Tagged / TEF

Policy Update w/e Friday 30 June 2017

TEF

As the sector continues to digest TEF the date to register for appeals has already passed. The Times report that Durham, Liverpool, Southampton and York will be appealing their ratings. Read Jane’s TEF blog published by Wonkhe. The Times Higher have published a comprehensive review of the data.

Graduate Outcomes

The second NewDLHE consultation has closed and the new survey will be called the Graduate Outcomes survey. Read about it on the HESA website and Rachel Hewitt’s Wonkhe blog: What’s in a name? Arriving at Graduate Outcomes. Rachel writes: The new model will enable us to provide high-quality data that meets current and anticipated future needs, while also realising efficiencies in the collection process. The data that will be available, including new graduate voice measures, will expand our understanding of what graduate success means.

HESA have published the synthesis of responses to the consultation and also have a helpful response and clarification page which follows more of a Q&A style. The first cohort of graduates to receive the new survey will be from the 2017/18 academic year and there will be a minimum 70% response rate requirement for full time UK undergraduates (some concern has been expressed about whether this is achievable). The first full Graduate Outcomes publication will be in early 2020, followed by the LEO earnings data later in Spring 2020. HESA clarify that there will not be a gap in data for TEF, although some students will be captured a little later than the existing DLHE model. When asked how HESA would mitigate the change in census point impacting on the TEF data they clarified it was for HEFCE to consider the matter.

Widening Participation

It’s been a busy week for widening participation. OFFA have released the national outcomes of the 2015/16 Access Agreement monitoring and announced a new HESA data set will be released at the end of July which will support institutions to evaluate the impact of their financial support (including bursaries) to students.

The Access Agreement monitoring noted greater investment during 2015/16 and ‘significant and sustained’ improvements in fair access in the last decade. However, it identified particular challenges in the fall of part-time student numbers, non-continuation rates for mature students (almost double the rate of young students), little progress in retention and attainment of students from certain BME backgrounds, and professional employment rates, which are significantly lower for graduates from disadvantaged backgrounds. It also stressed the importance of flexible study options, particularly for mature students.

The Social Mobility Commission published Time for change: an assessment of government policies on social mobility 1997 to 2017 which considers the impact and effectiveness of the key social mobility policies over the last 20 years. The HE sector has seen success in improving disadvantaged students access to university (less so at selective institutions), however, the retention rates and graduate outcomes for disadvantaged students still lag behind with only minimal improvement over the 20 year period. For more detail read our summary of the report here.

Research Councils UK released their Measuring Doctoral Student Diversity report. And the Herald has a piece on how Glasgow University contextualises its admissions successfully ‘Dumbing down’ myths scotched.

EU citizens’ rights

The Home Office have published a policy paper addressing the continuation of UK residence rights for EU nationals, which was the basis of the government’s proposal to the EU for negiotiations on this issue, which is a gateway issue to wider negotiation on Brexit. A short factsheet explains the intended process for EU citizens to remain in the UK. The policy paper mentions access to fee and maintenance loans for undergraduates and EU citizens access to research council PhD studentships – both to continue until 2018-19. Upon Brexit EU students with “settled status” will be permitted to complete their studies.

The current UK proposal appears to be relatively generous to EU citizens currently in the UK – although there is a cut off date which has yet to be set and will be between 29 March 2017 and 29 March 2019.  Those arriving after that date will not have the same rights.  It does propose a registration requirement for those acquiring “settled” status (or in the course of acquiring it – it takes 5 years) but it proposes a 2 year transition period for that process to avoid administrative chaos.  The EU have already said that they are not happy with the proposal that the EU court will not have jurisdiction.  This is the opening position in a negotiation, so expect it to evolve over the next few months.

Local MPs

Three of our local MPs have been appointed to Government positions.

  • Simon Hoare has been appointed as Parliamentary Private Secretary for the Ministerial team within the Home Office.
  • Conor Burns has moved from BEIS and been appointed as Parliamentary Private Secretary to Boris Johnson (Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs).
  • Michael Tomlinson has been appointed as Parliamentary Private Secretary for the Ministerial team within the Department for International Development.

Parliamentary Questions

There were a number of HE relevant parliamentary questions this week.

Catherine West asked the Secretary of State for Education whether it remains the Government’s policy to allow the opening of new grammar schools. Justine Greening responded: There was no education bill in the Queen’s Speech, and therefore the ban on opening new grammar schools will remain in place.

William Wragg asked the Secretary of State for Education whether the proposals relating to universities in the Schools that Work for Everyone consultation document will be taken forward. Justine Greening responded: “As part of the Government’s commitment to create more good school places, last September we published the consultation document: Schools that work for everyone. This asked how we could harness the resources and expertise of those in our higher education sector to work in partnership to lift attainment across the wider school system.

The Government has welcomed the way that our world-class higher education institutions are willing to think afresh about what more they could do to raise attainment in state schools, in recognition of their responsibility to their own local communities.

Universities are currently agreeing Access Agreements with the Office for Fair Access. Earlier this year, his strategic guidance to the sector, the Director for Fair Access set out an expectation that HEIs should set out in their access agreements how they will work with schools and colleges to raise attainment for those from disadvantaged and under-represented groups.

The Government hopes and expects more universities will come forward to be involved in school sponsorship and free schools, including more mathematics schools, although support need not be limited to those means.”

Lastly, Justine Greening confirmed that her department would provide further information on the Schools that work for everyone consultation ‘in due course’.

Other news

Research England is recruiting members for the first Council.

The House of Commons Library have published a briefing paper on The value of student maintenance support.

 

 

 

Jane Forster                                               Sarah Carter

VC’s Policy Adviser                                    Policy & Public Affairs Officer

HE policy update w/e 23rd June 2017

Two items have dominated this week – the Queen’s Speech at the state opening of Parliament, and the TEF results.

Queen’s Speech

The Queen’s Speech sets out the government’s legislative agenda for the session of parliament. In a rare departure this year the parliamentary legislative session is planned to last for two years, instead of one, to accommodate Brexit and the Repeal Bill. Both the Commons and Lords will debate the planned legislative programme for six working days.  Education will be debated on Tuesday 27 June by the Commons and Thursday 29 June by the Lords. Usually during the final days of debate two Opposition amendments are considered and one is voted upon – it will be interesting to see what they pick. The Commons vote on the final motion takes place on Thursday 29 June. The government must win this vote  -although the DUP are likely to support the government, Labour are hovering in the wings ready to capitalise on any opportunity.

The significance of the Queen’s Speech for HE was more about what it did not contain. Across the board many manifesto commitments were absent or lacked detail, but that is not unusual.

Schools were addressed with a commitment to increase the schools budget further and to make schools funding fairer. Furthermore, of importance to HE, in line with the ‘Schools that work for everyone’ consultation, the Queen’s Speech makes reference to encouraging more people, schools and institutions to come forward to help to create more good school places. This falls short of promising legislation to force universities or independent schools to sponsor or open free schools, as mentioned in the manifesto. However, legislation isn’t required to force universities into sponsorship.  We await the next steps in the response to the Schools consultation.  Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Education, Angela Rayner, has tabled the parliamentary question: What her policy is on the involvement of universities in academy sponsorship and the founding of free schools and charging maximum tuition fees. We’ll bring you the response in next week’s policy update. Grammar schools were not mentioned. While the policy has not been officially dropped the BBC cite a DfE source who stated ”the Queen’s Speech was an unambiguous decision not to go ahead with creating more grammar schools”.

The commitment remains to refreshing technical education, funding and delivering the new Institutes of Technology as part of the Industrial Strategy. Angela Rayner has also tabled a parliamentary question on reviewing funding across tertiary education. HEPI published a report on technical and professional education this week.

Immigration – the government pledged “A Bill to establish new national policies on immigration, completed by legislation to ensure that the UK makes a success of Brexit”. The new factor in this debate is the role of the DUP which has indicated it wants a policy that meets the skills needs of Britain. This may not completely dovetail with May’s commitment to the net migration target. In the election aftermath there have been rumours that the government will soften their immigration stance. However, the migration cap was confirmed again by Damien Green on Wednesday.

The Queen’s Speech also addressed Social Care, Mental Health and the tech sector. Please contact Sarah for a summary if these areas interest you.

The Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF)

Relish or rubbish it TEF is one of the most significant policy initiatives in recent years. Despite sector opposition and Lords legislative amendments, Jo Johnson’s drive to bring teaching excellence into focus survived largely intact with a review promised in 2019. The categorisation of universities into a single label of Gold, Silver or Bronze gives a highly visible message to the public. A debate rages on how much influence TEF will have on prospective students’ choices and their parents’ opinion. However, including the awards on unistats, and UCAS course pages means that  TEF is a force to be respected.  Jane’s blog for Wonkhe gives a personal perspective – the good outweighs the bad.

What is TEF?

TEF is a government endorsed evaluation of teaching excellence. Wonkhe have a useful beginner’s guide to the TEF which sets out the component parts within the three categories of Teaching Quality, Learning Environment and Student Outcomes and Learning (also see diagram, and explanation of  TEF flags). Controversy within the sector (and Lords debate during the HE and Research Bill) centred on the metrics- which use measures of student experience, retention, and outcomes as a proxy for teaching excellence. In May Jo Johnson stated that TEF was ‘an iterative process’ and would ‘evolve and develop’ over the years. New metrics including LEO will be considered for inclusion as TEF matures.

The government’s aims for TEF are to:

  • Inform prospective student choice
  • Recognise, reward and drive excellent teaching (balancing a research focus at the expense of teaching experience)
  • Inform and meet employer, business and industry needs

Read Wonkhe’s interesting political history of the methods successive policy makers have attempted to drive progress. And HEPI’s (short!) idiots guide to the arguments for and against the TEF.

Participation in TEF was voluntary but most (nearly all in England, fewer in the devolved administrations) chose to participate. TEF is linked to the raising of the higher fee cap.  However, to allow the HE and Research Act to pass swiftly the government agreed to postpone the further link which differentiated the fee cap based on TEF ratings. This has been postponed until 2020 and can only be reinstated after an independent review of TEF has been conducted. Read John Vinney’s research blog which highlights the Lords unease over the TEF fees link as the HE and Research Bill made its way through parliament.

TEF also aligns with the government’s social mobility agenda. The metrics deliberately split out widening participation indicators such as BME and part time students to ensure consideration of these groups at institutional level.

TEF – the outcome

As the data that underlines the metrics are widely published, he sector already had a ball park idea of where institutional ratings would fall, although the subtlety of the individual benchmarking process did make it hard to predict with confidence.  For some the TEF heralds a refreshing shake up of the sector, a move away from research influenced league tables.  For pre-results release comment see TEF will check the most complacent and privileged and Performance management is here to stay, but TEF needs a rethink.

The TEF results for all participating providers were released by HEFCE on Thursday 22 June. At the time of writing the HEFCE TEF webpages were very slow, as an alternative see this Times Higher page which lists all institutions results but not the provider results statements. The Times Higher page also compares each provider’s TEF result with their THE World University Ranking and REF GPA.

As the policy wonks digest the national results picture, questions emerge about the relative influence of the provider statement against metrics, and a good article by Wonkhe provides volumes and information on institutions that were up or downgraded against their initial metric based ranking. There are interesting results analysis tweets and diagrams by the University of Huddersfield.  Chris Husbands, the chair of the TEF, has responded to the reaction with a strong defence of the system on Wonkhe.

Jo Johnson, in the TEF results release, harks back to the original TEF objectives:  “These results, highlighting the extraordinary strengths of our higher education system, will help students choose which university or college to study at. The Teaching Excellence Framework is refocusing the sector’s attention on teaching – putting in place incentives that will raise standards across the sector and giving teaching the same status as research. Students, parents, employers and taxpayers all have a shared interest in ensuring that higher education equips the next generation of graduates for success.”  He also tweeted “Kudos to all 295 institutions that volunteered for the first Teaching Excellence Framework assessment”.

BU’s approach

BU’s continuing approach to TEF reflects our fundamental commitment to Fusion. Read John Vinney’s HEPI blog which addresses the importance of both research and teaching in inspiring learning excellence, and the comments from Professor Holley on this research blog: “BU is unusual in the sector in drawing together preparation for both REF and TEF, mirroring their Fusion agenda of excellence in research, education and professional practice. It is exciting to be at the centre of these policy opportunities, to build synergy in a way that will further enhance the student experience. At BU we pride ourselves on delivering innovative teaching and learning that works for all of our students, regardless of background.”  If you missed it, you can read about BU’s silver award here.

The Future

Amid the excitement of ‘results day’ it is easy to forget that TEF is still evolving. There will be an extended two-year subject level pilot in 2017/18 and 2018/19, with a final version rolled out in 2019/20 (TEF year 5). Despite extensive sector consultation and comment over the past year few decisions have been made about the complexity and level of detail that will dictate the subject level structural framework.  The approach based on many categories of disciplines will most genuinely reflect the learning experience of students but could be  burdensome and costly – some say broader groups will be easier and less time consuming to manage but will have a masking effect by grouping together subjects that don’t really belong together. For example, subjects as diverse as geography and nursing could banded together under a social sciences heading. Subject level TEF will also make labelling harder. How will a silver institution with a range of gold and bronze subject judgements market themselves effectively but unambiguously? Will parents and prospective students (who need clear, simple branding to make decisions) pay more attention to the Gold rating for their intended subject or an overall Bronze for the intended institution? If that doesn’t have you reaching for the headache medication read Wonkhe’s article which delves further into the complexities of subject level TEF.

Also don’t forget postgraduates. Postgraduate TEF was scheduled for TEF year 4 (assessed in 2018-19 based on 2017-18 data); however, many speculate that given the extension of the subject level TEF pilot and the independent review of TEF, as well as everything else, postgraduate TEF may be shelved until further notice.   See Wonkhe’s TEF article about postgraduate TEF.

But with the Bill passed, what will the Universities Minister do during this parliament? Perhaps focus more on the Science and Research part of his portfolio, with the Industrial Strategy and Brexit issues to deal with.

Lastly, at a June Wonkhe TEF conference Mark Jones (HEA) called on the sector to ‘take back control’ of teaching excellence and play a part in developing teaching metrics rather than simply critiquing them. He advocated engaging with Gibbs (2010) Dimensions of quality research and looking at international initiatives as part of potential metric development.  Chris Husbands repeated this call in his blog this week.

Media Coverage

Times Higher has a hub page where they gather together key articles and comment on the TEF, and Wonkhe gather together many articles and blogs whilst also providing key results analysis. You may like eight first lessons from the TEF results.

Media coverage has focussed mostly on the mixed ratings achieved by Russell Group members:

Sector response

Nick Hillman, Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said:  ‘The Teaching Excellence Framework would have comprehensively failed if it had simply replicated existing hierarchies. It was always designed to do something different to other league tables and rankings – namely, to show where there are pockets of excellence that have been ignored and to encourage improvements elsewhere.

‘So the fact that some of the results seem surprising suggests it is working. I visit around 50 universities a year so know the Gold ratings have been hard won by committed staff and students and are very well deserved.

‘Nonetheless, in this early guise, the TEF is far from a perfect assessment of teaching and learning. While it tells us a lot of useful things, none of them accurately reflects precisely what goes on in lecture halls. I hope university applicants will use the results in their decision making but they should do so with caution, not least because the ratings are for whole universities rather than individual courses.’

 

Jane Forster                                   Sarah Carter

VC’s Policy Adviser                                    Policy & Public Affairs Officer

 

HE policy update w/e 16th June 2017

New Parliament – On Monday we sent out a special edition policy update to keep you current on the political arrangements as the new government is formed. If you missed it you can read it here. Locally, all the incumbents were re-elected, meaning the whole of Dorset continues to be represented by Conservatives. A breakdown of the local MPs, the profile of their vote share, and current political interest areas is available here. It has now been confirmed that the Queen’s Speech and state opening of Parliament will take place on Wednesday 21 June. Since Monday’s update it has been confirmed that Jo Johnson remains in post as Universities Science Research and Innovation Minister. Anne Milton is the new Apprenticeships and Skills Minister. Locally Tobias Ellwood will move to the Ministry for Defence.

  • Student voting preferences: YouGov’s post-election poll states that 64% of full time students voted Labour, 19% for Conservatives, 10% Lib Dems. For graduates Labour got 49% and Conservatives 32%.
  • Effect of age: The survey states that young turnout was not as high as the media initially reported – 59% of 20-24 year olds voted. The survey highlights that age is a new dividing line in British politics. For every 10 years older a voter is, the likelihood they will vote Conservative increases.
  • Effect of education: The survey reports that education is also an electoral demographic divide with support. In the recent election support for the Conservatives decreased the more educated a voter was, with the reverse for Labour and the Lib Dems. Age is a factor, the young have more qualifications than the old, however YouGov report even accounting for this the Conservatives still have a graduate problem.

Longitudinal Education Outcomes (LEO) data – The full longitudinal education outcomes (LEO) data was released this week. It shows graduate earnings and employment outcomes from 2014/15 taking data from the students graduating 1, 3 and 5 years before 2014/15. The methodological of how the data measured prior attainment has changed and ethnicity identifiers have been removed from the dataset for this release. LEO will be published alongside the Key Information Set on Unistats. Wonkhe ran a live LEO blog on release day (BU got a mention) and have an assortment of articles discussing the LEO findings as well as university rankings for each subject area. Polar data is available so comparison of the class effect on graduate earnings is possible even at a subject level. BU is generally positioned well within the LEO data, which is consistent with our DLHE outcomes data.

Gender pay gaps: Wonkhe reported on the first trial release of LEO data highlighting that the pay gap between women and men is visible from graduation. Wonkhe have explored this gender pay gap through the full LEO dataset released this week. Their new article identifies that, while the gender gap remains, subject area has an affect and where there are lower numbers of men than women on a subject, e.g. nursing, the men outperform the women’s pay by an even greater margin. The article questions whether universities are failing to prepare women to enter the most well-paying graduate jobs, and failing to encourage women’s aspirations on the same par as men. The article also anticipates that when the pay data can be cut by ethnicity that further gender racial divides will been seen. The Guardian also report on the gender pay gap.

Brexit – residency rights for EU citizens wishing to remain in the UK post Brexit are not as black and white as it seems. This report from Migration Watch UK on the EC’s negotiating position explores the shades of grey. There are ongoing rumours of pressure to soften the approach to Brexit but no indication of it – the formal negotiations with the EU start on Monday.

Higher Education and Research Act (HERA) – With Jo Johnson, Justine Greening and Greg Clark’s continuation of their cabinet roles the sector anticipates that both TEF and the HE and Research Act will move forward with more certainty now. UUK have published a briefing on the implementation of the Higher Education and Research Act 2017. UUK remain positive in their approach to the act whilst acknowledging the potential risk to institutional autonomy. The act replaces HEFCE with the OfS, establishes the combined UKRI, and begins to establish the new regulatory system for the sector. UUK call for universities to engage and influence how OfS and UKRI approach their remit and to consider the implications of these split bodies with reference to the relationship between teaching and research within universities.

Regulation: The sector will be regulated through the register of HE providers. The OfS can vary the conditions applied to providers (as the pool of providers will be wider) and requirements relating to access and participation. A technical consultation on registration fees is expected during autumn 2017. Student protection plans will be a requirement of registration, including transparency in enabling provision for student transfers. The OfS will consult on whether there are appropriate bodies that could perform quality assessment and data collection in advance of April 2018 and that would command the confidence of the sector.

Teaching quality: During amendment through parliament conditions of registration relating to quality and standards of teaching meant conditions should relate to sector recognised standards. The detail and ownership the sector will have over the definition of standards is unclear. However, amendments within the Lords ensured that ‘quality’ and ‘standards’ should be properly defined and separate and the independent ability of institutions to set their own standards was protected. The UK-wide standing committee on quality assessment is working to coordinate a shared regulatory baseline and is also reviewing how the quality code, including standards, may need to evolve in the context of the new regulations. HEFCE is also expected to conduct a review of the Annual Provider Review in the autumn.

Degree awarding powers: will be subject to independent quality advice from either the designated quality body or an independent committee, and replicates much of the role of the QAA’s Advisory Committee on degree awarding powers (Section 46). A consultation on how the OfS should exercise its new powers, including ‘probationary’ degree awarding powers, and the removal of degree awarding powers is expected. There are additional conditions to be met before OfS can vary or revoke degree awarding powers or university title, royal charters cannot be revoked in full. There is to be additional ministerial oversight of new providers without a validation track record. Amendment discussions secured tightened regulation around degree awarding powers and university title to protect both students and the sector reputation on sector entry for new providers.

Financial powers: OfS will have the ability to make grants or loans to a HE provider, replicating HEFCE’s powers to provider funding for high cost or strategic/vulnerable subjects. It’s likely any support for providers in financial difficulty would require DfE and Treasury input.

Fee limits & TEF: Fee limit changes require (active) approval by both Commons and Lords, even if the increase is below inflation. An approved access and participation plan is required. There are three levels of fee limits:

  • the higher amount which will ordinarily increase by inflation (LINKED TO TEF)
  • an intermediate cap LINKED TO TEF (but won’t be implemented before 2020)
  • a basic cap (currently set at £9,000)

Until the academic year 2020/21 all providers participating in TEF with approved access plans will be permitted to charge the full inflationary increase up to the higher amount. Before differential fees determined by TEF rating can be implemented an independent review of TEF must take place. The review would need to take place in winter 2018/19 for differential fees to be implemented in 2020/21. The review will cover:

  • the process by which ratings are determined under the scheme and the sources of statistical information used in that process
  • whether process and statistical information are fit for purpose in determining ratings under the scheme
  • the names of the ratings under the scheme and whether those names are appropriate
  • the impact of the scheme on the ability of higher education providers to which the scheme applies to carry out their functions (including in particular their functions relating to teaching and research)
  • an assessment of whether the scheme is in the public interest
  • any other matters that the appointed person considers relevant

Subject level TEF have been delayed by an additional year but will be piloted in 17/18 and 18/19.

UKRI: will operate from April 2018 and is expected to commence by drafting its research and innovation strategy in collaboration with the sector. Research England will have to consult on the terms and conditions attached to the quality-related funding it provides. The government must publish details of the funding provided to UKRI, the terms and conditions attached, and the amount granted to each of the seven councils. This is designed to give public oversight of the process, and to encourage responsible allocation of funding to the different councils. The dual support system will not be undermined. The Act enshrines the Haldane principle within the legislation ‘decisions on individual research proposals are best taken following an evaluation of the quality and likely impact of the proposals (such as a peer review process)’. UKRI should give equal regard to all nations of the UK.

Widening Participation – The Social Mobility Commission have published the Social Mobility Barometer surveying the public’s attitude towards UK social mobility. The Barometer is new and there will be follow up polls each year until 2021. It was run by YouGov. Press coverage: BBC; TES focus on the belief education will be better in the future.

  • 48% of the public believe that where you end up in society today is mainly determined by your background and who your parents are; 32% believe everyone has a fair chance to get on regardless of their background.
  • 79% believe that there is a large gap between the social classes in Britain today.
  • A large majority of people believe that poorer people are held back at nearly every stage of their lives – from childhood, through education and into their careers.
  • 71% believe opportunity is dependent on where a person lives (something the government’s intended Industrial Strategy aims to tackle)
  • Young people increasingly feel they are on the wrong side of a profound unfairness in British society. The report links this dissatisfaction with the recent election where record numbers of young people voted.
  • Personal finances, job security and housing are key issues.
  • 76% of the public say poorer people are less likely to attend a top university and 66% say poorer people have less opportunity for a professional career.

Fees and Funding

The House of Commons Library have published a clear briefing paper on HE funding in England. It covers the 2012/13 higher fee increase, removal of maintenance grants and student loan repayment threshold decisions. It also summarises the public spend on HE (within England) and the impact of student loans on the national debt.

Jane Forster                                   Sarah Carter

VC’s Policy Adviser                                    Policy & Public Affairs Officer

HE Policy update w/e 31st March 2017

This week has of course been all about Brexit with the Article 50 notice formally served on Wednesday.   Bu published information for staff and students on Wednesday.

Then the White Paper setting out the plans for the Great Repeal Bill which will deal with arrangements to make UK law work once the UK has left the EU – a challenge given how much EU law has been incorporated into UK laws and regulations. The Bill itself has not been published, but the approach it will take is set out in the White Paper:

  • “In order to achieve a stable and smooth transition, the Government’s overall approach is to convert the body of existing EU law into domestic law, after which Parliament (and, where appropriate, the devolved legislatures) will be able to decide which elements of that law to keep, amend or repeal once we have left the EU. This ensures that, as a general rule, the same rules and laws will apply after we leave the EU as they did before….
  • The approach outlined in this White Paper is designed to give businesses, workers, investors and consumers the maximum possible certainty as we leave the EU: but it also needs to provide the flexibility necessary to respond to all eventualities of the negotiation process.
  • This is a separate process from that by which the Government will bring forward a motion on the final agreement to be voted on by both Houses of Parliament before it is concluded.
  • The Great Repeal Bill will not aim to make major changes to policy or establish new legal frameworks in the UK beyond those which are necessary to ensure the law continues to function properly from day one. Therefore, the Government will also introduce a number of further bills during the course of the next two years to ensure we are prepared for our withdrawal – and that Parliament has the fullest possible opportunity to scrutinise this legislation”.
  • The most controversial part of the proposal relates to powers to make secondary legislation. The White Paper says “This will enable corrections to be made to the laws that would otherwise no longer operate appropriately once we have left the EU, so that our legal system continues to function correctly outside the EU, and will also enable domestic law once we have left the EU to reflect the content of any withdrawal agreement under Article 50.”

So will there be any changes to UK law linked to Article 50 – there are some clues in the White Paper:

  • Customs bill
  • Immigration bill
  • And on consumer protection, the Government intends to bring forward a Green Paper this spring which will closely examine markets which are not working fairly for consumers

What the White Paper says won’t change:

  • Environmental protection
  • Worker’s rights and equalities
  • Participation in European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), but not the EU Charter on Human Rights

Read more about the process for Brexit here.

Universities are not mentioned in the paper (except in the introduction where it is noted that the government acted fast to reassure applicants about fees) – there are on-going calls for the question of EU citizens in the UK to be settled fast, along with fee guarantees for students starting in 2018/19. UUK’s priorities for Brexit are set out in their short paper here and there are some interesting views written for the Universities All Party Parliamentary Group here.

Fake Research – UUK has a new blog on fake research following comments in the news about it. The blog helpfully brings together the latest reports and information in this area including the Research Councils UK guidance issued recently.

Higher Education and Research Bill – this will have its third reading in the House of Lords on Tuesday No more amendments have been added since the debate was postponed following the Westminster attacks. However, we know a little bit more about the government’s approach to the opposition and cross bench amendments made by the Lords. The bill will go back to House of Commons (to start its “ping-pong”) after Easter.

For example, of the 5 non-government amendments, one related to the requirement that universities should share information with local authorities to ensure that students are registered to vote. Jo Johnson has written a letter to HEFCE requesting that they do more to encourage institutions to support students to register to vote. They ask HEFCE to develop a best practice model and then encourage universities to use it. This amendment this therefore likely to be removed in the House of Commons

Another provided that the OfS could not approve a provider unless it has been validated for at least 4 years (as now) or has been approved by a Quality Assurance Committee as being full able to maintain the required standard for the duration of its authorisation and that it operates in the public interest and the interest of students. It seems unlikely that this will survive in the House of Commons:

  • A letter dated 22nd March from Jo Johnson sets out the government’s position that the student protection arrangements should cover this and that there will be a consultation on this as part of a Regulatory Framework consultation in the autumn of 2017.
  • A letter dated 8th March from Jo Johnson sets out why the government believes that the current validation arrangements do not work and explains why it should be easier for new providers to be authorised.

The other 4 amendments were:

  • Requiring UKRI to encourage international collaboration, not allowing students to be treated as long term migrants and not allowing more visa restriction on student or staff immigration more stringent than the day the act is passed – this is likely to be removed in the Commons pending the wider consultation on immigration policy which has been delayed since November
  • Removing the TEF clause and requiring the OfS to introduce instead a scheme to provide information about quality, which is approved by Parliament and which cannot be used to create a single composite ranking – This is likely to be removed in the Commons but it will be interesting to see if any concessions are made about the TEF. So far subject level TEF has been postponed for a year to allow for 2 years of pilot, but other changes may be forthcoming
  • A statement that the TEF (or its replacement) cannot be used to rank institutions as to the fees that they charge or the number of students they recruit, in the UK or overseas – this seems unlikely to survive – the student number/immigration issue will be dealt with as above, and the fee issue is so key to the government’s position on fees that it seems very unlikely to be dropped. There has been surprisingly little pick up on this issue – see the VC’s blog on this. There is a blog by Professor Mark Smith here.
  • The grounds in which institutions can appeal the revocation of their authorisation, so that instead of being on the grounds of an error of fact, a decision being wrong in law or unreasonable, it now just says that institutions can appeal on the grounds that “the decision was wrong” – this seems unlikely to survive – see the letter from Viscount Younger and Lord Young dated 20th

Apprenticeships – The Commons Select Committee on Education, Skills and the Economy have published a report on apprenticeships which raises a number of concerns about the focus on quantity over quality.

Social Mobility – Justine Greening gave a speech on 30th March on social mobility. She set out three priorities:

  • tackling geographic disadvantage
  • investing in long-term capacity in our system
  • making sure our education system as a whole really prepares young people and adults for career success

This speech refers to the plans for schools to work with universities but doesn’t give any more information (we are still waiting for the response to the consultation), technical education and widening access to universities.

HE policy update w/e 24th March 2017

Higher Education and Research Bill – the third reading of the Bill in the House of Lords was scheduled for Wednesday and was about to start when the attack took place in Westminster, so the session was cancelled. It has now been rescheduled for Tuesday 4th April.  The current version of the bill as amended at the report stage is here. There is a short list of amendments for the third reading – these are usually “tidying up” amendments rather than the more substantive ones that we have seen in the earlier stages – and are monstly (but not exclusively) government amendments.  The Bill will then return to the Commons – probably after Easter – when all six of the opposition and cross bench amendments made by the Lords are likely to be removed – including the one decoupling TEF ratings and fee increases, removing the Gold, Silver, Bronze TEF system and replacing it with a pass/fail, and measures aiming to support international students and staff studying and working in the UK.

There may be government amendments proposed in the Commons to seek to address some of the concerns behind the amendments to the TEF, but it seems unlikely that there will be concessions on international staff and students in the bill as these issues will be relevant to the separate consultation on immigration policy, which we are still waiting for. There will therefore inevitably be another process of “ping-pong” . If the Lords don’t accept the position approved by the Commons (and any concessions made) then there is a risk that the bill will run out of time in this session.

To respond to concerns raised by the Lords, Jo Johnson and the sponsor of the bill in the House of Lords, Viscount Younger of Leckie have written a number of letters during the report stage.

  • 15th March 2017 – powers to enter and search
  • 6th March 2017 – regulation (compliance with the Regulator’s Code – will require a statutory instrument but government agree), role of the Competition and Markets Authority (the government believe there is no overlap between the OfS and the CMA). One government amendment clarified that in addition to promoting competition, the OfS should have regard to the benefits of HEI collaboration for students and employers.
  • 3rd March 2017 – defending the TEF and its metrics, setting out the context and background and confirming a commitment to ensuring that the TEF supports widening participation.

There has not been a response to the amendments that were passed, so we will wait to see. In the meantime, there were some interesting articles about the future for the TEF on Wonkhe on Monday:

Another concern raised by the Lords and also raised in Education questions in the Commons this week related to free speech. Jo Johnson, the universities minister, added that the bill would safeguard free speech by extending the duty to take reasonably practicable steps to secure freedom of speech to all registered providers. On the same day, Johnson also wrote to universities asking them to pay particular attention to this issue. He advised: “Policies and codes of practice should not simply be allowed to gather dust; they are crucial to demonstrating to students that free speech should be at the heart of our university system. They need to be meaningful documents that students and staff understand and, crucially, respect.”

Brexit – with the PM expected to serve formal notice to start Brexit negotiations under Article 50 next week, Peers debated EU membership and UK science after the referendum on 23 March. They urged the government to replace any money lost from EU research programmes with fresh money from Westminster, rather than with the extra £4.7 million allocated to science and innovation in the 2016 autumn statement.

The Parliamentary and Scientific committee have published a statement on science priorities for Brexit.  It asks for immediate actions, sets out negotiation priorities and changes to domestic policy.  It’s very short and readable – a list of proposals rather than a long summary of evidence and background

Its first statement is about staff and skills – it calls for immediate reassurance for EEA staff working in the UK, research about mobility of skilled workers to inform immigration policy and for the government to develop a communications strategy that champions Britain as a welcoming hub for research and innovation.

On funding, it says that there must be no decline in overall funding for science and innovation across all disciplines, calls for continued participation in Horizon 2020 and for the government to “set the closest possible association for the UK with EU research and innovation programmes”.  It also proposes a target of 3% of GDP for combined public and private R&D investment, with at least 0.7% of GDP invested in research and development.    It calls for a comprehensive review of all current public funding for UK research and development to ensure there is no gap as the UK leaves the EU.

It sets out requirements to ensure that UK-based researchers are able to collaborate, including funding and infrastructure for partnerships.  On trade, it suggests that all government departments should have scientific advisers, and calls for a comprehensive review of the current regulatory environment.

Student Loans – in a written answer to a parliamentary question Jo Johnson noted that the latest Student Loans Company statistics show that there were around 113,600 English student loan borrowers known to be abroad at the beginning of the financial year 2016-17. Of these around 22 per cent were EU-domiciled borrowers. The figures also show that the overall outstanding loan balance of these borrowers resident abroad was around £1.6 billion, of which around £220 million was held by EU-domiciled borrowers. He added in a separate answer that the Student Loans Company established a repayments evasion unit in 2016 to detect borrowers who live abroad and who fail to repay their loans.

Advance marketing – along with Professor Debbie Holley, I am presenting some policy briefings and workshops – read more and book via the intranet.

HE policy update w/e17th March 2017

Brexit:

  • Research Professional illustrates the Brexit threats to research positioning and job losses by highlighting the difficulties facing an EU astronomy consortium. The consortium represents seven countries, led by the UK, but will move headquarters to an EU member state from January 2021. The move means the UK will lose the project’s leadership and the 12 UK universities may not continue post-Brexit. Research Professional notes that while access to research infrastructures is available to non-EU states, the EU membership plays a significant role in decisions on where to locate facilities. Gerry Gilmore (the consortium leader, from University of Cambridge) stated:
    The UK will lose substantial scientific leadership and influence in the EU. There is going to be bad news all around. I don’t think people realise how many new jobs and new opportunities have just been destroyed.”
  • The EU (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill has survived the parliamentary process and received Royal Assent on 16th March (BBC). This bill allows the Prime Minister to notify the EU of the UK’s intention to withdraw from the EU. The Lords made two amendments to the Bill – one relating to Parliament having a “meaningful vote” on the final arrangements and one requiring a guarantee for EU citizens to remain in the UK. The bill was approved by the House of Commons, which rejected the Lords bill and then went back to the Lords under what is called “ping-pong”. The Lords voted again on both issues but the House of Lords majority backed down and the bill was passed. The PM is expected to trigger article 50 later in March.
  • 2018/19 EU student and staff guarantees: During oral questions in the Lords Baroness Royall of Blaisdon pressed the government spokesperson (Viscount Younger of Leckie) when announcements would be made regarding fees and access to loans for 2018/19 EU student starters. Leckie gave a side stepping response: “The noble Baroness makes the important point that there are uncertainties arising from Brexit, but the Government have moved rapidly to give assurances to this sector… “We have also provided similar assurances that EU nationals starting courses in 2016-17 and 2017-18 remain eligible for Research Council postgraduate support. As I have said, we will ensure that students starting in 2018-19 have the information well in advance

International students:

  • The debate over the inclusion of international students in the long-term migrant numbers continues. Even senior ministers are rebelling – Boris Johnson, Phillip Hammond and Liam Fox have all protested, although Jo Johnson continues to toe the party line backing the PM’s stance to include international students within the original immigration statistics. Liam Fox spoke out this week about the value of overseas campuses.
  • On Monday the House of Lords defeated the government on the Higher Education and Research Bill (HERB), approving an amendment to prevent international students being counted as long-term migrants. The government have responded that “the proposed amendment would create a situation where we were potentially unable to apply basic visa checks, or impose conditions on a student visa. It would also mean that fresh primary legislation were needed just to make minor, technical changes to immigration rules.” (Wonkhe)
  • HERB is scheduled to have its third reading in the Lords on 22 March 2017 and then will go back to the Commons. The PM’s stance on international students seems rock solid (Financial Times) and Theresa May is not expected to waiver – the parliamentary ping pong regarding international students will surely make headlines over the coming weeks.
  • Meanwhile there are worries about student recruitment. Politics Home quotes an Office for National Statistics release stating the number of students coming to the UK dropped by 41,000 in 2016.

Higher Education and Research Bill:

  • The HE and Research Bill has finished its third reading in the House of Lords (although it will have to go back if the House of Commons makes any changes, as seems likely).  The report stage in the Lords is on 22nd March – usually only technical or minor amendments are made at this stage.  The current version of the bill as amended by the Lords is here.
  • The surprise amendment on international students is referred to above.
  • The government won the final vote on the proposed amendment that would have required UKRI and OfS to jointly revoke research degree awarding powers, the amendment was defeated. Wonkhe report that Lord Mackay made an impassioned speech noting that it was “extraordinary” that the OfS was not required to have any expertise or experience regarding research, and yet had the unilateral power to revoke research degree awarding powers, but to no avail. The Bill continues to say that research degree-awarding powers should be made by the OfS with advice from UKRI.

With long debates, late nights and a large number of amendments, it is fair to say that HERB has received an excellent level of scrutiny within the Lords. Lord Prior of Brampton notes: “Everyone who has contributed [to the Bill debates] can take some credit for having improved it considerably. For me, it is a good example of the value this House can bring to a Bill of this kind.”

HEFCE 2017/18 funding to universities: The grant letter details the overall funding to the sector for 2017/18. It includes doubled funding for the National Collaborative Outreach Programme (£60m pa), an additional £17m increase for mainstream quality-related research, a reduction of £40m for teaching (including a reduction in PGT FTE funding rate), maintaining the disabled students premium at the 2016/17 level, the inclusion of nursing, midwifery and allied health professions (£32m), cuts to the student premium budget for full time UG of £20m (part time UG funding remains static). Institutions will receive individual allocations in April although with a publication embargo in force until May. Capital allocations will be announced in March.

Student Loans Sale: A parliamentary question tabled by Steve McCabe requested publication of the ‘in-depth market testing exercise associated with the same of the student loan book. Jo Johnson has responded: “The Government ran a market testing process with a cross-section of potential investors in the student loan book from the end of September into November 2016. This sought feedback on potential sale structures and key features of the transaction and informed the design of the sale. This was a commercial rather than a public process and was conducted under non-disclosure agreements. We do not intend to publish a report of the details. Protecting the details of the conclusions of market testing will help the ongoing sale process achieve value for money for taxpayers.

Student Fees: On Thursday 16th the Petitions Committee released its latest decisions regarding recent petitions with a high number of signatures. This included a petition to government to change the University fees from £9250 back to the £3000 fee. The Committee agreed to wait for the Higher Education and Research Bill to complete its passage through Parliament before deciding whether to schedule a debate – effectively this was a dismissal of the petition.

Research Excellence Framework  The responses to the REF2021 consultation were due in by midday on 17th March.

  • There has been a lot of focus on one area, the definition of “research active staff” for the returns – there are some interesting views:
  • HEFCE blog (and BU’s reply) – HEFCE are proposing a negotiated definition for each university, BU is proposing all staff should be returned, including teaching only
  • Royal Society blog on Research Professional – they say staff shouldn’t be returned at all, it should be institutional
  • The PVC (Research and Enterprise) from Hertfordshire says on Times Higher Education that the solution is flawed and that clarity is needed

There are many other issues in the REF consultation, including the portability of outputs, which will have important consequences for institutions and their staff. The HEFCE REF consultation on the implementation of the REF 2021 closed on 17 March 2017.  You can read BU’s response here.

Blog by the Vice-Chancellor – what next for the Teaching Excellence Framework

The BBC 2 series “Meet the Lords” could not have been better timed. The House of Lords has flexed its muscles on the Article 50 Bill and this week’s episode coincided with them passing an amendment to the Higher Education and Research Bill (HE Bill) that breaks the link between the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) and fees. Since then another amendment has been passed that would change the nature of the TEF, and bring it under Parliamentary scrutiny.

It would be easy to dismiss these (as some have done) as acts of rebellion by a non-elected chamber that is in the case of the HE Bill, representing vested interests in the face of a genuine government attempt to reform a sector that is badly in need of it. The Department for Education could be forgiven if they had thought that the HE Bill was nearly home and dry. They had published a long list of amendments which had been largely welcomed by the sector. The TEF does not require Parliamentary approval. Universities UK and GuildHE, amongst others, had expressed support for the HE bill as amended and expressed support for the TEF – opposing the addition of more detail as it would reduce flexibility in future negotiations on the detail. But the House of Lords did not agree – they have not sought to add more detail in the TEF, but to change its nature completely. Reading the debates, it is clear that members of the House of Lords, like most of the sector, generally support the objectives of TEF in bringing focus on the quality of education and student outcomes. They support the provision of more and better information about universities for applicants and others. They, like many in the sector, also generally support an inflationary increase in fees.

In the latest amendment, the provisions for the TEF in clause 26 have been removed and the new clause instead requires the Secretary of State to bring forward a scheme to identify whether an institution meets or fails to meet expectations based on quality standards but it “must not be used to create a single composite ranking of English higher education providers”.  The arguments are neatly summarised by Lord Lucas: “Bronze will be seen as failing because these universities will be marked out as the bottom 20%. This is just not necessary. We have succeeded, in our research rankings, in producing a measure of sufficient detail and sophistication for people to read it in detail. It produces quite marked differences between institutions, but nobody reads it as a mark of a failing institution. It is information, not ranking…”.

An earlier amendment removed the differentiation between fees based on different ratings. The speeches in the House of Lords demonstrate that they are opposed to this link for different reasons, for example:

  • Baroness Deech “If we detach fees from gold, silver and bronze, we stand a chance of increasing social mobility under the amendment. If we do not, social mobility will be frozen and ghettoisation will increase.”
  • Baroness Wolf of Dulwich: “I want to cite three groups of academics ….all of which feel, as do students, that in their current state the TEF metrics are not up to the job of determining fee levels and that, until we are sure that we have valid and reliable measures, we should not do this.”
  • Lord Lipsey : “… what seems knocking on bizarre is to plough on with bringing in this link between fees and the TEF before we have got the TEF right….The Government would give themselves the best chance of proving themselves right and the sceptics wrong if they gave time for the TEF to settle down before they brought in the fees link.”
  • Lord Kerslake: “My second reason for not making the link is that the TEF rating will relate to the university, not the subject or course. We will not see subject-level ratings until 2020 and yet we know that it is perfectly possible to have a mediocre course in an otherwise excellent university, and indeed vice versa. It can be argued that the TEF ranking gives an indication of the overall ​student experience at a particular institution, but the variation which so obviously exists within institutions makes that argument quite unconvincing.”

Except for the subject level fee point (which has not become a topic of debate yet), these are all arguments that were made by the sector in responding to the Green Paper and the TEF consultation. These are all things that we have continued to raise as we discuss the implications of subject-level TEF.

So as it stands, the TEF has lost both of its “incentives” – aka its carrot and its stick, which were both in the form of the impact on fees and reputation. It is not at all clear what will happen next – some ideas are given in this Wonkhe blog. In blogs on the Times Higher Education, Maddaleine Ansell of the University Alliance and Sorana Vieru gave very different perspectives.

So what compromise could there be to address all the concerns and yet still preserve the positive aspects of the TEF – i.e. the increasing focus on education and outcomes? I go back to BU’s response to the Green Paper, when we said that the TEF should model itself on the REF.. It should celebrate excellence wherever it is found, there should not be a link with tuition fees and there should be no forced ranking. To achieve that now, a remodelled TEF could include the following features:

  • no link to fees
  • have two rather than three levels of award – perhaps indicating good and outstanding. The last category is those who fail their quality assessment and don’t qualify for TEF.
  • take a different approach to benchmarking that does not force differentiation
  • include a place for commendations

I am not convinced by the argument that no-one would participate in the TEF without the direct financial incentive. That does not hold true for the REF. The REF has increased the focus on impact and had a beneficial impact on research. (We have some reservations about the changes proposed in the latest REF consultation, but that is a separate issue.) The concerns about the TEF would be mitigated substantially if the Olympic rating system and the link to fees were dropped. The sector would be able to engage in a much more constructive debate about subject-level TEF.

The TEF does not need to be thrown out completely – but this is an opportunity to go back to where this started from and ensure that the TEF brings focus on the quality of education and student outcomes.

HE policy update w/e 24th February 2017

Jo Johnson spoke at a UUK conference today and made a number of important announcements:

  • New government amendments to the Higher Education and Research Bill. The detailed amendments have not yet been published but a Department for Education factsheet has been provided. The government amendments have been welcomed so far. See the Latest set of proposed amendments (mostly opposition amendments but some government ones too) – this will clearly grow more before the report stage starts on 6th March 2017. See more below.
  • Importantly, he announced that the subject level TEF would have a two year pilot – starting in 2017/18 but also running through 2018/19. Subject level TEF would then be formally implemented in 2019/20, with ratings that are announced around May 2020 with the Year 5 institutional level ratings. Note that it is currently not intended that subject level TEF will result in subject level fees. There was no mention of TEF for post-graduate, which was originally planned to run in year 4, so assessed during 2018/19.
  • Accelerated degrees – Jo Johnson also wrote in the Times about the government response to the consultation on accelerated degrees and credit switching (that closed last July with 1000s of responses) which will be issued shortly, and relevant changes that will be made to the HE Bill.  Apart from the headline grabbing focus on universities being able to raise fees above £13,000 a year, this consultation response will probably contain interesting stuff on credit transfers between universities.  The headline focus on fees is a little bit misleading, because this is in response to sector feedback that it isn’t possible to provide three years of teaching in two years unless fees are increased for those two years (there were many other comments about the impact on extra- and co-curricular activities, as well as cost).  The higher fees would only apply to accelerated degrees, as The Times story makes clear.
  • He also announced a number of other changes regarding institutional and research autonomy which are very helpful – more detail is given below.

HE and Research Bill – As mentioned above, the amendments continue to accumulate for the Lords report stage of the HE bill with the latest government amendments yet to be published. See the latest round up from Wonkhe here. One joint government and Labour amendment (to replace the opposition amendment passed in the House of Lords) defines institutional autonomy, and a number of others require the OfS to protect that autonomy. The definition that is proposed is set out below:

  • There is a new transparency duty – one that did seem to be an omission in the previous drafting. The TEF reflects the new focus on widening participation away from just access to progression and outcomes, but the HE Bill did not reflect this fully in the transparency duty as originally proposed. This has now been picked up, and the proposed amendment (which we have not seen yet) will require providers to publish information on levels of attainment, in addition to application, offer, acceptance and completion rates, broken down by gender, ethnicity and socio-economic background.
  • After the long and energetic discussions in the Lords about the Haldane principle, research autonomy and the many concerns expressed about the role of the Secretary of State, a number of amendments have been tabled 9but not yet published) including one explicitly about the Haldane principle
  • There is a response to the criticism of the limitations on the role of Innovation UK and some of its financial arrangements – we don’t have the detail on all of it but the business focus amendment is set out in the explanatory paper
  • As noted above, the announcement on accelerated degrees requires a change to the HE Bill to allow for higher fees for accelerated degrees – the DfE paper is clear that the overall cost of a degree will not go up – but universities will be allowed to charge more per year for the more intensive short courses.
  • On credit transfer, the proposed amendments will apparently require the OfS to monitor and report on arrangements for student transfer and a power for them to encourage and promote it.
  • There are a number of more technical amendments proposed, including to protect institutions in cases where degree awarding powers may be revoked, to protect Royal Charters and to ensure that the OfS does not meddle in institutional autonomy as regards standards. These changes will be most welcome, and BU, along with most of the sector has called for these changes, and we are looking forward to seeing the detail.

Other proposed opposition amendments include:

  • yet another attempt to change the name of the OfS – this time to the Office for Higher Education Standards. Given that the government have just confirmed that the OfS should not meddle in standards (see above), this amendment seems unlikely to pass.
  • and another attempt to address student loan repayment terms and conditions – this has been raised at every opportunity so far but has not yet been subject to a vote.

The HEFCE grant letter is out, with extensive coverage.  Research Professional report that:

  • Teaching funding will fall, representing nine consecutive years of reductions- it is due to be cut by 5 per cent in 2018-19—and the funds now also have to cover the expansion of medical schools and include trainee nurses, midwives and other health professionals. This is particularly interesting because of the theory that removing the commissioning arrangement will increase student numbers, balanced against concerns in the sector about falling applications and the real-life challenge with increasing student numbers, i.e. placements – On the latter point, Research Professional note the part of the HEFCE letter that “adds that in order to implement the Department of Health announcement that, from September 2018, the government would fund up to 1,500 additional student places in medical schools each year, the funding council should make an initial allocation of 500 places in 2018-19 “based on the capacity for growth and viability of provision in different institutions and be informed by advice from the Department of Health and Health Education England on the distribution of medical placements
  • On PG: “The letter further asks that the funding council ensures it pays for postgraduate courses on a basis that is “consistent with and complementary to” the new postgraduate loan system. In particular the funding council is asked to prioritise science and other high cost subjects.”
  • On TEF: “It asks the funding council to continue funding the introduction of the teaching excellence framework, including the subject-level pilots, for which the budget and approach will be determined later in 2017. The letter further encourages the continued funding of the “high priority” learning gain pilots” – which may give us an idea of where TEF metrics may be headed
  • On schools: “On social mobility, government asks the funding council to continue encouraging “innovative” forms of engagement with schools, including work to identify which institutions are sponsoring or establishing schools and the support they require to achieve it.” This sounds like a slight backing away from compulsory sponsorship of schools? Or maybe just preparation for identifying those who don’t comply.
  • On research:  “the letter says that detailed allocations for the £4.7 billion of additional investment pledged in the autumn statement will be finalised in early March. The funding council is expected to distribute the additional research and knowledge exchange funding allocation in 2017-18. The £100 million announced for technology transfer, meanwhile, will be based on competitive mechanisms that the funding council will develop with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.”
  • And on student wellbeing: “The letter further asks the funding council to implement recommendations made by the Universities UK taskforce on violence, sexual harassment and hate crimes, which advocated the embedding of a zero-tolerance culture towards such incidents on campus. It also recommends the creation of an evidence base around mental health needs and services for staff and students.” The latter cross refers to a UUK good practice guide.
  • Other issues include plagiarism, credit transfer, REF, degree apprenticeships, Prevent and efficiency.

BTEC students – the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) have issued a report on BTECs and Pearson have blogged for them.  The report concludes that “Students arriving at university with BTECs account for much of the growth in students from the lowest participation neighbourhoods and other under-represented groups over the past decade. But those with BTECs face a ‘glass ceiling’ – for example:

  • only 15 BTEC students were accepted at the four most selective higher education institutions in 2015; and
  • under 60 per cent of students with BTECs at Russell Group universities complete their course.”

The report makes the following policy recommendations:

  • As the proportion of pupils achieving the highest BTEC grades (equivalent to three A-Levels) more than doubled from 17% to 38% between 2006 and 2013, the Government should evaluate whether the current system of external verification of BTECs is fit for purpose.
  • Universities should issue collective guidance on which BTECs are most valuable to students in terms of progression, as they have already done for A-Levels.
  • More prestigious universities with low numbers of BTEC students should consider bespoke access courses for BTEC students aimed at helping them adjust to the methods of teaching and assessment that are common in higher education.

Lifelong learning – The University Alliance issued a report on lifelong learning which calls for a number of actions, including setting up a UCAS style system for adult learning courses, reintroducing individual learning accounts and providing additional loans. They also mention accelerated degrees and suggest broadening the apprenticeship levy to cover such course.

Essay Mills – Jo Johnson called this week on universities to do more to stop students buying custom written essays online. He has asked the QAA to prepare guidance for universities and information for students to help combat the use of ‘essay mills’ websites as well as other forms of plagiarism and for the QAA to take direct action against those marketing the services. It looks as if the guidance will focus on making sure that universities have policies and sanctions in place.

“The Universities Minister has asked for guidance aimed at universities and information for students to help combat the use of these websites, as well as other forms of plagiarism. The Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) has also been tasked to take action against the online advertising of these services and to work with international agencies to deal with this problem.

The Minister is calling for the guidance to include tough new penalties for those who make use of essay mills websites, as well as the need to educate students about the potentially significant negative impacts on their future career if they are caught cheating.

Universities Minister Jo Johnson said: “This form of cheating is unacceptable and every university should have strong policies and sanctions in place to detect and deal with it“. Essay mill websites threaten to undermine the high quality reputation of a UK degree so it is vital that the sector works together to address this in a consistent and robust way.””

Brexit – The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has published the terms of reference and membership of its “high level stakeholder working group on EU exit, universities, research and innovation”.

“The overarching purpose of the group is to provide a forum for BEIS, DfE, DExEU, and a broad range of UK representatives of the universities, science, research and innovation communities to discuss issues of common interest in approaching the UK’s exit from the EU. The emphasis will be on considering all factors related to research and innovation that need to be taken into account as government policy develops.”

Membership includes Jo Johnson, Madeleine Atkins, Nicola Dandridge, and the chairs of Million Plus, the Russell Group, GuildHE and the University Alliance, a couple of VCs and PVCs from the devolved administrations (Heriot-Watt, Ulster, Cardiff)  and representatives of a number of science bodies such as the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Campaign for Science and Engineering and others, CBI, RCUK, UKRI.  And Sir Mark Walport in his current role as the Government Chief Scientific Adviser.  Interestingly, none of the bodies represented are arts or social sciences bodies, which continues to demonstrate the apparent assumption in all of these groups on research as an activity that is only relevant to STEM.

Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) have intervened following a complaint to OIA from students that didn’t receive sufficient notice that compulsory modules had been introduced to their course. While UEA was not considered by OIA to have breached its rules the CMA have asked UEA to change its policy and consider the introduction of compulsory modules as a substantial change which would require greater timeliness of notice in future. CMA’s intervention is seen as a landmark intrusion by some. The CMA request is discussed further by Jim Dickinson and Paul Greatrix on Wonkhe. UUK also have a blog on the subject.