Tagged / TEF

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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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

HE Policy Update for the w/e 15th April 2020

Hi all, a short update this week, with a couple of important updates

Office for Students update

The Office for Students issued another update to providers on 14th April.

They confirm the on-going uncertainty on access to government schemes for HE providers – there are hopes that this will be resolved (in a positive way) later this week. The update says:

  • We understand that the two coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Schemes and the COVID-19 Corporate Financing Facility are open to higher education providers, although final confirmation about eligibility for these schemes has still to be determined. We will continue to work with the Department for Education and HM Treasury to get further information about eligibility and will provide further information as soon as we can.

 

And this on the TEF:

  • As you will be aware, we were previously planning to develop and consult on a new framework for the TEF during the first half of 2020. The impact of the coronavirus crisis means that we do not currently have a date for the next TEF exercise. We will provide further information as soon as we can. We intend to consult on the future TEF scheme after the government has published the Independent Review and its response to the Review’s recommendations. Publication of the subject-level TEF pilot reports has been delayed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

 

Some commentators (see Johnny Rich here) are seeing this as a major step – an indefinite postponement of TEF using the virus as cover. After all, there are rumours that the Pearce review is not very positive about the TEF.

But this could be over-egging things. The OfS has postponed all its consultations and hasn’t yet set new deadlines for any of them – so this is just the OfS being consistent. Don’t read too much into the postponement, folks – we would be very surprised if TEF goes away, even though the 2020 data will be weird.

There is comment from Wonkhe here:

  • From the looks of the scant paragraph we get it would seem that this is a temporary measure, and that there would be every expectation that we would get a new date in time. But it is not hard to imagine this indefinite pause as a quiet death for a basket of metrics that has failed to capture the imagination of the audience it sought…..
  • It could, of course, be argued that the current situation suits everyone involved perfectly well. The Government seems in no hurry to publish a review of TEF that is likely to have been less than glowing, the OfS doesn’t need to respond to it or consult on it (making it easier to integrate TEF into the mainstream of regulation), and TEF remains on pause forever. Nobody loses face, the decision to cancel TEF is never explicitly taken (so the government never goes back on a manifesto promise) but it is quietly understood that no future work will be done on an indicator that signally failed to indicate anything.

 

[PS there is still no news from UKRI on the KEF deadline extension]

The Office for Students has a webpage which brings together all their guidance, FAQs and the Ministerial letters, which is a useful resource. They keep adding to the FAQs – what we are all waiting for now is the next news on admissions, due on 20th April

  • We have created a provider guide to coronavirus which includes information about our regulatory requirements, FAQs, and links to all letters and guidance issued by the OfS. There is also a student guide with FAQs and signposting to sources of information beyond the OfS.

 

Support for Universities

Universities UK issued a package of measures to address concerns in the sector – and shared it with Gavin Williamson in a telephone call.

They highlighted the many challenges to the sector, the work that we are doing to support the national effort and our staff and students. They asked for specific confirmation that confirmation that universities are eligible for the Job Retention Scheme (furloughing staff), and the Business Interruption Scheme and the Corporate Financing Facility and recommended a range of actions, including:

  • increasing funding for research and covering the full economic cost for UKRI funded research;
  • introducing a one year “stability measure” in the form of a student number cap equal to the number of UK and EU students forecast for 2020-21 plus 5% and a new sector agreement on fair admissions practices that would, amongst other things, restrict unconditional offers at volume;
  • provide further funding for courses that support key public sector services, including nursing and healthcare and some short and part-time courses;
  • a transformation fund to support universities to reshape and consolidate through federations and partnerships or mergers;
  • bridging loans and support for changes in lending terms, reprofiling funding allocations including the student finance payments towards the beginning of the academic year, and halting the planned cuts in teaching grant; and
  • mitigating the impact on international recruitment by providing flexibility of visa requirements and delaying changes that would apply to EU students after Brexit who would join in the 2021 academic year.
  • We don’t know when there will be a response, if at all.

The Opposition view

Research Professional has an interview with Emma Hardy, shadow Universities Minister. It’s an interesting read:

  • The model of intense competition is failing. Having read Universities UK’s submission to the government, letters from the University and College Union and other higher education organisations and interest groups, what is not surprising is the amount of consensus there is. If we continue down the same path of “unseemly competition” as UCU has warned, then some universities will face financial failure and as it stands the Office for Students has been clear that it will not bail them out.
  • As highlighted by UUK, the likelihood is that ‘cold spots’ will develop, exacerbating the regional inequalities and putting already disadvantaged students at a greater disadvantage.
  • There is a consensus around the need for change, and we should look to create a more collaborative system. UUK has already acknowledged that changes need to be made and that these could include “federations and partnerships”. Labour believes there should be greater collaboration between higher education, further education and adult community learning, to anchor those institutions in their communities and reform their governing structure.
  • Institutions offering similar academic courses in the same region could cooperate with the aim of staff development and educational improvement to benefit students and our national interest.

 

  • There needs to be a collective acknowledgement of the unpalatable idea of asking mature students who find themselves unemployed as a result of this crisis to commit to a lifetime loan of over £27,000 for a degree which the government knows they will never repay. Labour will continue to argue for free education for all as we face of challenge of upskilling our country in a post-Covid-19 world.

 

  • A higher education system funded by government, industry and commerce has the power to hold universities to a higher standard, and it should use this power to radically reform the terms and conditions of university staff and in particular the use of insecure contracts.
  • If we wish the UK to maintain its reputation as a world leader in research, then research grants must be balanced and distributed regionally to create regional institutions of excellence.
  • The Research Excellence Framework has been discredited nearly as frequently as the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework and the space provided by the suspension of the REF due to Covid-19 opens the discussion on what makes for effective accountability. If we are to build a future based on cooperation, and universities acting in the national interest, then market-based accountability measures serve no purpose.

 

This follows an intervention by Rebecca Long-Bailey, the new shadow Education lead, who wrote to Gavin Williamson last week, as reported by Research Professional

  • In a missive dated 9 April, that also addresses schools and further education policy, Long-Bailey—who finished second to Keir Starmer in the recent Labour leadership election—asks Williamson if he believes universities are “likely to require additional financial support” as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak, and how decisions on such support will be made? She also asked the Department for Education to protect institutions from closure “for the duration of this crisis”.

 

  • She also asked if overseas staff working in universities would be offered the same one-year visa extension available to NHS staff and sought reassurances that international students’ visas will be extended where required.
  • “I believe in the current circumstances some additional support should be given to students,” Long-Bailey writes. Specifically, she calls for ministers to immediately suspend all interest on loans, waive tuition fees for the period that students are not receiving full tuition, and give students the opportunity to “defer to next academic year without needing to pay extra tuition fees”.
  • There should also be an assurance that students do not have to pay for accommodation that they are no longer able to use, Long-Bailey wrote, while those in receipt of a maintenance grant should be able to return all or part of it in exchange for it being written off.
  • The shadow education secretary also calls for clarity on student assessment practices during the Covid-19 outbreak and asks the government to “urgently consider” creating a student hardship fund for those who encounter financial difficulty as a result of the pandemic.

 

Opportunities

Finally, we are delighted that two members of academic staff have submitted evidence to an All Party-Parliamentary Group this week and we are very proud of the work that staff across BU are doing to support the national effort, and to contribute to the national debate.

If you haven’t done so before, now may be a good time to explore the APPGs active in your area of expertise and see if they are doing interesting work – the full list is here. Look under subject groups and follow the links  Some APPGs don’t update their websites very often (or have them at all) but some are very active.

And if you have a news story or a plan for research, or a solution to a practical problem linked to the virus, speak to the M&C press team or Becca Edwards.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

 

HE policy update for the w/e 20th September 2019

With Parliament suspended until 14th October (despite calls for a recall, pending the outcome of this week’s Supreme Court hearing on the lawfulness or otherwise of the prorogation), things are a little quieter in policy circles, although there is likely to be plenty of news from the Labour and Conservative party conferences over the next couple of weeks  Labour kick off first, and the Tories next week.

Two things struck us this week – a much bigger interest than usual in the Lib Dem conference, with the national press streaming lovely views of the Bournemouth sea front all week, and the level of blow by blow coverage of the Supreme court hearing. With an election now inevitable, probably before Christmas, and a Lib Dem surge predicted, the first isn’t surprising, and the second is just the latest in the Brexit/Boris soap opera. We are taking a break from making predictions about what will happen on Hallowe’en. It’s all too difficult to call.

 OfS urged to act on ‘quality’ matters

Secretary of State Education, Gavin Williamson, has written to the OfS setting out his priorities and giving support for the OfS to use a big stick to push for progress (e.g. on the attainment gap) and curb unpopular practices (e.g. conditional unconditional offers). The letter is a very long wish list (including the kitchen sink) in which the Minister basically asks the OfS to solve all perceived ills in the name of safeguarding the sector’s reputation and encourages them (in bold type) to use their regulatory sharp stick boldly.

The Government press release has the Minister urging the OfS to: “set as high a bar as possible on quality in the sector, so universities are focused on reducing dropout rates and ensuring the best possible value for money. We have to fight to keep the public trust and respect in our world-leading universities and to me that means a relentless focus on quality. That’s why I want the OfS to go even further on this, developing more rigorous and demanding quality requirements, and I give my full backing to boldly use its powers to ensure value for money.”

Excerpts from the letter (use of bold type reflects the letter, a new style approach in these letters):

  • Value for money – OfS must attach “the highest priority to this work” and make sure that it is reflected in its forthcoming value for money strategy.
  • Exercise your powers boldly to ensure you are an effective regulator. Refers to refusals to register,  Suggests using powers where there are “courses and providers that are not delivering value for students”, such as “unacceptable levels of drop-out rates or failure to equip students with qualifications that are recognised and valued by employers, falling short of what is required…under the registration conditions”…
  • Develop “even more rigorous and demanding quality requirements”. This means apparently, raising current baseline requirements to ensure that providers deliver successful outcomes for all students.  Supports the “OfS intention to revisit the minimum baselines”…
  • Be ambitious for the TEF in both scope and timing. That means publishing subject level TEF in 2021 alongside the implementation of a new TEF following the Pearce review.  Those hoping that subject level was going to be abandoned will be disappointed, and presumably subject level will also be continued in the “new model” otherwise it would an orphaned measure with weird reputational consequences.
  • Consider running a further provider level TEF assessment with results published in 2020.  If they are going to do that, having already said everyone’s TEF is extended and we don’t have to, they need to get on with it.
  • Refers to the “injudicious use of unconditional offers” and other inducements “that could have an adverse impact on the access and success of students in HE”.  Other than the OfS working with the CMA on enforcement of consumer law, no particular action here.
  • “Prioritise work supporting students as empowered consumers” – complaints, Ts and Cs, free speech, harassment, etc. The OfS are to review current practice and consider standard contractual templates by Feb 2020. He commends their plans on student protection and urges “action in this area to be as ambitious as possible”
  • Focus on part-time and flexible learning, mature learners, “regulatory and funding arrangements surrounding flexible provision” (including how performance metrics support and incentivise flexible provision) – plan by end Nov 2019 and interim report by end of March 2020. Also a Challenge Competition for that.
  • Raising awareness of accelerated degrees.
  • Monitoring schemes and arrangements for student transfer –institutions to develop a plan for how they will use regulatory powers to promote greater student choice.
  • Explore how international students can be better supported and integrated, in line with Global Britain’s efforts to strengthen relationships around the world.

The Sec of State also tasked the OfS Review of Admissions to fully consider a Post Qualification Applications system (note application not admission – so students would apply after their level 3 results).

The TEF stuff has caused a little stir – there is not supposed to be a TEF this year, and the idea of running a subject level TEF in 2021 alongside the development of a new TEF seems like a lot of work to produce a set of outcomes that would not be very useful for anyone, as they would not be comparable with what has gone before or what will come after. As there is no link to fees etc. (yet, we still think that this might re-emerge as one outcome from the Post-18 Review), and students are not using TEF, what is the point? See Wonkhe on this.

Access, Participation & Success

HEPI have published The white elephant in the room: ideas for reducing racial inequality in HE. It consists of a series of essays by national HE figures recommending how to reduce a range of racial inequalities including the attainment gap. Some recommendations:

  • All Higher Education Institutions should participate in the Race Equality Charter (56 are members). Funding bodies should consider creating financial incentives behind them doing so – such as making research grants conditional on participation. This proved effective when applications for the gender equality focused Athena SWAN Charter went up 400% after the British Medical Research Council made funding conditional on holding a Silver Athena Swan Award.

Kalwant Bhopal, Professor of Education and Social Justice, University of Birmingham: ‘Work on gender is seen as worthwhile and contributing to an equalities agenda. Race, on the other hand has always been seen as a secondary priority. If higher education is serious about social justice, then race equality must be seen as a priority – linking the Race Equality Charter to research funding would be a good start.’

  • Do groundwork to facilitate conversations about race within institutions. Do not underestimate the obstacles faced in doing this and the need for ground rules.

Professor Shân Waring, DVC, London South Bank University: ‘In a room of people talking about race, there will be people confused about which words are okay and which are not. And there will be people in the room who will not join in the conversation, for fear of appearing racist, of being called racist, and perhaps of finding out when it comes down to it, they are racist.’

  • Make sure that work done by BME staff and students to tackle racial inequalities is recognised and rewarded. Being an informal mentor to BME students, or giving up time to help with racial equality initiatives, should not become another form of disadvantage.

Amatey Doku, former Vice President for Higher Education at the National Union of Students: ‘Universities are under more pressure than ever to address the 14% attainment gap between BME and white students. Some universities are responding positively, but end up putting a disproportionate burden on BME staff and students. Ultimately it is the institutions themselves that need to fix the problem.”

  • Academic faculties should look to their curricula and to other ways of addressing inequalities in their subject, such as Studentships for BME candidates.

Margot Finn, President of the Royal Historical Society: ‘A third of black and minority ethnic historians have faced discrimination or abuse – twice as many as for white historians. That tends to shock white historians, but it has never surprised BME historians with whom that I’ve shared our findings.’

  • Diversity practitioners within institutions need senior management diversity champions to rely upon. For instance, inclusion networks should be sure they have the resources and the remit to make changes. (Sanchia Alasia)
  • Avoid well-meaning but vague actions which are unlikely to effect change. For instance, implicit bias training should be used in a targeted way to map how biases are playing out in an organisation and to tackle specific issues. (Srabrani Sen)

Access Gap – FE news have published a news article by UCAS highlighting that 20.4% of students from the most disadvantaged communities (polar 4 quintile 1) have a confirmed HE place. The Daily Mail have coverage too.

Brexit and Parliament

Apart from the battle over prorogation and the focus on who said what to the Queen when (which is getting David Cameron as well as Boris Johnson into trouble this week), there is ongoing speculation about what will happen in October.

An interesting YouGov poll revealed that 52% of Leave voters believe the PM should break the law by refusing to ask the EU to extend the Brexit deadline. 28% believe Boris should follow the law despite his ongoing insistence personal campaign that the 31 October exit deadline is non-negotiable, with 21% undecided.

Speaker Predictions – YouGov have also reported that according to a Jan 2019 poll Lindsay Hoyle (current deputy speaker) is the MP’s favourite candidate for the next Speaker of The House of Commons. YouGov state:

He [Lindsay] was the only potential successor nominated by a substantive number of MPs, with a further 41% saying they didn’t know who the next Speaker should be. Hoyle’s fellow Deputy Speaker, the Conservative MP Eleanor Laing, came in a distant second on just 6%, with former Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman in third on 5%. Both have announced that they will run for the Speakership.

4 year study in only 3 years leave to remain – Gavin Williamson tackled the conundrum of EU students who are studying 4 year courses (e.g. in Scotland) but will only be afforded 36 months of temporary leave to remain post Brexit. The Education secretary saidthe UK Government would find a solution”.

Education Spending

There is a new Institute for Fiscal Studies report on education spending.

The HE highlights are (our emphasis added):

  • Universities currently receive £27,500 per full-time undergraduate student to fund the cost of teaching for the full course of their studies (usually three years). This has fallen by 5% since 2012, but is about 50% higher than at its low point during the mid 1990s.
  • While per-student funding is similar today to its early 1990s levels, total resources for teaching undergraduate students have doubled in real terms over that period. This was driven by a near-doubling in student numbers. The nature of that funding has changed significantly, with it now coming primarily through tuition fees rather than through teaching grants.
  • The overall cost of the current system is about £17 billion per cohort entering higher education. More than half of the cost is expected to be paid for through graduate contributions (£9.0 billion), particularly from higher-earning graduates. The long-run cost to government is expected to be about £8.0 billion, about £7.4 billion through unrepaid student loans and £700 million in up-front grants.
  • The Augar Review proposed cutting fees to £7,500, reintroducing maintenance grants and changing the terms of repayment. This would give policymakers greater control of spending on different subjects, which they have little control over at present due to funding being dominated by tuition fees and to a lack of controls on student numbers. The proposals would reduce repayments amongst higher earners and increase repayments amongst mainly middle earners. But there is no good reason to say the current distribution of repayments and incentives is the ‘correct’ one.
  • Labour’s policies of abolishing fees altogether and bringing back maintenance grants would come at a cost to the public finances of just over £6 billion per cohort of full-time students over the long run. This policy would give the government even more control over the distribution of spending on certain subjects or institutions, but would benefit the highest-earning graduates substantially. The policy is significantly cheaper now as a result of the 2017 increase in the repayment threshold on student loans from £21,000 to £25,000. 
  • Considering part-time students adds approximately another £1 billion to the cost of Labour’s proposals at current student numbers. However, the cost of this policy could increase rapidly if the large decline in part-time student numbers since 2010 were reversed.

 

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 inquiries and consultations.

Other news

Graduate Outcomes: The Telegraph has an interactive comparator to accompany their article stating that Oxbridge doesn’t always result in the highest salaries, and that some subjects at ‘lesser known institutions’. Engineering, computer science and business graduates ‘from a wide variety of universities’ are said as ‘punching above their weight’.

Money Mules: The phenomenon of targeting students to act as money mules has been around for several years but the Telegraph has teamed up with Barclays to publish an article warning what to watch out for. Staff working directly with students may be interested in reading about this fraud scam.

Arts & Heritage: The Taking Part 2018/19 survey statistics have been released. It is a continuous face to face household survey of adults and children in England providing reliable national estimates of engagement with the arts, heritage, museums, libraries, digital and social networking. It is a key evidence source for DCMS. In 2018/19:

  • 77.4% of adults had engaged with the arts at least once in the last year. The rate of adults engaged in the arts has remained relatively stable since 2005/06.
  • 72.4% of adults reported having visited a heritage site in the last 12 months, similar to 2017/18, and an increase from 69.9% in 2005/06.
  • 50.2% of adults reported having visited a museum or gallery in the last year. This is similar to 2017/18 and a significant increase from 2005/06 (42.3%).
  • 59% of adults reported being aware of UK events to commemorate the Centenary of the First World War. This represents a significant increase from 2017/18 (50.5%).
  • 35.2% of adults had used a public library service in the last year for any purpose, similar to 2017/18 and 32.9% had used a public library service in the last year for voluntary work or in their own time, this is similar to 2017/18 but a decrease from 2005/06 (48.2%).

Marketisation: HEPI have a new blog – Changes to student entry quality in a marketised English higher education system. It concludes Universities appear to have been adopting different strategies with many focusing on growth in volume, at the expense of entry points, and a smaller number prioritising quality. 

Trading Up: iNews have an interesting article regarding students who undertake a foundation year (and therefore an extra year of debt) with the aim of completing it successfully and transferring (‘upgrading’) to another university. The article carries the tone that this is a risky manoeuvre and Geoff Barton, Association of School and College Leaders, said “we advise students against trying to use foundation years to ‘trade up’.” Instead the advice is that it is cheaper to retake their A levels. The article is interesting because while the Government is very keen that universities support students and proactively facilitate transfers to another institution they didn’t have this in mind – yet the young population seem to have found their own solution. There was also recent negativity stating that universities were capitalising on Foundation Years (because of the fee income received) and that students would be better off taking Access to HE courses. Despite this, foundation courses have increased in popularity in recent years. Perhaps, not least because of the different way in which students are treated and expected to learn between FE and HE. Furthermore, retaking A levels suggests failure, whereas a foundation year allows the individual to move away, be independent, and experience and learn the skills needed to succeed in HE study.

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HE policy update for the w/e 21st June 2019

The political news has been dominated by the Conservative leadership battle this week. Plus lots on research funding and tough conversations on social mobility.

Collaboration between universities and business

“State of the Relationship is the National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB) flagship annual report showcasing university-business collaboration across the UK and providing an authoritative source on emerging and critical trends in collaboration”.  You can read the full report here. 

BU features in a case study on page 28: ‘The Engagement Zone’ is the world’s largest study into audience’s mind-sets and responses to ‘Out-of-Home’ (OOH) advertising. In collaboration with COG Research and Exterion Media, Bournemouth University (BU) have designed and carried out this study using innovative technology to determine engagement statistics leading to increased advertising revenues on the Transport for London network (TfL).

Alice Frost of UKRI writes about the future of the relationship on page 38 with a rather complex visualisation.

Conservative Leadership Race

We’re down to the last two – Hunt and Boris – the battle of the Foreign Secretaries. Our vote tracking table follows below but first what are their positions on Education?

Boris Johnson – HEPI have blogged their opinion of Boris’ stance on education.  HEPI say:

  • [Boris] has the most connections to higher education of the current candidates. Johnson served as Shadow Higher Education Minister between December 2005 and July 2007 and his brother, Jo, held the post of Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation between 2015 and 2018. 
  • During his time as Shadow Higher Education Minister, Boris Johnson published a piece on University Policy for the 21stCentury  for the right-wing think tank Politeia, which concluded with three recommendations: proper funding (including pay increases for academic staff); less state interference; and higher access standards. He has also spoken out about [against] the categorisation of certain subjects as ‘Mickey Mouse degrees’.

Excerpt from Mickey Mouse (2007) degree article Boris wrote [still a very current debate today]:

  • ..it is by now a settled conviction that the university system is riddled with a kind of intellectual dry rot, and it is called the Mickey Mouse degree.  Up and down the country – so we are told – there are hundreds of thousands of dur-brained kids sitting for three years in an alcoholic or cannabis-fuelled stupor while theoretically attending a former technical college that is so pretentious as to call itself a university.
  • After three years of taxpayer-funded debauch, these young people will graduate, and then the poor saps will enter the workplace with an academic qualification that is about as valuable as membership of the Desperate Dan Pie Eaters’ Club, and about as intellectually distinguished as a third-place rosette in a terrier show. It is called a Degree, and in the view of saloon bar man, it is a con, a scam, and a disgrace
  • And yet I have to say that this view of higher education – pandemic in Middle Britain – is hypocritical, patronising and wrong. I say boo to the Taxpayers’ Alliance, and up with Mickey Mouse courses, and here’s why. (Read on for the rest here.)

HEPI continue:  On the issue of tuition fees, Johnson spoke out against the Labour Party policy at the 2015 election, to lower tuition fees to £6,000. 

And The Sun report Boris’ concerns over the level of student debt (2017).

Boris’ frequent references on the importance of female education as a ‘spanner’ while well intentioned could have been more eloquently expressed:

  • The emphasis that she places on women’s commercial potential and ability to drive the economy is absolutely right, and it is one of the reasons why all UK overseas effort is focused, above all, on the education of women and girls. I believe that that is the universal spanner that unlocks many of our problems.(2017 Income Tax session)
  • The universal spanner—a device that will solve almost any problem. I truly believe that female education is at the heart of solving so many other global problems, which is why we are putting it at the very centre of the Commonwealth summit in April and the upcoming G7 summit. Across our network, female education is at the heart of everything that we do. (Feb 2018 Topicals)

In addition, Boris’ leadership campaign headline education statement was on schools funding.   He intends to increase secondary spending to at least £5k per pupil if he becomes PM due to “growing gulf” between students in London and the rest of the UK.  This is £200 more per pupil than the Government’s current policy. Boris says:

  • “Of course there are special and extra costs of living in the capital, and London schools deserve that recognition. But I pledge to reverse the cuts in per pupil funding, so that thousands of schools get much more per pupil.” Guardian (3 June)
  • “This country is like a giant that is managing heroically to hop on one leg…If we fund our schools properly, if we pay sufficient attention both to vocational training as well as to mathematics and languages, then we will loosen the shackle that is holding us back.”

This argument has been refuted by Institute of Fiscal Studies. IFS says: any attempt to decrease funding differences between local authorities would be likely to reduce funds for the most disadvantaged pupils, as well as for London weighting. (source: TES) And Schools Week state Johnson’s intended school funding boost is only a 0.1% increase in overall schools spending.

His policy was criticised in the Commons. Mike Kane (Labour) said:

The right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip [Boris Johnson] said that all schools should “level up”, that there should be no differentiation in funding formulas, and that school funding should be protected “in real terms”. There are no facts or figures behind that statement, but he obviously does not want the truth to get in the way of a good story on education (Education Funding debate, June 2019)

And his intention to cut tax attacked because it reduces the funds available to support education and health care. Lyn Brown MP (Labour):

…the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), who has promised £10 billion of tax cuts. That money would pay for more than 400,000 new teachers, but of course it is not teachers or nurses who would benefit from those tax cuts. More than 80% of the financial gains would go to the highest earning 10% of families. It is clear where his priorities lie, and it ain’t in investing in our children. (June 2019, Social Mobility Treasure Reform debate)

Finally, speaking to The Sun (3 June) Boris pledged his attention for the environment. The Sun writes:

As well as promising to take Britain out of the EU at last, he made an appeal to centrist MPs by promising to protect the environment and spend more on public services. Speaking to camera, BoJo [Boris] concluded: “If there is one lesson from that referendum in 2016, it is that too many people feel left behind – that they’re not able to take part fully in the opportunities and success of our country…That’s why now is the time to unite our society and unite our country. To build the infrastructure, to invest in education, to improve the environment and support our NHS.

Jeremy Hunt – The HEPI blogs paint a different picture of Hunt’s approach to education – despite his self-confessed interest in it as a key policy area. HEPI write:

  • While Hunt’s comments on higher education have been few, the issues he has chosen to speak out on are likely to be well received by the sector. In 2017, Hunt wrote for the Times Higher Education supporting the focus by universities on student mental health to tackle increased levels of student suicide. 
  • Hunt, as a soft Brexiteer, has stated that Brexit must be implemented, but needs to be handled in a way which ‘strengthens our higher education institutions and strengthens our economy’. At the beginning of this year he focused on the soft power brought about by the UK having three of the world’s top ten universities and 450,000 international students.
  • However, Hunt was described by the head of the Royal College of Nursing as ‘hell-bent’ on reducing the numbers of nurses when he abolished nursing bursaries during his time as Secretary of State for Health, which led to a 23 per cent reduction in the number of applications to Nursing courses. This removal of nursing bursaries may suggest a commitment to the current funding model, as this change lead to spreading the regular funding model to cover nursing. His long experience as Health Secretary will likely have also given him some understanding of the importance of research.
  • Jeremy Hunt also has business links to higher education, having co-founded ‘Hotcourses’ which runs websites listing courses for students around the world. He received £14.5 million from the sale of Hotcourses in 2017, making him the richest member of the Cabinet.

Who might Boris appoint to the Cabinet?

It’s a long wait until the party leader is announced on 22 July but speculation on who Boris may appoint to his cabinet has started already.

  • There are three groups orbiting around Boris Johnson at the moment: his old London gang, his parliamentary long marchers, and his new recruits, who have helped to deliver his victories in the parliamentary rounds. Johnson doesn’t like being beholden to any one tribe, or faction, so expect his administration to be made up of a mix of these three groups. (Spectator.)
  • Boris’s choice of Chancellor will be crucial because, no matter who is in No. 10, the rest of the government can often be run by the Treasury. Gordon Brown used that position to wage daily warfare on Tony Blair. Johnson saw for himself how Philip Hammond was able to undermine the no-deal preparations — so he’ll be determined to have someone in the job who is in agreement with him on Brexit and the importance of leaving on 31 October.   Currently the media are favouring Sajid Javid as Chancellor.

It is interesting who the key Education and Universities Ministers backed as party leader at ballot 3 – it wasn’t Boris!

  • SoS Damien Hinds for Gove
  • Ex- Universities Minister Jo Johnson for big brother Boris
  • Current Universities Minister Chris Skidmore for Javid
  • SoS BEIS Greg Clark for Hunt
  • Anne Milton (Minister Apprenticeships & Skills) for Gove
  • Education Select Committee Chair Robert Halfon backed Javid
  • And Sam Gyimah was undeclared.

When a new leader comes in we can expect to see changes at the top. Damien Hinds and Greg Clark were both appointed by Theresa May and have both proved rather resilient and hung on through the turbulent times and Brexit arguments. When the party leader is appointed Hinds will have been in post 17 months and Clark for 2 years.  Ministerial changes will bring small changes for Dorset’s local MPs, some of whom hold junior Government positions. However, when the Minister they serve is moved on they (usually) resign too.

Conor Burns (BU is in Conor’s Bournemouth West constituency) served as PPS to Greg Clark (BEIS) and then Boris Johnson, during his stint as Foreign Secretary, and is an outspoken supporter of Boris. While Conor doesn’t currently hold parliamentary office might his service and loyalty to Boris be rewarded and allow him to gain status rising above the PPS ranks and/or holding party position?

  • Tobias Ellwood is currently parliamentary under-secretary of state for Defence (since 2017)
  • Simon Hoare (North Dorset) has served both Damian Hinds (Education) and Sajid Javid (Home Secretary) in the last two years but has just moved on to Chair the Northern Ireland Affairs select committee.
  • Michael Tomlinson (Mid Dorset & North Poole) isn’t currently in post but was PPS to Raab and has previously worked for Penny Mordaunt.

Recess?

Let’s hope the MPs have insurance clauses covering their booked summer holidays. Parliament usually enters recess at the end of July. However, the party leader won’t be confirmed until 22 July. The Queen should then confirm the leader as PM. Although potentially, should Tory rebels create enough trouble, there could be two weeks in which the Opposition have the opportunity to demonstrate they can round up enough support to form an alternative Government. And if they can’t a general election would be called.

It is looking likely that Recess could be shortened and delayed (or cancelled altogether). Once confirmed we can expect the new PM to announce the key appointments within their cabinet quickly. Yet with the EU leaders absent on their long summer hols during this period how will the PM take forward the EU re-negotiations for Brexit?

Parliamentarians usually return from summer recess during the first full week of September, spend three weeks on parliamentary business, then disappear off for Party Conference season (roughly 3 weeks) taking us very close to the Halloween Brexit exit deadline.

Education Spending in England

The IfS have some new analysis on education spending in England – timely as Conservative candidates for PM rush to promise more cash in a bid to win votes.  It’s a bit of a fact checking article.

  • “Leadership hopeful Boris Johnson has made a commitment to ensure fair funding across schools in England. He has highlighted that some areas of London receive per pupil funding of about £6,800 whilst other parts of England receive funding of around £4,200 per pupil and referred to this as a ‘postcode lottery.’ The Department for Education has recently created a new national funding formula for schools in England, which took effect from April 2018. This ensures that school funding allocations to all local authorities in England are now based on measures of need and costs, the first time this has been the case in England for nearly 15 years. With the introduction of this formula, the government – which Mr Johnson was part of – effectively ended a long-standing postcode lottery in school funding in England.
  • There are still differences in per pupil across local authorities in England.  Local authorities receive higher levels of per pupil funding if they have higher levels of deprivation and/or because they have to pay London weighting. Policymakers who want to reduce differences in funding between areas should be clear that doing so would almost certainly reduce the extent of extra funding for deprivation and/or London weighting.
  • Boris Johnson has also committed to a minimum level of funding for individual secondary schools in England of £5,000 per pupil. The new national funding formula already has a minimum funding level of £4,800 per pupil, but this is largely advisory and local authorities can effectively ignore it. The cost of Boris Johnson’s proposal will depend on whether his proposed £5,000 floor is also advisory or represents a new legal minimum. In both cases, however, the likely cost is likely to be relatively small in total.
  • Many of the leadership hopefuls have also talked about providing a spending boost to 16-19 education, covering school sixth forms, sixth form colleges and further education colleges. Given this sector has received the largest cuts to spending per pupil over the last few years, such increased policy attention is welcome. Between 2010-11 and 2017-18, college spending per student fell by over 8% in real terms and funding per student in school sixth forms fell by 25%.
  • IFS researchers are currently part way through producing new figures on 16-19 education spending per pupil for our annual report on education spending, produced with funding from the Nuffield Foundation and due out in the Autumn 2019. These new figures will address some recent complexities resulting from changes to high needs funding and the conversion of many sixth form colleges to academy status.
  • In the meantime, we set out the cost of providing the same boosts to 16-19 education as we do for schools. Given an expected total spend of £5.6bn on further education colleges, school sixth forms and sixth form colleges in 2019-20, we calculate that reversing 4% of total cuts would cost about £230m in 2019-20, whilst reversing cuts of 8% increase would cost about £480m.”

TEF

There are other things happening in the UK but TEF rolls on.  This year had a low participation rate and there are a lot of alternative providers and FE colleges in the list. All year two TEF awards (like BU’s) have been extended for another year to allow for changes after the independent review. We anticipate all institutions will submit in 2020 for results in 2021 under whatever new regime is designed.  Wonkhe have some analysis here.  Amongst this year’s results

  • Bournemouth and Poole College have a bronze
  • UCLAN have a silver (same as 2018)
  • University for the Creative Arts have a gold (up from silver in 2018)
  • University of East London have a bronze (same as 2018)
  • Roehampton have a silver (up from Bronze in 2018)
  • Sheffield have a silver (also silver in 2018)
  • Salford have a bronze (same as 2018)
  • Teesside have a silver (they also got silver in 2018)
  • Sussex have a silver (they also got silver in 2018)
  • Staffordshire have a gold (up from silver on 2018)
  • Yeovil College has a provisional award
  • University of Wales Trinity St David has a silver (up from bronze in 2018)

Research Funding

It’s been a busy week for the Lords Science and Technology Committee.

Firstly they held two sessions discussing University research funding in the light of Augar. You can read a fuller summary by Dods here. The session questioned the impact of the Augar Review upon research. The key points made were:

  • UKRI said that any reduction in fees should be compensated for elsewhere with additional funding found.
  • Research England said if the compensation was not forthcoming they would consider alternative resource allocation, but that the reduction would undermine the Government’s 2.4% R&D target and impact university research capabilities.
  • Baroness Morgan expressed concern that substitute funding could be aimed at certain courses giving some subjects precedence over others.
  • Research England repeatedly said that reducing the research funding to universities would likely limit and restrict private and business funding, and reduce universities’ capability to engage with business to make best use of this funding. Baroness Young echoed this sating to meet the 2.4% Government target an increase in public funding was critical to incentivise private funding. UKRI said the R&D funding needed to be doubled with a ‘substantial and sustained’ increase in public funding.
  • Research England argued for QR funding to be sustained at current levels which he felt were an adequate level of funding.
  • UKRI said that workplace culture and immigration matters were integral to attract and retain the best talent.
  • Much discussion focussed on how research funding was increasingly be awarded in line with applied research that will contribute to the industrial strategy away from discovery research.
  • Lord Macpherson of Earl’s Court said the Treasury was in favour of a more skilled workforce as that led to greater prosperity and increased revenue, and that the Treasury would be nervous regarding the reduction of student fees. Lord Macpherson noted that the Government might make up for the reduction in the short term but that might not be sustainable.
  • Lord Macpherson went on to state research was a priority for the Government, however, there were difficult trade-offs to be made within the current context of Brexit, the housing crisis and the crisis of social care and local authority services.

Next was a session with similar themes this time answered by the Ministers and Directors. Lord Patel chaired the meeting questioning:

  • Chris Skidmore, Universities Minister;
  • Harriet Wallace, Director – International Science and Innovation (Dept for BEIS); and
  • Paul Drabwell, Deputy Director – Science Research and Innovation (Dept for BEIS)

Skidmore was asked how much of the Augar review would be implemented. He responded that key decisions about Augar would be taken under the next prime minister and the 2019 Spending Review. That if he was still universities minister in two months, he would take forward the consultation period. Skidmore said he was under no illusions about the impact of Augar’s recommendation on fee level reductions, which would take £1.8 billion out of Higher Education (HE) and had been honest about the need for a top up to offset this, in order to keep up the ability of UK universities to finance their research.

QR research was broached next, and in contrast to the above reported session, it was recognised that QR funding had reduced. Skidmore took the side of the HE sector stating he was aware QR funding had reduced in real terms, and whilst the government had invested in the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, there was still a challenge in maintaining base-level, flexible research. He supported increasing QR funding (as part of the 2.4% GDP target) and hoped there would be an uplift announced ‘shortly’ on QR funding for 2019-20.

On cross-subsidisation Skidmore was questioned whether BEIS had done anything to address the potential collapse of cross-subsidy with regard to the research base in UK universities. He replied that longer term there was a wider issue about whether the cross-subsidy should be kept in place. That the premise that most courses cost less than tuition fees was an illusion and that there were a wide range of funding sources universities needed to look to, such as levering business investment and funding from charities, as well as providing doctoral training.

Paul Drabwell, BEIS, said UKRI should be looking at how research is commercialised and that UK universities needed to market themselves to investors better, particularly with regards to licencing and spin out.

The Minister agreed with the earlier sessions stating public subsidy was needed to leverage private investment in research. Lord Vallance suggested using tax credits could be a solution, however, Skidmore said that BEIS already had several ideas in play to discuss with the Treasury. He praised the grand challenges (industrial strategy) as successful in incentivising private and university collaborative efforts. Infrastructures surrounding research institutions also played an important role, he added, mentioning various initiatives such as healthy aging in Newcastle and graphene in Manchester. Furthermore, Innovate UK was currently looking at how loans could be used to incentivise SME investment into research, such as through hiring researchers.

On the research funding balance Skidmore did not think there was any trend away from funding experimental reach because of too much of a focus on applied research.

On PhD researchers needed to meet the 2.4% target Skidmore noted overall an additional 260,000 researchers were needed, PhDs contributing as part of this. However, in line with current Government thinking, he was opposed to the idea of ‘academia or bust’ for researchers, and that people should be able to work in private industry and come back to universities in the future.

Brexit – Skidmore said the UK should be making a bold offer to pay whatever was possible to retain membership of EU programmes such as Horizon and the ERC (European Research Council). Skidmore is also opposed to the £30,000 salary cap and minimum entry requirements and felt the post-study work visa was essential for the UK to be competitive with other countries.

International Students: Skidmore spoke about meeting the target for having 600,000 international (EU and non-EU) students (implying an additional 260,000) studying in the UK highlighting his recent 2020-21 home fee status for EU students announcement. He also said he was hopeful that issues around postgraduate student funding would be announced ‘shortly’. However, he noted there was an issue with regard to broadening the portfolio of countries from which students could come to the UK. Meaning the new PM would need to deal with the issue of visa fees and post-study work visas to encourage a broad range of nationalities to study in the UK. Skidmore is in favour of a milder approach to immigration in an HE context.

Two bosses

Lord Griffiths noted a recent comment from Lord Willetts (ex-Universities Minister) stating there was a mismatch with regard to departmental attitudes to university funding between the DfE and BEIS and that universities could be the sole responsibility of the DfE.

Skidmore disagreed, saying he enjoyed working across two departments and that the two departments broadly agreed on: international research and innovation, international education strategy, and the importance of the challenge-based approach. He was also concerned that being under the sole responsibility of the DfE might mean that universities lost out to funding due to campaigns to increase funding to schools.  In addition, he said there was latitude for a post-18 minister on Further Education. An interesting comment, unless Skidmore is looking to expand his remit, as two post-18 ministers could compete and create friction – slowing down the progress of the sector.

There is another research funding oral evidence session next week – with Phillip Augar scheduled to be questioned on Tuesday.

Immigration Update

Following Sajid Javid’s plans for a new single, skills-based immigration system when free movement the Government is consulting with stakeholders and employers on where to set the bar within the new immigration system. A series of engagements are planned to look at the technical detail of the proposals. Several advisory groups have also been set up to discuss policy, system design and implementation. There is a specific group for education. Organisations that will be members of the Education Sector Advisory Group are listed on this link (second set down). The new immigration system will be implemented in a phased approach from January 2021.

Social Mobility

The Social Mobility Commission came under fire during this week’s Education select committee session. You’ll recall the last Social Mobility Commission resigned en masse in protest at the Government’s failure to take note and act on the Commission’s recommendations and the stalling or regression of social mobility within the UK. Six months in and Dame Martina Milburn’s new Commission was questioned on their lack of progress. Dame Marina said that the commission has not made a large impact since the most recent commissioners were appointed six months ago, but she said that this is because they have been busy commissioning new research, publishing research already in the pipeline, and figuring out the commission’s new strategy. She said the commission felt they “haven’t quite come up for air” since starting work and that, when she took over, permanent staff had been “demoralised”.

In further questioning Dame Martina had to admit that she had very little contact with Ministers and the Government had not responded to the Commission’s report on skills. She said she had not witnessed the increased engagement from ministers that was promised by the Government when the new Commission was set up.

Dame Martina was also criticised for failing to make use of the work/research already done by the previous Commission and for earmarking a £2 million budget for research. Lucy Powell MP suggested that there are plenty more “nimble” charities and research organisations delivering similar research for much less money.

The Commission said their focus moving forward is to press the Government to do more to support FE. They emphasised the need for a 16-19 pupil premium and for education to form the ‘cornerstone’ of the Commission’s strategy. Again the minister has not engaged with the Commission on FE. In response to a question from Ben Bradley MP, Dame Martina said that if a future prime minister decided to scrap the Social Mobility Commission, along with other Government commissions, and plough the money into FE, her response would be “thank God – go ahead and do it”.

The Commission was asked why it didn’t do more, e.g. set up pilot projects in FE colleges, rather than simply commissioning research. Panellists said they would welcome their remit being expanded in this way, but it is currently not possible given the constraints attached to the funding they are allocated.

Dame Martina also said that the 2020 change to T levels should be paused, but that the Secretary of State has refused to do so.

HE: In regard to HE Dame Martina insisted that the commission has “started conversations” with universities about how to ensure that fewer students from disadvantaged background drop out of their courses. She said there is a great deal higher education institutions can do to improve retention rates, including making it clearer what bursaries are available. However, it is important not to portray university as the only way of getting on in life, citing, again, the importance of FE and also of increasing the take-up of apprenticeships. Dame Martina said a majority of apprenticeships are going to people over 25, something she described as “quite urgent to address”.

Social mobility versus social justice: The Commission were questioned on whether they should be focused on the issue of social justice rather than social mobility, as few people understand what the term “social mobility” really means.  Dame Martina said a social justice focus would be broader, and this would require more resources. She told the committee that social mobility is defined as a person’s ability to do significantly better than their parents, while social justice takes into account all aspects of poverty and disadvantage. She said a Social Justice Commission would still have to concern itself with social mobility.

Other Social Mobility News

Les Ebdon (ex-Head of the Office for Far Access) has been appointed as the non-executive Chair of NEON (the National Education Opportunities Network). He said: “while we have made advances in widening participation in recent years much more remains to be done to promote and safeguard fair access so that higher education can be for millions more students the life transforming experience that it was for me.” Joining him on the committee are several university officers from various WP related roles.

Nicola Dandridge, OfS, expressed her dissatisfaction at HE providers who have poor outcomes for disadvantaged students. You can read it in full here. Excerpts:

  • …we [OfS] are requiring universities and other higher education providers to recruit more disadvantaged students, support them so they do not drop out and get better jobs. Some believe that achieving these outcomes simultaneously is too challenging.  One argument we hear regularly is that if providers recruit students from disadvantaged backgrounds then it is inevitable that higher numbers will drop out. We do not accept that argument.
  • …we see examples of students from disadvantaged backgrounds being inappropriately recruited onto poor quality courses, and not being given the support that they need. At some higher education providers, particularly those offering mainly courses below full degree level, one in five students drop out…The argument that these levels should be tolerated because the students come from poor backgrounds is not acceptable. For these students to drop out having taken on tuition fee loans of up to £9,250 a year (plus loans for living costs), is a terrible waste for student and taxpayer alike. When the latest figures show that only 41 per cent of students in England feel their course offers good value for money, parts of the higher education sector can and must do better… we need to face the facts that some students are being inappropriately recruited to courses and left to flounder.

Consultations and Inquiries

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.

This week there was an interesting oral evidence session on immersive and addictive technologies.

Other news

PG Outcomes: The DfE has published statistics on employment and earnings outcomes of HE postgraduates.

  • On average, earnings for Level 8 graduates did not increase over time. There was a gender gap, with females earning £100 less five years after graduation in 2016/17 than they did in 2014/15, whilst males earned £700 more.
  • Overall earnings for Level 7 (taught) graduates went up over time (by £800 from £30,900 to £31,700), whilst for Level 8 graduates, average earnings five years after graduation stayed the same (£36,400) between 2014/15 and 2016/17.
  • For the small number of Level 7 (research) graduates who are not included in the above chart, average earnings five years after graduation went down over time but interestingly the gender gap was reversed, with male graduates earning £2,100 less and female graduates £900 less in 2014/15 than they had done in 2016/17.

Widening access: NEON report that Russel Group universities have pledge to scrap their ‘facilitating subjects’ list (preferred academic A level subjects – which ignore the arts) following criticism from ‘sector figures’ and schools stating that it limits students’ choices and narrows the school curriculum. Access HE explore how targeting could be improved to benefit widening access aims in Polar Opposite.

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 7th June 2019

Is it only just over a week since Augar landed?  Given the volume of commentary, it feels much longer.  We are quite good as a sector at criticism and finding the potential problems and risks in things.  As a HEPI blog says: Last week’s Augar report divided opinion. At HEPI, we were at the more positive end of the spectrum, not least because the report addressed, in a serious way, pretty much all the points we had said it should. We were, and remain, determined not to fall down the biggest rabbit hole that has to be avoided when commenting sensibly on public policy: being unceasingly negative and refusing to recognise serious attempts to address genuine problems.” 

Last week  we stuck to the facts looking at the full set of recommendations and the content of the report, this week we look more at opinions in a report that may well not be implemented in full, but is unlikely to disappear completely.

One thing that everyone can agree on is that the implications of Augar are ominous for the Arts and Humanities – the (historian) Minister for Universities gave a speech on Thursday which we discuss below, with some reflections on what Augar could mean for Arts and Humanities subjects in universities.  This update was getting so big, we have written about that in a separate blog here.

Augar – what next?

On Tuesday the Secretary of State of Education, Damien Hinds, made a statement on the Government’s review of post-18 education and its funding – the first review since the Robbins report in 1963 to look at the totality of post-18 education. Hinds said the Government will carefully consider the independent panel’s recommendations before finalising any spending review announcements.

  • A lot of the attention will be on what this report says about higher education, but the majority of students in post-18 education are not at university. The report identifies the importance of both further and higher education in creating a system that unlocks everyone’s talents. As the Prime Minister said last week, further education and technical colleges are not just places of learning; they are vital engines of both social mobility and economic prosperity. Colleges play an essential part in delivering the modern industrial strategy and equipping young people with knowledge and skills for the jobs of today and tomorrow. We are conscious of the need for reskilling and upskilling at a time when we are all more likely to have multiple careers during our working lives.
  • …Our higher education system transforms lives and is a great contributor to both our industrial success and the cultural life of the nation. It can open up a whole world of opportunities and broaden horizons. Whatever decisions we make about how best to take forward the recommendations in the report, it is vital that we support these institutions to continue to offer world-leading higher education to students in future.

Hinds went on to highlight the general importance of education to society, listing current government policy geared toward improving education. He said that is it right that contributions to the cost of higher education are shared between the taxpayer and the student. The Minister added that although 18-year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds are now 52 per cent more likely to go to university than 10 years ago, progress is still required in levelling the playing field in higher education.

In keeping with the continued pressure for Government to improve social mobility Hinds said: The panel’s proposals on support for disadvantaged groups are an important contribution to the debate in this area. I very much welcome the focus that the panel has placed on making sure that all higher education is of high quality and delivers well for both students and the taxpayer. There are very high-quality courses across the full range of subjects—from creative arts to medicine—but there are also courses where students are less well served. I have also spoken in recent months of bad practices not in the student interest, such as artificial grade inflation and so-called conditional unconditional offers.

On implementation: The panel’s recommendations on student finance are detailed and interrelated, and cannot be considered each in isolation. We will need to look carefully at each recommendation in turn and in the round to reach a view on what will best support students and the institutions they study at, and what will ensure value for taxpayers. In considering these recommendations, we will also have regard to students currently in the system or about to enter it to ensure that any changes are fair to current and new cohorts of students.  I am sure the House will recognise that this comprehensive report, with detailed analysis and no fewer than 53 recommendations, gives the Government a lot to consider. We will continue to engage with stakeholders on the findings and recommendations in the panel report, and we will conclude the review at the spending review.

The shadow secretary of state for education, Angela Rayner, responded, arguing the Conservatives have previously made terrible decisions regarding education. She intimated her belief that any adoption of recommendations will be deferred until the spending review, or the appointment of a new chancellor.

  • “Augar is the epitaph for Theresa May’s government…slow, wrong-headed, indecisive and, above all, failing in its central objective, to help level up Britain. As it stands, the Government have now wasted two years on a review to reach the blindingly obvious conclusion that, as the Prime Minister now admits, abolishing maintenance grants was a huge mistake.
  • Decisions need to be made on funding. The outgoing Prime Minister promised that austerity is over, but there is every danger it will continue in tertiary education. Presumably, the Secretary of State accepts that a cash freeze in funding for universities means a real-terms cut. Is the tokenistic fee cut pushed by the Prime Minister not the worst of both worlds, as institutions will have their hands tied on funding while students will still be graduating with tens of thousands of pounds of debt?”

She pushed the Secretary of State to assure the House that maintenance grants will be restored and that the cash-freeze for university’s will not have an equality impact burden – and that an assessment of this would be produced.  She concluded that any shortcomings in the Augar review are a product of the limitations the Government has set on them.

The Secretary of State responded:

  • The hon. Lady asked me to commit to not playing off further education and higher education. I give her that absolute commitment. That principle is at the heart of the independent panel’s report: both routes of higher learning are essential for widening social mobility, for letting young people fulfil their full potential, and indeed for enabling our economy and our society to fulfil theirs.
  • We should not lose sight of the fact that we have a successful system in place, particularly for the financing of higher education. The hon. Lady and her Front-Bench colleagues constantly complain about it, but since the 2012 reforms, resource per student has increased dramatically, the living costs support available to disadvantaged students has risen to its highest ever level, more young people are going to university than ever before, and more young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are going to university than ever before.

The Chair of the Select Committee on Education, Robert Halfon, raised the necessity of degree apprenticeships to ensure individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds gain the necessary skills to gain skilled employment. I welcome much of the report, particularly its strong emphasis on further education and technical education. Our Education Committee report talked about value for money in higher education and universities, focusing on skills, employability and social justice. Does my right hon. Friend not agree that the real engine of those three things is using funds to boost and put more emphasis on degree apprenticeships? They help people from disadvantaged backgrounds to gain the skills they need, they help us to meet our skills needs and they ensure that people are employed in properly skilled jobs.

Jo Johnson: The Augar review does not mention the teaching excellence framework. What use does the Secretary of State think the TEF will have in assessing which courses offer value for money for students and the general taxpayer?   [Readers will remember that differential fees based on TEF outcome were thrown out of the HERA by the Lords.]. Hinds: The TEF is a very important reform and is part of the framework from HERA—the Higher Education and Research Act 2017—and the OFS that enables a much more holistic view of quality in higher education. It remains a central part of that architecture.

Carol Monaghan, the SNP Spokesperson for Education questioned whether the Government will make up any funding shortfall associated with a reduction in fees. Hinds responded that education equality in England is better than that of Scotland and all recommendations will be considered carefully.

Several non-Conservative MPs echoed Rayner’s arguments, questioning when grants would be reinstated or whether the Government will fund the shortfall in funding for disadvantaged students.

Thangham Debbonaire (Lab, Bristol West) raised a necessity for free or low-cost high-quality childcare to ensure more women can develop their potential within further education to ultimately close the gender pay gap.  Hinds side stepped a direct response.

Dr Roberta Blackman-Woods: “…we want to hear a guarantee from the Minister that those resources will not come from higher education. We also want a guarantee that if tuition fees are reduced, any shortfall of money going to universities will be made up by teaching grant from the Government not just for science, technology, engineering and maths subjects, but for arts and humanities subjects, because they are also very important for our economy. If these proposals will eventually see their way into legislation—it is not clear to any of us how that would happen—is the Minister going to consult the sector widely so that he does not destabilise it further? We need those guarantees so that universities have certainty if they are to compete globally.”

Hinds: “The hon. Lady will shortly meet the universities Minister in her all-party group on universities and will have an opportunity to discuss some of these things further. She mentioned teaching grants. The Augar report recommends precisely that—that there should be top-ups, although not exactly the same for all subjects. Few people realise the extent of the teaching grant. It is £1.3 billion, with some 40%—two in five—of courses attracting some sort of teaching grant. What the report talks about is how we balance that correctly properly to reflect not only value but cost to serve, as I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Neil O’Brien).” [So no guarantee then, despite his earlier commitment to “not playing off further education and higher education”.

Later in response to questions he also says: We must not allow different parts of our education system to be pitted against each other, and I can give him an absolute commitment not to do so. In fact, as he will know through his work, there is already a great deal of cross-over between what higher education institutions do and what further education institutions do, but they are both incredibly important parts of the overall system.

Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): As I learned from the 10 years I chaired the Select Committee, we make most progress in higher education when we find a cross-party consensus, as anyone who looks at the Robbins report or subsequent reports, such as the Dearing report, will know. There is some good stuff in this report. ….let us build a cross-party consensus. I love the part about a new fund for lifelong learning. Tony Blair introduced one in 1997. It failed, but everybody knew we should bring it back to secure the future of further and higher education. So I say well done in part, but if the Secretary of State could keep a higher education Minister for more than a few months we would do a lot better.

Hinds: The hon. Gentleman was right about more than one thing—let us say several. He spoke of the local importance of universities not only to the cultural life of our towns and cities but to, for instance, local economies, business development, innovation, and research and development. He was absolutely right about that, but he was also right to speak of the importance of securing a degree of consensus about these matters. The last two major reports, the Browne and Dearing reports, straddled a change of Government. I hope that that will not happen on this occasion, but I think it right for us to have an opportunity, between now and the conclusion of the spending review, to engage in a good discussion with, among others, representatives of the sector and politicians on both sides of the House and elsewhere, because I think that such discussions help policy making to evolve.

Augar was mentioned in Wed’s Prime Minister’s Questions – Richard Graham (Conservative) made the case that the Government’s review into post-18 education should be “essential reading” for Treasury ministers before the Spending Review. He said that more funding for further education would be “very welcome”. Lidington concurred that further education plays a vital role in equipping young people with skills, but also providing a path towards higher education. He added that the Augar Review “provides a blueprint of how we can make sure that everybody can follow the path that is right for them” and its conclusions should be studied carefully before the Spending Review.

Augar – the critique

Wonkhe have centralised all their analysis and blogs on the Post-18 review and Augar – find it all  here. Including this ‘lessons learned’ blog from crossbench peer Professor Dame Julie King (who was part of the previous Browne review) and says Augar is ‘damaging’ and that it does not propose fundamental transformation.

One concern has been the impact on social mobility.  The Sutton Trust response is here:

  • The Augar Review’s headline proposal to reduce tuition fees to £7,500, alongside the reintroduction of maintenance grants, means that the overall student “debt” figure looks a little less eye watering.  But the review also proposes lowering the repayment threshold from £25,000 to £23,000 (based on 2018 figures) and to extend the lifetime repayment period to 40 years from the current 30 years, all at interest rates which at present are around 6 percent.  This means that lower and middle earners (like teachers and social workers) will end up paying more than they did before  and for longer – and the wealthiest, who can fall back on support from parent or grandparents, can pay the fees upfront, or over a shorter period, and thus contribute far less overall.
  • This is why the Sutton Trust has always argued for means tested fees – so the poorest student are asked to pay less than the wealthiest- and we are disappointed that the Post-18 Review did not adopt this as a policy.   It seems to us fundamentally unfair that, whatever the repayment mechanism, the son or daughter of a cleaner is asked to pay the same as the son or daughter of a stock broker.

Lizzy Woodfield, Policy Advisor at Aston University, wrote for Wonkhe on WP“Government should undoubtedly run with reintroducing maintenance grants, but not so hastily that it overlooks commuter students. The continued freeze in per student funding risks further squeezing universities’ ability to maintain high quality student services, like careers and placements and additional learning support, which support retention, success and good graduate outcomes. Doing away with foundation years would be very ill-advised and would set widening participation back.”

In an article for Wonkhe on 4th June 2019 , David Willets, the former Minister for Universities and Science, points out:

  • The period covered by the LEO data is the ten years since the financial crash. Our research at Resolution Foundation has shown that this post-crash decade has been particularly bad for salaries, and even more so for the pay of young people. The real hourly pay of young people aged 18-29 fell by 9% in the four years after the crash – an unprecedented fall followed by a modest recovery. Unemployment was less bad than in previous recessions but – again – one group which did suffer increased unemployment was young people with lowest educational qualifications. Their unemployment rate increased from 68% to 56% after the crash whereas for graduates it only fell from 91% to 88%. It looks as if graduates traded down to less well-paid jobs, displacing the less qualified.
  • The LEO data excludes unemployed people so the only effect they show is on pay. You would not get any sense from the review that the British economy has just been through its deepest post-war recession – with big effects covering exactly the same period as the LEO data. By contrast that same decade did not see a significant increase in the number of graduates – indeed the rate of increase of people with higher education qualifications slowed down. So it is dangerous to interpret LEO data as telling us much about higher education when it may be telling us more about the post crash labour market.”

There is also a geographical effect.  This has been raised by many in the sector before and I understand that there is some work looking at this in the context of the TEF (which is using median earnings as supplemental data in the subject level TEF pilot). The Office for National Statistics latest report on geographic mobility and young people (2012-2016) shows the change in average earnings growth for young people by local authority (see Figure 6). We wrote about some of these issues in our policy update on 6th July 2018

Augar – what does it mean for the Arts and Humanities

In an interesting choice of headlines, the headline on gov.uk is “Science Minister hails the importance of humanities to society”.  Of course his full title is Minister of State for Universities, Science and Innovation (and currently also Interim Minister of Stage for Energy and Clean Growth.  Like his predecessor , Chris Skidmore has also taken several titles upon himself – Sam Gyimah was famously “minister for students” and Chris Skidmore has called himself “minster for the 2.4% [investment in R&D]” and “minister for EdTEch”.  But most importantly, he adopted the title “Minister for the Arts and Humanities”. So what did this former academic and historian say on this vital topic at the meeting of the Arts and Humanities Research Council?  The full speech is here.

So with all that in mind, we took a look at the implications of Augar for the Arts and Humanities.  One narrative around the Augar Review is that it has embraced, and even validated the popular narrative about “mickey mouse degrees” and universities filling low cost, high volume courses, putting “bums on seats” to subsidise other activities, doing a disservice to “overqualified graduates” who are “saddled with debt” that they can never repay.  This shocking state of affairs means that the government subsidy to higher education, in the form of direct funding and underwriting for the student loan system, in which 83% of students will not repay their loans in full, is misdirected and therefore the taxpayer is receiving poor value for money.  And, the argument goes, it is not only the taxpayer who is being ripped off, but students are too.  They are being tricked into taking courses that will not lead to better paid jobs but will instead leave them with student loans that will hold them back even further.  These are the students who should be doing technical training, apprenticeships.  They should be plumbers and bricklayers.  They have been told that they will achieve social mobility through education, and it isn’t true.  These narratives were not born with the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding in February 2018.  They became sharper once the tuition fee cap was increased to £9000 and were heightened when Labour adopted a policy of abolishing fees.  Jo Johnson raised them when launching the Green Paper in November 2015 that led to the Teaching Excellence Framework and the Higher Education and Research Act 2017.  In just one example, many of the arguments were rehearsed by Jo Johnson as Universities Minister in a speech in February 2017.  It all boils down to value for money.

But there is a terrific confusion here, as highlighted by the Minister earlier on.  The talk in Augar is all about value for money subject level.  But when people (including previous Universities Ministers (both Sam Gyimah and Jo Johnson) and the current Education Minister) talk about this, they talk not about the value of whole subjects, but of individual courses at individual universities.  And so they talk about quality.  But they don’t really mean quality either, because they talk about entry tariffs and outcomes and start talking about bums on seats.  Which is the big give away.  What they really mean is that they believe that there are too many students going to universities to do courses which are not aligned with the government’s priorities.  This is about the government wanting to choose not to invest in subjects that they believe do not add value to the economy.  Which is why Augar, which is all about money, has kept in the threat of a 3D threshold and/or a cap on student numbers (for some courses at some universities).

You can read more in our separate blog on this here.

Student Mental Health

The OfS have published details of the 10 winners of their Challenge Competition (investing £14.5 million) which aimed to achieve a step change in mental health outcomes for students.

The OfS new story says:

  • The proportion of full-time UK undergraduate students reporting mental health concerns when they enter higher education has more than doubled over the last five years.
  • Over 87% of students said they struggle with feelings of anxiety, and 1 in 3 experienced a serious psychological issue which required professional help.
  • OfS data shows that full-time students with a declared mental health condition are more likely to drop out, and less likely to achieve a first or 2:1 degree or secure good jobs after graduation.

This week they have released a news story focussing on Northumbria University which aims to reduce student suicide through utilising analytics and mining data (such as social media). Of course the scheme has to be data compliant and students have to opt in. Northumbria state that only 1 in 3 suicide deaths are known to mental health services. In response the researchers have developed an Early Alert Tool identifying students in crisis to sport early warning signs and to target intervention. (A little more information on the data triggers is here.) Northumbria’s project has been picked up by the Telegraph.

Projects in other Universities cover:

  • Transition from school to university – addressing the first year additional vulnerability something mentioned by the Minister in his recent speeches]
  • Mental health needs specific to international students [another thing mentioned by the Minister recently]
  • Advancing HE / NHS partnership working to improve support
  • Embedding mental health within a community approach, holistically incorporating police, local authorities and the NHS.
  • Developing a module for the PGCertHE to ensure that new academics, nationally, have the knowledge and skills to support mental health and learning through their teaching.
  • Creation of a ‘hub’ of qualified therapists and volunteers with mental health experience who will provide brief therapeutic interventions for students in comfortable, open-plan safe-spaces without the need for appointments or waiting lists.
  • Curriculum-based ‘mind management’ skills training (separate UG and PG courses) which use evidence-based approaches for improving emotion regulation and for managing common issues in student life (e.g. anxiety, stress, social isolation, managing expectations, imposter syndrome).

Nicola Dandridge, OfS Chief Exec, said:

  • Whenever I talk to students, improving mental health support is consistently raised as a priority. Universities and colleges are responding to the problem, but in too many cases students are having their experience of higher education blighted by mental ill-health. For many of these students, there is much more that we can do. Taking preventative action to promote good mental health is critical, as is taking a whole institution approach and involving students in developing solutions. In addition, the earlier we can identify issues developing, the more effectively we can give the vital support that is needed.
  • We know that many complex factors impact on students’ mental health and wellbeing, so addressing mental ill health is always going to be challenging. But universities and colleges are uniquely placed to rise to that challenge: through the expertise of their staff, insights from their own students, and their ability to bring groups and other organisations together to tackle complex problems in partnership.

The Independent covers the launch of the projects.

Tory leadership contest

From Dods:

  • Speaker of the Commons, John Bercow has dismissed the idea that Parliament could be prorogued in order to force through a no-deal Brexit. The idea that Parliament could be dissolved by a new Prime Minister, so that MPs could not take any legislative steps to block no-deal, was touted by ERG members and gained attention when leadership contender Dominic Raab repeatedly refused to rule out pursuing it. The Speaker yesterday, however, told MPs that it was “simply not going to happen.”
  • 10 have confirmed that the Commons will be sitting when the new Prime Minister is appointed at the end of July, amid concerns that Parliament could have entered summer recess before this happens which would mean that the new PM could avoid a potential no confidence vote.
  • Theresa May will resign as Conservative Party leader today, but will remain on as Prime Minister until her successor is appointed in late July.
  • Boris Johnson will launch a judicial review today to challenge the private prosecution against him for the alleged offence of misconduct in public office.

Sarah enjoyed this Spectator article on the Tory leadership contest.

  • Parties don’t get rid of their leaders unless things are going very badly. But this Tory crisis is different in scale and size to anything we have seen in recent decades. The question is not whether the Tories can win the next election, but whether they can survive.
  • The dire state that the Tories are in hasn’t put anyone off running to be leader, however. We suddenly have the most crowded field we have ever seen in a leadership race. Whoever wins will become prime minister without having to go through a general election. It’s quite a prize. Given the unpredictability of Tory contests and the frontrunners’ ability to destroy each other, everyone thinks they have a chance.

It divides the candidates into two categories: the ‘full-blooded Brexiteer’ and ‘compromising cabinet members’. Then it explains the four challenges the Conservative leadership will need to deliver on:

The Tory party is attempting to answer four different questions in this contest.

  • The first is who can best get Britain out of the EU. This will require not just an ability to find a way to extract concessions from a recalcitrant EU, but also an understanding of how to get Britain’s departure through parliament.
  • Secondly, the Tories are trying to work out who is best placed to take on Jeremy Corbyn and Nigel Farage. Given the parliamentary numbers, the next election is likely to come sooner than 2022 and so the Tories need someone who can fight on two fronts simultaneously.
  • The next question is who can come up with a new domestic agenda. The failure of Theresa May’s attempt to reinvent the Tories as a Christian Democrat party has resulted in a vacuum where Tory domestic policy should be.
  • Finally, the Tories must ask themselves who could best do the job of being prime minister.

The problem for the party is no one candidate is the best answer to all four questions. The Tories will have to make trade-offs to decide which qualities they regard as the most important.

Apart from their views on Brexit, the candidates are trying to differentiate themselves on other policies too.  We pick out a few of both here but of course there is much more.  Two dropped out this week – James Cleverly and Kit Malthouse.  Nominations (which now require 8 MPs rather than 2) open and close on Monday.  The BBC list is here.   The Express have their take here  Politics.co.uk have a detailed analysis of their policies on Brexit.  And the (Boris Johnson banking) Guido Fawkes shows the state of support amongst Tory MPs .

  • Matt Hancock has pledged to re-implement a form of student nurse bursary if he succeeds as PM.  Huff post reports: he said that he would offer new cash support for mature student nurses, and those specialising in mental health and community work, in a bid to fill staff shortages. However, he is clear it is about nursing dearth areas: ensure…in the areas of shortage we have that sort of targeted support that’s needed – so not across the full nursing training spectrum. He continues: There’s a question of how you make sure the money we’ve got goes as far as possible. There’s an overall shortage of nursing. It isn’t as big as the headline vacancy figures suggest. But there are acute shortages, especially in some specific areas like mental health nurses, and community nursing. And: I want to make sure that the approach we take is to support and incentivise people into those areas where we’ve got shortages.  He also intends to tackle big business care providers for whom profit is a key objective.
  • Michael Gove has said that if it “finally comes to a decision between no deal and no Brexit, I will choose no deal”. However, he would be willing to delay Brexit beyond the 31st October if a deal was in sight, stating it wouldn’t be right to ‘flounce’ out of the EU for a delay of mere weeks. Gove said that the deadline of 31 October was “arbitrary” and he was “not wedded” to it. That any delay would only be sought if a deal or breakthrough was on the horizon. This sets him against the other front runners, Boris Johnson and Dominic Raab, who have said that the UK will leave the 31 October under any circumstances.
  • Dominic Raab has repeatedly refused to rule out proroguing (discontinue) Parliament days before 31 October, which would in theory prevent Parliament from blocking a no-deal and see the UK crash out at midnight on the 31st. This move would be completely unprecedented, and arguably unconstitutional. Sky News, Lewis Goodall has said such a move would be “a hand grenade into our constitution” and leadership contender Rory Stewart has said “it would be illegal…it would be unconstitutional and it would be undemocratic.”
  • Sajid Javid has said he supports Jo Johnson’s amendment to the draft immigration legislation to change post-study visas to encourage international students.  He is, after all, Home Secretary, and since his appointment has been less than enthusiastic about TM’s “hostile environment”, dealing with the fallout from the Windrush scandal amongst other things.  The FT article says: “Mr Javid has already announced plans to axe the net migration target — which has never been met — if he becomes the next Conservative leader and is now also supporting the move to let students stay for longer after they finish at university. Mr Johnson has forced the pace on the issue, tabling an amendment to the government’s immigration bill — designed to implement a post-Brexit visa regime — which would take students out of the net migration target. …In 2012 Britain cut the time that students can work after graduating from two years to just four months, although the government this year recognised that the new regime was causing problems and agreed to raise the limit to six months.”
  • Rory Stewart says his competitors’ claims they could negotiate a new Brexit deal before 31 October are “misleading” and there is “not a hope” a new deal can by deadline.
  • Behind its paywall, the Telegraph reports that Boris Johnson plans to spend at least £5000 on every secondary school pupil to “level up” Britain’s education system.

Cost of housing hinders employment prospects

The Resolution Foundation has published: Moving Matters – Housing costs and labour market mobility.  The briefing doesn’t focus on the HE sector but that are some interesting findings that could be transferable.

Nationally changing areas to move for new employment and housing purposes has fallen. Unexpectedly the rate has particularly dropped within the younger age groups. The report notes this is surprising because young people are more likely to be graduates, non-UK born and private renters than in the past, changes that should have increased rather than decreased moves made for work.

Why?

  1. Because moving area isn’t essential to get a job – “the variation between the employment rates observed across local authorities has reduced over time” – so it is possible for young people to obtain some form of employment relatively locally. This is not ideal for graduate outcome statistics as earnings are expected to be lower, the job likely to be less specialised or relevant to the degree. It becomes a compromise option – once that can be difficult to recover from financially in their future career (see this Policy Update page 6 – impact of recession on graduates) .
  2. Moving isn’t as lucrative as it once was – “the ‘pull’ of more buoyant areas has fallen apace.. the difference in the average ‘wage premium’ achieved as a result of such a move has fallen since the turn of the century.”
  3. High housing costs negate the wage premium – “private rents have risen consistently faster in higher-paying areas of England. Rents have risen by almost 90% in the highest-paying 30% of local authorities over the past 20 years, compared to just over 70% among the 30% lowest paying places. As a result, not only has the earnings boost of moving to a more productive area diminished as a result of closing wage differentials; so, too, has the broader living standards uplift once housing costs are taken into account. So for the young graduate quality of housing and lifestyle may well go down as the quality high cost rents are prohibitive.

The report notes that job + housing mobility rate have fallen over time and the number of relocations moving to lower housing cost areas (47%) has increased  6% in the last 15 years. It also highlights a rise in commuting time – which costs the individual both in time and money.

  • With the evidence showing that efficiently matching with job opportunities is especially important for young people at the beginning of their working lives, the intergenerational implications of this briefing note are clear. While two of the reasons we identify that potentially explain the fall in job-plus-residence moves can be viewed as positive, our findings about the way that rising housing costs are determining the behaviour of younger renters in particular is a real cause for concern.
  • ..the evidence is clear that the real boosts to earnings are achieved by moving jobs. Critically, taking a new post in a different firm has a larger pay uplift than simply being promoted within the same organisation, and moving to denser, more productive areas comes with an even bigger pay premium. We know that job mobility is especially important at the start of one’s working life, when progression depends on testing out new roles and developing new skills. Moreover, an agile workforce is generally viewed as good not just for the individuals concerned, but also for the economy as workers ‘match’ more efficiently with business requirements.

You can read the detail of the full report here.

Spending Review

With Teresa May stepping down as PM and the Tory leadership race galloping along the Spending Review will be delayed and likely to be finalised between autumn and Christmas 2019. Liz Truss MP (Chief Secretary to the Treasury) was questioned by the Lords on the Spending Review this week.   this is very important to the Augar review, as the government response will be timed to come out with it.

Here are the most interesting snippets:

  • Truss confirmed the Spending Review preparatory work had ‘already began’ with the Treasury having ‘written to departments asking for initial capital bids, human capital submissions and reform proposals’.
  • Lord Turnbull (Crossbench) asked whether the spending review was likely to prioritise ongoing austerity measures and the reduction of the deficit, or whether spending might be increased or taxes increased. Truss replied that the priorities were likely to continue to be reducing the national debt and maintaining fiscal discipline. However, the main priority was economic growth, and therefore spending and tax reforms would be directed towards that goal.
  • Lord Layard asked for the Treasury’s response to the Augar Review. Truss responded that FE needed reform and that there had been ‘problems with funding’. The Augar Review would be considered within the Spending Review, she said, though given the amount of public subsidy to universities, which was higher than in other areas, better value for money was crucial. She went on to state that she supported the notion of students contributing towards their own education and was not in favour of capping student places.
  • In response the Chair (Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, Conservative) voiced concerns that universities and university placements were being judged too narrowly on their value pertaining to economic productivity and not enough on whether they produced good quality of life.

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: The Augar Review, the Higher Education Commission, and budget concerns have all cast doubt on the effectiveness of degree apprenticeships during 2019. Concerns that it is not attracting the sections of the population who could benefit most from social mobility,  that existing courses are being rebranded as degree apprenticeships to attract funding and are not truly in the spirit of the alternative route to higher qualification, that higher level provision is counter productively squeezing out lower level apprenticeship starts, that rurality and access remains an issue, and crucially that a high proportion of degree apprenticeship starts are not within areas that will help deliver the Government’s industrial strategy have all come to a head. This Wonkhe blog Post Augar, what will it take to reform degree apprenticeships? takes a gallop through the issues.

Gender employment gap: The BBC report on research which finds gender as the main factor in employment seniority, regardless of whether the female had children or not.

Soft power:  It was good to hear Chris Skidmore publically acknowledge the importance of soft power through educating international students in answering a question on tuition grants for students living in Africa:  Scholarships are a key part of the UK’s soft power, creating lasting positive relations with future leaders, influencers and decision-makers around the world. Many scholars funded by the UK go on to take up senior leadership positions in their home countries, and the strong bond they have formed with the UK enhances our direct and indirect influence abroad. This enhances our diplomatic work, our efforts in promoting increased trade and investment and supports our national security through increased goodwill and cooperation.

School absence policy debate: While it’s not strictly HE related the parents and carers among our readers might like to be aware of a Westminster Hall debate on school absences during term time. Here is the quick summary. Don’t go booking that term time holiday yet though!

HERA:  The House of Lords approved a motion making ‘Uncontroversial’ amendments to the Higher Education and Research Act (HERA) relating to the registration and exemption status of some HE providers. You can read a summary here. As you will see some parliamentarians seized on the opportunity to ask what effects the Augar Review would have on matters under discussion.

FE: Parliament have published The Further Education Loans and the Education (Student Support) (Amendment) Regulations 2019. There has been a new regulation inserted which allows the Secretary of State to cancel all or part of a (FE) fee loan in certain circumstances.

TEF: Chris Skidmore answered two parliamentary questions on the TEF. He said the independent TEF review lead by Dame Shirley Pearce is expected to report in summer 2019. Also that the second pilot year of subject level TEF is drawing to a close and the OfS will shortly publish the findings. Skidmore confirms Government will await Dame Shirley’s recommendations, and take account of the evidence from the subject-level TEF pilot, before making a decision on the next phase of the TEF.

Sustainability: Transport Minister, Michael Ellis, has announced the new EU-wide fuel labelling system rolling out from this week which identifies how much of the fuel the drivers are using comes from renewable sources. Here is the news story which simply explains the change, and here is the campaign link.

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HE policy update for the w/e 31st May 2019

We’re going early again this week as we have a big focus on this week’s big report, and we’re sure you all want to know (although there is a lot of coverage).  There is other news as well.

Augar recommendations for the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding

So finally, the long awaited report has landed.  Either it changed quite a lot in the last few weeks (no minimum threshold based on 3 Ds at A-level) or the leaks were inaccurate.  Actually the leaks were pretty inaccurate, because although the £7500 tuition fee loan cap is there, there are recommendations to make up the difference.  And that part was very badly trailed, probably because the recommendations are not simple and don’t make an easy soundbite.

The commentary will be extensive and you can read it for yourselves, we’ll give you some links below and recipients of Wonkhe and the Research Professional HE updates will get more in the coming days.  In the meantime:

We think that there is a risk with summarising and cherry picking the “most interesting” bits so we give you the whole set of recommendations below – with a little bit of commentary in places.  There’s some context and narrative first, so skip down to the big table if you want to go straight to the recommendations.

The report defines the purposes of post-18 education – nicely pulled out in a tweet by Mike Ratcliffe.

And the principles:

In setting about our task, we have been guided by a set of principles. Some of these were self-evident to us at the start, others have been developed in the light of emerging evidence during the panel’s life. The principles and their rationale are set out below.

Principle 1. Post-18 education benefits society, the economy, and individuals. The potential benefits of an increasingly educated adult population have guided our work. But increasing the sheer volume of tertiary education does not necessarily translate into social, economic and personal good. That depends on the quality, accessibility and direction of study.

Principle 2. Everyone should have the opportunity to be educated after the age of 18.We have noted the disparity of resources between higher and further education and the steep decline in opportunities for education and training in later life. We have this in mind in seeking to create an integrated and sustainable post-18 system with opportunities for the whole population.

Principle 3. The decline in numbers of those getting post-18 education needs to be reversed. In many developed economies, increased participation in tertiary education has been associated with productivity growth over the past half century but in England – where attention has focused largely on degree-level study – the total number of people involved in post-18 education has in fact declined. This decline needs to be reversed urgently.

Principle 4. The cost of post-18 education should be shared between taxpayers, employers and learners. This was the defining principle of the seminal Dearing Report (1997) and continues to have resonance: the alternatives are simply inconceivable. Getting the taxpayer to pay for everything is unaffordable. Getting learners to pay all their own costs is unfair to those of limited means. Getting employers to pay for the whole system would put too much emphasis on economic value alone. A shared responsibility, in our view, is the only fair and feasible solution.

Principle 5. Organisations providing education and training must be accountable for the public subsidy they receive. The receipt of taxpayer funding, whether this is directly through grants or indirectly through forgiveable loans, carries with it the expectation of transparency and accountability for the purposes to which it is put and the outcomes that it delivers. There should be no sense of entitlement.

Principle 6. Government has a responsibility to ensure that its investment in tertiary education is appropriately spent and directed. The government should consider public spending on tertiary education alongside its spending on other parts of the public sector and should hold the sector accountable whilst respecting its intellectual freedom and academic autonomy.

Principle 7. Post-18 education cannot be left entirely to market forces. The idea of a market in tertiary education has been a defining characteristic of English policy since 1998. We believe that competition between providers has an important role to play in creating choice for students but that on its own it cannot deliver a full spectrum of social, economic and cultural benefits. With no steer from government, the outcome is likely to be haphazard.

Principle 8. Post-18 education needs to be forward looking. The future challenges of technological innovation, artificial intelligence and shorter job cycles will require greater labour market flexibility. The post-18 education system needs to respond to this: doing more of the same will not be enough.

Here is the summary of the proposals from the front of the report itself:

  • Strengthening technical education – England needs a stronger technical and vocational education system at sub-degree levels to meet the structural skills shortages that are in all probability contributing to the UK’s weak productivity performance. Improved funding, a better maintenance offer, and a more coherent suite of higher technical and professional qualifications would help level the playing field with degrees and drive up both the supply of and demand for such courses.
  • Increasing opportunities for everyone – Despite the very large increase in participation in higher education by young people, the total number of people involved in tertiary education has declined. Almost 40 per cent of 25 year olds do not progress beyond GCSEs as their highest qualification and social mobility shows little sign of improvement. Our recommendations seek to address these problems by reversing cuts in adult skills provision and encouraging part time and later life learning.
  • Reforming and refunding the FE college network – Further education colleges are an essential part of the national educational infrastructure and should play a core role in the delivery of higher technical and intermediate level training. Our recommendations are intended to reform and refund the FE college network by means of an increased base rate of funding for high return courses, an additional £1bn capital investment over the coming spending review period and investment in the workforce to improve recruitment and retention. Rationalisation of the network to even out provision across over-supplied and under-supplied areas, funding for some specialised colleges and closer links with HE and other providers would help establish a genuinely national system of higher technical education.
  • Bearing down on low value HE – There is a misalignment at the margin between England’s otherwise outstanding system of higher education and the country’s economic requirements. A twenty-year market in lightly regulated higher education has greatly expanded the number of skilled graduates bringing considerable social and economic benefits and wider participation for students from lower socio-economic groups. However, for a small but significant minority of degree students doing certain courses at certain institutions, the university experience leads to disappointment. We make recommendations intended to encourage universities to bear down on low value degrees and to incentivise them to increase the provision of courses better aligned with the economy’s needs.
  • Addressing higher education funding – Generous and undirected funding has led to an over-supply of some courses at great cost to the taxpayer and a corresponding under-supply of graduates in strategically important sectors. Our recommendations would restore more control over taxpayer support and would reduce what universities may charge each degree student. Universities should find further efficiency savings over the coming years, maximum fees for students should be reduced to £7,500 a year, and more of the taxpayer funding should come through grants directed to disadvantaged students and to high value and high cost subjects.  [see CHAPTER 3 and in particular 3.2 to 3.5 below]
  • Increasing flexibility and lifetime learning – Employment patterns are changing fast with shorter job cycles and longer working lives requiring many people to reskill and upskill. We recommend the introduction of a lifelong learning loan allowance to be used at higher technical and degree level at any stage of an adult’s career for full and part-time students. To encourage retraining and flexible learning, we recommend that this should be available in modules where required. We intend that our proposals should facilitate transfer between different institutions and we make proposals for greater investment in so-called ‘second chance’ learning at intermediate levels. We endorse the government’s National Retraining Scheme, which we believe to be a potentially valuable supplement to college based learning.
  • Supporting disadvantaged students – Disadvantaged students need better financial support, improved choices and more effective advice and guidance to benefit fully from post‑18 education. Our recommendations would provide them with additional support by reintroducing maintenance grants for students from low income households, and by increasing and better targeting the government’s funding for disadvantaged students.
  • Ensuring those who benefit from higher education contribute fairly – Most graduates benefit significantly from participating in higher education – as does the economy and wider society. We therefore endorse the established principle that students and the state should share the cost of tertiary education. We support the income-contingent repayment approach as a means of delivering this fairly, with those benefitting the most making the greatest contribution. However, public misunderstanding is high and better communication is required, including a new name, the Student Contribution System. We believe that more graduates should repay their loans in full over their lifetimes, and recommend extending the repayment period for future students and effectively freezing the repayment threshold. These changes – with the reduction in fees – would apply only to students entering higher education from 2021-22 at the earliest: students starting before then would not be affected. Some aspects of the present system appear to be unfairly punitive and we recommend reducing students’ in-study interest charges and capping graduates’ lifetime repayments.
  • Improving the apprenticeship offer – Apprenticeships can deliver benefits both for apprentices and employers but there is evidence of a mismatch between the economy’s strategic requirements and current apprenticeship starts. Our recommendations, together with recent government reforms, look to make further improvements in the quality of the apprenticeship offer by providing learners with better wage return information, strengthening Ofsted’s role – and thus the quality of providers – and better understanding and addressing the barriers SMEs face within the apprenticeship system. We have considered how best to use the finite funding which is available for apprenticeships and recommend that apprenticeships at degree level and above should normally be funded only for those who do not already have a publicly-funded degree.

And the actual recommendations are at the back:

CHAPTER 2: SKILLS

2.1 The government should introduce a single lifelong learning loan allowance for tuition loans at Levels 4, 5 and 6, available for adults aged 18 or over, without a publicly funded degree. This should be set, as it is now, as a financial amount equivalent to four years’ full-time undergraduate degree funding. [This will be widely welcomed but has the potential to be very expensive if these loans turn out to be written off at high levels over time – the hope will be that these courses will directly lead to improved earnings and so there will be a better chance of repayment?]

2.2 Learners should be able to access student finance for tuition fee and maintenance support for modules of credit-based Level 4, 5 and 6 qualifications. [“bitesize” learning will also be welcomed as a solution for mature students to replace traditional part-time study which has collapsed]

2.3 ELQ rules should be scrapped for those taking out loans for Levels 4, 5 and 6. [this will be widely welcomed]

2.4 Institutions should award at least one interim qualification to all students who are following a Level 6 course successfully. [this is interesting]

2.5 Streamline the number and improve the status of Level 4/5 qualifications.

2.6 The OfS should become the national regulator of all non-apprenticeship provision at Levels 4 and above.

2.7 Government should provide additional support and capital funding to specific FE colleges in order to ensure a national network of high quality technical provision is available. Government should work with the OfS to determine how best to allocate this using, for example, quality indicators and analysis of geographic coverage. [this will be welcomed although the targeting and the suggestions of metrics (a TEF for FE?) may not be so welcome]

2.8 From 2021-22 the fee cap for Level 4 and 5 qualifications currently prescribed by the OfS should be £7,500 – the same as that proposed for Level 6 qualifications and in line with current arrangements for prescribed HE qualifications. Longer term, only kitemarked Level 4 and 5 qualifications that meet the new employer-led national standards should be able to charge fees up to the Level 6 cap and be eligible for teaching grant. From that point, any other Level 4 and 5 courses should have a lower fee cap.

2.9 The current age cap should be removed so that a first ‘full’ Level 3 is available free to all learners whether they are in work or not.

2.10 Full funding for the first ‘full’ Level 2 qualification, for those who are 24 and over and who are employed should be restored.

2.11  The careers strategy should be rolled out nationally so that every secondary school is able to be part of a careers hub, that training is available to all careers leaders and that more young people have access to meaningful careers activities and encounters with employers.

CHAPTER 3: HIGHER EDUCATION

3.1 The average per-student resource should be frozen for three further years from 2020/21 until 2022/23. On current evidence, inflation based increases to the average per-student unit of resource should resume in 2023/24.  [the interesting part here is not the freeze, as that was expected, but the proposal for an increase in 2023/24.  See page 93 of the report – “We believe that the gradual effects of a funding freeze would give HEIs time to rise to the challenge of greater efficiency and redesigned business models, whilst maintaining the quality of provision.  However on current evidence we believe that attempts to generate further savings over this proposed funding freeze would jeopardise the quality of provision”.

3.2 The cap on the fee chargeable to HE students should be reduced to £7,500 per year. We consider that this could be introduced by 2021/22. [so no cliff edge this year, may affect student numbers next year as some defer. They say on page 210 that ALL policies embed in 2021/22 for new students so although it isn’t clear in the section, this would be for new students only.  Also worth noting on page 205 they note that actually students may not be better off under the current scheme in the long run because of changes to repayments (see below) – but explaining that to students (and parents) will be a nightmare – the headline reduction will be what many people see]

3.3 Government should replace in full the lost fee income by increasing the teaching grant, leaving the average unit of funding unchanged at sector level in cash terms. [page 95 “We firmly believe that the total reduction in resources from the fee cut must be matched with an equivalent increase in average per student grant funding from the government, so that the average per student resource to the sector stays level in cash terms]

3.4 The fee cap should be frozen until 2022/23, then increased in line with inflation from 2023/24. [see 3.1 above]

3.5 Government should adjust the teaching grant attached to each subject to reflect more accurately the subject’s reasonable costs and its social and economic value to students and taxpayers. Support for high-quality specialist institutions that could be adversely affected should be reviewed and if necessary increased.

  • [The link to cost was well trailed in the press, but the Secretary of State focussed on the part about social and economic value to students and taxpayers – actually the report covers both. This is worth looking at in more detail – page 95/96 says that the current “system under-funds certain high cost subjects to the detriment of the economy in general and the government’s Industrial Strategy“, that “the current long-term taxpayer subsidy is poorly directed” and that “Government currently has very limited control over the substantial taxpayer investment in higher education”. 
  • There is more detail of the analysis that they did on page 72.
  • They propose that the OfS should carry out a review of the funding rates for different subjects, having “regard to economic and social value and consider support for socially desirable professions such as nursing and teaching”, and then rebalance funding towards high cost and strategically important subjects and to subjects that add social as well as economic value”.
  • They go on: “we would expect some subjects to receive little or no subject specific teaching grant over the £7500 base rate” – and this is where they add in about specialist institutions offering the highest quality provision.
  • This is really interesting stuff – but it is not at all clear how this would work and how economic and social value would be evaluated.  Anyone thinking that the debate over use of raw salary data in this process might be answered one way or the other by Augar will be sadly disappointed – the issue is put firmly into the hands of the OfS.  See also pages 104 and 105 for the things they rejected
  • Critics of using LEO in this context will like this bit on page 87: ““Limitations of the IFS early-career earnings analysis….
    • The data do not distinguish between full and part-time work, which is likely to affect comparisons of earnings between men and women, and they also do not cover the self-employed.
    • The results we discuss are for earnings up to the age of 29 whereas the principal benefit in earnings for graduates tends to arrive in the following decade and thus we would expect full lifetime earnings for most graduates to generate higher premiums than those shown.
    • However, the current data excludes the cost of foregone earnings during study and loan repayments after graduation which need to be taken into account for a full assessment of lifetime returns.
    • Earnings are largely a product of the labour market for particular skills and qualifications and should not be regarded as a measure of teaching quality. They also vary according to location: a graduate working in an economic cold spot is likely to earn less than her or his counterpart working in a hot spot.
    • However, if analysed with care, the data provide an insight into the early career financial consequences of degree study and will be a useful source of information for students, government and HEIs alike.”]

3.6 Government should take further steps to ensure disadvantaged students have sufficient support to access, participate and succeed in higher education. It should do this by:

  • Increasing the amount of teaching grant funding that follows disadvantaged students, so that funding flows to those institutions educating the students that are most likely to need additional support.
  • Changing the measure of disadvantage used in the Student Premium to capture individual-level socio-economic disadvantage, so that funding closely follows the students who need support.
  • Requiring providers to be accountable for their use of Student Premium grant, alongside access and participation plans for the spend of tuition fee income, to enable joined up scrutiny.

[Page 97 says that the current system prioritises access over successful participation, “fails to resource adequately those institutions that admit a large proportion of their students from disadvantaged backgrounds, relies on too limited an evidence base of what works best”.  They want to “discard measures or prior academic attainment and area-based measures of participation” (goodbye POLAR) and look at individual measures of socio-economic disadvantage to ensure that support is better directed.  They want a pupil premium style minimum sum for each student.  They also say that all the other changes should not mean a cut in the overall levels of spend on disadvantaged students.]

3.7 Unless the sector has moved to address the problem of recruitment to courses which have poor retention, poor graduate employability and poor long term earnings benefits by 2022/23, the government should intervene. This intervention should take the form of a contextualised minimum entry threshold, a selective numbers cap or a combination of both.

  • [Here’s a threat, then.  So 3Ds are not dead (see page 100 for the research), and neither are numbers caps.  But imposed on a course by course basis for students that “persistently manifest poor value for money for students and the public”.  They mention indicators such as employment, earnings and loan repayments.  They suggest the caps would be time limited – capping the numbers of students eligible for financial support who could be admitted to the course” (see page 102). 
  • So three years for the sector “to put its house in order”.  That gives the government time to sort our technical alternatives and the impact would be offset but the uptick in demographics from 2021.]

3.8 We recommend withdrawing financial support for foundation years attached to degree courses after an appropriate notice period. Exemptions for specific courses such as medicine may be granted by the OfS. [People are asking questions about this – it’s odd at first glance.  They say (page 103) that “it is not hard to conclude that universities are using foundation years to create four-year degrees in order to entice students who do not otherwise meet their standard entry criteria”.  But is that a bad thing?  The report concludes that it is a bad thing because of the fee and loan implications, and so it would be better to have access courses (usually in partnership with FE) on lower fees, better loan terms and a standalone qualification.  They say have a two year delay on implementing this recommendation]

CHAPTER 4: FURTHER EDUCATION

4.1 The unit funding rate for economically valuable adult education courses should be increased. [no-one will disagree but it will be expensive.  There’s a chart on page 124 which suggests what they mean by “economically valuable”.  It means higher level courses, it seems]

4.2 The reduction in the core funding rate for 18 year-olds should be reversed.

4.3 ESFA funding rules should be simplified for FE colleges, allowing colleges to respond more flexibly and immediately to the particular needs of their local labour market.

4.4 Government should commit to providing an indicative AEB that enables individual FE colleges to plan on the basis of income over a three-year period. Government should also explore introducing additional flexibility to transfer a proportion of AEB allocations between years on the same basis.

4.5.1 Government should provide FE colleges with a dedicated capital investment of at least £1 billion over the next Spending Review period. This should be in addition to funding for T levels and should be allocated primarily on a strategic national basis in-line with Industrial Strategy priorities.

4.5.2 Government should use the additional capital funding primarily to augment existing FE colleges to create a strong national network of high quality provision of technical and professional education, including growing capacity for higher technical provision in specific FE colleges.

4.5.3 Government should also consider redirecting the HE capital grant to further education. [that’s interesting – they suggest that £1billion needs to be invested.]

4.6.1 The structure of the FE college network, particularly in large cities, should be further modified to minimise duplication in reasonable travel to learn areas.

4.6.2 In rural and semi-rural areas, small FE colleges should be strongly encouraged to form or join groups in order to ensure sustainable quality provision in the long term. [consistent with the pressure on schools and academies to combine]

4.7 Government should develop procedures to ensure that – as part of a collaborative national network of FE colleges – there is an efficient distribution of Level 3, 4 and 5 provision within reasonable travel-to-learn areas, to enable strategic investment and avoid counterproductive competition between providers.

4.8 Investment in the FE workforce should be a priority, allowing improvements in recruitment and retention, drawing in more expertise from industry, and strengthening professional development.

4.9 The panel recommends that government improve data collection, collation, analysis and publication across the whole further education sector (including independent training providers). [As noted above, perhaps an equivalent of TEF for FE and all the other related metrics  – on top of Ofsted requirements where they apply.  They compare this critically with schools as well as HE (see page 137)]

4.10 The OfS and the ESFA should establish a joint working party co-chaired by the OfS and ESFA chairs to align the requirements they place on providers and improve the interactions and exchange of information between these bodies. The working party should report to the Secretary of State for Education by March 2020. [These will be interesting interactions.  The OfS is meant to be “light-touch” and “risk-based”, remember.  But it would be good to see them take a more similar approach – as universities registering with the ESFA to provide apprenticeships are aware, the requirements are different]

4.11 FE colleges should be more clearly distinguished from other types of training provider in the FE sector with a protected title similar to that conferred on universities.

CHAPTER 5: APPRENTICESHIPS

5.1 The government should monitor closely the extent to which apprenticeship take up reflects the priorities of the Industrial Strategy, both in content – including the need for specific skills at Levels 3 through 5 – and in geographic spread. If funding is inadequate for demand, apprenticeships should be prioritised in line with Industrial Strategy requirements.

5.2  The government should use data on apprenticeships wage returns to provide accessible system wide information for learners with a potential interest in apprenticeships.

5.3  Funding for Level 6 and above apprenticeships should normally be available only for apprentices who have not previously undertaken a publicly-supported degree.  [ELQ by the back door?]

5.4  Ofsted become the lead responsible body for the inspection of the quality of apprenticeships at all levels.

5.5  No provider without an acceptable Ofsted rating should receive a contract to deliver training in their own right (although a provider who has not yet been inspected could sub-contract from a high-quality provider pending their own inspection).

5.6  The IfATE and the DfE (through the ESFA) should undertake a programme of work to better understand the barriers that SMEs face in engaging with the apprenticeship system and put in place mechanisms to address these, including raising awareness of the programme and making the system easier to navigate.

5.7  The IfATE improve transparency when processing standards that have been submitted for approval. Trailblazer groups and providers should have a clear indication of progress, available on-line, so they can start to plan, recruit and invest within workable timelines.

5.8  All approved providers of government-funded training, including apprenticeship training, must make clear provision for the protection of learners in the case of closure or insolvency.

CHAPTER 6: STUDENT CONTRIBUTIONS

6.1 Continue the principle of loans to cover the cost of fees combined with income-contingent contributions up to a maximum. [NB they have not looked at PG loans – see page 166]

6.2 Set the contribution threshold at the level of median non-graduate earnings so that those who are experiencing a financial benefit from HE start contributing towards the cost of their studies. This should apply to new students entering HE from 2021/22.Adjust the lower interest threshold to match, with the higher interest threshold moving by the same amount. This should apply to new students entering the system from 2021/22. [That’s a reduction from £25,000 to £23,000 at current rates.  Note it went up to £25,000 from £21,000 in 2018 in a hasty attempt by the PM to appeal to the “youth vote” in a move welcomed by many (because the promised indexation for the threshold was abandoned) but also said to be regressive (because it reduced the total amount repaid by the highest earners).  The proposal is that it should be a floating threshold, linked to median earnings, and not implemented until 2021/22, so they expect it would be £25,000 then and when the first cohort of students start repaying it would be around £28,000 (see page 170)]

6.3 Extend the repayment period to 40 years after study has ended so that those who have borrowed continue to contribute while they are experiencing a financial benefit. This should apply to new students entering the system from 2021/22. [This is the big change and is why the main headline fee cut does not save many students much overall]

6.4 Remove real in-study interest, so that loan balances track inflation during study. This should apply for new students entering the system from 2021/22. [This is a tweak, but an important one, because this is one of those optical things that makes students really cross, as they incur interest at 3% plus inflation while studying.  A student on a maximum maintenance loan incurs £3800 in interest while studying on a three year course (see page 172)] 

6.5 Retain the post-study variable interest rate mechanism from inflation to inflation plus 3 per cent. [Many have called for this to be scrapped but the report thinks that’s a trade-off not worth making.  They also don’t adopt the arguments about moving away from RPI to CPI – some will be disappointed]

6.6 Introduce a new protection for borrowers to cap lifetime repayments at 1.2 times the initial loan amount in real terms. This cap should be introduced for all current Plan 2 borrowers, as well for all future borrowers. [This hasn’t been much covered in the press coverage so far – but it is interesting.  It addresses the “squeezed middle” who pay back more slowly and thus pay back more than the highest earners.  As the 40 year period makes that problem worse, this is a mitigation for it (see pages 174/5)]

6.7 Introduce new finance terms under the banner of a new ‘student contribution system’. Define and promote the system with new language to make clearer the nature of the system, reducing focus on ‘debt’ levels and interest and emphasising contribution rates. [Hurray, the rebranding.  Widely anticipated although it will take a mammoth effort to change national cultural expectations on this after everyone from the PM down has banged on about student debt.  This is a huge job.]

CHAPTER 7: MAINTENANCE

7.1 The government should restore maintenance grants for socio-economically disadvantaged students to at least £3,000 a year.

[This is really interesting, has been widely welcomed including by the PM who has taken the credit for it and blamed George Osborne and Sajid Javid for a mistake” in her statement this morning. The report says that this is a particular problem because of the assumption of parental support and that it impacts the choices that disadvantaged students make.   But…is £3000 enough?  The report says (page 192 “Combined with the reduction in the level of tuition fee recommended in chapter 3, this recommendation would see the maximum debt for a disadvantaged student on graduation from a 3 year degree decrease by £15,000, from approximately £60,000 to approximately £45,000”.  They looked at the Welsh system and  said it was not a priority for investment to make such a significant (and expensive) change).

7.2 The expected parental contribution should be made explicit in all official descriptions of the student maintenance support system. [Yes, alongside the other comms challenges, this is a big and important one.]

7.3 Maximum maintenance support should be set in line with the National Minimum Wage for age 21 to 24 on the basis of 37.5 hours per week and 30 weeks per year. [That’s a small cut outside London “We do not believe that students, who in practice are often studying for less than 37.5 hours, should receive a higher income than the minimum received by young people in full-time employment” (see page 193)]

7.4 In delivering a maintenance system comprising a mix of grant, loan and family contribution, the government should ensure that:

  • The level of grant is set as high as possible to minimise or eliminate the amount of additional loan required by students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
  • The income thresholds within the system should be increased in line with inflation each year.

7.5 The new post-18 maintenance support package should be provided for all students taking Level 4 to 6 qualifications. The government should take steps to ensure that qualifications which are supported through the maintenance package are of high quality and deliver returns for the individual, society, economy and taxpayer.

7.6 The OfS should examine the cost of student accommodation more closely and work with students and providers to improve the quality and consistency of data about costs, rents, profits and quality.

[Interesting comments on page 196:

  • “We believe that HEIs retain a responsibility for overall student welfare and delivering value for money and that this extends to university accommodation, whether or not they are the direct provider.”
  • And “The public subsidy of student maintenance, much of which is spent on accommodation, gives the OfS a legitimate stake in monitoring the provision of student accommodation in terms of costs, rents, profitability and value for money”
  • Also “We suggest a detailed study of the characteristics and in-study experience of commuter students and how to support them better.”(page 195)]

7.7 Funding available for bursaries should increase to accommodate the likely growth in Level 2 and Level 3 adult learners.

7.8 The support on offer to Level 2 and Level 3 learners should be made clearer by both the government and further education colleges so as to ensure that prospective learners are aware of the support available to them.

And there’s more

There are also other bits that are not reflected in the many, many recommendations but may be seized on by Ministers and others.  In the section on Market Competition, page 78, the report says that “‘post-18 education cannot be left entirely to market forces’.81 We have already established that England’s market in HE has produced substantial social, economic and personal benefits but have noted that price competition has not developed as was originally expected. This is rational behaviour in a market where price is taken as a signal of quality.”

It goes on:

It is of concern to us that these marketing approaches sometimes include cash and in-kind inducements to prospective students to accept a place. It would be an unacceptable use of public funds for universities to recycle tuition fees, funded by state-subsidised income contingent loans, as gifts over which the state has no recourse. A recent study for Universities UK found “… perceptions that universities are becoming more like commercial businesses, driven by profit” and we would not be surprised if over-enthusiastic marketing had contributed to this perception. We further note three aspects of academic practice that could be interpreted as being a consequence of market competition.

  • Grade inflation. The growth in the proportion of first and upper second-class degrees awarded (see box) has been too great to suggest plausibly that it can be entirely attributed to a genuine improvement in the quality of students’ academic performance. It is not unreasonable to assume that part of the explanation is that academic assessment has become a means of reputational enhancement, albeit how this has happened is unclear.84 We note the intervention in March 2018 on this matter by the Secretary of State for Education.
  • Lower entry requirements. An increasing proportion of students with lower prior attainment are now attending university. We welcome this but not at any price. Low prior attainment, measured by A level and BTEC grades, is associated with dropping out from university studies, to the financial and often emotional cost of the student. From the 2016/17 cohort, as many as 12.8 per cent of students with UCAS tariff points between 0 and 100 (equivalent to D and E at A-level in the old tariff scheme), and 11.6 per cent of students with BTECs at any level, did not progress past their first year of a degree. This is about double the 6.3 per cent drop out rate for students as a whole. For the lowest attaining BTEC students the drop-out rates are well above 15 per cent. At fourteen UK universities, projections of the number of students likely to obtain a degree is below 70 per cent; the lowest has a degree projection rate of 51.7 per cent with 28.1 per cent of its students dropping out entirely rather than transferring or obtaining another award such as a Level 4 or Level 5 qualification.
  • Unconditional offers. Responsibly used, unconditional offers can have benefits, particularly in attracting students from disadvantaged backgrounds – but the emphasis has to be on ‘responsible’. We agree with the OfS that “Universities must not resort to pressure selling tactics in promoting unconditional offers”87 and we note the intervention in April 2018 on this matter by the Secretary of State for Education.

They don’t have a recommendation in this area, but they do use these examples as justification for why the system needs to change – and government given back more control through grants and targeting of funding.

There’s also a kick at TEF: “the use of metrics in the TEF process must be robust and command confidence. The Royal Statistical Society has raised concerns about the statistical validity of the current approach and the risk of the system being “gamed”.72 We await the outcome of the on-going independent review of the TEF, led by Dame Shirley Pearce, which is examining this and other issues.”  It is really interesting to think about what, given this, they think will be the basis for their cost and value-based assessment for the top-up funding.  They manage not to suggest anything.  All they say about it is on page 75: “We expect this assessment to be contested within the sector. Typically, it has been resistant to measures of performance based on inputs (contact hours), outputs (student satisfaction) and outcomes (graduate salaries). There are undoubtedly weaknesses in all of these metrics, including the TEF framework which brings them together, but they give universities important information about their own performance and we encourage the sector to use them constructively.”

And what of employers?  When interviewed during the process, Philip Augar made a lot of the role of employers in the system.  In the opening principles, Principle 4 is “the cost of post-18 education should be shared between taxpayers, employers and learners”.  But there is nothing new here for FE, lots of references to employers working with FE, and of course the apprenticeship levy.

They also address the unintended consequences in terms of the cross-subsidy for research funding (see page 93): “Universities in the UK educate the graduates, especially in STEM fields, needed to achieve this target. Our proposals on rebalancing funding towards high‑cost and high‑value subjects, discussed below, are intended to encourage this and are likely to result in more funding going to institutions with a strong research base. We also make recommendations to protect high quality specialist institutions. We recognise that there will be concerns about the impact of the resource freeze on some institutions with pockets of research excellence. We are of the view that it is for government, business and other interested bodies to fund research adequately and directly.

So what now?  The coverage will be excited and excitable.  Justine Greening has already condemned the whole thing as regressive and called for a radical new student contribution system.  But will a new leader of the Tory party take it up?  Will it get lost in party politics and Brexit?  Will it be too unattractive in terms of cost (remember the spending review) and not attractive enough in terms of attracting voters (young and older)?. They have costed it all (page 204).

We’ll just have to wait and see.  But the main thing is that, despite several menacing bits, when taken as a whole it is not the nightmare scenario for HE that some were predicting, but neither is it a silver bullet.  It’s complex, subtle and intended to work as a package – if existing or new leaders start cherry picking, there is plenty of potential for the nightmare to materialise.  And the OfS have a LOT of work to do.

At a speech launching the review, Theresa May said: “I was not surprised to see the panel argue for the reintroduction of means-tested maintenance grants both for university students and those studying for higher technical qualifications. Such a move would ensure students are supported whichever route they choose, and save those from the poorest backgrounds over £9,000. It will be up to the Government to decide, at the upcoming Spending Review, whether to follow this recommendation. But my view is very clear: removing maintenance grants from the least well-off students has not worked, and I believe it is time to bring them back.”

On reforming tuition fees, she argued: “There is much to be said for the panel’s proposal to cut fees and top up the money from Government, protecting the sector’s income overall but focussing more of that investment on high-quality and high-value courses. I know there are some, including the Labour Opposition, who will reject this finding because they want to abolish fees altogether. Such a move would be regressive and destructive – hurting our institutions and limiting the opportunities for our young people.”

Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner commented: “The report alone does nothing to address the burning injustices facing our education system. With no formal Government response, no extra funding and no guarantee that the recommendations will be implemented by her successor the Augar review epitomises May’s legacy as Prime Minister and this shambolic Tory government –  all talk, empty promises and very little action.”

Speaking on LBC earlier, Chancellor Philip Hammond warned: “We won’t be able to prioritise every area. If we want to be able to spend some of that fiscal headroom that I have accumulated, we first have to get the Brexit issue resolved.”

By the way, as well as the report, there is a whole lot of supporting material including the outcomes of the call for evidence that informed the review. Some nuggets:

  • For student finance, more than half of students responding thought fees should be reduced or abolished. There was a mix of views from providers over whether the fees charged to students at present covered the cost of courses, with views further split about the advantages and disadvantages of applying differential fees for different subjects and how this might work. Student loans were seen by many as burdensome and off-putting, in particular for part-time and mature students. Many respondents suggested that means-tested maintenance grants should be reintroduced.
  • Respondents and respondent groups had a range of views of what constituted value for money in post-18 education including student experience, employability and commercial terms, as well as the wider benefits to society. Some questioned the need for the concept. HE providers and HE employees tended to favour value in terms of student experience and qualifications achieved, whereas students and graduates valued employability and the earnings advantage of a degree, seen as a return on their investment.
    • Overall employability was perceived as the most important measure of value for money, followed by value to society and the student experience.
    • Value for money was considered to be improved either if the cost of education to students is reduced, or if the quality of education and its contribution to the economy and to society is increased.
  • Respondents identified financial barriers as the most common difficulty for disadvantaged students, including debt (both real and the prospect of it), covering costs out of term time and inadequate maintenance support.

And the Tory leadership contest?

New potential candidates are joining the fray all the time.  There are so many it is hard to work out what they all stand for.  The whittling down process can’t start until after 10th June.  Until then we will have to put up with remarkably similar soundbites and some startling announcements as they try to be distinctive.  11 (or 12, or more) views to canvas on every issue that comes up from Augar to football to British Steel.  Oh dear.

This internal squabble really matters – because whoever it is, is going to try and sort out Brexit and nothing else will get done until they do.  The solution might be trying to create a cross party consensus to pass the Withdrawal Agreement legislation and leave with the PM’s deal in October (seems vanishingly unlikely).  Or by going back to Brussels with a backstop unicorn and trying to renegotiate (surely even more unlikely than it was when Parlaiment voted on it).  Or throwing the whole thing up in the air and asking for a long extension for a people’s vote (exceptionally unlikely because any candidate who would go for this will surely not be selected unless they are the last person standing).  Or going for a no-deal Brexit by default, with no legislation if Parliament won’t play ball – surely very unlikely indeed given that this is the only thing Parliamnet agrees on.  Any hint of this would surely spark another Letwin-style rebellion enabled by the Speaker (leading to what, though – there’s no time.  And surely the EU wouldn’t grant an extension in these circumstances).  The timing is critical, because the summer recess takes Parliament to the middle of September, unless they come back early.

And it may all be irrelevant.  If the new leader faces a vote of no confidence fairly early on, and is someone that enough Tories can’t work with (whichever approach they are taking), will enough rebels back it and force a general election?  Then surely the EU would grant an extension.  And all bets would be off, although it seems pretty likely that a general election would lead to another hung Parliament, probably very hung indeed, with a fair number of MPs for the Brexit Party (unless the new Tory leader wins them over) and more Lib Dems and Greens.  So then it would all be about coalitions.  Tricky.

So who could it be?  The BBC have a list although Philip Hammond hasn’t ruled himself out and isn’t on the list yet.  There are some predictions and some more details on The Week here

EU student fees and finance after Brexit

After the recent storm when it was pointed out that EU students would at some point after Brexit stop being eligible for tuition fee loans and “Home” fee status, Chris Skidmore this week confirmed that the current arrangements would continue for students starting courses in 2020-21, continuing the “one year at a time” approach that has been adopted since the EU referendum.

Universities Minister Chris Skidmore said: We know that students will be considering their university options for next year already, which is why we are confirming now that eligible EU nationals will continue to benefit from home fee status and can access financial support for the 20/21 academic year, so they have the certainty they need to make their choice.”

“Work to determine the future fee status for new EU students after the 2020/21 academic year is ongoing as the Government prepares for a smooth and orderly exit from the EU as soon as possible. The Government will provide sufficient notice for prospective EU students on fee arrangements ahead of the 2021/2022 academic year and subsequent years in future.”

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HE policy update for the w/e 10th May 2019

Research

The Universities Minister, has delivered the first in a series of four planned speeches on how the UK can best achieve its ambition to invest 2.4% of GDP in R&D by 2027.  It was a surprising speech in some ways, short on announcements, although there were some, and long on wishful thinking.  We’ve pulled out some bits below.  For a healthy dose of cynicism/realism we recommend the annotated version by HE for Research Professional.

Investment – To achieve our target of 2.4%, total UK R&D investment would need to rise to around £60bn in today’s money. More than double our current investment levels. This would require us to have invested an additional sum of over £80bn cumulatively each year from 2017 across the public and private sectors.

People – It doesn’t matter how much money we pump into R&D over the years ahead, it won’t make the intended difference if we don’t have the right people in place. Ensuring a strong pipeline of talent will be essential for bolstering the UK’s research prowess. We are also going to have to substantially increase the numbers of people we have working in R&D in the same period – perhaps by as much as 50%. To put that in figures, that means we need to find at least another 260,000 researchers to work in R&D across universities, across business and across industry.

International staff and students – We are making it easier for international graduates to move into skilled work. International students studying for undergraduate level and above will be able to apply for a visa three months before their course finishes – enabling them to take up skilled work after their degree. They will also be able to apply for a skilled work visa out-of-country under the same preferential conditions as they would experience if they were to apply for a visa in-country. In addition, a reformed sponsorship system will provide a simplified and more streamlined system. This will be less burdensome for employers and will enable businesses to harness the talent they need more easily. We set out a clear ambition in our International Education Strategy earlier this spring: to grow the numbers of international students studying in UK universities to 600,000 by the end of the next decade.

Supporting Researchers

Our current research culture relies on dominant power structures, where doctoral candidates and post-docs are largely dependent on supervisors or PIs for references and progression. This puts the power firmly in other people’s hands. Is it any wonder, then, that less than half of doctoral researchers report they would be likely to disclose any mental health and wellbeing issues to their supervisors? This closed culture urgently needs to change. So, I hope future joint work by the Office for Students (OfS) and Research England into the mental health and wellbeing of doctoral researchers can identify good practice to take forward in this area.

….the Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers, first launched in 2008. …I am pleased that an independent review of the Concordat has just taken place to ensure it is up-to-date to meet the needs of today’s researchers. And I look forward to seeing the revised version of the Concordat when it is published later this summer. As Universities and Science Minister, I am serious about taking the Concordat forward. And I am pleased to be hosting a high-level meeting with the Chair of the Concordat Strategy Group, Professor Julia Buckingham. Alongside Sir Patrick Vallance and other key sector leaders, to discuss how we can further improve research careers in the UK.

I also encourage the OfS, Research England, and UKRI as a whole to look more widely at how the implementation of current policies affect researchers on the ground. The three higher education excellence frameworks – namely the REF, TEF and the KEF – are all integral to the way we govern and fund higher education, science, research and innovation. But we need to make sure they are not disproportionately affecting early career researchers and putting extra strains on their work. The recent headlines about universities spending around £87m on non-disclosure agreements since 2017 doesn’t help us to project an image of a sector that cares for its employees.

Academia in industry

For too long, there has been a stigma in this country around pursuing non-academic research careers. So, we should never look down on early career researchers if they opt for a career outside academia. Rather, we should actively encourage our PhDs and post-docs to see the merits of pursuing an R&D career in other sectors and industries. For one, we need to stop talking about jobs outside academia as being ‘second choice careers’ or ‘Plan B options’. For our 2.4% target to work, we need people to be actively considering research careers across the entire science and innovation system.  

So, isn’t it high time we start to better connect graduates with the evident skills gaps we are experiencing right across our labour market?  Yet, this isn’t going to be easy when many of their main role models inside universities know very little about careers in industry. And are themselves either unaware or unconvinced of the strength of research positions outside academia.  There are schemes that aim to address this issue – such as the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Visiting Professors scheme. This funds senior industry practitioners to participate in course development, face-to-face teaching and the mentoring of Engineering undergraduates at a host university. It is a great programme, but it is not widespread practice. The difficulties aren’t just on the side of universities. Some employers are unused to recruiting PhDs and don’t fully understand the benefits that those with higher academic qualifications can bring to their workforce. I think of this as the ‘graduate paradox’ – the higher the academic qualifications you have, the less professionally qualified you may seem. This, I feel, is a particular UK problem we need to address.

Gaps – We still have some way to go to eradicate gender pay gaps in the sector and increase the proportion of women in academic and research leadership. Not to mention the number of Black and Ethnic Minority role models that will inspire others and show them a research career can really be for people like them.

Additional points:

  • The 41 winners of the first ever Future Leaders Fellowships have been announced. The fellowships aim to develop early career researchers who will become world-leaders in their fields, intending for their research to maintain the UK’s reputation for being at the forefront of science and innovation. The winners share £40 million, with the scheme costing £900 million over 3 years. The projects funded include using cloud computing to monitor changes of all glaciers in the Arctic and Antarctic and how children’s adventurous play can lower levels of anxiety in young people.
  • First call for the new Stephen Hawking Fellowships issued. Working with the Hawking family, UKRI will support up to 50 postdoctoral scientists in theoretical physics over the next five years.

 Italian Partnership – Research England have announced their partnership with the Italian National Agency for the Evaluation of the University and Research Systems, ANVUR, which will support research assessment and the evaluation of knowledge exchange in English and Italian universities. David Sweeney, Executive Chair of Research England commented: “ANVUR is at the leading edge in the international landscape of knowledge transfer assessment and it was very helpful to discuss Italy’s research evaluation.”

Master’s Loans

The DfE have published the Postgraduate Master’s Loan evaluation. The Master’s Degree Loan Scheme was launched by the Government in June 2016, and was the first time that Government provided finance to contribute to costs for postgraduate master’s study. The aims of the loan were to:

  • Increase take up of master’s courses
  • Enable progression onto master’s courses for those who could not afford to self-finance or would have to delay starting to save up for a master’s course
  • Improve the supply of highly skilled individuals to the UK economy

The evaluation follows up the first cohort of master’s students who started in 2016/17 with the new loan and found positive outcomes.

  • Data from the HESA Student Record shows that there was a substantial increase in the overall number of Master’s students enrolling at English HEIs. This growth was driven by a 36% increase in enrolments from England-domiciled loan eligible students. (However, these figures may be overinflated as 2015/16 master’s students may have deferred starting their study a year to benefit from the loan in the following year. The report notes BAME students were particularly likely to do this with 61% reporting they deferred entry specifically for this reason.)
  • Most HEIs interviewed (75%) said the number of enrolments from students onto courses eligible for postgraduate loans increased in 2016/17. Among those which reported an increase in numbers, the majority (84%) attributed this at least in part to the introduction of the Master’s Loan.
  • Students themselves confirmed the importance of the Loan in enabling them to study. Nearly three-quarters (72%) of students starting their course in 2016/17 felt that they would have been unable to undertake their specific Master’s course without the Master’s Loan, while around a third (36%) agreed that they would “never even thought about studying a Master’s” if the Master’s loan had not been available.
  • While there were no substantial changes to the age or gender profile of students, the proportion of Black students increased substantially between 2015/16 and 2016/17 (but see above).
  • Quicker – Analysis of the HESA student record indicates a trend towards a greater proportion of full-time study. While the proportion of loan-eligible England-domiciled students studying full-time remained relatively constant in the period prior to the introduction of the loan (at 54-56%), this proportion increased to 62% in 2016/17.
  • Sooner – 90% of master’s loan recipients “agreed that the Master’s Loan had enabled 14 them to begin postgraduate study sooner”. Students in receipt of the Loan were more likely to have progressed from undergraduate to postgraduate study within a year (48%) than those not in receipt of the Loan (23%). The main reason for this given by students in the qualitative interviews was that without the Master’s Loan, they would have had to spend several years building their savings in order to afford it
  • Students in receipt of the Loan were more likely to say that their main reason for studying was to improve their employment prospects (20% compared with 12% of those not in receipt of the Loan). Prior to loan introduction (2013/14 cohort) more stated their main motivation was interest in the subject.
  • Almost all students (94%) expected to receive at least one benefit as a result of their programme, five years after completing their study. 74% believed they would be earning more money, and a similar proportion (73%) expected to have more job choices. Being in a more senior role and being in a more specialist role were each mentioned by 70% of students, and 68% anticipated they would be in a higher pay band.
  • There was no change in the proportion receiving either funding from their HEI or funding from their employer to pay for tuition fees. Hence, so far, there is no indication of the Master’s Loan ‘crowding out’ other sources of funding.
  • 70% of Master’s starters in 2016/17 also worked (35% FT, 35% PT) – it was only 58% that worked in 2013/14. The evaluation notes a higher proportion of starters in 2016/17 funded all or part of their tuition fees through employment than the comparator group of 2013/14. 52% of students stated that without the loan for their living expenses or fees they may not have been able to undertake the course. However, 46% would have self-funded or found other methods to fund their course leading to questions on whether the loan is providing funding for those who could have afforded the course anyway.
  • Interestingly (messages for UG differential fees perhaps?) were that 41% of loan students would have changed their study to afford a masters (a) 25% choosing a cheaper course, (b) 19% choosing a different course, (c) 22% choose same course but at a different institution. BAME students were most likely (33%) to change their plans.
  • The master’s loan contributes up to £10,000 towards the fees/living expenses of master’s study. However, most respondents stated it was not enough and the difficulties of working coupled with the intensity of master’s study meant they had to rely on parents to top them up financially. There are potentially messages in here about inclusivity, hidden barriers to disadvantaged students, and potentially an influence on dropout rates.
  • The evaluation suggested there is evidence that the Loan will help the sustainability of the HE sector. Most HEIs benefited from increased student volumes in 2016/17 and half reported that they believe the Loan will lead to increased revenue for them. There is evidence to suggest that it has benefitted medium-tariff institutions in particular.
  • There is some evidence that the Loan has had an effect of increasing fees for Master’s courses (HEIs more likely to report increases on these courses (57%) than on courses not eligible for fees (41%)). DfE note this may warrant further investigation.

TEF update

Do you know your pilot from your parliamentary review?  What are the metrics used in the latest version of TEF and did you know that the criteria have changed?  We’ve been updating staff at BU on the latest on the TEF, and on the staff intranet policy pages you can find links to our latest slides and a more detailed briefing note, as well as a link to BU’s submission to the Parliamentary review call for views.

Election fever

Everyone has a view on what happened in the local elections and what it means for national politics – it means get on with Brexit, it means abandon Brexit, it means everyone is just fed up and protest voting for smaller parties and independents….  Your policy team are a bit idealistic sometimes (despite watching a lot of politics), and we are subscribers to the “people are probably generally voting on local issues locally” theory.  We hope so – because these local politicians will be responsible for things that will happen locally for the next 4 years.  So feelings about the council mergers and hospital changes, for example, will have had an effect in Dorset and BCP.

Of course national politics will have had an impact.  There may be a general dissatisfaction with the Conservatives and some of that may be Brexit-related, but it could also be driven by concerns about social care and local authority funding more generally.  It doesn’t seem to make sense that across the country many people abandoned the Tories for the Lib Dems if they genuinely want a no-deal Brexit. They may have been formerly disaffected Lib Dem voters going home – but in that case they almost certainly don’t want a no deal Brexit.  The focus on climate change recently will of course have helped the Greens – people voting for green candidates who will drive local changes.

If you want to look at trends, the Commons Library has a lovely map.  Otherwise we suggest there is a huge risk in leaping to too many conclusions and we recommend everyone turns their mind to who they will vote for in the EU elections.  There is still a chance that MEPs will take their seats and keep them for some time so they could have a voice in the EU Parliament.  And here in the South-West we have some sparkling candidates.  You can’t vote for them, though – because of the list system (see this Research Professional illustration if you missed it before).  Tactical voting will be a thing in these elections.

Brexit is still missing

The impasse continues.  It seems unlikely that there will be a breakthrough in the short term.  It could be a long summer of speculation and not much happening until another frenzy of last-minute-itus breaks out in September ahead of the Halloween deadline.

Last weekend Theresa May came under further pressure to resign, or to state a specific date for her departure.  TM at least thinks that the local election results were a verdict on how she (and Parliament) has handled Brexit. She apologised for poor Conservative local election results (the Conservatives lost 1,300+ seats) stating: It is clear that the voters delivered their judgment in large part based on what is happening – or not happening – at Westminster. And, as Prime Minister, I fully accept my share of the responsibility for that. Meanwhile Jeremy Hunt and Dominic Raab appeared in high-profile newspaper profile pieces over the bank holiday weekend with their families – not too subtle positioning for an upcoming leadership contest. The PM continues to refuse to set out a timetable for her departure and is unlikely to step down until the Withdrawal Agreement is passed. Her spokesperson said she is here to deliver Brexit in phase one and then she will make way for phase two.

It has been confirmed that the UK will participate in the EU elections. However apparently Theresa May intends to make a fourth attempt to pass her Brexit deal through Parliament ratifying the deal by end of June so that UK MEPs do not take their seats in July.  Maybe.

Theresa May is expected to offer a customs union offer to Labour (for a temporary period); however, the Labour/Conservative front bench talks have extended beyond the original timescale and the issue of a second referendum continues to be a sticking point. There has been no breakthrough with the Government insisting the negotiations have been constructive and detailed, however,  Rebecca Long Bailey (Labour) was critical stating the Government had made no movement on their red lines. Talks continue…

In the meantime:

  • The UK Government has signed a deal with Ireland to guarantee reciprocal Irish and British citizens rights are retained in each country in the event of no-deal.
  • EU Settlement Scheme: The EU settlement scheme is now fully open and live. The Home Office communications state that during the testing phase 95% of EU citizens were able to use the mobile app to prove their identity remotely within 10 minutes. The application link is here.

Mental Health & Well-being

HEPI have issued a policy note Measuring well-being in HE covering HE staff and students. They argue for a differentiation between mental health and well-being so that the sector can better consider and understand the broader overall health of staff and students. They recommend more data is collected and published, ideally the markers being consistent across the UK and multi-year for applicants and graduates (as well as students and staff):

“Consistency across the UK allows for comparison in well-being between the different regulatory and funding systems across the four countries. International measurements would similarly allow for comparison between different models of higher education. Data collectors should work together to enable tracking of cohorts, allowing us to track the same cohort of students and staff over time.”

Rachel Hewitt, HEPI, author of the Policy Note said: ‘If we are to get a grip on the mental health crisis in young people that is heavily impacting on universities, we need to be collecting the right information to understand it. At the moment statistics on well-being and mental health are often combined, despite these being two separate issues with different ways they can be tackled. For universities to take the necessary action to address this issue, they need to better understand what they’re dealing with. 

It is shocking that we have no public information on the well-being of staff that work in our universities. If universities are collecting this information, they are not being open about what the results are showing. This is at a time when staff in universities continue to be under pressure, with increasing workloads and insecure contracts rife. We need a consistent, public dataset on the well-being of university staff.’

In the meantime,  the role of sport at university has been highlighted: Wonkhe has two articles on sport via its new Student Union service.  Ben Vulliarmy, CEO of the SU at the University of York, writes about their Varsity programme with Lancaster (by the way, congratulations to BU for this week’s resounding win against Solent in our own Varsity event – well played all).  And Richard Medcalf of the University of Wolverhampton writes about the need for evidence if sport is to be taken seriously as a contributor to student (and staff) outcomes:

At Wolverhampton we’re trying a few small steps to make this happen. We’ve developed a university sports board to connect this agenda into the decision making bodies of the university. We’ve combined the academic provision of sport with the participatory and performance arms of our offer to students and staff, to align the intentions of both under one organisational framework. And, importantly, we’re attaching student sport engagement to our student records system so we can see if there’s any relationship between students who participate and the wider university KPIs.

Care Experienced Students

The Centre for Social Justice have released 12 By 24 revealing that despite 10 years of intervention still only 6% of care leavers are attending University. It states: Looked After Children aren’t less clever than other children they are just less lucky and a care leaver is more likely to end up in a prison cell than a lecture theatre. The publication aims to increase care leavers at universities to 12 by 24.

This report shows that too many young people growing up in care feel university isn’t for them. They told us it is simply not what happens when you leave the care system…Improving attainment at school will always be the best thing we can do to help children from disadvantaged backgrounds get on. This report sets out the extent to which care experienced children still fall behind their peers. The message from a roundtable of experts conducted during this report was clear: If we want to see more children from disadvantaged backgrounds accessing university and higher education, we need to engage our young people in care much earlier to ensure that where they have fallen behind, they are given the help they need to catch up. The evidence contained in this report shows that if we act early enough, we will see more young people leaving the care system and entering higher education. Among all the facts and figures, this report presents a simple challenge to government and the higher education sector to do more to help young people who have had the worst start in life to have the best future. Many universities are working hard to improve these figures, but this report shows that barely a third of universities have set out detailed plans to take action to change the number of care leavers on their courses.

The report goes on to state there is too much variability in the focus and efficacy of Universities care leaver support schemes. Pages 15 and 38 are key reading, chapter 6 sets out what support mechanisms universities are currently offering and chapter 7 describes the ‘gold standard’ the Centre propose and call on the DfE to endorse. Read more here.

There’s a HEPI blog by Steven Spier, Vice-Chancellor of Kingston University about their approach to care leavers (and estranged students).

Still no news from the Augar team

A Parliamentary question this week confirms (again) that it will be released “shortly”.  We predict (based on our own speculation rather than inside knowledge) that it won’t be until after the EU elections.  It could come quickly as a major distraction from the mess after that.  Or not.

Q – Gordon Marsden: whether postgraduate (a) loans and (b) other financial assistance will be included in his Department’s response to the review of post-18 education.

A – Chris Skidmore: The government’s review of post-18 education and funding is looking at how we can ensure there is choice and competition across a joined-up post-18 education and training sector. The review’s focus includes how we can encourage learning that is more flexible (for example, part-time, distance learning and commuter study options) and complements ongoing government work to support people at different times in their lives. The independent panel will report shortly, and the government will then conclude the overall review later this year. We will not speculate about potential recommendations, as we do not wish to pre-judge the outcome of the review.

Welsh PG student finance: Wonkhe report that postgraduate students domiciled in Wales will benefit from the most generous postgraduate student finance package in the UK, according to a Welsh Government announcement this morning. The variable mixture of loans and grants available has risen from £13,000 last year to £17,000 from August this year. All eligible students will receive a non-repayable universal grant of £1,000, plus a means-tested grant of up to £5,885 for students with a household income of up to £18,370. A loan will also be available, taking the total support up to £17,000, and funds will be available pro-rata for part time students.

Consultations and inquiries

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

New consultations and inquiries this week:  UUK and Guild HE consultation on the draft Knowledge Exchange Concordat, linked to the KEF. RDS will be leading on preparation of a BU response.

Other news

Financial Deficit: BBC report that the number of English universities in financial deficit increases.

Unconditional Offers: The Times reports that some universities have taken legal advice following Damien Hinds’ calls to stop “conditional unconditional” offers and reduce the number of unconditional offers made overall. HE policy legal commentator Smita Jamdar confirms that Ministers can guide but not instruct the OfS in this area and that guidance must not relate to the criteria for student admissions – something Sarah has heard the Universities Minister confirm in person. Some Universities are calling on UUK to seek a judicial review. The Guardian story is here and includes a defence of the practice as well as attacking Damien Hinds for his intervention.

Industry input: The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority has announced that employers are being surveyed on what sorts of courses and skills they wish to see as part of ongoing plans to develop the University of Peterborough.  The vision for the University is to be a trailblazer for other higher education institutions by embedding advanced technical learning within the curriculum. The aim is for the University to provide both the skills that local businesses urgently need, while also giving young people better access to well-paid, secure jobs and improved career prospects.

Mayor James Palmer said: “For the University of Peterborough to deliver on its ambition to be aligned with the needs of the local economy, we need to ensure we are reaching out to the business community to see what their demands and skills challenges are. The Combined Authority and its partners want the University to be turning out the kinds of skills that will allow our young people to hit the ground running in the 21st Century workplace. We know our economy has significant skills shortages, and a productivity gap, and so the input of local employers will be crucial in shaping the future of the University”.

Economic Justice: The Institute for Public Policy Research has published their economic justice report Prosperity and Justice – A Plan for the New Economy. It sets out a 10 point plan for economic reform and argues that economic policy should aim for both prosperity and justice. You can read a short summary of the report here.  There are four recommendations relevant to the HE sector:

  • The government should introduce a ‘Technology Displacement Fund’ to support workers displaced by technology to be retrained and supported back into the labour market. diffusion of digital technologies across the economy.
  • Apprenticeships are important, but firms need to be able to deploy funds for a broader range of approaches to develop the skills of their workforces. They therefore propose that the current apprenticeship levy is abolished, and replaced by a ‘productivity and skills levy’
  • At the same time, there is an important opportunity to give workers a better means of increasing take-up of skills training by giving them more autonomy. They therefore recommend the introduction of Personal Training Credits, to provide low-paid workers and unemployed adults with up to £700 a year to invest in their own skills.
  • The adoption of a new immigration framework aimed at supporting the UK’s economic strategy as well as the vitality and cohesion of our communities and the dignity of migrants

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

HE policy update for the w/e 8th March 2019

And it’s a bumper version this week, with a lot of really interesting new data, a super-critical TEF response from the Royal Statistical Society and we continue the speculation on fees and funding and Brexit.

Mental Health

Damian Hinds, Secretary of State, for education has launched a new taskforce to help students with the transition to University within these areas:

  • independent living (budgeting, cooking, managing living independently)
  • independent learning
  • healthy relationships (including new peer groups)
  • general wellbeing

The taskforce will be known as the Education Transitions Network and Universities UK, the Association of Colleges, OfS, NUS, Student Minds, and UCAS are all expected to be involved. Sky news covers the announcement. UUK have a blog from UWE’s VC, Steve West, on supporting students through the transition and risk factors. This excerpt highlights resources available:

The more that universities can do to get students prepared before they arrive, the better. Student Minds, in partnership with Southern Universities Network, has published a guide to the first few weeks of term, designed to help students prepare through workbook activities and practical case studies. At UWE Bristol we have developed an enhanced induction programme for new students, which signposts available support and includes a new parent and carer advice section on our website, to advise on how best to support loved ones while at university.

And Wonkhe have several blogs to contribute to University Mental Health Day:

Universities Minister, Chris Skidmore, has been tweeting about a mental health charter with Student Minds and acknowledge the student voice is essential as universities look to improve the provision from student mental health. Welsh Education Minister, Kirsty Williams, announced £2 million new funding for Welsh Universities to support mental health initiatives.  And there is new guidance out on preventing student suicides.

IFS report on the cost of HE

An IFS report was issued on 4th March on the cost of different degrees.  There’s an IFS blog here with the predictable headline “Creative Arts degrees cost taxpayers 30% more than engineering degrees”.  It’s long but it is complicated and important, so worth setting out in some detail (sorry):

These are among the results of new analysis which for the first time estimates the distribution of government spending, taking account of grants and unrepaid student loans, across subjects studied and institutions attended. It is important to understand these are not estimates of returns to the different degrees: some subjects and institutions may therefore receive large loan subsidies even if they are positively impacting the earnings of their graduates, because they happen to attract students that have very low earnings potential. Since the final costs will depend on actual earnings over the next 30 years, there is inevitably uncertainty about these estimates. But they are based on new administrative data giving precise details on actual earnings of previous cohorts of graduates and are likely to be the best estimates possible at the current time.

Our main findings include:

  • There is considerable variation in loan subsidies by subject. For many subjects the government expects to write off around 60% of the loans it issues. For economics, however, write-offs are likely to be just a quarter of loans issued and for medicine and dentistry only a fifth. For creative arts, write offs are likely to amount to around three quarters of the value of loans issued. This variation in loan subsidies is primarily driven by differences in repayments rather than differences in loan sizes.
  • The highest government spend typically goes towards graduates of the subjects with the highest loan write-offs, as loan write-offs account for more than 90% of total government spending on undergraduate HE. The cost to government is around £11,000 per economics student who borrows from the government to help with tuition fees and maintenance loans, while it is more than £35,000 per creative arts borrower. Medicine is an exception – despite its graduates repaying most of their loans, it is one of the highest-cost subjects, at £45,000 per borrower, due to large teaching grants.
  • The government cost per student also varies by institution type. While total funding received by universities is extremely similar, the government contribution per student at each institution varies massively. Each borrower at Russell Group institutions – where graduates are typically high earning – costs the government less than £25,000. Costs are more than 20% higher for ‘post-1992’ and ‘other’ universities, where the average graduate earns much less.
  • The reforms since 2011 have shifted the allocation of spending from high-cost degrees to those with the lowest graduate earnings. Spending per borrower on students doing economics and engineering degrees is likely to have fallen by around £8,000 as a result of reforms between 2011 and 2017, while increasing by more than £6,000 for creative arts degrees. Similarly, spending on borrowers at Russell Group universities – which tend to offer more high-cost subjects – has fallen by £6,000, while increasing by more than £2,000 for borrowers at ‘post-1992’ and ‘other’ universities.
  • Consequently, the share of total government spending on science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) courses has fallen from 57% to 48% as a result of policy changes between 1999 and 2017. If we had the 1999 system in place today, only 30% of spending would go to arts and humanities (AH) subjects. Under today’s system, this figure is 37%, and roughly 13% of the £9 billion the government spends on HE per cohort now goes to creative arts courses.

The report also considers what these figures mean for policy options:

  • Lowering the fee cap from £9,250 to £6,000 could give the government more flexibility to target spending. This would free up around £7,000 per borrower to be targeted more directly towards priority areas, with the savings coming mostly from subjects that have low-earning graduates. Any cuts to tuition fees would, however, benefit the highest-earning graduates most.
  • Variable fee caps would be another option to regain flexibility in targeting spending. Reducing the fee cap for AH subjects to £6,000 would reverse some of the increase in funding these subjects have seen over the last couple of decades. This policy may, however, increase demand for those courses, or perversely reduce funding for STEM achieved through within-university cross-subsidisation.
  • One policy that might resolve some of these issues would be for government to charge universities a fee for charging tuition fees above a certain level in areas where it wants to reduce spending. A ‘negative teaching grant’ of £3,000 for AH courses would mean government allocates less money to those courses, without affecting the fees students face or their repayments. Savings could be targeted towards priority areas. However, the impact on, and responses of, universities are unpredictable.

You can find the full report here.

It is important to keep in mind that this variation in government subsidy is not the same as variation in funding levels. This is because graduates also contribute to the cost of their education by repaying their student loans. Once this is accounted for, the variation in overall funding per university is very small due to the lack of variation in tuition fees.

Fees & Funding – what is the state of play?

With the Chancellor’s Spring Statement due on 13th March, which might give more detailed timing for the Comprehensive Spending Review (he said “summer” on Radio 4 on 7th March), we thought it would be helpful to summarise the state of play…like Brexit, this is getting harder and harder to call….although the IFS report noted above will no doubt be considered carefully.

We don’t know when we will know more, because the advisory panel chaired by Philip Augar, originally due to report in November 2018, has delayed its report again – the latest official statement is “Spring” – which could be anytime from now (according to the Met Office, although 21st March is the usual first day of Spring) to June.  Research Professional suggest June and cite a BBC insight that it the final outcome could be in the Autumn.

One of the challenges is that this is a two stage review – the “independent” advisory panel report and then the DfE led review itself.  The final DfE report (in the form perhaps of a green or white paper, accompanied by a consultation) will be when we see what the outcome really might be.

Philip Augar has said that he wants to make recommendations that will be accepted (presumably by the department/government, rather than the sector?) and it may be getting that consensus which is causing the delay. Research Professional today report that there is a draft doing the rounds in government but not everyone likes the recommendations.

The timing of other things is important – when it was originally announced, the Augar recommendations were due in November 2018, with the final report due out by the end of March – even at the time that sounded unlikely given the coincidence with the UK leaving the EU.  Now of course Brexit may be delayed until May or June, and the effort involved in Brexit may be one of the reasons for the delays with the review.  It has also been suggested that the government may be waiting because they want some big policy announcements to make after Brexit.

The most relevant dependencies are linked to government funding priorities.  The outcome of any review of fees and funding needs to be affordable.  The terms of reference say “its recommendations must be consistent with the Government’s fiscal policies to reduce the deficit and have debt falling as a percentage of GDP”.   The first delay to Augar was because of the Office for National Statistics review of accounting for student loans that came out in December 2018 (You can read about this in more detail in our analysis in the HE policy update for the w/e 21st December 2018).  The latest delays may be linked to the Chancellor’s Spring statement (due on 13th March 2019 – a day when other things are happening).  But the Spring statement is only a holding position – partly because Philip Hammond has said it might all change depending on what happens with Brexit, and partly because the real story about spending is the comprehensive spending review.  This is a full review of all government spending but the dates have not been confirmed.  They may be confirmed as part of the statement on 13th March.

All this matters because while there are lots of other things at stake, including the “young vote” and perhaps more importantly, the votes of parents and other contributors to student budgets and the government’s social  mobility agenda, this review is largely driven by money.  Many have called for investment in FE, in support for disadvantaged students and, in particular, for maintenance grants.  Against the other pressures on the economy, and a narrative of bad news about the sector (grade inflation, pay differentials, free speech, poor quality courses etc.), an overall increase in investment in HE looks unlikely.  The ONS accounting changes on student loans don’t change the cost of HE but they increase its visibility in the deficit.

So just a quick reminder – what are the possible recommendations of Augar and/or the final DfE report, whatever form it takes?

Tuition fee cuts – widely trailed as a leak from Augar, repeated again last weekend.  Apparently the original figure that Augar will propose of a cap on tuition fee loans of £6500 a year has been increased to £7500 because of sector resistance.  Such a cut would be likely to have far reaching consequences in terms of services and SSR.  It might mean drastic cuts in spend on WP activities, now financial targets will not form part of the OfS review of access and participation.  It could mean changes to the profile of programmes offered across the sector as institutions abandon high cost subjects in favour of lower cost subjects, increasing competition in these areas at a time when we are still approaching the bottom of a demographic dip (and when EU student numbers are falling).

Of course there might be top ups.  If they happen at all they would almost certainly be conditional. They might be linked to certain subjects or meeting access or other targets.  They might be linked to student outcomes (defined in terms of employment, probably), or to regional needs (such as value add in regions of low employment or access).  It may be that there would be continued support for STEM subjects, for example, or additional grants to institutions seen to be making a substantial difference to their regional economy by helping social mobility.  After all, the terms of reference for the review say that it must “support the role of universities and colleges in delivering the Government’s objectives for science, R&D and the Industrial Strategy”.

It might be that employers could provide top-ups to the capped fees – directly to institutions or through some sort of centrally organised fund.  Again, if organised centrally, this funding would most likely be conditional – probably linked to certain subjects and outcomes.  If done directly it would essentially mean growth in employer sponsored degrees.  There is a real conflict with the apprenticeship agenda there – how do employers choose?  And how do small and medium sized businesses get involved?

Student numbers cap/limit – another way to reduce long term costs is to reduce numbers.  The terms of reference for the Post-18 review rule out a direct cap on numbers.  But there are other ways of doing it.  Alleged leaks about the proposal to stop students with grades lower than DDD at A-level from accessing student loans have been widely discussed.  See our policy update for 21st December 2018 when this story first broke.  Current comment includes a blog from Nick Hillman on the HEPI website.

The headline focusses on A levels.  Many students enter HE with other qualifications.  Unless, as some have commented, there is a plan to not only have a floor on a-level results but also say that only students with A-levels can go to university then there would have to be an equivalent system for BTECs and other qualifications.  Messy but surely possible. Given the government focus on technical education, it is not impossible that they would try to force more people down a technical route – but using entry to university as a lever would surely have the opposite effect, pushing students back to A-levels, at least in the short term if only to keep their options open.

The big focus has been on how this (like a reduction in the fee cap) would be bad for social mobility.  It is also potentially bad for some universities with a large proportion of lower-grades students – ironically, these are likely to be the universities with a big impact on their region and on social mobility.  This sort of rationing as social engineering just doesn’t seem to make sense, but of course it plays well with those who like to talk about “mickey-mouse courses”, “bums on seats”, and “too many people at university”  – whose conclusion is usually that “other people’s children should do technical qualifications”.

So what next?

  • The Minister was on Twitter over the weekend to say:  “Worth stating today that the Augar post-18 review is an independent one which will reach its independent conclusions. We will then consider these when published—working with HE/FE sectors on an evidence-based approach to deliver a joined-up post-18 education landscape.”
  • He went on to say: “But I have always been clear that the government’s priority is to ensure that we focus efforts on widening participation and access, across all communities and WP groups, centred on value and outcome for the learner journey. We want to build bridges—not pull up drawbridges.”

So back to where we started – we don’t know what or when.  But the story will run and run and provide a distraction from Brexit in the meantime…

And more lobbying on fees

Alistair Jarvis (Chief Exec) wrote a UUK blog expressing his belief that Augar is finished – but awaiting a good launch date:

  • “I have good reason to believe that the ink is rapidly drying on the Augar panel’s recommendations, though the date of publication of the report itself is subject to the ongoing vicissitudes of political events.…when parliamentarians and educational experts judge the panel’s recommendations it must be on the basis of what is most likely to enable Britain to thrive, not on political ideology or electoral expedience. With Brexit mere weeks away, and our collective economic future uncertain, the country simply cannot afford to risk damaging universities, our most reliable source of innovation, skills and global connections.”

He goes on to say there are five tests that can be applied to the Augar recommendations – all of which highlight elements of strength, excellence or aspiration within the current HE system. In short the tests are:

  1. Whether Augar’s proposals will enhance or impede access to HE (widening participation and social mobility) – whereas the talk of reintroducing student number caps or perhaps a minimum DDD grade threshold would create access barriers
  2. Graduate skills gaps – Jarvis argues Universities need to expand and provide more highly skilled workers, not cut back and downsize.
  3. The combination of in-depth subject knowledge, co and extra curricular provision, 1:2:1 academic support, online learning, engagement in current research, all backed by robust regulatory system are strengths that should be maintained. “Cutting the fee level, without a commitment to make up the shortfall with public funding, will see bigger class sizes, poorer facilities, and less advice, support and choice for students.”
  4. Cuts will hit the local communities and civic life: “Any MP knows intimately how their local university is woven through the fabric of civic life, contributing to health, sport, culture, charitable endeavour and local economic growth. Much of this activity is not formally funded; universities do it because it matters and because they have a responsibility to their local community. In areas where traditional industries have declined the university is always at the heart of regeneration efforts, providing the research, innovation and skills to stimulate business growth and attract external investment”.
  5. Students should be free to make their own choices on what to study and where Our current system is shaped by students’ choices by design. To suggest that a civil servant in Whitehall knows better than a prospective student what sort of course they should study and where, is clearly nonsense…fundamentally we should respect and support students’ choices – as it is they who will have to live with the consequences.” Jarvis does go on to acknowledge that IAG could be better, and the funding system needs to be clearer.

During this week’s Science and Technology Committee session examining the work of the Universities Minister Skidmore responded that any reduction in fees for universities would have to be mitigated through alternative measures and the voice of universities properly heard.

Meanwhile the Stephen Hammond, Minister of Health and Social Care, remains adamant nursing bursaries will not return:

  • The Government has no plans to reinstate the bursaries for nursing degrees and is committed to increasing uptake of the additional places these reforms have made available.
  • The intention of the funding reforms was to unlock the cap which constrained the number of pre-registration nursing training places, and to allow more students to gain access to nurse degree training courses, creating a sustainable model for universities and securing the future supply of homegrown nurses to the National Health Service. In support of the reforms, we announced additional clinical placement funding to make available 5,000 more nurse training places each year from September 2018 and 3,000 more midwifery training places over the next four years.
  • Students on the loans system are at least 25% better off than they were under the previous bursary system. In recognition of the additional costs that the healthcare students incur in order to attend the mandatory clinical placement, the Government introduced the Learning Support Fund, a £1,000 per student, per year for child dependent allowance, reimbursement of all travel costs above their usual daily travel and up to £3,000 per year for exceptional hardship. These payments are in addition to the allowances on the student loans system.
  • On 7 February, the University and College Admissions Service published full-time undergraduate nursing and midwifery applications made by the 15 January deadline. This data showed a 4.5% increase in applicants to undergraduate nursing and midwifery courses at English providers. We are working with Health Education England and the university sector to ensure students continue to apply for these courses this year and in future years.

TEF, metrics and more

As you are aware, last week was a big week for TEF as the call for views closed.  You can read more in our policy update for w/e 1st March here.This week we have seen more about the metrics used for TEF.

The Royal Society of Statistics wrote an explosive submission., which builds on their previous submissions to the year 2 and subject level consultations (there are links in the document), which they say have been largely ignored.  They say:

  • the TEF “appears to transgress…the..UK Statistics Authority Code of Practice for Statistics
  • the data is potentially deceptive and misleading for students – it should be communicated to students that “the TEF is observational in nature and that TEF differences are likely not solely due to teaching quality differences”
  • “The use of the same TEF award, and the same TEF logo, for all types of university seems highly misleading. The literature and communication around TEF should make it clear that TEF awards are not comparable across the board.”
  • the presentation of data in the TEF and the way that is benchmarking may encourage game playing by universities (eg to improve their metrics)
  • the TEF benchmarking is flawed from a statistical point of view and many flags will have been awarded incorrectly “far too many flags are being raised, erroneously alerting the downstream human TEF panels to effects that are just not there. Our conclusion is that the previous TEF awards are not valid”
  • It shouldn’t be called TEF because it doesn’t assess teaching quality [that’s an old chestnut, but one that Dame Shirley will hear a lot]
  • And this: “TEF also does not appear to capture the time series nature of teaching quality. We have made this point previously in our consultation responses. What is the evidence to say that a teaching quality mark now will result in a student getting a good experience in several years’ time?”
  • TEF is oversimplifying the data, in a way which is unhelpful – and misleading. Students should be able to assess the detailed data themselves on a more granular basis through a revamped unistats. “…. It might be argued that the TEF’s philosophy that distils diverse institutions into three categories, underestimates the intellectual ability of prospective students and other stakeholders”

Some more detailed quotes below because they really are worth reading:

On uncertainty:

  • 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….
  • Accurate and coherent uncertainty assessment is also vital to understand the value and cost-effectiveness of the TEF. If it turns out that the uncertainty swamps the mean level award (Gold, Silver, Bronze), then this calls into question whether it is even worth continuing with the TEF.

On comparability

  • Is a TEF Gold at one university the same as TEF Gold at any other university? The answer has to be no. …Statistically, TEF Gold at one institution can not necessarily be compared with TEF Gold awarded to another. This is potentially deceptive and misleading for stakeholders, particularly students…The use of the same TEF award, and the same TEF logo, for all types of university seems highly misleading. The literature and communication around TEF should make it clear that TEF awards are not comparable across the board.

On benchmarking

  • We are extremely worried about the entire benchmarking concept and implementation. It is at the heart of TEF and has an inordinately large influence on the final TEF outcomes. (i) The RSS has referred to benchmarking in the past as a ‘poor person’s propensity analysis’…. differences in TEF metric scores might be due to unobserved characteristics unrelated to teaching quality. So, attributing the differences to teaching quality is unscientific and wrong
  • TEF benchmarking does not include important characteristics such as amount of course content, diversity (in its broadest sense) or difficulty/challenge of material. Surely, this has an enormous effect on what is measured? This seems wrong in itself. We are concerned that omissions of this sort will lead to game playing by institutions. One might improve NSS scores, for example, by ‘dumbing down’ the syllabus and there is strong anecdotal evidence that this is already happening in the sector.  (Indeed, OfS already has evidence of unexplained grade inflation which might be evidence of ‘dumbing down’ or related behaviours. How much of this is stimulated by exercises such as TEF or NSS?)
  • …At Dame Shirley’s listening session, the RSS enquired of the DfE/OfS representatives whether multiple testing without adequate size control was occurring and the answer seemed to be yes. Since this seems to be the case, then this lack of overall size control is a serious statistical mistake and means that many (previous) TEF flags should not have been so flagged.

Transparency and reproducibility

  • At a minimum, we would expect the entire TEF data process pipeline to be published, including as much data that can be released ethically. We have reports of people (in and outside the RSS) trying to understand the TEF data release, but find the accompanying instructions impenetrable. There is a lack of transparency, which is fuelling a perception of lack of integrity.

Conclusions

  • Fundamentally, do the metrics input to TEF measure quality of teaching? Do the provider submissions measure teaching quality? We are sceptical. There may be some distant indirect association, but what robust research been carried out to assess this? Alternatives might be to rename TEF (to remove ‘teaching excellence’), or actually carry out some evaluation of teaching quality (which would be expensive).
  • We do think it is useful for students to see the metrics that underpin TEF, relating to their potential course choice. The Unistats website already does this and seems to be useful and well-used by potential students. The RSS could imagine an upgraded Unistats site containing well-chosen and well-communicated metrics being valuable for prospective students and other stakeholders.

Continuation data

And HESA have published experimental data about continuation, one of the metrics used in TEF.  As we have written before, non-continuation is linked to a whole lot of different factors, but in the TEF of course the implication is that students leave because the course is poor quality or they do not believe that carrying on will make enough difference to their employment prospects afterwards.

Arthi Nachiappan and David Kernohan from Wonkhe have helpfully looked at the data to see what it says about who leaves HE.  Of course there are interactive data views to play with too.

  • We tested a common variation on the above theory – that non-continuation rates are lower at the Russell Group and higher at post-92 institutions due to the latter taking higher proportions of first degree young undergraduate students from low participation backgrounds…
  • Among Russell Group institutions, students who didn’t continue were more likely than average to transfer to another provider than to leave higher education altogether. Russell Group institutions tended to have a lower proportion of students from low participation backgrounds than the average provider, but non-continuation rates for those students from low participation backgrounds at Russell Group universities tended to be lower than 8%.
  • The equivalent figure for post-92 institutions is in the range of 5-20%. When we look at students from other backgrounds, this range narrows to between 4 and 12% at post-92 institutions, while at the Russell Group it is between 1-7%, but generally – with the exception of Queen Mary University of London – below 4%. The proportions of those from low-participation backgrounds who do not continue in their studies is higher at both groups of institutions than the equivalent figures for students from other backgrounds.
  • ….But any idea that alternative providers are currently reaching students that would otherwise not access HE, much less offering them a successful student experience, should be abandoned.

They also look at subject level:

  • … the overall rate for all students leaving computer science (for instance) is 9.8%. But among students who enter following a HE foundation course, the rate is 4.2%. What students come in with is a huge predicting factor of their course outcome.
  • Among students entering with at least some tariff points, mass communications and documentation sees the largest percentage of non-continuation (20.40%), but the largest number of students not completing their course (6,341) are on social studies.
  • For those with BTECs – to give another example – the subject area with the largest number of non-completions is biological sciences (5,738), but the subject area with the highest percentage of non-completions is engineering and technology. The overall preferred subject of study for BTEC students is business and administration.

And what’s next?

  • … once again it is Damian Hinds rather than Chris Skidmore that supplies our comment. Inflammatory “bums on seats” language will do little to endear him to the sector, and once again the threats of Office for Student action are wheeled out.
  • His substantive point is unlikely to surprise anyone: “No student starts university thinking they are going to drop-out and whilst in individual circumstances that may be the right thing, it is important that all students feel supported to do their best – both academically and in a pastoral sense. Today we have announced a new taskforce to help universities support students with the challenges that starting university can involve, but universities need to look at these statistics and take action to reduce drop-out rates.”

Apprenticeships

It’s been National Apprenticeships Week with lots of news and releases. The Federation of Master Builders published their survey which states that (marginally) more parents in the UK want to see their child undertake an apprenticeship than a university degree.

  • 25% preferred their children to undertake apprenticeship
  • 24% preferred their children to study a university degree
  • 50% had no preference

Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the Federation of Master Builders (FMB), said: “We’re finally seeing the shift in attitudes with more people understanding the value of undertaking a vocational apprenticeship rather than a university degree. For too long, apprenticeships were looked down on and seen as the alternative route if children weren’t bright enough to follow the more academic route. With university fees in England going through the roof, and with apprenticeships offering an ‘earn-while-you-learn route to a meaningful job, it’s no wonder that the penny has finally dropped.”

These findings contrast (slightly) with the Sutton Trust findings below (note these only asked about degree apprenticeships – parents seem to be preferring the traditional degree model rather than a degree apprenticeship for their children with the capability to study at this level).

The Sutton Trust surveyed parents (with children aged 5-16) about on degree level apprenticeships. Key Findings:

  • 27% said they would advise their child to take a degree level apprenticeship over a universities degree course, with 31% indicating they would make the opposite recommendation, Of which:
  • 68% intimated that this was because they believed it offered better career prospects, whilst 29% said it was because they lacked knowledge about apprenticeships in general

The National Audit Office published a report assessing the apprenticeship programme considering  whether it provides value for money, addresses poor productivity, and employer investment in training. It wasn’t great news for the Government. Key conclusions:

  • The DfE has not set out clearly how it measures whether the programme is boosting economic activity
  • Since funding reforms were introduced, apprenticeship starts have fallen substantially.
  • Employers are not using the apprenticeship levy to pay for new apprenticeships (just 9% of funds used, £191 million of the available £2.2 billion)
  • The average cost of training an apprentice is double what was expected, as employers are choosing more expensive standards at higher levels than expected. This could inhibit the growth in the number of apprenticeships once frameworks are withdrawn and all apprenticeships are on standards.
  • To meet the target of 3 million new apprenticeships by March 2020, the rate of starts would need to double for the remainder of the period
  • The Department’s targets for widening participation among under-represented groups lack ambition and levels of apprentices from the most disadvantaged areas are actually going down.
  • The introduction of standards has increased the number of higher-level apprenticeship starts, and the trend looks set to continue. But its not all good news some levy paying employers are replacing professional development programmes with apprenticeships – meaning no additional value to the economy.
  • Inspection grades are still low with many inadequate or requiring improvement and the 20% off the job training rule doesn’t appear to be adhered to across the board.

Just a few of the most relevant recommendations:

  • The Department should set out clearly how it measures the impact of the programme on productivity, and indicate the level of impact that it is aiming to achieve.
  • The Department should strengthen the programme’s performance measures relating to participation among under-represented groups.
  • The Department and the ESFA should assess whether they would secure better value for money by prioritising certain types of apprenticeship, rather than delivering a programme for apprentices at all levels, in all sectors.

Matthew Fell, CBI Chief UK Policy Director, said: Today’s report confirms what employers already know – that the Apprenticeship Levy is not yet working as intended and is holding back the Government’s welcome efforts to modernise the skills system. Companies are committed to apprenticeships, so what’s needed now is a second wave of reform. The Government must use its review of the apprenticeship levy to work with business and the sector to build a system that supports, rather than frustrates, employers offering a first step to people in their career.’

The OfS have released one of their Insight Briefs on degree apprenticeships to try to raise awareness and increase both supply and demand for degree apprenticeships. This link also has the data on level 6 and 7 apprenticeship starts (2017/18) and this looks at the disadvantage profile of young apprentices on higher level apprenticeships. The chart below highlights that as the level of apprentice rises more places are taken up by the more advantaged students (quintiles 4 and 5).

Research

Research Professional have an interesting article on the government’s plans to prepare for the impact of no-deal Brexit on research.

  • With three weeks to go before Brexit day, the UK government is in talks to create an international research funder to mitigate the loss of access to the coveted European Research Council….As reported by Cristina Gallardo, a project to craft a UK-based global research agency is being led by Adrian Smith, director of the Alan Turing Institute, the UK’s national centre for data science.  …In the spirit that hard problems are not to be shirked, today’s Playbook draws attention to three questions that will be high on Team Smith’s list of considerations.
  • Size matters  How much funding should researchers expect? That’s the billion-pound question and one in which UKRI chief executive Mark Walport, BEIS secretary Greg Clark and chancellor Philip Hammond have shares. According to data compiled by the Royal Society, in the previous European Framework programme (2007 to 2013), the UK received €1.67 billion in ERC grants, around a fifth of the entire budget. The UK also received just over €1bn in Marie Skłodowska-Curie grants, a quarter of the total.  Former Royal Society president Paul Nurse reiterated last week that the UK receives between £500 million and £1bn more in European grants annually than the government puts into the EU science budget, and he isn’t confident that this extra funding will be replaced. Assuming that the government pays separately for the UK to associate to eligible parts of Horizon Europe, the new global fund should still be worth at least in the region of €350m to €400m annually, and likely more if it also absorbs the Global Challenges Research Fund and what remains of the Newton Fund….
  • Housing decisions  We know that the new funding agency cannot be a like-for-like replacement for the ERC, as it is designed to support UK-international collaborations. But that prompts questions about its institutional home and its organisational architecture. It will almost certainly sit inside UKRI. But what happens if UKRI chooses to reduce or streamline its nine-council structure? …A permanent home will take time to decide on. In the interim, BEIS and UKRI could potentially extend their relationship with outside bodies such as the British Council and the British Academy. ..
  • What price autonomy The ERC’s great attraction for researchers—something that the UK fought hard to achieve—is that it is both generous with its funding and unashamedly investigator-led.   Nick Talbot, a plant geneticist at the University of Exeter, told us in an interview that his success in obtaining an ERC Advanced Grant was down to his track record as a scientist and the power of his idea—not necessarily the foremost criteria for conventional grant schemes. But we’re in a vastly different world from 2004, when Ian Halliday, then chief executive of the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council, was happy to remark: “There is an awful flavour in Europe of: ‘Let’s give everybody something.’ It has to be possible for the best guy in Cambridge to run away with all the money.” It isn’t possible today to establish a funding agency without proper regard to equality of opportunity, diversity and inclusion. Funders can no longer disregard the importance of place as well as public engagement in how they make decisions. Creating a wholly new research funding body in the midst of the Brexit drama presents plenty of challenges and it should not be rushed. The chance to create a global research funding agency doesn’t turn up every day.

Universities Minister, Chris Skidmore, responded to a parliamentary question to highlight the Government’s hopes for Horizon Europe:

  • The Department has worked closely with UKRI and engaged with wide range of stakeholders on no deal planning for the Horizon 2020 programme. This includes via the High Level Group on Science and Research. Further updates will be provided on Horizon 2020 no deal planning in due course.
  • The Government remains committed to ongoing collaboration in research and innovation and wants to work with the EU on a mutually beneficial outcome beyond 2020. The Government wants to have the option to associate to Horizon Europe, depending on the outcome of negotiations.
  • In the event that the UK does not associate to Horizon Europe, the Government is committed to continuing to back UK researchers and innovators by supporting measures to enable world-class collaborative research, including support for small businesses. We will be seeking independent advice from Sir Adrian Smith on these measures.

He also includes research within his top priorities when he spoke within the Committee meeting that scrutinises his work:

  • Skidmore informed the committee that the UK was rated one of the most innovative nations in the world and was home to three of the world’s top ten universities. He argued that 2019 was a critical year for science and innovation due to Brexit and the CSR. It would be pivotal to establish a clear roadmap that demonstrated where public investment would be made as well as demonstrating how private investment would be leveraged to reach the new target of research and innovation spend at two-point four percent of GPD.

He went on that

  • it was important to maintain close ties with European institutions after Brexit, including participation in programmes such as Horizon 2020, Euratom and the European Space Agency.
  • His priorities, Skidmore advised the committee, were to ensure maximum certainty on relationships with Europe, ideally through a deal on Brexit, meeting the target of 2.4% spend and to maintain strong international collaboration.

Meanwhile Sir Patrick Vallance, Government Chief Scientific Advisor, who was also examined informed the committee that he had been focused on [amongst other work] improving the absorptive capacity of science among policy makers. Perhaps good news for those academics hoping Parliament will take their research on board within policy development.

SUBU says: Gender in HE – graduate outcomes

Here’s the latest from SUBU’s Sophie Bradfield.

As its International Women’s Day, it’s interesting to take a brief look at gender in Higher Education; specifically graduate outcomes. There are lots of factors that can influence outcomes and this update only looks at gender, but when you add characteristics such as ethnicity or disability alongside gender, the picture changes again.

First a caveat; I was disappointed when researching data that the most reputable sources only separate graduates by sex and not gender or perhaps they have even confused the two; so on a day where we are actively celebrating gender equality, I’d like to share the Genderbread Person, which is a great infographic to understand the concept of gender and why it’s important that we don’t use it interchangeably with sex.

The number of graduates has increased steadily over the past decade and it is widely known that females are more likely to enter Higher Education than their male counterparts (see UCAS applicant figures). However when looking at the latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) report on Graduates in the UK labour market, the outcomes of female graduates compared to male graduates highlight a disparity in employment attainment after leaving Higher Education.

The research defines a graduate in broad terms as: “a person who is aged between 21 and 64, not enrolled on any educational course and who has a level of higher education above A level standard.” With this definition, it looks at all graduates and not just recent graduates, therefore using a data set of 14 million people in the UK who were graduates from July to September 2017.

Delving deeper into the report, employment rates differ between male and female graduates, with 86% of male graduates in employment compared to 79% of female graduates (figure 13a). Further to this, the research also finds that male graduates are more likely to have high or upper-middle skilled employment (figure 14a). It’s important to note that in this research, high-skilled employment involves use of skill acquired from a degree or equivalent; upper-middle skilled employment involves skills developed from post-compulsory education but not degree level; lower-middle skilled employment involves skills developed from compulsory education with a combination of work experience; and low skilled employment involves skill attained from compulsory education.

The data shows female graduates are almost twice as likely to have lower-middle skilled employment compared to male graduates, which goes some way to explain why the median gross hourly pay differs, with male graduates receiving £17 an hour on average, compared to female graduates receiving £14 an hour.

33% of female graduates work part-time, compared to only 8% of male graduates (figure 14b) and 47% of all part-time workers are employed in lower-middle skilled jobs (figure 14c). The statistics show that the lower-skilled jobs seem to offer more opportunities to work part-time; which is a need that can be influenced by a number of factors including family commitments, which as 11% of female graduates, compared to 2% of male graduates, are ‘inactive due to looking after the family and/or home’ (figure 13b), is a factor which has a greater impact on female graduates than male graduates.

Figure 11 shows that STEM degrees lead to higher salaries and Figure 15b shows that the subjects that lead to the highest average salaries are mainly dominated by male students. According to WISE: “Women make up 23% of those in core STEM occupations in the UK”. Because of this, there are fewer female role models working in these areas and/or going on to teach STEM subjects; something which is vital to move towards a gender-balanced workforce and also increase the earning potential of female graduates.

There are initiatives such as Athena SWAN which seek to address gender equality in Higher Education and you can read more about how this is working in the recent Wonkhe article ‘No more steps. It’s time for a leap on gender equality.

Ultimately, despite females making up 58% of the overall figure of applicants (see UCAS), they are less likely to apply for the subjects that lead to the greatest earning potential and are also less likely to achieve employment utilising the skills developed from undertaking a degree. This is something that needs to be looked into if we want to achieve this year’s International Women’s Day theme of #BalanceforBetter.

Failing Universities

A new HEPI poll was released showing student attitudes to financial concerns at their institutions

The survey of over 1,000 full-time undergraduate students, undertaken for HEPI by the polling company YouthSight, shows:

  • most students (83%) are confident their own institution is in a strong financial position;
  • over three-quarters of students (77%) believe government should step in if their university were threatened with closure;
  • more than half of students (51%) think fees should be refunded in the event of their university closing, while only one-third (32%) back merger with another institution;
  • nearly all students (97%) want to know if their university is in financial difficulty – in contrast with current practice which hides financial problems from students;
  • most students (84%) say they would have been less likely to have applied to their university if they had known it was in financial difficulty; and
  • the overwhelming majority of students (89%) do not know what Student Protection Plans are, while even more have not seen their own university’s Plan (93%).

Lots of renewed media interest in the financial sustainability of universities and the polling results:  BBC, iNews, FE News, and Mail Online.

Brexit

We have a big week coming up for Brexit, maybe, but in the meantime…

The Institute for Government have published a report on Immigration Post-Brexit. This criticises the Government’s “incoherent position” over student migration, with the DfE on the one hand wanting to increase education exports to £30 billion by 2020, but simultaneously counting students in the net migration target. “The policy remains simultaneously to reduce student migration while also wanting to boost it”.

This, from James Blitz in the FT, summarises the position nicely.

The Russell Group are calling on the Government to change their post-Brexit immigration plans as the salary threshold is too high for mid level scientific, teaching and technician posts, and it discriminates against part time posts (many of which are taken up by women). ITV news covers the story.

Student Loans – another way of presenting them

MoneySavingExpert.com and the Russell Group of universities are piloting a proposed redesign of the student loan statement and are calling on parents, students, graduates and those in the higher education sector to test it and give feedback.  The consultation runs until 12th March

  • MSE and the Russell Group, which represents 24 UK universities, believe that this change should substantially enhance understanding of the student loan system for graduates and their families. We plan to present our findings to Government in the hope it will change the current student loan statements.
  • Currently, students simply receive a statement of their outstanding ‘debt’ and the interest that is being added. As an example, a low-earning graduate on a Plan 2 loan (for students in England and Wales who started university after 2012) would receive a statement with £50,000 of ‘debt’ on it, and would see it growing by £1,500 a year in interest. But in reality, a graduate earning under £25,000 would not have to make any repayments at all.
  • Instead, the redesigned Plan 2 statement focuses on the actual repayments that students have made, and what they are likely to repay in the future.

You can see a full pilot of the proposed redesign on this link.

Consultations

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

Other news

Health dominates part time provision: Wonkhe report that an independent report published by the OfS which tackle part-time provision for underrepresented students finds that allied health subjects are the most prevalent part time subject area. The report argues that decline in participation among part-time students is driven partly by cost of study and partly by lack of provision. It goes on to notes that the proportion of disadvantaged students has remained at around 10 per cent. Wonkhe go on to explore a second independent OfS report focussing on mature allied health students. They highlight that although applications from mature students have declined, enrolments have stayed stable, and the report recommends improvements to information provision and diversification of pathways into allied health courses. As ever, the questions surrounding the decline of part time provision, and the dominant programmes and part time groups remain a question of chicken or egg. It is hard to sort cause and effect out from one another.

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HE policy update for the w/e 1st March 2019

It’s a big week for TEF and new guidance is out on access and participation.  No real news on the post-18 review but it’s apparently coming “in the Spring”.  Policy watchers will remember that these terms are flexible in government circles – optimists enjoying the recent sunshine and the daffodils will think Spring is upon us but officially we’re still in Winter (and all the snow last year was in March)– and Spring could mean June….when Brexit may still be a big distraction….

With that in mind, we’ve saved Brexit for the end – and it’s only a short comment.

Independent Review of the TEF

1st March was the deadline for the call for evidence for the Independent Review of the TEF.  BU submitted a response which you can read here.

The UUK submission was widely covered in the press, mostly because they were very critical of subject level TEF. Their press release says: In this report, UUK – representing 136 university members – states that overall the TEF is having a tangible effect on the sector, but there is still some way to go to improve the system. In particular, UUK calls on the government to reconsider plans for subject-level assessment following the challenges arising from pilots in 89 universities, and to look again at its value for students, universities and taxpayers.  In it, UUK concludes:

  • The TEF is having an impact on the sector, in teaching and learning strategies and the monitoring of outcome measures.
  • It is however hard to gather conclusive evidence of its contribution to teaching and learning experience and outcomes.
  • Its definition of excellence is weighted heavily towards employment outcomes, without full consideration of a student’s overall study experience and the wider benefits of teaching and learning for students and society.
  • Awareness of the TEF is still low among students while gradual and piecemeal changes have made it complicated for them to understand or to use it most effectively.
  • New governance arrangements should be made to ensure the government, the Office for Students, students and providers have a clear stake in strategic decision-making.
  • A year into piloting subject-level assessment, there is considerable doubt over whether this will drive real value for students, while it is adding significant complexity and cost which could divert resource from other student-focused areas.

UUK believes that plans for subject-level TEF should not proceed until the limitations of the methodology, its resource impact, and the actual value of its contribution to student decision-making, have been fully considered.

Estimates from UUK put the cost of taking part in year two of the TEF at £4 million for participating universities, a figure which would increase significantly with a full roll out of subject-level assessment. UUK is calling for further consideration to be given to whether the aims of subject-level assessment could be met through existing or alternative information sources such as Unistats, university websites and league tables. Further work into this area should also look at the risks of the subject-level TEF; including concerns around the quality of the data and metrics, and their ability to support students in important and complex decisions.

William Hammonds of UUK writes about the UUK response on Wonkhe here:

the focus should be on ensuring institutional TEF makes a positive contribution to teaching, learning and student decision-making before significantly increasing the complexity of the exercise. Our concerns are:

  • Subject-level assessment will be large, complex and costly and won’t produce reliable judgements.
  • It won’t support good quality teaching and learning and instead will encourage universities to chase rankings.
  • It won’t help student decision-making, only adding to the volume of information already out there.

David Morris, formerly of Wonkhe and now of the University of Greenwich, writes on Wonkhe about how to rescue the TEF and make it worthwhile

  •  Part of the government’s problem in persuading the sector, students, and wider public of the need for TEF has been its insistence that it is about enabling better student choice. This is clearly complete tosh, and is being borne out by early data we have on students’ general unawareness and indifference about an institution’s TEF rating.
  • Long-time readers of Wonkhe may well remember that the real genesis of TEF (and indeed the entire new regulatory regime) came as much from government officials’ belief that universities were held insufficiently accountable for teaching quality under the old quality assurance regime, particular compared to research, as much as it came from any Tory ideologues’ insistence of creating a market for student choice.…Greater honesty about TEF’s role in asserting the public as well as student interest in university accountability would also better reflect what we have finally acknowledged about higher education funding: ultimately, the taxpayer is footing most of the bill. Acknowledging this fact, as well as the wider limits of marketisation, could lead to an accountability exercise with greater scope for nuance, recognition of diversity, and more conducive towards actually making teaching and learning better.

He defends benchmarking (which we agree with – although we have concerns about forced differentiation)

  • But we shouldn’t overlook the instances where TEF has pointed us in the direction of a more progressive and fairer assessment of the state of the UK university sector. This is most notable in the instance of benchmarking TEF metrics, by far the biggest leap forward in assessing UK universities’ quality of student experience upon their actual merits rather than irrelevant and archaic qualities such as ancientness, research power, or international prestige. Benchmarking is what distinguishes TEF from the traditional media league tables, by acknowledging that different institutions’ student characteristics give them a different starting point from which to be evaluated.
  • I really hope that the Pearce Review does not abandon this approach. If TEF abandons benchmarking and moves in a more qualitative direction, the spectre of the early-nineties teaching quality assessments might begin to emerge, with judgements on the quality of teaching being made almost concurrently with perceptions of prestige and research quality. This would be a huge step backwards.

And urges the review to drop LEO (something we also agree with – it is interesting but the data can’t tell you anything about current courses, if it can tell you anything about courses at all….what it tells you about is the economic and employment situation of students who graduated a number of years ago, which may or may not have much to do with their university studies…)

  • Regular readers of Wonkhe will know that I am far from a LEO cynic. Indeed, I am really enthused about the power that richer data about graduate employment outcomes for better policy making in higher and further education and about the youth labour-market efforts to make society more just.
  • But beyond ideological objections (which are well documented elsewhere), on a practical level, TEF is not the right place for the DfE to play with its sparkly new toy. The piloted inclusion of two new supplementary LEO metrics in TEF appears to have produced bizarre results. Upon brief examination of the national data, the spread of outcomes once benchmarked across providers appears to be very narrow, with few providers securing either a positive or a negative flag. Under the current flagging system, if a new TEF metric does not show a sufficient spread of performance, it is hard for me to see how it will aid panel decision making or provide much value.
  • Then there is the lag effect of LEO’s inclusion in TEF. If TEF 2020-21 goes ahead as planned, it will include assessment of the graduate employment and salary outcomes of students who entered university in 2008 (i.e. my own fresher year). It will also assess those graduates’ employment outcomes in the 2014-15 tax year. This seems nonsensical, both in fairly assessing institutional performance, and in providing information to applicants.

Post-18 review

After we trailed the Augar report it didn’t come out – and we aren’t now sure when it will.  The PM answered a question about it in PMQs this week – “Philip Augar and his panel are working on the report and we will look seriously at the proposals they bring forward”.

The House of Commons library has published a research briefing on the post-18 education and funding review. The covering note:

  • says that the review is due to report I the Spring 2019 – so presumably that is still the plan.
  • confirms that the Review recommendations will be consistent with the Government’s fiscal policies to reduce the deficit
  • says that the recommendations will not place a cap on the number of students who can access post-18 education.
  • This briefing paper discusses the Review process and gives an outline of the post 18 funding system in England.
  • It includes helpful links to some of the mission group and other influential responses to the original call for evidence – ours is here
  • It suggests possible options for reform that the Review may propose, such as the lowering of higher education tuition fees and analyses the impact of these proposals in detail, including looking at the Treasury Committee and House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee reports, which we have reviewed in this update previously.
  • It includes a summary of impact

The BBC have published this story suggesting the reasons for the delay are Brexit plus a disagreement about the outcomes of the review – which may have pushed it back to the drawing board…

  • But it seems increasingly likely that the all-consuming politics and economic uncertainty of Brexit have pushed back the review.
  • There are also claims of significant differences in what 10 Downing Street, the Treasury and the Department for Education want from the shake-up of fees. According to sources, a headline cut in fees is seen as important for the prime minister’s office – described as being the “retail offer” needed to respond to Labour in a general election.
  • The Treasury does not want to commit to extra direct funding while there is such uncertainty about future public finances. But at the same time, the Department for Education is reluctant to go ahead with a cut in students’ fees until it is clear how that income could be replaced.
  • The debate is said to be “stuck on the roundabout” – and even when the Augar review publishes its findings, there could be delays before the government responds with any decision.
  • This might not be until the autumn or later – in a political calendar full of uncertainties about budgets, elections and leaders.
  • However, other senior university figures say the prime minister might want to push ahead with changing fees as soon as Brexit has been achieved, as a way of showing the government still has a grip on domestic policy.
  • There are also arguments that when the review is so strongly linked to Theresa May, any change at the top could see it disappearing into the long grass. Charles Heymann, a higher education consultant who formerly worked at the DfE, says: “It wouldn’t be the first education review to end up gathering dust on Whitehall shelves.”

In the meantime, the lobbying continues.  Shakira Martin, the NUS president, wrote for Wonkhe.

  • I’m still adamant that maintenance grants need to return, so we support working class students and put an end to the obscene situation whereby they graduate with the highest student loan debts. The Diamond Review in Wales shows this can be done in a way that really ensures the poorest students are properly supported, and we know that the Augar has looked at the findings of Diamond in detail. On top of that, just about every voice in the sector, including UUK, the Russell Group and Million Plus argues they should return, so I remain hopeful.
  • We also need to provide better funding for those on part-time or distance learning courses, or otherwise support flexible learning – this should include targeted support like childcare funding for part-time students and travel grants for commuters. The decision to scrap NHS bursaries for nurses, midwives and other healthcare professions needs revisited as it has clearly failed those students and the health service.
  • There are lots of other changes we have suggested that would make a huge difference to students such as monthly student support payments monthly to help students budget or increasing the threshold for maximum support from £25,000 for the first time in over a decade. And all this is not even to start on adult learning – student support is inadequate in HE – but at least it exists. We need to radically improve the offer for those in FE and I think the Augar panel will recognise that too.

And HEPI have a blog by Andy Nicol, Managing Director at QS Enrolment Solution about a student survey about the perspectives of prospective students:

  • This year’s survey (of 1,700 respondents, mostly aged 16-18) sought to unpack what they believe to be the appropriate balance between their individual investment in their degree and that of the state.”
  • 39% of respondents say that the debt they will take on makes them less likely to apply to university than they otherwise would. It is perhaps not surprising then that overwhelmingly (88%) survey respondents believe that Government should be funding at least half of the teaching cost of an undergraduate degree. These prospective students also said that their tuition fees being spent on student accommodation, course facilities, careers support and links to employers would represent a return on their investment.
  • HEPI’s own research last year found that 74% of students want more information on where their fees go. According to university accounts, the research also found that typically only around 45% of each student’s fee goes on the direct costs of teaching – such as staff salaries. The majority of the remainder is also spent on areas that benefit students. After teaching, the next biggest cost is buildings. Then come other high priorities like information technology, student support services (such as counselling and careers advice), widening participation activities and the students’ union. 
  • … Now is the time for Government to work more closely with universities to ensure it communicates how potential new funding arrangements will represent value for money. With political, economic and demographic challenges facing the sector, it is more important than ever that institutions understand how to engage better with potential recruits. That’s why as part of this report we have published an Action Plan for Domestic Student Recruitment in 2019to help universities and Government do just that.

Widening participation

The OfS published guidance for institutions to produce their new Access and Participation plans for 2020/21. Key points include:

  • The removal of the guideline percentage of how much of the higher fee income an institution should spend on widening participation, success and progression activities.
  • The OfS has stated institutions can expect increased scrutiny, rigour and challenge on their plans, in part to kickstart the stagnation of social mobility. Including consideration of whether institutions are at risk of breaching their conditions of registration with the OfS.
  • Focussed, evidenced, analysis of an institution’s current performance will link with the institution’s strategic aims and priorities for rectifying inequalities in access, student performance and attainment, and progression. The OfS will assess the feasibility of an institution’s aims and the appropriateness and challenge within the chosen targets.
  • All targets should be outcomes based, rather than measuring outputs.
  • A greater focus and breakdown on ‘investment’ (spend) is required for access measures. This fits with current Government rhetoric on ensuring widening access spend is effective and focussed towards the most efficient and successful outcomes (supported by robust evidence of impact).
  • Evaluation, impact and research of widening participation interventions remains important.
  • All providers are expected to use the POLAR measure (number of young local population that progress to HE) to provide a level of consistency and comparability. A national Access and Participation dataset is also expected to be published shortly.

The OfS has also set itself national key performance measures which address the inequalities they are most concerned about – the gaps that remain the most challenging to tackle and affect large student groups. In order to meet these measures all institutions are expected to have a target which contributes towards improving outcomes in these KPI areas.

  1. ENTRY GAP – Eliminate the gap in participation at higher-tariff providers between the most and least represented (POLAR) groups, from a ratio of 5:1 to a ratio of 3:1 by 2024-25.
  2. DROP OUT GAP – Reduce the gap in non-continuation between the most and least represented groups (POLAR) – eliminating the unexplained gap by 2024-25, and eliminating the absolute gap (the gap caused by both structural and unexplained factors) by 2030-31.
  3. ATTAINMENT GAP – Reduce the gap in degree outcomes (1sts or 2:1s) between white students and black students, eliminating the unexplained gap in degree outcomes (1sts or 2:1s) between white students and black students by 2024-25, and eliminate the absolute gap by 2030-31.
  4. ATTAINMENT GAP -Reduce the gap in degree outcomes (1sts or 2:1s) between disabled students and non-disabled students by 2024-25.

The OfS acknowledges that other non-KPI measures remain important too – addressing the decline in the number of mature students in higher education and access, success and progression for care leavers.

Sarah attended a parliamentary reception this week at which Chris Millward, Director for Fair Access and Participation, emphasised the scrutiny and rigour with which the OfS will be examining the new plans, pushing for ambitious (but realistic) progress, and setting out a commitment to tackle underperformance early on. At the reception there was much discussion of the US universities’ Princeton model of admissions with Chris Millward calling for more English universities to step away from grade based entry and make far more use of contextual admissions, including assessing the personal qualities of grit and resilience which he felt were sure indicators of graduate success within disadvantaged students. Chris confirmed that the OfS’ powers didn’t extend to direct interference in an institution’s admission policy and that the Access and Participation targets would be one of their key methods to push the sector to solve the disadvantage gaps.

Universities Minister, Chris Skidmore, gave his first speech on access and participation on the day the guidance was launched. He spoke during a tour of Nottingham Trent University and praise the institution for its work in advancing social mobility. He announced that Nottingham Trent, alongside Kings College London and the Behavioural Insights Team  have been awarded the OfS contact for the WP Evidence and Impact Exchange. The Minister said: I want to use this occasion today to outline my own five-part vision for the access and participation agenda – to help set a strategic direction for the sector and support the OfS in holding providers to account on these vitally important issues.

  • His speech acknowledged the importance of the removal of the student number caps, spoke about the narrowing of the gap with more disadvantaged young student applying to university, whilst acknowledging: All this is good news and a welcome move away from the days when going to university was just for the fortunate few. Yet, we all know that behind the positive headlines lies a much more complex picture of inequality and progress is not as rapid as it should be. And that takes me on to the first point in my plan – namely that we now need a more nuanced approach to ‘access’ and a greater recognition of the true access gaps. Major themes I want to see the sector and the OfS addressing are geographic disparities and widening access for specific groups, including White working-class as well as Black and minority ethnic students.
  • Sam Gyimah, the previous Universities Minister, wanted disadvantaged young people to aspire to and enter the highest tariff institutions. Chris continues this challenge to the high tariff institutions to become more accessible and think beyond entry grades whilst acknowledging that high tariff doesn’t necessarily mean best: I also want to reverse the trend of students from currently under-represented groups being less likely to apply to high-tariff universities. In 2018, 17% of students who were eligible for free school meals entered higher education in the UK. Yet only 2.7% of them enrolled at high-tariff providers. Now, I’m not saying that high-tariff institutions are necessarily the best option for everyone. Plenty of excellent lower-tariff providers offer students a first-rate education with exceptional graduate outcomes, and are the right choice for many. But what worries me is that some people may not be considering high-tariff providers even when they could clearly benefit from them – showing how prior social and educational experiences can all impact on an individual’s life choices. I am genuinely saddened when I hear people hesitating about applying to one of our world-leading providers because they simply don’t believe that going to a university like that is really for people like them… The UK is blessed to have a diverse, multi-cultural society, and it is simply not right that, despite displaying obvious talent, some people still feel a ‘top’ university education is out of reach for them… This is why I also welcome the fact the Duchess of Sussex recently added public prominence to this issue when expressing shock that too few professors in the UK are from diverse backgrounds. She is right – as she herself said, “change is long overdue”, and if we want our student communities to reflect our wider population, then we have to start thinking seriously about the role models and examples we are setting them.
  • Chris spoke about the Secretary of State for Education’s guidance letter to the OfS setting out the Government’s expectations. They called for greater and faster progress in access and participation, including at the most selective providers, as well as for key target groups, including disabled students and care leavers. He also spoke of the Race Disparity Audit initiative when he called for the OfS to hold universities to account for attainment disparities through their Access and Participation plans and, if necessary, to use its powers to challenge any provider failing to support equality of opportunity.
  • Chris was stern on the effective use of WP monies, particularly making better use of evidence to inform spend:  £860 million [the combined planned spend by universities on WP in 2018/19] is not an insignificant sum and, so, I believe it is essential that this money is used well, and that any future spending is underpinned by clear evidence and evaluation. Although some providers already do this, for too long the sector as a whole has been too slow in using evidence to inform its approaches and to understand what really works.
  • He also wants to see more collaboration across the sector: Despite numerous providers undertaking excellent work in the access and participation space, by and large, the sector has been too piecemeal in its approach and too many providers have got used to doing their own thing. I will be the first to admit that this may well be a logical consequence of policy development – with an emphasis on market-style activity, a lack of data-sharing, and too little infrastructure to encourage collaboration. But now is the time for this to change.
  • Finally, he turned to the importance of data and consistent, reliable measures to track progress in tackling disadvantage. When it comes to data, I know there is a saying that ‘what gets measured, gets managed’…higher education providers have focused less on the outcomes of their disadvantaged students than they should…Differing approaches have not helped. The key measure to drive widening participation in higher education has traditionally been POLAR…The POLAR system has many strengths, and the insight it has provided has helped lead to genuine progress in opening up access to university. Yet, it is also known that POLAR doesn’t always overlap well with other measures of disadvantage – such as eligibility for free school meals…the principal measure used in schools and forms the main basis for extra support and funding. He spoke of UCAS’ work to find new and better predictors of disadvantage in higher education that take account of much more than just where someone grew up. It’s also why I welcome the OfS’s commitment in its access and participation strategy to work with providers to look not just at POLAR, but other aspects of disadvantage to ensure this work can really transform the life chances of young people.
  • He also welcomed the Transparency Duty which requires institutions to publish data on the application, offer, acceptance, completion and attainment rates of students, divided by ethnicity, gender and socio-economic background: And on this, I further welcome the OfS’s requirement that providers set out their ambitions for improving access and participation for up to five years and report annually – something which I hope will keep everyone’s eye on the ball and prevent us from becoming complacent. He also spoke about the newly announced formation of a Data Advisory Committee stating it would help me ensure we are not only using the right data to shape the access and participation agenda, but are using it in the right way. I therefore look forward to working with the OfS, this Committee and the wider sector to find ways to refine and advance the data we use.
  • Interestingly he also mentions the (delayed) Augar Review and attempts to reassure the sector as a counterpoint to the leaked snippets and speculation of disastrous cuts for HE within the past press: I know many in the sector have been critical about what could emerge from the Review’s recommendations and its potential impacts on access and participation activities. Let me reassure you today that progressing access and successful participation remains a top focus for this government and it will be a key lens for me and others in government as we decide how to take the Review forward. My key outcome for the Review is that we create a truly joined-up system, which is even better at promoting social mobility and countering childhood disadvantage. I also encourage us to view the post-18 Review as an opportunity to think again about how we view disadvantage, to ensure we are putting our energy and investment where it is most needed. Reading between the lines I’m not sure this is quite as reassuring as Chris intended!

Disadvantage starts early – Universities Minister Chris Skidmore is a believer that disadvantage starts at birth and has committed to working with Nadhim Zahawi (Minister for Children and Families) to tackle disadvantage. He has announced they will be working together to improve support for care leavers throughout the whole education system, noting that only 6% of care leaver attend universities and are the most likely student group to drop out. He urged the OfS to do all they could to support care leavers. Nadhim also announced an additional 1,000 health visitors will be trained to support children’s early language and communication needs this week. Noting that children who start school with poor vocabulary are twice as likely to be unemployed as an adult. The health visitors will detect early signs of speech and language delay and take early action when it can have the most benefit.

Level 4-5 Qualifications Review Outcomes

The DfE have published a research report on the Level 4-5 Qualifications Review. Key points:

  • L4-5 qualifications support a diverse mix of students. The qualifications are undertaken by a slightly higher proportion of ethnic minority and male students than other HE and FE programmes, and there is also a relatively high proportion of older learners and learners with disabilities
  • Nearly all FE colleges (97%) and most HEIs (88%) provide L4-5 qualifications. Nearly 200 private and adult community learning providers deliver L4-5 providers, which includes 48 alternative providers in HE that are not FE colleges.
  • The L4-5 market is diverse. There were 3,368 different L4-5 qualifications that were available to learners in 2016/17, of which 2,633 were developed by HEIs and delivered by FE and HE providers.
  • The size of the L4-5 market is relatively small, compared to HEIs and FE providers’ overall offer. There were 111,420 learners that studied an accredited L4-5 qualification in 2016/17, which comprises only 2% of all vocational qualifications awarded. In HE, there were 75,632 learners that undertook L4-5 qualifications in 2016/17, which accounted for 3% of all HE learners.
  • L4-5 programmes not delivered through apprenticeships are most commonly taken for subjects in health, public services and care (composing 23% of all L4-5 learners); business administration and law (17%); and Engineering and manufacturing technologies (12%).
  • Just under 40% of learners on HE-accredited L4-5 programmes progressed to full-time employment and 26% progressed to full-time further learning. This reflects the dual aims of L4-5 qualifications. The proportion of learners that progress to employment does, however, vary significantly by subject area and qualification type

Recommendations:

  • Support the promotion to providers and learners of L4-5 qualifications that provide direct entry to the labour market, by being actual or de facto licences to practise. Awareness of these qualifications can be low among learners, which reduces take-up.
  • Incentivising HEIs to recognise L4-5 qualifications as providing exemptions from the first or the first and second year of a degree programme and encouraging joint working with HEIs and AOs to harmonise content with degrees and L4-5 provision.
  • Stimulating FE providers and HEIs to expand their L5 provision, as this appears to be provided less comprehensively than L4, despite having higher learner take-up.

Apprenticeships

The DfE have published Apprenticeship and Levy Statistics for February 2019

  • As at 31 January 2019, 122,700 commitments had been recorded for the 2018/19 academic year (114,000 fully agreed and 8,700 pending approval). This compares to 98,000 commitments recorded for the 2017/18 academic year at the equivalent point last year
  • Of the 122,700 commitments recorded so far for 2018/19, 60,800 commitments were for apprentices aged 25 and over. 38,200 commitments were intermediate apprenticeships, and 52,000 were advanced apprenticeships.
  • In 2017/18, there were 48,150 higher level (level 4+) apprenticeship starts, compared to just 3,700 in 2011/12.
    • Between 2015/16 and 2016/17 higher level starts increased 34.7per cent from 27,160 to 36,570.
    • Between 2016/17 and 2017/18 the higher level starts rose 31.7 per cent to 48,150.
  • In contrast, both intermediate (level 2) apprenticeships and advanced (level 3) decreased between 2016/17 and 2017/18 by 38.1 per cent and 15.9 per cent, respectively.

The DfE have published an Apprenticeships Study on non-completion. This is NOT about degree apprenticeships but FE learners and apprentices – but still interesting

  • Non-completers commonly lacked information about the content of their course and how it would be delivered before they began.  Whilst motivated, a lack of upfront information before they started the course meant that expectations tended to be limited to an expectation that the course would be organised, run smoothly, and enable them to work to pass. 
  • Non-completers reported mixed experiences of their courses and apprenticeships. However, they had commonly experienced challenges such as a lack of sufficient flexibility, loss of child care, and employers not allowing them enough time to do their coursework.
  • Non-completers dropped out when one or more of three key areas were not satisfied. They dropped out when core personal issues took priority over learning; with family, health, and finances commonly taking priority. Drop out occurred when learners did not see their course as valuable, meaning the content and level were not appropriate to enable them to pursue their career goals. Finally, learners dropped out when their course or apprenticeship failed to meet their expectations for functional delivery.

This is interesting because of course many of the same issues arise with university non-completions.  Non-completion (or continuation as the TEF calls it) is a key metric for TEF, precisely because the DfE believe that the value of the programme and the functional delivery of it, to use the terms above, are key indicators of the quality of a programme and so continuation is a proxy measure for quality.  Of course that ignores the personal issues.  The report says: “Although learners were generally tipped into non-completion by an issue aligned to one of these areas, they tended to be facing multifaceted issues which overlapped across two or more layers”.  So it’s not that simple.

Key Recommendations:

  • More comprehensive and accurate information up front about the content, structure and expectations for a course
  • Proactive and holistic support and flexibility to ensure they can continue to manage their course alongside their personal priorities
  • Improvements to course delivery so that courses and apprenticeships are more consistently delivered across the country.

The Sutton Trust have conducted a survey of parents with children aged 5-16 on degree level apprenticeships.

  • 75% of parents said they would be confident offering children help and advice were they to apply to a degree-level apprenticeship
  • 27% said they would advise their child to take a degree level apprenticeship over a universities degree course, with 31% indicating they would make the opposite recommendation
  • Of those parents who would advise their children to undertake a university degree course, 68% intimated that this was because they believed it offered better career prospects, whilst 29% said it was because they lacked knowledge about apprenticeships in general

Young People Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET)

The DfE and ONS have published statistics on the proportion of young people not in education, employment or training.

  • For quarter four (i.e. October to December) 2018, 11.3% of 16-24 year olds were NEET, a slight increase of 0.2 percentage points from quarter  four of 2017.
  • The age 16-17 NEET rate was 4.2%, an increase of 0.6 percentage points. The 18-24 NEET rate was 13.1%, increasing  by 0.2 percentage points.
  • However, none of these annual changes to the NEET rates were statistically significant

Brexit

It now looks increasingly likely that there will be a short delay to Brexit unless the deal, perhaps amended in some way with concessions from the EU, is passed on 12th March in the newly scheduled meaningful vote.

Resignations and the formation of the Independent Group of MPs don’t really change the arithmetic yet. The shift of the Labour party’s position on a second referendum also does not make much difference either while the vast majority of MPs continue to vote along party political lines.

There will need to be many more resignations or radical changes of position on the deal if it is to pass in March.  That is still possible, but a good number of Conservatives, from both the remain and the leave side, will need to find a way to support it, supported by a good number of Labour Brexiteers seeking to avoid a second vote.  Remember that more than 100 MPs need to change their view on the deal for it to go through.

However, UK citizens worrying about their plans for travel to the EU may therefore find that they don’t need an International Driving Licence or private health insurance for an Easter trip.  No deal is still, however, firmly on the table, so you may need them for the summer.  The overwhelming flood of information from the government has included reissuances for EU colleagues and EU students about travel to the UK after a no deal Brexit – but of course the continued uncertainty is unhelpful. And it’s sobering to note that whatever the result of the current flurry, even if the deal is signed we will have to go through it all again before the end of the transition period in December 2020.  There won’t be proper certainty about anything for a long time.

A delay beyond June still seems impossible – although it might seem a lot more possible by the time we get there.

Consultations

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

Other news

OfS Student Panel: The Office for Students (OfS) has announced five new members of its student panel, which advises the OfS board to ensure student interests are reflected in OfS’ work. Georgia Bell is President of the students’ union at the Northern School of Art; Rose Bennett is Student Experience officer (postgraduate) at the University of Birmingham; Samuel Dedman is vice-president education at the University of Southampton students’ union; Joshua Sanderson-Kirk is president of the student association at the University of Law and Sabrina Mundtazir is a student nurse at the University of Huddersfield.

University enterprise zones:  The Treasury and BEIS have announced a £10 million fund to help develop proposals for up to 10 new university enterprise zones in England. Treasury Minister Robert Jenrick and Universities and Science Minister Chris Skidmore launched the fund during a visit to Nottingham University, which has piloted a University Enterprise Zone that is supporting start-ups and enterprises in the East Midlands. Universities Minister, Chris Skidmore, stated:

Our universities are among the best in the world, and when they join forces with our ambitious and innovative small businesses, they have the potential to meet the grand challenges of the future.

HESA have published stats on staff employed in HE providers for 2017/18

Student sexual harassment/violence: Dig-In have published an infographic on sexual harassment and violence experienced by students based on a survey.

They say:

  • 56% of students have experienced unwanted sexual behaviours (such as inappropriate touching, explicit messages, being cat called, followed and/or being forced into sex or sexual acts)
  • Only 15% of students believe that they are the victims of sexual harassment
  • And only 8% have reported an offence.
  • Only 25% of students who were forced into having sex reported it
  • 53% of incidents were perpetrated by another students and 30% took place on campus

They also say that only 52% of students understand that it is not possible to give consent if you are drunk

HE Policy update for the w/e 8th February 2018

Brexit – UUK fights back on Erasmus

UUK has launched a national campaign to encourage the UK government to commit to funding study abroad programmes in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

#SupportStudyAbroad is in response to a technical note on the Erasmus+ programme issued by government on 28 January 2019. The government has said that in the case of a no-deal Brexit, students on current placements will receive funding to their end, and that it would like to stay in the Erasmus+ programme for future calls. However, it is now clear that in the event of a no-deal Brexit there will be no national alternative to enable students to go abroad if continued Erasmus+ membership cannot be negotiated with the European Union.

Alistair Jarvis, Universities UK Chief Executive, said:

  • “The benefits of study abroad are well documented. Not only does study abroad have clear employability benefits for students, it helps them to develop the language, communication and intercultural skills that will be so essential to building a truly global Britain. An investment in international experience for our students now is an investment in the future of our economy. Without the international opportunities offered through schemes like Erasmus, the UK’s workforce will not be equipped to meet the changing needs of the economy post-Brexit.
  • “In the case of a no-deal Brexit, I strongly urge the government to commit to continue funding study abroad opportunities for UK students, even if the UK cannot negotiate continued participation in Erasmus+ programme.”

Key facts and stats

1)  Study abroad supports social mobility. Students who study abroad outperform their peers academically and professionally. They are:

  • 19% more likely to gain a 1st class degree
  • 20% less likely to be unemployed
  • 10% more likely to be in ‘graduate’ jobs six months after graduation

For those from underrepresented and disadvantaged groups the benefits are even more pronounced:

  • BME students who studied abroad are 17% more likely to be in ‘graduate’ jobs six months after graduation
  • Mature students who participated in these programmes earn 10% more than their peers

2) International opportunities help students develop skills that UK businesses need. Research by the CBI has found that:

  • Seven out of 10 small and medium size enterprises believe that future executives will need foreign language skills and international experience
  • 39% of employers are dissatisfied with graduates’ intercultural awareness
  • 49% of employers are dissatisfied with graduates’ language skills

Widening Particpation performance indicators

On 7th February, HESA issued performance measures for WP.

Chris Millward of the OfS commented:

  • ‘Today’s release points to incremental progress in improving equality of opportunity in higher education. The reforms we have recently announced are intended to secure a step change in the next five years, both through pressure on universities to enhance the plans they submit to us, and support to enable them to work in the most effective ways. We want universities to understand how they are performing using sophisticated measures, looking across different characteristics to understand disadvantage in their own context and targeting their activity and investment so that it really works.’

David Kernohan has analysed the data for Wonkhe:

  • The HESA Performance Indicator data for 2017-18 is more about proportions than raw numbers. The headline figures see England and the UK enjoy a 0.2 percentage point rise (from 11.4% to 11.6%) in  young entrants to HE from low participation neighbourhoods. ….
  • There is also data on state school entry rates.  In the UK and in England 89.8% of young full time first degree entrants attended state school, down 0.2 percentage points from last year. ..To put this latter paragraph in context, the Independent Schools Commission estimates that around 14% of 16 year old pupils attended an independent school.

One widening participation marker that is rarely discussed concerns the participation rate of students with disabilities. 6.6% of UK-domiciled full-time first degree students are in receipt of the Disabled Students’ Allowance in 2017-18 – the same as last year.

Application data for 2019

UCAS have issued data for applications for the 2019 cycle to date

They issued a summary report:

  • Applicant numbers from within the UK decrease but numbers increase internationally

Overall, UK domiciled applicants have decreased by 0.7 per cent, while applicants from outside the UK have increased to their highest levels on record for both EU and non-EU countries. EU applicants increased by 0.9 per cent to 43,890, and non-EU applicants increased by 9.0 per cent to 63,695. Although EU applicant numbers have increased by 0.9 percent overall, they have decreased in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, with the only increase being in England, where they increased by 1.9 per cent to 37,595 (the second highest number on record after 2016).

  • The overall fall in the UK can be attributed to the demographic dip

The number of 18 year olds in the UK has fallen each year since 2015 (falling by 2.0 per cent this year compared to last), and overall figures as reported above are affected by the falling number of school leavers (roughly 80 per cent of UK applicants are 18 – 19 year olds)…The application rate in England has risen every year since 2012 and is now at its highest on record (38.8 per cent), with this year having the biggest percentage point increase since 2014.

  • Applicant numbers from China increase by one third

The number of applicants from China has increased by 33.3 per cent this year – rising from 11,915 to 15,880. This follows an increase of 20.6 per cent last year, and brings Chinese applicant numbers to almost the same level as those from Wales and Northern Ireland (18,855 and 17,910 respectively). Other countries with large percentage increases in applicant numbers include Romania (+260, 10 per cent), Slovakia (+180, 26 per cent), and Saudi Arabia (+150, 24 per cent).

  • Application rates have increased in every English region

The order of regions by application rate is broadly similar to 2018, with London still having a considerably higher rate (49.9 per cent), and the North East having the lowest rate (32.9 per cent) for the second consecutive year. With the London rate increasing by 2.4 percentage points this year, 18 year olds in London are now 36 per cent more likely than 18 year olds in the rest of England to have applied to higher education (up from 33 per cent more likely last year). This is the first year since 2016 that application rates have increased in every English region

  • The gap in application rates between advantaged and disadvantaged applicants decreases

Application rates have increased for all quintiles. The application rate for Q1 increased by 1.3 percentage points to 23.2 per cent, which is its biggest increase since 2014. The Q5 rate increased by 1.0 percentage points to 53.5 per cent, causing the Q5:Q1 application rate ratio to decrease from 2.40 to 2.30, meaning that the gap in application rates between advantaged and disadvantaged applicants has narrowed slightly

Free Speech Guidance

The Equality and Human Rights Commission have developed new guidance on freedom of expression at universities. The guidance aims to coherently definite legal rights and obligations around free speech with a view to empowering student unions and individuals. It also details the limited occasions where free speech can lawfully be limited. It has been produced with input from the National Union of Students, Universities UK, Charity Commission for England and Wales, Office for Students, Independent HE, Guild HE, Commission for Countering Extremism and Home Office.

Universities Minister Chris Skidmore said:

Free speech is a value integral to the independence and innovation that embodies the higher education sector in the UK, fuelling academic thought and challenging injustice. This guidance is a symbol of the commitment from across the sector to protecting freedom of speech.

David Isaac, Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said:

The free expression and exchange of different views without persecution or interference goes straight to the heart of our democracy and is a vital part of higher education. Holding open, challenging debates rather than silencing the views of those we don’t agree with helps to build tolerance and address prejudice and discrimination. Our guidance makes clear that freedom of speech in higher education should be upheld at every opportunity.

Key points

  • Everyone has the right to express and receive views and opinions, including those that may ‘offend, shock or disturb others’.
  • Protecting freedom of expression is a legal requirement for most higher education providers. Students’ unions also have a role to play, although their legal duties are different (see section 2).
  • Higher education providers need to have a code that sets out their policies and procedures relating to external speakers, and make sure their procedures don’t create unnecessary barriers to free speech. They also need to make sure all students are aware of the code (see section 2.2).
  • There are some circumstances where UK law limits the right to freedom of expression, for example, to protect national security or to prevent crime (see section 3).
  • Most higher education providers and students’ unions are registered charities and have a charitable purpose to further students’ education for the public benefit. Free speech is an important part of meeting this purpose (see section 3.3).
  • The starting point should be that any event can go ahead, but higher education providers have to consider all their legal duties carefully (see section 6).

It has been criticised because it clarifies, but does not resolve, some of the contradictions and competing responsibilities for institutions and students’ unions.

On Academic Freedom:

  • Freedom of expression is relevant to, but should not be confused with, the important principle of academic freedom. Academic freedom relates to the intellectual independence of academics in respect of their work, including the freedom to undertake research activities, express their views, organise conferences and determine course content without interference.
  • As part of their duties under Article 10 and the s.43 duty, HEPs must protect the freedom of expression of academics and staff. Student complaints and protests should not result in HEPs imposing limits on course content or speaker events organised by lecturers. HEPs should also take steps, such as providing support to their staff, where necessary to make sure that the pressure of student complaints does not lead to self-censorship of academic work. They must also ensure that internal policies (for example, policies to comply with the Prevent duty) do not unduly inhibit academic freedom.

On visiting speakers

  • The s.43 duty does not mean that any group or speaker has a right to be invited to speak to students on HEP premises or at SUs. What it does mean is that a speaker who has been invited to speak at a meeting or other event should not be stopped from doing so unless:
  • they are likely to express unlawful speech, or
  • their attendance would lead the host organisation to breach other legal obligations and no reasonably practicable steps can be taken to reduce these risks.

That is interesting given the view that Peter Hitchen expressed on Radio 4 that being “uninvited” to an SU event was censorship.  The way I read the paragraph above, uninviting him isn’t but preventing him speaking once he arrived would be…but that is not what the guidance says:

  • SUs are entitled – and required, to the extent that the speech may break the law – to consider ‘harm’ that someone’s views may cause to some of their members, when deciding whether to invite a speaker to an event they are organising. However, if a speaker has already been invited by an SU society or group and the speech will be lawful, the SU will need to consider their obligations under their HEP’s s.43 code of practice. If an SU cancels a speaker in these circumstances, their HEP has a duty to take reasonably practicable steps to ensure the speaker event can proceed.

The guidance is 54 pages long and each set of circumstances will need to be worked through by each SU and institution in each case, and the outcomes will always be reliant on interpretation of the guidance and the judgement of those making the decision.  This is one issue that, being about politics as well as being a political issue, has dominated the news on a regular basis since Jo Johnson started to make a song and dance about it, and will no doubt continue to run and run.

Ethnic Disparities

On Monday the DfE published a Written Ministerial Statement on Race Disparity Audit which aims to push the HE sector to drive change in tackling inequalities between ethnic groups. The acute sector issues are levels of non-continuation, degree class achieved compared to non-ethnic minority peers, and progression to good quality employment. The statement goes on to remind that in tackling ethnic disparities the Government has established the OfS and legislated for greater transparency and scrutiny through the Higher Education and Research Act.

The statement continues with the actions the Government expect (very similar to those trailed in the speech reported in last week’s policy update):

  • Asking the Office for Students to ensure higher education providers demonstrate how they are tackling differences in access and successful participation for students from ethnic minorities – the Office for Students will be expected to hold providers to account, in particular through Access and Participation plans, which set out how higher education providers will improve equality of opportunity for under-represented groups, to access, succeed in and progress from higher education. The Office for Students will be expected to use its new powers to challenge providers failing to make progress.
  • Asking league table compilers to consider performance on tackling inequalities between ethnic groups in university rankings – working with a wide range of experts, stakeholders and league table compilers.
  • Encouraging higher education providers to eliminate ethnic disparities in their workforce – using tools such as the Race at Work Charter and Race Equality Charter.
  • Supporting student choice through better information, advice and guidance- by reforming the Unistats website using evidence from research with students from disadvantaged and underrepresented groups.
  • Building the evidence base on ‘what works’ for improving ethnic minority access and successful participation – encouraging the winning bidder of the newly established Evidence and Impact Exchange to make improving the evidence around addressing ethnic disparities a priority.

These actions will be supported by the Office for Students in their role as the regulator, Advance HE who will launch a review of their Race Equality Charter, and UKRI who will signal their support for reducing ethnic disparities in research and innovation funding.

Debbie McVitty from Wonkhe did some analysis of the position, looking at the OFS report issued alongside the and the recent UCU report on the experience of Black female professors:

  • These reports demonstrate the complex and pernicious ways that higher education cultures can enable behaviours that marginalise and exclude. Rollock’s respondents, for example, detail incidents of “passive aggressive acts, avoidance, undermining and exclusion”. These sorts of incidents create an exhausting double bind – to process one’s own emotional response so as to avoid being labelled angry or irrational, and to redouble one’s efforts to perform to prove oneself worthy of one’s position in the teeth of the covert scepticism of one’s peers.
  • The authors of the OfS report record concerns over a lack of discussion of racism and discrimination, insufficient Black or minority ethnic leaders and/or leaders with the critical perspective to drive action in this area, the perpetuation of deficit models, with interventions based on racist stereotypes. Also noted was the failure to involve Black and minority ethnic students in the design and delivery of targeted interventions, as well as a lack of diversity in the curriculum.

The OfS commissioned report has a series of recommendations

  • Providers should improve their institutional data systems so that they can consistently capture good quality data; this will ensure that activities can be effectively targeted and interventions effectively evaluated.
  • This may require the aggregation of data across multiple years to ensure that more nuanced patterns of disadvantage can be identified and addressed.
  • Whilst course level data can be helpful in mobilising course leaders to effect change, presenting statistical data as proportions or percentages can be unhelpful where numbers are low. Rather, the focus should be on numbers of individual students. This also helps to personify students with inequitable outcomes and can serve as a useful counter to increasingly abstract discussions.
  • Providers should make their BAME access, retention, success and progression data public to all students and staff. This includes making it readily available internally (including at departmental/course level data) and externally (for example through a dedicated institutional website with both data and plans to tackle inequalities).
  • Providers should ensure that data is contextualised for students and accompanied by a clear action plan which indicates what action the provider is taking to ensure that the gap is reduced and then eradicated.
  • Providers should take a holistic approach to addressing inequalities for specific minority ethnic groups ensuring a balance of interventions across the full student lifecycle.
  • Providers should demonstrate in their access and participation plans how they will balance the focus of ‘inclusive’ and ‘targeted/exclusive’ interventions across the student lifecycle.
  • HE providers should summarise, on an annual basis, their annual spend on targeted interventions–across each aspect of the student lifecycle (access, retention, attainment, progression). This should include ways in which additional fee income is being used as well how interventions are being funded from as other sources, such as from the Addressing Barriers to Student Success (ABSS) programme funded by the Office for Students.

REF2021

Sarah Foxen of the UK Parliament’s Knowledge Exchange Unit, part of POST, has written for Wonkhe on policy impact (a question that you know is close to our hearts).

We have been working with Research England for over a year to help ensure a shared understanding of what parliamentary impact is and how it can be evidenced in REF 2021. Last spring, those involved in the delivery of REF 2021 asked us to produce a briefing for them explaining both what is useful and impactful for legislatures, and how engagement and impact can be evidenced. The briefing proved useful and fed directly into the drafting of guidelines and panel criteria.

Research England and panel members have taken onboard a number of the points we made in our briefing, which now feature in the final Panel Criteria and Working Methods. These points are found in Annex A: Examples of impacts and indicators.

As for what constitutes parliamentary impact, we all agree that:

  • Research is used by parliamentarians to develop proposals for new legislation through Private Members’ Bills, or to assist scrutiny of legislation and inform amendments to other bills such as those introduced by government.
  • Research helps to highlight issues of concern to parliamentarians and contributes to new analysis of existing issues.
  • Research helps parliamentarians and staff to identify inquiry topics, shape the focus of inquiries, inform questioning of witnesses, and underpin recommendations.
  • Research equips parliamentarians, their staff, and legislative staff with new analytical or technical skills, or refreshes existing ones.

As for indicators of reach and significance, there is a shared understanding that this can be evidenced through:

  • Direct citations of research in parliamentary publications such as Hansard, committee reports, evidence submissions, or briefings.
  • Acknowledgements to researchers on webpages, in reports or briefings.
  • Quantitative indicators or statistics on the numbers of attendees or participants at a research event, or website analytics for online briefings.
  • Qualitative feedback from participants or attendees at research events.
  • Data to show close working relationships with Members or staff, for example, the number of meetings held, minutes from these meetings, membership of working groups, co-authoring of publications.
  • Testimonials from members, committees or officials, where available.
  • Analysis by third-party organisations of parliamentary proceedings or processes, for example studies of the passage of particular pieces of legislation.

We are also delighted to see that those administering REF 2021 took on our suggestion (and perhaps that of others too) that certain kinds of impact only acknowledged in panel C in the draft guidelines will now be valued by all panels:

  • The panels acknowledge that there may be impacts arising from research which take forms such as holding public or private bodies to account or subjecting proposed changes in society, public policy, business practices, and so on to public scrutiny. Such holding to account or public scrutiny may have had the effect of a proposed change not taking place; there may be circumstances in which this of itself is claimed as an impact. There may also be examples of research findings having been communicated to, but not necessarily acted upon, by the intended audience, but which nevertheless make a contribution to critical public debate around policy, social or business issues. The panels also recognise that research findings may generate critique or dissent, which itself leads to impact(s). For example, research may find that a government approach to a particular social, health, food-/ biosecurity or economic issue is not delivering its objectives, which leads to the approach being questioned or modified.

Brexit – Update from the Home Office on the EU Settlement Scheme

The Home Office has been piloting the EU Settlement Scheme application process. There will be difference between the pilots and the full launch of the scheme. This includes the current testing of an app which checks an individual’s identity document.

  • However, when the scheme is fully live at the end of March, use of the app will be optional and people will be able to send their identity document in the post or get their passport checked in over 50 locations.
  •  The scheme will be fully live by 30 March 2019, and under the draft Withdrawal Agreement applicants will have until 30 June 2021 to apply via a computer or any mobile device.

Following the January announcement that fees for the scheme will be waived the Government has confirmed that “anyone who has applied already, or who applies and pays a fee during the test phases, will have their fee refunded. Applicants should make payment using the card they want to be refunded on. Further details of the refunds process will be published shortly.”

Research

The Government published the second independent report on Open Access research compiled by Professor Adam Tickell who is the Chair of the UK Open Access Co-ordination Group. It presents a refreshed evidence base, and addresses specific questions raised by Jo Johnson back when he was Universities Minister in November 2017.

The Government have also published Chris Skidmore’s (current HE Minister) response letter:

  • In supporting the UK research endeavour, we are seeking to increase knowledge, enhance public life, expand our economy, and transform public services. For us to realise these benefits and more, research needs to be openly available.
  • It is therefore right that students, researchers, businesses and anyone with an interest should be able to access, without additional cost, the publicly-funded research findings of our great universities and research institutes.
  • Your advice demonstrates that the UK is at the forefront of the global movement towards Open Access to research. Over half of the publications arising from publicly funded research can now be read online and without payment, one year after publication. It is a significant achievement to have reached the current rate of Open Access adoption and I look forward to UKRI pursuing routes which allow us to reach our 100% target in an affordable way.
  • Progress in Open Access has been achieved as a result of cooperation between research funders, universities, learned societies and publishers: I am grateful for their continued participation.

One of Professor Tickell’s earlier recommendations was to establish an Open Research Data Task Force. Their final report has been published here. The report is an overview of open research data policy and infrastructure landscape in the UK.

Other news

Pensions:  HEPI have published a new report on the USS pension scheme, noting its growth from a small scale operation into the largest private pension scheme in the UK. It discusses the scars left by the recent pension strikes and sees failure to learn from past successful pension reforms as a cause with parties becoming bogged down in technical discussion losing the bigger picture – such as the relationship between pay and pensions. It describes three possible ways forward and concludes: Despite the recent turmoil, we should not lose sight of the deep commitment by universities, over many decades, to ensure their staff have secure retirement incomes. In the midst of a strike, it can be easy to forget your opponents may be well intentioned too.’ HEPI have also published a response by UCU.

Extra curricular activities: The education secretary Damian Hinds has launched an “activity passport” aimed at encouraging school pupils to pursue new experiences and activities, including searching for butterflies, taking part in a Roman banquet and flying a kite.

Apprenticeships (from Wonkhe): TES reports that more than 80% of employers who pay the apprenticeship levy have hired no apprentices.

Appointments: Sutton Trust CEO Lee Elliot Major is leaving the Sutton Trust to take up a post as Professor of Social Mobility at the University of Exeter. Here is his (short) reflective blog upon leaving.

Mental health in schools: Up to 370 schools will join one of the largest trials in the world to boost the evidence about what works to support mental health and wellbeing.  The pilot is expected to include a range of new techniques including mindfulness exercises, relaxation techniques and breathing exercise.  The trials will test five different approaches including two trials in secondary schools of short information sessions either led by a specialist instructor or by trained teachers and three trials in primary and secondary schools that focus on exercises drawn from mindfulness practice, breathing exercises and muscle relaxation techniques and recognising the importance of support networks including among their own peers. Education Secretary Damian Hinds said:

As a society, we are much more open about our mental health than ever before, but the modern world has brought new pressures for children, while potentially making others worse. Schools and teachers don’t have all the answers, nor could they, but we know they can play a special role which is why we have launched one of the biggest mental health trials in schools. These trials are key to improving our understanding of how practical, simple advice can help young people cope with the pressures they face.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

HE Policy Update for the w/e 1st February 2019

This week we bring you the latest on unconditional offers, Parliament give the nod to accelerated degree funding, the wonk-press frenzy in dissecting Chris Skidmore’s first formal speech, and a little on the B-word.

Universities Minister speaks out

Chris Skidmore gave his inaugural formal speech as Universities Minister on Thursday which set out his vision for the higher education sector. He began by raising the uncertainties of Brexit and the knock on effect on recruitment, staffing and funding. He acknowledged the Post 18 HE Review added to this uncertainty and strove to reassure:

  • I hear your concerns and I am keen to work with you during this difficult period.
  • My vision for our universities and colleges is a positive one. I’m not going to be a Minister who comes in and beats up or needlessly berates the sector. Instead, I want to restate my commitment to you today to work in partnership with you to ensure our higher education sector remains one that works for everyone and of which we can be proud in generations to come.
  • Given the extent of recent regulatory changes, I understand the prospect of increased government intervention may raise alarm bells in the sector. But let me reassure you today that, as a former academic myself, I fully appreciate the concept of institutional autonomy. And I believe so much of what is good about our universities today has come about because of the freedom they have been able to exercise.

He continued on to talk of the TEF and the independent review which is “an important opportunity to take stock of the TEF from a constructively critical perspective”. On accelerated degrees he acknowledged they weren’t for everyone but were “just one way that the sector can expand its offerings for those who are looking for something different from their higher education experience”.

Value for money, the LEO data, and student mental health got a mention and there were hints in there that Skidmore feels passionately about students who drop out of university.

  • On LEO: I also realise the LEO data could be developed further. So I am keen to engage with the sector to explore how to make the most of this data going forwards. For one, I want to look at ways of making this data more readily available to the academic research community to allow for more in-depth analysis. I also intend to set up a Data Advisory Committee to help me ensure, as Minister, that we are making the most of the opportunities thrown up by these rich new datasets and that they are being used in the best way possible – to ensure they are reaching those who could benefit from them; that they are being used in context; and that their insights and implications are being fully understood. 

And perhaps positive thoughts for a balanced sector amid the differential fees rumours of late:

  • As much as I see the value of more data, I am also aware of concerns it has given rise to about the value for money of certain courses, disciplines and institutions. On this, I believe we need to take a step back and ask what exactly value for money means in the context of higher education. Successful outcomes for students and graduates are about much more than salary: if we are to define value purely in economic terms, based on salary levels or tax contributions, then we risk overlooking the vital contribution of degrees of social value, such as Nursing or Social Care, not to mention overlooking the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences – the very disciplines that make our lives worth living.
  • How you define value for money depends heavily on how you envisage the kind of world you want to live in. For my part, a society without people to care for each other; to support each other; to teach the next generation; or to step in selflessly in times of crisis is a very sad society indeed. Equally, although I am officially Minister for Science, I take great pride in wanting to be Minister for the Arts and Humanities as well – disciplines which enrich our culture and society, and have an immeasurable impact on our health and wellbeing.
  • As we move forwards into the future, the last thing I want to see is value judgements emerging which falsely divide the Sciences and Engineering from the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. To do so would be a travesty. Our future success depends on all these disciplines being completely intertwined.  

Although perhaps celebrations should be tempered by the fact Chris gave his speech at the Royal Academic of Dramatic Arts.

He concluded: In my vision for the sector, people should be free to embark on higher education at any time that is right for them. We should build bridges to make this happen. By 2030, I want us to have built a post-18 education system that gives people the flexibility they need – so that no-one who has quit higher education, for whatever reason or circumstance, has to feel they have dropped out with no routes back in later in their lives.

However, Wonkhe were not convinced by the Minister, they say:

  • Talk was that RADA auditions were being held on the day a nervous Chris Skidmore took to a small stage in the bar to address a critical audience of wonks and journalists. But did he pass?
  • I’d have to say….no. Not on the lack of strength in his own performance, but on the blandness of his material. It was a crop of sector pleasing bromides that failed to hold attention and gave him little to work with. There were no popular press-pleasing pot shots at universities – so that’s the good news. He’s pitching himself more as late Sam Gymiah, less as Jo Johnson. But as a former history lecturer and pop-punk agitator, you expect the well-struck aside and the fascinating digression to be a part of Skidmore’s armoury – first time out he played it straight. I sat there for 30 minutes, and my abiding memory was him repeatedly hedging statements with the world “overwhelmingly”.
  • But there was little chance of the select audience being overwhelmed – the most interesting thing we learned was that Skidmore had already visited ten universities (naming most of them in the speech), and enjoyed responding to Radio 4 tweet prompts. There were no questions, and no huddle afterwards for journalists – though THE apparently has an exclusive interview. Good luck to them.

Research Professional said: Chris Skidmore may not be in office for long, but his choice of setting and conciliatory tone in yesterday’s inaugural speech suggest there will be changes from the Johnson/Gyimah era. Not since David Willetts in 2010 has a universities minister arrived in post waving an olive branch rather than a brickbat.

They continue:

  • Inaugural speeches from ministers also need to be looked at for what they do not contain. In the case of Skidmore’s outing yesterday, there was little about science, engineering or research. The phrase “world leading” cropped up many times as you would expect, but there was also no mention of the Russell Group, although Oxford and Cambridge did get a line.
  • There was the ritual nod to his predecessors—and every sign that the emphasis on mental health under Sam Gyimah will continue—but in other respects, we should expect some clearing out.
  • One of the most revealing sections of the speech was on the TEF. Skidmore began by appreciating that there is disquiet over the TEF but then added that “no university should shy away from it”. He mentioned that Dame Shirley Pearce’s independent review “provides an important opportunity to take stock of the TEF from a constructively critical perspective”. And then came the killer line: “Dame Shirley has commissioned the Office for National Statistics to carry out an analysis of the statistical information used in TEF assessments and its suitability for generating TEF ratings.”
  • Thanks to evidence from the Royal Statistical Society and the views of the Department for Education’s own office of the chief scientist, we already know that statisticians are singularly unimpressed with the TEF’s lack of statistical rigour. It is not beyond possibility that the Pearce review might precipitate the beginning of the end for the TEF. Skidmore ended with a call for universities to help twist the knife: “I hope that you will take the opportunity to make your views known to Dame Shirley over the consultation period ahead.”
  • Skidmore also went out of his way to praise the UK’s modern universities, something that ministers rarely do.

Here’s the link if you want to read more of Research Professional’s take on the Minister’s speech.

Post-18 review

This from Research Professional: Augar leaks have substance, says Sussex vice-chancellor who claims that many of the rumours about the Review of post-18 Education and Funding are true (lower fees, barring lower grades from accessing loans, higher fees for medicine and science).

The House of Commons library has produced a briefing overview on the state of part time undergraduate education in England, discussing the decline in numbers and the impact this has on the HE sector. Traditionally the view has been that part time student numbers have dropped because of the introduction of higher tuition fees, the lack of viable loan funding and the influence of not funding a second degree for a student who has previously studied at the same level. The timing of the Commons briefing release this week coincides with an announcement from the Welsh Government of a 35% increase in part time undergraduates from Wales. Welsh post-grads have been were eligible for dedicated bursaries and support from Welsh universities since 2018/19.  With means-tested grants and loans to be introduced from September 2019. The news story attributes the success through increased numbers to the new Welsh student support system. Welsh Education Minister Kirsty Williams said:

  • “This is fantastic news and a real vote of confidence in our student support package, the first of its kind in the UK or Europe.
  • We have always said that high living costs are the main barrier for students when thinking about university. Our package of support was specifically designed to address these concerns, making it easier for people to study part-time, especially if they have work or family commitments.
  • Our radical approach to supporting part-time study is essential to improving social mobility, employment outcomes, access to the professions and delivering on our commitment to lifelong learning.”

The DfE published analysis on the importance of financial factors in decisions about higher education.

Key Findings:

  • Some groups do express greater debt aversion than others, especially:
    •  those planning to live at home whilst studying (35%),
    •  those of a non-white ethnicity (30%), and
    • those from lower socio-economic group (26%).
  • 63% of applicants expected to use parents or 62% savings as a source of income whilst at university (particularly applicants from higher socio-economic groups (75% and 70% respectively).
  • University was the only option considered by the majority of applicants (75%), (this increases to 78% for Russell group applicants). This was consistent across socio-economic backgrounds. Getting a job and travelling were the main alternatives considered by applicants
  • The course offered (82%), university reputation (58%), and potential for high future earnings (41%) were the most commonly cited major influences on applicants’ choices about where to study.
  • Around half of applicants (54%) said they were ‘put off’ to some extent by the costs associated with university.

Accelerated Degrees

This week the Lords approved the statutory instrument which makes provision for the elevated fee level (and accompanying loan arrangements) to facilitate and prompt more universities to offer faster intensive degree programmes. The BBC reports on the decision. Ex-Universities Minister, Sam Gyimah, pushed for the accelerated degrees calling on universities to shake up their offer and provide more flexibility, included accelerated provision, to meet the needs of a wider range of students and businesses. While there can be inertia inherent within large, established organisations who know their recruitment draw well the sector did not offer opposition to the push for accelerated degrees. The welcome to the new arrangements has been similar to that for degree apprenticeships, perhaps slower uptake overall than the Government wanted and often for good reason – the devil is in the delivery detail. Dr Tim Bradshaw, chief executive of the Russell Group, sums it up:

  • “Greater choice for students is always good but I would caution ministers against ‘over-promising’. The government’s own projection for the likely take-up of these degrees is modest and we actually hear many students calling for four-year degrees, for example, to spend a year on a work placement or studying abroad. I wouldn’t want disadvantaged students to rule out a traditional three-year course because they didn’t believe they could afford it. Doing a more compressed degree also reduces the opportunity for part-time work, potentially increasing short-term financial pressure.”

It will be interesting to watch how many programmes are actually launched and the eventual outcomes for students.

Unconditional Offers

UCAS published data on unconditional offers on Thursday detailing the significant rise in unconditional offers nationally. There were no new messages and we’ve already shared the details with you in the recent policy updates. The only change is that the OfS now have an ‘independent’ and reliable national data set from which to push for the sector to reduce its overuse of unconditional offers to support recruitment requirements. With the threat of sanctions from the Competition and Markets Authority as a harbinger of doom for any institutions who fail to heed warnings and curb their excessive overuse. Smita Jamdar dissects the threat below.

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

  • ‘I welcome the publication of this data by UCAS, and the increased transparency it brings around the use of unconditional offers.
  • ‘We are especially concerned about ‘conditional unconditional offers’. These are offers where a student has to commit to making a particular university their first choice before the offer becomes unconditional. The risk is that this places undue pressure on students to reach a decision which may not be in their best interests.
  • ‘As we made clear when we published our insight brief on this topic last week, there are some good reasons why universities might make unconditional offers. However, for a number of universities this data will make uncomfortable reading – where they cannot justify the offers they make they should reconsider their approach.’

The OfS also issued a news story warning universities against indiscriminate use of unconditional offers stating it ‘is akin to pressure selling and could put them in breach of consumer law’. The statement accompanies the launch of a new series of Insight briefs on ‘priority policy issues’ you can read the first research paper on unconditional offers here.

Wonkhe ran an article by Smita Jamdar of Shakespeare Martineau, on the OFS’s allegations that some practices in offer making could amount to “pressure selling”.  Smita says that there are several ways that unconditional offers could be relevant to consumer law:

  • The first is falsely stating that an offer will only be open for acceptance for a particular time, or will only remain available on certain terms for a certain time. The second is providing distorted information about market conditions to get a consumer to purchase the service on terms that are less favourable than market conditions. So cases where students are put under pressure to accept quickly, or to accept because they won’t get a better offer elsewhere, might amount to a banned practice.
  • Depending on the facts and circumstances, there may be other features of unconditional offers that constitute “aggressive practices”. A practice is aggressive if it significantly impairs a consumer’s freedom of choice through coercion or undue influence and it leads to the consumer entering into a transaction where he or she would not otherwise have done so. Persistence, and exploiting any vulnerability on the part of the consumer, are examples of factors that could lead to a practice being regarded as aggressive.
  • Finally, the regulations also make unlawful a broader range of “unfair practices”. A practice is unfair if it contravenes the requirements of professional diligence and materially distorts or is likely to distort the economic behaviour of the average consumer (average in the context of the regulations means taking into account any particular vulnerabilities of the consumer group targeted, so in the case of many prospective students, their youth and inexperience).

Of course, any case will depend on its particular facts.  Action might be taken in court for a criminal offence, by the Competition and Markets Authority seeking assurances about compliance, or by a student seeking redress – including withdrawing from their programme and getting their course fees back.

Here are some press links: The GuardianThe TelegraphDaily MailThe TimesTESFinancial Times and the Belfast Telegraph highlights Northern Ireland’s two universities who between them only made 10 unconditional offers for the last cycle.

Prior to the UCAS data release Dean Machin from Portsmouth wrote a thought provoking HEPI blog on UCAS as the gate keeper of admissions data and how their previous reluctance to release data may actually have implications for the Competitions and Market Authority too.

This story will run and run and we can expect more from the OfS in the coming months.

Admissions  – and access to HE

Meanwhile a new blog on Wonkhe rounds up the end of the 2018 application cycle to give a national comparative perspective. Wonkhe also comment: For the 2018 cycle overall, the relentless rise of the Russell Group seems to have slowed, with post-92 institutions the big winners in terms of year on year growth in acceptances. There’s also some surprises in those seeing large year-on-year shrinkage

Lastly, the HESA 2017/2018 release reports that the number of students in higher education in 2017/18 is at a five year high (2,343,095 students), and reflects a steady increase since 2012/13. The increased numbers also reflect increased diversity within the student body with a growing proportion of black, Asian, and mixed background students, as well as those from other ethnicities, and increased levels of students with a disability.

However, David Lidington MP, is not encouraged by the increased diversity within the HESA statistics and spoke out via a Government news story on Friday. The story announces measures to improve outcomes for ethnic minority students in higher education… [which are] part of a bold cross-government effort to “explain or change” ethnic disparities highlighted by the Prime Minister’s Race Disparity Audit website, so people can achieve their true potential, whatever their background and circumstances.

The figures from the Race Disparity Audit and OfS show that while record numbers of ethnic minorities are attending university, only 56% of black students achieved a First or 2:1 compared to 80% of their white peers in 2016/2017, and black students are the most likely to drop out of university. In the workforce, only 2% of academic staff are black. White British low-income males remain the least likely to attend higher education.

Universities Minister, Chris Skidmore, said he expected universities’ access and participation plans: to contain ambitious and significant actions to make sure we are seeing material progress in this space in the next few years…It is one of my key priorities as the Universities Minister to ensure… we redouble our efforts to tackle student dropout rates. It cannot be right that ethnic minority students are disproportionately dropping out of university and I want to do more to focus on student experience to help ethnic minority students succeed at university.

The carrot and stick measures include:

  • Holding universities to account through their Access and Participation plans – with the OfS using their powers to tackle institutions who do not fulfil their promises
  • Including progress in tackling access and attainment disparities within league tables to pressurise institutions to make better progress
  • OfS to develop a new website replacing Unistats with a particular mindset to ensuring the needs of disadvantaged students are taken into account. The website will provide better information to students so they can make informed choices.
  • Reducing ethnic disparities in research and innovation funding – UK Research and Innovation is commissioning evidence reviews on challenges for equality and diversity and how they can be addressed.
  • Gathering evidence on what works to improve ethnic minority access and success – through the OfS Evidence and Impact Exchange
  • Reviewing the Race Equality Charter. Advance HE will look at how the sector charter can best support better outcomes for both ethnic minority staff and students.
  • Encouragement for institutions to address race disparities in their workforce – using tools such as the Race at Work Charter and Race Equality Charter.
  • Scrutiny of each universities published data on admissions and attainment broken down by ethnicity, gender, and socio-economic background with a focus on all institutions to make progress, not just providers who have the poorest records.

The OfS have also published their commissioned research into Understanding and overcoming the challenges of targeting students from under-represented and disadvantage ethnic backgrounds. WP Wonks will recognise some familiar names from the sector within the authors of the report. There are also guidance and case studies available on the OfS page.

The OfS have published a case study of a successful academic study skills support service programme implemented in three northern FE colleges for non-traditional HE learners to support their transition and success at HE level. The study found engineering and IT students the hardest to reach with few self-accessing the service. The case study describes changes made to scheduling, flexibility in approach and embedding core elements within the programme induction. The programme’s success was partly measured using the Duckworth’s GRIT questionnaire. Which looks at confidence levels and the ability to sustain interest in and effort towards long-term goals, such as academic study.

In other WP news the Social Mobility Commission expect to issue their regular publication State of the Nation updated for the 2018 year in the spring.

Preparing and supporting students in the transition to University

Here is our regular student feature from SUBU’s Sophie Bradfield…

On Wednesday 23rd January I attended a Westminster Briefing on behalf of SUBU, on supporting students into Higher Education (HE) which focused on how to prepare students with realistic expectations to help them transition into University life. The current generation (Z) is the most likely to go into Higher Education with almost half going to University, but student expectations aren’t always an accurate picture of reality and this is a problem for transitions. Unrealistic student expectations of Higher Education can be linked to access for widening participation students; student mental health; retention; progression and success. Alongside the importance of helping students to have realistic expectations of University, a key theme identified by each speaker was the significance of students developing a sense of belonging to help them transition into HE. Below are a few key thoughts from the day.

The briefing began with a presentation from Dominic Kingaby, the Student Experience Policy lead at the Department for Education (DfE), who emphasised the way that mental health affects incoming and current students. The Office for National Statistics’ work around Measuring National Wellbeing shows that prospective and current students have lower mental health than the general population. The 2017 ‘Reality Check’ report from HEPI and Unite Students found that around 1 in 8 applicants to University have pre-existing mental health conditions, which they often won’t disclose to their University. Mental Health can be exacerbated by a number of pressures which are part of University life, for example money issues, accommodation issues, assignment pressures etc. The report also found that when facing issues, 85% of prospective students would feel most comfortable talking to their friends/course-mates and flatmates about it, showing the importance of peer support and students establishing good friendships whilst at University.

It was reflected by the group that the pressures of going to University and the academic workload itself hasn’t necessarily changed that much in the last ten years however the mind sets of students have. Of course class sizes are bigger; students have more information at their fingertips and financing a degree is at the forefront of most students’ minds, which is intensified by social media and the news. Yet more than ever before, students are coming to University suffering with ideals of ‘perfectionism’ cultivated through years of their educational progress being monitoring and tracked from a very early age. (Dominic noted that he was feeding these unintended consequences of monitoring into the DfE). This ‘perfectionism’ then deepens a mantra of University just being for “a degree” and students having a sense that they don’t “have time” to take part in and be transformed by the whole experience. Consequently they are missing out on the vital extra-curricular elements which foster skills for progression and success. Students are also increasingly suffering with ‘Imposter Syndrome’ leading to sentiments of not belonging at University which impacts retention.

Students who aren’t prepared for HE will have very different expectations to the reality as FE is very different. The Government’s work on a strategy for tackling loneliness notes that “Students and those in higher education can be at risk of loneliness, especially when starting their course, and this can lead to greater feelings of anxiety, stress, depression and poor mental health.” On the academic side of things alone they will be challenged by the difference in student-staff ratios and going from fixed curriculums to independent self-study. It was agreed in the briefing that more needs to be done for students before they are even old enough to apply to University but there is also a lot that can be done in the period between an offer being given and coming to campus. There were a whole range of good practices from different institutions; from linking up incoming students with current students for peer support; to providing a portal for incoming students with all the information they would need on life at University (not just the academic side of things); and also a trial at Plymouth University of the whole of the first year being a transitionary period.

Other noteworthy aspects of the briefing include the impact that going to an Insurance choice rather than a 1st choice can have on delaying the ‘sense of belonging’ that a student has. It was also discussed that with a diverse student body with many different identities, transition needs to be a whole institutional and partnership approach. Universities need to work alongside their Students’ Unions to offer a diverse package of support and activities for students. An example of how this can help is; one student may speak to their academic advisor because they know them from one of their units and therefore feel comfortable seeking support on an issue with them, whereas another student facing the same issue may instead get the support and information they need when speaking to their peers at their academic society. Both students have the same support needs but their identities and ‘sense of belonging’ are different, therefore they get this support from different places. This shows how a whole institution-collaborative approach is needed for transitions and student support.

Brexit

From Research Professional:

  • Tuesday night’s vote on Graham Brady’s amendment to require the government to reopen negotiations with the European Union over the withdrawal agreement was one of the more bizarre moments of theatre in the Brexit process, with the prime minister voting for a backbencher’s amendment against the deal she had spent two years negotiating.
  • You may be wondering how the cavalcade of MPs with a significant interest in higher education voted. Former science ministers and second-referendum advocates Jo Johnson and Sam Gyimah both abstained from the vote. Universities minister Chris Skidmore and his boss Damian Hinds voted with (sorry, against, but really with) the government. Gordon Marsden and Chi Onwurah of Labour voted against the amendment, naturally. Greg Clark and other business ministers voted for the amendment.
  • Eight Conservative MPs voted against the amendment but not Johnson and Gyimah, which is curious.

From Dods: On Monday morning the Exiting the European Union Committee have published their twelfth report of session 2017-2019 on ‘Assessing the Options.’ The report is the first published since the defeat of the Withdrawal Agreement and covers a number of outcomes and assessments:

  • No deal: The report says that there is deep concern about the readiness of business for a no-deal exit and that the “Government’s belated efforts to engage with business and provide some form of guidance is unlikely to be sufficient to mitigate the worst effects of a no-deal exit.” It also highlights that the Government’s no-deal technical notices “place significant weight on assumptions about how the EU will respond in the event of no-deal”,  and that the maintenance of goodwill depends on a settlement of financial obligations and a generous guarantee of the rights of EU citizens.
  • Renegotiation of the deal: The report argues that a renegotiation of the Political Declaration would, most likely, require a limited extension of the Article 50 process; a deal that would enable frictionless trade to continue is not possible under a CETA-style free trade agreement with the EU and under such rules N Ireland would have to trade under different rules from the rest of the UK as set out in the backstop; A Norway Plus relationship between the UK and the EU would enable frictionless trade on the condition that the UK continued to adhere to EU rules – including the Single Market and remain in a UK-EU customs union.
  • A second referendum: The report acknowledges that a second referendum would be logistically and politically complex, but not unobtainable if the will existed in UK Parliament. However, there is now insufficient time to hold a referendum before 29 March 2019 and so if the will for one did exist then Article 50 would have to request an extension to Article 50.  The report highlights that under the Wightman Judgement there is a possibility of the UK unilaterally revoking the notification to leave under Article 50 but makes the distinction that this would not be a mechanism to buy time and would instead bring the withdrawal process to an end.
  • Conclusion: The report says there is no majority in the House for the Prime Minister’s deal in its current form and repeats the recommendation of the eleventh report that “it is vital that the House of Commons is now given the opportunity to identify an option that might secure a majority.” It says that there does not appear to be a majority for no deal exit but acknowledges that this remains the default outcome if the House is unable to approve the deal or pass legislation required to implement it in domestic law. It concludes that the final options remaining are for re-negotiation, legislate for a referendum, or the revoking or extension of Article 50.

Process – from the BBCThe next steps and the various alternative scenarios are set out nicely here with an exploration of each of the different possibilities

 From HEPI:

The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) has worked with polling company YouthSight to survey  FT UG students’ attitudes towards Brexit. Students are overwhelmingly in favour of remaining in the European Union:

  • 76% opt for remaining in the EU
  • 6% back Theresa May’s recently rebuffed deal
  • 7% for no deal
  • 11% undecided.

However, opinion divides further when the option to remain is removed:

  • 37% opt for Theresa May’s deal
  • 36% ‘don’t know’
  • 27% choose no deal

Student opinion is interesting because only 43% were eligible to vote in the 2016 referendum (93% are eligible now). Some facts:

  • 69% want a second referendum
  • 21% are willing to work through their MP to demonstrate their voice within the Parliamentary voting
  • 8% of students who did vote in the referendum said they would change the way they voted if there was another referendum. With Leave voters more likely to change the way they voted in a second referendum (34%) than Remain voters (2%).
  • If students were given the choice between remaining in the EU and no deal:
  • 80% of them would choose to remain
  • 10% no deal
  • 10% unsure
  • 75% of students believe Britain was wrong to vote to leave the EU (14% believe it was right to vote to leave, 12% unsure).

And separately:

  • 74% believe the Government is doing badly at listening and engaging effectively with young people over Brexit.
  • 77% of students believe their future prospects will be worsened by the decision to leave the European Union (13%  expect improved prospects, 11% believe it makes no difference).

Student opinion on the political parties: support for Labour is strongest but has dropped 10% since the previous HEPI poll, Theresa May as a leader is unpopular amongst students while student’s choosing to vote Conservative or for the Liberal Democrats remains relatively stable. You can read more on student party opinions in the full blog here.

Students say they would turn out to vote in high numbers should there be a General Election (81% would vote). HEPI note this supports recent trends, as it was estimated that 64% of 18-24 year olds voted in the 2017 election, the highest turnout for this age group since the 1992 election.

Science Salaries

The Minister also gave evidence to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee this week noting concern that the recommended minimum salary thresholds for EU workers after Brexit would be detrimental to science.

Temporary leave to remain

The Government have updated their policy issuing details of Temporary leave to remain as a Brexit no deal stopgap solution.  This relates to new arrivals after March if there is no deal – students and staff already in Britain should be fine as long as they can demonstrate their residency prior to Brexit. There is a three year limit on the temporary leave to remain which may have implications for students on 4 year courses, who may need to apply for a visa mid-course to complete their programme.

Here is the detail from Dods:

The Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill 2017-19 received its Second Reading on 28 January and has passed into Committee stage. On the same day, the Secretary of State for the Home Office, Sajid Javid, announced a new ‘European Temporary Leave to Remain in the UK’ as part of the Government’s no-deal Brexit planning.

The Government plans to implement the Immigration Bill and end free movement from 30 March 2019 in the event of a no-deal Brexit.  This means that for the most part, EU citizens and their family members who come to the UK from 30 March 2019 will require immigration permission to enter the UK. The Government and the Home Office will need rules in place to grant immigration leave to enter and remain to EU citizens.

However the Government has said that the new immigration rules, as set out in the White Paper, will “take some time to implement.” This means there will be a gap in immigration law and policy between the end of free movement and the implementation of the new immigration rules for EU citizens. To fill this gap, the Home Office has announced it will implement the new ‘European Temporary Leave to Remain in the UK,’ subject to parliamentary approval.

The main features of European Temporary Leave to Remain

EU citizens (including EFTA citizens) will be able to enter the UK as they do now (i.e. without the need for a visa/immigration permission) for a period of up to three months. During this time EU citizens will have the right to work and study in the UK.

EU citizens who wish to remain in the UK for more than the initial three months will need to apply for ‘European Temporary Leave’. The Home Office has explained that this will be done through an online application where the applicant will need to prove their identity and declare any criminal convictions. This sounds similar to the application process for ‘settled status’.

European Temporary Leave will allow the holder to remain in the UK for 36 months from the date of their application. EU citizens with this type of leave will have the right to work and study in the UK. It will be temporary and cannot be extended, nor will it lead to settlement in the UK. Holders of this type of leave would be required to apply for further leave to remain under the UK’s new immigration rules when implemented in the future. As the Home Office explains: “there may be some who do not qualify under the new arrangements and who will need to leave the UK when their leave expires.”

There will be an application fee and family permits will be required for non-EEA ‘close family members’. The Home Office explains in further detail:

  • “European Temporary Leave to Remain will allow EEA citizens arriving in the UK after 29 March 2019 to live, work and study in the UK if there’s no Brexit deal.
  • “EEA citizens who are granted European Temporary Leave to Remain will be able to stay in the UK for 36 months from the date of their application. European Temporary Leave to Remain will be a temporary, non-extendable immigration status. It will not give indefinite leave to remain (ILR), lead to status under the EU Settlement Scheme or make EEA citizens eligible to stay in the UK indefinitely. If EEA citizens want to stay in the UK for more than 36 months, they will need to apply for an immigration status under the new immigration system, which will come into effect from 1 January 2021. Those who do not qualify will need to leave the UK when their European Temporary Leave to Remain expires.”

Those who don’t need to apply

The following people will not be required to apply for European Temporary Leave:

  • EU citizens and their family members with settled or pre-settled status.
  • Irish citizens.

Those who are a “serious or persistent criminal or a threat to national security” will not be eligible and the UK’s deportation threshold will apply.

EU citizens can enter the UK with either their passport or a valid nationality identity card.

The Home Office explains that employers and landlords conducting right to work and rent checks for EU citizens will not be required “to start distinguishing between EU citizens who were resident before exit and post-exit arrivals.” Until 2021, EU citizens can continue to rely on their passports or national identity cards.

Settled status and no-deal

The introduction of European Temporary Leave does not affect those eligible for the settled status scheme. EU citizens living in the UK prior to 29 March 2019 can still apply for settled status in a no-deal Brexit, as European Temporary Leave is a status for those who arrive after 29 March 2019. For more information on this, see the Library’s Insight ‘What does the Withdrawal Agreement say about citizens’ rights?’.

The settled status scheme has completed its restricted pilot testing phases and is now open for applications from all eligible EU citizens. The Prime Minister Theresa May announced on 21 January 2019 that the £65 fee for settled status will be abolished. People who have already applied and paid the fee will be refunded.

The Home Office has further said that EEA citizens who arrive in the UK after 29 March 2019, but who had lived in the UK prior to 29 March 2019, will be eligible to apply for settled status. It is not clear what the specific eligibility requirements will be for people with these circumstances who wish to apply for settled status.

Further reading

Erasmus & Brexit

Erasmus+ and EU Solidarity Corps in the UK if there’s no Brexit deal

If the UK leaves the EU without a deal, funding is available from the government to underwrite all successful bids for UK applicants submitted to the Erasmus+ programme and EU Solidarity Corps while we are still in the EU, where planned projects can continue. The DfE have updated guidance.

The Government continue to recommend that applications are submitted to the European Commission or UK National Agency for the 2019 Erasmus+ and ESC Call for Proposals as normal. In the event that the UK leaves the EU with a withdrawal agreement in place, the UK will participate in Erasmus+ and the ESC until the end of the current cycle in 2020.

In the event that the UK leaves the EU without a deal, the UK will engage with the European Commission with the aim of securing the UK’s continued full participation in Erasmus+ and ESC until 2020. There are a range of options for the UK’s continued participation in Erasmus+ and ESC, including programme country status, partner country status or another arrangement. Partner country access to Erasmus+ varies between different regional groups.  In the event that the UK leaves the EU without a deal, the government’s underwrite guarantee will cover the payment of awards to UK applicants for all successful Erasmus+ and ESC bids.

The European Commission have also adopted a final set of contingency proposals in the area of the Erasmus+ programme.

Today’s measures would ensure that in the event of a “no-deal” scenario:

  • Young people from the EU and the UK who are participating in the Erasmus+ programme on 30 March 2019 can complete their stay without interruption;
  • EU Member State authorities will continue to take into account periods of insurance, (self) employment or residence in the United Kingdom before withdrawal, when calculating social security benefits, such as pensions;
  • UK beneficiaries of EU funding would continue to receive payments under their current contracts, provided that the United Kingdom continues to honour its financial obligations under the EU budget. This issue is separate from the financial settlement between the European Union and the United Kingdom.

Research

Research England have published the final guidance for the REF 2021.

Timeline:

  • In early 2020, the four UK higher education (HE) funding bodies will invite UK HEIs to make submissions to REF 2021.
  • Each submission in each UOA will contain a common set of data comprising information on all staff in post with significant responsibility for research on the census date, 31 July 2020; and information about former staff to whom submitted outputs are attributed
  • The deadline for submissions is 27 November 2020.
  • Submissions will be assessed by the REF panels during the course of 2021. Results will be published in December 2021, and will be used by the HE funding bodies to inform research funding from the academic year 2022–23.

Wonkhe discuss the key changes:

  • Some of the key changes in REF 2021 includes identifying more clearly staff who have significant responsibility for research in institutions and providing a consistent approach to interdisciplinary research. The guidance distinguishes between identifying staff who have significant responsibility for research from selecting those staff whose work is to be submitted for expert review.
  • Additionally, Dianne Berry, the chair of the REF Equality and Diversity Advisory Panel has released a statement to address the concern that “measures put in place to promote inclusion and support equality and diversity might be used by institutions as a mechanism for excluding staff in order to concentrate quality in their submission,” and pressures on researchers to disclose sensitive information. The revised guidance references the importance of voluntary declaration of individual circumstances and decoupling staff circumstances from research output.

Catriona Firth writes the following blog for Wonkhe:, Head of Policy at Research England highlights the key features of REF 2021 and the REF Steering Group’s ongoing quest for injecting clarity in the review process.

Consultations & Inquiries

Click here to view the updated consultation tracker. There are lots of new updates to past inquiries and consultations, links to reports issued and Government responses to the reports. Currently we are working on:

  • Proposed changes to the degree classification system
  • EHRC inquiry into Racial harassment in HE
  • The TEF review
  • Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF) proposals

We have recently submitted responses to:

  • Institutional cost of the current Tier 4 processing system
  • OfS’ approach to IAG

Email us on policy@bournemouth.ac.uk if you’d like to contribute to any of the current consultations.

Other news

Insolvent FE providers: The Government has published guidance on changes to the statutory regulation of insolvency and interventions regimes for FE colleges. It aims to ensure that there is legal clarity about what will happen in the exceptional event of an FE or sixth-form college becoming insolvent. It will also aim to ensure that in the event of insolvency current students are protected – it includes a special administration regime for the sector called education administration, with the objective of avoiding or minimising disruption to the studies of the existing students of the FE body as a whole.  In March 2019, the DfE will publish full details setting out what is changing within the FE college intervention regime, ahead of the new insolvency regime coming into operational effect on 1 April 2019.

Apprenticeships: The CBI have published the first in a series of reports in 2019 on the apprenticeship and skills system. Getting Apprenticeships Right: Next Steps recommends that the Government gives the Institute for Apprenticeships (IfA) the independence and clout it needs to reform and regulate the English skills system. It calls for a new wave of Government action to ensure apprenticeships lead to high-skilled, high-paid jobs, which fit firms’ needs now and in the future. The Financial Times reported that the CBI has called for the creation of an independent apprenticeship body to “fix the failings” of the government’s reforms to workplace training. It goes on to say that CBI said:

the apprenticeship levy, which was introduced in April 2017 and forces organisations to set aside money for workplace training, had proved frustrating for many employers, which would like to train more staff but feel prevented from doing so by the system’s rules. The CBI argue that more independence should be given to the Institute for Apprenticeships, which oversees all workplace training schemes, adding that businesses had complained that the system gave too little time to spend the money.

The CBI’s report’s key recommendations include:

  • The Government must make clear that the Institute is the principal body for vocational skills in England with the clout to hold policymakers and the skills sector to account.
  • The Institute must take further steps to speed up the apprenticeship standards approval process so that businesses can start using them.
  • Given employer levy funds are due to start expiring from April 2019, the Government must urgently set up an appeals system that gives employers longer to spend their money where apprenticeship standards remain in development.
  • With the IfA assuming responsibility for T-levels and higher T-levels, they must set out how these routes will work in practice to give employers and the public confidence in them.

NEON report on Policy Connect’s/HE Commission Degree Apprenticeships: Up to Standard? report, stating: Findings are released by the Higher Education Commission which show that degree apprenticeships may be good in theory but they’re not delivering for small employers or disadvantaged students. The new report ‘Degree Apprenticeships: Up to Standard?’ reveals that of 51 approved degree apprenticeship standards, 43% have no providers that are delivering to Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SME), this is despite over 99% of UK businesses being SMEs.

Engineering: Education for Engineering has published a report arguing that the UK education system cannot produce enough engineers to support the economy, especially with increasing reliance on home grown talent post-Brexit. The report concludes that if the industrial strategy is to achieve its aims, government must nurture and grow its skilled engineering workforce to improve productivity and economic growth. Since the original Perkins Review, the report found that scant progress in addressing the UK’s chronic engineering skills gap has been made and calls on government and the engineering community to take urgent action. Report recommendations:

  • Government should review the issues affecting recruitment and retention of teachers and go beyond plans announced this week by introducing a requirement for 40 hours of subject-specific continuing professional development for all teachers of STEM subjects, not just new recruits, every year.
  • An urgent review of post-16 academic education pathways for England is needed. Young people should have the opportunity to study mathematics, science and technology subjects along with arts and humanities up to the age of 18, to attract a broader range of young people into engineering.
  • Government must ensure engineering courses are adequately funded with increased top-up grants for engineering departments if tuition fees are to be reduced.
  • Government should give employers greater control and flexibility in how they spend the Apprenticeship Levy, including to support other high-quality training provision in the workplace, such as improving the digital skills of the workforce.
  • Professional engineering organisations and employers should address the need to up-skill engineers and technicians to prepare for the introduction of disruptive digital technologies into industry.
  • Employers should take an evidence-based and data driven approach to improve recruitment and increase retention and progression of underrepresented groups within organisations, including by introducing recruitment targets for underrepresented groups.

Dame Judith Hackitt, Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, and Chair of EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, said: In particular, there is a need to radically reform technical education – creating an Apprenticeship Levy system that is fit for the future and genuinely meets employers’ needs. We also need to ensure T Levels do not face the same fate as the Levy but are employer-led and driven and, sufficiently funded in disciplines such as manufacturing and engineering.

Videoing lectures: A Research Professional article looks at the use and misuse of recorded lectures and the ethical and legal position surrounding this.

Finding the right disability support: The Guardian ran a thought provoking article by Ellie Drewry on the hurdles she faces at her university because of her disability.

Mental health: A relevant parliamentary question was answered this week –

Q – Jim Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps his Department is taking to support the mental health and well-being of postgraduate students in universities.

A – Chris Skidmore:

  • Mental health is a priority for this government, which is why the government is working closely with Universities UK on embedding the Step Change programme within the sector. Step Change calls on higher education leaders to adopt mental health as a strategic priority. Step Change also advocates a whole-institution approach to transform cultures and embed mental health initiatives beyond student services teams.
  • The former Higher Education Funding Council for England’s Catalyst Fund also provided £1.5 million for 17 projects to improve the mental health of postgraduate research students. The Office for Students (OfS) is working with Research England to deliver this scheme.
  • This investment and the ongoing work of the OfS will support a range of activities. It will develop new practice for the pastoral support of postgraduate research students, and enhance training for their supervisors and other staff. Postgraduate research has different expectations and working practices to undergraduate work, so it will also help students adjust to the change.

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Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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HE policy update for the w/e 25th January 2019

We have made the policy update an almost Brexit-free zone this week. Of course we are all looking forward to the excitement on Tuesday, described by the Chancellor Philip Hammond, on radio 4 as not being “high noon” – we’ve got lots more to get through before we get to high noon, apparently.

Brexit

Keeping it dry today, no politics here…if you are interested in all the amendments to the motion so far tabled for Tuesday, you can find descriptions of them on the BBC here.  Parliament will publish the order of business nearer the time but as at Friday lunchtime the latest is here, which sets out the text of the amendments as tabled so far.  It is very unlikely that all of these will be debated or voted on.

Dods have given us a very handy summary:

  • Amendment (a) in the name of Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Corbyn: Calls for Parliament to have a vote on staying in the customs union, and a second referendum with the aim of preventing the UK from leaving without a deal.
  • Amendment (b) in the name of Yvette Cooper: It provides for the European Union (Withdrawal) (No 3) Bill to be heard and passed on 5 February in a single day.  The Bill, if passed, would mean that if the Prime Minister could not pass a withdrawal agreement by February 26 then the Commons would have an immediately vote on whether to request an extension of Article 50 from the EU which would end on 31 December 2019.
  • Amendment (e) in the name of Andrew Murrison and Sir Graham Brady: states that the EU withdrawal agreement would be amended so that the backstop shall expire on 31 December 2021.
  • Amendment (f) in the name of Hilary Benn: Calls on the Government to hold a series of indicative votes on the options setting out Exiting the European Union.
  • Amendment (g) in the name of Dominic Grieve: The Government’s powers under Standing Order No.14 which allows them to set government business would not apply. A motion entitled: “That this House has considered the United Kingdom’s departure from, and future relationship with, the European Union” would then become the first item of business.
  • Amendment (n) in the name of Andrew Murrison and Sir Graham Brady: amends the withdrawal agreement to include “and requires the Northern Ireland backstop to be replaced with alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border; supports leaving the European Union with a deal and would therefore support the Withdrawal Agreement subject to this change.”. *There is no suggestion of what the alternative arrangement would be.

Chief Political Commentator, John Rentoul has done a tally on likely outcomes from the amendment. Based on his calculations (very susceptible to change) Amendment B would pass by 320-317.[Ed: of course this one is a “long grass” amendment – it puts off the decision (as long as the EU agree) but who knows what Parliament would use the time for – the Bill to amend the leaving date and deliver the second part of the amendment is set out below]

And there are still some separate draft bills making their way through Parliamentary processes:

  • Geraint Davies (this one has been around since June 2018) – will have its second reading on 8th Feb: A Bill to require the holding of a referendum to endorse the United Kingdom and Gibraltar exit package proposed by HM Government for withdrawal from the EU, or to decide to remain a member, following the completion of formal exit negotiations; and for connected purposes.
  • And his second one (first presented in December 2018) also gets its second reading on 8th Feb: A Bill to require the Prime Minister to revoke the notification, under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union, of the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the European Union unless two conditions are met; to establish as the first condition for non-revocation that a withdrawal agreement has been approved by Parliament by 21 January 2019 or during an extension period agreed by that date under Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union; to establish as the second condition for non-revocation that a majority of participating voters have voted in favour of that agreement in a referendum in which the United Kingdom remaining as a member of the European Union was the other option; and for connected purposes.
  • The Grieve bills have still not been published
  • The Yvette Cooper one has – but no second reading date has been announced

And possibly connected, or possibly not, this is interesting (but not yet published) – Peter Bone “the Prime Minister (Temporary Replacement) Bill 2017-19” – this one was first tabled in Feb 2017 so probably not related.  A Bill to make provision for the carrying out of the functions of the Prime Minister in the event that a Prime Minister, or a person temporarily carrying out the functions of the Prime Minister, is incapacitated; and for connected purposes.

And that is enough for now…

TEF Review

The independent review of the TEF kicked off this week with a call to HE providers to share their views on the TEF. The review is being chaired by Dame Shirley Pearce and will contemplate the adequacy of the metrics on which judgements are based, the rating categories (Gold, Silver, Bronze) and the impact these have on providers, and whether TEF is fair, worth it, and in the public interest. The review will conclude and report in summer 2019.

  • The Minister said:“As Universities Minister I want you, the experts, to take part in Dame Shirley’s call for views and to give your thoughts so the TEF can work as well as it possibly can. It is important that we maximise the potential of this system and can only do that by getting invaluable insights from the sector.”

BU is compiling a response – please let us know if you want to input into this.

To coincide with the launch of the TEF review the DfE published their evaluation research into the TEF’s impact at year 2 (2016-17).  They state it has driven providers to make improvements with positive changes in teaching quality and a focus on student employability. It also considers how widely prospective students used the TEF to determine their choice of institution.

  • A large majority considered that the TEF was either having a ‘positive’ or ‘neutral’ impact on their institutions. A small minority considered that the TEF had impacted their provider or the sector in a negative way.
  • Respondents reported that the TEF had contributed to an increased emphasis on student outcomes in the last two years (37%) and 29% noted that the TEF had contributed to an increased emphasis on teaching quality and the learning environment (rising to 45% among academic staff responding).
    • A slightly lower proportion reported that the TEF had contributed to a change in course content (22%), or enhanced interventions for improving student retention (21%).
    • With the exception of teaching quality/learning environment, HE providers which received a Bronze TEF award 2017 (Year 2) were more likely to report that the TEF had contributed to change over the last two years: 71% reported an increased emphasis on student outcomes, 38% noted change in course content, while 51% reported interventions for improving student retention.
  • They report a considerable amount of change in student employability over the last two years, attributing some of this change to the TEF.
    • The most common impact attributed (at least in part) to the TEF was an increase in student exposure to employability opportunities (21%).
    • A further 17% reported that communications with students about their careers had started sooner (rising to 37% among academic staff responding)
    • 17% reported developments in the careers services as a result of the TEF. Only 11% reported that the TEF had enhanced employer partnerships.
  • 28% of respondents reported an increased demand on staff to support students, at least in part as a result of the TEF (rising to 44% among academic staff responding)
  • A higher proportion of respondents noted that the TEF had contributed to a decrease in teaching morale (15%) than an increase (10%)
  • Recruitment
    • Among Gold providers, 43% said that the TEF had, at least in part, impacted on an improved institutional reputation among potential applicants.
    • Bronze award providers were more likely to attribute the TEF in a decline in reputation (25%).
    • Page 14 considers the level of influence the TEF rating had on applications and choice of a HE provider
  • Respondents reported that at least partly as a result of the TEF:
    • new initiatives were being developed to improve teaching standards (24%)
    • there was an increase in teaching qualifications or training schemes (24%)
    • staff were provided more support to deliver positive student experiences (23%)
    • there was an increase in sharing best practice across departments (21%, rising to 37% among academic staff responding)
  • TEF brought a focus to some areas:
    • increased investment in the monitoring of TEF-related metrics: 61% of TEF Contacts reported that the TEF – at least in part – contributed to increased monitoring of metrics such as NSS scores, continuation rates and employment data)
    • This rose to 79% among Bronze providers.
    • The qualitative interviews revealed a particular emphasis for some HE providers on monitoring retention rates, in part due to the financial implications of high retention rates.

This chart on page 34 shows a mapping of the perceptions of the impact that TEF has had: As Figure 3.2 shows, there are some clear patterns by broad category:

  • Student Experience – TEF Contacts reported a high amount of change in the last two years for all items, relative to other categories, and a moderate (average) amount of this was considered to be as a result of the TEF.
  • Student Employability – For four items, this followed a similar pattern to student experience, although generally both the amount of change and extent of TEF influence reported was slightly lower. Two items showed low change and low TEF impact.
  • Teaching Staff – With one exception, there had been low change in the last two years, and TEF influence was also primarily low.
  • Teaching Practices – Similar to student employability, with a higher level of change reported overall, and mostly a low amount of this was attributed to the TEF.
  • Prospective Students – All four items showed low or average levels of change in the last two years; with one exception TEF influence was also low.
  • Wider impacts – The extent of change in this category varied from very high to low, and in all instances where change had occurred, a high amount was attributed to the TEF, relative to other categories

Conclusions can be read at pages 120-123. One of the final points is that awareness and understanding of the TEF within the applicant population needs to increase for the TEF to fulfil its original purpose to better inform students’ choices about what and where to study.

The call for views is only the first step: “In addition to the call for views I will be holding a programme of listening sessions and commissioning specific assessments of specialist questions. These will include an independent analysis of the statistical base of the TEF process and an assessment of its international impact. See more on the workstreams here.“

Unconditional Offers

The Student Room ran a survey with TSR research to obtain prospective students’ views on unconditional offers.

  • 46% agreed the Government should regulate unconditional offers (33% didn’t, 22% unsure)
  • However, 70% would be happy to receive an unconditional offer and 58% felt they would feel positive about a university that gave them an unconditional offer believing it is offered as recognition of achievement (especially when from a high rank university or competitive course)
  • In keeping with the above theme of unconditional offer as recognition the survey found ‘for the most part’ the prospective students felt universities should be selective in who receives an unconditional offers
  • The prospective students felt these were genuine reasons to receive an unconditional offer:
    • Already have the grades (62% agreed)
    • An impressive personal statement (40%)
    • Successful interview (31%)
    • Very high predicted grades (31%)
    • Student is from a disadvantaged background (30%)

However, 10% felt that unconditional offers should never be made.

  • When asked if universities make unconditional offers to fill places rather than because of student aptitude or characteristics the opinion of unconditional offers became negative:
    • 59% would perceive the university negatively if they believed they weren’t discerning and made too many unconditional offers (6% weren’t bothered about this)
    • Conditional unconditional offers (when the university makes a conditional offer unconditional after the application selects them as their firm choice) received mixed responses with 47% perceiving this negatively and 20% who approved of it.
      However, the prospective students commented that the practice is manipulative. And while half said a conditional unconditional would not make them change their decision 27% said it would sway their choice to the unconditional university over the one they really wanted to attend. This was one of Sam Gyimah’s key criticisms on unconditional offers whilst he was HE Minister.
  • 43% recognised that the unconditional offer was a boon to mental health – reducing the pressure of exams and allowing them to do better. Although others felt it would negatively impact motivation to perform well (39%) and that such students wouldn’t be sufficiently prepared for university study and exams.
  • Other students (without unconditional offers) were resentful and didn’t want to study alongside those with an unconditional offer that may not have worked as hard or achieved the required grades. One quote implied only the top universities should be allowed to make unconditional offers: “Ultimately I just think unconditional offers shouldn’t be handed out on a plate, and more regulation of less prestigious unis handing them out should be enforced.”

All in all the students back up Government concerns that unconditional offers sway capable students away from more prestigious universities, that they undermine the sector’s reputation, and that is it more about bums on seats within the crowded HE recruitment market. However, there is enough balancing student opinion to show the other side of the coin – young people value unconditional offers when they perceive they are a reward for aptitude, a reasoned boon to social mobility, and a balm to improve mental health. A large proportion were in favour of Government regulation, which the HE sector is keen to avoid.

And the OfS have responded with a press release, a briefing and interviews.

Some extracts from the briefing are here:

The growth of unconditional offers appears to be a consequence of increasing competition between universities. The OfS has a legal duty to have regard to the need to encourage competition where it is in the interests of students and employers. The question is whether the sorts of unconditional offer practices arising from this competition are in the interests of students

…The OfS is concerned about the rapid rise in unconditional offers, particularly those that require students to commit to a particular course. We will take action where they are not in students’ interests.

  • While some are seeking to justify unconditional offers as a tool to support fair access for disadvantaged students, contextual offer-making is a more effective way of achieving this.
  • We will make clear where ‘pressure selling’ practices are at risk of breaching consumer protection law, and empower students to challenge this as well as taking regulatory action if appropriate.
  • We will bring together a range of education, employer and other organisations to explore whether the admissions system serves the interests of students. We will work with the Department for Education, students, UCAS and others on a consultation on principles for how the admissions system can best achieve this goal.

….Are unconditional offers a good or bad thing? This is probably the wrong question. Most commentators agree that, used appropriately, unconditional offers have a legitimate and useful place in the university admissions system. The right question is probably more complex: what does an ‘appropriate’ unconditional offer look like?

Risk of reduced attainment

  • The most recent UCAS report, and our own analysis, support this concern. UCAS estimates that the proportion of applicants placed in higher education through unconditional offers who miss their predicted grades by two or more grades is around five percentage points higher than would be expected compared with those holding a conditional offer. UCAS’s modelling controls for different attainment at GCSE, background characteristics of the student and the course where they hold their firm offer to ensure that this estimate is not influenced by the group of applicants who hold unconditional offers. This proportion has remained fairly stable throughout the increase in unconditional offer-making. This means that as unconditional offers increase, more young people are attaining slightly weaker A-level results than expected each year.
  • ….The rapid increase in unconditional offers means that it’s too early to assess with any certainty their effect on continuation rates, student satisfaction and degree attainment. The limited evidence we have on non-continuation rates is set out in Figure 3, which shows non-continuation rates by entry qualifications. Because of the timescale we have only been able to look at entrants in 2015-16, when the numbers of unconditional offers were much lower than in 2018, and the differences are not statistically significant. We will continue our analysis as more data becomes available.

Impact on disadvantaged students

  • There are particular concerns about the effect of unconditional offers on students from disadvantaged groups. Critics highlight the particular vulnerability of applicants who are the first in their family to attend university, and of those who lack parental support. These applicants may be more likely to accept an unconditional offer with limited information about their options and the potential drawbacks.UCAS analysis shows that more unconditional offers are being made to applicants from the areas with the lowest rates of participation in higher education: these applicants are more likely to receive an unconditional offer than applicants from areas with higher participation. This is illustrated in Figure 4.
  • …Our own analysis demonstrates that some of this difference may be attributable to types of university rather than to student characteristics. In other words, universities and colleges may not, in general, be directing their unconditional offers towards disadvantaged students; rather, those that take a greater proportion of disadvantaged students tend to use more unconditional offers. This is an important distinction. It suggests that unconditional offer-making to disadvantaged students may be driven more by the circumstances of universities and colleges than the needs of the students. This contrasts with the practice of contextual offer-making, which takes into account the circumstances in which academic results are achieved.

 Constraining choice?

  • A concern is that applicants may choose an unconditional offer because they see it as a safer option than a conditional offer. In particular, students accepting a conditional unconditional offer are depriving themselves of the chance to
  • consider other universities and colleges. This can result in students making sub-optimal choices, without information on alternative options which may be more suitable for their career plans or may better reflect their abilities and talents. In other words, they may not necessarily be opting for the course and university or college that would be best for them overall.
  • Since they can have the effect of reducing attainment, unconditional offers may also limit students’ ability to choose a different higher education course, whether by changing their mind before starting, ‘trading up’ during adjustment or clearing, or transferring courses at a later stage. A connected concern centres on a perceived lack of transparency about how unconditional offers work. There is limited understanding of the criteria universities apply in selecting applicants to receive unconditional offers.

The OfS is taking action in relation to unconditional offers on a number of fronts:

  • We will continue to monitor and assess the way unconditional offers are being used across the sector.
  • We will ensure that provider-level data on unconditional offers is published on a regular basis, starting in 2019, including their impact at all stages of the student lifecycle where this can be monitored.
  • We will identify any cases where the evidence suggests that students with unconditional (or very low) offers are particularly at risk of poor outcomes, or not being properly supported. We will challenge the universities or colleges concerned, and intervene where necessary.
  • We will make clear our expectations that the governing bodies of universities and colleges are fully sighted on their institution’s admissions policy and its implications for the interests of individual students.
  • We will make clear where ‘pressure selling’ practices are at risk of breaching consumer law, and empower students to challenge this as well as taking regulatory action ourselves if appropriate.
  • We will work with UCAS and other bodies providing information, advice and guidance to improve students’ ability to make informed choices about unconditional offers.

The OFS research paper is here:

  1. We are currently unable to include conditional unconditional offers (type B) which have not been recorded as unconditional (typically because the applicant has not made the offer their firm choice). The UCAS report includes an assessment of the conditional unconditional offers (type B) including those that are not recorded as unconditional. It suggests that the proportion of offers being made that have an unconditional component could be as much as 70 per cent higher than the unconditional offers reported here. Where possible we have shown the UCAS estimates of offers that contain an unconditional component alongside our estimates, for context.

Research

On Thursday the Chancellor, Phillip Hammond, announced £100 million investment for research and technology to future-proof the UK economy for the fourth industrial revolution and to boost UK innovation. The funding has been earmarked for the creation of 1,000 new PhD places across the UK for the next generation of Artificial Intelligence; to fund research into life-saving technology to be used in NHS hospitals; to address pollution hotspots within cities and develop an early warning system; and to improve voice-recognition software for business and consumers. Despite the rhetoric it’s not completely new money – it is part of the £7 billion that was promised for science and innovation in announcements since 2016. The Chancellor said:

  • Britain is a great place to do business. And we are determined, as we leave the EU, to make sure it remains that way. We are leading the way in the tech revolution. The UK digital sector is now worth over £130 billion with jobs growing at twice the rate of those in the wider economy .I want to ensure we remain the standard bearer, so we must invest in our new economy so that it can adapt and remain competitive. We are backing British innovation to help create growth, more jobs and higher living standards.”

Accelerated Degrees

Last week we informed you that the regulations aiming to change the HE funding regime to facilitate accelerated degrees were presented in Parliament amid concerns from Labour. Labour feel that working throughout the summer break rules out lower income students who rely on holiday jobs to fund their study and living costs. This week the Commons voted and have passed the regulations authorising the 20% increase  on yearly fees for accelerated students. While the vote wasn’t close there was substantial opposition with all Labour MPs voting against the increase. Other criticisms levied at the accelerated degree was the loss of the university experience and less time for students to settle into university life.

Chris Skidmore, Universities Minister, said the legislation was: “One of the great modern-day milestones for students and breaks the mould of a one-size-fits all system for people wanting to study in higher education.”

Next hurdle for the regulations is the House of Lords vote which will take place next Tuesday 29 January.

International students

Encouraging International Students (link)

Q – Jo Stevens: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps his Department has taken to ensure that the number of international students choosing to study in the UK grows over the next 10 years.

A – Chris Skidmore:

  • The government fully recognises the important economic and cultural contribution that EU and international students make to the UK’s higher education sector. The government welcomes international students and there continues to be no limit on the number who can come here to study, and there are no plans to limit any institution’s ability to recruit them.
  • The UK remains a highly attractive destination for non-EU students with their numbers remaining at record highs, with over 170,000 non-EU entrants to UK higher education institutions for the seventh year running. The UK is a world-leading destination for study, with four universities in the world’s top 10 and 16 in the top 100 – second only to the USA. The government actively promotes study in the UK through the GREAT Campaign and to over 100 countries through the British Council.
  • In the Immigration White Paper, published on 19 December 2018, the government proposed to increase the post-study leave period for international students following completion of studies to 12 months for those completing a PhD, and to six months for all full-time postgraduate students and undergraduate students at institutions with degree awarding powers. Going beyond the recommendations set out by the Migration Advisory Committee, these proposals will benefit tens of thousands of international students.

Q – Catherine West: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, whether there will be an independent review of credibility interviews within the student immigration system to ensure the system is (a) fit for purpose, (b) cost effective relative to current risk and (c) does not hinder universities’ ability to recruit a diverse range of students.

A – Caroline Nokes:

  • An internal review of point of application credibility interviews for international students was conducted in 2018 to ensure that interviews are adding value to the case consideration process and not unnecessarily inconveniencing customers.
  • Up to date risk information was factored in to this review. Regular engagement with universities and other educational institutions ensures that feedback is collected in relation to the application process.

Q – Wes Streeting: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, whether EU students starting courses in England in the 2019-20 academic year will be eligible for home fee status in the event of the UK leaving the EU without a deal.

A: Chris Skidmore:

  • The department is aware that students, staff and providers are concerned about what EU Exit means for study and collaboration opportunities. To help give certainty, in July 2018, the department announced guarantees on student finance for EU nationals.
  • These guarantees are not altered if the UK leaves the EU without a deal. EU nationals (and their family members) who start a course in England in the 2019/20 academic year or before, will continue to be eligible for ‘home fee’ status and student finance support from Student Finance England for the duration of their course, provided they meet the residency requirement.

The House of Commons library also released an international and EU student briefing paper. You can download the pdf paper from the link at the very bottom of this page.

Q – Jo Stevens: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, whether he plans to review the option of introducing a post-study work visa allowing up to two years of work experience for international students in the UK.

A – Caroline Nokes:

  • The independent Migration Advisory Committee’s report on international students, published in September 2018, recommended against the introduction of a separate post-study work visa. The report also made several positive recommendations with regard to the current post-study work offer. (Link.)
  • … As set out in the Immigration White Paper, published last month, under the new student route all students studying at a Masters’ level, or at Bachelors’ level at an institution with degree awarding powers, will be eligible for a six-month post study leave period. Doctoral students will be eligible for a 12-month post study leave period. This will benefit tens of thousands of international students by providing them with more time to gain valuable experience or find employment in the UK in accordance with the skilled work migration routes.

Post-18 review

The rumours and leaks surrounding Augar’s Review of Post-18 education and funding have been a weekly affair over the last month with mass speculation over how degree tuition fees may change in the future. This week the BBC ran an article suggesting that Justine Greening planned to axe tuition fees in favour of graduate tax contributions before she was reshuffled out of office. The article says:

  • She [Justine] says she had been working on a radically different system which would have removed fees – but instead the prime minister launched a review of student finance, chaired by financier Philip Augar. Ms Greening is scathing about the review, which is expected to report back next month… She says its public remit is confused – without any “clear objectives of the problem it was trying to fix”. And she says its private purpose was to buy time and only “tweak” a few of the most politically toxic aspects of the current system.

Other news

Extremism:

On Monday the Henry Jackson Society published Extreme Speakers and Events: In the 2017-18 Academic Year. It claims that in 2017/18 there were 435 student focussed events which had extremist content and creates a league table of the institutions most regularly hosting events which contain such content. The Society garnered media attention in claiming such universities were failing in their Prevent duties. They also criticised the Office for Students (OfS) monitoring and questioned the OfS figure that 97% of universities are compliant with Prevent. Wonkhe highlighted that the report doesn’t consider the risk assessment and mitigation that may have been put in place by the host institutions. Responding to the report Queen Mary University replied that their speakers were subject to “stringent checks” and Birmingham University said “none of the speakers appear on any government list of proscribed organisations or individuals”. Nevertheless, The Times report that Robert Halfon, Chair of the Commons Education select committee, said:  “This is incredibly distressing. We seem to be going backwards. There needs to be an urgent inquiry.”

By Wednesday the Home Office Minister of State for Security, Ben Wallace, announced a public independent review of the Prevent counter-radicalisation programme stating it was in response to an amendment by peers seeking such a move during scrutiny of the government’s counter-terrorism and border security bill. He continued:

“This review should expect those critics of Prevent, who often use distortions and spin, to produce solid evidence of their allegations.” On the timing he said: “The review of part 5 of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015, which provides the legislative foundation for the Prevent programme, is in any event due to take place early in 2020, just 12 months away. Given that, I have decided that the time is now right to initiate a review of Prevent. Communities across the country are behind the policy and are contributing to it because, like us, they want to protect their young people from being groomed and exploited by extremists.”

The Financial Times also reports Parliament’s joint committee on human rights, comprising both MPs and peers, has also called for the scheme to be scrutinised.

Civic Engagement: Narratives on HE: slumming it on civic engagement is a new blog on Wonkhe covering the social good that students do within a community.

International Education Strategy: Education Minister, Damian Hinds, announced the intention to develop a cross-Government international education strategy stressing that education is “a big part of our diplomacy”. The strategy will address and encourage incoming international students to the HE sector as well as supporting the expansion of UK universities abroad, Damian said:

Inbound international students is a really important part of [the strategy], both for the earnings reason – it’s an important part of business – but also, just as important, because of the role it plays in our place in the world and because it makes sure we have diverse, vibrant student communities where everyone is learning from each other.”

UUK International Director, Vivienne Stern, said:

“We’re delighted to hear the Secretary of State for Education speaking publicly about the new governmental international education strategy and we are looking forward to its launch. The sector has long called for an ambitious strategy, backed up by meaningful policy, to encourage international students to choose UK universities. International students are vital to our universities.”
The speech was also covered by The Financial Times.

Disadvantaged pupils:

The DfE have released data showing rising standards in secondary schools with disadvantaged pupils in multi-academy trusts making more progress than the equivalent national average. School Standards Minister, Nick Gibb, said:

  • Making sure that all pupils, regardless of their background, are able to fulfil their potential is one of this Government’s key priorities and these results show that more pupils across the country are doing just that.It’s been clear for some time that standards are rising in our schools and today’s data underlines the role academies and free schools are playing in that improvement, with progress above the national average and impressive outcomes for disadvantaged pupils.

A level and other 16-18 results have also been published highlighting lower attainment for disadvantaged students compared to non-disadvantaged students across all qualification types.

Meanwhile the Public Account Committee have published a report on school academies accounts and performance. It concludes that a number of high profile academy failures have been costly to the taxpayer and damaging to children’s education, and recommends that the governance and oversight of academy trusts needs to be more rigorous. Furthermore that Academy trusts do not make enough information available to help parents and local communities understand what is happening in individual academy schools. And when things go wrong it is not clear who parents can turn to, to escalate concerns about the running of academy schools and academy trusts.

Contact Sarah if you would like a more in depth summary of any of the above three reports.

EDM: An interesting cross-section of MPs have signed the following Early Day Motion within Parliament which pushes back against the recent ‘let them fall’ mindset to Universities in financial difficulty:

  • That this House recognises the crucial role of our higher education sector in meeting the nation’s skills needs and supporting local economies; notes with concern the recent comments by Sir Michael Barber, chair of the Office for Students, which suggest that the new regulator will not support universities experiencing financial difficulties; further notes that allowing a higher education institution to fail would cause significant harm to its students, graduates and local area; awaits with interest the findings of Philip Augar’s review of post-18 education and funding which represents an opportunity to overhaul the current system predicated on student debt; and calls on the Government to introduce a fair and sustainable funding system which protects both student interests, institutional funding, and which recognises higher education is not a private commodity but an essential public good.

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HE Policy update for the w/e 11th January 2019

Value for money (1) – cutting low value university courses

A report by Onward published on 7th January sets out some ideas for addressing the concerns about high student loans: A question of degree – Why we should cut graduates’ taxes and pay for it by reducing the number of low value university courses.  Not much surprise about what they recommend then….

Who are they?

“Onward is a powerful ideas factory for centre-right thinkers and leaders. We exist to make Britain fairer, more prosperous and more united, by generating a new wave of modernising ideas and a fresh kind of politics that reaches out to new groups of people. We believe in a mainstream conservatism – one that recognises the value of markets and supports the good that government can do, is unapologetic about standing up to vested interests, and assiduous in supporting the hardworking, aspirational and those left behind. Our goal is to address the needs of the whole country: young as well as old; urban as well as rural; and for all parts of the UK – particularly places that feel neglected or ignored in Westminster.”

Its foreword is by two MPs: Neil O’Brien OBE MP and Gillian Keegan MP:

…at present we have a dramatically lop-sided system. University education dominates at the top of every profession, and every institution. In contrast, technical education and apprenticeships have been the poor relation for decades, neglected and underfunded. Until recently, these courses have not even provided any route to high level qualifications or top jobs. In recent years that has started to change, with the creation of higher level technical education, degree apprenticeships and the forthcoming Institutes of Technology. But still there’s a long way to go. And a lot to change. Thanks to new government data we now know that there are many people for whom it is not worth incurring over £50,000 of debt to obtain a university degree – either for them, or for the government. This paper concludes it is between a fifth and a quarter of university students. We now know specifically which courses, at which institutions, see their graduates earning too little for their degree to have been worth it financially. That’s not the only way in which the facts have changed in recent years either. New data on the dramatic imbalances of wealth between generations makes it clear that we need to take urgent action to help younger generations enjoy the same opportunities their parents had. ….

The challenges:

  • Graduates face some of the highest marginal tax rates of any taxpayers in England and Wales, compounding imbalances of wealth between the generations
  • In economic terms, university represents extremely poor value for money for some graduates, especially those studying certain subjects:
    • Earnings varies considerably by subject…. Graduates studying medicine, law, economics and the hard sciences (“STEM subjects”) enjoy high returns.
    • Lower earning courses included degrees in creative arts, psychology, agriculture, combined studies, mass communications, English and social studies (excluding economics).
    • The lowest earning subjects of all were creative arts courses, which had the largest number of graduates of any course type despite the lowest earnings. Ten years after graduating, the median creative arts graduate does not earn above the £25,000 repayment threshold and is not paying anything back.
    • There is little evidence that market forces are driving students towards courses with high returns.
  • Low returns and high interest rates combine to ensure most loans are never fully paid back
  • Despite being neglected, technical education is already a better route to higher earnings for many students. If we invested more in higher technical education, it could be even better
  • Those with the lowest prior attainment are the most likely to be financial losers under the current system
  • Perhaps unsurprisingly, the public do not believe the current system of student loans is fair or represents value for money
  • Simply abolishing tuition fees does nothing for graduates, and is prohibitively expensive for taxpayers, including many who have not themselves attended university
  • Reducing tuition fees from their current level would do little to reduce the day-to-day repayment burden of graduates
  • Replacing loans with a graduate tax is simpler but is unlikely to lead to lower graduate repayments and would worsen ‘brain drain’
  • Shifting the costs to employers would do little for graduates, and create significant distortions
  • Altering rates and thresholds might have the desired effects, but compound other issues with loan forgiveness and accounting

The recommendations:

Value for money (2) – no secrets revealed yet

The Education Committee published its report, Value for Money in Higher Education, on 5 November 2018. The government response to the Committee’s report was published on 3rd January 2019

Interestingly it starts by setting the tone for what is to follow:

This document sets out the government’s response to the Committee’s report and clarifies the responsibilities of the Office for Students (OfS) and the Institute of Apprenticeships in respect of the issues raised. It also reflects that the government is continuing to develop policy in these areas alongside the Review of Post 18 Education and Funding, which will conclude in 2019.

That about sums it up.  We’ve set out the responses below in summary with some comments.

Value for money for students and the taxpayer

  • Recommendation: Every higher education institution should publish a breakdown of how tuition fees are spent on their websites. This should take place by the end of 2018, and we recommend that the Office for Students intervene if this deadline is not met.

Response: [this is for the OFS to deal with]

  • Recommendation: Unjustifiably high pay for senior management in higher education has become the norm rather than the exception and does not represent value for money for students or the taxpayer.

Response: Universities receive significant amounts of public funding, so it is only right that their senior staff pay arrangements command public confidence and deliver good value for both students and taxpayers. We want to see senior staff pay in universities that is fair and justifiable.

[ie, this is for the OFS to deal with]

  • Recommendation: The current system of self-regulation for senior management pay is totally unacceptable. We call for the Office for Students to publish strict criteria for universities on acceptable levels of pay that could be linked to average staff pay, performance and other measures that the Office for Students sees fit. The Office for Students should take swift action if this is not the case.

Response: In addition to the requirement for providers to publish justifications for their pay levels as outlined above, the OfS requires providers to publish the pay multiple of the head of the provider’s remuneration compared with that of all other employees. Universities are autonomous institutions and they are solely responsible for setting the pay of their staff, including senior managers. The government is not seeking to set pay levels within providers. These measures are designed to improve the transparency of pay levels for senior staff within HE providers.

  • Recommendation: Institutions must routinely publish the total remuneration packages of their Vice-Chancellors in a visible place on their website. Vice-Chancellors must never sit on their remuneration boards and this should be enforced by the Office for Students.

Response: The OfS requires universities to publish full details of the total remuneration package of their vice-chancellors, including bonuses, pension contributions and other taxable benefits. Similar requirements will be extended to cover all staff with a basic salary of over £150,000 per annum once the regulatory framework is in full force. The Committee of University Chairs (CUC) published its HE Senior Staff Remuneration Code in June 2018. This says that a provider’s remuneration committee must be independent and competent, and that the head of the institution must not be a member of this committee. The OfS accounts direction already states that registered providers must have regard to this code.

The quality of higher education

  • Recommendation: The TEF is still in its infancy and requires further improvement and embedding to become the broad measure of quality that we want it to be. We look forward to the independent review of TEF and recommend that it focuses on how the exercise is used by students to inform and improve choice. The review must include an assessment of how TEF is used in post-16 careers advice. For the TEF to improve value for money for students it must play a more significant role in the decision-making process of applicants.

Response: [it’s up to the OfS, but we have left some of the response here for you to read]

The OfS is planning targeted communications to improve awareness of TEF and will be undertaking specific research with applicants and students to understand how TEF ratings should be presented to ensure that they are meaningful to prospective students.

In June 2018, we published the findings of a report by IFF Research Ltd entitled ‘TEF and Informing Student Choice’. Although we recognise that only 15% of prospective students in that survey had used or intended to use TEF to inform their choice, the OfS had only published the first set of TEF outcomes in June 2017. For future cohorts it is worth noting that 68% of those surveyed considered that information on subject-level TEF would be useful.

Dame Shirley Pearce has been appointed as the independent reviewer of TEF in accordance with Section 26 of HERA. We will bring the concerns of the Committee to her attention, but as this is an independent review, with the reviewer’s obligations set out in statute, the department has no power to insist that her review addresses or excludes any particular issue.

  • Recommendation: Institutions should move away from a linear approach to degrees, and enable more part-time, mature and disadvantaged students to study in higher education. We recommend that the Government’s current post-18 review develop a funding model which allows a range of flexible options including credit transfer and ‘hopping on and off’ learning.

Response: [it’s all about the post-18 review and the OfS]

..Supporting arrangements for students who wish to switch provider or degree is already an important part of the reforms enacted by HERA. Section 38 of the act places a duty on the OfS to monitor the provision of student transfer arrangements by registered HE providers and the use of such arrangements by students, and a summary power to facilitate, encourage and promote awareness of these arrangements. Section 38 will come into force on 1 August 2019. In the meantime, the strategic guidance issued in February 2018 by the department asked the OfS to continue to collect data on student transfers ….

…Studying part-time and later in life can of course bring considerable benefits for individuals, employers and the wider economy. The OfS targets an element of the Teaching Grant to recognise the additional costs of part-time study. In 2017/18, £72 million was made available, and the same amount was allocated in 2018/19 for this purpose. Furthermore, within the strategic guidance, we have also asked the OfS and the Director for Fair Access and Participation to encourage providers to consider the different barriers that mature learners can face in their Access and Participation Plans. This covers access to, success in, as well as progression from HE.

….We launched a review of Level 4-5 technical education in October 2017, which is working closely with the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding, to ensure a coherent vision for FE and HE. The review of level 4 and 5 education will examine how classroom-based level 4 and 5 education, particularly technical education, meets the needs of learners and employers. On the 6th December, the Secretary of State for Education set out his vision for why we need high quality technical education, and said – among other things -that we intend to establish a system of employer-led national standards for higher technical education. These will be based on existing apprenticeship standards and will provide progression opportunities for those completing T Levels from 2022.

  • Recommendation: More flexible approaches to higher education should be supplemented by the option for undergraduates of studying for two-year accelerated degrees alongside the traditional three-year model. The post-18 review should investigate potential funding models to clarify the benefits and costs of accelerated degrees, taking into account fees, living costs and post-study earnings.

Response: [we’ve already done this] …on 29 November 2018 government laid regulations to enable higher annual accelerated degree fee caps to be charged by providers. This change will enable potential course revenue of up to 80% of the standard equivalent, while still offering accelerated students a significant saving of 20% on the standard total fee costs. …

  • Recommendation: The introduction of two-year degrees must not create a two-tier system where students from disadvantaged backgrounds are encouraged to take them on the basis of cost. The Government’s review of higher education should include an impact assessment of how accelerated degrees will affect disadvantaged students.

Response: We acknowledge the Committee’s concern, which was also expressed by a number of respondents to the accelerated degrees consultation in 2018, where we asked specifically about access arrangements. Nevertheless, 74% of respondents still wanted accelerated degree fees to be treated the same as other higher course fees for the purpose of access.

We are not aware of any empirical evidence to suggest either that accelerated degrees are a qualitatively inferior form of degree study compared to their standard equivalents, or that the fees saving of an accelerated degree is seen as their most significant benefit by students. As noted above, the SLC Customer Insight surveys conducted in August 2018 indicated that both accelerated and standard students regarded the time saved on an accelerated course and the advantage of starting work one year faster than their peers, was the most significant benefit.

We know that the specific characteristics and challenges of accelerated study will not be right for all students. We will assess the effectiveness of accelerated degree funding and expenditure on access measures (compared to their standard equivalents), in the review to be undertaken three years after implementation of the higher accelerated degree fee caps regulations.

Skills

  • Recommendation: We are extremely disappointed by the response from the Institute for Apprenticeships to widespread concerns from the higher education sector on the future of degree apprenticeships. We urge the Institute to make the growth of degree apprenticeships a strategic priority. Degree qualifications must be retained in apprenticeship standards, and the Institute must remove the bureaucratic hurdles which universities are facing. The Institute and the Education and Skills Funding Agency must engage much more actively with the higher education sector and take better account of their expertise.

Response: …The department is already working with the HE sector and will continue to do so, including meeting quarterly with a cross section of HE representative bodies to discuss apprenticeship policy issues. …In the last 3 months, 10 HE providers have undertaken user research and we will continue to involve these institutions in our ongoing research.

  • Recommendation: Degree apprenticeships are crucial to boosting the productivity of this country, providing another legitimate route to higher education qualifications and bringing more students from disadvantaged backgrounds into higher education. We believe some of the money which is currently allocated by the Office for Students for widening access could be better spent on the development and promotion of degree apprenticeships and support for degree apprentices to climb the ladder of opportunity. All higher education institutions should offer degree apprenticeships, and we encourage students from all backgrounds to undertake them. We recommend that the Office for Students demonstrates its support for them by allocating a significant portion of its widening access funding to the expansion of degree apprenticeships specifically for disadvantaged students.

Response:…DfE have already provided the OfS with funding to support the expansion of degree apprenticeships and to widen participation through the Degree Apprenticeships Development Fund (DADF)

In March 2016 DfE launched a £10 million DADF to support the development and take up of degree apprenticeships over two years. In 2016-18, 18 projects were supported, involving over 45 universities and colleges. In 2017/18 funding was allocated to 26 projects…..

The government is looking forward to the forthcoming evaluation report of the Fund, which will help us and the OfS to consider how to focus spending on what has the greatest impact for students.

More widely, the National Apprenticeships Service has launched a number of projects to increase participation amongst underrepresented groups and to ensure apprenticeships are accessible to individuals from all backgrounds. This includes the ‘5 cities’ project, a partnership with five major cities to improve black, Asian and minority ethnic representation, and ‘Opportunities Through Apprenticeships’, a pilot project working with four local authorities to raise the value of apprenticeships in disadvantaged areas. The ‘Opportunities Through Apprenticeships’ project was launched in November 2018. It aims to support social mobility by creating opportunities for more apprentices from disadvantaged areas to undertake high value apprenticeship with higher earnings potential and progression.

…The HE sector is supportive of Level 6 plus and degree apprenticeships and is involved in their development – with at least 60 providers offering or intending to offer degree apprenticeships during the 2017/18 academic year from a pool of over 100 on the Register of Apprenticeship Training Providers.

The OfS will want to consider the Committee’s recommendations regarding the allocation of its widening access funding.

  • Recommendation: The implementation of T-Level qualifications from 2020 could offer improved access to university for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. The Government should engage with universities and UCAS in order to determine an appropriate tariff weighting prior to the introduction of T-levels. We also encourage universities to continue to accept BTECs and put in place additional academic and pastoral support to these students throughout their studies.

Response: The department expects T Levels to provide all students, regardless of their background, with a high quality technical offer that is valued as highly as A levels. With content designed by employers, T Levels will prepare students for skilled employment or progression to higher technical study. As we prepare for the first teaching of T Levels, we are working closely with a wide range of partners, stakeholders, schools and colleges to ensure successful delivery.

…Individual HE providers are responsible for determining the qualifications that they will accept for the purposes of entry to higher education. Whilst recognising the institutional autonomy of HE providers and, in particular, their freedom to determine the criteria for the admission of students, we would encourage them to consider the content of the qualifications they require before making offers. DfE committed in May 2018 to carry out a review of qualifications at level 3 and below (excluding A Levels, T Levels and GCSEs), so that all funded qualifications have a distinct purpose, are high quality and support progression to good outcomes…..

  • Recommendation: We recommend that universities look to include significant periods of work experience within undergraduate degree courses. This could be a year in industry, or shorter placements with local employers. We believe that practical experience of the workplace must become the norm in degrees and an integral part of making students ‘work ready’. There should also be a greater focus on the extent to which universities prepare their students for work in the TEF criteria.

Response: The numbers of undergraduates who undertake work experience within their degree courses are growing and we would like to see more universities and employers offering students these opportunities.

….We are working to support and encourage high quality new and innovative provision that has a strong offer for students, helping providers to navigate the regulatory system and we will continue to work with new providers to tackle any barriers that might arise.

There is a strong track record of collaboration and joint working between universities and businesses. For example, more than two-thirds of businesses have developed links with universities and more than a third are looking to grow their ties in the future. For example, Aston University has strong links to employers, and more than 70% of students undertake a year in industry as part of their degrees. Teesside University’s Digital City innovation initiative is helping local SMEs place graduate interns in their businesses by providing recruitment support and a 50% contribution towards their salary.

A traditional university course is not the only route to a successful career. Level 6 plus and degree apprenticeships allow universities to build partnerships with industry and professional bodies, working together to create a skilled workforce.

The Graduate Talent Pool is a government initiative designed to help new and recent graduates gain real work experience. This allows employers to advertise paid internships to new and recent graduates, free of charge. As of end of September 2018, 12,464 employers and 135,469 graduates had registered to use the service since the scheme’s launch…..

Social justice

  • Recommendation: Higher education institutions spend a vast amount of public money on access and participation. The results of this expenditure are not always clear to see. There must be transparency on what they are investing in, a greater focus on outcomes for students and a rigorous evaluation process. In response to the Director of Fair Access’s new proposals we expect to see institutions focusing their efforts on value for money for the most disadvantaged students and facing penalties if sufficient progress is not made.

Response: [this is for the OfS to deal with]

  • Recommendation: We recommend a move away from the simple use of entry tariffs as a league table measure towards contextual admissions, foundation courses and other routes to entry.

Response: The criteria for determining a HE provider’s position in a league table is a matter for its compilers. The government would not want the use of entry tariffs as a criterion to undermine the efforts of providers to take greater numbers of disadvantaged students.

  • Recommendation: The Office for Students must clamp down on the rise in unconditional offers. Their steep increase is detrimental to the interests of students and undermines the higher education system as a whole.

Response: The department agree with the committee and we are disturbed by the recent large increases in the number of unconditional offers received by students and the potential impact these offers can have. In this respect we welcome the recent announcement by St Mary’s University Twickenham that they will stop using unconditional offers, in the light of evidence that some students who had enrolled with them after an unconditional offer was made did not get the A level grades they expected.

[this is for the OFS to deal with]

  • Recommendation: The gap in entry rates between the most and least disadvantaged students remains too wide when it should be closing fast. We support the use of contextualised admissions to bring more students from lower socio-economic backgrounds into higher education. We recognise that this practice should not be used in isolation, and that more effective outreach should be followed by support for disadvantaged students throughout their degree. Institutions should state their contextualisation policies in their application information. By doing so disadvantaged students and schools in areas with lower rates of participation in higher education will have a better understanding of the entry requirements to different institutions.

Response: The department agrees that while good progress has been made in widening participation by under-represented and disadvantaged groups in HE, there is still more to be done. Control over admissions lies with institutions and this autonomy is protected under HERA.

Nevertheless, contextual admissions can play a role if they recognise the case for taking into account wider contextual factors in a student’s level of prior attainment: these type of admissions justify providers making offers of places to those they anticipate have strong potential to succeed in HE. It is important too that providers are transparent in their use of contextual information in offer and admission decisions, publish the rationale for any use of contextual offers, and make clear to applicants the circumstances in which they would make such offers. A clear policy on the use of contextual admissions should work in conjunction with effective outreach work, which is properly monitored and evaluated.

  • Recommendation: We are deeply concerned by the fall in both part-time and mature learners, and the impact this has had on those from lower socio-economic groups going into higher education. We recognise that although the number of disadvantaged school leavers going into higher education has increased, the total number of English undergraduate entrants from low participation areas decreased by 15% between 2011/12 and 2015/16.

Response: [it’s for the post-18 review]

  • Recommendation: The recent decline in part-time and mature learners should be a major focus of the Government’s post-18 education and funding review. We support calls for the review to redesign the funding system for these learners. The review should develop a tailored approach which moves away from the one size fits all approach which has driven the dramatic decline in numbers since 2012.

Response: [see above on flexible provision]

  • Recommendation: Based on the overwhelming evidence we have heard during the inquiry, we recommend that the Government return to the pre-2016 system and reinstate the means-tested system of loans and maintenance grants.

Response: [it’s for the post-18 review]

Graduate employability

  • Recommendation: We are encouraged by the increase in graduate outcomes information and believe this can both support more informed choices for students and make institutions more accountable for the destinations of their graduates. However, there is still a long way to go before students have access to robust data on graduate employment which will inform their choices.

Response: [it’s all about LEO]

  • Recommendation: Better information on graduate outcomes must lead to a greater focus in higher education on outputs and outcomes. Higher education institutions must be more transparent about the labour market returns of their courses. This is not simply a measure of graduate earnings but of appropriate professional graduate-level and skilled employment destinations. We recommend that the Office for Students instructs all providers to be transparent about levels of graduate employment and secure this through funding agreements.

Response: New sources of information such as the Higher Education Statistics Agency’s (HESA) Graduate Outcomes survey, replacing the Destination of Leavers from HE, have an important role in improving information for students. ..

[plus TEF]

The OfS and its partners are developing options for a new resource to replace Unistats in 2019. This will ensure that data is presented in a way which supports students to understand and use the data in a meaningful and robust way

  • Recommendation: The reforms introduced by successive governments to higher education have caused a growing tension between the perceived value of study to a student, the funding and the wider economic value of higher education. This has been caused in part by the way that the system has changed incrementally and is widely misunderstood. The current system of tuition fees and repayments is more akin to a graduate tax. Promoting better public understanding of this should form part of the HE funding review.

Response: [it’s all about the post-18 review and the OfS]

  • Recommendation: Students lack sufficient high-quality information to make informed choices about higher education and the career paths which might subsequently be open to them. Decisions to take on a financial burden lasting most of a working lifetime are often made by students without adequate information or advice. The long-term implications of an adverse choice can leave students in a vulnerable position. Student choice is central to the debate over value for money in higher education. Our inquiry found a woeful lack of pre-application and career information, advice and guidance, particularly awareness of degree apprenticeships. The Government’s current post-18 review must look at routes into higher education, and the quality of careers advice which students receive.

Response: DfE’s Careers Strategy, published in December 2017, sets out a long-term plan to make sure that all young people have the information, advice and guidance they need to make informed choices about their education, training and employment options….

[It’s all about the OfS and the post-18 review]

Value for money (3) – the OfS position

The Office for Students issued their own response on 10th January.   They promise:

  • Work on transparency on value for money and calling for the sector to define best practice
  • More transparency on remuneration
  • Removing barriers to accelerated degrees
  • Supporting apprenticeships through the Access and Participation guidance [what will that look like?]
  • Gather and share evidence on work experience
  • Force the sector to improve assessment and evaluation of access and participation efforts and continue with fining and licence conditions
  • Raise concerns with league table compilers
  • Announce action on unconditional offers by Spring 2019
  • Challenge providers on mature students through access and participation guidance
  • Replacing unistats

TEF

The OfS have released the data for all institutions including those not actively participating in the new round of TEF. The data sits alongside a refreshed set of criteria and judgements, with specific definitions of the Gold, Silver, Bronze standards. The provider narrative looks to remain influential in the refreshed model and the significant emphasis on the data metrics continues (it is the initial determinant of award level). Wonkhe have crunched the data to make initial institutional judgements which are an interesting read (here). When contemplating Wonkhe’s article remember the metrics comprise only part of the final award judgement.

Wonkhe’s analysis results in less institutions receiving gold overall, with none of the Russell Group institutions reaching the top slot. The below chart shows the movement by displaying institutions with current Gold, Silver, Bronze, provisional, or no current award (-) as the colour of their Wonkhe calculated new award (based only on their metrics). The interactive tableau chart is here.

But it’s all a bit theoretical as it is expected few institutions will enter year 4, as most don’t need to again until 2021 – and by them it may all have changed after the Parliamentary Review and the subject level TEf pilot….

Brexit update

The House of Lords EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee met to discuss the impact of the Horizon and Erasmus programmes and their future in a post Brexit Britain. Chris Skidmore, the Universities Minister, gave evidence.  You can read the summary here.

Otherwise chaos continues – nothing has changed except that no deal looks a lot more likely…at least for this week.

KEF

Research England have launched their consultation on the Knowledge Exchange Framework. We’ll be working with colleagues across BU to prepare our response.  They are also running a pilot.

We wrote about the build up to this in our policy update on 23rd November 2018 The proposal is for a set of metrics plus a narrative that gives the local context including strategic goals, context and local growth and regeneration, and public and community engagement.

Read more on Wonkhe:

Widening Participation and Achievement

A lack of aspiration is not the problem is a new thought provoking blog in Wonkhe which shuns the traditional view that disadvantaged young people attend university less because they lack aspiration and knowledge about the HE sector. It views poor educational achievement at school, brought about by the young person’s accumulation of multiple disadvantages through their childhood, as the crux of the problem. It highlights a study which recognises that these disadvantaged children are rarely exposed to the economic benefits that educational success brings. It suggests drawing on the psychological concept of ‘possible selves’ (considering what/how they want to be in the future to align thinking and motivation and kick start the attainment process needed to get there) as an alternative to aspiration raising in the future. (WP buffs will also want to check out this research on the topic.)  Possible selves is a nice alternative to the deficit model approach to WP but it in isolation it seems unlikely to work. Broad and robust careers support would likely be needed to open the eyes of disadvantaged young people to the myriad of future employment possibilities they may not have been exposed to through their home and social environment. Yet careers support remains a long standing thorny problem that no Government has been able to resolve – it is costly, patchy, and cannot meet all needs. Ironically for a blog which favours Bourdieu’s thinking it is this concept of lack of social capital and networks which means possible selves cannot be a neat solution all by itself.

Attracting Mature Students – the barriers

  • Coincidentally the ONS (Office for National Statistics) have analysed DfE survey data and report that the least qualified adults and vulnerable members of society have the least access to training to boost their employment opportunities and life chances. Lack of confidence was a factor in not accessing opportunities and there was an interesting finding that those without qualifications tended to focus on education or training as a way of improving their wellbeing, whereas those at the other end of the educational spectrum, with degrees or equivalent, seemed more driven by improving their job prospects.
  • The biggest barriers to adults accessing training were, unsurprisingly, cost, caring/family responsibilities, poor health, and the aforementioned lack of confidence. Interestingly a past negative educational experience was rarely a barrier. Below is the full chart.
  • The take up of education and training was exacerbated by a gender effect: Men responded more to incentives that were job or pay-related while women tended to choose more personal reasons such as meeting new people and building confidence. A higher proportion of men than women said an increased income would encourage further training and learning in the future and that their jobs and their ability to do them would be improved. Furthermore, more women than men said family and/or caring responsibilities would cause difficulties. Personal reasons, such as a lack of confidence also showed themselves as an issue for a higher proportion of women than men
  • It would be interesting to compare these barriers that prevent adults from accessing or aspiring to HE study with mature student drop out reasons. Similarities would provide clear signposting on how HE institutions could better attract, support, and retain mature students which, while important in itself, is particularly acute during this period of squeezed recruitment and the young population dip.

Care Leavers – LSE have released a blog explaining why the national figure that only 6% of care leavers progress to HE is inaccurate and that tracking care leavers (who are rarely in a position to perform well educationally at age 16) to age 23 bring the entry rate up to almost 12% (research here). The article goes on to explore other care leaver related factors such as the importance of alternative vocational routes into HE and warns against using the entry statistics as they mask the difficulties with retention of care leavers whilst studying.

Alternative Spending – Wonkhe’s Let’s go fly a kite series sees three bloggers come up with some alternative ideas by which to tackle Access and Participation.

Impact of Selective Secondary Education in progressing to HE

HEPI have published The impact of selective secondary education on progression to HE. It finds that grammar schools potentially contribute to social mobility by enabling better access to elite higher education. It considers the shortcomings of research which mainly utilise Free School Meals as the main data indicator.

The report highlights that:

  • A pupil from the most disadvantaged POLAR quintile is more than twice as likely to progress to Oxbridge if they live in a selective area rather than a non-selective area.
  • BME pupils are more than five times as likely to progress to Oxbridge if they live in a selective area. It notes that England’s has 163 grammar schools which contribute 30% more BME students to Cambridge than all 1,849 non-selective schools combined.

The report calls for:

  • Government to expand the Select School Expansion Fund in disadvantaged areas where this is supported by the relevant local authority.
  • Non-selective schools to improve their efforts at enabling progression of high-ability pupils to highly selective universities and Oxbridge, working with grammar schools where appropriate.
  • Department for Education to commission research explicitly considering the impact of selective schooling on the social mobility of children from households below median income.

On the report Wonkhe state: The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) has published a provocative new paper on grammar schools and selective university access…It argues that grammars increase the likelihood of progression for pupils from the bottom two quintiles of social disadvantage and for Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) pupils. The analysis attempts to factor in the chances of children from different groups getting into a grammar school, and how those children who do get in perform.

It also examines the performance of new specialist maths schools and considers positive attitudes towards grammar schools among some of the public (compared to educational experts).

The report received much press attention:

  • The i – Grammar schools ‘significantly boost chances of poor pupils attending top universities’
  • Schools Week – Poor pupils at grammar schools twice as likely to attend Oxbridge, study claims
  • tes – Grammars boost poorer pupils’ chances of getting into top universities
  • The Times – Beacon grammars could take more poorer pupils
  • The Times – The Times view on grammar schools: they provide only part of the answer
  • Telegraph – Grammar schools send more ethnic minority students to Cambridge than all comprehensives combined
  • Sky news – Grammar schools benefit disadvantaged kids says think tank
  • The Daily Mail – Pupils from the poorest families are TWICE as likely to get into Oxbridge if they attend a grammar school, report finds

Nick Hillman, HEPI Director, stated:

  • ‘The debate on grammar schools has become very one sided. Researchers line up to condemn them for inhibiting social mobility, and the schools do not perform well on every single measure. But the full evidence is more nuanced and shows some pupils benefit a great deal.
  • Compared to other countries, we have a hyper-selective university system. Given so many people benefit from attending a grammar school, it seems what works for universities may also sometimes work for schools.’

Other News

Unconditional Offers: The OfS response to the Commons Education Committee’s report on value for money suggests the review of unconditional offer making will be published in Spring 2019.

Knowledge Exchange: Explaining a PhD thesis to the public can be tricky. In this light hearted article read how Canada is tackling this through the medium of cake.

Essay Mills: the ASA banned online advertising by essay mill Oxbridge Essays – here is QAA’s coverage of the judgement. The Independent also covered the decision.

Academic Freedom: Oxford law students have petitioned for a professor to be dismissed due to his opinions on homophobia. It is debated here on the Today programme and then featured in Parliament:

  • Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con): May we have a debate on the importance of academic freedom? Universities are about the free and frank exchange of ideas, even if they are unfashionable and unpopular. Is it not wholly unacceptable to suggest that a respected academic such as John Finnis, emeritus professor of law and legal philosophy, who has taught at the University of Oxford for some 40 years, should be removed from office simply for holding traditional Catholic views? Is that not the opposite of diversity and open, robust debate?
  • Andrea Leadsom:  My hon. Friend raises an important point. It is essential that young people at university learn how to engage in robust debate and to challenge views with which they may not agree. The solution is not to silence those who make them. The Government said in our response to the Joint Committee on Human Rights’ report that we have concerns about the culture in universities in relation to free speech, and we made it clear that all “education is a place where students should be exposed to a range of ideas, including those that may be controversial and unpopular—and where they learn to think critically and challenge those who they disagree with, not shut them down.”

Accounting of student loans:

  • Q – Wes Streeting: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, if he will ensure that the level of funding allocated to universities is not reduced as a result of the ONS decision on the treatment of student loans in Government accounts.
  • A – Chris Skidmore: The Office for National Statistics (ONS) announced a new treatment of student loans in the public sector finances and national accounts on 17 December 2018. The decision by the ONS relates to the recording of student loans in the national accounts and public sector finances. Prior to the announcement of the ONS review, the government had already launched the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding in which, amongst other features of the system, funding is being considered.The review is considering how to ensure that the education system for those aged 18 years and over is accessible to all, is supported by a funding system that provides value for money and works for students and taxpayers. In addition, the review is considering how the education system incentivises choice and competition across the sector and encourages the development of the skills that we need as a country.

AND

  • Q – Wes Streeting: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, what estimate he has made of the amount by which the deficit will increase in 2018 as a result of the ONS decision on the treatment of student loans in Government accounts.
  • A – Elizabeth Truss: The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) published estimates of potential impacts of the new treatment on the deficit in their October 2018 Economic and fiscal outlook. However, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has made it clear that there is a lot to decide before their methodology is finalised. The ONS currently aim to fully implement the new treatment for student loans in the public sector finances in September 2019.

Immigration:

  • Q – Lord Goodlad: Whether they have conducted an evaluation of the Tier 4 visa pilot for masters students; if so, when it was completed; and what changes are now proposed in the Immigration Rules.
  • A – Baroness Williams Of Trafford: An initial evaluation of the Tier 4 Visa Pilot was published on gov.uk on 19 December. The evaluation supported the proposals set out in the Immigration White Paper: The UK’s future skills-based immigration system.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

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HE policy update for the w/e 30th November 2018

Lots of news this week  – and some negative headlines as a result.

TEF update

Have you been following the changes to the TEF announced in February?  Are you up to date with the metrics and proposed structure.  Did you know that year 5 has been postponed?  We have prepared some slides on TEF which will bring you up to date – you can see them via the Policy pages on the intranet.

Unconditional offers – the next phase of the debate

Sarah wrote a long piece on unconditional offers last week, and this week we have this year’s data from UCAS.  The headline of the report is that unconditional offers were made to a third of young applicants in England, Northern Ireland and Wales in the 2018 admissions cycle   The actual report is here.  The report also notes that most unconditional offers (i.e. around two thirds of those made) were made to those aged 19 and over – i.e. post qualification.  This share has fallen since 2013 when it was 98%. (more…)

HE Policy Update for w/e 26 October 2018

To read the policy update in full with the infographics click here or continue to read below without the infographics for widening participation.

It’s been a busy week for activity in Parliament along with several new reports published, including the subject level TEF details and a focus on part time and flexible provision. Meanwhile the sector continues to lobbying efforts in hope of influencing the forthcoming outcomes of the Review of post-18 Education and Funding. It’s a bumper update this week so do scan through to read the sections of most interest to your role.

TEF and Grade Inflation

Grade Inflation

Sam Gyimah spoke on Monday to outline a new measure to discourage grade inflation within HE institutions which will be piloted through the second year of TEF subject level pilots. The DfE news story states:

Announcing a second year of pilots to move subject-level TEF a step closer, Sam Gyimah confirmed today that these will also look at grade inflation, with TEF panellists reviewing evidence to see whether universities are taking a responsible approach to degree grading and not awarding excessive numbers of firsts and 2:1s. It means a university’s provider-level rating of gold, silver or bronze will take their approach to tackling grade inflation into account.

Grade inflation will be an important feature of the criteria considered alongside how a university is stretching its students through course design and assessment, and through their ability to develop independence, knowledge and skills that reflect their full potential. It forms a key part of the government’s commitment to delivering real choice for prospective students.

This is one of the first measures taken by the government to tackle grade inflation, with the plans confirmed in the government’s response to the subject-level TEF consultation.

In the last five years alone, figures from the Higher Education Stats Authority show the proportion of graduates who gained a first class degree has increased from 18% in 2012/13 to 26% in 2016/17, which means over a quarter of graduates are now securing the top grade.

Despite Gyimah’s speech the grade inflation presence within the subject level TEF pilot will be light touch this year because of the level of opposition to the metric during the consultation process:

Grade inflation is an important issue and the Government is committed to ensuring it is addressed so that students and employers can have confidence in the value of higher education qualifications. It was one of the more contentious topics in the consultation. In response to the question posed, the consultation demonstrated support for our proposal to apply the grade inflation metric only at provider-level and we will therefore maintain this approach. We acknowledge however that challenges to the grade inflation metric were raised in both the consultation and pilot findings. While almost half of respondents agreed to our proposal, many respondents also stated that they did not support the continued use of this metric in the TEF at any level and the pilot found the metric was limited in its current form. To address these concerns, the OfS will use the second year of the subject-level pilots to test some refinements to the grade inflation metric, exploring how it can be improved. This includes presenting additional data such as trends in prior attainment alongside the grade inflation data to help panels better account for other factors that might influence grades. (Pages 6-7 of Government’s response link.)

Research Professional write about the removal of the ‘contentious’ teaching intensity measure.

Conservative Women have an article by Chris McGovern supporting Gyimah’s plans to address grade inflation. While the BBC considers: Does it matter what degree grade you get?

Subject level TEF

The Government issued its analysis and response to the subject-level TEF consultation. The first year of subject level TEF pilots have concluded (read the findings here). The second year pilots are underway; their design is based on the outcomes from the first pilots and the subject level TEF consultation.

While the second year of subject-level TEF pilots runs the Independent TEF Review (required by the Higher Education and Research Act 2017) will also take place. The Government expects this timing will allow full implementation of subject-level TEF for 2019/20. The subject-level pilots will trial the introduction of LEO (Longitudinal Educational Outcomes data) within the core metrics. And Wonkhe report that the teaching intensity metric has been removed and all the TEF awards currently conferred on Universities will cease by 2021 to dovetail the roll out of subject-level TEF.

There are a plethora of new TEF blogs and opinion on the Wonkhe website.

Yvonne Hawkins, Director of Teaching Excellence and Student Experience at the Office for Students, said:

The TEF assesses the things that students care about: teaching quality, the learning environment that supports them; and employment and further study outcomes. The development of a robust model for subject-level TEF is progressing well…last year we tested and evaluated two different assessment models for generating subject-level ratings. This year we will consolidate this work, piloting a single approach that draws on feedback about the best elements from the previous models. The TEF’s strength relies not on any single source of evidence, but in drawing together multiple sources and making holistic judgements. This ensures no one issue is over-weighted. The changes we will be piloting are designed to strengthen this approach, so that ratings are informed by comprehensive contextual information. The input of students to last year’s pilot was invaluable, so this year we are also introducing ways to further strengthen their involvement.”

Transparency

The House of Commons debated the regulations surrounding the Transparency Condition (the requirement for HE institutions to publish data on access and success for disadvantaged and under-represented students).  An Opposition spokesperson argued for the inclusion of data on students with disabilities, the age profile of students, and care leavers to be included:

We also believe that, if the transparency duty is to have any impact, it needs to include as many different dimensions of participation as possible by social background. That view was echoed strongly by the Sutton Trust, which did not believe that the Bill and the regulations went far enough in that area. It said, “evidence suggests many universities are favouring more privileged candidates even when levels of attainment are taken into account”…The Bill should be amended to require universities to publish their contextual admission policies clearly on their websites”.

The Opposition spokesperson also raised the key workforce data that has the potential to impact on the quality of students’ education, such as the use of insecure contracts and student-staff ratios as a potential measure to be included within the Transparency Duty. Finally he argued for the OfS to use broader measures and rely less on POLAR data to examine socio-economic disadvantage. The new MEM measure was highlighted (a multiple equality measure which combines various data sources including free school meals) for inclusion to prevent overreliance on just one data source.

Sam Gyimah responded: Quite rightly, the hon. Gentleman brought up the subject of care leavers. Our guidance to the OfS asks it to monitor care leavers as a key target group, which it has done. We expect to see providers focusing on that in their access and participation plans. Whether to add age and disability is a decision for the OfS, but I am pleased that it has included that in its consultation, as we asked.

Care Leavers

Further to Gyimah’s show of support for care leavers mentioned above the DfE have launched the Care Leavers Covenant aiming to provide more opportunities and support for Care Leavers through work placements, internships and training sessions (supported by bursaries and accommodation provided by the local universities). Chris Millward, OfS Director for Fair Access and Participation stated: Disadvantage goes on to follow care leavers through their adult lives. We need a collective effort to ensure that care leavers are not denied opportunity simply because they’ve had a challenging start in life”. Read the Government’s news story on this new post-care scheme here.

Graduate Premium – female living standards

The Institute of Fiscal Studies have released a new paper analysing the female graduate premium: The impact of higher education on the living standards of female graduates. As the title suggests it looks  wider than just wages on the benefits that achieving a degree brings. It uses data from two longitudinal surveys providing a sample of 1,000 women born in 1970 (so all attended university before tuition fees were introduced) and quantifies the role of working hours, life partners, and tax liability. It finds a graduate premium (compared to female non-graduates) and demonstrates how the above mechanisms vary in importance over women’s life cycles and have changed over time to impact on female graduates’ living standards.

  • HE significantly increases the probability a women is in work and the number of hours they work, boosting labour market returns.
  • HE increased the likelihood women worked in their early thirties, but there was no impact on the likelihood of working in their early forties. This reflects the fact that higher education causes women to delay childrearing until later in their careers.
  • HE also increases the probability of a woman having a partner who also has a HE qualification, the degree qualified partner is typically more likely to work and earn more.
  • However, focusing on gross earnings returns overstates the private benefits of HE, as higher-earning graduates pay more in tax and receive fewer (family based) benefits. This reduces the net financial returns from a graduate wage.
  • The benefits of HE can also vary over the life cycle. While HE increases net family income by around 20% (£9,500 per year) for women in their early 30s and early 40s, the mechanisms change over time:
    • For women in their early 30s, the impact of HE on income primarily comes through their own labour market earnings;
    • By age 40 the importance of the impact on partners’ earnings has increased, likely because at this age women have an increased propensity to work part-time.
      It appears that, through the higher education level of partners, HE provides some insurance for women taking time out of the labour market after having children. The role of partners’ earnings remains an important channel of returns, particularly at older ages.
  • You can read the research assumption caveats surrounding the impact of children (page 13/14), particularly their effect on the choice to work and the wage rate.
  • In summary, as a result of a degree, it is higher wages, more working hours and assortative mating (degree qualified life partner) that explain the graduate females higher living standards

Both the Times and Mail Online articles pick up on the report but mainly emphasise the aspect that female graduates are more likely to marry graduate men – boosting their joint earning potential. The Times go on to consider the male/female gender gap and report that after graduation, women are more likely to have a job or go on to further study than men, but they earn less from the very start of their careers. These figures, taken from The Times, show how the gender earnings gap expands:

When Male Female
At graduation (-£1,600 less than men)
3 years post-graduation £24,200 £21,800 (-£2,400 less)
5 year post-graduation £27,800 £24,500 (-£3,300 less)
10 years post-graduation £35,100 £27,100 (-£8,000 less)

 

Technological Innovation and Regulation

The Council for Science and Technology have written to the Prime Minister to make four recommendations on how to ensure Britain’s regulatory landscape creates an attractive and welcoming environment for technological innovation. Greg Clark’s (Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) response is warm and picks up on several of the recommendations. Furthermore, on Tuesday Greg chaired the new Ministerial Working Group on Future Regulation. One of the aims of the working group is to transform regulation to support innovators to bring new ideas to market.  Greg stated:

“We have a world-beating regulatory environment in the UK which has set standards that have been exported around the world. But we can’t move forward by standing still and we must prepare for the technologies and industries of the future.
I am grateful to the work done by the Council and for their recommendations on how we can put the UK at the forefront of these industries. Through the Working Group on Future Regulation we are going to build on our exceptional foundations, ensuring our regulations keep pace with the technological advances that will reshape our economy.”

Those with an interest in this area can read more on the new working group here.

Civic Universities – Mature Education

UPP Foundation has released a progress report from their Civic University Commission which aims to explore and understand what a modern civic university does and how it benefits local people. This additional report was released to inform the Government’s review of post-18 tertiary education as the research uncovered a link between the decline in adult learning and universities’ civic mission.

They found that adult education used to be an integral part of universities’ civic activities but is now in major decline (non-degree courses for over 30’s have declined by 42% since 2012). The Commission states the decline will become more acute as more professional jobs become automated forcing changes in the labour market structure and increasing the need for retraining. The conditions on part time loans for retaining are noted as a barrier:

Those restrictions mean, for example, that a mother returning to work after a prolonged absence from the labour market — but who might have a degree from 15 years earlier — cannot retrain unless she can just pay the fees upfront, and support herself, from her own resources.

The Commission argues for a better adult university education system:

This is precisely the wrong moment to have closed off adult education. Graduate jobs will change, and as we leave the European Union the need for a good domestic skills base will be greater. We have already lost long-term capacity in universities — courses have closed and they are difficult to re-open. Rebuilding this capacity will take effort and time. In our view, that work needs to begin now.

It is also too limiting to see this education in terms of immediate fulfilling of skills gaps. It is extremely hard to predict exactly what the future skills needs of areas are likely to be — many would not have predicted, for example, the size and growth of creative industries and their importance to the economic wellbeing of places.

And even outside pure economic benefit — short and long-term — the benefits of education for adults are huge. It passes down into how children are educated at home — which has a much greater impact on their future success than the school environment. It improves peoples’ health and makes them more engaged in the labour market. It makes people more fulfilled and engaged in civic life. There is clear latent demand. A recent survey by Universities UK (UUK) found that as much as 24% of adults had seriously considered doing higher education, of which around half did not already have a post-A level qualification. …we believe it [is] important to offer education to existing professionals, women returning to the labour market and struggling to attend courses in intensity, and people who want to learn particular things rather than necessarily qualifications.

The report calls for the Government to:

  • Relax the ELQ rule so that graduates are able to do further learning;
  • Remove the 25% intensity rule so that both short courses, and longer-term learning, are eligible for loans and funding (they consider this particularly important for women with children);
  • Allow education that is not deliberately directed towards a qualification (such as a degree).

It also seems clear that the lack of direct public funding, and the funding of adult education mostly through traditional loans with RAB charges, is off-putting to many adults. Postgraduate provision and re-graduate provision, as well as first time undergraduate provision, needs to have some public subsidy. So the government should consider whether the apprenticeship levy has some part to play. Two options could be:

  • Hypothecating some proportion of the apprenticeship levy for courses that are shorter and more modular;
  • Having an additional, smaller levy for this particular purpose.

The Commission also favours greater pressure on universities to focus on widening participation initiatives that target adults, to be specifically monitored by OfS.

On Knowledge Exchange the Commission stated:

The new KEF metrics should have a strong weighting on knowledge transmission and knowledge exchange between universities and their local population. In our view it is as important that university staff spend time conveying ideas to the local population, and involving them in their activity, as it is to interact with traditional economic stakeholders.

Part time learning and Flexibility

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) are calling for more flexible routes to higher skills noting that the decline in part time students is of crucial importance to the UK’s future economic prosperity. UUK and CBI have published a joint statement drawing on a previous report on the generation of ‘lost learners’. The lost learners are those who are:

  • mainly 25-44 years old,
  • 48% only have a level 2 or 3 qualification,
  • 54% are in full time work
  • they are motivated to upskill and train to develop their careers.

However, the study found many of the learners didn’t enrol or were unable to complete their studies. Familiar barriers are cited: unaffordability of tuition fees (44%) and managing cost of living whilst studying (42%), and an inflexible course that couldn’t be managed against other life commitments (26%). Other difficulties were employer inflexibility and lack of employer financial support plus benefits challenges created by studying. Of those that did enrol but subsequently dropped out 33% stated lack of flexibility (even with part time study) was the cause.

CBI emphasise the need for flexible and part time provision is greater now than it ever has been because technological advances are creating different and higher level jobs for which re-training is essential. CBI states: “Meeting the needs of the economy, therefore, rests on widening access to higher-level education and promoting routes that appeal to people for whom a traditional, three-year university degree may not be the best option.
For a whole range of reasons – from family to work commitments, caring responsibilities and many more – if flexible study isn’t accessible then many people don’t study at all.”

CBI and UUK’s calls are very similar to that of the Civic University Commission (described above).

They urge the Post-16 Review of tertiary funding to:

  • Reform the apprenticeship levy into a more flexible skills levy so that it can cover a wider range of training (more detail on page 5 here).
  • Develop shorter and more flexible provision – enabling students to move between work and study across their lifetimes. Government and higher education providers should work together to consider how a modular or credits-based system for undergraduate study could increase flexibility in the long term.
  • Support collaboration between employers, HE and FE – helping learners progress into provision which falls between A levels and a university degree (level 4 and 5 provision). Government should support… through changes in the regulatory environment, funding new partnerships and collaborations and/or facilitating sharing of information on the need for level 4 and 5 skills.

CBI acknowledge that many universities already have extensive collaboration with employers but state this, alongside flexible provision, needs to shift up a gear.

UUK state:

While in the longer-term, the post-18 education system should move to a modular or credits-based system, we must also ensure higher education institutions can deliver more flexible options as soon as possible. Evidence from our project suggests that while institutions are developing innovative and more flexible methods of course delivery there is a limit on the extent they can test the market and/or roll these out due to financial constraints.

Therefore, Universities UK recommends greater government support being given to higher education institutions wishing to innovate, scale up activity or further develop systems for flexible learning in order to overcome financial barriers and future uncertainties relating to these activities. This could be through targeted funding by government. Targeted funding could help institutions achieve greater clarity on the extent of market demand and how best to tailor their courses to meet the needs of students, so that over time more flexible courses become a central part of the institution’s offer.

Matthew Fell, CBI’s UK Policy Director, stated:

“Investing in our skills base is the best strategy for growth a nation can have…The findings of this project are clear. We need to raise overall levels of education and skills in the workforce. Universities need to play a critical role in responding to the changing world of work by offering education and training for learners for whom a three-year bachelor’s degree doesn’t quite fit their circumstances”.

Professor Julie Lydon, VC University of South Wales and Chair of the group that produced the study, stated:  “For many years, discussion about higher education has focused only on the traditional route of school leavers heading away to study full-time at university for three or four years.  

The evidence from this project shows there is significant demand from learners and employers for more flexible learning, where learners combine study with work, and other life commitments. Learning and improved life chances should not stop when you reach your 20s. It must continue over a lifetime.”

Read UUK’s news blog here, the joint statement here, and their previous publications: the economic case for flexible learning; the employer perspective of Skills Needs In England; report on ‘lost learners’; and the report on flexible learning.

Finally, Research Professional provide their take on the statement here.

Recruitment – record applicants

UCAS report a record number of applicants at the early deadline for the 2019 undergraduate cycle. This deadline mainly covers medicine, dentistry, veterinary and Oxbridge applications, however of interest are the higher than usual rates of applications (+9% from 2018 cycle rates). There are also increases in English applicant rates (+9%) and an 11% rise in 18 year old applicants – despite the further 1.8% 18 year old population decrease. EU applications remained at 2018 levels. The Guardian covers the story and places the high rates within the context of the additional 500 places available through the newly approved medical schools. UCAS are careful to manage expectations in their press release and remind the sector that the recruitment boost seen by these programmes may not mean a corresponding rise in applications for the January 2019 deadline.

There is coverage in the Guardian and the Herald.

Widening participation – evaluating student outcomes

The Sutton Trust has published Student Destinations which looks at the successful impact of their outreach and participation programmes delivered over the 10 year period 2006-2016. They offer three programmes – UK summer schools, a US programme to visit and support applications to study in the US, and pathways to law. Drawing on destinations data from multiple sources and benchmarking progression against controls they have been able to boast excellent outcomes resulting from participation in the programmes.

See this link to view the infographics detailing the impact of the programmes.

Despite their success the Sutton Trust are keen to point out the difficulties in evaluating such programmes brought about by a lack of access to the needed data sources which are owned by multiple other organisations.

By no means is our work on evaluation complete. It will be years of ongoing work looking to refine our methods and working in collaboration with our partners to constantly improve the evaluation we undertake. It will be challenging.

Access to the data needed to evaluate interventions is inconsistent, disjointed and often expensive. Working with NPD, UCAS, HESA, HEAT and co. to negotiate and navigate data requests can be a full time job and typically there is a delay in receiving the data.

We are calling for access to data to become more coordinated and for outreach activity to have a broader definition of success than simply progression to a particular institution.      Source.

The Sutton Trust believe their evaluation success lies partly within their unique position whereby they collaborate with groups of universities to deliver their programmes “…this has enabled us to act as a facilitator to outreach collaboration. This allows for larger data sets to analyse, and data sharing across institutions, which we believe ultimately leads to stronger evaluation.”

Parliamentary Questions

A gaggle of parliamentary questions related to HE were answered this week.

On Brexit this answer covers the negotiation of science and innovation – excerpt: The White Paper set out that the UK is committed to establishing a far-reaching science and innovation accord with the EU as part of our future relationship. As part of this accord, the UK would like to explore association to EU research funding programmes, including Horizon Europe and the Euratom R&T Programme.

And another on participation in the Ninth EU Framework Programme.

A variation on a questioning theme that regularly surfaces with the House – how a Brexit no deal will affect universities

Q – Jared O’Mara: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what plans he has to replace potential lost funding for universities as a result of the UK leaving the EU without a deal (link).

A- Sam Gyimah: We remain confident that we will agree a mutually advantageous deal with the EU – we do not want or expect a no deal scenario. It is, however, the duty of a responsible government to continue to prepare for a range of potential outcomes, including the unlikely event of no deal. Extensive work to prepare for this scenario has been under way for almost two years and we are taking the necessary steps to ensure the country continues to operate smoothly from the day we leave. We have now published 106 specific technical notices – including on Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+ – to help businesses, universities, citizens and consumers prepare for a no deal scenario.

In the event of a no deal scenario the government’s underwrite guarantee will cover funding for successful competitive bids to Horizon 2020 submitted before exit day. In July 2018, we extended this guarantee to cover all successful competitive bids by UK entities to Horizon 2020 calls open to third country participation submitted between exit day and the end of 2020. The guarantee will apply for the lifetime of qualifying projects, even where this extends beyond 2020.

The government will cover funding for successful Erasmus+ bids from UK organisations that are submitted while the UK is still a Member State, even if they are not approved until after we leave. The government will need to reach agreement with the EU for UK organisations to continue participating in Erasmus+ projects and is seeking to hold these discussions with the EU. The government has also extended the underwrite guarantee to cover the payment of awards under successful Erasmus+ bids submitted post-March 2019 until the end of 2020. The eligibility of UK organisations to participate in calls for bids once the UK is no longer a Member State is subject to agreement between the EU and the UK.

Student Loan Sale

Several questions from Angela Rayner delving into the cost effectiveness of both the prior and intended new student loan book sales – with little in the way of a clear answer given.

First a question requesting the estimated proceeds of the (new) student loan sale and for information shared to be accessed centrally.
Sam Gyimah’s response: The government and its advisers are continuing to refine the range of estimates for the expected proceeds of the sale. A report on the sale arrangements, and the extent to which they gave good value, will be placed in the House Libraries within three months of the date of the transfer arrangements.

Followed by another on the book value of the new student loans sale.

Gyimah responded: The department calculates the book value for the pool of loans for any given sale after the sale has completed, and the fully audited number for the second sale will be available in the 2018-2019 annual accounts.

On the previous student loan book sales Rayner questioned:

This asking for the value for money evidence and assessment for the prior student loan book sale and this querying the minimum price for the sale.

Gyimah responded that the report is available within the Parliamentary libraries and disclosing the minimum price was counterproductive as it is commercially sensitive.

 

TEF

On the TEF it is promised there will soon be news on who will conduct the independent review:

QGordon Marsden: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what progress he has made on appointing the Chair of the Independent Review into the Teaching Excellence Framework (link).

A – Sam Gyimah: We have made excellent progress in appointing an independent reviewer of the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework and I hope to make an announcement shortly.

 

On Immigration

Q- Royston Smith: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, what plans his Department has to replicate the provisions of Tier 2 visa requirements for EU students studying in the UK after the UK has left the EU (link).

A – Caroline Nokes: The Government is considering a range of options for the future immigration system and we will publish a White Paper later in the autumn.

The independent Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) published its report on the impact of international students in the UK in September 2018. The Government welcomes this report and thanks the MAC for their work. The report makes it clear that international students offer a positive economic benefit to the UK and offers a number of policy recommendations. We will be considering this report carefully and engaging widely as we develop proposals for the future system which will be implemented from 2021.

 

Widening Access

Q – Paul Blomfield: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, whether he has made an assessment of the potential implications for the Government’s ambition to increase the number of BAME students going to university by 20 per cent by 2020 of implementing the recommendations in the University and College Union report entitled Investigating higher education institutions and their views on the Race Equality Charter; and if he will make a statement.

A – Sam Gyimah: I welcome the report from the University and College Union. Widening access to Higher Education is a priority for this government. We want everyone with the capability to succeed in Higher Education to have the opportunity to benefit from a university education, regardless of background, ethnicity, or where they grew up.

In 2017, 18 year olds from ethnic minority backgrounds were more likely to enter full-time undergraduate higher education than ever before. However, we still have more to do. That is why we asked the Office for Students to continue to ensure ethnic minority groups are supported to access, succeed in, and progress from higher education.

A new transparency condition will also require HE providers to publish application, offer, acceptance, non-continuation and attainment rates by socio-economic background, gender and ethnicity, which will provide greater transparency and help to shine a light on those providers who need to do more.

 

Finally, a question on artificial Intelligence (autonomous weapons).

Consultations

Click here to view the updated consultation tracker. There aren’t any new consultations and inquiries this week, however, there have been several outcome reports and Government responses to the consultations and inquiries we are tracking. Look out for the yellow highlighting to find the new information.

Other news

Free Speech: i news has an article reporting on the BBC’s research stating universities are not restricting free speech. Here is the description of the BBC’s research findings. The findings suggest there are only a small number of isolated cases where free speech is restricted. However, the article continues: A Department for Education spokesperson said while there was no evidence of widespread censorship, there were some “genuine problems”, including the effect of the “complex web of rules and guidance”, as well as the behaviour of protestors and student groups. The OfS Free Speech guidance is expected to be published before Christmas.

Science after Brexit: Fans of Radio 4’s Today programme will have heard Sam Gyimah grasping for answers during a Brexit discussion with Nobel Prize winning geneticist Sir Paul Nurse. Total Politics and The National both reported following the discussion.

Sexual Harassment: The House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee published the outcome of their inquiry into sexual harassment of women and girls in public spaces. The report has a whole section devoted to women’s safety at university. BU readers can access a summary of the report provided by Dods Political Monitoring Consultants here.

Cost of Post Study Work Visas: Wonkhe report on UUK analysis which estimates that the UK economy could have lost out on £8bn in export earnings from international students due to changes to student migration policy in 2012, which include the closure of the Tier 1 Post Study Work Route.

Simon Marginson, writing for Research Professional, also had much to say on the post study work visa this week:

“The notion that we beckon [international students] in through the narrow Home Office doorway, extract as much money as possible from them while they are here, and push them out the moment they graduate, is uncivilised, exploitative and counterproductive.

A mature country will recognise the connections between international education and skilled migration, and understand that while the primary purposes of international education are economic and educational, an important secondary purpose is attracting outstanding future citizens.

Post-study work visas are not only a cornerstone of education exports policy, they are a cornerstone of economic policy on skilled labour.”

Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of UUK, stated:

“To keep up with competitors, the UK government needs to promptly develop a reshaped immigration system that recognises the value of international students as temporary visitors and tells the world that they are welcome here. This should include improved post-study work opportunities”

Students Union officers: Students Union officers are in the news this week with an article on the York University Students Union Working Class Officer and UWE’s short lived men’s officer, which was scrapped after the candidate withdrew citing harassment.

The Budget: The 2018 Autumn budget will be delivered on Monday 29 October. The House of Commons Library has produced a brief on the background to the budget. Political consultants have also been producing speculation documents detailing what has been leaked or is expected within the budget – so far there has been little content directly on Higher Education within the speculations.

Social economic comparators: The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has released Equity in Education which tracks the impact of socio-economic background on the academic performance and outcomes of young people. It notes that high performance and more positive attitudes towards schooling among disadvantaged 15-year-old students are strong predictors of success in higher education and work later on. Furthermore, adults in England with tertiary-educated parents were 9 times more likely to complete tertiary education than adults with less-educated parents. However, this is still below the OECD average of 11 times more likely.

The Independent covers the report stating only 1 in 6 of the disadvantaged UK pupils surveyed report they are satisfied with their lives, socially integrated at school and do not experience test anxiety. The UK also trails behind in that only 15% of disadvantaged students are socially and emotionally resilient (compared to 26% average across all countries surveyed). Although the report does state: Disadvantaged students who are socially and emotionally resilient tend to do better academically which suggests that helping disadvantaged students develop positive attitudes and behaviours towards themselves and their education would boost their academic development. It also notes that greater school choice doesn’t necessarily have a positive impact on disadvantaged pupils and that there can be a lack of sense of belonging amongst pupils. The Equity in Education report utilises PISA data (Programme for International Student Assessment). Click here for an interesting short set of infographics.

FE and Sixth Form Funding Crisis: Twelve associations that represent school and college leaders, governors, students, teachers and support staff in England have written to Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond urging him to increase funding for sixth form education in next week’s Budget. The letter launched the Raise the Rate campaign which hopes to increase the funding rate for sixth form students that has been frozen at £4,000 per student, per year since 2013. In the letter, the associations claim that a combination of funding cuts and cost increases “has left much less money for schools and colleges to spend on the front line education of students at a time when the needs of young people have become increasingly complex (for example the sharp rise in students experiencing mental health problems).” The associations use recent research from London Economics to call for a “minimum” £760 per student funding increase. Without this the campaign states that minority subjects such as languages are at risk of being dropped and there will be decreased extra-curricular activities, work experience opportunities and university visits. As major funding decisions are not likely to be taken until next year’s spending review, and would not take effect until 2020/21, the associations urge the Chancellor to introduce a “modest increase” to the funding rate of at least £200 per student in next week’s Budget “to provide some much needed financial stability and ensure that schools and colleges can continue to deliver the high class education our young people deserve.”        

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders stated:

“It makes no sense whatsoever that the basic funding rate in sixth forms and colleges is a miserly £4,000 per student, while universities are charging tuition fees of up to £9,250, often for fewer teaching hours. Government cuts to 16-18 education have severely damaged a sector which is pivotal to the life chances of young people, and an immediate funding uplift is essential.”

Emily Chapman, Vice President (Further Education) of the National Union of Students said:

“Successive budget cuts have left many colleges in a state of financial instability. The result has been course closures, cuts to student support, and reductions in teaching provision.”

Bill Watkin, Chief Executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association said:

“Sixth form education is not just about exam results, it includes a host of essential wrap-around experiences. If we don’t fund it properly, something must give and young people won’t get the high-quality education they deserve. Every year, colleges are being asked to do more with less, and we must not sit idly by while young people are short-changed.”

Student Opinion: Read this blog on the latest research from an amalgamation of students’ unions: Asking the right questions on student lifestyle which covers wellbeing, living, eating and community identification. There are also previous research summaries giving the student perspective on Value for Money and Teaching Excellence.

Allied Health Professions: The OfS have published the blog Let’s shine a light on the opportunities in allied health professions educating about the wider NHS careers opportunities and how the OfS is supporting growth in recruitment to these programmes.

Immigration salary threshold: Research Professional discuss how the proposed retention of the £30,000 salary threshold for skilled migrant visa will dissuade talented social science researchers from considering a career in the UK.

Unconditional offers: Unconditional offers continue to make headlines as UCAS confirm they will publish data highlighting which HE providers make significant levels of unconditional offers. The data will be shared when UCAS release the annual end-of-cycle data in January 2019. A spokesperson for UCAS stated:  “Unconditional offers can be made for a variety of reasons… Universities may also need to provide necessary context of their figures when they are published for the first time.” Research Professional state that UCAS will publish an analysis of unconditional offers during November to explore the different types of offers and how they are made.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                     SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                       Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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