reduction may be explained by the irregular start to the current academic year.

Access & Participation

Estranged students: The OfS released a report at the end of last week highlighting that estranged students are less likely to be awarded a first or 2:1 and more likely to drop out during their first year of studies. Around 3,000 students are classed as estranged when they enter HE each year.

According to the data:

  • The continuation rate of entrants in 2017-18 who were estranged from their parents was 8.2% lower than students who were not estranged – though this gap has reduced from 11.2% in 2014-15.
  • The attainment rate (achieving a first or 2:1) of estranged students in 2018-19 was 13% lower than students who were not estranged.
  • Care experienced students are more likely to drop out and less likely to achieve a first or a 2:1. In 2017-18 the continuation rate of care experienced students was 5.6% lower than that for students who have not been in care. In 2018-19 the attainment rate (achieving a first or 2:1) of care experienced students was 12.1% lower than the attainment rate of students who have not been in care.
  • Students starting in 2017-18 who were eligible for free school meals were more likely to drop out than those who were not – data showing a 5.4% gap. For students graduating in 2018-19, the rate achieving a first or 2:1 was 13% lower for students who were eligible for free school meals compared with those who were not.

There is an OfS blog which addresses the gaps.

Chris Millward, Director for Fair Access and Participation at the OfS, said: We expect universities and colleges to identify and tackle the barriers to success for the student groups identified in this data, so it will help them to develop their access and participation plans during the coming year. 

Care Leavers: Wonkhe: The National Network for the Education of Care Leavers, along with a number of other campaigning and support groups with an interest in care leavers, has written a “message to all vice chancellors and principals”. The message sets out recommendations on key ways to support the academic, social, and mental health needs of care leavers remaining on campus over Christmas.

White Disadvantaged Pupils: The Education Committee continued with their inquiry into left behind white disadvantaged pupils. Dods have provided a summary here. Place and the impact of the family were key facets of the meeting. Excerpts:

  • was important to look at educational underachievement not through the lenses of ethnicity but through the characteristics of the place.
  • …the pandemic did not bring forward new ways of deprivation, but it exacerbated existing ones…On the issue of families, he spoke about a report that came out two weeks ago which found that children had regressed during the time of the pandemic. In his view, this was not solely because of deprivation levels, but also depended on the support structures in the homes.

Level 4/5 and Technical Provision

Assessing performance: With the current Government’s favour for bite sized provision, technical and skills alternatives to the traditional degree, and favouring level 4/5 provision there is a great blog here that considers all the past versions of these. It starts out: As sometimes happens with HE policy, we’ve been here before. Several times. And also comments: In terms of level, a qualification that goes beyond that expected of 18 year olds (level 3) but stays at level 4/5, is a holy grail – which is odd because the problem is that it’s the thing that people aren’t seeking enough. At its worst, it’s the solution that people propose for other people’s children.

It quickly runs through the best and worst covering DipHE, Associate Degree, Foundation Degree, HND, HTQs, and problems with the word ‘technical’.

Gatsby Review Follow Up: The Gatsby Foundation were commissioned by the Government to review level 4 and 5 technical education in England. The review looked at the development of higher technical education in England since the 1944 Education Act, and how it compares with the experience of other countries. (The review was actually published in December 2018.) The original report concluded that England has a very small higher technical sector by international standards – the ‘missing middle’. In the 1960s and 70s, the rapid expansion in university education following the Robbins report privileged full-time degree level study, while many professions increasingly expected degree-level qualifications from new entrants. The Foundation Degree was seen as successful in filling the gap and the decline of part-time student numbers impacted higher technical enrolments. The report describes other countries that embrace a larger role for higher technical education, and agrees with the Secretary of State’s ambition for England to learn from international experience as it builds the technical education system. This week the Gatsby Foundation published Beyond the Missing Middle: Developing Higher Technical Education – a follow up report that they commissioned which explores the international success stories.

The report calls for

  • …further development in the higher technical system – allowing for recognition of prior learning, drawing on workbased learning, and built from modular components.
  • The framework would offer alternative routes, tailored to the needs of different students, to occupational competence. Not only would this approach be well adapted to the needs of adults who are already the prime candidates for HTE qualifications, it would also compete very effectively with most higher education degrees, which rarely offer these flexibilities.

Recognition of prior learning is often a slippery beast. The report suggests: While many countries have sought to develop special procedures for assessing and granting credit for prior learning, these procedures can be cumbersome. An alternative approach, used extensively in different countries, is to grant adults with relevant work experience direct access to the final examinations for a qualification without going through a required programme of study. This allows students themselves to prepare for the examination in a manner tailored to their existing knowledge and skills

Workbased learning is also emphasised and the author argues for apprenticeship style end point assessments to be applied.

There is lots more detail in the full document and Wonkhe have a blog.  Research Professional cover the report too.

International

Dods tell us:

  • Reports suggest that first-year EU students face £800 Brexit bill if not in UK before 2021.  
  • The Home Office said they will not qualify for EU pre-settled status if they arrive after the end of the transition period, even though they have been unable to relocate because of Covid. It potentially means tens of thousands of students will have to pay £348 in application fees for a visa with £470 a year in health charges, both new post-Brexit costs. One issue for EU students who have not started their education in the UK before the end of the transition period is that they cannot evidence their residency with rent receipts, utility bills or bank accounts.
  • According to Home Office rules published on the government website, students only need to provide one document dated in the last six months in order to be granted pre-settled status, including a “passport stamp confirming entry at the UK border” or “a used travel ticket confirming you entered the UK from another country”.
  • In a section entitled “evidence that covers shorter periods of time”,the Home Office states: “these documents count as evidence for one month if they have a single date on” suggesting a short trip to the UK up to and including New Year’s Eve is enough to evince free movement rights.

Parliamentary Questions: Course/professional qualifications admissibility to graduate immigration route not confirmed yet

OfS Annual Review

The OfS published their 2020 annual review. Key points:

  • HEIs are urged to radically improve digital teaching and learning as they continue to negotiate the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Concerns are levied as the pandemic has ‘exacerbated’ existing inequalities – especially those impacted by digital poverty. Certain groups of students are vulnerable – international students, postgraduates and students who are vulnerable by reason of disability or for other reasons
  • The report on digital teaching and learning will look at how high-quality digital provision can be continued and delivered at scale; consider the impact of digital poverty; and explore how digital technology has been used to deliver remote education since the pandemic started.
  • Greater demand for adults to retrain at HE level is expected during 2021. 2021 should be a year when we look more seriously at how courses could be made more attractive and responsive to mature students, and a year when more adults are encouraged to take up such opportunities

Quality (and the OfS current consultation):

  • Poor-quality courses should be improved or no longer offered – the OfS consultation on this is mentioned: [it] proposes a series of measures to define, monitor and take action regarding the quality and standards of courses that do not reach minimum requirements
  • Our proposals would ensure that providers that recruit students from underrepresented groups and with protected characteristics are held to the same minimum level of performance as other providers, and would see consideration given to outcomes at subject level within providers, as well as at the level of the whole provider

The OfS set out actions they plan to take during 2021:

Fair admissions and recruitment

  • Following the update of Discover Uni in autumn 2020, which involved a new look and feel and improved course pages, further content and functionality is planned, including a new and improved compare and search functionality for courses, and more content for international students and mature students.
  • We will continue to be vigilant in monitoring the impacts of the pandemic to take action to support fair admissions.
  • We will work closely with the Department for Education, UCAS and UUK on the next phase of their work. In doing so, we will consider whether there is a case for further investigation of the issues identified in our admissions review, in light of the proposals that emerge during the coming year. In particular, we will consider the extent to which any proposed reforms consider the experiences of part-time, mature, international and postgraduate students. If there is a case to relaunch our review of admissions with a more focused set of considerations, then we will do so.

Ensuring high-quality teaching and learning

  • Conclude our online teaching and learning review.
  • Publish the findings of our consultation on quality.
  • Consult on our future approach to the TEF.
  • Conclude our review of the NSS and publish the findings.

Supporting all students to success

  • Develop further regulatory and funding incentives for mature student participation.
  • Continue collaborating with Uni Connect programmes to build on innovative delivery during the pandemic to support diverse pathways for students applying next year and beyond, including local progression from further education colleges.
  • Work with Student Minds to mitigate the mental health effects of the pandemic.
  • Relaunch the consultation on how universities and colleges should prevent and respond to incidents of harassment.
  • Deepen our understanding of student populations, including the intersections between different groups, through the access and participation dataset and a new Associations Between Characteristics measure.
  • Track student progress from outreach through to higher education and into employment, through the Higher Education Access Tracker and similar services.
  • Develop evaluation practice and the use of evaluation findings through the OfS-funded ‘what works’ centre, Transforming Access and Student Outcomes in Higher Education.

Graduate skills and prospects in the pandemic

  • Evaluate the support for local graduates through our funding, working with further education colleges and universities.
  • Ensure universities and colleges are closing attainment gaps and securing equitable graduate outcomes.
  • Continue to fund courses that provide graduates for industries, such as certain science, technology, engineering and maths subjects, and health and medical subjects.

Research Professional have a short article covering the OfS annual review here.

Anti-Semitism

The Guardian has an opinion piece – The government should not impose a faulty definition of antisemitism on universities.

  • [Education SoS Williamson] threatens to remove funding and the power to award degrees from universities that do not share his faith in the efficacy of the IHRA working definition.
  • This is misguided, for a number of reasons. First, it misconceives the task universities face…structural racism in universities is profound, and racial harassment on campus is widespread. These are problems that universities must address. The imposed adoption of the IHRA working definition will not meet this challenge. It will, however, privilege one group over others by giving them additional protections, and in doing so will divide minorities against each other. For this reason alone, Williamson should pause and consider how best to protect students and university staff from racism broadly as well as from antisemitism.
  • The IHRA working definition is anything but straightforward, and universities already have some tools to deal with antisemitism.

The article goes on to suggest that adopting the definition is symbolic and it is linked with the Labour party’s initial rejection of the definition. It also discusses the pros and cons of the working definition and states: Universities, like everyone else, are sorely in need of good and clear guidance on when speech on Israel or Zionism becomes antisemitic. Sadly, this is not what the working definition provides. In these circumstances, its imposition by the secretary of state appears reckless and brings real dangers.

It concludes: Antisemitism on campus comprises one part of a mosaic of harms and harassment suffered by racial and religious minorities. Jewish students and staff deserve protection, but imposing the working definition will add nothing useful to secure it. 

There was a parliamentary question on what legislative options the Government is considering for HEIs that do not sign up to the definition. Excerpt: officials are exploring how best to ensure that providers are tackling antisemitism, with robust measures in place to address issues when they arise. Options identified by my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Education in the letter include directing the Office for Students to impose a new regulatory condition of registration, and suspending funding streams for universities at which antisemitic incidents occur and which have not signed up to the definition.

QAA

Douglas Blackstock, Chief Executive of the Quality Assurance Agency, has announced he will retire during 2021. Research Professional have coverage (scroll down to ‘Early Bath’) mentioning HERA, TEF and QAA’s move to a subscription body. The article highlights:

  • With Michael Barber on the way out at the Office for Students, the imminent departure of Blackstock provides the government with another opportunity to influence an appointment that could reshape the higher education debate. Such appointments tend to last longer than the ministers that make them.
  • …The QAA has always had a piquant relationship with the Office for Students, at least since the dying days of the old regime at the Higher Education Funding Council for England. It is not so much one of open hostility: it is more like two kids sitting beside one another at the pantomime, passive-aggressively competing over who gets to plant their elbow on the arm rest.
  • The Higher Education and Research Act left responsibility for quality shared between a designated agency and the regulator, but the boundaries were not clearly defined and have become more blurred over time. The Office for Students’ consultation on standards and value hints at a potential external inspection regime for universities, something the QAA might rightly have assumed to be its job.
  • To be accepted on the register of the Office for Students, providers must be in good standing with the QAA. But it has never been clear what store the regulator puts by QAA assessments.
  • The Higher Education and Research Act also requires the Office for Students to work in tandem with Research England, a collaboration that has not always been as proactive as some involved might have hoped. These relationships are the loose ends in the fabric of higher education left by the 2017 reforms. Playbook is only thinking aloud when it asks whether this government might be minded to tidy them up almost five years after Jo Johnson first published his white paper.

 PQs

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

Online learning: The BBC looks at whether online degrees will become more ‘legitimate’.

Diversity and inclusion: Dods report that The Office for Students (OfS) have recently published two insightful articles on the implications digital skills and data science courses on diversity and inclusion within the HE sector. In their article on Friday, they reported how the OfS-funded Institute for Coding is finding the flexible, modular, digital skills education can improve diversity in learner cohorts and in the tech workforce overall. They note that demand for talent has grown by 150 percent in the digital tech sector over the past four years, and the implications this has for future learning demand.

Referencing the ‘Digital Skills for the Workplace’ course collection, they note that within the participants:

  • 47% of learners surveyed were women
  • More than half of surveyed learners were over the age of 25
  • 19% of surveyed learners were unemployed or looking for work
  • 48% were working full-time, part-time or are self-employed

The Government’s Digital Strategy has also estimated that, within 20 year, 90 percent of jobs will require some element of digital skills.

In their article, the OfS also discussed new data for AI and data science postgraduate conversion courses, which have shown greater diversity in cohorts, including high admission from Black students, women and students with disabilities. Most importantly, they note that the lack of diversity within these fields can lead to entrenched dataset biases, and that a lack of representative testing in AI “creates an artificial world.”

Both articles highlight the benefits of flexible and modular learning – drawing attention to platforms such as FutureLearn, as well as online courses offered by partner universities on these ventures.

EdTech Start Ups: Jisc and Emerge Education relaunched their step up initiative, which aims to transform higher and further education by matching EdTech start-ups with colleges and universities to solve their biggest challenges. They’ve published a top list of recommended start-ups – new ventures ready to tackle the sector’s five biggest challenges of digital learning, assessment, employability, wellbeing and recruitment. The full list and more details are here.

Back to ‘normal’: An SRHE blog drops a pin in the July 2021 calendar for end of pandemic in the UK with a normal teaching programme resuming in autumn 2021.

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 27th November 2020

The spending review was quiet on HE and heavier on research spending commitments. A UUK publication tackles racial harassment in HE and the OIA provides examples of what will and won’t be upheld from student Covid complaints. We wonder about the TEF.  See you in December!

Driving home for Christmas?

Today’s news is all about tiers.  Dorset and BCP are in Tier 2 and we thought we would help you with the links. There are 3 sets of rules which all apply at once:

If you are hoping to see family or friends outside the local area, The full list is here.  As has been widely reported, only Cornwall, the Isle of Wight and the Isles of Scilly are in tier 1, so cafes and pubs will be hard hit across the nation.  The full reasoning area by area has been published.

And our local MPs are not all happy about it. The Bournemouth Echo have spoken to MPs

  • Michael Tomlinson (MDNP) and Chris Loder (West Dorset) have just retweeted the guidance without comment and in the Echo article Michael Tomlinson says he will support the government.
  • Sir Christopher Chope, Sir Robert Syms and Tobias Ellwood will oppose it.
  • Simon Hoare will support the government.
  • It is not clear from their piece whether Conor Burns will oppose it or not although he is critical.

Spending Review – highlights and research focus

Phew – that was a lot of bad news and attempts at good news.  Headlines: no big announcements on university funding or progress on the TEF.  Lots of research news and lots about investment in education.

The documents are here. Press release here.  The full content of the Spending Review session is available on Hansard here.

RP makes interesting points on the forgotten aspects of impending HE policy which the (3 year) comprehensive spending review was expected to tackle.  We cover the TEF separately below.

  • The words ‘university’ and ‘universities’ do not appear. Nor does the term ‘higher education’.
  • Add to this the fact that neither the independent review of the Teaching Excellence Framework nor the government’s response to the Augar review of post-18 education was published alongside the review as promised, and it starts to feel very much like a snub.
  • A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then, and it is safe to say—as Fiona McIntyre reports on our site—that the no-show of the TEF and Augar was no surprise. They’ve been kicked so far into the long grass now that they can barely be seen. And with rumours of a Lord Agnew-led Treasury review of higher education costs, Augar’s recommendations—some of which Augar has all but disowned himself—seem more likely to become footnotes in whatever plan eventually befalls university financing.

On the spending review Wonkhe say:

  • Yesterday’s spending review left key questions over tuition fees and teaching funding for the sector unanswered, though there was limited good news on research funding. An overall £740m uplift in the BEIS research and development budget included promised increases in funding flowing through UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) over the next four years. And it now appears that the ARPA-like “high-risk, high-payoff” research funding long seen as a Dominic Cummings’s pet project will also sit under UKRI.
  • There was plentiful recurrent and capital funding allocated to FE, in line with previous announcements, but there was little mention of the HE sector. The Student Loans Company will receive an extra £64m of capital linked to a transformation programme, and there’s an unspecified amount of funding (if required) to support the preparation of a domestic alternative to Erasmus+.
  • Other points of interest included the news that the promised phasing out of the RPI inflationary measure (as used in student loan interest calculations) will not begin until 2030, and an odd mention of “defending free speech” in the Chancellor’s statement. David Kernohan summarised what we could find on Wonk Corner

We cover the R&D sections here and the rest in a separate section below. In the main document the scientific super power section starts page 58.

Research Professional have a good summary in A game of two halves

  • The headline figure, as Sophie Inge reports, was a pledge of “almost £15 billion for R&D over the next year” with the aim of making the UK a “scientific superpower”.
  • …. the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has been awarded £11.1bn in R&D funding for the year ahead, which is up from £10.36bn this year and includes a boost of £400m a year, on average, until 2023-24 for core UK Research and Innovation budgets.
  • It is notable that the chancellor—who had abandoned plans for a full multi-year spending review following the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak—opted to make a four-year commitment to funding research. The argument that R&D is now simply too important to the future physical and economic health of the country to be managed on a short-term basis appears to have won. UKRI chief executive Ottoline Leyser summed it up, saying the spending review “signals a clear national ambition for research and innovation”.
  • Another £350m went to UKRI to support “strategic government priorities, build new science capability and support the whole research and innovation ecosystem”. This chunk of cash includes the “first £50m towards an £800m investment by 2024-25 in high-risk, high-payoff research”—which seems like a very strong hint indeed that any cash going to the UK Advanced Research Projects Agency will be distributed via UKRI.
  • The business department’s settlement includes a healthy £733m to allow the UK Vaccine Taskforce to purchase Covid-19 vaccines, which is part of the £6bn provided to procure vaccines. Of this money, £128m will go towards UK vaccine R&D and funding for the Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre.
  • Meanwhile, there will be up to £17m in 2021-22 to establish a “new unit and fund that will focus on the last mile of innovation to help ensure that public sector knowledge assets…translate into new high-tech jobs, businesses and economic growth”. These assets include R&D, the spending review document states, along with intellectual property and other intangible assets.

Dods have a nice summary of the research announcements

  • Cement the UK’s status as a global leader in science and innovation by investing nearly £15 billion in R&D in 2021-22 (page 53)
  • Up to £17m in 2021-22 to establish a new unit and fund that will focus on the last mile of innovation to help ensure that public sector knowledge assets (page 53)
  • £450m in 2021-22 to support government priorities, drive the development of innovative ways to build new science capability and support the whole research and innovation ecosystem (page 54)
  • Raise economy-wide investment in R&D to 2.4 per cent by 2027 (page 54)
  • £280 million in 2021-22 for net zero R&D, including an £81 million multi-year commitment for pioneering hydrogen heating trials (page 56)
  • £695m of additional R&D funding between 2021-22 and 2024-25 to support the development of cutting-edge capabilities (page 56)

Other research news

  • Wonkhe have a new blog – The proportion of PGR students recorded as “writing up” in HESA data has been creeping up over the years. Is this a sign of a growing crisis? We don’t know, and that is the problem. Rebecca Teague and Billy Bryan take stock.
  • HEPI have a new blog which comments on the rise in numbers of PhDs but it also asks who and what are PhD’s for and references the recent Government and UKRI decisions on PhDs extensions as telling.
  • If you somehow managed to miss last week’s clamour – doctoral students were told to adjust projects for Covid-19. UKRI announced an additional £19m available to support doctoral students who are finding it most difficult to adjust their project and training plans. There is a report and policy statement advising students to speak to their supervisor about adjusting projects to complete a doctoral-level qualification within their funding period. And an interesting fact on the scale of the issue – 92% of final year students already requested an extension, with the average extension request of 4.6 months. Research Professional reported the announcement received a negative reaction from doctoral students, particularly around the lack of clarity it brought  We’re still waiting to hear what involvement BEIS had in the UKRI decision.

This week’s parliamentary questions:

Forgotten Priorities Part 1: What is going to happen to the TEF?

Everyone expected that announcements on the Pearce review of the TEF and announcements on the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding – promised with the spending review – would not be forthcoming, once it was announced that it would not be a “comprehensive” spending review but a one year look, with a focus on the response to the pandemic. Then there were rumours that there might be after all- but there wasn’t.  Universities and HE are not mentioned at all, although there is a fair bit about research (as we discuss elsewhere).

So what is the situation with the TEF?  The current awards were all extended to 2021. The OfS announced in January 2020 that they would not run a TEF exercise this year. But what is going to happen when those existing awards run out at the end of this academic year? It’s all a far cry from September 2019 when the Secretary of State was encouraging the OfS to get on with things and run an extra TEF in 2020.  And read this on Research Professional from February 2020 (BP – before pandemic).

Meanwhile, the OfS are advertising for a Head of TEF (closes early December).  So something must be going to happen?

The OfS website says:

  • The new framework will take account of the forthcoming recommendations in Dame Shirley Pearce’s independent review of the TEF, the government’s response to it, and the findings of the latest subject-level TEF pilot.
  • Following these publications, we will consult on the new framework.
  • All assessments under the current TEF scheme have concluded, and the results will be replaced in the future by results from the new scheme. We will not conduct a TEF Year 5 exercise in 2020.

This is a bit confusing.  There is no TEF year 5 exercise in 2020, but what in that case will replace it when the awards run out in summer 2021?  Will there be a gap?  Or will the existing awards be extended again – at which time the year two awards given in Spring 2017 based on data from the three previous years start to seem a bit long in the tooth.

The documents published (in 2018) for the last subject level pilot said:

  • The final provider-level exercise with published outcomes (TEF Year Four) will take place in 2018-19 and will operate completely independently from the subject-level pilots.
  • So that subject-level TEF produces comprehensive outcomes to inform student choice, the DfE has decided that published awards from provider-level TEF Years Two, Three and Four should no longer be valid when subject-level TEF awards are published in 2021.
  • At that point, all awards from provider-level TEF will expire, and be replaced by awards made through the first full subject-level TEF exercise (these awards will be at both provider and subject levels).
  • .. Up to now, each TEF exercise has been completed within a single academic year. However, given the scale of the first full subject-level TEF exercise, it will be conducted across two academic years, 2019-20 and 2020-21, to enable it to produce robust outcomes. This will ensure additional time for providers to make submissions and for panels to conduct the assessments.
  • We expect the application window to open in early 2020, and to publish the outcomes in spring 2021. This will also allow more time for the findings of the second pilot and the independent review to be fully considered before moving to full implementation.

So it certainly looks like there will have to be an extension.  And if the new exercise really is going to take two years, it will be quite a long extension – because with the Pearce review not released, and the NSS consultations ongoing, they won’t be able to start a consultation on what the new TEF looks like until 2021.  The earliest surely is that we start preparing responses in summer or autumn 2021 – and with a nearly two-year period for preparation, submission wouldn’t be before spring 2023?  With outcomes in summer 2023 at the earliest?  That’s another two-year extension.

Two alternatives – just let them expire and have a gap, blaming COVID. Or, run a much quicker exercise in 2021 with a view to getting results out in late 2021 or early 2022 (with a short extension in that case). This is certainly possible. Could we get an announcement and consultation straight after the quality one, in March, say, with preparation to do from July, submission in October/November, results in January 22?  Institutional only with subject level to follow during 2022 building on the institutional and then next round in 2025?

And what do we know about what it might look like when it does come out?

  • There is a good chance that the NSS won’t be included any more – to be replaced by some narrative in the submissions about how each university has engaged with the student voice and how we are sure that we have mechanisms in place and have identified and addressed any concerns about student experience?
  • What about the Royal Society of Statistics: Ultimately, the RSS judges it to be wrong to present a provider/subject as Gold/Silver/Bronze without communication of the level of uncertainty. The current TEF presentation of provider/subjects as Gold, Silver, Bronze conveys a robustness that is illusory. A prospective student might choose a TEF Silver subject at one provider instead of a TEF Bronze at another institution. If they had been told that, statistically, the awards are indistinguishable, then their choice might have been different and, in that sense, TEF is misleading. The uncertainty is likely to be higher for subject-level assessment than for provider-level assessment….
  • We know from the recent consultation document (covered last week) that continuation/completion and employment outcomes will still be important – as they were in the last pilot (TEF 2019 subject level TEF pilot guide)
  • Will they get rid of the gold/silver/bronze institutional labels? They have little meaning now that hardly anyone is bronze, after the TEF’s own structure led to rampant grade inflation.  The OfS had indicated potentially moving away from the annual grading to a less frequent one to address that problem.  But maybe the labels themselves are now devalued?
  • We know that it is unlikely that subject level assessment will be abandoned. But how will they label subject level awards? Jim Dickinson on Wonkhe: 5/3/19: – but how on earth would students interpret a Bronze course at a Gold institution when the latter uses almost the same metrics, only less specific to your course? You could argue that both should exist, but with completely separate metrics – but given there’s no magic blueprint for what is devolved to academic departments and what’s run centrally, that won’t work either.
  • We know from the quality consultation document that the TEF will expect performance above the new outcomes baselines. The original TEF was based on benchmarks and relative performance not absolute levels.  They may abandon or change benchmarks completely.  If that is the approach for baselines, will you have a different approach for measures of excellence?  There was a flirtation with absolute values in the pilot schemes, as you may recall, which was said at the time to be a nod towards Russell Group universities who performed well in absolute terms but not so well when benchmarked against others with similar student demographics.
  • They may not use all the data splits in a new TEF, or at least not at subject level. The consultation on quality and standards proposes using the demographic splits (gender, ethnicity, social background etc) only at an institutional not at a subject level, and recognises that there is an existing mechanism to manage these via the APP.  So presumably the data will not be split along these lines for the TEF at subject level either.  Rather than have us all look at all this again, perhaps a new TEF, with an eye on reducing bureaucracy, will just have “meeting (most or all of) your APP targets” as a threshold for application or for an award at a certain level?
  • Will they have listened to any of the grumbling about subject level definitions? Jim Dickinson on Wonkhe: 5/3/19: You could pursue subject level on its own, but the more you look at benchmarking, and statistical significance, and the basket of measures’ relevance to all courses (let alone its relevance to all students), the more you think the hassle outweighs the effort – not least because newspapers do a better job at remixing the metrics than you do. And then it dawns on you that some academic departments in some universities will straddle your subject groupings, and you’ll realise that there isn’t the room in their school office, their messaging or their accountability systems for all three medals to apply to that school all at once.

RP makes interesting points on the forgotten aspects of impending HE policy which the (3 year) comprehensive spending review was expected to tackle.

  • …it is safe to say—as Fiona McIntyre reports on our site—that the no-show of the TEF and Augar was no surprise. They’ve been kicked so far into the long grass now that they can barely be seen. …
  • As for the TEF, it simply doesn’t have the political capital with the general public for the government to hurry its publication. The review was mandated in the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 but the publication of its findings was not, which has given the government infinite wiggle room that it continues to exploit.

So what is going to happen?  We don’t know.  And we don’t know when we will know.  But we know it will be a lot of work when we do know!

Racial Harassment

On Tuesday UUK published new guidance on tackling racial harassment in HE, and executive summary here.

The context: The 2019 Equalities and Human Rights Commission report ‘Tackling racial harassment: universities challenged‘ highlighted the prevalence of racial harassment within HEIs. Events of 2020, including the Covid-19 pandemic and the increased prominence of the Black Lives Matter movement, brought to the fore the extent of racial inequality in the UK and reinforced the urgency to act.

UUK build on their Changing the culture framework in the new guidance. There is a focus on strong leadership and a whole-institution approach, as well as engaging with staff and students with lived experience of racial harassment. UUK call on the sector to hold open discussions on race and racism, to educate staff and students and make clear that tackling racism and racial harassment is everybody’s responsibility. The guidance asks university leaders to acknowledge where there are issues in their institutions, and that UK higher education perpetuates institutional racism. It cites racial harassment, a lack of diversity among senior leaders, the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic student attainment gap and ethnicity pay gaps among staff as evidence.

The guidance also showcases emerging practice from HEIs making good progress in tackling racial harassment.

Recommendations include:

  • Publicly commit priority status to tackling racial harassment
  • Engage directly with students and staff with lived experience of racial harassment
  • Review current policies and procedures and develop new institution-wide strategies for tackling racial harassment
  • Improve awareness and understanding of racism, racial harassment, white privilege and microaggressions among all staff and students, including through anti-racist training
  • Ensure expected behaviours for online behaviour are clearly communicated to students and staff, as well as sanctions for breaches
  • Develop and introduce reporting systems for incidents of racial harassment
  • Collect data on reports of incidents and share regularly with senior staff and governing bodies

OfS – value for money

OfS has reported against key performance measure 19 which looks at students’ perceptions of value for money from their university education. 37.5% of undergraduates and 45.3% of postgraduates stated it did provide value for money when considering the costs and benefits.

OfS also published their Value for money annual report on how they have managed the funds they were allocated. They are still working on plans as to how they’ll reduce the registration fee for HE providers by 10% over the next two years.

Free Speech

The Lords Communication and Digital Select Committee inquiry into Freedom of Expression Online received evidence this week. There were some interesting points raised within the topics of free speech online Vs offline, public attitudes, protected characteristics, the narrowing impact of algorithm use and the role of the state in regulating. Platform moderation and take down rules on social media sites were also discussed. Dods provide a summary of the discussion here.

Sport

The British Universities & Colleges Sport (BUCS) launched The Value of University Sport and Physical Activity: Position Statement and Evidence highlighting the role which sport plays within the student experience. It includes a focus on how sport contributes to students’ physical and mental wellbeing. The report itself divides into six key strategic drivers for universities – recruitment, transitions and retention, health and wellbeing, graduate attainment, graduate employability, and the civic and global agendas – outlining how sport contributes to positive outcomes in each.

And on graduate employment: Whilst graduates also earned more than non-graduates, those who took part in sport earned a higher salary irrespective of educational level, thus showing a positive correlation between sport and earnings that cannot be explained by level of education.

The authors state the report is a ‘call to action’ for universities to review how they position sport and physical activity; especially at this time when students are isolated and anxious, and universities are concerned about the retention of students with the current restrictions.

There was a relevant parliamentary question on university sport this week outlining what is and isn’t permissible during Covid.

Access & Participation

The Commons Education Committee continued their inquiry into the educational outcomes of white working-class pupils. Dods have summarised the session here.

This parliamentary question on DSA paperwork/online applications clarifies the pre-population of information and that help is available by phone if the student’s disability causes difficulty in completing the paperwork.

Wonkhe report: A report from Civitas argues that a belief has developed around the university system that students from ethnic minorities are likely to underperform academically, and that the available data does not back this assertion up. Report author Ruth Mieschbuehler calls for a reexamination of the practice of disaggregating student data by ethnicity

The Sutton Trust has scoped how leading universities in different countries are addressing inequalities in access for those from low income and other marginalised backgrounds in Room at the top: Access and success at leading universities around the world.  The report looks at the issues based on five themes:

  1. Actions and commitment at the strategic and institutional level
  2. Financial support for low-income/marginalised group students
  3. Non-financial support at the pre higher education level (outreach)
  4. Support to enable student success
  5. The role of national/regional policies

The recommendations (they call them key messages) are on pages 5& 6 of the document.

Unpaid student placements

Placements are big at BU. Every undergraduate honours student is offered the opportunity to undertake a work placement as part of their course and BU has an excellent reputation nationally and internationally for the quality of the placement opportunities. Covid has been a significant disrupter to students on placement. Internships were cancelled in some sectors and for some of those that were able to move to remote and online versions the richness of the face to face placement experience elements were curtailed. Pre-Covid individual parliamentarians regularly flirted with the notion that everyone on a work experience opportunity of over 4 weeks should be considered a worker, and therefore paid for the work they undertake. This would make a significant difference to students undertaking the traditional sandwich year, yet the impetus for this change has stalled. This week Sarah wrote for Wonkhe to continue to argue the case for students to be paid. The blog also suggests alternatives which employers could offer to reduce the financial pressures on students when they are offered an unpaid placement.

SEND

Children and Families Minister Vicky Ford spoke during the APPG for Assistive Technology launch event for their new research aiming to bridge the gap between education and employment for young people with SEND. The Minister praised schools, colleges and the technology sector for their response to the ‘historic challenges’ during the Covid-19 pandemic, especially for vulnerable students with the most complex needs, but urged companies to make sure all their products and practices are fully inclusive.

She said: Assistive technology can be life-changing and for many it is vital to communication, learning and overall independence…In recent months, the importance of Assistive Technology has been demonstrated like never before. The essential collaboration provided by groups such as this APPG is vital to ensure that we make policy which is informed by as much research and evidence as possible…Our review will give schools and colleges a helping hand by providing greater transparency in what tools and interventions can improve outcomes of SEND students and bridge the gap from education into employment. It will also support the technology sector in embedding accessibility features – such as text to voice tools – as part of their service development, and policymakers to better embed inclusion into their policies and services. This will lead to real, meaningful differences in the quality of education for children and young people…This is key, because we need to be clear: accessibility should never be an add on, it should be the norm.

Dovetailing the event the DfE released a series of rapid literature review reports on assistive technology in educational settings. The reports summarise the evidence on assistive technologies use and outcomes in education and cover when, where and for whom assistive technology works. The report are split by  policymakers, administrators, educators, researchers and developers of assistive technologies and products.

Student Complaints – case studies

The Office of the Independent Adjudicator for HE (OIA) has published case summaries of complaints arising from the impact of Covid-19 on their HE learning and experience. So far the OIA have received nearly 200 complaints from C-19 disruption..

Wonkhe say:

  • While the OIA does not underestimate the challenge of sustaining teaching during the pandemic, “some providers have done more than others to mitigate disruptions to students’ learning opportunities.”
  • Where universities have rescheduled missed teaching, or made a broadly equivalent alternative available, or where students have been unable to cite a specific academic or material disadvantage, complaints have not been upheld. However, where universities have failed to engage properly with students’ concerns, or relied on too broad exclusion clauses in student contracts, complaints have been justified or partly justified. 

2021 GCSE & A/AS level Exams

The Joint Council on Qualifications have announced that, following consultation with schools and colleges, the final level 2 and 3 exams timetables are confirmed. The compulsory education sector are still waiting for further information on how the Government intends to facilitate Covid-safe exams, and what ‘Plan B’ will consist of. The announcement demonstrates the Government’s determination for the exams to take place in England during summer 2021. This is expected new as Monday’s Covid Winter Plan announcements mentioned their commitment to a ‘full set of exams’ in England.

Meanwhile, YouGov have an interesting series of polls on exams – see our polls special here.

Finally, Ofqual published a new research paper on the Sawtooth Effect. The Sawtooth Effect is the pattern in student performance that can be seen when assessments, such as GCSEs and A levels, are reformed. Performance tends to dip, then improves over time as students and teachers become more familiar with the new content and the new assessments. Research by Ofqual in 2016 highlighted this post-reform effect, and enabled mitigation to level out fairness for students. This week’s release covers the impact of Covid-19 on student performance. The research suggests the same methods could be used to ensure fairness during the pandemic. Wonkhe review the Sawtooth paper (worth a read) and also manage to mention why predicted grades are useful too.

Participation in Education

The DfE have released the latest participation in education statistics. Summary also covering FE and apprenticeships here.   DfE HE statistics

  • 9% of 17-30 year olds enter HE
  • 41% of 18 and 19 year olds
  • 1% females, 45.1% males (by age 30)
  • 9% entering to do full-time study
  • 0% to do part-time study (only 1.5% 18-19 year olds study part time)
  • Learning intention (undergraduate):
    • Full degree (46.6%)
    • Foundation Degree (2%)
    • HNDs/HNCs (1.8%)
    • other undergraduate quals (1.4%)
  • 8% aged 17-30 enter postgraduate study

International

  • Wonkhe report: New researchfrom QS, covering 887 prospective international students found that nearly a quarter felt that the introduction of a potential Covid-19 vaccine made them consider starting their studies earlier than planned. 43 percent said that the vaccine news had made no difference to their plans.
  • Also a parliamentary question – Student visas are not a route to settlement

Spending Review – the rest

Research Professional  on Erasmus:

  • ….the Treasury did reveal that its settlement with the Department for Education “provides funding to prepare for a UK-wide domestic alternative to Erasmus+, in the event the UK no longer participates in Erasmus+, to fund outward global education mobilities”.
  • This seems good, on the face of it, since any alternative scheme will need money. However, Erasmus’s main purpose is to provide student exchanges—and by definition, any effective exchange requires not only the outward movement of students from the UK (which is covered in the spending review costing) but also the inward movement of students to the UK (which it seems is not).
  • “Budgeting to replace Erasmus+ for outward students only is disappointing, if predictable, and is clearly inferior to full association,” Daniel Zeichner, Labour MP for Cambridge and co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Universities, told Playbook last night.

Dods have a nice summary of the announcements which we’re re-ordered and edited

International

  • Provides funding to prepare for a UK-wide domestic alternative to Erasmus+ in the event that the UK no longer participates in Erasmus+ (page 63)
  • Further financial support will be provided to the British Council to reform and invest (page 70)

Student loans

  • £64m for the Student Loan Company, including for its transformation programme (page 63) [this is mainly to help them prepare for providing student loans to FE students and adult learners]

Technical education

  • £291m for Further Education in 2021-22, in addition to the £400m that the government provided at SR19 (page 62)
  • Investing £375m from the National Skills Fund in 2021-22 (page 62) including:
  • £138m to fund in-demand technical courses for adults, equivalent to A level, and to expand employer-led bootcamp training model
  • £127m to build on Plan for Jobs, fund traineeships, sector-based work academy placements and the National Careers Service
  • £110m to drive up higher technical provision in support of the future rollout of a Flexible Loan Entitlement
  • £162m to support the rollout of T Levels waves 2 and 3 (page 63)
  • £72m to support the commitment to build 20 Institutes of Technology (page 63)
  • Almost £100m to deliver the National Citizen Service (NCS) and invest in youth facilities. The government will review its programmes to support youth services including the NCS in the spring (p81)
  • £2bn Kickstart Scheme to create hundreds of thousands of new, fully-subsidised jobs for young people across the country. This settlement confirms funding for over 250,000 Kickstart jobs (p85)

Apprenticeships

  • Confirm changes to support employers offering apprenticeships by delivering further improvements to the system (page 45)
  • Made available £2.5bn of funding for apprenticeships and further improvements for employers (page 62)

Department for Education

  • A £2.9bn cash increase in core resource funding from 2020-21 to 2021-22, delivering a 3.2 per cent average real terms increase per year since 2019-20 (page 62)
  • The department’s capital budget increases by £0.5bn in cash terms next year, taking core total DEL to £76.4bn (page 62)

Pre-Spending Review this is what was MillionPlus asked for (but didn’t get):

  • Introduce a maintenance grant of up to £10k for all students in England to encourage them to train in key public services subjects
  • Invest in high quality placements in NHS, social work and teaching
  • Offer loan forgiveness for those remaining in relevant professions for at least 5 years
  • Establish a new Public Services in Higher Education Capital fund to support universities in England and partners to invest in high quality simulation equipment and other vital infrastructure
  • Create a new professional development programme to underpin the NHS volunteer reserve force in England
  • Increase skills and expertise by enabling individuals in England to access loan support for short courses and modules at levels 4 and 5
  • Place employers in England at the centre of apprenticeships policy and encourage them to partner with universities to support regional skills development and productivity growth

There’s more detail on specific areas in the links below:

  • Dods summarise all areas of the spending review with the key announcements in bullet points.
  • National Infrastructure Summary, full strategy here. The full strategy is high level (yet still 100 pages long). There is very little on the specifics of research investment, just lists of priorities, no mention of universities.

Teaching Tech

Jisc published the Teaching staff digital experience insights survey 2020, They report that 79% intend to  use technology in their teaching.

  • 95% of teaching staff have a positive attitude to using technology
  • 79% are motivated to use it in their teaching
  • Only 20% said their organisation had offered support to them in using new technologies
  • 37% of teaching staff had worked online with learners during the survey period, and 43% had created online teaching materials to adapt to the situation
  • When asked what more their organisation could do to improve the quality of digital teaching and learning, staff cited
    • Training and CPD (33%)
    • Software, infrastructure and systems (31%)
    • Organisational culture (13%)
    • 68% of respondents said they’d had support to develop their basic IT skills
  • Only 14% reported having time to explore new digital tools, and only 7% spoke of receiving reward and recognition for the digital skills they developed
  • 29% stated their organisation provided guidance about the digital skills needed in their job role

Retraining by sector

Also within our polls special are the YouGov surveys on retraining for workers disrupted by Covid-19. There are views on whether the Government should be encouraging retraining and new careers – the national hasn’t forgotten the ballet/cyber retraining advert yet but it hasn’t had the negative effect that might be expected! Plus specific indicators show the popularity of industry’s skills gap areas (look out for cyber!).

Covid Parliamentary Questions

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

Bias in HE: Wonkhe report that Advance HE has published the first in a new series of literature reviews on bias in higher education. The review tackles bias in assessment and marking, bringing together literature on the topic and current good practice among universities. The next in the series – covering bias in the curriculum and pedagogy and bias in decision making – will be published next year

Online end assessment: Wonkhe have a blog on online digital assessment as an alternative to taking exams in person.

Alumni: BU’s own Fiona Cownie writes for Wonkhe on how alumni may be key in building a student community during the pandemic

Medical: Wonkhe tell us that The Medical Research Council has published a review of its units and centres portfolio. The report has identified research areas where MRC investment could have a significant impact, including the development of new tools and technologies, interventional approaches to population health, and research into health needs from anthropogenic effects such as urbanisation or climate change.

LEP: Cecilia Bufton has been confirmed as the new Chair of the Dorset Local Enterprise Partnership from 1 December 2020.

Degree apprenticeships: Sums consulting have a blog on degree apprenticeships: Understanding the Apprentice Lifecycle in Universities.

  • Apprentices are not standard learners; there are material differences in terms of the application process, progression, breaks in learning and withdrawals, data reporting and the amount of time spent working, learning, and training.  Apprenticeships are not standard programmes; there are material differences in terms of the adherence to standards, the endpoint, cash flow, audit, and risk profiles.
  • The success or failure of any individual apprentice will be down to a three- or four-way relationship between the apprentice, their employer, the main provider, and any sub-contracted training provider.

The blog also advertises their services in this area.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                             Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

The virtual Conservative Party Conference took place – we’ve coverage of the relevant fringe events below; the Science and Technology Committee ran an interesting session on ARPA, and university adoption of the definition of anti-semitism is back on the agenda.

What next for HE policy?

Jonathan Simons of Public First writes Ambitious Minds for Research Professional aiming to provide insight into the Government’s thought processes behind their HE agenda. The quick read is illuminating (even if you aren’t a policy geek).

Technical education

The Lords debated the Lifetime Skills Guarantee and Post-16 Education on Tuesday (we mentioned Boris and Gavin’s announcements for this in the policy update last week). Debate followed similar lines as last week plus University Technical Colleges and parity of esteem were discussed.

Lord Storey triggered a chuckle in his enthusiasm for extra funding for FE colleges:  My Lords, this is very good news. I do not have to sit on the Bishops’ Bench to say hallelujah. Later he raises: There is no mention of university technical colleges, which have done an excellent job. Does the Minister see an enhanced role for them?

Lord Baker of Dorking echoed this:  I am very grateful for the mention of the colleges that I support, the university technical colleges. At the moment, they are by far the most able and successful technical schools in the country. We are having a record year in recruitment and we have incredible destinations. Last year, one of our colleges on the north-west coast of England produced 90% apprentices, which is absolutely incredible when the national average is 6%.

He continued: The trouble is that, since 1945, there has been a huge drive to send people to universities, which is good for social mobility but it means that graduates have had disproportionate esteem, disproportionate political influence and disproportionate reward compared with those who make things with their hands. This is the time when we have to elevate the intelligent hand: to train not only the brain but the hand as well.

Baroness Berridge (Minister for Schools): My Lords, I assure the noble Lord that there is no snobbery in the Department for Education; we want to promote parity of esteem for vocational and technical qualifications across our sector. The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State are behind this.

Maintenance Support

Meanwhile the Centre for Progressive Policy has published Beyond hard hats – What it will take to level up the UK and some of the recommendations chime with delivering the Lifetime Skills Guarantee. The report calls for a Learners’ Living Allowance to support those undertaking part- or full-time training, as an equivalent to maintenance loans available for higher education students, to be paid back under the same conditions upon employment.

HE at the Conservative Fringe

There was a Conservative Party fringe event: Back in business: what can modern universities do to support Britain’s recovery? (sponsored by HEPI and MillionPlus). Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan, was on the panel. The event discussed changes within the FE and HE, the recent Lifetime Skills Guarantee announcement, and how universities can provide quality education in a post-Covid world. Also: technical qualifications, up-skilling and re-skilling, the Augar review, and institutions’ roles within their local community.

The Education Policy Institute (and Sheffield Hallam University) ran Higher and further education in post Covid recovery: Competitors or Collaborators?  Former HE minister Jo Johnson was on the panel along with the CEO of the Association of Colleges (David Hughes), the public policy editor of the Financial Times (FT), Sheffield Hallam university, Sheffield College and EPI.

The level 4 & 5 ‘regulatory jungle’ was discussed, FE & HE working collaboratively, the FT pointed out that the forthcoming demographic bulge meant there was no shortage of students to go around, and suggested that ensuring a blend of FE and HE was the best way to meet the rising need. Skills were discussed with Jo stating he’d pushed for both credit transfer and modular funding during his HE Minster tenure, but neither are easy to achieve nor implement well. He also called for the removal of the ELQ rule across all subject areas. You can read the rest of the session coverage in this summary.

Wonkhe report specifically on Jo Johnson’s speech: Speaking on an Education Policy Institute panel yesterday, former minister Jo Johnson reported that snobbery about further education was an “artefact”, and there was currently an “aggression” towards higher education in the media. He also noted he had experienced “push back” from some more established universities in developing a national credit transfer framework. TES has the story. The recognition of the media aggression was a welcome acknowledgement from a former minister.

There was also an event on engineering.

Education Committee – HE Minister

The Education Committee held two accountability sessions this week (these are a regular occurrence and question a Minister or senior public figure on the handling of current business). Colleagues interested in disadvantaged school children, catch up, county lines, and educational inequalities will be interested in the summary of the first session here (prepared by Dods).

The second session questioned Michelle Donelan, sadly it was more watery than juicy. She stated that she did not know how many students were currently under lockdown at universities in England instead highlighting that C-19 rates were still relatively low at universities. Donelan said that most students were abiding by the guidelines but that a minority were socialising in a way that was driving spikes in infection. She confirmed the Government was committed that all students could return home at Christmas and various measures were under consideration as to how this would be achieved. Recent sector press has speculated that the DfE were completely unprepared for the guidance the Secretary of State promised would be issued to the sector guiding institutions on how to achieve this. And Wonkhe have confirmed the DfE will launch a Covid-19 helpline for both institutions and students. Donelan was unclear if this would be an automated system or a real person on the end of the line. On the guidance Research Professional report that Donelan was reticent, stating it was being drawn up and will contain a “robust” Q&A session, but it is not quite ready for publication yet….but that one approach being looked at was the quarantining of students in the two weeks before the end of the winter term

Donelan also commented on the perennial fee refund topic stating it was a matter for individual universities, rather than the government, to determine whether students should receive refunds, however she stated that online and blended learning was working well. She also took a strong stance and stated that universities that had not yet adopted the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism would ultimately be forced to do so by Government (more on this below).

Wonkhe have a blog covering the Committee session and considering some of the aspects arising within a sector context. David Kernohan writes: the hearing was just more evidence that DfE is not on top of the situation when it comes to keeping students safe. Guitarists will find fine resonance with the beginning of the blog.

Drop the boo boo

Labour didn’t want to drop the Secretary of State’s mistaken statement last week (that £100 million was available to universities for digital access – it isn’t, it’s for schools) and raised a Point of Order because the mistake hadn’t been corrected in Hansard. Gavin Williamson managed to weasel out of outright confirming he’d got it wrong instead he said: As the House will know, the Government have made available more than £100 million for electronic devices. Those youngsters who are in care and going on to university can access that funding to enable them to have the right type of devices, whether that is a laptop or a router. If a student’s family circumstances change while they are at university, they can go to the Student Loans Company to have their maintenance grant re-assessed. Although the original record hasn’t been amended Kate Green has raised this enough now to have made her point about Gavin’s mistake.

Anti-Semitism Definition

The House of Commons debated universities (not) adopting the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism on Tuesday. Ahead of the debate the Telegraph reported that only one fifth of universities have adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism.

Sarah has added some key snippets from the full debate below. You’ll spot from the summary that parliament were disdainful of the reasons the sector has given for not adopting the definition.

  • …in January this year, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local …(Robert Jenrick) wrote to all universities demanding that they adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism or face funding cuts…. This debate—and, indeed, previous requests by Members to universities—is intended not to be a stick with which to beat the higher education sector… (Christian Wakeford)
  • I am disgusted that we stand here today, in 2020, to condemn the ways in which universities have not only refused to engage with or listen to students…The institutional hijacking of freedom of speech that is currently being used as a façade for universities and professors to scurry behind is appalling. (Jonathan Gullis)

Vicky Ford (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State) stood in for Michelle Donelan to give the ministerial perspective on the debate:

  • Universities have a big role to play. We expect them to be welcoming and inclusive to students of all backgrounds, and the Government continue strongly to encourage all higher education providers to adopt the IHRA definition, which would send a strong signal that higher education providers take those issues seriously. However, they are autonomous institutions and that is also set out in law. As such, the decision on whether to adopt the definition rests with individual providers… The Government will continue to call on providers to adopt that important definition. It is a decision for vice-chancellors, but I urge them all to listen to their staff and students, as well as to the wider community and, indeed, our proceedings.
  • Without doubt, the university experience of many Jewish students is overwhelmingly positive. However, the number of antisemitic incidents in the UK remains a cause for concern…in the first six months of this year, the number of incidents of antisemitism involving universities rose by an alarming 34%…That is absolutely unacceptable and shows how much further the sector has to go to tackle the issue.
  • Our universities should be inclusive and tolerant environments. They have such potential to change lives and society for the better. I am sure that our universities are serious in their commitment to tackle racism and hatred, but much more work remains to be done

At the end of this week’s Education Committee session Chair, Robert Halfon, stated:

  • It was “strange”, Halfon said, that so many universities had not adopted the definition when they were so quick to “pull down statues” that were deemed offensive. He posited that many institutions “seem to turn a blind eye” to antisemitism. 
  • There was no lack of clarity in Donelan’s response to this. “I want every university to adopt this definition. So did my predecessors, who have written several times to universities on this matter.” Williamson had also written, she said, but it had “not shifted the dial”.
  • “We are not seeing enough…universities adopting the definition and it is simply not good enough,” Donelan continued, adding that she and her department were looking at “other measures…to make it happen”.
  • “I urge universities to do this,” she said, or the Department for Education will find ways “to ensure that you do so”.

Research news

ARPA – The Science and Technology Committee held a particularly juicy session on the potential new ARPA style research funding agency. A summary of the two sessions is here and the full session content will shortly be available here.

In the first session the witnesses thought it right that Government should set broad strategic goals and research direction for the agency, particularly those centred on specific challenges (such as health, energy and defence policies). A witness suggested there was no need to wait for consultation outcome on ARPA – that set up could run parallel. Neither witness felt UKRI should run ARPA – that it should sit at a high Government cross-sector level, and that UKRI don’t currently have a challenge-setting role. Walport railed against this statement in the second session stating UKRI could be guided towards a more ARPA-like model without the need for a new body by giving UKRI more freedom and money to work on specific challenges.

The second session witnesses were Sir Mark Walport (UKRI’s previous CEO) and Jo Johnson (previous Universities Minister). Both were responsible for setting up UKRI and both were concerned that an ARPA body would be beneficial. Johnson stated a new body could work but it would have to complement the existing organisations. Furthermore, that there was still no clarity over what purpose a UK ARPA would serve and a new green or white paper should establish this. Overall, he was in favour of ARPA becoming a part of UKRI. Hosting ARPA outside UKRI could fragment the coherence and oversight of the UK research sector. The geographical location of where to locate ARPA was discussed.

Do read the summary here as the above only touches on part of the discussion.

Life Sciences – Two Conservative party fringe events touched on Life Sciences. Here are the summaries:

The Future of Life Sciences – panellists spoke on levelling up in the context of life sciences and the future impact that the sector could have the on the health and wealth of the UK. Data access within the NHS and speeding up access to new and innovative medicines were also mentioned.

Healthy Boost: Putting Life Sciences innovation at the heart of Levelling Up – panellists discussed the need to effectively integrate the life sciences in any future plans to rebuild the UK economy. The unequal effect of Covid on areas was discussed, alongside improving health outcomes and living healthier lives through prevention and Government investment. Manufacturing within the life sciences was mentioned alongside maintaining progress with medicines and medical devices. Universities were mentioned as anchor institutions.

Research Professional also cover the Life Sciences sessions.

REF Review – UKRI have publicised the REF Review which will consider researcher’s perceptions and experience in preparing and submitting to REF 2021. It aims to understand attitudes towards REF 2021 and the affect it has on the academic environment. It also intends to capture views on the challenges and opportunities; whether REF is a driver of research behaviours and culture; and reflection on the practical preparations for REF 2021 at the institution, including lessons learned and changes from REF 2014.

REF Modifications Survey – During lockdown REF was put on hold while new dates were agreed and a survey proposed modifications to the REF exercise. REF have published the summary of the 164 responses to the survey which examined the appropriateness of the modifications for outputs, impact and the environment. A majority of respondents were happy with the modifications although many felt further detail was needed.

REF have also updated information on:

Global Research – Wonkhe tell us about the Wellcome Trust’s Global Research report:

  • The Wellcome Trust has released a new report – “The UK’s role in global research”. Among 24 recommendations to government, it calls for the full implementation of the BEIS R&D Roadmap, an increase in QR and other funding that promotes research flexibility, and measures to improve the experience of international researchers and collaborators in working with and in the UK.
  • Research Professional also covered the report (from half way down this link): The terms ‘science superpower’ and ‘Global Britain’ are now used frequently by the government as a shorthand for its ambitions for research.
  • International collaboration is not restricted to universities…and must also hold for industries with a strong research focus, such as the pharmaceuticals and aerospace. This is how Global Britain will stay competitive.
  • The UK must also be strategic and not waste resources on duplicating infrastructure that is available elsewhere. The country should use its reputation in science “for good”, combining research and diplomatic strengths to work with multinational organisations such as the UN, the World Health Organization and the G7.
  • To put it bluntly, if not upfront because the reference appears 10 pages into the report: “Full association to the EU’s Horizon Europe research programme must therefore be at the heart of the research strategy for Global Britain.” However, the country should also forge partnerships beyond Europe, says Wellcome, and this could be financed out of quality-related funding dedicated to international collaboration.
  • The research funder wants to see the government “commission an ‘international’ equivalent of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s R&D Roadmap that sets the overall vision for Britain’s place in the world for research. This should become the ‘North Star’ for government decision-making, based around clear goals.”
  • There is a lot to unpack in the Wellcome report, including the idea of a “single front door” for investment in UK science; bilateral funding schemes; and making the UK a champion of “regulatory diplomacy”. The funder wants to see the cost of visas reduced for researchers and provision for research collaboration written into free trade agreements.

Postgraduate Research Students – UUK, OfS, UKRI and Vitae have published their collaboration – Supporting mental health and wellbeing for postgraduate research students which consider the 17 projects addressing PGR wellbeing that were supported by Catalyst funding. They describe the programme reach: The 17 successful projects covered a wide range of activities targeted at PGRs and supervisors, including workshops, mentoring programmes, peer networks and training embedded into induction events. Co-production was a positive theme, with 171 PGRs directly involved across 11 projects… A variety of resources have been developed for use by the sector available on the OfS website: these range from training materials to wellbeing apps, blogs, online hubs and videos… Fifteen projects have provided case studies that outline their activities, impact and challenges.

Two-thirds of the projects reported improved mental health from their PGRs involved including that PGRs were more aware of how to support and improve their own mental health, and had improved knowledge of where to get help and support. You can read more on the projects here, and the recommendations are on pages 8-9. The report concludes that while the quality of the supervisory relationship is key, all university and college staff have a part to play in supporting the mental health and wellbeing of PGR students.

This week’s research related parliamentary question:

Areas of Research Interest to policy makers

The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) have released a new opportunity for research colleagues:

In April POST ran a survey of experts on the COVID-19 outbreak expert database that resulted in the publication of syntheses about the future effects of COVID-19 in different policy areas. From this survey POST developed Parliament’s first Areas of Research Interest (ARIs) which are lists of policy issues or questions that policymakers are particularly interested in.

Currently only the ARIs which are linked in some way to Covid have been released. However, they are not all health based and touch on a range of themes from Crime, economics, inequalities, trade, supply chains, mental health, education, sustainability across several sectors, and so on.  Do take the time to look through the full question list to see if it touches upon your research area. Non-researcher colleagues can share the list with academic colleagues within their faculty.

Alongside the publication of the ARIs is an invitation to experts to add current or future research relevant to the topics to a repository that Parliament may use to inform future policy making and Parliamentary work. Research with relevant research across any of the disciplines are invited to submit their work.

BU colleagues are strongly encouraged to take advantage of this rare opportunity to present their research to policy makers The Policy team is here if you need any help.

R&D Place Advisory Group

The Government have announced the R&D Place Advisory Group that will advise Ministers on the R&D places strategy which will build upon the R&D Roadmap and deliver the levelling up strategy across the public, private and voluntary sectors. The press release states that the aim is to build on local potential so that all regions and nations of the UK benefit from a R&D intensive economy. The Place Advisory Group support this by:

  • proposing, challenging & testing potential policy options to make the most of R&D potential to support local economic impact in areas across the UK, including how best to increase the place focus in public R&D investment, factor place into decision-making across the R&D system, and foster greater local and national co-creation and collaboration to make better decisions on R&D
  • contributing to the evidence base, including identifying priorities for long-term development
  • exploring other relevant issues as requested by the Minister

The press release also states the group will advise the ministers in confidence. So proceedings may be hard to come by.

The group will be chaired by Amanda Solloway as Minister for Science, Research and Innovation. You can read her speech launching the group here. The secretariat function will also be provided by her department – BEIS.  The group is expected to meet monthly while the Government develops the place strategy.

Admissions – Level 2/3 Exams

In Scotland the National 5 exams are to be cancelled for 2021 and replaced with teacher assessments and coursework. Higher and Advanced Higher exams will go ahead but will commence 2 weeks later than usual on 13 May. The BBC explain it as: like using coursework and tests for GCSEs while carrying on with slightly later exams for A-levels.

Scotland’s Education Secretary John Swinney stated that going ahead with all exams during the continuing Covid pandemic was “too big a risk”…it couldn’t be “business as usual” for exams but also “there will be no algorithm”. And if Highers cannot be taken, there would be a contingency plan to use grades “based on teacher judgement”.

There are rumours the Government is less certain that exams will go ahead in England. This week they stated universities could start later in Autumn 2021 to accommodate a delay to A level exams. An announcement from the Government on exams is expected later in October. This was confirmed in response to a Parliamentary Question calling for clarity before students submit their UCAS applications.  Donelan also confirmed a statement was forthcoming. During her Education Select Committee hearing when she commented that it would be inappropriate if she were to pre-empt and “steal his [Williamson’s] thunder” by making any announcement. And on potential disruption to the start dates for the 2021-22 academic year, the minister added that “if term time needs to be moved slightly to accommodate any potential change in examinations, that is something that can be done quite straightforwardly”. (Source.)

In their article the BBC pose the two key questions:

  • How can exams be run fairly when so much teaching time has been lost because of the pandemic?
  • And how do you make a definite plan for such an indefinite situation – where it’s impossible to know how much more disruption might lie ahead?

Concluding that the Government really does need to get its skates on!

International

Wonkhe report that: Government information on sponsoring an international student has been updated to reflect the new student visa route. There’s also detailed technical guidance on the new route, and a guide for sponsors with material on English language requirementscertificates of sponsorship and record keeping provisions.

UUK also blogged on the topic: Government must act now or risk losing European students for years to come outlining 5 steps they want policymakers to adopt to stabilise demand for UK HE:

  1. Continuing to promote the new student route so that all international students are aware of the changes being introduced. This is particularly important for EU / EEA students.
  2. Improving and extending the Study UK campaign into key markets in Europe by coordinating existing campaigns currently in European markets and increasing investment in Study UK to £20 million a year.
  3. Providing targeted financial support for EU students such as through an expanded or newly developed EU scholarship offer.
  4. Lowering immigration route application costs so they are in line with the UK’s international competitors.
  5. Committing to continually reviewing immigration requirements in light of the Covid-19 pandemic

Disability

The Higher Education Commission convened by Policy Connect have published Arriving at Thriving – Learning from disabled students to ensure access for all. It highlights that despite higher numbers of disabled students accessing HE the barriers they face when they get here are still numerous and unacceptable in today’s inclusive society. The report makes 12 recommendations to improve disabled students’ experience of HE and have a positive knock on effect on their attainment, continuation and graduate outcomes. The report states:

  • Many of our findings make hard reading, and we cannot shy away from the fact that our evidence demonstrates an unhappy situation for many disabled students. Much progress has been made over the past few decades… However, our findings make clear that the road to progress has not ended, and it is vitally important to continue to call attention to the needs and experiences of disabled students.
  • There are numerous practical changes that HEPs can and are implementing themselves to improve disabled students’ experiences…the focus of the majority of our recommendations is on what the government and the Office for Students can do to create and ensure improvement across the HE sector.

In setting out the key information here we focus on what is lacking, however, the report contains case studies and examples of success too aiming to share and spread good practice throughout the sector.

Key findings:

  • Teaching and learning isn’t accessible enough – e.g. regularly being physically unable to get to or sit in lecture theatres or other academic spaces; unable to access learning materials; not receiving lecture capture where it has been promised; and not receiving other reasonable adjustments set out in their support plans, including adjustments to assessments. Student support services professionals are frustrated at the lack of change and adjustments they can enact within their institution – and not for lack of trying. Some students reported they felt there was no accountability, including at senior level, for ensuring access to learning.
  • The bureaucratic burden of applying for funding and support is too much – the Disabled Students’ Allowance admin and timeliness was particularly criticised. Complaints processes were also seen as working against some disabled students. Funding doesn’t cover enough of the additional costs a disability entails when studying at HE level.
  • The lack of accessibility occurs across social activities, clubs and societies too. The report finds there is a widespread lack of awareness or care among the wider student cohort for the existence of disabled students and their needs. Although some Students Unions are recognised for their awareness and culture changing work.
  • Disclosing the disability to the HE institution remains a barrier which impedes the transition to HE.

The report concludes:

All of our twelve recommendations – and we could have made many more – require implementing in their own right if we are to achieve lasting change. The ideal would be for this to take place as part of the system transformation we set out in recommendation five – for the government to create a new system to support disabled people from the classroom to the workplace.

Former HE Minister Chris Skidmore, who set up the Disabled Students Commission in 2019, blogs for Wonkhe to launch the HE Commission’s report. He states:

  • This report provides welcome evidence for the Disabled Students’ Commission’s work, not just by illuminating the obstacles that exist, but also by promoting the wealth of good practice already taking place in the sector. During this time when it has become necessary to rethink modes of higher education delivery, the sector must harness the opportunity to embed accessibility into course design, and to make consideration of disabled students’ needs the norm.
  • I know that many of us share a vision for disabled students to have a positive experience in higher education, able to expand the horizons of their knowledge and to develop social capital which will support them to succeed in life. To achieve this, we must break down the barriers which have been uncovered by this inquiry, and work to create a future of equal access and inclusion for all students. I hope that this report will help to provide the momentum needed to carry us into that future.

Professor Geoff Layer, Chair of the Disabled Students’ Commission, praised the report. He stated:

  • The Disabled Students’ Commission welcomes the findings of this report. The issues and challenges raised in the Disabled Students’ Inquiry report are consistent with the work of the Commission and highlight the need to improve access to higher education and the experience of disabled students.
  • The Commission will be using the findings of the report to move forward with plans to inform and advise higher education providers about improving support for disabled students.

Students

Hillary Gyebi-Ababio, NUS Vice President for Higher Education spoke at the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Students on Tuesday warning MPs not to repeat previous mistakes by ignoring students during this pandemic. She raised the safety of students returning to campus, being locked into tenancy contracts and a lack of access to online learning. She called on the Government to give students the right to leave their course or accommodation without financial detriment and address the financial pressures within the education system (see this). Hillary said:

  • Students have been ignored time and time again during this pandemic, whether it was not providing them with hardship funding when they were in financial need or denying them the A-Level grades they deserved because this government were more concerned with grade inflation than social justice.
  • And now we are in the worst of all scenarios. Students are being forced en masse to return to campuses across the UK, without adequate procedures in place to keep them safe and coronavirus infection rates rising. It seems like every day we hear a new report of a mass outbreak on a university campus. But this is not the fault of students, who have been following the advice they have been given and abiding by the rules. This is the failure of government and university leadership to keep us safe.
  • I want you as MPs, and even those of us that are student leaders and students here to reflect on 2010, for a moment. Students were outside parliament marching together because they felt let down and betrayed by the government of that day. They were a generation who felt unheard, unseen and uncared for. Students today are feeling the same. They are fed up of being ignored, but now, just like in 2010, they are unmistakably fired up. Students are more politically engaged than ever and they are willing to take action to fight for the education they deserve. Students deserve better.

The APPG for Students Twitter feed highlights the other issues that were raised including digital poverty and the shift to online learning, Muslim students concerned about Test and Trace, and quality of teaching on courses which don’t suit digital delivery.

Student Fees

Research Professional talk of the continued policy intent to not charge HE fees or a graduate contribution in Scotland.

On calls for fee refunds due to Covid teaching changes the Office of the Independent Adjudicator has published an update. The key message that a blanket ban on fee refunds is unacceptable continues and the site has FAQs for students on whether a partial refund might be appropriate or not.

Also making news this week was the decision by the University of St Andrews which means first-year students can leave at any point before December without paying any course fees (accommodation fees are still accumulated). Research Professional speculate the decision could lead to a string of similar demands at other UK universities.

Governance

Advance HE published Diversity of Governors in HE. (Press release here.)

  • 9% of governing board members were women, compared to 54.6% of staff members overall.
  • Around nine in ten governors were white (89.2%), 5.3% were Asian and 2.6% were Black.
  • 4% HE governors were disabled, and a long-standing illness or health condition was the most commonly reported impairment among disabled governing board members.
  • In general, the age profile of governors was higher than for staff overall, but a higher proportion of governors were age 25 and under (reflecting the inclusion of student members on the majority of HEI boards).
  • A higher proportion of HE governors were UK nationals compared to staff overall (93.2% compared to 79.0%), and nearly 1 in 5 BAME governors (18.9%) were non-UK nationals.
  • A fifth (21.7%) of boards had 50% women members or more. In over two in five, 41.6%, women made up fewer than 40% of governors.
  • A fifth (21.1%) of governing boards had no BAME members, and over a third (35.6%) of boards had no disabled members

 PQs

Please note – several parliamentary questions haven’t been answered within the required Parliamentary. If a link is not showing an answer check it again in 3 working days. The link is good, the Government are just slow in responding this week.

Students

Covid

And from Prime Minister’s questions this week:

Matt Western (Lab, Warwick and Leamington) said that universities were struggling to contain the coronavirus, with 5,000 cases reported in recent weeks. More local and immediate access for communities was needed, he said. In Leamington, he was told that Deloitte would not deliver testing facilities until the end of this month, weeks after students would have arrived in the town. He asked the PM if the Government was not expecting students to return to universities.

The PM responded it was important that students returned to universities and praised students for complying with the new regulations. There were particular problems in certain areas and the Government would be pursuing measures to bring the virus down, he added.

HE Sector

  • The affordability and availability of academic ebooks
  • Potential merits of introducing an immigration checking service for Student Finance to check student eligibility similar to that of the employer checking service.
  • Whether funding is available for new applications from students or education institutions for support with digital access. (Emma Hardy, Shadow Universities Minister, asked this one so it is probably just a political point score after the Secretary of States gaffe on the tech funding last week.) And a similar one here.
  • If you’re interested in the number of study visas granted in 2020 the answer is given as a link within this parliamentary question.
  • The Government will present the TEF report (and their response will be published at the same time) in due course.

On social mobility from Prime Minister’s Questions this week: David Johnston (Con, Wantage) said that just 12% of journalists and chief execs came from a working class background and  just  6% of  doctors and barristers.  He called for a renewed focus on social mobility to make better use of all of the country’s talent.

Inquiries and Consultations

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

There are no new consultations and inquiries relevant to HE this week.

Other news

Midwifery: The Royal College of Midwives has published a report on supporting midwifery students through a global pandemic and beyond.

Mental Health Nursing: Despite 1 in 4 people experiencing a mental or neurological condition at some point during their life mental health nursing remains an unpopular profession (despite making up one third of the UK mental health workforce). A new research report Laying foundations Attitudes and access to mental health nurse education by the Nuffield Trust considers how to attract more people to study mental health nursing and the reasons behind why numbers are currently limited.

C-19 student test results: The BBC raises the issue whereby new students C-19 test results are going to their home GP rather than the university area in which they now reside. This topic has been mentioned several times in Parliament this week with the Opposition pushing the Government to respond.

Dyslexia: The Data & Marketing Association (DMA) has published an employer guide to inclusivity in the workplace. They highlight that dyslexia in the workplace remains misunderstood and the guide aims to help employers support a diverse workforce. They state:

  • Our Dyslexia Employer Guide is the latest instalment in our neurodiversity guidance series, offering organisations free advice on how to create a positive, supportive, and flexible workplace culture that permeates all levels of the business.
  • The guide provides comprehensive guidance and recommendations on reasonable adjustments that employers can make to recruitment processes, the workplace environment, support networks, and most importantly, how to treat employees as individuals.
  • In addition, it features case studies offering advice for dyslexic people written by dyslexic professionals, from junior marketing executives all the way to managing director level, on useful coping mechanisms they apply on potentially problematic areas and how their skillsets have helped them to thrive in the creative industries.

Balance: Wonkhe report that The Women’s Higher Education Network has published research into the experiences of parents working in higher education professional services during the lockdown. Drawn from a survey of 1074 parents, the report found that traditional gender roles still influence the division of domestic responsibilities. The report recommends that employers provide guidance to parents on workloads and expectations, and encourage them to work flexibly.

Similarly, HEPI has a piece on the difficulties student parents face studying at home during the pandemic.

Teaching via social media: Wonkhe have a blog about the wins and pitfalls of utilising the tech that students prefer and teaching through sites such as WhatsApp with notifications through Twitter. The comments are a must read for both sides of the discussion.  There are also two other blogs on the adjustment HE lecturers underwent to teach online during Covid – one from a healthcare educator and one charting the human experience.

DfE: The Information Commissioner’s Office reviewed the DfE (who cooperated fully) and have found them in direct breach of data protection law. A DfE spokesperson said:

  • We treat the handling of personal data – particularly data relating to schools and other education settings – extremely seriously and we thank the ICO for its report, which will help us further improve in this area.
  • Since the ICO completed its audit, we’ve taken a number of steps to address the findings and recommendations, including a review of all processes for the use of personal data and significantly increasing the number of staff dedicated to the effective management of it.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

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

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

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

BU welcomes the Minister for Universities

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

Comprehensive Spending Review – and all its ramifications

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

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

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

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

Research

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

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

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

Research parliamentary questions

A selection of Wonkhe blogs relevant to research interests:

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

PM’s Lifetime Skills Guarantee

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

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

Boris also said:

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

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

Association of Colleges responded to the PM’s speech:

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

The Institute of Economic Affairs is less convinced:

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

Skills Productivity Appointment

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

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

Education Committee session

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

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

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

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

Lifetime Skills Guarantee and Post-16 Education

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

Here are the key points in brief:

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

Skills Gaps

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

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

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

Augar Review

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

Excerpts:

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

Student loans

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

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

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

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

The great annual migration

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

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

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

During the questions the Government was critiqued for:

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

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

Wonkhe dissected the statement mistakes too and added:

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

NSS to LEO

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

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

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

And the implications of the virus….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They found:

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

The article acknowledges that:

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

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

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

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

Parliamentary Questions

Access & Participation

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

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

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

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

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

Exams cancelled?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PQs

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can read the full report here.

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

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

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HE policy update for the w/e 18th September 2020

Hi all, there is very much of a “what will the new academic year hold” feel about this week.  Will there be another national lockdown?  Is the rise in virus cases a second wave or a small bounce?  What will university students do when they are not learning or socialising online?  In the “find someone to blame for everything” environment that is so prevalent (and so disheartening), students are the latest group to be targeted for vilification.  But there is other news too…

Research news

The Minister speaks

Science Minister Amanda Solloway spoke this week to promote researcher wellbeing and push for changes in the sharing and evaluation of research.

The Minister spoke of the barriers to sticking with a research career – little chance of secure permanent employment, a hamster wheel of short-term funding alongside publishing in the ‘right’ journals, alongside a focus on bullying and harassment. The Minister said:

  • it was an enormous shock… to learn that nearly two-thirds of researchers have witnessed bullying or harassment at work, and almost half have experienced it themselves…. As government, it is our duty not to condone the behaviour of bullies, no matter how talented they may be as individuals.
  • Institutions with widespread bullying and harassment problems should not benefit from the taxpayer’s support.

Career Path

  • we should make sure that we create real longevity in careers. Employers should provide clear career paths, and the stable employment contracts to match… for those that wish to pursue a career in R&D, we should provide clear routes to progression, including routes between academia and other places, and between technical and research roles
  • Having a casualised research workforce where the vast majority of people can’t develop a proper career is no way to build our status as a science superpower.
  • Because research is inherently creative – it’s about finding out new things, taking risks and venturing into the unknown. Nobody should live in fear that, if they don’t play exactly the same game as everyone else, according to the same narrow set of rules, they’ll lose their jobs.

Funding System

  • we must do whatever we can to put diversity at the heart of everything we do… promoting diversity should never simply be reduced to a tick-box exercise – just one more thing you have to demonstrate to win funding.
  • We must look seriously at whether the system of short-term grants for projects is really working… Or whether it’s instead promoting a monoculture of bureaucracy and risk aversion.
  • This means supporting sustainable and well-funded teams, units and institutions. With support for everyone involved in our R&D vision – from top scientists to postdocs to PhD students and doctoral apprentices, from technicians to professional support staff. From leaders, managers, governors, and people working in our funding agencies. To people interested in science, engaging with research, or considering a future in research for themselves or their children. Our R&D People and Culture Strategy should support the whole system – backing everyone to do their best.
  • And when we do provide funding, we should do it properly and sustainably.

Evaluation & Access to Research

  • it’s so baffling to me that scientists and researchers seem to evaluate each other in such strange ways – by obsessing over spurious metrics or narrow indicators of prestige…the pressure you feel from things like grant income targets or the impending Research Excellence Framework (REF)… I of course recognise that the ‘publish or perish’ culture in research is not unique to the UK
  • So I have today written to science ministers across the world, to invite them to join me in looking closely at this dependence on publications and to find out what we can collectively do about it….an outdated [reliance on]… closed-access journals which locks scientific discoveries away, tragically curtailing their usefulness. An important part of the solution must be to make research more openly available.
  • So let me restate this government’s commitment to full and immediate open access to all publicly funded research. And let me give my full backing to UKRI for the work they are doing to develop a new open access policy, working alongside international partners.
  • We should embrace, and encourage, new ways to share research – the exciting, diverse ways to communicate research… We should value datasets, code and open methods, just as much as we value books, journals and conferences… let’s celebrate the exhibition, the performance, the roadshow, the website and the wiki. The television programme, the community engagements, the patient involvement and the citizen science programme.

UKRI

New UKRI Chief Executive Ottoline Leyser presents her Viewpoint blog: We must reshape the system so it genuinely values and supports difference. It begins:

  • The data are clear. There are pervasive problems with equality, diversity and inclusion in research and innovation, which impoverish the system, stifle creativity and deny opportunity to people who have so much to contribute.
  • It is equally clear that there is huge appetite for change. We have reached a turning point in the debate…

Research Parliamentary Questions

  • When and how regularly the Government plans to publish diversity statistics for the UK’s research sector. (The next harmonised diversity data release is due early 2021.)
  • UKRI also committed to expanding their data collection and analysis capabilities including Innovate UK grants. And that they would publish other diversity data more regularly, e.g. the detailed ethnicity analysis of grant applications.
  • Whether BEIS plan to reform the REF to reduce admin, incentive collaboration, and focus on assessing groupings and teams. Answer – the Government will examine the mechanisms and agree a set of reforms – it is worth reading the full response
  • What assessment they have made of the reduction in research funding available to universities as a result of reduced charitable giving during the COVID-19 pandemic; and what plans they have to increase funding to compensate for any such reduction. (Answer references the SURE fund.)

The Lords Science & Technology Committee held a session debate on the report into Science research funding in Universities late last week. Excerpts:

  • The Committee registered surprise that the Augar review did not consider the impact the  recommendations  would have on universities’ ability to conduct science research—one of the key roles of universities: if  Augar  recommendations are implemented, it will seriously affect the Government’s ambition to make UK a science superpower …  Stagnation in QR funding for over a decade, a decrease in full economic costs to 70% from funders and a shortfall in support funding from government in relation to charities’ research grants leaves universities to have to cross-subsidise costs, mainly from international student fees. Added to these ongoing funding issues, there is now the significant and unknown effect of Covid-19 on university finances and research…The biggest threat to universities from the reduction in funding is a reduction in research talent. (Lord Patel)
  • On the Government’s response, Lord Patel noted it was positive but did not go far enough: The Government R & D road map sets out the framework, but now it needs the Government to engage with the university sector to get the details right.  
  • The issues of a decrease in funding and the long-term impacts this may have on R&D and medical advances were discussed.
  • Lord Willetts (Con), argued it would be a mistake to think that we can get anywhere near 2.4% if our research activities are concentrated in a small number of elite universities.
  • Lords from across the Chamber agreed that Scientific Research across HE needed to be prioritised.
  • Lord Callanan stated that the future global talent visa would help this skilled cohort of individuals to access the UK, empowering them to significantly enhance our knowledge base and make critical contributions to scientific and medical research.  And: Research, innovation and knowledge are the drivers of our global competitiveness and a key source of economic advantage. I assure noble Lords that we remain committed to maintaining the UK’s position as a global science superpower, and that we will continue to invest in our universities and in the science and research that will deliver the long-term economic growth and societal benefits.

The Secretary of State speaks

In Tuesday’s Education Committee accountability session Gavin Williamson answered questions on Covid related disruption of school and exams including a focus on grades and the system selected. There was no HE specific content. If you have an interest in the topic but do not wish to view the full session contact Sarah for a summary (ref: Thurs D1502).

International (Visas)

The House of Commons Education Committee has published the letter from the Minister for Future Borders and Immigration on the changes to the points-based student immigration routes. We mentioned this in last week’s update; here is all the detail from the letter:

  • The Government welcomes international students and places no limit on their number. This will not change under the points-based system. We are committed to increasing the number of international higher education students in the UK to 600,000 by 2030 and the new Student route will support us in achieving this aim.
  • From 5 October, all prospective international students, including those from the EU, coming to study in the UK after the end of the transition period will need to apply to the Student route before coming to UK. To help prepare EU students who will need to apply through the points-based immigration system in order to commence their studies here from January 2021, we have created tailored guidance, which can be found
  • The main differences between the new Student route and the previous Tier 4 are outlined below:
    • EEA nationals will be incorporated into a global application system. EEA nationals will be required to meet the same requirements to study within the UK as non-EEA nationals and will need to apply under the Student rules;
    • There will be a new set of simplified Immigration Rules for the Student and Child Student routes, in line with the recommendations made by the Law Commission;
    • Students will be able to apply for permission to come to the UK six months before they plan to travel;
    • There are increased switching permissions within the Student route and increased switching between routes within the new points-based immigration system. Students will be able to apply for further permission from within the UK, provided they meet the academic progression requirement and the new course of study commences within 28 days of the expiry of the current leave. This enables clearer pathways for students studying at all levels;
    • The eight-year time limit on studying courses at postgraduate level has been removed. There is no longer a limit on the time an individual can spend studying postgraduate courses;
    • Those applying for permission to stay in the UK on the Student route will not need to demonstrate funds if they have already been here with valid permission for 12 months or longer at the point they apply;
    • Students applying for leave as a Student Union Sabbatical Officer or to study on a recognised Foundation Programme will not be required to prove evidence of maintenance funds, as it is accepted these individuals will be earning an income during the validity of their visas;
    • Students at higher education providers with a track record of compliance will not routinely be required to provide evidence of academic qualifications used to obtain the offer of sponsorship;
    • Students who have passed relevant qualifications in English language or literature in the UK whilst studying under the age of 18 will be able to meet the English language requirement; and
    • EEA and Swiss nationals, and nationals of the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Singapore and South Korea, will be exempted from having to apply for an Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS) certificate to study certain sensitive subjects in the UK.
  • To recruit international students, educational institutions must have a Home Office approved sponsor licence. Institutions who are already Tier 4 sponsors will automatically become Student sponsors.
  • To retain the brightest and the best students to continue to contribute to the UK post-study, we will launch the Graduate route in Summer 2021. This new route will allow those who have completed a degree at a UK higher education provider, with a track record of compliance, to stay in the UK for two years (three years for PhD graduates) and work at any skill level, and to switch into work routes if they find a suitable job.
  • There will be new rules on how applicants meet English language and finance requirements in immigration applications. These rules will only apply to the Student and Child Student routes initially, but will in time apply to all immigration routes. Guidance will be published in the near future.

The Commons Public Accounts Committee published a report on Immigration enforcement this week.

International Parliamentary Questions

Graduate work visa: The potential merits of extending the duration of the graduate work visa. Answer – no:

  • We believe that 2 years (3 years for PhD graduates) is a fair and generous amount of time to allow international graduates to have unrestricted access to the UK labour market, enabling them to gain valuable work experience and to kick-start their careers. We also believe this will help to ensure that the UK continues to be an attractive destination for international students. We will of course keep the operation of the graduate route under review once it has been implemented.

Recruitment: What discussions have been held with the British Council on the number of international students expected to enrol in UK universities during academic years (a) 2020-21, (b) 2021-22, (c) 2022-23; and what support his Department has offered to the British Council to help attract international students for the academic year 2020-21.

The Secret Life of Students

Wonkhe ran a two day event – The Secret Life of Students – this week. Nicola Dandridge (OfS) presented and included some news:

  • The admissions review that was launched before lockdown is to remain on pause to allow universities to deliver the 2021 cycle first (and tackle any difficulties that arise). So while it is possible that the government will want a new approach (PQ offer making?), they are not going to try and inflict it on us straight away – especially as there may be challenges next year from delayed exams or further waves of the pandemic.
  • Whether the NSS will run during 2021 will be decided shortly. Communication to the sector is expected after the next OfS Board meeting. ICYMI we covered the government’s plans for NSS in last week’s update.
  • The anticipated consultation on student outcomes will follow very soon. This will be an important set of changes because it is strongly linked to the government’s agenda on value and quality.
  • An OfS and Research England joint funding competition addressing diversity will be announced presently.

Wonkhe’s weekly podcast (The Wonkhe Show) promises to cover the highlights from the two day event. Info on how to subscribe to the podcast is here.

Digital Teaching & Learning

Research Professional report on a Jisc survey (mainly carried out pre-lockdown) in which 23% of students stated their digital teaching and learning was poor quality. 28% also said the university didn’t facilitate access to online systems from any location. Michael Barber, Chair of the OfS, is conducting a review into digital teaching and learning for the OfS before he steps down from the Chair’s role.

  • The survey also revealed that only around half of students said they receive guidance on digital skills from their university, which Jisc said showed “the higher education sector must up its game to deliver the high-quality experiences students deserve, and the skills they need to thrive”.
  • While 93 per cent of students said they had access to a laptop, Jisc said the fact that many universities had offered laptops or bursaries to students when lockdown began “implies that the devices some students owned did not meet their requirements”.
  • Sarah Knight, head of data and digital capability at Jisc, said the pandemic had “has highlighted the urgent need to address digital poverty” among students as more teaching is carried out online.
  • “Universities and colleges must do what they can to ensure all students have an equitable experience, whether they’re learning face-to-face, remotely, or through a blended approach,” she added.

You can read more on the OfS Digital Review in this Research Professional article and this is the OfS’ call for evidence.

Returning students – Covid concerns

With a nationwide jump in Covid cases attention continues to focus on students who begin to travel to their universities. Wonkhe have a series of articles discussing the latest:

The time for a nationally coordinated response for higher education to Covid-19 has passed – what matters now is how well organisations collaborate locally.  What might need to be in place to make that happen?

With the R number back above 1 in England, what data is useful for responding to C-19 risks?

As the UK cracks down on socialising will a heavy-handed interpretation damage students’ education and community safety?

The government has published its guidance for universities in England on reopening campuses but is it too little, too late?

Slightly off topic but related Wonkhe have a blog asking if league tables are pointless given they will rely on data collected during the pandemic – Has C-19 infected university league tables?

And from Research Professional (RP): several UK universities are launching their own efforts to test their students and staff for Covid-19, rather than relying on the highly criticised national system.

RP also cover the University of Bergen which has shutdown following 230 students contracting Covid.

University Wales have a joint statement setting out the shared responsibility to keep communities safe.

Wonkhe report that: The Department of Health has urged universities to prepare for the NHS Covid-19 app – due to launch on 24 September – by creating and displaying NHS QR posters from a government website. The app will automate checking in to a location, and the notification process where an outbreak has been reported.

Politics Home has an article stating Universities are launching their own C-19 testing regimes because the Government test and trace programme is descending into a shambles.

Some parliamentary questions:

Finally Wonkhe cover the Public Health England blog –

  • Student life in the time of Covid-19 advising students that their “household” will consist of housemates or flatmates who share a student home, or if living in university halls “your university will let you know what makes up your household”. Framing all students as people who live in student accommodation, it says that student housing “will be a key part of how you will be able to socialise” and indicates that opportunities to meet new people outside a household and socialise safely at university can still take place under social distancing rules – adding further confusion for universities who are working through the implications of the new “rule of six” for student social activity.

Free Speech Legislation targeted at Students’ Unions

Times Higher have an article stating the Government is considering legislating on free speech within universities with students’ unions under the microscope through extended statutory duties and threatening fines. Excerpts from the article:

  • Speaking in the House of Commons last week, Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, said the government was “exploring a range of legislative and non-legislative options” to protect free speech on campuses, following the Conservative manifesto pledge to “strengthen academic freedom and free speech in universities”. 
  • There have been discussions in the government about teeing up the issue of campus free speech in the further education White Paper, expected this autumn, then introducing legislation subsequently that would extend statutory free speech duties – already imposed on those who run universities – to students’ unions, sources told THE.
  • The Department for Education is also believed to be examining the system of block grants directed by universities to students’ unions.

HNCs & HNDs – in partnership with FE only?

EDSK (a thinktank) have published Further Consideration: Creating a new role, purpose and direction for the FE sector. The report focuses on the 16-19, FE and Institute of Technology sector and gets behind the Government’s current passion for FE with the aspiration that vocational and technical routes be of equal prestige as university academic studies. Its sets out a number of recommendations of how this could be delivered in practice. Including that:

  • Higher-level technical qualifications should be funded by government if they are publicly endorsed by employers, professional bodies or Institutes of Technology. Each awarding organisation should also be restricted to offering one qualification per level in each subject. (Recommendation 12)
  • Aside from the approvals process for technical qualifications, there is a longstanding issue regarding the institutions that are responsible for providing qualifications at Levels 4 and 5. FECs deliver just over half of the qualifications at these levels, with Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) such as universities delivering about a third of them. The list of qualifications available at Levels 4 and 5 is a mixture of academic and vocational courses of different sizes and with different purposes, such as Foundation Degrees, Higher National Certificates and various Awards, Certificates and Diplomas offered by a wide range of AOs that can last anything from a matter of hours up to two years. The problem is that HEIs currently compete with colleges to offer technical qualifications such as HNCs and HNDs, leaving learners and employers uncertain about who to engage with should they wish to pursue a higher technical pathway.
  • To reflect this report’s calls for greater collaboration among education providers within each locality, it is counterproductive for HEIs to be able to colonise the higher-level technical education space without any regard for similar provision available at nearby FECs. As discussed throughout this report, the advent of new ‘Technology Colleges’ will put the FE sector in a strong position to drive forward skills development and economic growth in their local areas, but this will only be possible if they become a ‘hub’ for higher technical courses that employers recognise and utilise.

And coordinating provision in a local area quickly moves to not permitting HEI’s to deliver these qualifications independently:

  • The provision of Level 4 and 5 technical qualifications should be led in future by Technology Colleges. This means that HE providers such as universities should not be allowed to offer these qualifications unless they deliver them in partnership with local FE institutions. (Recommendation 13)

Of course where there is partnership there is also top slicing as each institution attempts to cover some of the admin and quality assurance costs on top of the actual delivery and associated student services.

Recommendation 15 gives a (perhaps unintentional) nod to Labour and the Liberal Democrats repeated calls for individual learner accounts:

  • All learners should be given access to a new ‘lifetime loan limit’ of £75,000, which they can use to engage in education and training at any time throughout their career after the initial funds in their IEB have been used up. This lifetime loan system would cover both tuition and maintenance costs for university, college and apprenticeships.

So if you go to a University which charges higher fees you are looking at a one time hit. Of course, this is the case now for most learners, with only certain courses in key areas (such as STEM) which mean a student can access funding to study a second degree/equivalent level course.

The EDSK report reminds that there will be a white paper published in the autumn expected to address FE and particularly the technical skills agenda modelled on the admired German system.

HE Code of Governance

The Committee of University Chairs has published the Higher Education Code of Governance. It aims to identify the key values and elements that form an effective governance framework. Yet is also recognises that good governance practice is complex and goes beyond the adoption of the Code; that it requires an organisational culture which gives freedom to act; establishes authorities and accountabilities; and at its core fosters relationships based on mutual respect, trust and honesty.

The Code’s objectives are to:

  • determine, drive and deliver the institution’s mission and success in a sustainable way (financial, social and environmental)
  • protect and promote the collective student interest and the importance of a high-quality student experience
  • ensure student outcomes reflect good social, economic and environmental value; and effectively manage opportunities and mitigate risks to protect the reputation of the institution, ensuring financial sustainability and accountability for public funding
  • promote and develop a positive culture which supports ethical behaviour and equal, diverse and inclusive practices
  • promote excellence in learning, teaching and research, monitoring institutional and governing body performance
  • publish accurate and transparent information which is widely accessible
  • lead by example, being flexible and adaptable to create a resilient future
  • ensure arrangements are in place for meaningful engagement with relevant stakeholders (especially students and staff) locally, regionally, nationally and globally

How lucrative is postgraduate study?

The DfE and IFS have published The earnings return to postgraduate degrees in the UK. It analyses the earnings of postgraduate students by subject and institution type using LEO data and controlling for individual and background differences (including prior attainment). They compared the postgraduates’ earning against a control group who didn’t undertake further study. The study compared earnings by age 35 (to give sufficient time for employment and labour market experience post-qualification).

Page 6 gives interesting facts and figures on who undertakes a postgraduate degree and what they are studying

Here are the key points on earnings:

  • For both men and women, masters and PhD graduates earn more on average than those with only an undergraduate degree, while PGCE graduates earn less on average. In particular for men this last gap is large, with PGCE graduates earning around £38,000 on average at age 35 compared to nearly £51,000 for those with only an undergraduate degree. For both genders earnings growth through the thirties is largest among undergraduates and PhD graduates and smallest for PGCE graduates.
  • Earnings inequality varies widely across qualification groups, with very few PGCE graduates experiencing very high earnings, but also many fewer experiencing low earnings compared to those who left education after their undergraduate degree. As a result, despite the large differences in mean earnings, median earnings of PGCE graduates are very similar for men, and even somewhat higher for women, than those of undergraduates.
  • Once we control for differences between students, the earnings gap between undergraduate and masters and PhD graduates drops significantly: we estimate returns of 2% (women) and -2% (men) for masters and 8% (women) and -9% (men) for PhDs.
  • Our estimated returns for postgraduate degree are considerably smaller than previous estimates from the UK, which have been consistently positive. We believe this is because we have much richer data than has previously been available which allows us to much better control for differences between postgraduates and undergraduates.
  • PGCEs are a relatively ‘safe’ choice for both women and men: they reduce the chances of not being in employment, as well as earning less than £30k, but decrease the probability of earning more than £40k. We see quite similar patterns for PhD degrees, as well as for masters degrees for women. Perhaps this is because these degrees tend to result in people pursuing specific interests, such as research, where salaries are reasonable, but which are not necessarily the most exceptionally lucrative careers. For men masters degrees do not offer this insurance value.

Page 8 summarises how the returns vary by subject, institution and prior qualification. In short the return varies across subjects (see PhDs in maths and psychology – it’s not what you might expect); the institution means a difference between a negative and positive effect for masters (but its tangled up with subject choice too), prior study remains an effect with better returns when the masters subject diversifies away from the UG choice (except for high pay areas – law, economics, etc).

The report concludes:

Masters

  • The most striking finding, perhaps, is that while masters graduates on 55 8 average have higher earnings than graduates without postgraduate qualifications, once we account for differences in attainment and background characteristics we estimate a very low average return for women (1.5%) and even a small negative return for men (-2.3%). This average result masks important variation… Masters degrees in law, economics and business are particularly lucrative.
  • For students, the average returns to postgraduate degrees are perhaps less rosy than previously thought. However, more positively, for virtually all students there are some masters options they can do given their undergraduate subject that lead to positive earnings returns.

PhD

  • Our returns estimates suggest that PhD degrees boost earnings for women by around 7.5%, but reduce earnings for men by 9% [except for business]. One important point about the returns for PhD degrees is that there is some evidence that the returns continue to grow after age 35, as individuals gain more work experience. This suggests that the outlook might be more positive (especially for men) at later points in the life cycle. More generally, future research should consider the full life-cycle effects of postgraduate degrees.

And on disadvantage:

  • We also investigate access to postgraduate study and find that while large raw participation gaps do indeed exist, these are almost entirely explained away by prior attainment. This does not necessarily mean that if prior attainment were to improve amongst students from disadvantaged backgrounds then postgraduate fees would not generate barriers to access; it simply suggests that, currently, gaps in attainment in school and undergraduate degrees seem to be the binding constraint in terms of access to postgraduate courses among students from less well-off backgrounds.

Students as consumers

You may recall the student petition calling for a tuition fee refund due to Covid-19 disruption to their education and university experience. The Government dismissed it, however, it was reopened by the Petitions Committee and ran an inquiry to investigate the impact on students, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds and those from ‘hands on’ courses (the Committee’s report here). The Government have now responded to the Committee’s report (as they are required to do).

The Government’s response stated students have rights under consumer law but the exact circumstances in which a student might receive redress are not clear. This is because the question of whether an individual student is entitled to redress will depend in part on the specific contractual arrangements between them and their provider. It will also depend on the student’s individual circumstances, given that the move to online tuition will have been different for students on different courses and at different universities. The result is that each student’s situation is unique, and each case will depend on particular facts…. It is a matter for providers to determine whether a refund is appropriate and, if so, how such refunds should be paid. In other situations, including compensation paid in response to complaints arising from industrial action at universities, this has taken place via direct refund. Any refund is a matter for providers, so the Government is not considering writing off or reducing tuition fee loans.

The Government also refused to coordinate the matter: due to the individualised nature of student contracts and student circumstances, a new centralised system to support students seeking tuition fee refunds is not a preferred option at this time. Any such system would risk depriving institutions of the opportunity for early resolution of complaints with students, in situations where remedies other than refunds would be more helpful or beneficial to a student. Any centralised system would also be unlikely to be able to sufficiently take into account the circumstances an individual student has faced without detailed input from their institution, thereby replicating the first step in the established process for complaints – students in England and Wales first follow their institutional complaints process, and if they are not satisfied with the outcome can take their complaint forward to the OIA.

They also agreed students should be aware of their rights and how to make a complaint and… The Government is working closely with external stakeholders including UUK, NUS, OfS, CMA and OIA to explore existing communications channels and how these could be used to improve students’ understanding of their consumer rights…. More must be done to ensure that students know their rights and can play an active part in holding their provider to account, to ensure that they are receiving the value for money which should be expected of our world-leading universities.

In short, there has been no real change.

Wonkhe report that The Department for Education has set up a working group to consider whether existing guidance on consumer rights can be brought together or added to. They also discuss the Government’s response in this blog.

HEPI – student voting

HEPI has released another report on student voting, from another nuanced angle. This one looks at student voting within the last 4 general elections (2010, 2015, 2017 and 2019) asking Student voters: Did they make a difference? Focussing only on the 25 constituencies where well time students constitute at least 17.5% of the voting electorate. Nick Hillman (HEPI Director) states:

  • Our research confirms that student seats lean left, though perhaps to an even greater degree than previously thought. In constituencies in England with lots of students, Labour scored 25 percentage points more, while the Conservatives scored 25 percentage points less. The student vote has proved decisive in seats like Portsmouth South, Leeds North West, Canterbury and Coventry South. Labour also outperform the Conservatives in student seats in Wales and Scotland, though it is the SNP that tends to win in student areas in Scotland.
  • Our research highlights some common fallacies. For example, minor parties, such as the Green Party, have not generally done particularly well in student seats. Moreover, the common idea that the voice of students will be louder if they vote at their term-time address rather than their home address is often wrong – as students can sometimes just help stack up even bigger majorities in safe seats. While the Liberal Democrats struggled to maintain their previous performance after entering Government in 2010, they continued to do better in seats with lots of students than in England as a whole until 2019.

Nick also speaks directly to students:

  • As the new academic year begins, I urge students who move away to study to keep their options open by making sure they are registered to vote in their place of study as well as at their home address.

…and to and parliamentary candidates:

  • I would also urge policymakers not to take the student vote for granted. While students are interested in so-called “student issues”, such as student finance, they are also motivated by other issues, such as climate change, the state of the NHS and the UK’s place in the world.
  • We also all need to avoid the simplistic assumption that going to university makes people left-wing, as this idea is increasingly being challenged by academics with hard evidence.

The NUS have responded to the report:

The report confirms many things that NUS have previously asserted including:

  • Students have a significant impact in General Elections and should be considered as a key voter group
  • Students care about so-called ‘student issues’ such as student finance, but are also motivated by other issues such as climate change, the NHS and the UK’s place in the world
  • Whilst student seats lean left, it’s also important to remember that students are not a homogeneous group and students hold a wide range of political beliefs

The report comes at an important time as students prepare to organise around key issues for the 2021 May local elections and national elections in Wales and Scotland.

Social Mobility Commission

The Social Mobility Commission have released The long shadow of deprivation – research carried out by IFS, the UCL Centre into areas with the lowest social mobility. It links educational data and HMRC earnings information to identify young sons from disadvantaged families (entitled to free school meals) who attended state schools. The research tracked them from age 16 to 28. The press release states the results show a postcode lottery for disadvantaged people.  In areas with high social mobility, disadvantaged young adults earn twice as much as those with similar backgrounds in areas with low social mobility… . In the “coldest spots” those from disadvantaged backgrounds, entitled to free school meals, have little chance of making a better life for themselves or their children. 

  • Education, often blamed for social mobility differences, is only part of the answer. In areas with high social mobility, gaps in educational achievement account for almost the entire pay difference between the most and least advantaged sons. On average it accounts for 80% of the difference.
  • However, in local authorities where social mobility is low it is much harder to escape deprivation. In such areas, up to 33% of the pay gap between the highest and lowest earners is down to non-education factors, like local labour markets and family background.
  • Disadvantaged workers are restricted by factors including limited social networks (fewer internships); inability to move to more prosperous areas; limited or no financial support from family; less resilience to economic turbulence due to previous crisis such as 2008 financial crash and less developed soft skills.
  • The [social mobility] commission is now urging regional and community leaders to use the findings to help draw up tailored, sustained, local programmes to boost social mobility, building on the approach in some Opportunity Areas. The commission will also ask the government to extend its current Opportunity Areas programme – which gives support to 12 councils – to include several more authorities identified as the areas with the most entrenched disadvantage.

Steven Cooper, interim co-chair of the commission said:

  • These findings are very challenging. They tell a story of deep unfairness, determined by where you grow up. It is not a story of north versus south or urban versus rural; this is a story of local areas side by side with vastly different outcomes for the disadvantaged sons growing up there.

PQs

A financial focus runs across our remaining parliamentary questions this week:

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

Unpaid internships: There are currently two Private Members’ Bills before Parliament on unpaid work experience/internships (prohibiting them). You can read the summary of the debate from the Commons Bill here.

Online events: The Parliamentary and Scientific Committee are running a series of online events on specialist topics (free to BU staff) see this link for the areas covered.

Degree Apprenticeships: Wonkhe report on an FE Week  article stating that the Office for Students is to be stripped of its role (held since June 2019) in overseeing degree level apprenticeships, with Ofsted taking on the responsibility alongside its existing role in inspecting apprenticeships up to level 5. This was a recommendation made by the Augar report.

Policy revamp: Labour have begun revising their higher education policy. Research Professional speculate on the topics that are being discussed behind closed doors. Spoiler:

  • In truth, it is unlikely to be very much different from the plan Labour offered to the electorate in 2019. The same issues are driving the higher education agenda: training and lifelong learning, and the contribution of universities to national recovery and productivity.
  • We can expect Starmer’s Labour to back lifelong learning and the integration of further and higher education. The bigger question that Labour needs to answer is: How should the country respond to the growing demand for higher education in the next decade?

Deferrals: The DfE have announced a support package for students who were forced to defer their entry to university this year. Some of the support mechanisms will also be open to students who elected to defer. The press release states the support package will provide opportunities to gain new skills, undertake work placements in the public, private and voluntary sectors, undertake additional learning and support their career development. This includes support that the higher education sector will offer those students during the year ahead, including free courses and access to careers advice. It signposts to healthcare support roles, paid tutoring roles, the National Careers Service, the Skills Toolkit, University Officer Cadets, work experience with Network Rail, placements within the Courts and Tribunals Service, Special Constables, BEIS have an industry seminar programme, and the Civil Service are offering a 1 week virtual work experience. Read further down the article for Private and Voluntary sector opportunities.  On HE support the press release states all HE providers have committed to:

  • maintain regular contact with students who need to defer, and explore a range of means of supporting them over the coming year
  • offer greater transitional support to these students to support their enrolment in 2021
  • some online content will be made available to these students, at the appropriate level
  • where possible and appropriate, they will be offered online mentoring and access to careers guidance
  • they will receive guidance on what further options for study in preparation for their degree are available, with many providers supplying free online courses and/ or resources

UCAS will directly contact students who had to defer their place to inform them of the scheme.

Business Barometer: The Open University (OU) published their Business Barometer. It finds employers report continued skill shortages despite the growth in the pool job candidates. Management and leadership and digital skills are stated as the most difficult skills to fill. The OU recommends that businesses focus on their own workforce to grow the internal talent for future skills needs.  

  • Organisations spent £6.6 billion plugging short term gaps this year, up from £4.4 billion in 2019
  • 56% of UK organisations report they continue to experience skills shortages
  • 61% of organisations say that they are not as agile as they need to be because of shortfalls in their skills
  • 48% of employers stated that apprenticeships and work-based learning initiatives will be vital to their organisation’s recovery over the next year

Jobs outlook: The CBI published its annual survey stating half of UK firms plan to reduce their recruitment during the next 12 months (half plan to increase). This means the overall proportion of businesses planning increased recruitment has dropped compared to last year.  The BBC also cover business redundancies due to lower consumer demand following an Institute for Employment Studies (IES) Freedom of Information request.

Education Sector: C-19 and the classroom – Working in education during the pandemic has been published, it covers the impact on education professionals’ mental health and wellbeing during this unprecedented times.

Home working: Not remotely policy related – but there is a YouGov poll identifying what Brits working from home miss about the workplace

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HE policy update for the w/e 10th September 2020

We thought it might be a quiet week, this week, but we were wrong.  The DfE has started the new academic year with a bang, and the Ofs are going to be busy.

So we are back properly to our weekly schedule although with a bit of flexibility on days of the week.

International student visas

The Home Office have made an announcement about student visas.  The new international student immigration route is opening early, from 5th October to allow the “best and brightest” to apply for a visa under the new points based system.  That includes EU students.  This will mean that “as a result of coronavirus, some overseas students are choosing to defer their entry onto courses in the UK until the spring semester of 2021. Introducing these new routes now means that students will be able to benefit from the new streamlined process whilst still giving sponsors time to adapt after their autumn intake”.

The Secretary of State and the Minister for Universities speak

Gavin Williamson has been speaking to UUK.  He starts with a bouquet of praise and thanks for the sector and almost an apology for the extra work on admissions this year, although not quite.  There was always going to be a “but…”.

First he wanted to “land three key messages” related to the pandemic:

  • Keep going – and he looks forward to working with us all as the situation evolves over the autumn term
  • The importance of collaboration – specifically with local authorities.
  • And to stay alert, which includes comms to students and keeping them at uni rather than sending them home if there are local restrictions

And then the “but”.  It starts nicely:

  • Too often, there can be an implicit narrative that every university needs to measure itself against Oxbridge. That if a university isn’t winning Nobel prizes and taking in triple A students it is somehow second rate.
  • In reality, it is the diversity of our sector which will drive the levelling up agenda that is central to everything this Government does.

But…

  • There are still pockets of low quality. One only has to look at the Guardian subject league tables to see there are too many courses where well under 50% of students proceed to graduate employment.
  • But more fundamentally, in order to create a fairer, more prosperous and more productive country, we need to reverse the generational decline in higher technical education.
  • We have already announced that, over the next few years, we will be establishing a system of higher technical education where learners and employers can have confidence in high-quality courses that provide the skills they need to succeed in the workplace, whether they are taught in a further education college, a university or an independent training provider.
  • Of course, a large proportion of this will be delivered in our great further education colleges, but what I also want to see is for universities to end their preoccupation with three-year bachelors’ degrees and offer far more higher technical qualifications and apprenticeships. These would be more occupation focused and provide a better targeted route for some students, and benefit employers and the economy.

Again, none of this is new, he has been completely consistent.  It will be interesting to see how the sector responds.

Michelle Donelan

There was a double act at UUK this morning, as the Universities Minister also spoke.

Again, lots of thanks and different examples too.  I want to say a special thank you. Thank you for bending over backwards to unlock the dreams and opportunities of this year’s cohort.

Her speech is mostly about the bureaucracy reduction announcements set out below.  But in return for this her speech also has a “but”.  Her but is also consistent with what we have heard before.  She wants:

  • readily accessible bitesized learning for people looking to upskill and reskill…. and also foster a culture of lifelong learning”.

And it comes with a carrot – or a stick – hard to tell which:

  • You will remember that the Augar review looked in detail at flexible learning and argued for widespread changes to the organisation and funding of higher education to enable that flexibility. And we will respond in parallel with the Spending Review. Rest assured, the global pandemic has not and will not throw us off course.”

Her last point was about mental health, and the need for on-going support.

Bonfire of the metrics (and general reduction of bureaucracy)

The OfS were due to review the NSS this year, and of course we are also waiting (and have been waiting for ever, it seems) for the government response to the Pearce review of the TEF.  But the DfE have gone early.  In a move which confirms what we and everyone else has been saying all summer, the DFE have confirmed that they only really care about outcomes (and continuation) and asked the OfS to do a serious review of the NSS by the end of the year.

The announcement is here.  It is much broader than just the NSS, and there are some really interesting developments, so we will set them all out by area.

Starting with the Office for Students

The measures outlined below are a combination of decisions taken by the OfS to help achieve those aims, and changes that DfE would like the OfS to implement. DfE will be following up this policy document with strategic guidance to the OfS,”

  • Enhanced monitoring – the OfS intends to report to the DfE within 3 months on how it is reducing its use of enhanced monitoring
  • Data futures – OfS has agreed to review the proposed termly data collection to make sure it is proportionate – also looking at making data collection more timely. Due by end October with final decisions alongside an OfS data strategy in April.
  • Random sampling – the OfS has suspended this
  • No further regulatory action on student transfers – this was a “big issue” in the original Jo Johnson Green/White Paper – students were being prevented or discouraged from transferring, apparently. The OfS has decided to review their current requirements for monitoring and consult on changes – but the headline suggests they won’t get more onerous.
  • The announcement welcomes the already announced decision to make estates and non-academic data collected by HESA optional.
  • Review of TRAC (T). The Transparent Approach to Costing for Teaching.  This data was used by Augar to attack fees and the announcement recognises that the government have used it to look at efficiency.  The OfS have been asked to review it because the sector have said that it is “disproportionately burdensome”.  This year’s return has been cancelled.  A “way forward” for the review is due by October alongside the UKRI review of the other stream of TRAC (see below).
  • Review of the transparency condition – this is the monitoring data provided to the OfS relating to offers and acceptable, completion and outcomes, including by gender, ethnicity and background. The OfS have said that they will explore if the amount of information requested can be reduced and replaced by other sources, and the DfE are “pleased” with that.  Due by end October.
  • Reduction in OfS fees – the OfS have to review their own efficiency with a view to reducing fees, and to help them along the government’s review of fees (which are set by the Secretary of State) will take place this Autumn instead of next year. The QAA and HESA are expected to reduce their fees too.

So, the NSS.  Hold on to your hats – these statements are bold!

  • We have asked the OfS to undertake a radical, root and branch review of the National Student Survey (NSS)…..Since its inception in 2005, the NSS has exerted a downwards pressure on standards within our higher education system, and there have been consistent calls for it to be reformed. There is valid concern from some in the sector that good scores can more easily be achieved through dumbing down and spoon-feeding students, rather than pursuing high standards and embedding the subject knowledge and intellectual skills needed to succeed in the modern workplace. These concerns have been driven by both the survey’s current structure and its usage in developing sector league tables and rankings. While government acknowledges that the NSS can be a helpful tool for providers and regulators, we believe its benefits are currently outweighed by these concerns. Further, its results do not correlate well with other, more robust, measures of quality, with some of the worst courses in the country, in terms of drop-out rates and progression to highly skilled employment, receiving high NSS scores. Accordingly, the extensive use of the NSS in league tables may cause some students to choose courses that are easy and entertaining, rather than robust and rigorous.
  • The government shares concerns raised by some in the sector that, in its current form, the NSS is open to gaming, with reports of some institutions deliberately encouraging their final year students to answer positively with incentives or messaging about their future career prospects. Academics have also criticised the cost and bureaucracy the NSS creates, arguing that the level of activity it generates can be a distraction from more important teaching and research activities. There is a sense that the level of activity it drives in universities and colleges has become excessive and inefficient. For example, we are aware that some providers employ analysts to drill down into NSS performance, in some cases at module level, and investigate any sub-par performance.
  • Student perspectives do play a valuable role in boosting quality and value across the sector, but there is concern that the benefits of this survey are currently outweighed by the negative behaviours and inefficiencies it drives. Universities must be empowered to have the confidence to educate their students to high standards rather than simply to seek ‘satisfaction’.

Now, many people will agree with at least some of that.  The sector blows hot and cold on the NSS – heavily critiquing its use in the TEF, then worrying that there was no voice for students when it was diluted in later iterations.  Many have criticised it for being subjective and unhelpful (so not so much a criticism of the survey as a tool for driving improvements, as a criticism of its inclusion in the TEF and league tables) – but that was a case of the TEF using the metrics that they had, because there wasn’t anything else.  Lots of people have criticised the methodology, despite the reviews that have been carried out before.  Some universities have had consistent boycotts (Oxbridge).

But don’t think that abolishing it will mean that we can stop worrying about the underlying issues.  The OfS have been asked (by the end of the calendar year!) to:

…undertake a radical, root and branch review of the NSS, which:

  • reduces the bureaucratic burden it places on providers
  • ensures it does not drive the lowering of standards or grade inflation
  • provides reliable data on the student perspective at an appropriate level, without depending on a universal annual sample
  • examines the extent to which data from the NSS should be made public
  • ensures the OfS has the data it needs to regulate quality effectively
  • will stand the test of time and can be adapted and refined periodically to prevent gaming

Expectations are high.  No annual survey and yet reliable data….that reduces the bureaucratic burden, and prevents gaming and avoids lowering standards and grade inflation.  Notably there are no positive suggestions about what a new approach actually will achieve other than “reliable data on the student perspective”.  You might ask perspective on what?  Not satisfaction, it seems, or even experience, but “quality and value”.   It sounds like getting rid of it completely is on the table, replacing it with something else that isn’t a survey at all.  But what?  So this is your moment.  What is the best way to get “reliable data on the student perspective”.  We look forward to engaging with staff across BU on the inevitable OfS call for evidence.

Obviously the OfS have responded to all this.  They seem to think that they will be keeping the survey.  Maybe the requirement to avoid an annual universal sample means just that – not annual, not everyone, just a sample?

  • ‘On the NSS, our review will seek to reduce any unnecessary bureaucracy, prevent any unintended consequences and gaming of the survey, whilst ensuring that the NSS stands the test of time as an important indicator of students’ opinions and experiences at every level.

UKRI and BEIS

UKRI are being asked to make a lot of changes

Selection

  • simplify eligibility criteria for bidding
  • streamline grant schemes
  • streamlined two stage application process for grants – only necessary information provided at each stage
  • single format for CVs
  • “brand new, fully digital, user-designed, applicant-focused and streamlined grants application system with the first pilot launched in August”
  • single information document for a call rather than lots

Assurance and outcomes

  • harmonising reporting
  • reducing the number of questions and making it “minimally demanding”
  • enhance risk based funding assurance approach to reduce the burden and assure an organisation not individual projects
  • review end of award reporting

Other things

  • provide additional independent challenge (on costs and bureaucracy)
  • Stop multiple asks for information that already exists
  • review TRAC (as mentioned above)

NIHR

The NIHR are congratulated for already taking a number of steps to reduce the burden on researchers.  Now there are a set of new commitments to take this further.

  • Will consider ways of making peer review more proportionate
  • “will immediately delete clauses which place obligations on research institutions which add limited value to the general research endeavour and end user from the standard NIHR contract”
  • “review eligibility criteria for all funding streams including requirements for compliance with charters and concordats”
  • Will drop the requirement for Silver Athena Swan – but instead “We will expect organisations that apply for any NIHR funding to be able to demonstrate their commitment to tackling disadvantage and discrimination in respect of the nine protected characteristics set out in the Equality Act (2010). These are: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage or civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation” [that sounds like more not less bureaucracy….]
  • “NIHR currently obliges researchers, through a standard contractual provision, to notify DHSC of all publications associated with their research. ….This contractual clause will be deleted for almost all new contracts from 1st August 2020 “

Reductions in providers’ internal bureaucracy

What could this mean?  Well:

  • We …expect providers to ensure reductions in government or regulator imposed regulatory activity are not replaced with internal bureaucracy. In addition, we want them to go even further to enable academics to focus on front line teaching and research: stripping out their existing unnecessary internal bureaucracy, layers of management and management processes. [now that interesting, we flagged it a few weeks ago because it featured in the introduction to the financial restructuring document as an objective…but it is still unclear how this should be implemented – and one person’s internal bureaucracy is another person’s sensible internal control measure]
  • There are a wide variety of organisations which offer voluntary membership awards or other forms of recognition to support or validate an organisation’s performance in particular areas. …. Such schemes can be helpful but can also generate large volumes of bureaucracy and result in a high cumulative cost of subscriptions. Where a university believes that membership of such schemes are genuinely the best way of addressing a matter, it is of course free to do so, but in general universities should feel confident in their ability to address such matters themselves and not feel pressured to take part in such initiatives to demonstrate their support for the cause the scheme addresses. [from the points made above, that probably includes Athena Swan – what else?]
  • We will engage with the sector, and in partnership with research funding bodies across the UK, to tackle the broader issues that are often causes of unnecessary bureaucracy. [Like what?]
  • This is also an opportunity to shift the research sector to more modern methods of research, which will help cut red tape too. This means embracing modern methods of peer review and evaluation. It also means tackling the problematic uses of metrics in research and driving up the integrity and reproducibility of research. Crucially, we must embrace the potential of open research practices.

David Kernohan was quick to respond on Wonkhe.  One thing he points out is that the government are correct that the NSS does not correlate with highly skilled employment or outcomes.  But he points out that the government’s favourite two metrics don’t correlate with each other either  – and of course why would they.

Brexit

Have you missed it?

As you know, the trade deal with the EU has to be done by the end of the year because that is when the transitional period ends.  It could have been extended, but the deadline to request an extension was 30th June 2020 – and there was no way this government (with its large majority all signed up to a possible no deal Brexit) was going to ask for an extension.

The deadline for a deal has similarly been a bit flexible – of course, and despite all the talk of dates, the most real deadline is 31st December.  Originally it had been suggested that the deal needed to be done by July to allow for ratification – now both sides are saying that the EU leaders’ meeting on 15th October is the deadline.  But no-one will really be surprised if it carries on after that.  The withdrawal agreement was sorted in October last year, as you will remember and was then approved by Parliament in December 2020, receiving royal assent in January, just days before the UK left the EU on 31st January.  It was close.  The draft legislation wasn’t even published during all the backwards and forwards before the election, because it was such a hostage to fortune for the May government.  Then Boris negotiated changes to the withdrawal agreement and “got it done”, just in time.

So, the government are getting ahead.  Hence all the fuss about the new draft bill. Press coverage has been very excitable, especially as the NI Secretary confirmed in Parliament before it was published that the new law will “breach international law in a specific and limited way”.  As many are saying, that is not usually a defence (“sorry officer, but I only [insert criminal offence of choice here] in a specific and limited way”).  You can read the Hansard extracts here.

The Internal Markets Bill was published yesterday.  If you want to read it, it is here, which is where you will also find all the amendments etc. as it goes through.

The Institute for Government have a short blog here:

  • The bill would give ministers powers to make regulations about state aid and customs procedures for trade from Northern Ireland to Great Britain, and would allow ministers to make regulations inconsistent with the UK’s obligations under the Withdrawal Agreement.
  • The existence of those powers is a breach of Article 4 of the Withdrawal Agreement, which provides that the UK must use primary legislation to give full effect to the Withdrawal Agreement in domestic law.
  • However, unless the powers were actually used, the UK would not be in breach of the state aid and customs provisions of the Northern Ireland protocol.

So that answers that question.

And also:

  • Perhaps more extraordinary than the bill’s provisions on international law are those on domestic law. Under s45(4)(g) of the bill, regulations made by the minister on state aid or customs declarations would have legal effect notwithstanding their incompatibility with “any rule of international or domestic law whatsoever”.
  • This appears to be an attempt to oust the jurisdiction of the courts to review the legality of ministerial decisions under these powers at all.
  • Such clauses are rare, and they rarely work. The courts have repeatedly found ways of reviewing government decisions even where similar clauses have tried to keep them out of the picture.
  • That is because the judges consider them an affront both to the rule of law and to parliamentary sovereignty. “It is a necessary corollary of the sovereignty of Parliament,” the Supreme Court said in a case on this issue last year, “that there should exist an authoritative and independent body which can interpret and mediate legislation made by Parliament.”
  • Section 45 of this bill will make uncomfortable reading for anyone who believes in the principle that governments are subject to the law, at home and abroad. It requires careful scrutiny in parliament.

The other concerns are about timing.  We can look forward to the arguments being aired in full over the next two weeks.

So what is the issue?

From the BBC:

  • The UK and EU settled on the Northern Ireland Protocol. This would see Northern Ireland continue to follow some EU customs rules after the transition period – meaning customs declarations would be needed for goods moving from Northern Ireland to Great Britain, as well as some new checks on goods going from Great Britain into Northern Ireland.
  • It was unpopular with some sections of the Tory backbenches and Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party – which had been supporting the government until that point. But the agreement was passed through Parliament and the Northern Ireland Protocol became part of the international treaty.

You will remember all this, because the PM said there would be no checks, and then the government said well actually there would, etc…..

From the BBC again:

  • Downing Street said one thing it would do is allow ministers to unilaterally decide what particular goods were “at risk” of entering the EU when passing between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and therefore subject to EU tariffs.
  • The law would also give ministers the powers to scrap export declarations on goods moving from Northern Ireland to Great Britain and would make it clear that EU state aid requirements – where governments give financial support to homegrown businesses – would only apply in Northern Ireland.
  • But the government insists the bill only introduces “limited and reasonable steps” to “remove ambiguity” – not “overriding” the withdrawal agreement, as government sources had suggested on Sunday.

We will see.  Maybe they are just making sure that there is time for proper Parliamentary scrutiny this time, by publishing something technical in good time rather than waiting for October when the deal is finalised and there is no time to discuss it properly.  Or maybe it is sabre rattling.  And why might they need to sabre-rattle?  Because, apart from the NI border issue, there are also a couple of (unsurprising) issues outstanding in the main trade deal negotiations with the EU.

One is fishing rights, which was always going to be tricky.  You will recall that at one point it nearly derailed the discussions last year when France and Spain demanded extra concessions at the last minute.  There is an Institute for Government article from March and a  Guardian article (from June).

And the other issue is state aid – the rules about supporting domestic businesses, which are seen as anti-competitive.  There is an FT article on that.

We can expect a lot more rhetoric, bitterness, and positioning over the next few weeks.  It is clear that the deal won’t be done until it is done, and also that all the other bits, like research collaboration and participation in Erasmus, are dependent on there being a deal at all.  So we’ll just have to wait and see.

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 16th July 2020

This week we have more from the Universities Minister as the post-Covid policy direction becomes clearer, as well as that speech from the Secretary of State abandoning (again) the 50% target for HE participation , some Committee views on the impact of the virus and what to do about it, and in case you have forgotten about Brexit and the new points-based immigration system, we had more detail this week.  There is the NSS  and some other survey news too.  Brace yourself – it’s another bumper edition.

The Universities Minster speaks

A two-for-one offer this week.  Below we will talk about Gavin Williamson’s speech on FE (and related attack on HE).  But before we get to that, we want to share Michelle Donelan’s latest on 15th July when she was questioned by the Education Select Committee.

As we write this the transcript of the session isn’t available, but there is plenty of media coverage.

You should read the Research Professional article in full, but in case you don’t have time we offer some highlights:

  • Donelan was answering a question from Conservative committee member Caroline Johnson, who wanted to know which groups of young people were least likely to go to university, why that might be and what was being done to encourage them.
  • “First of all I want to say that we don’t necessarily want everyone to go to university—that was very much the essence of the secretary of state’s speech last week,” she said [see below for our summary of that]
  • …Whether you are advantaged or disadvantaged, higher education is not necessarily the best route to get to where you want to go in life,” Donelan said. “I really think we need to move away from this focus of how many students get to university because it is such a blunt instrument that isn’t actually very accurate in terms of social mobility,” she added. “If a student gets to university and drops out after year one and has a year’s debt, what does that achieve for their social mobility? Nothing. In fact, it sets them back in life. “It is about them completing high-quality, academically rigorous courses that then lead to graduate jobs—and that is the important measure we should be looking at.”
  • Johnson did not miss the fact that the universities minister had not really addressed her question, so she went back in for a second go. “The question was: Which groups are currently least likely to go to university and is there much talk about helping those groups…to consider it as a career [choice]?” she said.
  • Donelan trotted out the well-worn line about “record numbers of disadvantaged students going to university” (missing out the word “young”, which is crucial here given the decimation of the mature student body) but acknowledged that there were “still challenges within different sections of society, including white working-class students”. “But I actually don’t think it is a good measure to look at,” the minister continued. “It is the wrong question, if you don’t mind me saying, because it doesn’t matter about looking at which groups don’t get to university. It is about making sure that those groups that do go complete, that [their course will] lead to graduate jobs, but also looking at what is in that student’s best interests.”
  • …Donelan’s declaration that this “doesn’t matter” will be confusing for the great many people who work in widening participation. Johnson seemed taken aback, too. “Does that mean no university will be required to have a target of any particular demographic of student?” she asked.
  • Donelan’s response that universities were “individually accountable” for their access and participation plans, and that there were “different issues in terms of demographics” for different universities, will not do much to address that confusion. Nor will her repeated message that “access and participation is not just about getting the student in; it is about making sure they can complete their course” and then go on to get a graduate job.
  • “We need the sector to actually look at their offer…and their messages to prospective students, because they do tend to promote courses too much that don’t offer those graduate outcomes,” the minister concluded.

Jim Dickinson has also done a summary for Wonkhe and we pick out some different points although of course he includes the access and participation stuff too:

  • Remember all that stuff about bite-size, modular learning in Augar? It sounds like that will make it into the response in the Autumn. Donelan said: “Some of the work I’m doing at the moment is looking at potential for modular learning and how we can expand the part time offer as part of our response to Augar, which we will be responding to in line with the spending review.” Whether that Augar response will tackle the widespread disbelief this time last year that the SLC would be able to handle the complexity of loans for tuition and maintenance at module level remains to be seen.
  • That “other half” of the bailout – the “restructuring regime” yin to the research funding yang, if you will, is coming. And we got a preview of the length and thickness of the strings that will be attached here: “So I can’t obviously pre-empt a report that’s going to come out. But what I can say is the driving force behind all of my work and all of the department’s work in HE is to prioritize quality provision that is fit for purpose and that unlocks opportunities for individuals that are making, at the end of the day, a massive investment in their future and one that they do want to see pay off in some form or another. I think too long we’ve let far too many students down by pushing and promoting courses that don’t have that value, don’t lead to those graduate outcomes and jobs. But at the same time, get them into tens of thousands of debt, which I just don’t think is good enough.”  Any funding from DfE would surely have to come through OfS, which was already busy with a funding review and a look at its minimum thresholds for quality. 
  • Lots of people have been concerned about student hardship during the pandemic, and so were the committee. Here the minister stretched credibility beyond all usual limits in her framing of the ability to spend some student premium in a slightly different way – an issue we’ve picked Donelan up beforeon the site: “Students have been affected by the pandemic in terms of finances, that’s undeniable. So most institutions have their own hardship funds and assistance already. And then they receive money every month for access and participation, which we worked with the Office for Students to remove the restrictions around so that they could unlock twenty three million pounds per month for April, May, June and July.  So 23 million pounds each, which is a considerable amount of money that they were able to then access to top up their hardship funds. And we promoted the use of that for things like accommodation, technology costs, system connectivity costs, all of these things. And that’s had a really fantastic impact in terms of trying to direct that support. I think it was right that we channelled that through universities who had these relationships and could identify those students most in need.”  We’re very much looking forward to seeing the evidence for the claim for the “a really fantastic impact” line, which surely must be coming given how much we all like to focus on “what works” and “outcomes” these days.

Levelling up and higher technical education

On Thursday last week Gavin Williamson gave a speech with the Social Market Foundation and then on Tuesday this week, a press release with more of the detail.

The speech set out the Government’s intentions to refocus FE, raising its profile and establishing the higher technical route as a genuine alternative to a degree. The announcement was well trailed in advance as the sector anticipated that the government would abandon Tony Blair’s target for 50% attending university (of course this wasn’t actually the target and it had already been dropped – Blair’s target was not about universities and l technical education for people under 30, as explained by former Minister Chris Skidmore here ). Given we have had several weeks (months?) of anti-HE rhetoric we had an impending sense of doom as we waited for Williamson’s speech. However, while there are the usual digs, it focussed enough on FE to be balanced.  And there is an opportunity for universities. For years the Government has urged HE institutions to work with their local schools and FE provision and received a lukewarm response, and universities will be able to access the higher technical qualification funding in collaboration with FE providers.

There was lots of interesting content in the speech, browse through the below, summarised in places to shorten it:

  • There is so much right with our education system but when it comes to further education, too many people here don’t value it as much as they should.
  • It exasperates me that there is still an inbuilt snobbishness about higher being somehow better than further, when really, they are both just different paths to fulfilling and skilled employment. Especially when the evidence demonstrates that further education can open the doors to greater opportunity, better prospects and transform lives. We must never forget that the purpose of education is to give people the skills they need to get a good and meaningful job.

The Minister mentioned the following sources of financial support mentioned in the budget last week (read more in our update from last week).

  • When I first came into this job, I was firmly of the belief that there needed to be a major shift in how we treat further education. Not just because of its importance in levelling up. But because further education is vital if we want our country to grow economically and our productivity to improve. We need fundamental change, not just tinkering around the edges.
  • …Further education is central to our mission of levelling up the nation. Or quite simply, giving people the skills that they need to get the jobs that they want. If you want to transform many of our left-behind towns and regions, you don’t do it by investing more money solely in universities. You invest in the local college – the beating hearts of so many of our towns.
  • But unfortunately, we’ve not been providing as many of our young people with this opportunity as we should….Since becoming Education Secretary, I was shocked to discover that while the number of people going to university has increased, the total number of adults in education has actually fallen.
  • So what’s driven that fall?… There has been a systemic decline in higher technical qualifications… Within Higher Education Institutes, foundation degrees have declined from a high of 81,000, to approximately 30,000. Undergraduate part-time study in higher education has also fallen significantly, from nearly 250,000 in 2010 to under 100,000. Together, these more than outweigh the increase in young people going to university. And for those who haven’t achieved the equivalent of A-Levels by age 18, the chances of proceeding to higher levels of qualifications is, as Philip Augar’s report puts it, ‘virtually non-existent.’… Only 10% of all adults aged 18-65 hold a Higher Technical Qualification as their highest qualification. This compares to around 20% of adults in Germany and as much as 34% in Canada…We’re writing off people who have a tremendous potential to contribute to our society.
  • For decades, we have failed to give further education the investment it deserves. Of course, we know universities have an important role to play in our economy, society and culture. But it’s clear that there are limits to what can be achieved by sending ever more people to university, which is not always what the individual or our nation needs. 
  • In February I got sent a copy of the Oxford Review of Education’s special edition, about Higher Education and the labour market…Consistently across countries, there is evidence of filtering down in the labour market. That means that graduates are competing for jobs that used to be – and could still be – done by non-graduates. And a significant proportion of graduates fail to gain much advantage from going to university at all…It reinforces what we already know…that 34% of our graduates are in non-graduate jobs, more than any other countries in Europe except for Ireland and the Czech Republic. And employers say that too often, graduates don’t have the skills they need, whether that’s practical know-how or basic numeracy and literacy. [Here you may wish to read Wonkhe’s alternative take on the 34% underemployed.]
  • ….Skilled trade and professional occupations, in sectors such as manufacturing and construction, report some of the highest skills shortages. Many of these occupations require intermediate or higher technical qualifications – precisely the things that we are not teaching. Simply as a nation we seem to have given up on them when these are the skills we need most to have a chance of competing against other nations.
  • And let’s not pretend these qualifications are in any way inferior to a degree. The outcomes speak for themselves. Five years after completion, the average Higher Technical Apprentice earns more than the average graduate. I’d like to pause on that point just for a moment. A work-based, technical apprenticeship, lasting around 2 years, gives greater returns than the typical three year bachelor’s degree. For too long, we’ve been training people for jobs that don’t exist. We need to train them for the jobs that do exist and will exist in the future. We have to end the focus on qualifications for qualifications sake. We need fundamental reform: a wholesale rebalancing towards further and technical education. And across our entire post-16 sector, we need a much stronger alignment with the economic and societal needs of the nation.
  • My personal commitment is to put further and technical education at the heart of our post-16 education system. Like the Prime Minister, I believe that talent and genius are expressed as much by the hand and by the eye as they are in a spreadsheet or an essay.
  • We need to create and support opportunities for those who don’t want to go to university, not write them off – or drive them down a path that, can all too often, end with graduates not having the skills they need to find meaningful work.

The Minister states these reforms as successes (!):

  • Apprenticeship level and move to employer-led standards
  • Introduction of T levels
  • But, we need to go further, we need to go further and we need to go faster: to remove qualifications that are just not fit for purpose; to tackle low quality higher education; and to give colleges the powers and resources that they need to truly drive change.

Germany…

  • This autumn I will be publishing a White Paper that will set out our plans to build a world-class, German-style further education system in Britain, and level up skills and opportunities. This will not be about incremental change, but a comprehensive plan to change the fundamentals of England’s further education landscape, inspired by the best models from around the world.
  • It will be centred upon two things. Firstly, high quality qualifications based on employer-led standards. All apprenticeships starts will be based on those standards from August this year and we will be looking to place such standards at the heart of our whole technical education system. Secondly, colleges playing a leading role in developing skills in their areas, driving an ambitious agenda that responds to local economic need and acting as centres for businesses and their development.

The Minister pledged to review the 12,000 level 3 qualifications simplifying the system into a consistently high-quality set of choices with a clear line of sight to study at higher levels.

  • …following our consultation last year we will be bringing forward plans to reverse the decline in higher technical education so that we can begin once more to train people for the jobs that the economy actually needs…And we want to do much more to open up more flexible ways of studying, including better support for modular learning.
  • Reforming and growing higher technical education will be a long-term endeavour. We want to see our great further education colleges expanding their higher technical provision. And although this speech is about further education, universities can be an important part of the solution, if they are willing to significantly step up their provision of higher technical qualifications.
  • Of course, qualifications are only half of the picture. Equally important is where they are taught…how our colleges should look in the future…They should be led by great leaders and governors who are drawn from local communities and businesses, and teaching staff who have already have experience working in and with industry…They should have industry-grade equipment and modern buildings which are great places to learn in and which act as centres for business development and innovation…They should deliver courses that are of the highest quality and which are tailored to the needs of employers and their local economies…They should work with small, local businesses to support the introduction of new technology and processes, and offer training in emerging skills….And there should be a robust system of governance so that every college is financially secure, flexible and dynamic. [That’ll keep the Government/ESFA busy then!]
  • We are also driving forward our network of Institutes of Technology. They will lead the way on delivering higher technical skills in science, technology, engineering, and maths – skills that will give this country a competitive edge not just in the industries of today, but, just as importantly, those of tomorrow. The first 12 are being rolled out across the country, ready to deliver the next generation of technicians and engineers, and more will follow soon. [Later this year the government plans to launch a competition to ensure that all of England is covered by an Institute of Technology.]

I think a lot of thought went into Williamson’s speech as he even attempts to change the rhetoric:

  • Some people say that further education and apprenticeships are for other people’s children. Let me be clear: I don’t. I’d be delighted if my children went to college or did an apprenticeship.
  • …No longer can we persist in the view that university is the silver bullet for everyone and everything. The revolution and need for change is long overdue. Education’s purpose is to unlock an individual’s potential so they can get the job and career that they crave. If it fails to do that then education itself has let them down. Today I have laid down a marker for change. A commitment to stand for the forgotten 50%. [You may recall that it was Ed Miliband who first coined the ‘forgotten 50%’ phrase in this context.]

Responses

The Guardian have an article from Berlin Bureau Chief – Philip Oltermann –  Importing Germany’s dual education system is easier said than done stating the German set up is fundamentally different to the UK (for a start it’s a federal nation, and a lot bigger) but also because it has the same ‘issue’ with HE being a preferred option. The Guardian states:

  • it involves complex coordination between the different actors, which the UK would at present struggle to reproduce, but also because it is threatened by the same cultural factors that have made universities so popular in the UK.  
  • ..the German dual system requires a high level of complex coordination between the employers who pay the trainee’s wages, the federal states that fund vocational training schools tailored to the needs of local industry, the unions that feed into the curriculum, and the chambers of trade and industry that carry out the exams at the end.
  • Previous British attempts to build up German-style dual systems – New Labour’s “14-19 Diplomas” and David Cameron’s ambitious apprenticeship targets – struggled to build up the educational infrastructure required to go with it.
  • Most British unions don’t have the capacity to feed expertise into training programmes… there isn’t an equivalent tradition of employers’ umbrella organisations developing training programmes for their entire sector.
  • In addition, not just Britain but Germany too is experiencing a gravitational pull that draws more and more young people towards universities rather than apprenticeships.

And the key point is this –

  • One reason for the trend, labour market experts speculate, is that academic degrees promise more flexibility, which is one of the downsides of the dual system.
  • While Germany’s dual training programmes produce highly specialised workers that can be perfectly matched to a sector’s current needs, they can struggle when digitalisation or globalisation throws that sector into crisis, as German printers, tailors or photo laboratory technicians have discovered in recent years.

Williamson’s speech is all about training young people to fit within specific fields of work, particularly addressing skills gaps – but those gaps will close and educational programmes take longer to respond. Flexibility really is the key here as people expect to need to change professions 5-7 times during their working span (Careers advice online, Financial Times, although this source takes issue with the ‘job hopping millennial’).

Before the Minister made his speech ex-Universities Minister Chris Skidmore wrote for Conservative Home agreeing with Williamson’s speech but also using his piece to remind about:

  • Step-on, step off, credit based learning, that allows for a personalised education for the 100 per cent, not one that seeks to divide between two systems.
  • we should not turn the clock back – but equally let’s make sure we give everyone, regardless of background, an equal chance to learn. More part-time, flexible learning for adults of every age can help achieve this.
  • My greatest objection to the 50 per cent headline grabbing figure is that it masks some of the truly horrifying, persistent divisions in our country. Still just nine per cent of white boys on free school meals living in the North East access higher education; only six per cent of pupils who have been in care will do so. These divisions are even more acute when the type of university institution is taken into account. In 2018, 17 per cent of students who were eligible for free school meals entered higher education in the UK. Yet only 2.7 per cent of them enrolled at high-tariff providers.
  • It is not acceptable for money to be handed over to institutions without delivering the necessary qualification. So called ‘non-completions’ are an unacceptable waste of talent and resource – which is why we need to create a learning system that prevents young people from dropping through the net.

In what will likely be an interesting summer for policy twists e should not dismiss Skidmore’s remarks simply because he is a backbencher. Currently Donelan is overshadowed by her two predecessors and their recent frequent media pieces…’ as if they are trying to influence from the side lines as they scent the change on the wind.

On the speech Wonkhe say: There are also serious doubts about the government’s capability and capacity to deliver meaningful reform in this area. It seems perennially confused about what it wants from higher education… And the fact that ministers can’t seem to support further education without attacking universities has left many on both sides of the old tertiary divide scratching their heads.

Wonkhe also sum up some of the media and sector responses for us: Greg Walker, CEO of MillionPlus said that some of the rhetoric in the speech missed the mark “as it appears to see HE and FE as alternatives, which they are clearly not”. University Alliance CEO Vanessa Wilson added that it was wrong to suggest that higher education “rarely offers technical qualifications and training”. The speech is covered by the BBC, the Times, the Financial Times, the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Independenti News, the Spectator, the Mirror, the Mail. The Spectator also runs an opinion piece from the Social Market Foundation’s Director, James Kirkup, on the “genuinely important” speech, while the Guardian’s Education editor muses on what might come of Williamson’s education “revolution”.

Writing before the speech was released Research Professional made some good points:

  • How the government will actually stop school leavers choosing “popular-sounding courses”, as Donelan put it, remains to be seen.
  • Scarcity of places and repurposing the course offer of universities that get into financial trouble are two tools available, but they are unlikely to have much impact in the short and medium term while the demographic of 18-year-olds in England is at its lowest for several decades and supply outstrips demand.
  • It would seem that not even the coronavirus can dim the desire of young people to go to university, or of their parents to see them there. So what makes the government think it can do what Covid-19 cannot?
  • Even after the government has trebled tuition fees, cut grants and created a market of alternative providers, young people still want to go to university in numbers that continue to grow. The expansion of university participation is driven by the desires of students and their parents, not by irresponsible vice-chancellors looking to put bums on seats, as a former universities minister once put it.
  • …Williamson may rail today against a previous emphasis on increased entry to university, while on the other hand this government might end up making good on New Labour’s 50 per cent participation pledge. That target … was always supposed to include students experiencing higher education on HND and HNC courses. An investment in further education, with a push on lower-level qualifications, might just result in the Conservatives finally realising the ambition of Tony Blair’s government.
  • A canny education secretary who wanted to get things done would incentivise higher education in a further education setting and enable partnerships between universities and local colleges. An education secretary hidebound by ideology will seek to erect obstacles to university attendance, which will prove to be ineffective and counterproductive in the long run.
  • How Williamson chooses to pivot in his speech today will tell us a lot about what the legacy of this government will be for universities. Will it be five years of lobbying against restrictive measures or will it be a period of contributing to national recovery through joined-up thinking across the education system?

Post-speech Research Professional focus on the poor state of the FE sector and suggest that the Government’s reforms are the reason for the numbers decline within the mature population.

Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of The Sutton Trust, said:

  • Further educationandapprenticeshipshave a crucial role to play in widening opportunity … We would also like to see many more degree and degree-levelapprenticeshipsavailable to young people. They offer a powerful combination of on the job learning and academic work, enabling young people to earn while they learn, graduate with little or no debt and with the skills the marketplace wants. 

Tim Thomas, Make UK Director of Labour Market and Skills Policy said:

  • This is a welcome move to parity between academic and vocational education. For too long vocational education has been seen as the second class option for those who don’t make it to university. An employer-led vocational training system is the only way that we will meet the skills needs of the future and properly train the next generation with the future skills needed by business.
  • High quality engineering apprenticeships can offer better careers than university education and are often seen by employers as a better source of talent and supplying the right skills required by business. We look forward to working with government on their white paper and producing the fundamental changes need to our vocational trading system needed to make these objectives a reality for employers and learners alike.

So what does it all mean?

On Tuesday Gavin Williamson announced the detail of the plans.

Higher technical quals consist of HNCs (Higher National Certificates, level 4) and HND (Higher National Diplomas, level 5) effectively plugging the levels between A level (level 3) and Degree (level 6). Unlike A levels and degrees they usually have a technical focus and the Minister intends for them to focus on the skilled professions particular where the UK needs additional manpower to service industry gaps. The Government intend to:

  • Introduce new higher technical qualifications from as early as September 2022 [digital quals in Sept 2022, health science and construction in 2023] with a Government branded quality mark certifying the qualification as delivering the skills employers need (and using the same occupational standards as T levels and apprenticeships will sit within).
  • Work with Ofsted and the OfS to ensure the course quality is consistently high across HE and FE providers and building on the Institutes of Technology. Wonkhe speculate that the regulatory role will sit with the OfS as the original consultation highlighted an assurance role for the Office for Students that focused more on inputs than outputs – we’re expecting to see a move away from that level of active intervention to a reliance on existing OfS registration requirements in the full announcement.
  • Raise public awareness through a national campaign supported by employers and careers advisers to showcase the benefits and the wide range of opportunities that studying a higher technical qualification can open up and making sure students get the right information, advice and guidance to make informed choices. Also: we will raise the profile and understanding of the best higher technical education courses through a government-backed brand, a communications campaign and improvements to information, advice and guidance.

The written ministerial statement added some additional context.

The Government certainly means business with the speed they intend to introduce the new qualifications. Many complained that T levels are not ready, and they had a far longer lead time and are being introduced piecemeal. The higher technical qualifications will continue  the Government’s vocational and technical route after T levels, alongside the intended expansion of the Institutes of Technology.

It is expected that the new higher technical quals will focus on STEM and manufacturing at first. What haven’t been mentioned are degree apprenticeships nor topping up a HND to a full degree. It is somewhat conspicuous by its absence as this has always been the focus of previous Government efforts. However, given the current rhetoric about degrees and criticism of the cost of the degree apprenticeships, the absence isn’t surprising. Yet it does create a hole between the Government’s ideal for more applied research to take place in situ within businesses and industry, including PhDs, which need that top up to the full degree and the advanced research skills often learnt on the level 6 top up.

The biggest question is what fee regime the higher technical qualifications will be subject to.

Finally the Government’s press release states the measure announced today will complement the Government’s review of post-18 education to ensure the system is joined up, accessible and encourages the development of the skills the country needs. The Government did review the higher technical level 4 & 5 space last year (it bumbled along quietly against the tertiary education and funding review). The Augar review was Theresa May’s baby and the Government has delayed its response and forthcoming changes for an embarrassingly long while. The Government may also think the lure of the technical route will result in a drop in degree applications – that remains to be seen, particularly given points made earlier about young people wanting flexibility over career choices rather than being channelled into a particular skill set and there is the forthcoming young population boom to accommodate.

Wonkhe have an interactive chart showing where the existing higher technical courses are offered. It describes approximately 1,000 courses currently exist with FE colleges delivering slightly more than HE institutions. Sadly it doesn’t geographically map where these courses are to show national coverage or patchiness, although you can browse through the provider names to get a feel for the national distribution.

There was a parliamentary question on difficulty for young people travelling to their T level placements from rural areas. The Government responds on increased funding to sources that could support the individual.

Finally, Mary Curnock Cook (ex UCAS CEO) blogs for HEPI stating that the technical curriculum needs to be on offer at secondary level too. Excerpt:

  • while I support the government’s aims to overhaul tertiary education options I fear their current approach will further divide society, lethally levelling up the already privileged middle-classes while sorting off the less well off, lower-attaining rest into what will forever seem like poorer options in lesser occupations. If levelling up is the aim, then we need to create broader and meaningful technical and skills pathways for all students, not just for those that do less well at academic GCSEs.

Admissions – use of calculated grades

Much of this week’s education-related parliamentary chatter has been about the use of predicted grades to determine GCSE and A level results. It is slightly surprising it has taken until now – given one of the main reasons for considering an alternative to HE admissions are concerns over the inaccuracy of predicted grades, particularly that disadvantaged students may be underpredicted (reducing their chances of reaching a higher tariff provider), BAME bias may result in underprediction, and SEN children can perform higher than expected in final exams (and mocks may not have incorporated the adjustments they would expect in the finals).

The Education Committee’s latest report Getting the grades they’ve earned: Covid-19: the cancellation of exams and ‘calculated’ grades addresses the issue. 

  • We consider exams to be the fairest form of assessment, and any alternative will inevitably be an imperfect replacement. Ofqual has stepped up to the immense challenge of devising these exceptional arrangements,
  • We have concerns that the system described by Ofqual as the “fairest possible in the circumstances” could be unfair for groups including disadvantaged pupils, BAME pupils, children looked after, and pupils with SEND.
  • …We believe it is reasonable to remain aware that the potential for human bias in predicted grades may be replicated in the calculated grade system. We note that teachers and support staff themselves appear sceptical of the fairness of this year’s system of awarding grades
  • We are unconvinced that safeguards—such as additional guidance and practical recommendations—put in place by Ofqual will be sufficient to protect against bias and inaccuracy in calculated grades. In particular, given research evidence on unconscious bias, we are concerned that groups including pupils from low-income families, BAME pupils, pupils with SEND, and children looked after could be disadvantaged by calculated grades.
  • We raised our concerns about fairness for pupils with special educational needs to Ofqual, emphasising the importance of ensuring SEND specialists feed into calculated grades. We are pleased that Ofqual produced guidance on considering evidence from SEND specialists during the calculated grade process. We are concerned, however, that there was no accountability mechanism for ensuring this happened consistently
  • Given the potential risks of bias in calculated grades, it is clear that standardisation will be a crucial part of ensuring fairness. We are extremely concerned that Ofqual’s standardisation model does not appear to include any mechanism to identify whether groups such as BAME pupils, FSM eligible pupils, children looked after, and pupils with SEND have been systematically disadvantaged by calculated grades. Ofqual must identify whether there is evidence that groups…have been systematically disadvantaged by calculated grades. If this is the case, Ofqual’s standardisation model must adjust the grades of the pupils affected upwards.

On appeals the report says:

  • We took evidence on the system Ofqual has devised for appealing grades. Sally Collier assured us that Ofqual has “spent many hours with very many people trying to come up with the fairest possible appeal system in the circumstances”. Tom Bewick told us that given the circumstances, the 2020 system “is effectively the least worst option”.
  • We are extremely concerned that pupils will require evidence of bias or discrimination to raise a complaint about their grades. It is unrealistic and unfair to put the onus on pupils to have, or to be able to gather, evidence of bias or discrimination. Such a system also favours more affluent pupils and families with resources and knowledge of the system.

Recommendations:

  • We call on Ofqual to make a transparency guarantee—a commitment to publishing details of its standardisation model immediately to allow time for scrutiny. Ofqual should not be afraid of scrutiny or open debate over whether its model offers the fairest outcome for every pupil and provider
  • Ofqual must identify whether there is evidence that groups such as BAME pupils, pupils with SEND, children looked after, and FSM eligible pupils have been systematically disadvantaged by calculated grades. If this is the case, Ofqual’s standardisation model must adjust the grades of the pupils affected upwards. The Government must extend catch-up funding to include disadvantaged post-16 pupils to ensure this is not a lost generation. This should be done by doubling the disadvantage element in the 16–19 funding formula for pupils in Year 12, for at least the next year.
  • Ofqual’s evaluation must include comprehensive data on attainment, by characteristics including gender, ethnicity, SEND, children looked after, and FSM eligibility, providing full transparency on whether there are statistically significant differences between attainment this year compared with previous years.
  • It is right that pupils should be able to appeal their grade if they believe bias or discrimination has occurred, but Ofqual has not given enough thought on how to make this route accessible to all pupils. [The section within the report on appeals states The appeals process: a process for the well-heeled and sharp-elbowed?] …Without support, proving bias or discrimination would be an almost impossible threshold for any pupil to evidence. Disadvantaged pupils, and those without family resources or wider support, risk being shut out of this route. Ofqual must urgently publish the evidence thresholds for proving bias and discrimination, clearly setting out what evidence will be required. AND Ofqual must collect and publish anonymised data at the conclusion of the appeals process on where it received appeals from, including, as a minimum, type of school attended, region, gender, ethnicity, SEND status, children looked after (including children supported by virtual schools), and FSM eligibility
  • Ofqual must ensure gold-standard advice and support is easily accessible for all pupils unhappy with their grades. Both the helplines provided by Ofqual and the National Careers Service must be freephone lines. These must both be staffed by dedicated professionals with the training to provide sound and impartial step-by-step advice and support on options and appeals.

Paragraphs 30 onwards tackles calculated grades for vocational and technical qualifications.

A HEPI blog, Halfon is right: Ofqual has more to do, agrees with the Education Committee’s outcomes and urges for action to be taken. It make interesting points about the autumn exams too:

  • In the understandable rush to introduce a completely new system, after the Secretary of State’s announcement on 20 March, it probably seemed reasonable at first to invent a system in which dissatisfaction could be tackled by an opportunity to take an autumn examination. Over time this choice has unravelled. If initial results match the allowed national distribution and autumn exam candidates succeed in achieving higher grades, then grade inflation is bound to follow – unless other candidates are downgraded, which is unthinkable. Are autumn exam candidates being set up to fail? Or will the August results be scaled down to allow some headroom in the national distribution?
  • Furthermore, students sitting autumn exams face a compulsory gap year, because the exams will be too late for a 2020-2021 start. This in itself may be discriminatory, especially for disadvantaged students. The impact of autumn-awarded grades on admission prospects for 2021 is uncertain. Some universities are refusing deferred entry for 2021, others will honour offers but with added conditions. The competition for 2021 entry is likely to be much more intense as 2020 students reapply, a larger 2021 cohort apply for the first time, and international students from 2020 and 2021 return in much larger numbers.

Admissions – numbers up

UCAS announced a rise in application numbers last week – up 1.6% on last year and is the highest figure in four years. They state a record 40.5% of all UK 18 year olds have applied to HE (last year – 38.9%) despite there being 1.5% fewer in the population because of the birth dip. (And 2020 is the bottom point in the population dip.) Just over a quarter of young applicants were from disadvantaged backgrounds (25.4%) using the participation measure. There is a small drop in EU student applications (down 2%).  And UCAS highlight that nursing applications (between January and June only) was 63% higher than the same period last year. Universities will be keen to ensure these applicants convert into enrolments once the results are out.

Clare Marchant, UCAS’ Chief Executive, said: At this moment, we’re seeing an encouraging picture emerge out of national lockdown, with currently more applicants than last year keen to expand their mind, stretch themselves, and seize the opportunities that higher education can offer.

Research Professional comment: This is great news for universities because it suggests that in the teeth of a fierce recession and with the prospect of gap-year travel off the table, even the model of blended learning on offer in institutions next year is proving to be more appealing to young people than continuing to be locked down with mum and dad.

Nursing

Every week the Government receive several parliamentary questions urging for leniency on nursing tuition fees both to cut tuition moving forward and refunds as a response to the coronavirus support work they undertook in hospitals. The House of Commons Library have published a briefing paper exploring the current funding systems for healthcare students, plus medicine, dentistry and paramedics. The nursing section includes the recent impacts on applications to study and the September 2020 new bursary offers. The Government also issued a press release to celebrate that applications to nursing courses are up by 16% (at end of June) and that the NHS is currently employing a record number of nurses and midwives (the largest ever annual increase):

  • Around 18,370 more nurses, midwives and nursing associates are now on the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s permanent register to work in the UK compared to a year ago, bringing the total number to 716,607 by 31 March 2020. The number of people trained in the UK leaving the register has also fallen to a five-year low.

 On Studying nursing the press release states:

  • This is the second year in a row that applicant numbers have risen. In 2019 there was a 6.4% increase in people accepted onto nursing and midwifery courses in England compared to 2018.

However, the Royal College of Nursing responded to the increase in nursing applications stating a much larger increase is required if the government is to come anywhere close to its commitment of having 50,000 more nurses in the NHS in England by the end of this Parliament.

Mike Adams, RCN Director for England said:

  • “Application numbers for the nursing degree in England have reduced by 17.4% since 2016, the final year of the bursary. This means even if the all of the latest applications are turned into acceptances and ultimately registered nurses, the large workforce gap will still not close.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on the contribution that nurses, and in particular student nurses, make to the entire health and care system. The effort they have shown has to be met with investment in our future nurses.
  • The government must invest properly in our domestic nursing supply and ensure patient need is met in the long term. To achieve this, it must wipe the debt of those who’ve had to take this on to study, provide full tuition fee support for all students and ensure maintenance support reflects students’ actual living costs.
  • The government should aim for an oversupply of nurses to strengthen our profession and keep patients safe.

Tuition fee refunds

Remember that mass petition for tuition fee refunds that was reopened by the Petitions Committee in Parliament? The Committee heard oral evidence and engaged 28,000 students through a survey and online forum (wider inquiry details here). The Committee has reported (key findings here) concluding that there should not be a universal reimbursement but that individuals can claim refunds on an individual basis in certain circumstances. The Committee stated:

  • While students do have a right to seek a refund or to repeat part of their course if the service provided by their university is substandard, we do not believe that there should be a universal refund or reimbursement of tuition fees to all university students.

However, as the Guardian reports, Catherine McKinnell, the Labour MP who chairs the petitions committee, said:

  • “Despite the hard work of lecturers and support staff, some universities have been unable to provide courses in a way that students feel is good value for money. Therefore, while we do not consider that a blanket refund for all students is necessarily required, we believe that the government has a role in ensuring any student whose university experience has fallen short is compensated.”
  • The report calls for refund procedures to be streamlined and better publicised, saying the existing complaints process or use of the courts places too much of a burden on individual students and are likely to be overwhelmed by a flood of cases.
  • The MPs also said the government should pay for tuition fee refunds this year, “given the importance of the higher education sector to the UK economy, and the exceptional circumstances”.

Wonkhe have a blog it starts: Should students get a refund? Some should, says a committee – but they won’t. The House of Commons petitions committee is clueless on consumer law and student rights.

The Petitions Committee report recommends that the Government should:

  • work with universities, the Office for Students, and Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education to produce guidance on when current and future university students may be entitled to seek a refund or to repeat part of their course;
  • establish a new system which enables all students to easily seek a full or partial refund of their tuition fees, or to repeat part of their course;
  • ensure that all students are advised of their consumer rights and are given clear guidance on how to avail themselves of these if they feel their university has failed to provide an adequate standard of education;
  • consider providing additional funding to universities to enable them to pay any refunds university students are entitled to as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak;
  • consider alternative means for reimbursing students, where an independent process has found that they are entitled to a refund;
  • consider making additional funding available to students who might want to extend their education after the outbreak, and to provide ongoing employment advice and support beyond graduation in what is likely to be an extremely challenging employment market.

NUS responded to the Committee’s recommendations:

  • NUS has been calling for the Government to provide a Student Safety Net since the scale of the impact on students became clear. The Petitions Committee’s recommendations would go a long way in achieving this aim, with targeted fee reimbursements and debt write-offs. We also welcome the references to support for further study or to redo elements of the course.
  • Although the report highlights some of our key asks for education leavers, the recent Treasury announcements for graduates do not go far enough and we would like to see an extended economic support package put in place.
  • Covid-19 has exposed and exacerbated the cracks in a broken higher education system, and hit students from disadvantaged and underrepresented communities the hardest. It is critical that the Government acts on these suggestions, but they must also go further. We are calling for universal compensation, and for the Government to protect our education sector from the failed project of marketisation before they lose the faith of millions of students.

The Office of the Independent Adjudicator has been on the ball throughout this process and in light of this week’s announcement they have blogged for Wonkhe:

  • We think it’s reasonable to expect providers to try to agree any significant changes with students as this is in everyone’s best interests. Where this is not possible, it’s important to explain to students what their options are. From our perspective, we would not be prescriptive about what this looks like in practice but we would look at whether the provider has taken reasonable steps to consult with students and enable them to make informed decisions.
  • Now that providers have had some time to plan for the longer-term effects of the pandemic, it is in our view unlikely to be reasonable for providers to rely on exclusion clauses that allow the provider to make significant changes to what it has promised, or not to deliver it at all, in the new year.
  • Where it’s not possible to deliver something that is at least broadly equivalent to what was promised, or to meet an individual students’ needs, the provider will need to think about how to put that right. It’s best to do this proactively without waiting for formal complaints to be raised.
  • There are groups of students whose studies are particularly badly affected by Covid-19 disruption and where significant changes are needed to their courses. It’s important to identify those groups and try to address their issues.
  • Providers will also be aware of and looking out for students who are vulnerable or less able to access replacement provision. Some of these students too may feel unable to continue with their studies, for example because their personal circumstances have changed, or they are shielding or very anxious.
  • In such extraordinary times we think it’s reasonable for students to be considering deferring or interrupting their studies, although this may not be their best option. We think providers should be considering requests sympathetically, helping students to understand their options, and should be ready to depart from their normal policy where it is reasonable to do so.
  • We don’t think it’s reasonable to have blanket policies such as refusing to give tuition fee refunds in any circumstances or refusing all requests for deferral, or not engaging with individual students’ concerns. We have already seen a worrying example of this among the first coronavirus-related complaints that have reached us. 
  • When we review a student’s complaint we look at whether the provider has followed fair procedures, and whether it has acted reasonably in the circumstances. We always take into account relevant legislation and guidance… A student’s contractual terms and conditions are important but we look more widely than that, at what is fair.

Research Professional have a short article on the Petitions Committee decision mainly focusing on restitution for students such as a tuition fee loan refund.

International Students

The UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) published a roadmap for a world-class international student experience. It calls for further visa flexibility, delaying the immigration health surcharge, and aims to build a stronger evidence base of current international students’ experiences, to drive future policy development and support policy asks. UKCISA also hopes to develop an International Student Charter.

Research Professional report on a survey suggesting that a fifth of potential EU students who considered studying in the UK plan to start their course earlier than they originally intended because of the tuition fee changes (the removal of home status).

Pinsent Masons (legal firm) run through all the recent Visa status changes. The Tier 4 content is just below halfway on this link.

Scotland have confirmed they will also end the free tuition for EU students from 2021. HE Minister Richard Lochhead explained it as a Brexit decision made with a heavy heart. He stated the £19 million  (per year) EU fee saving would be retained within Scotland to support more Scottish residents to attend University. To support Scottish universities internationalisation he aims to put a scholarship programme in place to continue to attract EU talent.

Despite last week’s urging from ex-Universities Minister Jo Johnson and Shadow HE Minister Emma Hardy the Government’s response to the international students in the US (who will have their visa rescinded due to their institution offering online study only during the pandemic) will not take a proactive stance. Current Universities Minister Michelle Donelan simply reiterated all the ‘welcoming’ measures for international students that are already in place such as the online study visa exemption and the post study work visa system. No attractive marketing campaign will be launched. This isn’t surprising from the viewpoint of international relations with an America determined to take offence at slights, however, given how well the Government’s aides have been listening and responding to sector chatter recently a warmer response might have been anticipated.

The second half of this Research Professional article gives the perspective of a German student who is anticipating their visa will be cancelled. It reminds that there is more to it than an undergraduate student forced to choose between deferral or switching countries of study:

  • simply studying online at a US institution from Germany is not feasible for many who had plans to stay in the United States for an extended period of time and have made arrangements accordingly, including uprooting family. 
  • “Anyone who—sometimes accompanied by relatives—is completing or planning a stay of several years in the United States, and has temporarily given up his or her centre of life in Germany for this purpose, is faced with existential questions.”

Happily for those international students the point is now moot. Following immense pressure from the Harvard and MIT law suit (which was joined by the tech giants, e.g. Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and the US Chamber of Commerce) President Trump has dropped the visa cancellation.

Whether international students will be exempt from the mandatory C-19 quarantine period of 2 weeks.  Whereas this IDP Connect survey suggests 77% of international students would happily quarantine if it meant a quicker return to face to face on campus teaching.

Points-based Immigration System

A policy paper on the points-based immigration system was published this week with more detail on the Student, Graduate and Skilled Worker route. There are lots of items with a little more detail, however, the key points remain as we’ve mentioned in previous policy updates. For those with an interest you can read the main elements here. One key change is that universities will need to do more than just monitor attendance – they will need to confirm (keep records as evidence) that international students have fully engaged with the course. Research Professional have a short write up here.

Graduate Outcomes

HESA released the next set of Graduate Outcomes experimental statistics data, this time looking at graduates’ subjective wellbeing. They asked about how anxious/happy the respondent felt, whether they felt the things they do in their life are worthwhile, and whether they are satisfied with their life. The charts are here. The second set of charts examines the above questions by subject studied. Education and subjects allied to medicine stand out as happiest/most pleased with their life currently.

The third chart shows that there isn’t a lot of difference on the questions from students across the range of degree outcomes from pass to first. The fourth chart looks at gender differences – females stated more anxiety but also rate high on the worthwhileness of their life. You can also cut the data by domicile in the final chart.

Wonkhe’s data guru interprets the findings further in a specific blog.

Social Mobility Commission

Sandra Wallace (lawyer) and Steven Cooper (banking) have been appointed as interim chairs of the Social Mobility Commission on a job share basis. Both currently serve on the Commission and will fill the role temporarily until a substantive chair can be appointed. You can read more on the appointees background and the details of the appointments in the Government’s press release.

Bailout push

YouGov have undertaken a poll examining the 30 marginal constituencies (those which swing between parties at the election and aren’t a safe seat) which all have a (10%+) student population and a university within their catchment. The results of the poll aren’t publicly available (currently) so we rely on the reporting in the UCU press release for details. UCU report that voters in these constituencies support additional Government funding to protect their university from the financial insecurity caused by the pandemic. These constituencies MPs include PM Boris Johnson and Science Minister Amanda Solloway. The bottom of the press release contains a table detailing the constituencies and their elected MPs.

  • 76% felt their local university was important in creating local jobs
  • 79% felt the university was important to the local economy
  • 72% university is key in brining in outside investment to the local area
  • 75% the university supplies key skilled staff for local services such as schools and hospitals
  • 33% of those polled who were employed stated the university was important to their own job
  • 42% knew someone studying or working at the university
  • 66% believe there would be a negative impact on the local economy if student numbers dropped at their university due to C-19
  • 75% were concerned of a negative local impact if their university went bust
  • 55% supported a temporary increase in Government financial support for their university to maintain courses and jobs (20% opposed the idea). [Hardy overwhelming support for this question!]
  • 43% want their local MPs to campaign for increased support for universities

NSS Analysis

The OfS have issued a press release on the 2020 National Student Survey additional analysis which examined the impact of the coronavirus on the results. They state that student satisfaction is stable and students continue to be discontented with course organisation and communication of changes.

  • The additional analysis acknowledges variations across the data but no evidence the results have been significantly impacted by the pandemic: The OfS used a statistical model to determine whether there is a significant difference between responses made before and after the 11 March (an ’11 March effect’) when other factors are taken into account. The model found that there is a difference for the majority of questions, but similar variations are also present in 2018 and 2019, so cannot be attributed solely to the pandemic.
  • 83% of students are satisfied with their course (2019 was 84%)
  • 67% feel their course is well organised and run smoothly (2019 = 70%; 2018 = 69%)
  • 62% felt students’ course feedback had been acted on (but only 49% of part time students did)
  • 2020 response levels were lower than in 2019 and 2018
  • Overall comparing against 2019 there is a small negative shift in the agreement rate for some questions.

Nicola Dandridge, OfS Chief Executive, said:

  • This academic year has come with unprecedented challenges for both universities and colleges, and their students. Notwithstanding the impact of both industrial action and the coronavirus pandemic on the students responding to the survey, the results remain remarkably positive.
  • However, for several years, students have reported comparatively lower satisfaction with the organisation and management of their courses, and how effectively changes are communicated. Now more than ever, the survey results demonstrate how important it is for universities to communicate changes effectively, run courses as smoothly as possible, and listen carefully to student feedback. This is even more important in the context of the coronavirus pandemic …

 Student Number Controls

This week Jo Johnson writes for the Evening Standard. The piece tackles how student number controls and, reading between the lines, possible changes to the funding of certain degree programmes that the Government might be considering (remember Jo himself was in favour of differential fees and tried to bring in through the HERA legislation linked to the quality of the TEF judgement – but the Lords protested) could negatively impact on arts programmes.

  • Up until the Coronavirus struck, they [the creative industries] were growing at five times the rate of the economy and generating around 15 per cent of national gross value-added. Enabling historic palaces, museums, galleries, live music and independent cinema to access emergency grants and loans while their doors are closed is a no-brainer.
  • For policy to be fully joined up, however, the Department for Education must take care over how it operates recently re-imposed domestic student number controls. This risks turning into a crude process to allocate places – and therefore funding – on the basis of flawed measures of graduate earnings. This would unfairly penalise creative arts courses already in the cross-hairs of higher education sceptics in Parliament fired up by Gavin Williamson’s denunciation of the Blair-era target for 50 per cent of young people to go to university. If we have learnt anything lately, it is to value socially useful but lower-earning professions.
  • It would be incoherent to open the door to international talent to work across our economy, while restricting opportunities for domestic students to prepare themselves for careers in the arts. An economic nonsense too: the creative industries were generating £13 million for the economy every hour before Covid-19 – enough to repay the subsidy to arts courses in the student loan book many times over.
  • Our creative industries will only recover if we supply them with the skills and talent vital for their success.

Research

  • A parliamentary question asking whether HE institutions can combine all the sources of Government support.
  • Covid-19 researchers will receive visa relaxation measures.
  • An answer to a parliamentary question we mentioned last week has revealed that UKRI administers 70% of the research public funding (UK sources).
  • Establishing an effective coordination and oversight mechanism to serve the R&D spectrum in the UK – a Science for the Justice System Advisory Group has been established working with UKRI to coordinate forensic science in the UK.
  • Direct air capture R&D funding
  • Institutions eligible for research funding (influence of REF award)
  • Wellcome have a new blog – How could COVID-19 change research culture for the better?
  • Research Professional (RP) report that participation in Horizon Europe is dead in all but name – there are concerns over the terms on which the UK could associate with the EU’s research funding schemes and the cost of the joining fee plus the operational contribution is described as eye-watering. Cost estimates range from 600 million Euros to 12 billion Euros – way beyond the costs UK researchers could win back in funding. The article states that Kurt Deketelaere, Secretary-General of the League of European Research Universities, said EU academia remains firmly behind UK association, and said British institutions must pile pressure on their government. If you’re not going to push anymore, nobody is. And that the European Commission has clearly indicated that this [terms/contribution] is still up for negotiation. Deketelaere implies it is the UK Government who are balking at joining Horizon Europe not the European Commission. However, there are question marks over the joining charge – the UK’s fee is being set out whereas it is unclear if the EU will charge other non-EU countries for association. RP report that the Treasury also expect the costs to come out of existing research budgets (previously it was going to be in addition to the science budget) because of the generous sums announced recently (and due to the cost of the pandemic for the Government). RP state:  Government sources now question whether the UK research community will be willing to blow a multibillion-pound hole in research budgets for the sake of access to the prestigious European Research Council and Marie Skłodowska-Curie Awards.

RP continue:

  • While there are now clouds on the horizon for the UK’s participation in EU research schemes, all of this is subject to the caveat that negotiations over both a Brexit trade deal and the terms of Horizon Europe are still ongoing. Everything could change, but all available evidence suggests that the UK government is now preparing an exit strategy and has its excuse lined up already.
  • Playbook suspects that as Brexit trade deal talks intensify after the summer, UK universities will be presented with a choice between paying over the odds to play in Europe or settling for beefed-up domestic schemes administered by UK Research and Innovation. For vice-chancellors, the wallet will say UKRI although the heart may say EU—is it a price worth paying?
  • But, in the end, this is not a decision that will be made in universities.

PQs

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

Disadvantage: The OfS has published their latest briefing note which considers outreach to disadvantaged students during the coronavirus. It describes online outreach including two case studies of a blended summer school type model, and other approaches targeted towards BAME, Gypsy, Roma and Traveller families, mature learners, and other vulnerable or underrepresented groups.

HE Sector Financial Health: The House of Commons Library have published a briefing Coronavirus: Financial impact on HE. It covers the financial health of the sector, the impact of reduced international student numbers, the Government support packages (fee payments and research funding) and the R&D roadmap.

Student Loans: The SLC have launched a new online repayment service – it calculates a student’s up to date remaining loan balance. It aims to avoid over payments as students near the end of their repayments.

Prevent: Wonkhe report on the latest report reviewing Prevent. Wonkhe say:

  • The government’s Prevent strategy has led to the persistence of negative stereotypes of Muslims and “a culture of mutual suspicion and surveillance” on campus, according to a new reportled by Alison Scott-Bauman at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). “Islam and Muslims on UK University Campuses: perceptions and challenges” recommends that there is a “strong argument” for Prevent to be discontinued in its current form, having curbed freedoms of speech and expression on campus.
  • Though there is ample evidence of widespread tolerance for all forms of religious activity among staff and students (with 88.1 per cent of students agreeing that “The experience of university encourages respect and mutual understanding among people who have different perspectives on life”), the research found a close link between belief in a “narrative of suspicion” about Islam, support for Prevent, and patterns of Islamophobia. The report recommends building awareness of Islamophobia via training and development, consultation, representation, and the encouragement of interfaith dialogue via free and frank debate based on the principle of mutual respect. The report is covered by the Guardian(along with an opinion piece by the report’s author) and the Telegraph.

Research Professional also cover Prevent.

Chinese relations: HEPI published UK Universities and China a series of essays on the challenges and complexities of the relationship between UK universities and China. It includes self-censorship; the importance of UK-China scientific research; and the recruitment and integration of Chinese students

Separately there is a recent YouGov poll which asks about UK/Chineses relationships. The interactive version of the chart is here.

Not just Brexit: Nick Hillman (HEPI Director) writes for UKandEU.com –  Universities and Brexit: past, present and future. It doesn’t just cover Brexit, but highlights that UK students get far less out of Erasmus than the incoming EU students studying in the UK, it even mentions this week’s bingo winner – the Blair 50% target. A longer read and some interesting points.

Student Experience: Pearson and Wonkhe have collaborated to examine students’ experience of learning during C-19 and their expectations for next year (shorter blog here).

  • 41% struggled to manage their wellbeing without in person contact with friends and university staff.
  • 34% found the new ways of learning challenging.
  • 34% struggled to manage their time without an enforced timetable.
  • 29% found the isolation difficult.
  • 34% struggled with lack of space or a quiet enough environment to study within.
  • 49% felt less confident to progress to their next step in their education or career –
    • with 13% of the 49% attributing this to external (non-university) factors (economy, jobs, research funding).
    • The factors relating to university were loss of industry experience, loss of practical skills development, lack of academic contact time, a lower sense of quality of learning experience.
  • 43% (of current students) plan to defer the next academic year to take a year out or look for work experience
  • 20% plan to leave education entirely (its unclear whether these were already final year students)
  • Of those planning to defer/leave 28% was because they didn’t want another semester of online study or the loss of practical experience reduced the value of their degree or because the logistics of travel, accommodation and teaching were too uncertain.
  • 47% of those who felt they had missed out (e.g. lab or studio based work) believe they should receive a fee reduction or refund as compensation. However, a quarter want to make up the missed experience at a safer later date, and 15% were willing to experience online. 10% didn’t feel it was the university’s responsibility to atone for the loss of experience.
  • On welfare the blog states:

One key message from the survey is that while students are clear that their wellbeing is suffering, the action they want universities to take is in the teaching and learning domain, rather than the welfare domain. Responses throughout the survey suggest that wellbeing issues are not simply the result of students being at home and the concerns over Covid-19, but that the way that universities have managed interactions and online learning has increased their anxiety, and had a negative impact on their wellbeing. It’s not simply about putting support mechanisms in place to help students with their wellbeing; it’s about stopping the causes.

  • 59% want universities to offer high quality online teaching as their priority for September rather than social interaction, well being support or access to learning resources.

Graduate outlook: Wonkhe report that research from Adunza finds that the number of graduate jobs available this summer has fallen by 73 per cent since the start of the year. Because larger employers are delaying graduate schemes due to the pandemic just 3,993 jobs are currently available, meaning that 100 graduates could be competing for each available job. FE news has the story.

HE Student Numbers: The House of Commons Library have published a paper on HE student numbers. It states: Headline student numbers have increased to new record levels in recent years following a short dip related to the 2012 reforms in the sector. There have been continued increases in entry rates for different groups of students, including those from disadvantaged areas/backgrounds where rates have also hit new record levels. However, headline numbers tend to focus on full-time undergraduates and there are ongoing concerns about student numbers outside this group where trends have not been so positive. This includes part-time undergraduates, particularly those not studying first degrees, some postgraduates students, overseas students from some countries, especially Nigeria and Malaysia, mature students and some disadvantaged groups.

There is also considerable concern about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and student numbers, particularly those from overseas and uncertainty about the impact of Brexit on EU student numbers

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 6th March 2020

Pre-budget week has been as we’d typically expect with organisations releasing a hoard of reports, evidence and lobbying papers aiming to influence Government funding decisions. We’ve summarised the main reports and added links for the reports which say similar things. Graduate outcomes and apprenticeships& technical education were the loudest shouters, and this week also saw University Mental Health day and the beginning of British Science Week.

Select Committees

All but one of the select committees has now confirmed their MP membership. You can see the members and brief details on the role and future outlook of the committees most relevant to BU in our committee special edition here.

Immigration

The Immigration Bill has now been published.  Dods report that the Office for Budget Responsibility is preparing to downgrade the UK’s economic growth prospects in next week’s budget because of the country’s proposed post-Brexit “points” based immigration model. The OBR will forecast that a smaller population will lead to lower economic growth and detriment public finances, restricting the new Chancellor’s abilities to spend more money on key public services such as the NHS as well as the Government’s wider programme to “level up” the economy.

The economic impact of the new immigration system has led to tensions between the Treasury and Number 10 Downing Street. The Treasury favours a looser migration regime, without a cliff edge at the end of 2020, when the Brexit transition period ends.

Importantly, a reduction in migration rates have little to no effect on living standards because while economic growth might slow overall, gross domestic product per person was remain unchanged. The Migration Advisory Committee estimated a rise in GDP per person but added that this was very uncertain.

Science

Gavin Williamson and Business SoS Alok Sharma announced £179 million funding package for science, maths and engineering on Friday (which is the first day of British Science Week):

  • £179 million for PhDs (up to 2,200 students) within the 40+ UK universities in Doctoral Training Partnership institutions. Students will commence 2020 and 2021 academic years within the subject areas of physical sciences, maths and engineering to develop the skills for ground-breaking research and high-tech industries like cyber security and chemical manufacturing. Part of the investment will go into pilots looking at how best to attract and support those from non-academic backgrounds to undertake this type of training.
  • Encourage more young people, particularly girls, to study STEM subjects at school and university, and pursue a STEM-related career.
  • £8.9 million to continue funding science education programmes including Science Learning Partnerships and Stimulating Physics Networks, which aim to improve science teaching and increase the take up of science at GCSE level and A level and ultimately encourage young people to pursue a STEM-related career.

And on Thursday the PM hosted the Council for Science and Technology at Downing Street. The Council is comprised of senior science civil servant officials, the VC of Manchester University and attended by the Science Minister (Amanda Solloway). It advises the PM on science and technology policy matters. The official account of the meeting states the PM set out his priorities for science, research and innovation; championed science as a key part of his levelling up agenda, and emphasised the role of scientists in tackling the policy challenges of the coming decades. He challenged the Council to define their “moon-shots” for UK science, their ideas for where the UK should aim high, for example across healthcare, transport, energy and robotics. He restated the government’s pledge to invest in science and significantly boost R&D funding.

Ex-Universities Minister Chris Skidmore has two articles in TES: UK Universities must embrace the future and Skidmore rejects ‘university-bashing’ and urges funding stability. The first looks at the Universities Minister role and Chris reflects on what he achieved and his approach to the role:

  • I arrived with a mission. Put simply, I felt that I had to try to steer the relationship between government and the sector into a better place. No more university-bashing for the sake of a few cheap headlines. What would be the point? 
  • Of course, that still means challenging the sector to do even better, but with a change in approach and a change of tone, I knew that I was more likely to enact real change, to encourage reform and to work productively on actual solutions, rather than simply sending out press releases calling for them.
  • So much good work is already taking place – one of my rules for every speech I made was to highlight best practice
  • I wish my successors, both in universities and science, the very best. They have an opportunity to fashion and lead an exciting agenda that is at the centre of the prime minister’s vision. Of course I would have loved to have been part of this, but I hope I have played my small part in helping to steer the sector through a difficult year and helping it recognise the huge opportunities that can lie ahead – if the initiative is seized, and university leaders are prepared to tell a positive, forward-facing narrative, rather than being always on the defensive.
  • Universities are not part of the problem, they are part of the solution. We need to hear more of that message, and I, for one, will continue to do everything I can to make sure that it is voiced – and heard. 

Graduate Premium

The Institute for Fiscal Studies and DfE have published The impact of undergraduate degrees on lifetime earnings. It paints a mixed picture confirming and quantifying the graduate premium across the lifespan for today’s workforce. It also digs down into the variables highlighting the effects that current age/life stage, gender, programme choice, and institutional status have on pay levels. There has been lots of media interest alongside the Government’s keen focus on the value for money agenda. Plus some acknowledgement of the other personal benefits from studying at HE level, particularly in light of the headline grabber of male creative arts graduates who experience a negative financial return.

  • “while about 80% of students are likely to gain financially from attending university, we estimate that one in five students – or about 70,000 every year – would actually have been better off financially had they not gone to university.
  • … Other personal and social benefits may be as or more important. We also only consider the effect of each student’s choices on their ownearnings holding constant the choices of others”
  • Median earnings of male graduates grow strongly throughout their 30s, and this earnings growth far outstrips that of non-graduates. For male graduates who were 30 in 2016, we predict earnings to rise by £15k from age 30 to age 40, compared with a rise of just £5k in the median earnings of non-graduate men. The gap in median earnings between graduate and non-graduate men continues to grow strongly until individuals’ mid-40s.
  • Median earnings growth for female graduates in their 30s is moderate, but still higher than that of non-graduates. We predict median real earnings of female graduates who were 30 in 2016 to rise by around £5k from age 30 to age 40, compared with no growth for non-graduate women. Among degree subjects, law and medicine stand out in that their female graduates do see large growth in median earnings between ages 35 and 40.
  • Accordingly, the causal effect of undergraduate degrees on earnings grows after age 30 for both men and women, but much more strongly for men.  Average pre-tax returns for men at a given age increase from around 5% on average at age 30 to more than 30% on average at age 40, after which they increase more slowly to reach around 35% from age 50. For women, average pre-tax returns increase from around 25% at age 30 to more than 40% at age 40, but then fall again to between 30% and 35% at ages 50 and 60.
  • The average lifetime earnings gain from undergraduate degrees is substantial for both men and women, but much smaller than the difference between the gross earnings of graduates and non-graduates. The discounted difference in lifetime earnings between graduates and non-graduates is £430k for men and £260k for women. Once we account for differences in characteristics between those who do and do not attend HE, we obtain a discounted lifetime increase in gross earnings of £240k for men and £ 140k for women as a result of attending HE.
  • The average gain in net lifetime earnings is even smaller due to the progressivity of the tax system. Once taxes and student loans have been taken into account, the earnings premium declines to around £130k for men and £100k for women (£350k and £230k with no discounting). In percentage terms, this represents a gain in average net lifetime earnings of around 20% for both men and women.
  • The subject studied at university is hugely important. Net discounted lifetime returns for women are close to zero on average for creative arts and languages graduates, but more than £250k for law, economics or medicine. Men studying creative arts have negative financial returns, while men studying medicine or economics have average returns of more than half a million pounds.
  • However, studying a subject with high average returns is no guarantee of high returns. While average returns to law and economics are high, many students will see much lower benefits from studying those subjects, and a few will see much higher returns. In contrast, subjects such as education and nursing do not have very high returns on average, but women who study these subjects almost universally achieve positive returns.
  • Overall, we expect 85% of women and around three-quarters of men to achieve positive net lifetime returns. This means that around one in five undergraduates would have been better off financially had they not gone to university. At the other end of the spectrum, the 10% of graduates with the highest returns will on average gain more than half a million pounds in discounted present value terms.
  • Financing undergraduate degrees is expensive for the taxpayer, but on average increased tax revenues more than make up for it. Overall, we estimate that the expected gain to the exchequer of an individual enrolling in an undergraduate course is around £110k per student for men and £30k per student for women.
  • However, these gains are driven mainly by the highest-earning graduates. We expect the exchequer to gain more than half a million pounds on average from the 10% of graduates with the highest exchequer returns, but to make a loss on the degrees of around 40% of men and half of women. This means that nearly half of all students receive a net government subsidy for their degrees, even after tax and National Insurance payments have been taken into account. The selectivity of the institution has an influence too:

Michelle Donelan (Universities Minister) writes for the TelegraphUniversities minister announces crackdown on ‘low quality’ courses.  The below excerpts are interesting because they seem to suggest the Minister gets the point that earnings aren’t everything, and that low quality means poor teaching [measured somehow] AND relatively low returns for graduates (compared to other courses at other universities in the same subject that have higher earnings). Hopefully it also means ‘adjusted for background and prior attainment’!

  • We know that medicine and law, for example, will generally lead to higher earnings than languages but that does not mean to say that one degree is better than another. Its value extends far beyond what anyone is likely to earn during their lifetime and is merely one of the things to add to the mix when planning this stage of your life. 
  • There will always be some courses which do not lead to increased earnings for graduates. Value is relative and for many people their degree will lead to an immensely rewarding career even though the financial returns may be lower and society as a whole is the better for it.
  • What concerns me most are those courses that deliver neither the high-quality teaching students deserve, nor the value for money that they and the taxpayer rightly expect. In some subjects there is a very high variability in returns depending on where that subject is studied, which students need to be aware of.
  • This is one of the reasons why we created a new regulator, the Office for Students, to make sure standards throughout the sector can stand comparison with the best in the world. I fully back the regulator to step in and use its powers where providers are falling short, and am determined to crack down on low-quality courses. They do nothing for the reputation of universities and they will do even less for students who sign up for them.
  • And for those universities who are providing a world-class education, I expect them to continue offering a world-class experience. The time spent at university will help shape an individual, adding layers to their character through independence, knowledge, experiences and friendships – and no amount of data crunching can put a figure on that.

HEPI – Careers Service view on Graduate Outcomes driving institutional change

The Higher Education Policy Institute has also published a graduate outcome related report although this one contemplates change from a different angle. Getting on: graduate employment and its influence on UK HE is a more discursive paper addressing whether recent years’ policy changes (TEF and the new Graduate Outcomes survey accompanied by the tracking of graduate salary data through LEO) has changed the nature of HE institutions. It examines the sector by drawing on the views of Heads of Careers Services via the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services survey. Key points:

  • 76% of careers services have seen a change in student engagement with careers in the last three years (24% no change).
  • 93% of careers services see the increased policy focus on graduate outcomes as positive (2% negative; 5% neither positive nor negative).
  • The new Graduate Outcomes survey and the OfS Access and Participation plans are having the greatest impact on how careers services operate, rather than graduate salary data.
  • 69% say Graduate Outcomes has the most impact
  • 19% say Access and Participation plans has the most impact.
  • 2% say the LEO (Longitudinal Educational Outcomes data) has the greatest impact.
  • 45% of careers services have seen an increase in funding to cover additional demand on their services; 55% haven’t.
  • The report also covers qualitative analysis of the views of careers services, including how they, their university and students classify a successful outcome from university.

Rachel Hewitt (report author), HEPI,  said: ‘Policy changes in recent years have led to employability being a mainstream activity across all universities, rather than the specialism of a few. While some may rail against the ’employability agenda’, it is clear that universities are now better serving the interests of their students by supporting them through their transition into the workplace.’

Responding to the HEPI report NUS (Claire Sosienski Smith, NUS Vice President for HE) said:

  • “The focus on employability and graduate outcomes is not having a positive effect on students. We see this through the increased levels of stress and anxiety that they experience. Since the tripling of tuition fees, the burden of debt hangs heavily over students entering higher education and this explains why there is a greater focus among some on their future careers. As careers services have received more funding it is a natural step that they will see more use from students.
  • But this change in focus shifts attention from many of the most important benefits of studying and the transformative nature of education. Graduate outcomes is a reductive measure for whether someone has had a perceived ‘successful’ education and the report highlights the disparities between the measures institutions and students care most about.
  • It would be more insightful to look at the impact the focus on employability has had on students and their wellbeing.”

Part time study

Ahead of the budget UUK have written to ministers to urge them to reconsider the cut off points for part time learners to access student finance. The current restrictions are that students must study at least 25% of a full time equivalent per year and must commit to an approved qualification up front. Changes to these requirements would allow fractional learners to engage with HE level study in smaller bite sized chunks. UUK argue this would encourage more learners to engage or reskill, including those with commitments such as caring responsibilities or disabilities. Previous UUK publication Lost Learners (2018) highlights the three main reasons potential students chose not to enrol are:

  • 44% unable to afford tuition fees
  • 42% cannot afford the cost of living whilst studying
  • 26% course is not flexible enough to fit alongside their other life commitments

The Augar Review also highlights that having to study at 25% intensity and follow a specified qualification has been a major factor in the decline of part-time adult study. The Learning and Work Institute state that adult learning participation is as a 23 year low point with participation fallen to a record low the last three years in a row.

UUK call on the Government to run a pilot scheme targeting funding at communities with skills shortages.   Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of UUK, said:

  • We know this government is committed to investment in regional economies and to helping people of all ages and backgrounds to reskill and retrain. Universities have an important role to play in that, but the current system counts against many would-be learners by restricting access to the financial support they need to develop their skills. There should be more than one accepted path to progress in higher education, to recognise that aspiring students of all ages have different circumstances and different needs. 
  • It is time for universities and government to work together on bold new ideas to resolve the long-term skills challenges of our changing economy. Breaking down barriers to studying shorter courses would not only help students to build-up qualifications over time but boost productivity across diverse regions, target local skills needs and support economic and social regeneration.

Technical Education

Degree Apprenticeships

Education Secretary of State, Gavin Williamson, has written to the Institute of Apprenticeships and Technical Education to ask them to review their approval for a level 7 apprenticeship which includes an MBA or other masters level qualification in management. The DfE state:

  • In his letter, the Secretary of State reiterated his determination to ensure levy funds are used to support the people that can benefit most from an apprenticeship, such as those starting out in their careers or those from disadvantaged backgrounds, rather than paying for staff who already have a degree and are highly qualified to receive an MBA.

You’ll recall when Theresa May’s Government set out to reinvent technical education there was a big push for degree apprenticeships. Universities were urged to embrace and offer the qualifications in areas which served local or national industrial and economic priorities. Meanwhile the Government’s introduction of the apprenticeship levy was unsuccessful and instead of improving quality and opportunity it resulted in declining levels of new starts, amid reports of some apprenticeship providers gaming the system. Overall the profile of apprenticeship provision changed as the higher and degree level apprenticeships took off. The Government became concerned that the cost of the higher level provision was significant alongside the reduction in availability or lower numbers of level 2 and 3 apprenticeship starts. Gavin’s letter represents the Government trying to regain control over the apprenticeship system. They still want degree level provision within the genuine apprenticeship form and we may see either Government or the Institute tightening control over the programme areas in the future. Requiring the qualification to be an essential regulatory or professional requirement also provides the Government with wriggle room. Here is an excerpt from Gavin’s letter:

  • I am absolutely determined to make sure levy funds are being used to support the people that can benefit most from an apprenticeship, such as those starting out in their careers or helping more people from disadvantaged backgrounds to get ahead, and that we ensure good value for money in the apprenticeships offer…In that context, [I] am unconvinced that having an apprenticeship standard that includes an MBA paid for by the levy is in the spirit of our reformed apprenticeships or provides value for money. I question whether an MBA is an essential regulatory or professional requirement to work in this field…I am of the view that we absolutely need to safeguard the integrity of the apprenticeship brand and value for money of the levy.

Investing in Higher Technical Education

Millionplus published Levelling up: investing in higher technical education at universities in England this week . Amongst the content it covers the same argument as UUK above – that the lack of financial support for part time students and the introduction of higher tuition fees have resulted in a reduction of Level 4 and 5 study. Dods go into detail on why level 4 and 5 technical education has declined:

  • In 2008 support for Equivalent and Lower Qualifications were withdrawn, barring students who had previously experienced higher education funding from studying programmes to support retraining or for re-entering the workforce
  • The long-term impact of the 2008 financial crash on the training budgets of public and private sector employers also contributed to the sharp decline in higher technical education.
  • The level of provision has been declining since 2008, with a sharp drop taking place after the 2012 university fee changes in England introduced by the then coalition government.
  • The government has, through the Sainsbury Review and the introduction of the 15 [T level, technical] routes, recognised that this area of education needs a new focus and targeted attention. However, those reforms are not going to be enough.

In Scotland, there is a much greater level of integration between bachelor and sub-bachelor levels of study than in England. In Scotland 14% of the whole of the HE system is made up of students studying HNCs and HNDs, in England it is 0.4%.  However, a decline of 45% in the number of students engaged in “other sub-degree” mirrors English trends– provision has been shrinking in Scotland as well.

There is discussion on how students are categorised in England, i.e. undertaking a level 6 programme despite years 1 and 2 being level 4 and 5 study. They argue this misleads thinking when examining level 4 and 5 study in technical areas that only standalone level 4/5 provision is appropriate (rather than the same as provision on the level 6 journey).  I.e. there is no “missing middle” of sub-degree qualifications in the English HE system. The report suggests that the Augar review understood this. Moreover:

This data should suggest to policymakers that the fundamental challenge is not a trade-off between progressing younger people either to level 4/5 or to level 6, but how we can best enable 16-25 year olds, and those later in life, to successfully complete level 3 study which can provide them with a gateway of opportunity for progression into higher education or directly into employment.

There are a host of report recommendations which we’ll avoid covering in detail. In short:

  • Level 4 and 5 (L4/5) should receive full maintenance grant support (to increase the take up of work-focused higher education).
  • All L4/5 providers to register with OfS to guarantee high quality provision and access to student finance.
  • Universities are as much a key players in the provision of higher technical education as colleges.
  • Sort the L4/5 data out to better understand nature and scope of technical education across college and university providers.
  • All level qualifications should enable progression at any life stage and financially support level 3 students to remove barriers to study.

The DfE consulted on higher technical education reform (July-Sept 2019). Like the Augar Review the Government’s response is notably late. Most likely technical changes will sit alongside however, the Government decide to implement elements of Augar, T levels will undoubtedly be of influence, and some thinkers suggest TEF changes could also be wrapped up within this surprise parcel.

Education Policy Institute (EPI)

The EPI has published a report questioning what England can learn from other nations in designing technical education funding systems. The report finds that T levels are a significant step in the direction of high performing countries, however, there is a way to before English upper secondary technical provision resembles the model and success of other nations. EPI suggest tackling the necessary issues would require substantial levels of additional government investment.

  • UK has historically funded upper secondary technical education at lower rates than academic education (23% less per student in 2016, lower than the OECD average) – this is not the case in most other countries.
  • In other countries subsidies are provided to employers to compensate for the time that an apprentice is training outside the job or to compensate for disadvantaged intakes that drive costs up. In England, subsidies are concentrated on small and medium companies.
  • More generous financial support is available in other countries. In England support funding to students has fallen by 71% per student in real terms between 2010/11 and 2018/19.
  • While over a half of students in England follow the technical pathway in upper secondary, only 16% do so through apprenticeship training. In EU its 27%.
  • English technical upper secondary education is a shorter duration (2 years, even 1 for some apprenticeships).  In high performing countries it takes 3-4 years.
  • 15% of English students are in the highest-cost groups of subjects (including engineering, manufacturing, and construction); in OECD countries its 34%.
  • The curriculum in England is relatively narrow. In the other countries many technical students  continue to study their local language, a foreign language, maths and other general subjects to equip them with a sound knowledge base.

The introduction of T levels and other proposed reforms will bring England closer to technical provision in high performing countries:

  1. Funding will be rebalanced towards more technical subjects and funding levels will increase compared to the status quo with a corresponding increase in teaching hours.
  2. Students starting from lower levels will receive an additional funded year to prepare them for the T level study programme.
  3. Industry placements will improve students’ readiness for entry to the labour market..
  4. The requirement to pass English and maths at GCSE level will result in more young people studying these subjects.

However, important gaps will remain:

  1. Most students will study T levels over just two years.
  2. Only those not achieving the level expected at 16 will continue to study English and maths and the curriculum will remain narrower than in other countries.
  3. Industry placements will remain less substantial than elsewhere.
  4. These improvements largely only apply to those taking T levels, and it is still unclear how dominant these qualifications will become.

Recommendations:

  • Funding for technical pathways: The government should provide the 16-19 phase with a more enduring financial settlement to sustain quality provision in the long term.
  • Increase the number of starts for younger apprentices:  The government should consider the options to increase apprenticeship uptake among young people, including further redistribution of levy funding towards younger apprentices, or other incentives for employers to hire younger learners.
  • Government should review the adequacy of student support, particularly whether recent changes have left disadvantaged students worse off.
  • Review curriculum breadth and programme length: The government should commission an independent review to consider whether the breadth of upper secondary study, for all students, is properly providing the basic and technical skills that young people need for the labour market and for progression to further study. Where this leads to increased provision, this must be matched by appropriate funding rates.

Working life longevity

The Social Market Foundation has published Work, education, skills and the 100-year life exploring the policy changes needed to ‘ensure the workforce is ready for extreme longevity.’ It touches on the need to retrain for an extended working period during an individual’s lifetime.

  • As life expectancy continues to rise, the number of years spent working is likely to increase.
  • The 50-year career will become the norm.
  • The career chosen at 18 or 21 is not likely to be the career of the individual when they retire. Changes to the labour market, technology and the wider environment could mean that at various points in a person’s working life they need to change careers and retrain. [So would the restrictions on studying another equivalent level qualification place graduates at a disadvantage? Currently the rules bar access to fees and finance funding (in all but priority areas), this would prevent retraining at an equivalent high level in a different subject for existing graduates.]
  • EPI estimate people should plan for five careers in their lifetime. Yet 40% of 34-54 year olds are unwilling to change careers.
  • Longer working lives will affect employers too. Employers are concerned about increased pension contributions, time out of the workforce due illness. Needing to reskill and train staff was split but overall employers were less worried about this factor.

EPI lobby for the following to address working life longevity:

  • Individual Learning Accounts  (they suggest Singapore as an example)
  • Modular learning and an inquiry into the fall of mature and part-time students.
  • Reallocate the money earmarked for the National Skills Fund for retraining those aged over 40 particularly in industries where there is a risk of automation or industrial decline.
  • Reduce Employer National Insurance contributions for certain workers over 50.
  • Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) and GPs should proactively enable people to work for longer through advice, support, and social prescribing of workplace health support.
  • Create a Minister for Lifelong Learning and Training who has responsibility over longer lives, work and skills, positioned between DfE, BEIS and DWP.

Access and Participation

Social Mobility effect of school admissions: The Sutton Trust released their fairer school admissions report at the end of February. In it they raise social mobility questions by highlighting that there is a wealth divide between low and middle income families accessing state comprehensive schools. They state that the best performing comprehensives only take half the number of disadvantaged pupils as an average state school would. And that it costs £45,700 more to buy a house in the catchment area serving a top comprehensive. The Sutton Trust wants to see a fairer system where access to schools is not as closely linked to income stating it would have benefits in terms of overall attainment, teacher recruitment and retention and social cohesion. They are calling for more balanced intakes overall, with every high-performing school committed to admitting more poorer pupils. They state comprehensives should pledge to prioritise applicants eligible for the pupil premium, to create more socially balanced intakes. Schools who are responsible for their own admissions should introduce ballots, with an inner catchment area based on proximity and the remainder of places allocated by ballot. On grammar schools they would like to give priority to applicants eligible for the pupil premium who meet the entrance criteria. They should provide a minimum ten hours test preparation for all pupils to provide a level playing field for the 11-plus and improve their outreach work to families from disadvantaged backgrounds. More details in the second Sutton Trust report: School Places: A Fair Choice?

Lords Debate – Working Classes Educational Opportunities

Baroness Morris lead a debate within Lords to take note of the educational opportunities available to children and young people from working class backgrounds. It critiqued Government initiatives including catch up clubs and the abolition of Sure Start. The Baroness said that the working class and middle class were generally pursuing different post-16 routes, with disadvantaged children entering a sector that had experienced a 20% reduction in funding.

Lord Woolley commented on disparities in outcomes between students, stating white working-class students outside big cities experienced a bottom-up lack of investment in good jobs, or in schools, contributing to communities having low expectations. Conversely, education, for the BAME community was often seen as a route out of disadvantage. However, BAME working-class students face the race penalty disadvantage that their white counterparts do not. (This comes from UCL data highlighting that BAME young people were  58% more likely to be unemployed and 47% more likely to have a zero-hours contract.)

Lord Knight of Weymouth asserted that that could be no change in working class communities without regeneration through education:

  • “that system must be designed for a long life of continuous reskilling—one that prepares people for a working life of 60 years, multiple careers, being great at interacting with machines as well as humans, but also out-competing machines at being human. It must be one that accepts that analytics will replace qualifications and that universities will have to innovate to deliver lifelong learning rather than a debt-loaded rite of passage, as at present”.

Baroness Wilcox: Those on free school meals and receiving the pupil premium are 27% less likely to achieve five or more GCSEs at grades A* to C (grades 9 to 6).

Lord Livermore said that getting a degree from a leading university was one of the surest paths to social mobility. She was concerned that working class students receive a lack of advice, guidance and support in navigating the university application process. She lamented that this lack of support seemed to be permeating the HE sector, with disadvantaged students disproportionately more likely to not return as second year students. Concluding, she endorsed the Sutton Trust’s proposed policies of; contextual admissions, post-qualification applications, greater evaluation of university outreach activities, increased numbers of degree and higher-level apprenticeships, and the restoration of maintenance grants for students to reduce the debt burden on the least well off.

Lord Storey (Lib Dem Education spokesperson) spoke of post- 16 education stating that there should be clear signposting about the best vocational opportunities and apprenticeship schemes available: “This would help to increase parity of esteem with academic routes”.

Lord Bassam (Opposition spokesperson for FE &HE) highlighted the Sutton Trust tuition fee research which suggests that student debt may be having an impact on the aspirations of children before they even take their GCSEs and asserts that the removal of maintenance grants in favour of loans was deterring working-class young people. He also criticised the impact of predicted grades and conditional offers on students from disadvantaged backgrounds, insisting that, “poor predictions can blight young people’s life chances, often becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. Moreover, young people with huge potential but low predictions stand little chance of proper consideration from the top universities”.

He also raised concerns over UCAS personal statements and references as a method in assessing an individual’s aptitude and ability, and intimated that was following the OfS university admissions review closely. On admissions diversity he said: “At present, half of all children in receipt of free school meals are educated in just a fifth of all schools, and more than half of universities in England have a white working-class student intake of less than 5%, despite the fact that 75% of universities, including the Russell Group institutions, claim to use “contextual information” to admit students from disadvantaged backgrounds”.

Baroness Berridge spoke for the Government and praised the role of the OfS in ensuring that universities produced ambitious access and participation plans. On contextual admissions she said that the Government “will look in appropriate circumstances at the background of students”, whilst stating that post-qualification applications could cut disadvantaged young people.

Admissions Review: Research Professional has a thoughtful article delving into contextual admissions which is well worth the quick read.

HE stats

HESA (Higher Education Statistics Agency) published income and expenditure data for HE institutions.

Income

  • Tuition fees and education contracts: £18,875bn in 2017/18, up from 15,541bn in 2014/15
  • Funding body grants: £5,112bn in 2017/18, down from £5,345bn in 2014/15
  • Research Grants and Contracts: £6,225bn, up from £5,968bn in 2014/15
  • Other income: £7,203bn in 2017/18 up from £5,902bn in 2014/15

Expenditure

  • Staff costs: £20,071bn in 2017/18, up from £18,210bn in 2014/15
  • Other operating expenses: £13.8bn in 2017/18, up from £11,770bn in 2014/15
  • Depreciation: £2,467bn in 2017/18, up from £1,986bn in 2014/15

Mental Health

Thursday was University Mental Health Day. Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan, – in conjunction with the DfE and the Department of Health and Social Care – announced a funding competition: £1million for innovative student mental health projects.

  • Students identified as being at high risk of poor mental health will benefit from a £1m funding boost. Research has identified such groups as including black/ethnic minority students, those from disadvantaged backgrounds, those with disabilities, and those identifying as LGBTQ+.
  • Successful projects will also target groups of students who might face barriers in accessing support, like carers, part-time and international students and those on placements as part of their course.
  • The projects will also be judged on how they use innovative and technological approaches to addressing mental health issues, in line with the new NHS drive for improvement in digital support.

OfS will hold the money and approve proposals.

Chris Millward, Director for Fair Access and Participation at the OfS, said:

  • “All students deserve the opportunity to thrive at university and college, but for too many mental ill-health remains a significant barrier. We know that there are many factors which can impact the wellbeing of students and situations where students may be or feel more vulnerable. Through this funding we want to support innovative and strategic solutions that can help ensure that all students, regardless of their background or how they study, get the support they need.
  • By working together with partners including the NHS and charities, universities and colleges have the power to address the complex issues associated with student mental ill-health. We will be sharing the effective practice that comes from this funding and driving improved mental health support for all students.”

Universities Minister Michelle Donelan said: “Going to university can be a really challenging time, especially if you face added pressures or if you are balancing studies alongside other commitments like carers and mature students. It is vital no student is put at risk by not getting the help they need. Universities must step up to this challenge, and this funding will help them and the sector by looking at ways support can be better targeted and improved.”

Despite the fresh announcement the funds are the same as those announced in June 2019, the change is that the bidding is now open. Research Professional cover the announcement here.

The NUS spoke out on University Mental Health Day. Eva Crossan Jory, NUS Vice President Welfare commented:

  • “Through my two years as Vice President Welfare I have seen the incredible work students and student’s unions have done to lobby for better mental health care on our campuses, but it shouldn’t be this way: we shouldn’t have to campaign for colleges and universities to do this work.
  • Universities need to acknowledge the structural barriers they create that lead to poor mental health. Our poor mental health cannot be separated from the intense pressure and competition that is deemed as a necessary aspect of our educational experience. From the spiralling costs of accommodation to the need for a better system of student funding, the student mental health crisis won’t be stopped until the problems are tackled at the root.
  • There is also intense pressure put on staff, from precarious contracts to over work, we cannot demand better mental health support for students without also fighting for better mental health care for staff in our universities.
  • Although we have seen significant movement in the sector on student mental health we must ensure that signing up to charters is not where this work stops. We need real investment made into both university services but also the NHS which is being criminally underfunded. We must also ensure the services we campaign for and win are culturally competent. That they acknowledge the structural inequalities that exist. We need a support system that understands students are not one homogeneous group.
  • We’re urging our members and students to have those hard conversations with senior leaders and challenge them, to start talking honestly and openly about the whole of student mental health. Only that way can we reach the goals of a truly mentally healthy whole university.”

Research

There were a series of  research focussed oral questions in Parliament this week. Here’s the edited version:

Julian Sturdy: What steps he is taking to increase investment in research and development.

  • Alok Sharma (SoS BEIS):The Government are already increasing public spending on research and development by £7 billion over five years, the biggest increase in public funding for R&D on record. Every pound of public expenditure on R&D leverages a further £1.40 of additional private investment, generating even greater returns for the UK.

Julian Sturdy: Given that nearly 50% of the core science budget currently goes to just three cities in southern England, can the Secretary of State assure me that the increase in R&D funding will do more to favour the regions outside the south, so that in future both my city…and other regional hubs across Yorkshire…will receive their fair share for the purposes of research and innovation?

  • Alok Sharma: I absolutely agree that that is part of our levelling-up agenda. We want to support centres of excellence across the country… we will set out our ambitious play strategy for R&D in the second half of this year.

Bim Afolami: [Mentions agritech start ups and incubators – asks Minister to endorse Rothamsted Research  and visit].

  • Alok Sharma:[Agrees to] meet him to discuss how the Government can support his proposals.

Mrs Drummond: .. what further action is being taken on the proposal for a UK advanced research projects agency, following the departmental meeting last year?

  • Alok Sharma: The UK is ranked fifth in the global innovation index, and our strengths in R&D mean that we are well placed to develop a new funding body to specialise in high-risk, high-reward projects. … I am absolutely determined that the UK should be a global science superpower, and my Department is making good progress on a UK advanced research projects agency. We are engaging with a wide range of researchers and innovators, and we will set out further plans in due course.

Chi Onwurah (Lab) (Newcastle upon Tyne Central):…European research programme.. For every £1 we put into the European Union programme, we got £1.30 back, and such funding is essential if we are to retain our place as a global science superpower, so will the Secretary of State boost UK science by confirming that we will be going for full associate membership?

  • Alok Sharma: Of course I want the UK to be a science superpower, and we have set out our views on expanding the R&D budget. On Europe, our EU negotiating objectives are very clear: the UK will consider participation in Horizon Europe and Euratom, but this will be part of the wider negotiations.

Geraint Davies (Lab/Co-op) (Swansea West): [Unclean air and electric cars, subsidies]

  • Alok Sharma: ..We currently have 460,000 green jobs in this country, and we want to push that to 2 million. I would be happy to meet him to discuss the specific point that he has raised.

Jim Shannon (DUP) (Strangford):Across the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, universities have played a critical role in research and development. [Requests specific help for two local institutions.]

  • Alok Sharma: Of course, UKRI provides funding for a whole range of universities. Again, if the hon. Gentleman has specific ideas for projects, perhaps he would come forward with them.

Mr Richard Bacon (Con) (South Norfolk): It is possible to build a house that costs nothing to heat, but that is not happening at scale at the moment. Does my right hon. Friend consider it part of his Department’s responsibilities to support research into making this more widespread, which would be hugely beneficial for the planet?

  • Alok Sharma: I know that my hon. Friend is an authority on the house building sector..he raises an important point. We know that 15% of emissions are from housing, and we are looking to see how we can bring that down as part of the net zero target.

And a written question on levelling up:

Q – Neil O’Brien (Harborough): What steps he is taking with UK Research and Innovation to increase funding allocated to projects in regions of lower productivity.

  • A – Amanda Solloway (Derby North): We will publish an ambitious place strategy for R&D in the next few months. This will build on existing and emerging research and innovation capabilities across the country, enabling areas to ‘level up’ and reach their economic potential. This is an important part of our ambition to increase R&D investment across the economy.

Research Professional have an article how Greg Clark (Chair) is keen to incorporate social sciences, arts and humanities within the remit of the Commons Science and Technology select committee.  RP also have a piece covering Germany’s statistics announcing they have hit 3% R&D spending target. And an article on the importance of metrics and measuring impact within research.

HE focussed Parliamentary Questions

PG Fees

Q – Dr Rupa Huq: what assessment he has made of the potential merits of abolishing application fees for postgraduate students; and if he will make a statement.

A – Michelle Donelan: Higher education providers in England are autonomous bodies and therefore have discretion over the application fees they charge for postgraduate courses.

Strikes

A question asking what guidance the Department has issued on tuition fee refunds as a result of cancelled lectures during industrial action.

Apprenticeships

Q – Sir David Evennett: What steps his Department is taking to promote apprenticeships as an alternative to university.

The full answer is here. Excerpts below:

A – Gillian Keegan:… We are continuing to promote all apprenticeships as a genuine, high-quality alternative to traditional academic only study for people of all ages and from all backgrounds. We launched the third phase of our apprenticeships marketing campaignFire it Up, in January, which promotes how apprenticeships can provide opportunities for ambitious young people.

… In January 2018 we introduced a legal requirement for schools to give training providers the opportunity to talk to pupils about technical qualifications and apprenticeships, so that young people hear about the alternatives to academic routes. We also offer a free service to schools through the Apprenticeship Support and Knowledge (ASK) project to ensure that teachers have the knowledge and support they need to enable them to promote apprenticeships, including higher and degree apprenticeships, to their students.

…We have also worked with the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) to support employers to raise awareness of their apprenticeship opportunities to prospective employees through an online higher and degree apprenticeship vacancy listing.

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 24th January 2020

There are five reports touching on social mobility this week, lots of education statistics released, and we’ve almost Brexited.  After all the focus on Parliamentary process over the last two and a half years, the ping pong was over before it really started.  There is scope for more before the end of the year, although given the government majority are seemingly united on Brexit, we are going to have to look elsewhere for Parliamentary excitement.  Perhaps HS2, Heathrow’s third runway and some of the other big projects up for debate in 2020 will have us all watching Parliament TV again.  Or maybe not.

Research policy developments

There have been a lot of announcements over the weekend and the Minister gave a big speech on Friday, so for BU staff we have summarised the latest developments for you here.

Global Talent Visa:

  • “A new Global Talent Visa, increased investment in mathematical sciences and commitments to strengthen and simplify the research and innovation funding system have been announced by the Prime Minister.
  • A new fast-track visa scheme to attract the world’s top scientists, researchers and mathematicians will open on 20 February. The bespoke Global Talent route will have no cap on the number of people able to come to the UK, demonstrating the Government’s commitment to supporting top talent.
  • It replaces the Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) route and UK Research and Innovation will endorse applicants from the scientific and research community.”

Maths funding:

  • “Also announced by the Prime Minister was a significant boost to the UK’s world-leading mathematical sciences community, increasing support for this key discipline and expanding the pool of trained mathematicians.
  • Up to £300 million of additional funding will more than double the current funding for the mathematical sciences delivered by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)”.

Research Professional say:

  • It is also “subject to business case”, so it might never see the light of day. Nonetheless, the £60m commitment in principle is to be welcomed, and will provide £19m of additional funding for PhD studentships (double the existing funding, ministers say). There is also £34m of additional funding for “career pathways and new research projects”, and £7m a year extra to be shared between Bristol’s Heilbronn Institute for Mathematical Research, the Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences in Cambridge and the International Centre for Mathematical Sciences in Edinburgh.

Reduction of research bureaucracy

  • “In line with the commitment to reduce administration for researchers and innovators, UKRI has also announced that applicants to UKRI will no longer be required to provide a ‘Pathways to Impact’ plan or complete an ‘Impact Summary’ within grant applications from 1 March 2020.
  • The impact agenda remains incredibly important and UKRI exists to fund the researchers who generate the knowledge that society needs, and the innovators who can turn this knowledge into public benefit.
  • Pathways to Impact has been in place for over a decade and we recognise the research and innovation landscape has changed since its implementation and impact is now a core consideration throughout the grant application process.
  • The move supports UKRI’s ambition to create a stronger research and innovation environment that is focussed on supporting talented people and realising the full potential of their work.”

Research Integrity paper: See the paper here:

Research Professional say:

  • Universities should be doing more to ensure the integrity of their research and to retain the trust of society at large, says a paper from League of European Research Universities.
  • The Leru paper published on 24 January is co-authored by Antoine Hol, a law professor at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, and Inge Lerouge, an ethics and integrity coordinator at KU Leuven in Belgium, with an input from its thematic group on the issue.
  • “Universities should be at the forefront of developing and implementing new approaches to research integrity that will maintain and strengthen the confidence of the public, governments, research funders and end users,” say Hol and Lerouge in the paper.
  • Among their recommendations are that universities should devise and share research integrity guidelines, appoint specialist personnel on the issue, and make integrity education mandatory for students.

Chris Skidmore speech on research and innovation (24th Jan)

Parliamentary News

  • Education Appointments  – Scott Mann (Conservative, Wadebridge) has been appointed Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) to Education Minister Gavin Williamson. Previously he was a PPS within the Dept for Work and Pensions. Chris Green (Conservative, Manchester Withington) retails his pre-election role as the DfE PPS. Innes Taylor has been appointed as Gavin Williamson’s SPAD (special advisor).
  • Labour Leadership Contest – Jess Phillips dropped out of the Labour leadership contest this week. Lisa Nandy has been endorsed by the GMB union and already had the support of the National Union of Mineworkers. Scroll halfway through this article to read the BBC’s analysis of all the candidates chances (spoiler – Sir Kier Starmer is still in the lead).
  • Brexit – The Lords amended the Withdrawal Bill this week starting the ping pong process. The Government threw out the amendments and the Lords acquiesced, so passing the Bill. So 4 years on from the referendum, after 2 general elections, 3 Prime Ministers, 3 extensions, and 4 exit days…The European Union Withdrawal Act 2019 has now had Royal Assent and is on the statute book. Boris has (almost) delivered (phase 1 of) his Brexit and the UK will leave the EU on 31st January 2020 (next Friday).

Longitudinal education outcomes  (LEO)

The Department for Education has published experimental statistics showing employment and earnings outcomes of HE graduates by provider and current region of residence based on the LEO (longitudinal education outcomes) data.

  • Graduates earn a median annual salary of £19,900 one year after graduating, £23,300 after three years, £26,000 after five, and £30,500 after ten years.
  • Graduates in all regions of the country earn on average around 20% more than their peers in the same region who did not go to university.
  • After adjusting for region, there is still variation in the median earnings outcomes between HE institutions, with 25% of institutions having average adjusted graduate earnings of £23,200 or below and 25% of institutions having adjusted graduate earnings of £28,500 or above.
  • At the individual institution level, controlling for regional destination can make a significant difference for some institutions; 16.9% of institutions see a change of 10% or more in their median earnings.
  • When looking at HE institutions whose graduates now live in London, half had median earnings of £29,400, five years after graduation – the highest across all current regions.

Universities Minister Chris Skidmore said:

  • It’s great to see that all over the country, it pays to have a degree from our world-leading universities, and they are bringing benefits to all of the regions. This data is a milestone for the thousands of future students, helping them to work out whether university is for them, and where to study and work. I hope this will particularly help students from disadvantaged backgrounds to see the benefits, who are often more likely to stay in their home region. Of course earnings potential is just one factor for students, but we believe they should have all the facts to make their decision. It is important for young people to know that they will not only get a rich education at university, but that their degree will be good value for money.

Wonkhe have an analysis by David Kernohan:

  • The region a graduate lives in has an impact on provider level medians. DfE use a weighted median in their top level data (which I haven’t plotted here for reasons that will become clear), and gleefully reports significant differences between median salary by provider even after a graduate region-based weighting is applied.
  • Of course, a gold standard LEO would absolutely need take into account subject of study and provider alongside current region (or indeed, local authority) of residence – alongside the sex of a graduate, their GCSE performance, and a suitable measure of inequality. However, such a nuanced examination would provide numbers too small to publish without identifying individuals.
  • There is hopefully a point in the middle, where LEO gives us enough information to be usable while remaining publishable. This release is not at that point, but I feel like we are gradually iterating around it.
  • The publication itself is clear on the limitations:
  • It should be noted that the data presented here does not control for many other factors that can influence graduate outcomes e.g. prior attainment, subject studied and other characteristics. It should also be noted that a higher education will have a range of personal and societal benefits that extend beyond earnings, which by its nature are not captured in the statistics presented here.”
  • So how useful is the weighted median? If we’re not controlling by subject or by sex, not very.

David has, of course, done a chart and you can play with where students studied (by region) and where they are currently based.  How useful is it – well, as with all these things, it depends what you are looking for.  What will be interesting will be to see what it means for the new TEF, where they included LEO as additional data in the last pilot and have long said that they would like to reflect regional differences in the metrics, but have previously only supported that with some high level maps and an opportunity to make your case for regional differences in your provider submission.  So we’ll see.

Staff in HE

DfE and HESA released the Higher Education Staff Statistics 2018/19. Key points:

  • There were 439,955 staff (excluding atypical staff) employed in the HE sector, showing an increase of 2% from 429,560 on 1 December 2017.
  • HE staff employed on academic contracts made up 49% of the population. This percentage has remained the same since 2013/14.
  • There were 296,185 staff employed on full-time contracts. This is an increase of 2% from 289,730 in 2017/18.
  • The number of staff on part-time contracts increased by 3% from 139,830 in 2017/18 to 143,765 in 2018/19.

Again, Wonkhe were quick off the mark with analysis from David Kernohan looking at data about senior BME staff in HE following headlines that there are no Black senior academics” – it seems it’s a rounding issue:

  • “..in the 2014/15 academic year there were between 0 and 2 Black senior academics in UK HE – a state of affairs that continued until 2016/17. At that point there were between 3 and 5 Black senior academics in the UK… which continued until 2018/19 when the number once again dropped below 3.
  • As Chris Skidmore put it: “It is unacceptable that the number of black academic staff in senior positions has fallen, as this does not represent our British society. Universities need to make more progress and I urge all vice-chancellors to address the barriers that are holding back black and ethnic minority staff from senior positions.”
  • He actually worded that fairly well – others in and around the sector went for the shocking (if less accurate) “no Black senior academics” framing….
  • So where does this leave Chris Skidmore (and the many journalists that have gone along with the ministerial line)? He’s right to be concerned about the poor representation of Black academics at the top of our academic providers, and he’s right that the situation needs to be improved.”

The Times Higher Education chose a different angle:

  • Teaching-only contracts up again as REF approaches.  Almost a third of staff in UK higher education are now classed as teaching-only
  • The Hesa data were released as Research England published figures showing that 22,500 more academics – measured by full-time equivalent – are set to be entered into the 2021 REF because of new rules that require all staff with “significant responsibility for research” to be submitted.
  • In practice, anyone with a teaching-only contract will not have to be entered, a key reason why it has been suggested that institutions are moving staff perceived to be underperforming in research to teaching-only contracts.
  • Last year, an analysis by Times Higher Education based on 2017-18 figures found that about a fifth of universities had substantially increased their share of academics on teaching-only contracts, while 12 institutions had a quarter of full-time staff on teaching-only terms.
  • Elsewhere, the latest Hesa staff statistics showed that the rise in the share of professors who are female increased by a percentage point again in 2018-19 to reach 27 per cent, while for “other senior academics” the female share rose to 38 per cent from 36 per cent. Overall numbers of black academics grew by 11 per cent, but they still represent just 2 per cent of all academic staff.
  • …The number of part-time contracts was up a percentage point more than full-time contracts, while the share of full-time academic staff on fixed-term contracts also rose slightly, to 25.3 per cent from 24.9 per cent.
  • The number of staff classed as “atypical” – which includes those employed for one-off tasks, for a short amount of time or in roles “that involve a high degree of flexibility” – also increased, by 2 per cent, after having fallen in previous years.
  • But specific figures on the number of zero-hours contracts, which include only “typical” staff, showed a drop, from about 11,400 in 2017-18 to 7,000 in 2018-19.
  • With Brexit now imminent, the data also showed that the share of academics from other European Union countries remained stable in 2018-19 at 17.5 per cent of total numbers.

At the same time, Wonkhe report: The REF 2021 team at UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) reports that nearly 75,000 academic staff are expected to be submitted to REF 2021, a 43 per cent increase, according to the results of a preliminary survey. All subject areas are projected to increase, especially the social sciences. This is due to the implementation of the recommendation of the Stern review that all research-active staff should be submitted to the exercise. A reduction in the number of outputs to 2.5 appears to have ensured that the overall number of outputs to be assessed remains roughly the same as the 2014 REF.

And Research Professional focussed on gender:

…What is the problem?

  • First, it’s money. While women, as a majority of students, are contributing a large part of what institutions get in fees, the salaries those fees help to fund seem to be going, in large part, to men.
  • The median gender pay gap was 13.7 per cent on average in UK universities in 2018, with men working in higher education earning £7,220 more on average each year than women.
  • One reason is that while the overall number of staff working in higher education may be mainly female, the number working in (more highly paid) academic roles is mainly male. The HESA stats show that 27 per cent of professors are women—just one percentage point higher than last year—and women comprise just 38 per cent of staff employed on other senior academic contracts. These numbers have been improving, but at a glacial pace.
  • More women are also employed part-time, including 55 per cent of employees in part-time academic roles.
  • Recent studies have also shown gender gaps for researchers in success rates for grant applications and in amounts awarded.

The other problem is that it is not just about numbers of women or the size of their salaries. Speaking at yesterday’s conference, Ruth Sealy, associate professor in management and director of impact at the University of Exeter, said it was also important to consider the nature of the roles women were taking on.

  • She cited the problem of the “glass cliff”—the idea that women tend to be offered leadership positions at a time of crisis, when it often turns out to be a poisoned chalice. (Think Theresa May after David Cameron’s resignation as prime minister following the Brexit referendum.)
  • …Another speaker at the conference, Norma Jarboe, external adviser to the Centre for Diversity Policy Research and Practice at Oxford Brookes University, has been studying diversity among university boards and their chairs, vice-chancellors, leadership teams and heads of academic departments. She has found that 55 per cent of higher education institution boards are gender balanced, compared with 19 per cent in 2013. More than 27 per cent of university governing body chairs are now women—more than twice as many as in 2013, although still low—and in 2018, women made up 29 per cent of vice-chancellors and 37 per cent of all executive team members.
  • But she said that pairs of female vice-chancellors and board chairs were still rare, and her greatest concern was the low number of female heads of academic departments—31 per cent—and the fact that this had not moved in the past two years.
  • Jarboe said a major problem was the low number of female professors, as a professorial role is often a prerequisite for gaining positions of senior responsibility. “We aren’t going to shift in a big way the numbers in executive teams unless we do something about professorial roles and paths to head into that,” she argued.

Meanwhile, the culture in some university departments remains one in which female staff and students find it difficult to thrive. Launching a consultation on harassment and sexual misconduct earlier this month, Dandridge said the OfS felt that while many institutions were improving their policies in this area, more needed to be done.

  • Writing for HE, Antonia Sudkaemper, a researcher at OCR Cambridge Assessment, suggested that men were crucial to creating a more inclusive departmental culture for women.
  • What makes all this important—beyond simply being fair—is that higher education has a particularly transformative effect on women.
  • Yesterday’s release of post-university earnings data, which focused on how median earnings vary for graduates from different institutions by the region in which they end up working, did not include a breakdown by gender. But previous releases of Longitudinal Education Outcomes have shown that the graduate premium is significantly higher for women than for men—a 28 per cent boost to salaries, compared with just 8 per cent for men, when moderated for social class.”

A levels and progression to HE

DfE released A Level and Other 16 to 18 Results.

Attainment is lower for disadvantaged students compared to non-disadvantaged students across all level 3 qualification types

  • The average grade for A levels was C for disadvantaged students (increased from C- in 2018), and C+ for all other students (the same as in 2018).
  • The average grade for Tech Levels and Applied General qualifications was Merit+ for all students, regardless of their disadvantage status. This is an increase from Merit to Merit+ for Tech Level disadvantaged students compared to 2018.

English and maths progress increased for students who did not achieve at least GCSE grade 4 or equivalent at the end of key stage 4.

  • In 2019, average progress was 0.13 and 0.08 for English and maths respectively. Average progress has steadily increased each year since the measure was introduced in 2016

Level 3 Value Added for A-level disadvantaged students continues to decrease

  • Over the last three years, the Level 3 value added scores for A-level disadvantaged students have decreased, from -0.06 to -0.12, at a rate of -0.03 per year. This contrasts with a stable score of 0.00 for non-disadvantaged students.

Read more on gender, ethnicity and disadvantage (including free school meals) breakdowns and the most popular subjects here.

DfE statistics on the destinations of Key stage 4 and 16 to 18 (Key stage 5) students:

  • Overall, 94% of pupils were in sustained education, employment or apprenticeships in the year after key stage 4, unchanged from 2016/17.
    • With 86% of this total in sustained education, up 4% since 2010/11 and unchanged from 2016/17
  • Apprenticeships and employment destinations rose slightly
  • Overall, 88% of students who took mainly level 3 qualifications went to a sustained education, apprenticeship or employment destination. Students taking qualifications at level 2 and below were less likely to have a sustained destination overall. However, they were more likely to enter apprenticeships and employment.

You can read about  progression to HE here.

  • Figure 4 shows the progression into HE/training by type of school or college. Selective schools have the highest progression rate at 88%. Non-selective schools situated in highly-selective areas have a much lower progression rate (56%) which remains low after influencing factors are controlled for. You can read more on this interesting phenomenon on page 8.
  • Figure 5 highlights the huge disparity between the regions in progressing to HE. London 16-18 year olds are 17% more likely to progress to HE/training than students in the south west (even when controlling for prior attainment and qualification type).  The report questions if this is due to the lack of local easy to access HE institutions within the south west.

Health Maintenance Grants

A Government news story released the detail on the health professions that will benefit from the non-repayable £5,000 (per year) maintenance grant reintroduction (announced in December). The bursary will be in addition to existing support so students will still receive the same loan entitlement. Students on the following programmes will benefit from the grant:

  • paramedicine
  • midwifery
  • nursing (adult, child, mental health, learning disability, joint nursing/social work)
  • occupational therapy
  • physiotherapy
  • operating department practitioner (level 5 courses)
  • dietetics
  • dental hygiene or dental therapy (level 5 courses)
  • orthoptics
  • orthotics and prosthetics
  • podiatry or chiropody
  • radiography (diagnostic and therapeutic)
  • speech and language therapy

There are three more additional payments worth £1,000 each (per year) for students meeting special criteria:

  • £1,000 towards childcare costs
  • £1,000 if studying in a region that is struggling to recruit
  • £1,000 if they’re a new student studying a shortage specialism important to delivering the NHS Long Term Plan (mental health nursing, learning disability nursing, radiography (diagnostic and therapeutic), prosthetics and orthotics, orthoptics and podiatry).

So a learning disability nurse with children (who qualify) and who is studying in a problem recruitment area would receive £8,000 per year in addition to eligibility for student loans.

This is part of the Government’s drive to increase numbers of nurses by 50,000 by 2025. The press release says the Government expects the £5,000 maintenance grants to benefit 100,000 students each year.

Unpaid Internships

Lord Holmes of Richmond was successful in the Lords Private Members Bill ballot (again!) that was held in December. He continues his campaign to tackle unpaid internships lasting longer than four weeks and has reintroduced legislation to ban unpaid internships over four weeks (with the intent that they will become paid at a reasonable rate). Lords legislation, and private members bills, often fail to progress through Parliament and become law. However, we’ll be keeping a close eye on this Bill. The date for the second reading has yet to be announced.

Social and Geographic Mobility

The Sutton Trust, in partnership with the LSE Inequalities Institute published a report on social mobility, geographic mobility, and elite occupations. This comes from a summary provided by Dods. The report presents a systemic study of whether elites in the UK are pulling away, economically and socially. Elites here are defined in two senses;

  • firstly ‘economic elites’ , a group of the most economically, culturally and socially advantaged in society, and
  • ‘occupational elites’ , a much larger group comprising of those who work in professional and managerial jobs, the most privileged group of occupations.

The report finds that becoming socially mobile – moving into a higher professional or managerial job from a working-class background – doesn’t necessarily mean moving away from where you grew up. The report also comments on the elites’ consolidation of London, finding that, for the younger generation (aged 30-36), moving to London and working in an elite occupation is largely the preserve of those from a privileged background in the first place.

  • Elites are likely to justify their position through beliefs in meritocracy. However, these meritocratic views are also largely endorsed by the wider population and thus the elite exaggerate rather than repudiate wider common sense perspectives on social mobility.
  • Although the impact of private schooling on access to elite universities and firms remains important, their power has slightly waned over the very long run.
  • Occupational elites, those employed in higher managerial and professional occupations, have not become more geographically segregated over the period 1981-2011. In fact, outside London, such segregation has declined.
  • Over two-thirds of the most socially mobile people born in 1965-1971 and 1975-1981 have never made a long-distance move (69% and 68% respectively). Instead they’ve built careers near to where they grew up in sectors like law, medicine and academia, aided by the growth in professional jobs across the country in the latter part of the century.
  • For the younger generation, moving to and living in London at age 30-36 and working in an elite occupation is overwhelmingly associated with being from a privileged background in the first place, and this holds even more true than for older generations
  • Those from privileged backgrounds that are most able to migrate to, and remain in London, and can therefore take advantage of the most sought-after career opportunities in Britain’s elite occupations. Therefore, there is an association between geographic mobility and the reproduction of social class advantage, rather than social mobility.
  • Conversely, ‘ordinary’ Londoners who move into elite occupations actually tend to move away from London in order to accomplish their ascent.

Recommendations:

  • Unpaid internships are a significant barrier to those from less well-off backgrounds outside big cities and exclude those who cannot afford to work for free. To ensure access to opportunities are fair, internships over 4 weeks should always be paid at least the minimum wage. [See our coverage of the Bill here.]
  • There needs to be a significant increase in the number of degree and higher-level apprenticeships available across the country, and a focus on ensuring young people from low and moderate income backgrounds can access them.
  • Admissions to the best schools and universities should be more equitable, with increased use of contextual admissions by more selective universities, and opening up the best comprehensive, grammar and independent schools to young people of all backgrounds.

Social Mobility Barometer

The Social Mobility Commission’s  annual social mobility barometer which assesses public attitudes to social mobility in the UK. The report underlines stark regional differences in people’s perceptions of their life prospects:

  • 31% of people living in the north-east (and 48% in north-west) think there are good opportunities to make progress in their own region, whereas
  • 74% believe this in the south-east, and
  • 78% in London.

Dame Martina Milburn, Chair of the Social Mobility Commission, said:

  • This year’s Social Mobility Barometer gives a clear message to the new Government. It shows that more than half of people feel that government does not give enough support to those who are struggling or to the least well off. It should be doing much more both at national and local level.
  • This year the Barometer reveals a worrying divide between opportunities in education and what follows – work, income and job security. Overall 63% of people felt they were better off than their parents in terms of the education they had received, but only 45% felt they had a better standard of living. Less than a third felt they had better job security.
  • This suggests that the focus on improving educational opportunities may have started to pay off but much more attention is needed on training, jobs, and pay levels. The majority of people continue to feel there are fewer opportunities for people from disadvantaged backgrounds compared to better-off peers. Almost half of people (44%) say that where you end up in society is largely determined by your background, while twice as many people feel it is becoming harder rather than easier to move up in society. This poll is a ‘call to action’ for this new Government to do more to help social mobility. Politicians must listen to it. This is a great moment to start reversing inequities of generations.

Delving into the detail behind the headlines is the finding that apprenticeships were considered to offer better career progression than HE study. However, there is a stark age difference with the younger generation plumping for HE to pursue a successful career (see page 12 for the full breakdown).

  • 77% felt that poorer people have less opportunity to attend a top university with 65% believing poor people’s chances were reduced to attend any university. 49% believed it would also be harder for poorer people to obtain an internship. Interestingly 57% believed poor people had equal opportunity to obtain an apprenticeship.
  • Those surveyed who were aged under 50 believed they received a better education than their parents but scored lower on all other factors with the 18-24 and 25-49 age groups particularly negative in their opinion.
  • Those born in the 1980s and 1990s were rated highest for the best educational opportunities (despite the fact the tuition fee loan system was in place for this cohort).

Dods report that the Social Mobility Commission poll coincides with the publication of the commission’s research report into further education and recommends that the government set up an independent What Works Centre for Further Education and Adult Learning (proposed budget £20 million over the next 5 years) to act as a knowledge and research hub; translating the best available evidence and testing a variety of approaches to ensure resources for poorer students, who make up the bulk of students in further education, are targeted more effectively.

The NUS responded to both social mobility reports and the FE report but were not in favour of a What Works centre – NUS Vice President (Further Education) Juliana Mohamad-Noor said:

  • We welcome the publication’s focus on how to improve education attainment among disadvantaged students and the report can provide a useful evidence base for this. However students have told us that what they need to best help them succeed is more direct investment into further education (FE) rather than investing in a £20 million What Works Centre. FE is in a funding crisis due to cuts since 2010, with students bearing the brunt of these cuts. The government must raise the rate to at least £4,760 per student as a priority if they are to improve attainment.

I believe there are a number of initiatives which could make life better for disadvantaged students. They include:

  • Travel passes: City of Liverpool College had travel passes for students with a household income of less than £25,000 who lived more than two miles away and had good attendance.
  • Bursary Grants: City of Liverpool College also had a small pot of funding for students who met a similar criteria. I benefitted from this when I was a business student at the College and was granted £200 to buy a laptop so that I could do my coursework outside of the classroom and not be dependent on limited library resources in College or at home.
  • Free School Meals. At City of Liverpool only 2 or 3 centres were funded to be able to provide free food at lunchtime. This lack of support meant many students had to spend time travelling to another college where their ID cards would allow them access to the meal allowance, or use their own limited resources to buy food elsewhere.
  • Nurseries, such as the one provided at City of Liverpool College for students with young children. This allows both access to education for the students as well as reliable and safe childcare for their young ones.
  • Direct investment in response to real student needs in their day-to-day lives is what’s needed to close the education attainment gap among disadvantaged students

Interventions to widen access to HE – impact evaluation

The Education Policy Institute (EPI) has published a report on the impact of interventions for widening access to HE. Students from disadvantaged backgrounds are still less likely than their more privileged counterparts to progress to HE. The report finds that, despite considerable investment and many years of widening participation policy, progress has been modest and there appears to be limited evidence on the effectiveness of the interventions carried out. The paper also describes interventions that have proved most effective.

These are the key findings as described by the EPI:

  • Overall, there is still a lack of available evidence on the impact of outreach interventions on actual enrolment rates. Much of the existing evidence focusses on intermediate outcomes such as increased aspirations and awareness which may not always translate into actual enrolments.
  • Most of the studies analysed found positive but modest effects. There are still some gaps in the research base, and the evidence often does not demonstrate causality; however, there has been an increased focus on robust evaluations.
  • Much of the evidence is concentrated on students in their final years of secondary school and post-16 learners (A levels students in particular). Given that differences in attainment can explain much of the participation gap, and that these arise early, there is a lack of evidence on the impact of interventions happening earlier in the student life cycle.
  • Most widening participation initiatives analysed were black box interventions combining several outreach components. These combined interventions seem to be associated with improvements in higher education outcomes but drawing definitive conclusions on the effectiveness of the single components is challenging.
  • Providing financial aid to disadvantaged students is a high-cost widening participation intervention that has a small but positive effect on enrolment. The literature suggests that financial support is most successful when it is relatively easy to understand and apply for and efforts are made to raise awareness amongst potential beneficiaries.
  • Interventions in the area of mentoring, counselling and role models has generally positive association with the outcomes considered. Qualitative and quantitative evidence suggests an increase in students’ confidence to succeed in higher education, higher aspirations and a better understanding of the world of university, especially when the mentors can act as relatable role models for the mentees. Again, much of the literature analyses only changes to intermediate outcomes such as increased aspirations, confidence or awareness, rather than actual enrolments.
  • Providing information, advice and guidance to underrepresented students during secondary school is a low-cost, light-touch tool to widen participation. The literature is largely based on fully scalable randomised control trials and indicates limited effects on both aspirations and actual enrolment. The more promising interventions are those that are tailored to the students, start early and are integrated into other forms of support, such as career advice and guidance.
  • Summer schools are high-cost interventions that appear to be positively correlated with an increase in confidence and aspirations, but evidence on their effects on application to and acceptance by higher education institutions shows mixed results.

EPI make the following recommendations: [some very familiar messages here!]

  • To avoid overestimating the effectiveness of widening participation interventions, it is crucial to provide more causal evidence on the capacity of interventions to translate increased aspirations and awareness into a higher enrolment rate.
  • There is a need for more robust research on the impact of black box interventions, with a focus on teasing out the separate effect of each component. Robust monitoring and evaluation should be built into these interventions from the start.
  • There is not enough research focused on vulnerable but overlooked groups, such as mature students, carers and care leavers, some ethnic minority students and vocational students.
  • More causal evidence on the effectiveness of summer schools should also be carried out. Where randomised control trials are not practical, other quasi-experimental techniques should be applied.
  • More research on financial aid is recommended to ensure relevance to the English and UK context.
  • The government and its delivery bodies must facilitate greater tracking of the progression outcomes of participants in widening participation interventions over time and between the school, college and the higher education sectors. This would provide improved evidence based on actual enrolments to higher education rather than on self-reported aspirations and attitudes only, and would allow for the development of more research on interventions happening

NCOP (National Collaborative Outreach Programme)

A report on the future of the NCOP (National Collaborative Outreach Programme): Voices: What next for the National Collaborative Outreach Programme? Last week OfS announced they would need to make savings in the HE recurrent funding budgets. They have confirmed they will not cut NCOP allocations, however, they will clawback and repurpose any underspend. Voices is a responsive briefing written by 17 leaders of the 29 regional NCOP consortia on the future of the programme based on this statement:

  • “The Office for Students has signalled its intention to financially support the Outreach Hubs to 2025. What recommendations would you, as NCOP Leads, make to OfS decision makers for a national programme to run alongside the Outreach Hubs to ensure that some element of nationally-funded collaborative widening access work continues once NCOP ends in 2021, drawing on your expertise and your own local context?”

The South West leads had this to say in response:

  • NCOP partnerships are neatly taking care of collaborative outreach targets, and implicit impartiality. This does not exonerate HE providers from their obligations to provide high-quality institutional WP Outreach, with the potential student as the focus of their work, not the potential recruitment of that student to their institution. The success of the Outreach Hubs will depend, in part, on their ability to signpost to a coherent, broad-ranging institutional WP Outreach offer. HE providers should be supported to build this now, in preparation for meaningful continued collaborative working post July 2021.

Here Dods summarise how the NCOP Consortia see the Future:

  • Collaboration is crucial but fragile: Strong relationships between schools, higher education, and further education are being formed but without continued funding
  • Commitment to collaboration has to be long term: A recurring theme of the responses was the need for a stable long-term commitment to a funded collaborative infrastructure. This commitment needs to be until 2025 to at least match the APP cycle.
  • Starting earlier is key: A strong theme running through the responses was the need to engage with learners earlier, as soon as primary level if possible. A strong theme running through the responses was the need to engage with learners earlier, as soon as primary level if possible.
  • Institutional Outreach will not ‘replace’ NCOP targeted activity: If NCOP targeted funding is removed then large groups of learners will lose their support if they do not fit with the priorities of providers in that area, and the risk is that all learners will have what they can learn about HE restricted. This will include those who need greater, more extensive support to progress to HE.
  • Direct school involvement matters: Even if funding is to be scaled down there could be a case for transitional support in those areas most badly affected by such a scaling.
  • Targeting is important, but targeting who?: There were voices which questioned the present area based approach and whether an individual-level approach would have greater merit. It would possibly assist the Office for Students in understanding what range of approaches to defining disadvantage and educational disadvantage could be the most appropriate in widening access work.
  • Fund national but deliver local: The recent interest in civic universities is welcome but will not represent any kind of replacement for a coherent funded commitment made by the HE sector to engaging with the local areas for whom HE does not seem relevant.

You can read the (relatively short) full document here.

Grammar Schools

Arguments over the abolition, taxing, and expansion of grammar schools were features of GE2019 and they’re still topical in 2020. In January 2019 HEPI published an occasional paper by Iain Mansfield The Impact of Selective Secondary Education on Progression to HE which found that attending a grammar school increased the likelihood of attending a highly-selective university for disadvantaged pupils. However, this week HEPI have published a collection of essays – Social Mobility and HE: Are grammar schools the answer? refuting Iain’s claims that grammar schooling has a positive effect for deprived pupils. In short:

  • The data used by Iain Mansfield was flawed – the exclusion of (missing) income data from higher income families makes it appear more grammar students come from poorer households that is actually the case.
  • Any positive benefits for individuals from attending grammar schools are outweighed by negative effects on those who do not pass the 11+. Furthermore, selection depresses overall educational achievement and harms the chances of the poorest children. There are also moral arguments against the social segregation that is the consequence of selective secondary education. At a time of increasing social division and inequality in England, authors argue that a high-quality and comprehensive system which educates all pupils effectively is needed.
  • Grammar schools thrive as a result of having highly selective universities, and because of their diverse classroom learning experience which matches well with university study.
  • There are geographical differences in areas which have grammar schools – generally they’re more affluent. This means it is not possible to attribute all differences in progression rates between selective and non-selective areas to grammar schools rather than differences in the pupil population or other factors.
  • Personal ideologies have not coloured the academic debate on grammar schools as Mansfield suggests.

Contributors, John Furlong & Ingrid Lunt, Emeritus Professors of Education, University of Oxford said:

  • Increased mobility that occurred in the 1960s and 1970s did not come about as a result of grammar schools but because of structural changes that brought about substantially increased opportunities for social mobility. There literally was ‘more room at the top’ that had to be filled whether or not there were grammar schools at the time…In a society that aspires to greater social equality and equality of opportunity there can be little justification for the continued existence of grammar schools today, let alone their expansion. They are the product of educational thinking from a very different era from our own. They are part of our educational history; that does not mean they should be part of our educational future.

Iain Mansfield blogged for HEPI in response to the latest paper both welcoming it for the contribution it makes to the body of evidence on the topic but also raising concerns on factors not addressed. He re-highlights his original points on unconscious bias and speaks out against the comprehensive university model. He concludes:

  • Academic selection is a fundamentally complex subject, involving complex trade-offs that impact on different individuals in society in diverse and varied ways. Selection may be applied at different ages, on a general or a specialist basis, and both between and within schools, for example with streaming and setting. It may be applied with differing degrees of flexibility or movement between schools and under a wide variety of different funding frameworks, from the highly inequitable one prevailing in the 1950s to one significantly more progressive, in which greater resources are provided to those most in need. There are no easy answers to any of this – but it is a matter which deserves to be discussed and researched by a diverse group of individuals with different perspectives, not a closed circle of those who have already made up their minds.

Immigration

This week The Times reported PM Boris has confirmed he will axe the £30,000 minimum salary threshold for immigrants arriving after Brexit through the planned Australian-style points system. The Times state:

  • Under Mr Johnson’s plan migrants’ earnings will be taken into account as part of their application to enter the UK. Other criteria could include English proficiency, educational qualifications, occupation and willingness to work in particular areas of Britain.
  • While the prime minister is understood to have the support of his cabinet, ditching the £30,000 criteria will still be controversial in the Tory party.

Iain Duncan Smith, the Eurosceptic MP and former Conservative leader, said they should be cautious about ditching the £30,000 threshold. They will need to have very strong checks in place to ensure that they deliver on their pledge to control immigration.  Anti-immigration campaign group Migration Watch UK are reported as warning that the number of migrants coming to Britain could rise sharply under a points-based system.

The Migration Advisory Committee will publish a report next week on how the new points-based system would work and the Government is expected to publish an immigration white paper in March 2020. The Government intends for the new immigration system to be introduced immediately at the end of the Brexit transition period in December 2020.

Assistive Technology

Universities, Science, Research and Innovation Minister  Chris Skidmore  has made an announcement  on technology to support pupils with special education needs.  From Dods: Chris Skidmore’s EdTech related speech at the BETT show has now been published.

  • The government’s EdTech testbed programme launched with Durham University, will match schools and colleges with leading EdTech products created to tackle specific educational challenges, like homework marking, or parental engagement.
    I’m pleased to announce today that in 2020 we intend to achieve a world-first, and develop a new Assistive Technology testbed aimed at transforming learning for pupils with special educational needs and disability. 
  • At the school level, we’ve put more than £80 million to create the National Centre for Computing Education, to improve the quality of computing teaching across England and to encourage more girls to take the subject.
  • On the college level, we’ve established the National College of Digital Skills, better known as Ada. We have also started to open the first 12 Institutes of Technology (IoTs), backed by £170m of government funding, to offer higher technical education in key sectors including digital. 

The Education Minister speaks

Gavin Williamson spoke to more than 100 education ministers from around the globe at the Education World Forum, setting out his vision for British education.  HE commentators were disappointed about the (lack of) priority given to HE in the speech.  There’s a transcript of the speech here.

  • …For the first time, the latest PISA results show 15-year-olds in England achieving scores above the OECD national averages in reading, maths and science.
  • …Last year we set up a £2.5 million programme to help encourage international exchanges, with a particular focus on children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Thanks to that programme, children from 138 schools have or are planning to travel to countries as far-ranging such as Austria and Zambia. Today, I’m thrilled to announce a one-year extension to this International School Exchange programme, and its expansion to include primary school children in Years 5 and 6.
  • We truly do hold the tools to make a global difference and a global change. So many people turn to us to provide them with a chance to succeed in life. To free themselves sometimes from the poverty they’ve known, or the lack of ambition that others have experienced. We have that ability to level up, to give people, young people, the chance for them to succeed, for our nations to succeed, and for every generation to be able to contribute more to their nations but also to the globe. That is what we can, and that is what we will do.

On HE:

  • We recognise for our higher education institutions to remain the best in the world, that is done through international collaboration, working with others, making sure that research and study is always an international endeavour.
  • Of course, a traditional academic education isn’t the be all and end all, and we’re all rapidly finding this out. It’s 2020, and we all live in a modern global economy—one that is set to be transformed by AI, automation and other technologies, and which will require a new and constantly changing skillset for our workforce. And those might not be the kind of skills that we can necessarily always develop within universities or traditional academia.
  • As a result, every country across the world is now putting a much bigger focus on further and technical education, so that we can build a workforce that’s fighting fit for the future and able to deal with the new challenges and opportunities that the globe faces.

Other news

  • Strong growth: The Open Innovation team have published Cautionary Tales from History an economics focused blog examining Britain’s exponential economic success during the 16th  and 17th Centuries. The blog considers the influence of policy and questions whether the growth enabling elements could be harnessed today to address left behind regions in the UK. The blog concludes that in the past strong Government with an efficient system of taxation and public finance alongside strong markets which were not manipulated by special interest groups (guilds, landlords, the church, etc) and a strong civil society were the social conditions behind the success of the industrial revolution.
  • Care Leavers: The Care Leaver Progression Partnership have promoted the latest Stand Alone report What Happens Next? which explores care leavers transitioning out of HE. And Care Day will be held on 21 February.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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