Tagged / tuition fees

HE policy update for the w/e 24th September 2021

Lots of people news – the latest high profile sector appointments announced as the ministerial shuffling finishes. The Commons sessions highlight the cost the Freedom of Speech Bill may have for the HE sector and there are briefings, reports and lots of interest surrounding student financing.

All change, please!

Haven’t they just had a ‘holiday’? Parliament has entered recess for the party conference season. While this might offer a temporary break from the repetitive and dispiriting Freedom of Speech Bill arguments (“oh no it doesn’t”…”oh yes it does”) we can expect familiar themes to waft around in the media during the Conservative party conference as new ministers and their junior counterparts rush to impress in their new positions.

The ministerial reshuffle continues into this week with the responsibilities of some of the junior ministers still to be officially confirmed. A Government department has undergone a name change to refocus its agenda. The former Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) is now the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. This statement outlines the new department’s responsibilities with the change intended to embed levelling up commitments and policy on governance in the United Kingdom and elections within a single department which already manages relationships with local communities, local government and the housing sector.

Science, Technology and Research minister Amanda Solloway has been moved to the Whip’s Office. She is replaced by George Freeman (also see this THE article on George).

As you will have spotted from our update last week the Education team had a massive overhaul and only Michelle Donelan, Universities Minister, remained in post. Baroness Barran sits in the Lords chamber with responsibility for the school system.

Here is the top level DfE team as currently stands:

  • Nadhim Zahawi, Secretary of State for Education
  • Michelle Donelan, Minister for Universities
  • Robin Walker, Minister for School Standards
  • Will Quince, Minister for Children and Families
  • Alex Burghart, Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills
  • Baroness Barran, Minister for the School System

Michelle Donelan will attend Cabinet and has some responsibility for apprenticeships and skills within her expanded ministerial brief. Alex Burghart was appointed as the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills to lead on technical education including the qualifications review and the new T levels but MD’s job description gives her joint responsibility for post-16 education strategy with him.

Guido Fawkes outlines the SpAd movers and shakers including:

  • Kwasi Kwarteng has scooped up Marcus Natale from No. 10’s research and briefing team as a new policy SpAd to cover the energy and climate change brief.
  • Nadhim Zahawi has Tom Kennedy and Iain Mansfield (Iain is former Head at Policy Exchange and ex DfE civil servant).

The Sutton Trust cabinet analysis tells us that of the 30 Cabinet ministers:

  • 47% of the new Cabinet attended Oxbridge (was 50%) – quite a lot higher than the party or overall Commons rates (27% Conservative MPs, 24% of all MPs attended Oxbridge).
  • with 60% of new Cabinet privately educated, a decrease of 5% (compared to 29% of MPs overall were privately educated);
  • and 27% were both privately educated and attended Oxbridge.
  • Nadhim Zahawi (Secretary of State Education) was privately educated and attended UCL.
  • Michelle Donelan attended a comprehensive school and went to York university.

Appointments

A number of high level positions have recently changed hands or been reconfirmed.

Andy Haldane has now been confirmed as the new Head of Levelling-up within the Government. He is the former Bank of England chief economist and will join as a permanent secretary in the Cabinet Office on secondment from the Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) for 6 months. He will head up the Levelling Up Taskforce that will report jointly to the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. Prime Minister, Boris Johnson MP, said: Andy is uniquely qualified to lead our efforts to raise living standards, spread opportunity, improve our public services and restore people’s sense of pride in their communities. Andy Haldane said: Levelling up the UK is one of the signature challenges of our time. It has also been a personal passion throughout my professional career.

Health Education England announced the re-appointment of its chair, David Behan, and that of his non-executive colleagues on the board, Liz Mear and Andrew George. All three will continue in their roles until 2024.

Dr Jo Saxton has taken up her post as the new Chief Regulator at Ofqual (replaced interim Simon Lebus). One of the key challenges facing the new chief regulator will be tackling grade inflation, as well as finalising plans for the 2022 assessment series. Dr Saxton said: As chief regulator, pupils and students will be at the heart of every decision we make at Ofqual: their best interests will be my compass.

Heidi Fraser-Krauss is now in post as the new Chief Executive of Jisc. She was previously Executive Director of Corporate Services at the University of Sheffield and replaced Paul Feldman who is retiring after six years in office. Her appointment was announced in June.

6 new non-executive directors have been appointed to the UKRI board. Their backgrounds provide a blend of business, scientific and technological expertise. They will work with UKRI’s Chair, Sir Andrew Mackenzie, to support and challenge UKRI to maximise the benefits from government investment into R&D and help secure the UK’s status as a global science superpower. They are: Sir Ian Boyd, Dr John Fingleton, Professor Anthony Finkelstein, Priya Guha, Nigel Toon, and Ruwan Weerasekera.

The Student Loans Company is moving its headquarters to Glasgow.

Free Speech

Freedom of Speech in HE remains big news this week as consideration of the Bill continued with the final evidence hearings this week. Here are the most notable points in brief:

Cost

  • Emma Hardy (ex-Shadow Universities Minister) – It is worth pointing out that what is proposed in the Bill does not come cost-free. The impact assessment estimated that the cost of compliance with the Bill would be around £48.1 million. Bearing in mind the points I have made previously about the overlap with the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education and the confusion that some students will have, it seems fairly ludicrous that the Government wish to spend £48.1 million replicating something that already exists in another form.
  • Matt Western (current Shadow Universities Minister): …she is absolutely right: this is not just something that already exists, but something that exists relatively cost-free. The cost of £48.1 million that she has mentioned—which is the Department’s estimate of what the Bill will cost student unions and universities across the country—should not be ignored.
  • Matt Western: That must be a real concern: the simple fact that you can bypass all the processes and go straight to court. The clause should therefore be removed or at least amended to reflect the Government’s own views on how they wish the tort to operate.

Misuse: Matt Western:

  • …We have wider concerns that the Bill will create a culture of lawfare against universities. Clause 3 does not restrict the tort to those who personally feel that their speech has been restricted or those who have been directly affected. It therefore risks opening up vexatious claims against universities from those who seek to do them harm. As Dr David Renton and Professor Alison Scott-Baumann said in their written evidence, the Bill means that, “any lecture, seminar or guest speech could lead to a lawsuit.”
  • They pointed out that the statutory tort element of the Bill will open the floodgates to civil litigation and forms of lawfare, most likely from well-funded American groups on the hard right, or perhaps groups such as the Chinese state Communist party.
  • …we will see ambulance chasers, for want of a better term. There will be people putting their cards around student campuses who are looking for opportunities to be mischievous and to make money out of situations that can be manufactured on our campuses.

Cost and Misuse

  • Matt Western paraphrased evidence from Smita Jamdar, Lawyer, Shakespeare: Some of the cases may be small claims, where even if the university is successful in defending the claim, it will not recover its legal costs. Even getting rid of vexatious claims by striking them out can be expensive. So there are significant costs for the university whatever happens…a few thousand pounds in every case could be spent getting rid of claims that are either very trivial or unmeritorious generally.”––[Official Report, Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Public Bill Committee, 7 September 2021; c. 48, Q90.]
  • MW: Do the Government really want to take money from hard-hit students and place it into the hands of far-right holocaust deniers or… those state actors wishing to do us harm?

Ranking: Universities Minister Donelan: the amendment seeks to introduce a requirement on the Office for Students to publish an annual report that would assess and rank higher education providers on their compliance with their freedom of speech duties.

Fines: Michelle Donelan confirmed that the level of fines levied by the Free Speech Commissioner would be subject to parliamentary scrutiny – no further detail was provided.

Impartiality: The independence of the intended Free Speech Commissioner was also discussed.

Exemptions: Wonkhe have a short blog explaining why Michelle Donelan has chosen to exempt the students’ unions attached to individual colleges at Oxford and Cambridge from the Student Union Freedom of Speech duties proposed by the Bill: It’s one rule for most SUs and no rules for Oxbridge 

Costs – loans, grants, and student withdrawals

It comes as no surprise that the House of Commons Library have published a raft of new briefings relating to student finance. MPs are busy buffing up on student finance ahead of the spending review and party conferences. And the sector awaits the Government’s decisions on final outcome of the Augar review rather than the drip drip of changes and warnings of change to come that have been received so far. While it might not have been big news this is the one waiting in the wings.

I will confess I’m a Commons Library brief fan. Even so do take the time to read Student finance in England: How much would it cost to bring back grants? Spoiler: about £0.7 billion for £3k grants if it replaces the loan and isn’t in addition to loans. The brief also explains why receiving a grant wouldn’t change the repayment amounts for low income students – only the minority that go on to become high earners would see a reduction in loan repayments (because lower income students will not fully pay the debt back before the cut off). However, it would likely cut the debt for disadvantaged graduates from £60k to £45k – although one has to ask whether this would really tip the scales to progress to HE for debt adverse graduates.

If we’ve whet your appetite the Commons Library has more briefings in this series –

Both Abolition of maintenance grants in England from 2016/17 and The value of student maintenance support gives more background on changes to maintenance support.

They also have an introduction to student finance in England providing the basics which will be suitable if you are new to this field.

There is also How much do graduates pay back? which outlines the current financial transactions and repayments from graduates.

Meanwhile two new reports have been published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) – one on the tuition loan system, and one on post-HE geographical mobility and graduate earnings.

Tuition Loan system: The impact of living costs on the returns to higher education was commissioned by the DfE and finds that it would be essentially impossible for the Treasury to save money on university tuition fees in England without hurting graduates on average earnings in favour of their wealthy peers. Key findings and recommendations:

  • Despite its many flaws, the current system does have the desirable characteristic that it is progressive: the highest-earning borrowers repay by far the most towards their student loans, and lower-earning borrowers pay less.
  • The chancellor should use the income tax system rather than student loan repayments as a way of raising revenue from the highest-paid graduates.
  • Increasing the repayment rate on student loans would be the most straightforward way to raise more money, but seems to be both politically unpalatable and economically misguided.
  • Lowering the income threshold at which loan repayments start – currently £27,295 – would see more graduates facing an effective marginal tax rate of 50% on their salary and employer’s national insurance contributions when the new health and social care levy takes effect. Non-graduates would face an equivalent rate of just 42%.
  • A more realistic alternative on the table is to extend the loan term for student loans. At the moment, all outstanding student loans are written off 30 years after students start repaying, which generally happens in the year after they leave university. Many commentators, including the authors of the Augar Review, have suggested extending the loan term to 40 years.
  • Researchers estimate that each year-group of domestic undergraduates costs the government about £10bn. Approximately 80% of students will never repay their loans in full, with the IFS’s modelling suggesting that 44% of the value of the loans will be written off.
  • Researchers at the IFS have constructed a calculator, in partnership with the Nuffield Foundation, showing the options and costs available to the Treasury.
  • Looking at post-graduation living costs, and how this might impact tuition loan repayments, they find there are indeed large differences in where graduates from different universities live after leaving education – around 60% of individuals who attended university in London still live there at age 27, while less than 20% of graduates from institutions outside of London live in London at age 27.

Ben Waltmann, senior research economist at IFS, said: With a series of tweaks to the student loans system, successive chancellors have painted themselves into a corner.  The system is expensive but there is essentially no way to raise more money from it without hitting borrowers with average earnings more than the highest-earning ones. If [Sunak] wants to raise more from the highest earners, the chancellor will need to use the tax system.

Nick Hillman, Director of the HEPI and the architect of the 2012 regime during his SpAd years, said the IFS’s analysis confirms that many of the changes being suggested would make the system less progressive: It’s absolutely crucial, however, not to lose sight of the fact that half of all people still do not benefit from higher education. So any assessment looking at graduates only does not show the true distributional impact on the country as a whole. That sounds like a call to back the Government’s graduate metrics and value for money judgements.

Student Loans Company – withdrawals and guidance note: Wonkhe summarise the Student Loans Company (SLC) data release on early-in-year student withdrawal notifications between academic years 2018-19 and 2020-21. The overall withdrawal rate across England, Wales and Northern Ireland rose by 6 per cent compared to the previous academic year, with a total of 32,364 students leaving their courses before completion. However, the total number of withdrawals still lies below the number seen in 2018-19.

The SLC also published an information note setting out the 2021/22 funding arrangements for undergraduate and postgraduate students following the lifting of covid-19 restrictions.

Graduate Mobility: Returning to the second IFS report: London calling? Higher education, geographical mobility and early-career earnings (again commissioned by DfE) this finds that HE enables graduates to move to places with better career prospects, but that this also leads to a ‘brain drain’ from the North and coastal areas.

HE leads to higher geographical mobility:

  • At age 27, around 35% of graduates and 15% of non-graduates have moved away from the travel to work area (TTWA) where they lived at age 16.
  • Around two-fifths of the difference in mobility between graduates and non-graduates can be explained by differences in their background characteristics, such as socio-economic status, prior educational attainment and area of origin. All else equal, graduates are 10% more likely to have moved by age 27 than non-graduates.
  • Graduates of more selective universities are more mobile, even controlling for background characteristics and subject choice.

Graduates move to places with better labour market opportunities.

  • Graduates tend to move to large cities, especially to London – around a quarter of graduates who do move go to London. In contrast, non-graduates do not disproportionately move to London and other large cities.
  • In general, places with high average earnings attract graduates through migration. Graduates who grew up in places with low average earnings are more likely to move away.
  • For a given level of average earnings, cities attract and retain more graduates than other areas. In addition to London, Brighton, Bristol and Leeds all gain large numbers of graduates through migration.
  • By enabling people to move to labour markets that offer better career opportunities, higher education appears to reduce inequality of opportunity between people who grow up in different areas.

Ethnic minorities and those from low socio-economic backgrounds are less likely to move, and the effect of higher education on mobility is much weaker for these groups.

  • People from the bottom socio-economic status (SES) quintile are 16% less likely to have moved by age 27 than people from the top SES quintile, though most of this difference can be explained by differences in prior attainment and other background characteristics.
  • Young adults of Indian and Pakistani ethnicity are around 7% less likely to have moved by age 27 than White British people, even controlling for differences in background characteristics.
  • Higher education appears to have a much smaller impact on mobility for low SES and ethnic minority groups. All else equal, young people from the poorest families are only around 4% more likely to move if they graduate from university. Black and Asian graduates are no more mobile than Black and Asian non-graduates.
  • Of those who do move, low-SES graduates are less likely to move to major cities than graduates from higher-SES backgrounds, even controlling for background characteristics.

Graduates gain higher earnings from moving.

  • On average, male graduates who move earn 10% more at age 27 than otherwise similar graduates who do not move. For women, the estimated gain to moving is 4%.
  • Estimated ’moving premiums’ are very similar across SES and ethnic groups, with the exception of Asian women, for whom movers earn less than stayers.
  • Subject impact – moving is associated with little/no gain in earnings (controlling for background characteristics) in nursing, education and social care, but very large gains among graduates of law, technology, languages, business and economics – particularly for graduates who move to London.
  • This suggests that moving to certain areas might be necessary to take full advantage of the returns to some degrees.

Patterns of mobility exacerbate regional inequality in skills.

  • Rates of higher education participation vary hugely across the country. Less than 20% of people born in the late 1980s who grew up in Grimsby and Wisbech went on to get degrees, compared with over 40% of those from Tunbridge Wells and High Wycombe.
  • Many cities that gain large numbers of graduates through migration – such as London, Brighton, Leeds and Bristol – already have relatively high levels of higher education participation.
  • In contrast, many places with low levels of higher education participation, such as Grimsby and Wisbech, further lose graduates through migration.

Xiaowei Xu, Senior Research Economist at the IFS and an author of the report, said: In moving from more deprived areas to London and other cities, graduates improve their own career prospects, but this exacerbates geographical inequality in skills. As well as ‘levelling up’ educational attainment across the country, policymakers should think about how to attract and retain talent in places that are currently less well-off.

Wonkhe have a blog on the IFS report: Should graduates move to get better jobs? Excerpt: What’s coming through here for me is more evidence that having a university in your area is a great way to have more qualified young people staying in your area – be they originally from there or from elsewhere. 

And on the dichotomy: for the good of some local areas, we could get better at keeping graduates in the area they studied. But for the good of graduates, we should make it easier to move away. Traditionally, individual benefit has trumped societal benefit in Conservative policy – I look forward to one arm of government telling graduates to stay where they are to level up struggling areas, and then another labelling the courses low quality because they lead to low salaries and unskilled jobs.

Research

  • Wonkhe outline the REF arrangements: The Research Excellence Framework (REF) team has writtento higher education providers in the UK to provide details of the arrangements for publishing the REF 2021 results. Institutions will receive their own REF results under embargo on 9 May 2022, with the full publication of REF 2022 taking place on 12 May. Institutions will also receive the full results under embargo on 10 May, with feedback on their REF submissions arriving in June.
  • The Government’s Regulators’ Pioneer Fund has awarded £3.7m of funding to 21 projectsto propel cutting-edge innovation across the UK. The Fund awards projects that help support the country’s regulatory environment to keep pace with technological advances of the future such as using drones to transport vaccines. The Fund is part of wider government work on regulation. This includes the recent Reforming the Framework for Better Regulation consultation and the Better Regulation Committee, chaired by the Chancellor, which aims to drive an ambitious reform agenda ensuring the UK’s regulatory framework is fit for purpose and delivers the government’s strategic objectives.
  • National AI Strategy published.
  • Wonkhe blog: Forging prosperous pathways for early career and postdoctoral researchers.
  • Commons Oral Questions – What steps his Department is taking to establish the UK’s position as a world leader in science, research and innovation.

Admissions, Access & Participation

HEPI have an interesting personal blog which looks at how a student attended a combination of access programmes which both informed and supported successful application and settling in at the chosen university. The individual and parent seem self-motivated and found a range of opportunities they confidently accessed. The blog makes suggestions for universities on what is important.

NEON report on a BBC article which highlights admissions bias. The BBC reported this week that out of the 132 UK universities, listed by UCAS, just nine had a higher offer rate for black applicants. The article also highlights that, in Wales, all institutions had a higher offer rate for white, rather than black, applicants. The article highlights the experiences of three Welsh pupils as they talk about the factors that influence their future choices. Commentating on the data Dr Jason Arday, associate professor of Sociology at Durham University, said the figures highlight that higher education is “systematically disadvantaging particular minority groups” through unconscious bias of admissions teams and programme leaders.

Interestingly, David, one of the interviewees stated:  When you’re looking for universities you have to look for a place that suits you. Sometimes looking for that place might not be on paper the best university, but it’s the best university for you…I know that’s not good or fair, but it’s what I’ve done to have the best university experience.

Anecdotally this is recognised as a regular student phenomenon, after all it is all about personal choice. However, the Government would see this as a failing of the sector, they would like David to feel comfortable and apply to the highest tariff institution his ability would stretch to. It is unrealistic to expect HE to be all things to all people but where do we draw the line? Is the fact that David feels like he belongs less at one institution a failing, is it a combination or personal factors, or is it a demographic which perpetuates and if so – how big a factor is admissions in perpetuating the diversity of the student body?

TASO is tendering for the extension of its research portfolio into supporting student mental health, reducing equality gaps for disabled students, reducing equality gaps in employment and employability, survey scale validation for widening participation and success. They’re all calling for a diverse set or organisations to join the evaluation panel. We can look forward to the conclusion of the successful tenderer’s work in the above challenge areas in the future.

A short insightful Wonkhe blog from Martin at the National Deaf Children’s tackles the difficulties of the continuing Covid related restrictions on campus. It covers problems with mandated mask wearing and auto captioning on remote learning. Important factors which relate to the OfS’ agenda about a student’s experience of quality within their HE institution.

Levelling Up

The Institute for Government published Levelling up an analysis paper in which they examine what the Government actually means by ‘levelling up’. It stated the levelling up agenda lacks clear objectives, with policies often contradicting ministerial rhetoric about decentralising power. It highlights these three aspects for the Government to urgently address:

  1. Is government prioritising the most deprived people or the lowest economic output areas?
  2. What is the role of regional cities in the levelling up agenda?
  3. Does levelling up mean decentralising power or not?

They also note that many of the levelling up policies give most decision-making power to central government – which jars with government rhetoric. The Levelling Up Fund, Towns Fund and Community Renewal Fund are all centrally run and rely on local areas bidding for money. This gives central government a lot of power in deciding where funding goes and what types of projects are eligible.

These analyses recognise that the Government is due to publish a white paper on levelling up this autumn and suggests a further five questions the white paper should address. More content here.

Accompanying the paper is also the explainer report on the Towns Fund

International

PQs

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

Non-graduate esteem: text Wonkhe describe Education divide a Social Market Foundation publication championed by the former Leader of the House of Lords Baroness Stowell which characterises the gaps between graduates and non-graduates as “the most important division in Britain today”. Noting evidence that a person’s level of education is currently the best predictor of voting behaviour in the UK – and the “domination” of politics, media, and business by graduates – the report will argue that the non-graduate majority often feel “ignored and excluded”.

Stowell recommends that politicians and businesses should do more to “restore the social norms” that previously offered non-graduates esteem and respect in society – and that those holding non-graduate jobs such as those in public transport and retail should be seen as authority figures. There are also calls for employers to offer non-graduates opportunities to progress and lead.

Student Loan calculator: Wonkhe – The Institute for Fiscal Studies has released an interactive calculator for examining how different reforms would affect student loans in England. The calculator produces estimates of the costs and consequences of changes to variables such as the loan term, the repayment threshold, and the interest rate. The Guardian covers the tool.

Careers: Wonkhe tell us – The House of Commons Library has published a research briefing on careers guidance in English schools, colleges and universities. The briefing covers the current state of careers guidance and how the Skills for Jobs white paper plans to strengthen existing services.

Emergency contact: The Information Commissioner’s Office blogged about Sharing personal data in an emergency – a guide for universities and colleges.

UCAS Policy Groups: UCAS is looking for new members to join their nation-specific – English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish – Policy Groups. These new groups will represent the diverse interests of UCAS’ customers and stakeholders, and their progression to UK post-secondary education including higher education (HE) and apprenticeships. Their principal role is to influence and inform UCAS’ policy positions and supplement the work of UCAS Council, which advises the UCAS Board. UCAS invites new member applications from across the sector and aims for these advisory groups to be a diverse community with different views, approaches and insights – colleagues from a broad range of backgrounds, demographics and cultures are therefore encouraged to send their expressions of interest. The groups will meet twice a year. Members will be expected to be active in the sector, engage with the group, contribute to its activities, and seek views and feedback from their own networks and other groups. The current list of members, vacancies and Terms of Reference can be found on the groups and forums web page. Contact the policy team if you are interested in this opportunity.

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 4th March 2021

After a string of very long and detailed policy updates, we have a slightly lighter one for you this week, as most government attention has been on the budget and therefore, for once, HE has not been much in the spotlight.  There have been a lot of very boring answers to Parliamentary questions but since they don’t move anything on we are letting you off.  Even the OfS has been quiet this week.

We are expecting a “big year” for HE policy, so this is a moment to catch our breath.  If you are wondering what we can look forward to, the first thing is likely to be the review of plans to allow students to return to campus “by the end of the Easter holidays”.  And at some point there will be a deluge of announcements and consultations linked to the mega list of upcoming changes announced in January and GW’s letter to the OfS about priorities.  If you haven’t already seen it, you can read more about what is coming in our latest Horizon Scan here.

Budget – big news but not for HE

As expected, not much in the budget for higher education. Press release: with links to the detailed documents here.  And other related documents via links here.

The Build Back Better plan is what it suggests, with some nods to R&D but really not a lot, and some things to look forward to.  A full response on the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding within 12 months (we were told to expect it in the November Autumn Statement). Lifelong loans consultation within 6 months.  And the Research and Development Places Strategy and People and Culture Strategy within 6 months too.

In the press, John Morgan in the THE writes about visas and the fee cap (which was already announced):

  • The government’s interim response to the Augar review had previously said it would “freeze the maximum tuition fee cap to deliver better value for students and to keep the cost of higher education under control”, which would be “initially be for one year” with “further changes to the student finance system…considered ahead of the next comprehensive spending review”….
  • But the budget document contained mention of a freeze in the English tuition fee cap, currently at £9,250, for 2022-23.

Research news

After the announcements about the Advanced Research and Invention Agency, which we noted last week, the bill to establish it has now been published. As usual with a draft bill there is also a set of explanatory notes.

From the explanatory notes, the section entitled ARIA model explains what it will actually do:

ARIA is expected to emulate key features of the US ARPA model tailored to the UK R&D landscape. This may include: 

  1. Organising ambitious research goals around the long-term programmes of work which are led by so-called Programme Managers. Programme Managers facilitate cohesion between individual research projects in pursuit of transformational breakthroughs. Programmes may include basic research through to the creation of prototypes and commercialised technologies.
  2. Significant autonomy for Programme Managers who are able to take advantage of innovative and flexible approaches to programme funding.
  3. A tolerance to failure in pursuit of transformational breakthroughs embedded in its culture. Only a small fraction of ambitious goals will be achieved, however ARIA will provide value from its failures, including spill-over benefits gained from intermediary outputs. For example, a particular goal may not prove technologically viable but in pursuing it, scientists may happen across another promising technology.

There is a bit in the Bill is about purpose:

In exercising its functions, ARIA must have regard to the desirability of doing so for the benefit of the United Kingdom, through—

(a) contributing to economic growth, or an economic benefit, in the United Kingdom,

(b) promoting scientific innovation and invention in the United Kingdom, or

(c) improving the quality of life in the United Kingdom (or in the United Kingdom and elsewhere).

Section 3 of the Bill is supposed to be the big distinguishing feature of ARIA. To get round the natural small-c conservatism and caution that government agencies usually have, with the Public Accounts Committee and the National audit Office breathing down their neck.

  • Section 3 Ambitious research, development and exploitation: tolerance to failure In exercising any of its functions under this Act, ARIA may give particular weight to the potential for significant benefits to be achieved or facilitated through scientific research, or the development and exploitation of scientific knowledge, that carries a high risk of failure.

And there is a bit more in the explanatory notes on what tolerance for failure section is intended for:

  • ARIA may set highly ambitious research goals which, if achieved, would bring about transformative scientific and technological advances. These advances would yield significant economic and social benefit. These goals may be highly ambitious meaning that it is likely that only a small fraction will be fully realised. The Bill allows ARIA to have a high tolerance to project failure. 
  • The ambitious research goals may require multi-year programmes of work where pay-back may be highly uncertain and success may not be realised for some years. It is likely that at least a proportion of projects are ones that would not be undertaken by other bodies. ARIA may fund opportunities which are untested and untried, but best suit its ambitious research goals.     
  • In performing these functions, the forms of support undertaken by ARIA may themselves carry high risk, for example, taking equity stake in a start-up company
  • ….Furthermore, in pursuing highly ambitious research goals, ARIA will be able to bring together high-calibre individuals and bodies from across the public and private sector R&D communities which might not otherwise have been brought together. These connections may endure, spurring future innovation under the leadership of ARIA or others.

Schedule 1 has a bit more technical info.  There’s loads of stuff about hiring and firing and procedures and pay and committees

David Kernohan reviews it for Wonkhe, who compares it to UKRI’s powers.  David suggests that the implication of the reporting requirements are that ARIA may not be supporting doctorates, and also flags the important and interesting point that ARIA is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act.  So all that high risk investment will only be as transparent as the reporting obligations require – mainly an annual report to parliament.

 Widening participation

A new report by the Education Policy Institute (EPI), funded by the Nuffield Foundation, finds that poorer students in sixth forms and colleges trail their more affluent peers by as many as three A level grades when taking qualifications at this level.  The report is light on recommendations as it is focussed on understanding, rather than solving the issue that it raises.

They offer this set of conclusions in the executive summary:

  • Whilst much of the focus should be on earlier phases, for the disadvantage attainment gap to close, a concomitant increase in efforts to limit the impact of disadvantage during the 16-19 phase is required. If disadvantaged young people are to avoid falling yet further behind, addressing this gap should be central to the government’s reform agenda for the 16-19 phase and for further education.
  • Our findings also strengthen the case for including student level disadvantage measures within the 16-19 funding formula, alongside the area-based measures currently used. Introducing such funding as a Student Premium, alongside the associated accountability and transparency requirements for providers, would help heighten the focus on disadvantaged students during this phase.
  • Critically, these results also predate the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting lost learning and disruption to exams; factors which may have exacerbated the disadvantage attainment gap. To ensure that existing and emerging inequalities are identified and addressed we will continue to review and refine the provisional methodology presented in this report and monitor the 16-19 disadvantage attainment gap through 2020 and beyond.

Key findings:

The disadvantage gap in sixth forms and colleges Based on a new, exploratory analysis of the disadvantage gap at this phase, the research finds that:

  • There is a large gap in attainment, equivalent to almost three A level grades, when comparing (on average) the best three qualifications of disadvantaged students (those who had claimed free school meals in secondary school) and the best three qualifications of their non-advantaged peers.
  • For the very poorest sixth form and college students – those classed as “persistently disadvantaged” – who were on free school meals for over 80% of their time at school – the gap is even wider, equivalent to four A level grades.
  • There was no progress in closing the 16-19 gap between 2017 to 2019 and this is likely to now be worsened by the unequal impact of the pandemic on learning loss, along with the very different approaches to assessments seen in academic and vocational qualifications during 2020.

Which factors explain the disadvantage gap at sixth form and college level? When exploring the contribution of different factors to the large gap at this phase, the research finds that:

  • A large proportion of the gap (39%) at the 16-19 education phase can be explained by students’ prior attainment at school (GCSE). Poorer students enter sixth form and college at a significant disadvantage compared to their more affluent peers, having on average, achieved far lower grades previously at school.
  • The type of qualifications taken by poorer students also explains a large part of the gap in 16-19 education (33% of the gap): disadvantaged students are more likely to enter fewer, and lower-level qualifications.
  • However, while poorer students’ previous level of academic achievement and type of qualification play a strong role in the gap at 16-19, socio-economic disadvantage may be contributing to these students falling even further behind during this phase. 
  • When controlling for student’s prior attainment and qualification type, poorer students are still shown to achieve poorer grades compared to their more affluent peers – around the equivalent of half an A level grade. This is significant, as it shows poorer students face an extra attainment penalty during the 16-19 education phase.

How does the sixth form and college gap vary across the country? While on average, poorer students in sixth forms and colleges trail their more affluent peers by the equivalent of three A level grades, there are great disparities across England:

  • Poorer students are the equivalent of five whole A level grades behind their more affluent students nationally in Knowsley (5.4 A level grades behind) North Somerset (4.8 grades behind) and Stockton-on-Tees (4.7 grades behind).
  • In sharp contrast, in many London areas, poorer students are level with or even ahead of their more affluent peers nationally. The areas with the lowest disadvantage gaps in the country are Southwark (poorer students are 1.2 A level grades ahead), Redbridge (0.5 grades ahead) and Ealing (0.5 grades ahead).
  • Of the 20 local authorities in the country with the smallest 16-19 disadvantage gaps, almost all of them are situated in or around the London area, with the exception of Redcar and Cleveland (20thsmallest gap).

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HE policy update for the w/e 21st January 2021

After a long wait the sector received a landslide of HE policy interventions on Thursday. The FE Skills White paper, PQA consultation, the Government’s take on Augar, publication of the Pearce TEF review with the DfE’s response, and significant changes to the HE recurrent grant, alongside some far less exciting stuff! And it wasn’t a quiet week before all that.

Some of it is good, some of it is very ominous indeed.  Some of it is very high level and vague and so could go either way.  There are a lot of new consultations to come and there will be lots to talk about in 2021.  It will keep Sarah and I busy!

Boil that kettle, locate your reading glasses, and get comfy on the sofa ready to enjoy a bumper policy update!

Skills White Paper

This is the biggy because it’s a White Paper,  However, most of it is not about HE. The Government has published the Skills for jobs: lifelong learning for opportunity and growth white paper setting out their ambition for reform to the post-19 technical education and training landscape.

Gavin Williamson spoke in the House of Commons (see this link at 13:08 pm)

  • White paper on skills for job published today (see below)
  • Enormous challenges ahead to rebuild the economy. Support packages already announced (etc).  Strong and independent trading nation (etc).
  • Lifetime skills guarantee, flexible digital skills bootcamps (etc).
  • April – kick start Higher Technical Education by making it easy to get a loan. Pilots on modular learning.  Lifelong loan entitlement running from 2025.
  • Employers at the centre of technical education. Supporting local economy.  German style local skills improvement plans led by Chambers of Commerce. Strategic development funding for FE.
  • New courses – trailblazer areas this year. Fund of £65m in 2021-22.
  • $1.5bn of capital funding for FE. Announced next phase for FE and T-levels.
  • Longer term – more coherent longer term funding model that will collaborate on with the sector. Principles of high value, greater flexibility and greater accountability.  By 2030 nearly all technical courses will follow employer led requirements.
  • Continue with apprenticeships and T-levels.
  • Network of Institutes of Technology will expand across the country.
  • Top quality teaching staff in FE – recruitment campaign, more support etc, training and development and industry experience.

We’ve done a separate 6 page summary for BU readers, because it’s long (and repetitive and full of the usual patting on the back about other good things already announced).

RP say (amongst many other things):

  • It’s almost as if there is a good news story to be told about further education, while the government hopes its lack of decision-making on higher education falls off the news agenda…
  • It’s actually called the Skills for Jobs white paper, which in fact takes the story away from underfunded further education and pivots towards post-Covid economic recovery. You will have seen much of the content before.
  • …So modular funding is on its way, but 2025 is a long way off—that takes us into the next parliament. Perhaps the Treasury has costed the commitment and decided to kick that particular can down the road.
  • The Skills for Jobs white paper… will seek to justify both disinvestment in higher education and funding of technical education on the cheap. It will play to the prejudices of the Conservative base and the idea that too many people are going to university and that decades of regional inequality can be resolved by more plumbing courses at local further education colleges.

From Dods: The Department says that the measures announced today “will put an end to the illusion that a degree is the only route to success and a good job, and that further and technical education is the second-class option.”

The White Paper is being pitched as forming part of the Plan for Jobs

  • As expected, the Paper enshrines the Lifetime Skills Guarantee, providing a clearer idea of what the programme looks like in practice – adults without a full level 3 qualification (A-level equivalent) to gain one from April 2021 for free in a range of sectors including engineering, health and accountancy.
  • The long-touted Lifelong Loan Entitlement is also fleshed out in more detail, representing significant reforms to student finance. [Actually, there is very little detail and there is going to be a consultation on this “in early 2021”.]

Measures include:

  • The Government is investing £1.5bn in further education colleges, to allow for high quality buildings and facilities
  • Employers will have a central role in designing “almost all” technical courses by 2030, to ensure education and training reflects the skills needed in the job market, supported by the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education
  • Business groups, including Chambers of Commerce, will work alongside colleges to develop tailored skills plans“to meet local training needs”
  • This will be supported by a £65m Strategic Development Fund to put said plans into action, and establish new College Business Centre
  • New approved qualifications from September 2022, supported by a Government-backed brand and quality mark, to boost the quality and uptake of Higher Technical Qualifications(levels 4 and 5)
  • From 2025, people can access flexible student finance so they can train and retrain throughout their lives, supported by funding in 21/22 to test ways to boost access to more modular and flexible learning.
  • Nationwide recruitment campaign to get more teachers into further education and supporting professional development including a new Workforce Industry Exchange Programme
  • An “overhaul” of the funding and accountability rules, so funding is better targeted at supporting high-quality education and training that meets the needs of employers
  • An introduction of new powers to intervene when colleges are failing to deliver good outcomes for the communities they serve, and strengthening of Education Secretary’s powers to intervene in corporations and local areas with persistent weaknesses.  [The sales pitch on this is a good bit of spin, it is presented as an opportunity to have a strategic discussion with the department and pitch the strengths of the college, but….]

The next phase of the FE Capital Transformation Fund has also been launched today, and further education colleges across the country are invited to bid for funding to upgrade buildings and campuses.

The Augar report stressed the need for impartial and quality careers advice and guidance, so more people can be support to make the right education, training and career choices. There will be an expansion of Careers Hubs and other infrastructure in line with the Gatsby Benchmarks of Good Career Guidance. Furthermore, Dods tell us that, as part of the Skills White Paper reforms, Professor Sir John Holman has been appointed as Independent Strategic Advisor on Careers Guidance, and will oversee the local and national alignment between The Careers & Enterprise Company and the National Careers Service. Sir Holman is currently an Emeritus Professor in Science Education at the University of York, and is also Senior Adviser to both the Gatsby Foundation and the Wellcome Trust.

RP continue:

  • The Department for Education says: “The measures announced today will put an end to the illusion that a degree is the only route to success and a good job, and that further and technical education is the second-class option. Instead, they will supercharge further and technical education, realigning the whole system around the needs of employers, so that people are trained for the skills gaps that exist now, and in the future, in sectors the economy needs, including construction, digital, clean energy and manufacturing.”
  • The government may be hoping that first sentence becomes true; it surely knows that the second sentence lacks credibility. The white paper proposals are accompanied by a £65 million Strategic Development Fund to put the plan into action and to “establish new College Business Centres to drive innovation and enhanced collaboration with employers”.
  • To put that in context, the much-mocked Turing one-way exchange scheme has a budget of £100m, which is a reduction by nearly half of its Erasmus predecessor. The £65m fund is not going to reverse decades of underinvestment in skills, while College Business Centres sound like a classic ministerial vanity project doomed to irrelevance when their limited funding dries up.
  • There is going to be a lot of that sort of thing today, including the Workforce Industry Exchange Programme, aimed at coaxing talented individuals to teach in further education. It is not thought to involve basic incentives such as a competitive salary or security of employment.

RP also pick apart the percentage comparisons in the DfE’s criticism of the sector.

Wonkhe did a special email update at lunchtime: Debbie McVitty runs through the highlights so that you don’t have to.

On the proposals for funding lifelong learning, Debbie says: If the government can crack this policy Holy Grail, it will have a genuine claim to having radically transformed post-compulsory education. But this white paper marks an intention to start developing the answers rather than concrete proposals. 

Commenting on the government’s interim response to the post-18 review of education and funding, Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the Office for Students, said:

  • ‘An increased focus on lifelong learning will help develop the highly skilled graduate workforce needed to support our economy, nationally, regionally and locally. The OfS plans to work with students, the sector and employers to explore how higher education can be made more attractive and responsive to mature learners, and ensure that mature students are aware of the breadth of options available to them in both further and higher education.
  • ‘The focus on quality and the need to tackle poor quality provision is a strategic priority for the OfS as we consult on new proposals to enable us to anticipate and respond to poor quality, while ensuring that our approach is proportionate and targeted where it is needed.’

Robert Halfon, chair of the Education Committee:

  • “The proposals from the prime minister and department for education mark a sea-change in government thinking on skills.
  • “It will help address our skills deficit by boosting the accessibility of technical qualifications alongside the lifetime skills guarantee. It meets the needs of businesses in building an employed-led system, working with FE, to design employer qualifications and ensure funding follows employer requirements. It will give those from disadvantaged backgrounds the chance to climb the skills ladder of opportunity, through the skills guarantee and easier access to finance. It is good that new funding will be made available in areas where colleges work with employers to transform their skills offering.
  • “‘Build back better’ clearly means building back a skills nation. I am really excited by these plans.”

Policy Exchange blog – Alun Francis and Andy Westwood preview the forthcoming FE White Paper.

There are some relevant blogs on HEPI:

Research

Academic spinouts: Wonkhe review: The Royal Academy of Engineering’s Enterprise Hub has published a report on academic spinouts. Just four universities – Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial and UCL – account for a third of UK spinout companies, with all such companies raising £1.30 billion in investment in 2018. While the impact of the pandemic is not yet fully known, indications point to increased investment in spinouts dealing with medical technology and pharmaceuticals. The Scotsman has the story.

Parliamentary Question: The potential merits of extending funding for all PhD students who have faced disruption as a result of the covid-19 outbreak.

Changes to HE Teaching Grant

So alongside all of this it is not surprising that we see some “rebalancing” in funding away from HE.  And given that “low value” courses have been a focus for some time, it is not surprising to see how this has gone.

Gavin Williamson spoke in the House of Commons (see this link at 13:08 pm)

  • Proposed reform to teaching grant will allocate funding to deliver value for money for students and the taxpayer. Strategic priorities.  Engineering and medicine.  Will “slash” taxpayer funding for subjects such as media studies.
  • Will provide additional support for specialist arts institutions.
  • Will consult on introduction of minimum entry requirements and addressing the high cost of foundation years. We cover this in more detail with the rest of the Augar content below, the minimum entry requirements bit is a cost saving measure, of course.
  • Full response on Augar and post-18 review with next spending review (well maybe).

There’s more (a lot more) in the response to Augar, which we cover below, but let’s get down to brass tacks and immediate changes to 2021/22 funding first.

Gavin Williamson has written to the OfS to set out new guidance for the allocation of the £1.48 billion HE teaching grant for the 2021/22 financial year.

  • Strategic reprioritisation of high-cost funding towards the provision of high-cost, high-value subjects that support the NHS and wider healthcare policy, high-cost STEM subjects and/or specific labour market needs, reducing funding initially by 50% for high-cost subjects that do not support these priorities (with further decreases in subsequent years).
  • Remove weightings for London providers from across the T-Grant, including the students attending courses in London supplement, and weightings within the student premiums. (This saves the Government £64 million.)
  • Allocate £5m to providers in order to provide additional support for student hardshipThis is to mitigate the rise in student hardship due to pandemic impacts on the labour market which particularly affect, for example, students relying on work to fund their studies, students whose parents have lost income and students who are parents and whose partner’s income has been affected. The OfS should establish exactly how this is distributed but the funding should be clearly targeted towards disadvantaged students. The £5m will be a drop in the ocean across the national provider base but provide another support statistic for the Government to trot out when asked how they are addressing the issue.
  • Allocate £15m to help address the challenges to student mental health posed by the transition to university, given the increasing demand for mental health services. OfS to establish how to target those students in greatest need of such services, but likely through a Challenge Competition.
  • Protect the £256m allocation for the student premiums to support disadvantaged students and those that need additional help [yes, that £256m]
  • Reduce the allocation for Uni Connect to £40m (losing £20m). With the lost £20m redirected towards mental health and student hardship (as per the bullet points above) – so it’s not really new money, more robbing Peter to pay Paul.
    Back to Uni Connect – the letter says: Funding for Uni Connect was originally agreed until July 2021, and so this is an appropriate moment to consider the scope and objectives of the programme. We welcome the current [OFS] consultation on the future of the Uni Connect programme… we believe that future investment is best directed to support the core infrastructure of partnerships, and funding targeted activities to fulfil specific policy objectives.
  • Increase funding for specialist providers, particularly those who are world leading and specialise in the performing and creative arts, by approximately £10m to £53m. This will help to support and/or expand the provision at those providers best equipped to secure positive outcomes for graduates, boosting outcomes for the sector. Note the wording there – positive outcomes, boosting outcomes…so specialist providers without the right metrics might be disappointed! Again the OfS is to decide who is eligible.
  • Deliver capital funding to providers through a strategically targeted bidding process and target funds at specific projects and activities aligned with the high-quality, skills-based education agenda – not the old formula model (because: The extent to which we can assure ourselves that funding is adding value and investment is focussed on key government priorities is, therefore, limited.) Jisc and HESA’s Data Futures Programme can still be supported too.
  • If you are willing to delve far enough you’ll spot that Annex C allocates £28 million for Turing outward mobility in 2021/22 from the teaching grant.

The letter also instructs OfS to consult with the HE sector given the impact on the HE sector anticipated from the proposed changes. With all the other special allocations to iron out and their regular workload the OfS will be busy!

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the Office for Students, said about the Department for Education’s statutory guidance for the OfS’s approach to funding:

  • ‘Distributing funding is an important part of our regulatory work. Our annual grant funding for universities and colleges plays a critical role in ensuring the availability to students of high quality, cost-effective higher education across the country. We intend to consult on the government’s proposed changes to how we distribute this funding, and have written today to universities outlining our proposals for consultations and a revised schedule for distributing next year’s grant allocations.’

Wonkhe: Gavin Williamson has set out his strategic priorities again to OfS including changes to the teaching grant that will hit London universities the hardest.

HEPI also has a blog piece on the case for the Office for Students to be a strong regulator, working closely with universities and sector bodies.

Post-18 Review of Post-18 Education and Funding and interim response to the Augar report

The Augar report from 2019 has been gathering dust for a long time following the (2018) Post-18 Review of Education and Funding (one of  Jo Johnson’s legacies). The Augar Review made 53 recommendations for the reform of the FE & HE sectors including a more coherent unified post-18 system.   You might want to look back at what Augar actually said (way back in May 2019).

The Government’s response to Augar has been long promised and many times shifted further down the road due to elections, Brexit, the pandemic, and the further postponement of the comprehensive spending review.

While the sector may approach the Government’s response to Augar with both anticipation and trepidation – alongside a healthy dose of just tell us! – it seems we’ll still have to wait for the real decisions. The DfE’s interim conclusion of Augar has been released, the main points are below. Much is inextricably tied in with the Skills white paper and FE decisions. The Government also plan to consult on further reforms to the system in spring 2021, before setting out their full response. The full conclusion of the review is promised to sit alongside the next Comprehensive Spending Review. Augar: the sequel, we can’t wait!

  • The TEF will continue to play an important role in driving improvement in HE provision. The OfS will consult on a more, streamlined, improved, low-burden TEF exercise, and in an aim to reduce bureaucracy, the Government will not be introducing subject-level TEF. There is a lot more on the TEF below.
  • The Government are considering further reforms for tackling ‘low quality provision’ and will set out a response in due course.
  • The report highlighted the significant taxpayer subsidy in the HE student finance system. The Government intend to freeze the maximum tuition fee cap to deliver better value for students and to keep the cost of higher education under control, initially for one year, with consideration of further changes before the next Comprehensive Spending Review. It appear the reduction in the fee cap to £7,500 may still be on the table.

Wonkhe have a blog: editor in chief Mark Leach argues that the government’s chronic failure to resolve the Augar recommendations on reducing home undergraduate fees is storing up serious problems for later this year – Holding the threat of reducing fees over the sector will not help universities or students. 

Research Professional (writing before the response was officially released): What will be presented as an interim response to Philip Augar’s review of post-18 education and funding will be little more than a holding position, with all the big financial decisions put on hold until the comprehensive spending review…It is also, no doubt, a way of putting pressure on universities so that the government gets its way on other policy priorities, such as low-value courses. Time will tell whether these interim findings will be a sword of Damocles held over universities or part of a process by which the Augar review is finally put out to pasture.

Autumn 2021 is the earliest the next CSR is likely to take place.

Some extracts from the response – but at 13 pages it is worth reading in full:

  • The Government’s focus on the response to the coronavirus pandemic means that now is not the right time to conclude the review in full. However, we remain committed to introducing further reforms that will ensure a just and financially sustainable student finance system, drive up the quality of higher education provision and promote accessibility for students. This will include consideration of elements mentioned in the Augar Report, including student finance terms and conditions, minimum entry requirements to higher education institutions, the treatment of foundation years and other matters. [note the minimum entry requirement piece. You will recall the outrage about this proposal which was going to be in Augar – the discussion at the time about the impact of a 3Ds minimum level.  Augar actually stopped short of recommending it but threatened it as a response to the sector not sorting out issues relating to “low value courses”.  See more detailed section below.]
  • We plan to consult on further reforms to the higher education system in spring 2021, before setting out a full response to the report and final conclusion to the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding alongside the next Comprehensive Spending Review. [and how many times have they said that – the last two spending reviews at which we were promised this were cancelled]
  • As a further part of our Lifetime Skills Guarantee, and informed by the recommendation of the Augar panel, we will move to a system where everyone has a Lifelong Loan Entitlement, giving them access to the equivalent of four years of post-18 education. This flexible entitlement will bring technical and academic education closer together and will help people to train, retrain and upskill throughout their lifetime. The Lifelong Loan Entitlement will provide fairness of opportunity by making the same funding system available regardless of the route you choose and when you choose to study. We will consult on the scope and detail of the entitlement in early 2021, including seeking views on objectives and coverage.
  • This is potentially huge: We will move towards modularisation of higher education in order to provide a truly flexible system that provides more opportunity for upskilling throughout people’s careers, as recommended by the Augar Report. We will consult widely about the changes that are needed to enable universities and colleges to provide a modular offer.[doesn’t say when they will consult on this]
  • Our vision is that the substantial majority of post-16 technical and Higher Technical Education will be aligned to employer-led standards by the end of this decade
  • We will set out how the higher education teaching grant will be used next year to ensure that more of taxpayers’ money is spent on supporting provision which aligns with the priorities of the nation, such as healthcare, STEM and specific labour market needs. This gives reassurance to potential students that incentives are aligned to encourage courses with good job outcomes and reinforces the Government’s commitment to safeguarding the UK’s high-quality research base.
  • As recommended by the Augar Report, we will create a system that stimulates demand for technical education, improving the nation’s skills and encouraging growth…..
    • …We need a better balance between academic and technical education – we are currently too skewed towards degrees above all else
    • .. We want every student with the aptitude and desire to go to university to be able to do so and we want technical, employer-centric training to be a viable option for many more people.
  • We will ask the OfS to consult on a more streamlined, improved, low-burden TEF exercise that will ensure that the drive to improve the quality of provision applies across all providers, not just those at the lower end. In line with the ambition to reduce bureaucracy, we will not be introducing a subject-level TEF. [that is a fascinating nuance – see the TEF section below]
  • We are considering what further reforms may be needed to tackle low-quality provision and will set out a full response on this issue in due course. [So what is that, then?  More than what the OfS are already doing with their quality and standards work, presumably.    Augar also looked at, in the same way as it looked at minimum grade requirements, (i.e. “we aren’t recommending but you could look at”), targeted number caps on courses offering low value for money.  Is that what the government response is hinting at?.  We look at this in more detail below as well].
  • The Augar Report highlighted the significant, and growing, taxpayer subsidy in the higher education student finance system. It is important that the student finance funding systems remain sustainable and that those who benefit from their higher education should make a fair contribution. We intend to freeze the maximum tuition fee cap to deliver better value for students and to keep the cost of higher education under control. This will initially be for one year and further changes to the student finance system will be considered ahead of the next Comprehensive Spending Review. [There you are, postponed again to another spending review. Which is surely unlikely to happen this year, for the same reasons as it hasn’t happened the last two years.]

HEPI has a blog “The Government’s emerging vision for universities: labour-market need at the heart of the system.”

  • The Government might be determined to put short-term labour-market need at the heart of our higher education system – determining the subjects that people are encouraged to or able to study… If enacted, these proposals will lead to (i) a weaker student voice, (ii) an un-benchmarked metric that equates professional-level employment fifteen months after graduation with success, and (iii) connecting university courses’ conditions of registration to a pass/fail rule about successful outcomes that takes no account of the social backgrounds of different students. This would be a very significant change in how universities are held to account and, by implication, a philosophical shift on what the fundamental purpose of university is considered to be. Short-term labour-market need, not student choice, will be at the heart of the system. The Government is perfectly entitled to do all this but it will have ripple effects. The current funding model puts primary responsibility on the individual graduate to pay for their education. Young people might wonder whether they should pay in a system that steers their choices in a direction someone else has judged appropriate.

So what’s coming next on Augar?

So, the response to Augar says there will be a consultation on minimum entry requirements and one on “further reforms”  – and more work on low value courses.  We remind you about the previous debates about minimum entry requirements, and what Augar said about them, as well as what it said about further action on capping student numbers for low value courses.

Minimum entry requirements: This suggestion was made in Augar the context of this:

  • Our preference is for the HE sector, through the OfS, to resolve the problem of students being inappropriately recruited onto low value courses.
  • We believe that the sector should have three years – until the start of academic year 2022/23 – to put its house in order

If not, Augar said, then the government should do two things – impose minimum entry requirements and cap numbers on low value courses.

To remind you about the arguments:

Augar was published in May 2019 and actually said this on minimum entry requirements (see pages 99-101)

  • We have considered the introduction at some future date of a contextualised minimum entry threshold for access to Level 6 student finance for students under the age of 25, to be used if the measures outlined above did not deliver the scale and pace of change needed. Students under 25 with tariff points below a certain level would be ineligible for student loans for tuition at Level 6. To repeat, this policy would need to be implemented such that disadvantaged students were not unfairly penalised.
  • The choice of threshold would be critical. As Figure 3.14 shows, there is no clear drop-off point in graduate earnings by attainment. To be effective, a threshold would need to be both high enough to address the issues of drop-out and lower wage returns set out earlier; and low enough to ensure that the impact could be managed across the sector and would avoid disproportionate impact on disadvantaged groups.
  • Were a minimum entry requirement introduced, it should apply only to students under the age of 25, after which work experience, rather than Level 3 qualifications alone, would be the appropriate entry criterion. The policy should apply only to Level 6 courses: any young person with Level 3 attainment below the threshold would still be eligible for student finance to study at Levels 4/5, and could then use their qualification at those higher levels to progress on to, and therefore receive finance for, Level 6 in the future. Introducing high-quality alternatives to degree study will be crucial to addressing the problems of low-value degrees set out above. Students recognise the value of higher-level study but they must have these alternatives available to them or they will continue to enrol for poor-value degrees. We are aware that even with contextualisation the impact on some HEIs would be significant. Some of them might wish to focus on the new higher technical provision discussed in the previous chapter; if they chose to do so, this would be a positive outcome [ouch]
  • We consider a minimum entry threshold contextualised for socio-economic background to be feasible and that it could address the problems of low returns for graduates in a socially progressive way.
  • However, such a threshold would be a significant intervention into what has been designed as a competitive autonomous market. It could be seen as a reversal of the principle of allowing all who are able to benefit from HE to attend, a principle that has underpinned HE policy in recent years and was first pronounced in the 1963 Robbins Report.
  • It might be objected that the contextualisation process breaks the clear link between attainment and entry established by a minimum entry threshold. For example, it could result in a position where two students at the same school with the same grades holding the same offer from the same university would have different outcomes; one would be moderated over the threshold and attend university while the other would not. In so doing, it could be presented as an example of social engineering – and breach of concepts of fairness – that do not fit comfortably within a meritocratic education system.

There was a lot of debate about this idea before Augar was published – because it was leaked as a possible recommendation.  Chris Skidmore, who was Universities Minister at the time, did not like the idea.  In the end it was watered down as a threat if the sector did not sort out “low value courses” by 2022/23.  The current government look to be a bit more impatient and have assumed that these issues will not be sorted out by then.  And it may not be just this that they are considering – we look at the other Augar threat on targeted number caps below.

Targeted number caps on courses offering poor value for money

This was in the same context as the minimum entry requirements proposal:

  • Our preference is for the HE sector, through the OfS, to resolve the problem of students being inappropriately recruited onto low value courses.
  • We believe that the sector should have three years – until the start of academic year 2022/23 – to put its house in order

..and if not then: Augar said this on capping numbers (see pages 101-102)

  • If recruitment practice has not improved by 2022/23, discussed further below, an alternative or complementary option for the government and OfS is the imposition of a cap on the numbers admitted to courses that persistently manifest poor value for money for students and the public. The existing regulations give OfS the power to implement such caps where that is justified in accordance with their regulatory aims, at institutional or subject level.
  • The government has made it clear that it will not re-impose a cap on student numbers at national level. It would be out of scope for us to propose this and we would not wish to do so, even if it were within our terms of reference. However, we are mindful that the government does exceptionally place a cap on numbers, notably on university places for Medicine, because of the very high cost of a medical degree and of the professional training that follows it, and have considered whether this practice could be extended.[this looks interesting now in the light of the attempt to apply student number caps in the pandemic which was abandoned so quickly when the extent of the 2020 A-level results mess-ups became apparent].
  • We therefore invite the government to consider the case for encouraging the OfS to stipulate in exceptional circumstances a limit to the numbers an HEI could enrol on a specific course, or group of courses.
  • Where there is persistent evidence of poor value for students in terms of employment and earnings and for the public in terms of loan repayments, the OfS would have the regulatory authority to place a limit, for a fixed period, on the numbers eligible for financial support who could be admitted to the course. The institution in question would remain free to recruit to all other courses without restriction. Such a cap system would clearly target the institutions that are offering poor value, rather than altering the entry criteria for individual students.

International and mobility

Wonkhe have new content: Ahead of the British Council’s international education virtual festival this week, Director Education Maddalaine Ansell takes stock of the state of international recruitment.

Parliamentary Question: Ensuring the UK remains an attractive destination for education for international students

Wonkhe have a blog on what is needed for Turing to be a success. Here are some of the recommendations:

  • Monitor the graduate outcomes of Turing on a longitudinal basis so we can measure its benefit not just as a snapshot six or twelve months from graduation but over an individual’s lifetime
  • Be global in principle but trade oriented in focus because the rise of the Asian Century means giving our students as much opportunity to travel to Asia and learn Asian languages/culture as engaging with Europe and North America.
  • Ensure more industry and employer engagement which will require universities to understand their international graduate destinations and form alliances and partnerships with international companies that can host students on work placements overseas. With robust country specific data on international graduate outcomes institutions can focus employer engagement where it will have the most impact.
  • Attribute value to soft power because global goodwill is essential for the UK’s future economic success particularly during and following the global pandemic. Mapping the careers of those that take part in Turing will put the UK in the driving seat when it comes to having alumni with a wide network of contacts with the authority to invest and trade.
  • Demonstrate excellence through international employability by showing the value to an individual’s future career if they take part in Turing. Evidencing the outcomes from the scheme must be part of the hearts and minds approach to ensuring that UK students are motivated to take part in outward mobility.

Meanwhile Wonkhe report: Welsh education minister Kirsty Williams is reported to be in discussions with her counterparts in Scotland and Northern Ireland about the possibility that the three nations could rejoin the Erasmus+ scheme. Nation Cymru has the story.

HEPI have a blog: Five questions to ask about the Turing scheme

Parliamentary Questions

  • Whether UK students will be liable for fees in their host countries under the Turing programme. Answer – students taking part will receive grants to help them with the costs of their international experience…On tuition fees, we expect these to be waived for Turing scheme participants consistent with the arrangements for Erasmus+.
  • Will Turing involve a competitive bidding element? Answer: We will be making further information available very shortly to enable providers across the UK to prepare to bid for funding when applications open in the coming weeks for placements to take place from September 2021. This will include information on how applications will be assessed, and funding allocated and we plan to have a call for bids much like Erasmus+. Successful applications will receive funding for administering the scheme and students taking part will receive grants to help them with the costs of their international experience.

This scheme will be demand-led and will be open to bids from providers across the UK. As such, there is no projection as to the number of students from each nation or specific limits for any specific region.

TEF

The Independent (Pearce) Review of the Teaching and Student Outcomes Framework (i.e. the TEF Review) has been published. This was completed and submitted to government (in August 2019) but hibernated in the Ministerial in tray (election etc…) whilst Governmental focus and priorities shifted.

RP:

  • the subject-level Teaching Excellence Framework looks to be heading for the highest shelf in the cupboard of abandoned higher education policy initiatives. It seems as if the Office for Students is to be sent back to the drawing board to come up with something less burdensome and more in keeping with government priorities on low-value courses.
  • As ever, higher education should be careful what it wishes for, as the replacement for the subject-level TEF might be even less rigorous and more intrusive. The absence of benchmarking in the Office for Students’ consultation on quality has spooked some, who fear the imposition of a less sophisticated assessment process for universities.

Here are all the links:

Overall: Is it worth it?: Given the value of HE to the UK, we believe it is firmly in the public and student interest for TEF to have, as its primary purpose, the identification of excellence across all HE and to encourage enhancement of that provision.

We’ll set out the Pearce recommendations and the government responses together so you can compare.

Statistical analysis:

Pearce: Improvements are needed in the management and communication of:

  • statistical uncertainty at all levels of the process, including multiple comparisons
  • small numbers ( small providers and/or small datasets ) and non-reportable metrics
  • relative versus absolute comparisons

These have a significant impact on flagging and generating the initial hypothesis.

Appendix B sets out the essential ONS recommendations that address these concerns.

Government: …we would like the OfS metrics group to take into account and address the concerns raised by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) when reviewing the robustness of its metrics and data.

Subject level exercise:

Pearce: The process and statistical risks become exacerbated at subject level where the impact of problems due to small numbers becomes greater. This, in addition to the problems with subject categorisation and risks of inconsistencies at scale, mean that ratings at subject level risk undermining the successful development of TEF as a whole.

There is evidence however, that a subject-level exercise has value for driving internal enhancement. For this reason, we recommend that while TEF should not progress to ratings at subject level at this stage, a subject-level exercise should be incorporated into the provider-level assessment and inform provider-level ratings.

Work is needed to develop the most effective way to do this. We propose that all providers receive a full set of subject-level metrics and that failure to sufficiently address variability in subject performance should act as a limiting factor on ratings of the aspects of assessment and the overall provider rating.

Government: …we do not want to move to subject-level TEF ratings, because we do not consider at this stage it can be achieved without significant burden

Metrics:

Pearce:

  • Teaching and Learning Environment: Institutionally determined evidence addressing ‘how we create an excellent environment for teaching and learning and how we know we are doing this well’. Subject variability in teaching and learning environments should be addressed.
  • Student Satisfaction: Evidence to address ‘what our students think of our educational provision’. National comparisons should use National Student Survey (NSS) metrics. In the submission, institutions should address their performance in the NSS metrics and may also add their own data. Subject variability in satisfaction should be addressed.
  • Educational Gains: Institutionally determined evidence addressing ‘what our students gain from our educational experience and how we evidence that’. Educational gains might include knowledge, skills, experience, work readiness, personal development and resilience. This will be conceptualised differently in different institutions. Since there is no single nationally comparable metric of ‘learning gain’, each provider would be expected to demonstrate how, within their own particular mission, they articulate and measure ( quantify if possible ) the educational gains that they aim to provide for their students. Subject variability in those gains should also be addressed.
  • Graduate Outcomes: Evidence to address ‘what our students do as graduates and how we have supported these outcomes’. In addition to the existing TEF employment metrics, measures beyond employment should be used and regional differences in labour markets should be controlled for. Continuation and differential degree attainment should also be part of this aspect. Institutions would use their submission to respond to the metrics and add their own data. Subject variability in graduate outcomes should also be addressed.

Government:

  • ….the Government does not consider ‘Student Satisfaction’ to be an appropriate measure of excellence, as satisfaction can, potentially, be too easily obtained via a reduction in quality or academic rigour – we believe ‘Student Academic Experience’ to be a more appropriate aspect
  • …we would like the OfS to ensure that the TEF ratings are based on an assessment of high quality, nationally gathered metrics and data (e.g., Graduate Outcomes, Longitudinal Education Outcomes and non-continuation data) and contextual qualitative information.
  • It should use more than just earnings and should take account of regional variations
  • OfS will also need to consider if and how educational gain can be reliably measured
  • The outcomes of the NSS Review will be important in considering the role the survey plays in the TEF assessment. We recognise that there is a place for students’ feedback on the quality of their teaching and learning experience and we will work with the OfS to develop how this aspect of quality could be included

Plus, new: For this reason, the Government considers it essential that student outcomes should act as Limiting Factors, such that a provider should not achieve a high TEF rating if it has poor student outcomes. We will work with the OfS to determine how the Limiting Factors should work. [so they will be a baseline in the quality framework and a limiting factor in the TEF -they are doing a lot of work here]

Submission

Pearce: …a standard structure should be developed which incorporates a subject level exercise. The student body should also be given the opportunity to provide direct input in an independent structured submission.

Government: We agree with the Independent Review’s recommendation that provider-level ratings should be derived from robust data and structured submissions from providers and students.

Ratings:

Pearce: Greater granularity in the rating system would provide more information about excellence and reflect the complexity of educational provision. We therefore recommend providers are awarded both an institutional rating, and a rating for each of the four proposed aspects.

We also recommend that the names of the ratings should reflect the level of excellence identified. We propose the following names:

  • Meets UK Quality Requirements
  • Commended
  • Highly Commended
  • Outstanding

Government: We agree with the Independent Review that there should, in future, be four TEF ratings overall, with the top three being signifiers of excellence to varying degrees.

The new bottom category will capture those providers failing to show sufficient evidence of excellence, and it will be made clear that these providers will need to improve the quality of their provision. We will work with the OfS to confirm the names for the four ratings in due course. [this is really interesting – the OFS quality consultation has a whole thing on using the bottom TEF rating as a reason to investigate a provider, which suddenly makes sense].

The name of the scheme

Pearce: We heard much frustration that the name ‘Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework’ does not adequately reflect what the TEF really measures. Teaching is only assessed via proxies and the student learning experience is dependent on more than just teaching. We recommend that the name should reflect more accurately what a revised TEF will measure and assess. Of the options we have considered, we propose the Educational Excellence Framework (EdEF).

Goverment: The Government would like the scheme to continue to be known as ‘the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF) This name has a well-established brand value, and is increasingly understood, in the UK and internationally, to mean a rating on teaching, learning and student outcomes.

And in terms of the practical question about what happens next, the government have said:

  • … we will end the current approach of TEF running each year and expect the TEF to be a periodic exercise, taking place every 4 or 5 years.
  • Its costs should also be kept proportionate and for each exercise the costs, for both providers or the OfS, should, at an absolute maximum, not exceed the costs per provider of the TEF exercise that has taken place to date

And the OfS have told us (Letter to universities):

  • We are developing proposals for the TEF to be an integral part of the overall quality system in England. The role of the TEF is to continue to incentivise excellence above our baseline requirements. In developing our proposals for the TEF, we will take into account the Independent Review recommendations and the government’s response to these, and the evidence from the subject-level pilots. We expect to consult on these proposals in the spring, aligned to more detailed proposals on our approach to the regulation of quality and standards through the conditions of registration. 
  • We do not expect a new TEF framework to be in place before the current TEF awards expire in summer 2021. We are considering the options for the interim period until a new TEF framework is in place and expect to consult about this soon.

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

  • ‘Students invest a significant amount of time and money in higher education and should expect a high-quality academic experience. The Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF) plays an important role in driving up the quality of provision in universities and colleges – we welcome the publication of Dame Shirley Pearce’s review and the recommendations she has identified for developing the scheme further.
  • ‘We are committed to raising the bar on quality and standards across the English higher education system. As we refine our overall approach to regulation, the TEF will continue to incentivise improvement in areas that students care deeply about: the quality of teaching and learning, and how well their courses set them up for success after their studies.
  • ‘We will develop proposals on how best to take forward the independent review recommendations and the government response to these, as well as evidence from our own subject-level pilots. We expect to consult on proposals for the future TEF in the spring, aligned to more detailed proposals on how we regulate quality and standards through conditions of registration.’

On Wonkhe: TEF – Big changes lie ahead and David Kernohan is here to walk you through them.

Admissions

The DfE launched a consultation on their proposed changes for post-qualification admissions (PQA) in HE as part of Thursday’s deluge. The consultation explores whether student’s receiving and accepting university offers after they have achieved their A level grades would ensure a fairer higher education admissions system.

Brief overview of rationale from the documentation:

  • There is evidence that disadvantaged students ‘undermatch’ in relation to the grades they actually achieve
  • A PQA system might encourage disadvantaged students to be more aspiration in their choices and identify courses they are better matched to
  • Use of conditional unconditional offers and other undesirable admissions practices such as material inducements to persuade students to enter certain courses has increased in recent years, dramatically in the case of conditional unconditional offers
  • The current system is complex and difficult to navigate
  • Post-Qualification Admissions (PQA) has been proposed as a reform that could help alleviate some of these issues by a wide variety of groups and commentators across the political spectrum – including The Sutton Trust, The Universities and Colleges Union (UCU), The UCL Institute of Education and Policy Exchange
  • UCAS and Universities UK have concluded that now is the time for admissions reform to be considered, following months of engagement with students, schools, colleges and universities. This consultation will build on these findings, working across education sectors, to agree how reform could be delivered.

The consultation document states: We believe that it is time to explore whether a PQA system could address some of the challenges posed by the current HE admissions system: namely, that it is complex, lacks transparency, works against the interests of some students, and encourages undesirable admissions practices. Key delivery partners, as well as those across the education sector, have signalled that this is the right time to review the system. The experience of having completed full Level 3 qualifications, and knowledge of their actual results could put students in a better position to decide on their best options for further study. PQA could allow them to consider the full range of available qualifications, including higher technical qualifications as well as degree level study. Hence, it may lead to more students making better informed decisions, improve continuation rates in higher education and potentially lead to better career outcomes for students.

Prior to publication Research Professional said:

  • while a consensus seems to be gathering that post-qualification admissions are the right thing to do, a rearguard action is being mounted by vice-chancellors of low-tariff and medium-tariff universities who think that their institutions will be disadvantaged by the change.
  • The feeling is that there are some universities that need to spend more time building a relationship with applicants, and post-qualification admissions will see school leavers migrate towards established brand names. This, of course, may be what the government is hoping for.

Wonkhe have: A consultation from DfE on post-qualification admissions landed and Jim Dickinson has everything you need to know.

Exams in 2021: 

Nick Gibb, the Minister of State for School Standards, issued a written ministerial statement on exams. There was no new content or updates, all remains as we outlined in last week’s policy update, the consultation closes next week.

Meanwhile Sammy Wright, a Social Mobility Commissioner, has stated that:

  • fair A level results are impossible and calls for a fully funded foundation year at university to avoid “catastrophic unfairness” among this year’s cohort.
  • Wright said disadvantaged students would not face “a level playing field” because they had missed out on more digital learning than their peers, and he warned that asking teachers to be objective in their grading could result in “a worse disaster than last year”. He also stated that no matter how grades are awarded, many students will be embarking on courses in September 2021 at a lower level than they may have done in a normal year

Wright was in favour of the Government’s proposal for clearing to take place after students have had time to appeal their grades. Wright states: At all costs we must avoid the chaos of clearing in 2020—and as such, we again call on UCAS and universities to ensure that clearing does not happen until all appeals have been responded to.

HEPI have a blog: How to be ‘innovative’ in school exam assessment – fewer grades

The Sutton Trust has published a report on how teachers and parents are responding to the second period of school closures.

Free Speech

During 2018 the debate over Free Speech in HE was a frequent topic in the policy update. While the HE sector agrees free speech is essential many were baffled by the Government’s dogged pursuit of the topic and the lack of evidence of its prevalence. This week we were transported back to 2018 – but on steroids – gone are the Ministerial speeches and push for the HE sector to sign up to ‘agreements’, now some Parliamentarians want a law and the ability to fine universities if they fail to uphold free speech. Conspiracy theorists might hypothesise that it all feels like another step towards a different agenda of tighter Governmental control over these (pesky) semi-autonomous university organisations. But back to this week…

David Davis (Conservative MP, currently an under-secretary of state for Wales and assistant Government Whip) presented a Ten Minute Rule motion on Freedom of Speech (Universities). In essence the Bill aims to: place a duty on universities to promote freedom of speech and to make provision for fining universities that do not comply with that duty. Davis’ introductory speech included:

  • Today, there is a corrosive trend in our universities that aims to prevent anybody from airing ideas that groups disagree with or would be offended by. Let us be clear: it is not about protecting delicate sensibilities from offence; it is about censorship. We can protect our own sensibilities by not going to the speech. After all, nobody is compelled to listen. But when people explicitly or indirectly no-platform Amber Rudd, Germaine Greer, Peter Tatchell, Peter Hitchens and others, they are not protecting themselves; they are denying others the right to hear those people and even, perhaps, challenge what they say.
  • …views expressed in a recent survey commissioned by Britain’s biggest university academic union showed that Britain has the second-lowest level of academic freedom in all Europe. Just last month, a report by Civitas found that more than a third of our universities impose severe restrictions on freedom of speech—including, I am ashamed to say, Oxford, Cambridge and St Andrews. The fact is that a number of our international allies today protect freedom of speech much better than we do.
  • Although in the UK we theoretically have laws protecting freedom of speech, in practice they are buried in education Acts, resulting in the protections not being widely known and universities not always upholding their duties.
  • speech that is illegal—incitement to violence, for example—would of course be forbidden, but speech that is merely unpopular with any sector of the university would not be proscribed. Controversial views and the challenging of established positions would not be proscribed.

Ten Minute Rule motions are an opportunity for backbencher MPs to float an idea for a new Bill to the House, a ‘vote’ at the end of the (roughly) 10 minutes decides whether the Bill passes to the next stage. Similar to Private Members Bills the Ten Minute Rule motions rarely pass into legislation. However, some are introduced as a plant for the Government (perhaps to judge sentiment and support within the house without Cabinet embarrassment). This Bill was supported by 11 other Conservative MPs and it passed the initial ‘vote’ meaning it can progress to the second reading stage.

In theory Davis’ Bill should now stall – because time for all private bills has been paused due to Covid – but Davis knew this before he presented the Bill. Furthermore, if the Government wishes to back the Bill they can allocate it some of the time set aside for the Government’s agenda to progress it through the legislative stages. It will be an interesting one to watch.

Wonkhe take issue with the content of Davis’ speech: David Davis’ speech in support of his Ten Minute Rule motion to introduce a Freedom of Speech (Universities) Bill was passed unopposed in the House of Commons. His speech took in the 1689 Bill of Rights, the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the “no-platforming” of Germaine Greer, Peter Tatchell, “professional iconoclast” Peter Hitchens, and Amber Rudd – none of which were actually denied a platform.

Free Speech was one of the landmarks within Sam Gyimah’s tenure as Universities Minister in which he seems to have made several unsubstantiated claims that he later had to row back from. This BBC article stated the committee found little evidence that such censorship was “pervasive” – but instead found that a relatively small number of incidents were being widely shared. Research Professional dismissed another of Gyimah’s claims about overegging a safe space culture – With the Department for Education unable to confirm this latest claim about safe-spaces in universities, there remains little documented evidence of a culture of censorship in UK higher education. And an Oxford Professor states the obvious elephant in the room about lack of evidence in this Guardian article –  When it comes to Sam Gyimah and Jo Johnson’s warnings that free speech is threatened, I’ve never seen either of them produce any evidence to support those statements. In education you’re supposed to be able to back up what you say, and they just don’t. The same article has Amatey Doku speaking within his 2018 role at NUS: There is vigorous debate every single day at universities. If there really were a censorship problem we’d hear about it. What we actually find are isolated instances blown out of proportion. There are a couple of reasons why ministers exaggerate: politically it plays well for their voter base. 

iNews provide up to date coverage of the issue highlighting that Free Speech has continued as a hotspot for the Government, they state:

Michael Barber (outgoing Chair of the OfS) made a farewell speech on Wednesday evening in which he mentioned free speech. Research Professional pick it apart in their inimitable manner:

  • Referring to high-profile cases of “no-platforming”, Barber said: “I am often told that the vast majority of such possibly controversial speaking engagements do in fact go ahead. I am willing to believe that this is the case, but I would love to see the data. It is hardly a job for a regulator but if I were a university administrator or an influence at Universities UK, I would be collecting the data.”
  • England’s higher education regulator-in-chief seems to be unaware that the organisation he has chaired for the past four years gathers precisely these data, asking universities to return figures on the number of speakers approved or rejected as part of the Prevent legislation. In 2017-18…53 speaker requests [were] rejected. Of those 53, how many were to do with extremist views and how many were to do with a failure to complete the onerous paperwork properly? We are willing to bet on the latter for quite a few.
  • The Prevent statistics do not capture the Amber Rudds and Germaine Greers, but they do capture the reality of free speech in UK universities, rather than the issue imagined by some who mistake inherited privilege for inalienable rights.
  • Barber said: “My critique of the current free speech debate is not that it is too extensive but that it is too limited. After all, the conceptual rule for such events is surely clear: a university should be a place that actively promotes and protects the widest possible freedom of speech within the law.” At which point he should have sat down, or turned off his Zoom, because nobody ever, anywhere, has disagreed with that.

So will the Bill progress or fizzle…? I’m not sure even the Government know right now. Wonkhe’s irreverent interpretation (written before the Bill was presented) made me smile: There’s little chance of whatever’s in it becoming law all on its own – so we’ll have to wait and see to work out whether an extension of the culture war that the public looks increasingly bored with will take off this time around.

Education Oral Questions

Gavin Williamson took centre stage for Education Oral Questions and the Topicals on Monday breezing through content asking about:

  • the end of the Brexit transition period for HE,
  • Turing – Question: how will the Secretary of State ensure that the Turing scheme, a poor replacement for Erasmus, is as effective in encouraging inward student mobility? Answer: The Turing scheme is not a poor replacement…It is about us looking around the globe as to how we can expand opportunities for students. No comment on inward student mobility was made.
  • Research investment
  • Students paying rent for accommodation the Government have mandated they may not use (Answer: hardship funds)

Wonkhe covered the HE questions: Education Questions in the House of Commons saw Gavin Williamson once again reiterate that support for students remains under review – but apart from the £20m put towards hardship funds just before Christmas there has been no action.

Specific questions from Labour’s Emma Hardy and the SNP’s Stuart McDonald on support for rent where students are unable to use the property if following government guidelines saw no substantive answer.

  • Remote education (for pupils). Williamson states problems should be addressed with the school first before resorting to Ofsted complaints. Live lessons for SEN pupils was also covered as was laptops for disadvantaged pupils and internet access and free school meals.
  • Technical and vocational exams

During topicals:

  • Q – Bim Afolami: Many students have suffered as a result of inadequate teaching and pastoral care at their universities, in addition to unfair costs for accommodation that they are not even allowed to stay in. What action will my right hon. Friend take to ensure that the Government are a voice for students, that they stand up for students and that they allow them to be compensated in some way by their universities when those universities fail them and let them down?
  • A – Gavin Williamson: There can be no excuses when universities are not offering the type of remote teaching and educational support that is expected. That is why it is so critical that, where that remote teaching and support is not happening, students’ rights are upheld. We saw at the tail end of last year that students’ rights were upheld and universities had to redress that. That is the right approach. We recognise how important it is to support students, which is why we will continue to look at how best we can support them through programmes such as the hardship fund.

This week’s Education Committee session focussed solely on the impact of COVID-19 on education and children’s services. There was no HE content. Do get in touch if you would like to receive Dods’ summary of the Committee session.

Case for Commons Reform

UCL’s Department of Political Science have an interesting publication: Taking back control – Why the House of Commons should govern its own time. It highlights that much of the time within the Commons is directed by the Government ministerial agenda and that several of the reforms recommended 10 years ago have not been implemented – some of its central concerns about the management of time in the House of Commons went unheeded… whereby MPs [despite coming from the majority party] have inadequate say over the running of their own institution. The report makes recommendations for change such as allocating more regular opposition and backbench business days, that the weekly agenda be put to members in an amendable form for decision (as happens in other parliaments) which would make ministers more responsive to the Commons majority (particularly their own backbench MPs). Also: that there should be a wide-ranging formal review of the extent of government control of House of Commons business.

In conclusion: As the Wright committee pointed out more than a decade ago, the extent of government control of the House of Commons is both unusual in international terms, and problematic for the functioning of Westminster. This was already true under periods of single party majority government, but it became even more obvious under minority government, as applied between May 2017 and November 2019. At present, House of Commons rules too often explicitly privilege the government rather than privileging the parliamentary majority. But these two will not always be the same thing. The core principle guiding House of Commons functioning should be majority decision-making, not government control.

Strategic Education Recovery Plan

Previous universities minister, Chris Skidmore, writes Thinking, fast and slow. Why we need a long-term Education Recovery Plan for Conservative Home. The article begins with humble words acknowledging the reality of home schooling whilst working. He recognises the disruption to all children’s learning and calls for an all through long term education plan from nursery to university. He states: We cannot afford to simply react to events, waiting to see what happens with the spread of the virus and its containment, before we decide the next stages of an entire generation’s future. The impact of the pandemic will emerge like the widening ripples in a pond when a stone has been thrown: its impact, in particular its educational impact, will be with us for years, a fact which we must come to terms with and have a strategic plan to help counter.

Already the Chair of the Education Select Committee and educational leaders have called for a redesign of the examination system. What is needed foremost, however, is a definitive understanding of the outcomes that we wish to achieve, before moving onto the processes to deliver this.

He highlights with two years’ worth of key stage assessments cancelled a system is needed to monitor individual pupil progress, so that pupils at risk of educational failure due to the pandemic can be rescued as quickly as possible, and given the individual support and tuition that they need to get back on track. This should be viewed as the critical mission. Identifying those pupils at risk of educational disadvantage means new forms of assessment, and data collection, will need to be considered. Above all, there must be transparency and a common approach to what is being measured. And this is the crux of his point. While schools will all be tracking and assessing the individual pupils without a national approach where is the policy push and additional funding. Remember the year 7 support funding – for pupils below year 6 SATs standards has been sucked into the coronavirus catch up fund – with different criteria for access.

He also talks about exams and HE admissions – I’m cautious about re-inventing the wheel at a time when stability and certainty is needed. Pupils deserve exam results to show for all their hard work, and existing systems that have held their own as a standard over time should not be thrown out for the sake of change. But we do need to address the issue of admissions to university, and how results and assessment are used to deliver this.

Post Qualification Admissions have been proposed as a way forward, yet with the qualifications themselves under review, we need greater long-term certainty of how we can achieve an equitable admissions system that encourages disadvantaged pupils to reach their potential.

Reforms to post-18 education to ensure lifelong learning and flexible qualification structures have taken on a fresh urgency in light of the pandemic, especially with the likely need for retraining and reskilling of a large number of people seeking new forms of employment. 

Ultimately, a long-term education recovery plan must start not from what is convenient for existing systems and vested interests of the organisations that operate in this space. To do this would mean that those with the loudest voices, and greatest lobbying efforts, win out. What is needed instead is an approach that defines the “points of contact” at every stage of a child’s educational journey — and defining how these have been adversely affected by the pandemic, and what can be done to resolve this.

Defining and delivering a long-term plan, with the investment needed to achieve this, will be hard work: easier, more tactical approaches, may seem more attractive. Yet to achieve an effective recovery, the longer term, strategic planning is now essential… With all the immediate talk of laptop provision as the instant solution to current learning problems, we must not forget that now is also the time to prepare all pupils for their educational recovery, encompassed in a long-term strategic approach.

HE Staff Statistics

HESA have released HE sector staff statistics and data for the (pre-Covid) period to 1 December 2019.

Much media content has focussed on the lack of improving diversity, particularly at professorial level (see BBC). Some headline points from the HESA analysis.

  • Staff ethnicity – 18% BMC – an increase of 1 since 216/17; 11% of professors are BME
  • Staff nationality – 17% EU (excluding British), 14% non-EU
  • Gender – Men are more likely to work full time (52%) and academics are more likely to be male (53%); Females make up the larger proportions of part time staff (66%) and work in a non-academic role (63%).
  • Age – 19% of academic staff are aged 56 or over; almost half of all professors are aged 56+ years.
  • 78% of academics’ salaries were paid in full by the institution. The other 22% were financed in part by research councils, UK branches of multinational companies, the NHS and/or UK and overseas charities.
  • 44% of academic staff held teaching and research contracts. 32% held teaching only contracts. Teaching only contracts are increasing steadily each year, in 2015/16 teaching only contracts were held by 26% of staff.

Wonkhe have a good analysis delving into more detail (with understandable interpretations) here. Their blog specifically looks at Black underrepresentation too. The blog concludes by looking forward and reminding us that today’s issues will all have an impact on future figures. The pandemic has resulted in redundancies without appointing replacements, Brexit and the new immigration system may affect the diversity of nationalities employed, and, Wonkhe: A lot of what happens depends on government decisions as well as those made by providers – in particular institutional managers will be watching the decisions made by the Office for the Independent Adjudicator that could have a wider impact on student fee refunds. Other decisions made about university funding, for example as part of the response to the Augar report, will have an impact on university liquidity too.

Welsh support for students

The Welsh Government announced an additional £40m for universities to support students facing financial hardship. The fund aims to help the students most affected by the pandemic with expenses such as accommodation costs and addressing digital poverty. The £40 million is in addition to the previous £40 the Welsh Government provided to support students and universities. Kirsty Williams, the Welsh Education Minister, said:

  • This year, due to reasons beyond their control, many thousands of students have not been able to return to campus yet. In some cases, this means some students might still be paying for their accommodation while they are unable to use it. We recognise how difficult this is, which is why we are announcing this additional funding.
  • Our universities have worked tremendously hard to support their students, ensuring learning has continued, while putting measures in place to protect their students, staff and their local communities.  This funding will allow them to build on that good work.

The Welsh Minister’s tone differs substantial from her English counterpart Michelle Donelan (who is still under fire on her Twitter feed). This week Research Professional dissect and comment on Donelan’s 6 ‘student’ Tweets, and they offer MP and leading HE sector figures censure on her simplistic slogans.

Access & Participation

HEPI have two blogs:

Digital Poverty

At the end of last week Jisc, Universities UK, GuildHE and ucisa wrote to Gavin Williamson, Education Secretary, calling on the Government to lift higher education students out of digital poverty to avoid a lost generation of learners. By ignoring university students while helping other disadvantaged learners to study online, the government and telecommunications companies risk creating a ‘lost generation’of young people who are missing out on their education. They state:

  • Half of higher education students are digitally disadvantaged
  • Many families are at risk of slipping into poverty and cannot afford the data costs required for online study
  • Digital and data poverty is the main issue that prevents effective delivery of online learning
  • Demand for hardship funding from universities has doubled

Indicating that around half of HE students are digitally disadvantaged, the letter cites the learning and teaching reimagined research project conducted by Jisc with sector partners, which found that digital and data poverty is the main issue that prevents delivering online learning effectively.

The letter goes on to highlight that, despite the welcome extra government funding to alleviate hardship for HE students, the demands on hardship funding have doubled, putting significant strain on university resources.

In conclusion, the letter, which calls for an urgent meeting with government and telecoms companies, states: Universities have moved mountains to provide learning and teachingonline since the first lockdown and are now much better equipped to deliver a quality curriculum online. However, without urgent action to ensure students can get online affordably, the government is risking creating an even deeper and more long-term digital divide in education. We urge you to take action now on behalf of all higher education students experiencing digital poverty, or risk creating a lost generation of young people who are missing out on their education.

The Guardian cover the story here.

Disabled Students Commission: Wonkhe summarise the new report: The Disabled Students Commission has published its annual report, Enhancing the disabled student experience. The report outlines how the commission approached supporting disabled students during the Covid-19 pandemic. Going forward the Commission plans to adopt a student lifecycle model to inform its research and recommendations, with considerations including the intersection of disability with other characteristics such as race and gender, the diversity of disabled student experience, and greater consultation with disabled students.

Parliamentary Questions:

  • Access to post-16 education for asylum seekers is governed by funding rules in further and higher education.
  • What proportion of people (a) applying for and (b) securing places at higher education institutions were from (i) working class and (ii) disadvantaged backgrounds for the academic year 2019-20.
  • The effect of the covid-19 lockdown on the attainment gap (pupils). Answer: The Department has commissioned an independent research agency to analyse catch-up needs and monitor progress over this academic year. This research is based on a large sample of pupils and will identify whether particular groups of pupils have been more affected by time out of school – including the most disadvantaged, those with historically poor outcomes, and those in particular areas.
  • What assessment the Government has made of the report by the Social Mobility Commission Changing gears: understanding downward social mobility, published in November 2020; and what plans they have to address the Commission’s finding that one in five people move into a lower occupational group than their parents.

Students

Wonkhe have two student focussed blogs:

Parliamentary Questions:

  • Sharia compliant alternative student finance product (no update yet); but this one on potential barriers to Muslim students has been answered
  • Additional support for HE students who have caring responsibilities for children and who are engaged in university studies alongside home tutoring. Government response: it’s up to the university but we expect them to be supporting student welfare
  • What support the Government plans to provide for undergraduate students whose university education has been disrupted by the covid-19 outbreak. Answer (as you’d expect): we are working with the sector to make sure that all reasonable efforts are being made to enable all students to continue their studies and provide the support required for them to do so. Our expectation, during these challenging times is that universities should maintain the quality and quantity of tuition and the Office for Students (OfS) will continue to actively monitor universities to ensure that quality of provision is maintained and accessible for all. And yes, Donelan also mentions the £256 OfS Student Premium funding which can go towards student hardship funds and the £20 million of additional hardship funding expected by providers soon
  • Student Finance – Illness/shielding: Students who suspend their studies for a variety of reasons, including shielding, can apply to Student Finance England for their living costs support to be continued while they are absent from their course. Students who suspend their studies due to illness automatically receive living costs support for the first 60 days of their illness.
  • Supporting students who have paid rent for accommodation at university but are unable to use it as a result of covid-19 restrictions. Answer: The government plays no direct role in the provision of student accommodation. However, the government encourages all providers of student accommodation to review their accommodation policies to ensure that they have students best interests at heart. We also urge them to communicate their policy clearly and be fair.
  • Emma Hardy, Shadow universities minister has been asking some emotive questions about students nurses such as whether they’ll have to pay extra tuition fees because Covid has prevented them from completing their placement hours and similar on course extensions
  • Private rented student accommodation – no Government support for release from contracts, use of hardship funds mentioned
  • While the parliamentary question asked about the mental health taskforce the minister sidestepped to respond: it is for higher education providers as autonomous bodies to identify and address the needs of their student body and to decide what mental health and wellbeing support to put in place…the government has asked universities to prioritise mental health support, and continue to support their students, which has included making services accessible from a distance…Many providers have bolstered their existing mental health services, and adapted delivery mechanisms including reaching out to students who may be more vulnerable. You can read more on the Government’s response here.

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Consultations to look forward to from today’s pile of announcements:

  • OfS consultation on a new TEF (in the “Spring”)
  • OfS consultation on interim arrangements for the TEF because the current awards expire in the summer (“soon”)
  • DfE consultation on further reforms to the higher education system in spring 2021, before setting out a full response to the report and final conclusion to the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding alongside the next Comprehensive Spending Review.
  • DfE consultation on the Lifelong Loan Entitlement – “we will consult on the scope and detail of the entitlement in early 2021, including seeking views on objectives and coverage.”
  • DfE consultation on the changes that are needed to enable universities and colleges to provide a modular offer – doesn’t say when they will consult on this.
  • DfE: We will set out further plans to use the National Skills Fund in due course, consulting on the details in spring 2021 to ensure that the investment from the Fund helps to meet the needs of adults, employers and providers
  • DFE will consult on the proposals to reform FE funding and accountability

The OfS say: We are aware of the sustained pressure on providers as the impact of the pandemic continues to be felt and of the additional burden that may be caused by these proposed additional consultations. We have extended the deadline to our quality and standards consultation to 25 January 2021 and will continue to monitor the situation regarding current and future consultations. 

Other news

  • Remote teaching: Wonkhe: Matt Jenner led a popular online course about teaching online – here’s what he learned from the experience about how to support educators in adapting to remote teaching.
  • On Monday Boris Johnson launched a new business initiative – the Build Back Better Council. Details including the Council members are here.
  • Teach online this year: UCU (the University and Colleges Union) are calling for teaching to remain online for the rest of the academic year to protect the wellbeing of staff, students and their communities. UCU state they fear staff will be forced to return to work in unsafe and unpredictable working conditions. UCU have warned they are considering balloting members for action against an unsafe return to in-person teaching.
  • Student rent strikes: The BBC cover student rent strikes in Wales. Politics Home also have an article on rent strikes.
  • Asynchronous learning: From Wonkhe – Asynchronous learning gives students the chance to treat modules like box sets, bingeing or skipping as they see fit. Tom Lowe wonders what this might mean for learning.
  • Academic misconduct: Contract cheating is well known however this (short) Times article explores the perspective of the innocent who was wrongly accused of cheating. It is written by lawyers who represent students appealing against academic misconduct.

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HE Policy Update w/e 18th January 2021

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

The Minister takes to Twitter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Admissions

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

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

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

Consultation: GCSEs, AS and A Levels

The Secretary of State’s letter says:

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

 Consultation detail:

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

Consultation: Vocational and Technical Qualifications (VQTs)

The Secretary of State’s letter says:

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

Consultation:

The proposed new alternative regulatory arrangements would:

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

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

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

A selection of this week’s coverage:

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

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

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

Research

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

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

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

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

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

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

Research Professional also published these articles:

Parliamentary Questions:

Student Concerns

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

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

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

BBC – students have pledged a rent strike over unused rooms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A selection of parliamentary questions on tuition fees…

And parliamentary questions on other student matters:

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

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

Professional Registration

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

QAA Chief Executive, Douglas Blackstock said:

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

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

Will he stay or will he go?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Graduate Wellbeing Analysis

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

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

Education Policy – research / curriculum development

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

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

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

Access & Participation

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

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

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

The report recommends several steps that universities should take including:

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

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

Parliamentary Questions:

International & Mobility

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

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

Parliamentary Questions

Parliamentary Questions

Sir John Hayes supports the alternatives to HE agenda:

Regulatory

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What next for HE policy?

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

Technical education

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

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

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

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

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

Maintenance Support

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

HE at the Conservative Fringe

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

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

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

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

There was also an event on engineering.

Education Committee – HE Minister

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

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

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

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

Drop the boo boo

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

Anti-Semitism Definition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Research news

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Research Professional also cover the Life Sciences sessions.

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

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

REF have also updated information on:

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

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

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

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

This week’s research related parliamentary question:

Areas of Research Interest to policy makers

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

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

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

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

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

R&D Place Advisory Group

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

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

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

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

Admissions – Level 2/3 Exams

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

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

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

In their article the BBC pose the two key questions:

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

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

International

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

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

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

Disability

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

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

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

Key findings:

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

The report concludes:

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

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

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

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

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

Students

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

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

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

Student Fees

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

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

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

Governance

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

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

 PQs

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

Students

Covid

And from Prime Minister’s questions this week:

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

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

HE Sector

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

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

Inquiries and Consultations

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

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

Other news

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

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

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

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

Research news

The Minister speaks

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

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

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

Career Path

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

Funding System

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

Evaluation & Access to Research

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

UKRI

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

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

Research Parliamentary Questions

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

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

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

The Secretary of State speaks

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

International (Visas)

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

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

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

International Parliamentary Questions

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

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

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

The Secret Life of Students

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

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

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

Digital Teaching & Learning

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

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

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

Returning students – Covid concerns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some parliamentary questions:

Finally Wonkhe cover the Public Health England blog –

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

Free Speech Legislation targeted at Students’ Unions

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

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

HNCs & HNDs – in partnership with FE only?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HE Code of Governance

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

The Code’s objectives are to:

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

How lucrative is postgraduate study?

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

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

Here are the key points on earnings:

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

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

The report concludes:

Masters

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

PhD

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

And on disadvantage:

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

Students as consumers

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

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

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

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

In short, there has been no real change.

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

HEPI – student voting

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

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

Nick also speaks directly to students:

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

…and to and parliamentary candidates:

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

The NUS have responded to the report:

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

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

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

Social Mobility Commission

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

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

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

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

PQs

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

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Universities Minster speaks

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

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

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

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

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

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

Levelling up and higher technical education

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Minister states these reforms as successes (!):

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

Germany…

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

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

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

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

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

Responses

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

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

And the key point is this –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what does it all mean?

On Tuesday Gavin Williamson announced the detail of the plans.

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

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

The written ministerial statement added some additional context.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Admissions – use of calculated grades

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

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

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

On appeals the report says:

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

Recommendations:

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

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

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

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

Admissions – numbers up

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

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

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

Nursing

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

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

 On Studying nursing the press release states:

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

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

Mike Adams, RCN Director for England said:

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

Tuition fee refunds

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

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

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

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

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

The Petitions Committee report recommends that the Government should:

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

NUS responded to the Committee’s recommendations:

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

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

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

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

International Students

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Points-based Immigration System

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

Graduate Outcomes

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

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

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

Social Mobility Commission

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

Bailout push

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

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

NSS Analysis

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

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

Nicola Dandridge, OfS Chief Executive, said:

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

 Student Number Controls

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

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

Research

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

RP continue:

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

PQs

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

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

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

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

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

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

Research Professional also cover Prevent.

Chinese relations: HEPI published UK Universities and China a series of essays on the challenges and complexities of the relationship between UK universities and China. It includes self-censorship; the importance of UK-China scientific research; and the recruitment and integration of Chinese students

Separately there is a recent YouGov poll which asks about UK/Chineses relationships. The interactive version of the chart is here.

Not just Brexit: Nick Hillman (HEPI Director) writes for UKandEU.com –  Universities and Brexit: past, present and future. It doesn’t just cover Brexit, but highlights that UK students get far less out of Erasmus than the incoming EU students studying in the UK, it even mentions this week’s bingo winner – the Blair 50% target. A longer read and some interesting points.

Student Experience: Pearson and Wonkhe have collaborated to examine students’ experience of learning during C-19 and their expectations for next year (shorter blog here).

  • 41% struggled to manage their wellbeing without in person contact with friends and university staff.
  • 34% found the new ways of learning challenging.
  • 34% struggled to manage their time without an enforced timetable.
  • 29% found the isolation difficult.
  • 34% struggled with lack of space or a quiet enough environment to study within.
  • 49% felt less confident to progress to their next step in their education or career –
    • with 13% of the 49% attributing this to external (non-university) factors (economy, jobs, research funding).
    • The factors relating to university were loss of industry experience, loss of practical skills development, lack of academic contact time, a lower sense of quality of learning experience.
  • 43% (of current students) plan to defer the next academic year to take a year out or look for work experience
  • 20% plan to leave education entirely (its unclear whether these were already final year students)
  • Of those planning to defer/leave 28% was because they didn’t want another semester of online study or the loss of practical experience reduced the value of their degree or because the logistics of travel, accommodation and teaching were too uncertain.
  • 47% of those who felt they had missed out (e.g. lab or studio based work) believe they should receive a fee reduction or refund as compensation. However, a quarter want to make up the missed experience at a safer later date, and 15% were willing to experience online. 10% didn’t feel it was the university’s responsibility to atone for the loss of experience.
  • On welfare the blog states:

One key message from the survey is that while students are clear that their wellbeing is suffering, the action they want universities to take is in the teaching and learning domain, rather than the welfare domain. Responses throughout the survey suggest that wellbeing issues are not simply the result of students being at home and the concerns over Covid-19, but that the way that universities have managed interactions and online learning has increased their anxiety, and had a negative impact on their wellbeing. It’s not simply about putting support mechanisms in place to help students with their wellbeing; it’s about stopping the causes.

  • 59% want universities to offer high quality online teaching as their priority for September rather than social interaction, well being support or access to learning resources.

Graduate outlook: Wonkhe report that research from Adunza finds that the number of graduate jobs available this summer has fallen by 73 per cent since the start of the year. Because larger employers are delaying graduate schemes due to the pandemic just 3,993 jobs are currently available, meaning that 100 graduates could be competing for each available job. FE news has the story.

HE Student Numbers: The House of Commons Library have published a paper on HE student numbers. It states: Headline student numbers have increased to new record levels in recent years following a short dip related to the 2012 reforms in the sector. There have been continued increases in entry rates for different groups of students, including those from disadvantaged areas/backgrounds where rates have also hit new record levels. However, headline numbers tend to focus on full-time undergraduates and there are ongoing concerns about student numbers outside this group where trends have not been so positive. This includes part-time undergraduates, particularly those not studying first degrees, some postgraduates students, overseas students from some countries, especially Nigeria and Malaysia, mature students and some disadvantaged groups.

There is also considerable concern about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and student numbers, particularly those from overseas and uncertainty about the impact of Brexit on EU student numbers

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 13th May 2020

Speculation on what the easing of lockdown means for universities and particularly research labs. Contention over the Augar Review recommendations. Further concerns for the employment outlook of the graduating cohort alongside conjecture that the lack of work may mean those who hadn’t planned to may consider postgraduate study or even commencing university at undergraduate level. And more parliamentary questions than you could ever dream of!

Parliamentary News

BEIS Chair: Darren Jones MP won the vote and has been appointed as the Business Energy and Industrial Strategy select committee chair. The Labour representative on 13 other select committees will also change due to the incumbents accepting Shadow Cabinet roles. Dawn Butler and Kim Johnson will replace Lucy Powell and Fleur Anderson on the Education Select Committee.

Virtual Parliament Ends: Despite all the investment and flurry of activity finding a virtual solution for Parliament it has been announced that the hybrid arrangements whereby some Parliamentarians remain in the chamber for business and some remote in virtually will end by Friday 22 May. MPs and staff have been told they’ll need to return ‘to normal’ from June. Many MPs feel this is precipitous and inappropriate.

House of Lords HE Debate

Last Wednesday (6 May) the House of Lords debated the impact of the Coronavirus on the HE sector and students. You can read the full debate here. Summary:

Lord Blunkett (Lab) tabled a private notice question on the support package unveiled for universities and students and what steps the government were taking to protect quality and accessibility in the sector.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Baroness Berridge, said that all providers must adhere to Office for Student conditions on quality and access. She affirmed that the Government were bringing forward £2.6 billion of forecast tuition fee income to help universities’ cash flow, and providing students with more support, including increasing student hardship funds.

Lord Blunkett (Lab) queried whether the definition of a 5% student uplift referenced in the package was based on forecast numbers, rather than a historic benchmark. He also pressed the minister for timelines of the publication on the work of the research sustainability taskforce, “in respect of the likely catastrophic loss of income from overseas students and the urgent need to underwrite research funding”.

The Minister confirmed that the precise figures to determine the 5% uplift on the cap would be provided at provider level, and the methodology for that will be published shortly.

Baroness Garden of Frognal (LD) said the loss of income from foreign students would be compounded by the loss of research income from Horizon 2020 and other EU participation programmes. She queried what steps were being taken to encourage overseas students to come to the UK.

The Minister confirmed that the Department for Education was working with the Department for International Trade to amend the international education strategy. “The clear message is that the UK is open for business and for international students to come at the start of the academic year”, she said.

Opposition Spokesperson for Education and Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Lord Bassam of Brighton, commented that “the Government are allowing universities to charge students the full £9,250 annual tuition fee while our campuses remain closed—as long as there are highest standards of online teaching”.

He posited that many courses were simply unfit for online learning and contended that the market-driven higher education system had forced students to see themselves as consumers, “and they are not getting what they have paid for”.

The Minister responded that the Office for Students had been very clear on quality of provision that should be maintained during this period.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP) queried how future policies could help universities move towards a more co-operative model and eliminate the waste emanating from competition. “The kind of waste that could be eliminated is, as the Augar report highlighted, the £500 per student that is spent on marketing”, she added.

The Minister responded that the Office for Students was a modern regulator, encouraging greater innovation and putting student choice at the centre of the system.

Tuition Fees

In last week’s policy update we highlighted the petition to Government to refund student’s tuition fees. On Thursday the Petitions Committee examined the petition and took oral evidence. You can read a summary provided by Dods here.

Research Professional report on a conversation with UUK on the dangers if universities are required to repay tuition fees – paying back fees could see some universities pushed to the edge.

Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan, answered another parliamentary question to confirm that tuition fees remain payable as long as the quality and volume of delivery is appropriate.

Q – Stella Creasy: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, whether universities that have closed as a result of the covid-19 outbreak will require their students to pay their fees in full.

A – Michelle Donelan:

  • Fee loans are being paid directly to universities as planned at the start of the third term.
  • We are working with universities to make sure all reasonable efforts are being made to enable students to continue their studies to the best of their abilities. There are some fantastic and innovative examples of high-quality online learning being delivered by institutions across the UK, and the sector is already working hard to prepare learning materials for the summer and autumn terms.
  • Students ordinarily should not expect any fee refund if they are receiving adequate online learning and support. However, the government has made it clear that if universities are unable to deliver adequate online teaching then it would be unacceptable for students to be charged for any additional terms of study, which would effectively mean that they were being charged twice.
  • Whether or not an individual student is entitled to a refund of their fees will depend on specific contractual arrangements between the student and their university.
  • In the first instance, students should speak to their university. We expect student complaints and appeals processes to be operated flexibly, accessibly and sympathetically by institutions to resolve any concerns. Students who are not satisfied with their institution’s final response can ask the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education to consider their complaint if their institution is based in England or Wales.

A Lords response on (not) adjusting tuition fees for online provision.

Student Accommodation

There is a Bill before the Scottish Parliament that will allow students who cannot take up their place in university accommodation because of C-19 to end their lease. Research Professional report that

  • those already with halls of residence contracts will be able to cancel their agreements with seven days’ notice, and those who enter into such contracts will also be able to cancel with a month’s notice. This, if passed, will stop students from being liable for rental costs for next year when, in all probability, at least part of their teaching will be taking place virtually.

The BBC has covered the news of the Bill.

Parliamentary questions:

Government’s Support Package for HE

The Shadow Universities Minister, Emma Hardy, was unimpressed with the Government’s support package for HE institutions. Research Professional (RP) ran the exclusive with her writing an open letter to higher education.

  • RP report that the Shadow Minister stated: I was very disappointed that the government rejected the collective proposals put forward by Universities UK and chose instead just to bring forward the payment of student fees alone. This does nothing to address the underlying loss of income in the long term and consequently universities are being forced to set budgets in the dark without a safety net.
  • RP continue: In her letter, Hardy addresses university budgets, widening participation, casual contracts, student rent, open learning, mental health, anchor institutions, skills and training. She rounds on the government’s apparent neglect for students, saying that students are seen as “somehow a different category of person whose welfare is the sole province of universities and the Office for Students”. She calls Monday’s financial rescue package an “abdication of the government’s responsibility”.

On easing Lockdown Emma Hardy was similarly unimpressed stating the PM’s speech contained a total lack of clarity. Research Professional has also considered what easing lockdown could mean for Universities.

The Office for Budget Responsibility has published a coronavirus analysis modelling the impact of the virus and the measures put in place to tackle and ameliorate for it. Research Professional reported from the report on Sunday that while universities may not suffer in terms of income lost until September, they would be the sector hardest hit by the coronavirus crisis.

Wonkhe explain why the schemes the Government want Universities to access (furlough and business continuity schemes) don’t really work for the HE sector.

There is lots of talk about the Policy Exchange report, A training opportunity in the crisis, which some sector reporters suggest is another way for the Government to close down the degree courses they don’t feel add value to the UK economy – “mickey mouse courses”.

This Wonkhe blog looks at the options available for the sector and highlights these excerpts from the Policy Exchange report:

  • …a Policy Exchange report that’s officially on “skills”, but is really onreorganising tertiary. First some clickbait keywords – current bail out conditions provide Government, he says, with short term leverage to “weed out” weaker courses and push back against “grade inflation”, “unconditional offers” and other “pathologies of modern”, market-driven HE.

Dods summarise the key points of the Policy Exchange paper:

  • [The paper] sets out how the coronavirus crisis could be a watershed moment for education and training in the UK. Among other recommendations, it urges the Government to undo the policy error of abolishing the polytechnics in 1992… it argues that the current crisis offers an opportunity to cut through many of the normal blockages and vested interests, not least since we may – in the wake of coronavirus – be moving into a period of high unemployment, which will require a radical rethinking of current policy.

These are the executive summary points taken from within the paper itself:

  • The coronavirus crisis underlines the need for an education and training system that is better aligned with the economic and social needs of the UK. We can no longer afford the luxury of a wasteful mismatch produced by low value degrees and a disorganised approach to vocational training.
  • The Government must overcome the resistance of the higher education sector, which has quietly become a powerful cultural and economic vested interest.
  • This paper recommends that a new “opportunity grant”, to train or retrain, of at least £3,000 should be on offer for every individual, with added loans to cover more expensive courses and maintenance costs for those who want to take courses full time (repaid in the same way as student loans). The grant money would not go to the individual but would be drawn down by the training provider or FE college or, in a few cases, university.
  • It recommends suspending the apprenticeship levy for new entrants and replace it with a radically simplified model focused on school leavers (only about 9 per cent of whom currently enter an apprenticeship) and young people up to the age of 24, with Government and employers splitting the full cost 50:50.
  • Lastly, it recommends the creation of a sub-set of “applied universities,” essentially undoing the policy error of abolishing the polytechnics in 1992. With the exception of the “higher” vocational courses in medicine, engineering, and perhaps law, most vocational degrees should be clustered in the applied universities

Parliamentary questions:

  • Admissions – support for HE providers who recruit only at a significantly decreased level for 2020/21 (answer – just the package already announced).
  • What plans the Government have to provide financial assistance to universities during C-19.

New guidance as lockdown “eases”

As educational institutions make decisions on where to go with Sunday’s announcements on the easing of lockdown from Wed 13 there is clear guidance on Gov.uk on a couple of points at least.

Q – Can students return to their family home if they’ve been in halls all this time?

  • A – In general, leaving your home – the place you live – to stay at another home is not allowed. If a student is moving permanently to live back at their family home, this is permitted.

Q – Who is allowed to go to work?

  • A – In the first instance, employers should make every effort to support working from home, including by providing suitable IT and equipment as they have been already. This will apply to many different types of businesses, particularly those who typically would have worked in offices or online.
  • Where work can only be done in the workplace, we have set out tailored guidelines for employers to help protect their workforce and customers from coronavirus while still continuing to trade or getting their business back up and running. We will be publishing even more detailed COVID-19 secure guidelines in the coming days, which has been developed in consultation with businesses and trades unions.

These ‘back to work’ guidelines apply to selected groups, including those working in labs and research facilities.

There are specific guidelines for those who are vulnerable, shielding, or showing symptoms.

And on attending university – there is no answer (yet) but there is a question.

Q – Can children go back to early years settings, schools or university?

  • A – We initially urge those who are currently eligible to use school provision (children of critical workers and vulnerable children) to attend. As soon as it is safe to do so we will bring more year groups back to school in a phased way when it is safe to have larger numbers of children within schools, but not before. Keeping children and staff safe is our utmost priority.
  • Schools should prepare to begin opening for more children from 1 June. The government expects children to be able to return to early years settings, and for Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 to be back in school in smaller class sizes from this point.
  • Secondary schools and further education colleges should also prepare to begin some face to face contact with Year 10 and 12 pupils who have key exams next year, in support of their continued remote, home learning.
  • The government’s ambition is for all primary school children to return to school before the summer for a month if feasible.

There might be some clues here for what the answer will be when there is one:

Q – How will you make sure it is safe?

  • A – Schools can now operate if they are organised in a way that is compatible with minimising the spread of the virus. The next phase of measures will require the development of new safety standards to set out how physical spaces, including schools, can be adapted to operate safely.
  • We will publish guidance advising schools on reopening to ensure schools can adequately prepare for the next phase. One of the main protective measures we can take to reduce transmission is to have small consistent group and class sizes.

Labs and research facilities – there is a specific set of broad guideline for cautious reopening

On lab based researchers returning to work research Professional write:

  • Perhaps of most immediate interest to higher education people—particularly those engaged in lab or field-based research—was the announcement that as of today, those who cannot carry out their work from home are “actively encouraged” to go back to work.
  • While Johnson used the example of the construction industry, it is hard to argue that researchers whose lab work is housed on campus or in research institutes can meaningfully carry out their work from home. Those who have such work to go back to (though who knows how many experiments have been lost, either due to a lack of attention or by lab capacity being usurped by urgent coronavirus work) are now, it would appear, permitted to do so.
  • That is, provided that they can get there—without using public transport, wherever possible. Also, their employers (which is where university professional and support services come in) must ensure that their workplaces have been made “Covid secure”.

Easing back to Education

Another week brings a further set of opinions on what a graduate emergence from lockdown might be like within HE. These two were written before Sunday’s announcements:

  • Wonkhe consider the middle ground with some aspects back on campus but respecting social distancing.
  • Research Professional (RP) report that Italian research labs reopen and describe their working conditions.

And these published after the announcement:

  • RP look for clues within the published schools reopening guidance and speculate about which research labs it is most important to open first. Alongside the tricky issue of the volume of support staff that would be needed back on site to support those working in labs (cleaners, post services, estates functions, senior supervision).
  • RP cover Portugal (instructed to blend face to face with distance from September, and relaxing the entrance rules) and Germany (partially open for teaching and research where face to face necessary – but digital learning prioritised, some states prefer digital only, face to face contact remains controversial).
  • The Centre for Education and Youth has produced a report stating that summer schools likely won’t deliver the catch up for school pupils that is needed (although different approaches may result in success). They also recommend balancing academic ideals and emotional wellbeing. Teachers are most concerned about their disadvantaged pupils. Furthermore, special consideration should be given to pupils transitioning between phases or schools.
  • RP suggest that Universities or parts of universities could be moving in and out of quarantine on a regular basis. And another article details the institutions who do not intent to (immediately, at least) reopen their labs.
  • A Wonkhe student union blog looking at what we’re allowed to do, able to do, and willing to do when the autumn term commences – and how individual differences may create further inequities.

General Public Opinion on easing lockdown

A snap YouGov poll conducted after Sunday’s easing of lockdown announcements showed divided sentiments within the nation.

  • 44% of surveyed support the easing, 43% are opposed, 13% are ‘unsure’.
  • Conservative voters support the intended measures more than Lib Dem or Labour voters.
  • Support for the easing rises with age, and men are a little more likely to support the work and exercise relaxation rules than women.
  • However, those opposing the easing measures are not opposed to ending lockdown, instead 91% of the opposed feel the relaxation of measures go too far.
  • 70% of the survey population weren’t keen on the new Government catchphrase either (stay alert, control the virus, save lives), finding it unclear on what they are supposed to do. Again there is a party divide influencing whether the responders like the slogan.

Another YouGov poll finds that 82% of the public think they could easily cope with the current state of affairs until June.

  • Those that would find it hard is up 2% from 11% to 13%.
  • 63% said they’d be OK until July. But by August predicted coping drops to 44%, with 50% of respondents saying they’d have a hard time continuing as present until August.
  • It drops again to 35% who could cope into September. And 22-25% believe they’d be OK until January 2021.

YouGov say: The fact that figures level off at this point [November] could simply reflect the limits of how far into the future Britons are able to imagine their emotional state, rather than representing the bedrock figure for how many people could effectively cope indefinitely.

Augar Review

The surprise news of the weekend was Phillip Augar stating that C-19 has changed the sector and that he no longer stands by some of the recommendations the Post-16 review of tertiary education report made.

You’ll recall that the Augar report has been published for nearly a year but due to Government procrastination, in part caused by the change in Conservative leadership, there has been no official response to the recommendations.

Now Augar writes in a personal capacity for the Financial Times stating now might not be the time to reduce the social science/humanities fee level as the Augar review originally recommended. However, it is not quite the ‘U-Turn’ that the HE media are reporting. Much of what Augar has to say continues along the report’s party line, i.e. not all courses financially benefit the economy as much as others. Here are the key excerpts from the Financial Times article – the time is ripe to reform UK university finance.

  • Higher and further education will play a key role in shaping this [the way the world of work will change due to C-19]. England, where the sectors are disconnected and unevenly funded, faces particular challenges. A panel on post-18 education, which I chaired, reported a year ago and the government says it will respond this year. Reform would be timely.
  • However, there are signs that the dividend from higher education as currently delivered in England has played out. One in three graduates are not in graduate-level employment; one in five would have been better off financially had they not gone to university; and outcomes for the disadvantaged vary too widely. Recruiting large numbers on to poor quality, irrelevant courses is not a triumph of social mobility. Better directed recruitment at scale could be.
  • This is a public as well as a private issue. University education in England is funded by state-backed student loans, written off after 30 years. Nearly half of all students receive a government subsidy in this way. The write-off varies between subjects. The state loses money on around a third of all subjects studied. It writes off more on social studies subjects than on maths, computer science or engineering; more on communications and media studies than on agriculture and veterinary science; and more on creative arts than on any other subject. Without denigrating any subject as being unworthy of study, there is a clear misalignment between the subsidy and the economy’s needs.
  • The funding model is the root of the problem. It allows universities to charge £9,250 for all courses, cross-subsidising research and expensive subjects from fee income earned on high-margin courses and overseas students. This has led to an oversupply in some disciplines, under-investment in science degrees and over-reliance on overseas student fees, which necessitated this week’s government support package.
  • The panel I chaired recommended cutting tuition fees to the average cost of a humanities degree — £7,500, according to Universities UK — and increasing the existing top-up for strategically important courses. Covid-19-related disruption may now mean that such a fee cut would be too destabilising. But the problem has not gone away. An alternative would be to freeze fees for a further five years and ramp up the teaching grant for strategic subjects. Other options include number caps on some courses or a payment back to government by universities for reinvestment in priority subjects.
  • One final point. The importance of the country’s research base has been underlined during this crisis. In future, university research needs to be funded openly, generously and strategically, not partly via the back door.

So he hasn’t really changed his mind as others are reporting. He’s just saying make the proposed cuts by another method so as not to add to the immediate destabilisation of the sector. And the alternatives he proposed might not be that popular either, although they will resonate with those who like the Policy Exchange report referred to above.

Research Professional reached out to Nick Hillman, director of HEPI, to ask his opinion on Augar’s pronouncement. Here’s his response: Augar’s tuition fee U-turn made me splutter into my Pimm’s.

  • One of the great unwritten rules of politics is that if you ask a member of the great and the good to review a policy area for you, you can reliably expect them to defend their conclusions for years to come… Augar’s volte-face is nothing to do with the government ruling out his idea. We are still waiting for them to tell us what they think of a report that was originally announced at the Conservative Party conference back in 2017… Indeed, the U-turn is oddly timed because, in some respects, the chances of the Augar report’s main proposal being implemented have improved in recent months. Alison Wolf, an influential member of the Augar panel, has started advising Number 10 and numerous people have called for fee reductions to help students hit by Covid-19. Former UCAS chief executive Mary Curnock Cook, for example, has called for a 20 per cent fee discount.

Hillman takes exception with Augar blaming Blair for the 50% young people entering HE aspiration. Hillman states:

  • This historical inaccuracy matters because it allows Augar to continue portraying the recent expansion of higher education as an error. He argues that “the dividend from higher education as currently delivered in England has played out”. That is a very odd argument to make on the cusp of a recession. Earlier downturns have proven that being better educated is an insurance policy against unemployment.

And on Augar’s FE points (see article) Hillman also disagrees:

  • But his third argument is highly questionable. He says there is a need to boost further education to provide “a viable alternative to degrees”. This is half true and half crazy. Do we need a better offer for people who do not undertake higher education? Indubitably. But are there too many people doing degrees? No.
  • The problem the UK faces, as shown clearly in comparative OECD data, is that we have too many low-skilled people, not too many highly skilled people. In eduspeak, too many people are educated only to levels 2 and 3, and not enough at levels 4 and 5 and levels 6 and 7.

Nursing students

The Royal College of Midwives, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), UNISON and the NUS have written to Matt Hancock asking him to “acknowledge students’ selfless service, not only with words, but in a tangible and quantifiable way”. By:

  • reimbursing tuition fees or forgiving current debt for all current nursing, midwifery, and allied healthcare students;
  • abolishing student-funded tuition fees for all nursing, midwifery, and allied healthcare students starting in 2020/21 and beyond, in recognition that they will be supporting vital public services; and
  • introducing universal, living maintenance grants that reflect actual student need.

The RCN have been a very effective lobby force over recent years as they have ceaselessly campaigned again the introduction of tuition fees and the removal of the NHS bursary. Have you ever noticed how we talk about nursing fees far more than the other allied health professions? This is down to the organisation’s effectiveness in keeping their demands in the spotlight, the relationships they’ve developed with policy makers and applying pressure on the Government. While these demands are not new, especially during the increased calls for it during C-19, nurses have even more public attention, awareness and positive public feeling behind their campaign for change now. But will the Government cave and reform the system at a time when the pressure on public spending is almost unprecedented? It could go either way, we wouldn’t like to predict!

There was also a parliamentary question on the topic:

Q – Stuart Anderson: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, whether he has made an assessment of the potential merits of replacing tuition fees with a teaching grant for courses taken by (a) health professionals and (b) other key workers.

A – Michelle Donelan:

  • The government subsidises the costs of higher education through the teaching grant and write-off of unpaid tuition fee loans, which ensures a sustainable system. Nurses and other healthcare students are currently eligible for a range of financial grant support in addition to tuition fee and living cost loans. There is also a range of additional support and bursaries for students in other professions where they are considered to be critical workers.

This week we had International Nurses Day and Nursing Times have published a call from NHS England’s Chief Executive, Sir Simon Stevens, for universities to increase the number of nursing students they take each year. The article claims that 8,000 more clinical placements are available for trainees. Outstripping supply of students by an additional 4,000. NHS England has called for a Spring start as well as the traditional autumn intake. The Council of Deans have confirmed several universities already do this and it primarily attracts mature students. Dr Kolyva from the Council of Deans stated:

  • Multiple student cohorts do have implications for staffing and timetabling…Though these are not necessarily insurmountable if there is enough student interest, it would be useful to work with Government on supportive measures, including more flexible student finance arrangements and policies to boost the academic workforce. [There are also] …challenges to be addressed around student placements and the provision of support in practice so long as the pandemic continues”.

The Royal College of Nursing Chief Executive also contributed to the article commenting that to truly grow the nursing workforce more needed to be done including the scrapping of tuition fees. The Independent also cover the story of additional clinical placements without students to fill them. Wonkhe have an older (2019) blog on difficulties associated in the expansion of nursing.

Graduate Outlook

This week has seen a myriad of sources all covering the graduate outlook for those students finishing their degree this year. Prospects have published Graduating into a pandemic: the impact on university finalists. The article leads with: Nearly two-thirds of university finalists feel negative about their career prospects and many have lost job offers or placements as a result of the COVID-19 crisis – but others say they now have more time to plan their future. The article goes on to describe the results of their graduate recruitment survey:

  • 1% lost their work placement/internship
  • 2% lost their job
  • 2% had their job offer deferred or cancelled.

Some other stats:

  • 47% are considering postgraduate study
  • 82% feel disconnected from employers

See the article for more content including what students expect from Careers services and would like to know from employers.

The Telegraph covers the survey in Almost a third of graduate jobs have been cancelled or deferred due to coronavirus and on the national situation in Graduate job adverts fall by three quarters ahead of ‘extremely challenging’ summer.

Financial Times write that The class of 2020 need help to start their careers.

i News reports that the job crisis may persuade more young people to commence a degree in September. They quote Nick Hillman of HEPI as saying: If you were leaving school this summer you’re not going to get a job frankly… If you were thinking you might go and get a job, you might as well stay on and go to higher education. Although there isn’t comment on how this potential phenomenon might impact of non-continuation rates. i News also reports on the Prospects survey we mention above:

  • Separately, a survey by the careers service, Prospects, found that nearly half (47 per cent) of final year students are now contemplating postgraduate study, as graduate job opportunities have dried up in the wake of the pandemic. The survey found that 28 per cent of final year students have had their graduate job offers deferred or rescinded. There could be a marked rise in applications for courses which lead towards occupations which are perceived to be “recession-proof”, such as teaching.

The same article states UCAS have noted calls from students who planned to defer but now wish to attend in September – perhaps because their internship or travelling plans have to be rethought. Finally iNews state that applications by mature students and graduates wishing to take postgraduate courses are also set to rise, as older adults seek a safe haven amidst the economic turmoil caused by Covid-19.

The British Academy are upbeat (their report has a general outlook – it isn’t commenting on the effects of the Coronavirus) and they have published a report examining the employment prospects of graduates from different subject groups. It finds that graduates in the arts, humanities and social sciences (AHSS) are just as employable as their counterparts in STEM subjects, fuel some of the fastest-growing sectors in the UK and enjoy rewarding careers in a wide range of sectors. They are also more likely to change sector and role voluntarily, without wage penalty, suggesting greater flexibility and choice than STEM graduates. Furthermore graduates of arts, humanities and social sciences are just as resilient to economic upheaval as other graduates and are just as likely to remain employed as STEM graduates during downturns.

Research Professional also write that further study could ease the pressure from graduating into a collapsing job market in More time at university could protect graduates from recession.

And Wonkhe have scoured the Student Hut’s Covid-19 tracker finding that students

  • are hoping for discounts on postgraduate fees as compensation for time lost due to the pandemic – with more than half prepared to accept a “significant” discount on future study or continuing professional development to make up for interruptions to their learning this year.

Labour Market Statistics

The DfE published  graduate labour market statistics for 2019 graduate, postgraduate and non-graduate employment rates and earnings (for England). These set out a breakdown of employment rates, unemployment rates and gross median annual earnings by different age groups and by undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. Key Points:

  • Non-graduates were most likely to be employed in medium/low-skilled roles (48.1%). The proportions for graduates and postgraduates were 21.9% and 9.8% respectively; 0.4 and 1.2 percentage points lower than in 2018.
  • In 2019, the median salary of working-age graduates was £34,000. This represents no change from 2018. Non-graduate salaries rose to £25,000, narrowing the gap between the two groups to £9,000.
  • Post-graduates saw the largest increase in median salary from 2018 (+£2,000). Increasing the gap between graduates and post-graduates to £8,000, the largest it has been since 2007.
  • The employment rate for working-age graduates in 2019 was 87.5%, slightly lower than the rate in 2018 (87.7%).
  • 6% of working-age graduates were in high-skilled employment in 2019, compared with 78.9% of postgraduates and 23.9% of non-graduates. Although this represents a slight increase of 0.2 percentage points since 2018 for graduates, the rise was larger for both postgraduates (2.4 percentage points) and non-graduates (1.0 percentage point).
  • Young non-graduates performed the worst across (employment rate, inactivity and unemployment). The inactivity rate for young non-graduates (20.2%), was more than double the rates for young graduates (7.9%) and postgraduates (8.0%). However, this cohort is likely to include a significant proportion of economically-inactive students.
  • Across all qualification categories those aged 21-30 were more active in the labour market than the general working-age population, however, with the exception of graduates, the unemployment rates of the young cohort were also higher. This could indicate that young postgraduates and non-graduates find it relatively more difficult to find employment than their working-age counterparts.
  • Across all qualification types, individuals in the young population had lower high-skilled employment rates than their working-age counterparts. This may provide some evidence for graduates and non-graduates ‘upskilling’ as they acquire increasing amounts of labour market experience. It could also, however, reflect the limited number of high-skilled employment opportunities available to younger individuals and the potential difficulties they face matching into relevant jobs early in their careers.

Skills Challenges

The Federation for Industry Sector Skills and Standards has published a report on which industries face the biggest skills challenges. The report takes a longer term view, beyond immediate challenges posed by C-19, and compiles data on long term and transformative trends shaping the future of skills, such as automation and the ageing workforce. Dods summarise the key challenges:

  • Automation – The fourth industrial revolution could alleviate skills challenges, but some industries are more amenable than others. While 58% of jobs in hospitality are at risk of automation, this falls to just 34% of jobs in Information and Communication.
  • Ageing workforce – By extending working lives, this is as much an opportunity as a challenge. Agriculture, forestry and fishing is the sector with the oldest workforce. Over 50% are over the age of 50 compared to just 17% in hospitality.
  • Brexit – Immigration policy will be a more significant challenge for some sectors than others. While only 3% of the Public admin and defence workforce are EU nationals, this rises to 15% for the industry known as households as employers (e.g. gardeners, babysitters, cleaners etc.).
  • Staff turnover – Skills policy often concentrates on the talent coming into an industry. But stemming the flow of talent leaving the industry can build up the stock of skills. Sectors like Education have a low proportion of employees leaving the industry each year (14%) while for Arts, entertainment and recreation it stands at 35%.

Research

There has been a lot of reflection on research this week,

Research Professional have a blog which argues for the practice of using international tuition fees to cross subsidise research to be reconsidered – which an emphasis on Government support to pay more. It is set both within the context of expected reduction in international student numbers (so less money available to fund the research) and that post-crisis research should be funded more comprehensively and fairly.

Wonkhe have a blog  A bold plan for research will guide choices in a post-Covid economy.

Another Research Professional article reiterates last week’s messages that the Government support package only represents a 5% drop in the ocean against what UUK calculated was needed.

Taskforce: The University Research Sustainability Taskforce (part of the Government’s non-bailout support package) held its first meeting on Tuesday co-chaired by both Ministers (Michelle Donelan – universities and Amanda Solloway – science). Details from the meeting haven’t yet been released.

The Power of Place: CaSE (Campaign for Science and Engineering) have an 11 page report with case studies demonstrating the importance of investing in regional R&D.

Access, Participation and Success

Wonkhe report that Student Minds have called on the government to offer further mental health support for students during the Covid-19 pandemic.

HEPI have a blog by UCAS chief executive Clare Marchant Above and beyond predictions – No exams presents an opportunity for innovation in contextual admissions.

Parliamentary questions:

 Unite blog for HEPI on their concerns for care experienced and estranged students who are struggling without a familial support network or their part time employment during the coronavirus crisis. They call on Government to put: in place an emergency grant for care-experienced and estranged students, to make sure that they are not forced to drop out of their studies in order to support themselves.

Changes in Further Education

Wonkhe report that the government is planning on bringing further education colleges back into public ownership in (another) major shakeup of that sector. Gavin Williamson has suggested that a white paper about this is imminent – we should watch this closely for clues as to the government’s plans for the whole tertiary landscape.

FE Week cover the story, excerpts:

  • Work has begun on a White Paper to be followed by legislation, after recent attempts to financially stabilise the sector with an area review programme and restructuring funds totalling around half a billion pounds were deemed to have failed.
  • The number of colleges in formal intervention over their finances, currently more than 30, continues to rise and government bailouts have not stopped in recent months despite attempts to end them last March with the introduction of a new education administration regime.
  • …it is understood that civil servants have concluded the first and so far only colleges to be put into administration… have been both too slow and too costly.

FE week states the Government have been working on a FE Bill since January and that SoS Education, Gavin Williamson, has stated the reforms will be ‘revolutionary’. Government is concerned that where a college is failing both financially and poor quality provision the governing body remains independent and the Government has limited powers of intervention. FE week says:

  • It is understood Williamson and the team around him are becoming increasingly frustrated by this inability to step in when they deem there to have been leadership failures.

On the planned changes the DfE have stated:

  • The education secretary has already made clear that we are working on a White Paper aimed at delivering ambitious reform in our vital FE sector. The FE sector is playing a pivotal role in making sure more people can access the high-quality education and training they need to progress and will support our economic recovery following the Covid-19 outbreak. Our reforms will build on and strengthen the excellent work already happening across the country and will ensure the FE sector is at the heart of every community.

It seems the Government intend to seize all opportunities to change of course of tertiary education through coronavirus leverage.  One wonders whether Augar is needed at all.

On the expected FE changes Research Professional state: The implications could be far reaching for universities as part of the government’s skills and levelling-up ambitions.

Parliamentary Questions

An absolute flood of parliamentary questions this week! We’ve put them where relevant in the main part of this update and the rest are here:

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

OfS Board papers: Research Professional highlighted that OfS are censoring an unexpectedly large amount of their Board papers and other materials. Read the article for more detail. On this the Shadow Universities Minister stated during this incredibly difficult time, the need for honesty and transparency is even more important and I would encourage the OfS to reflect on the need to redact such huge quantities of information. Wonkhe also pick out 20 points of interest in the Board papers.

NSS results:  NSS results are to be published on the OfS website on 1 July (09:30am). With provider-level and subject-level question responses, open text comments, and all providers’ NSS results published on the results portal at the same time. OfS stated

  • UK funders and regulators will look at the data when received to assess any impact the coronavirus outbreak has had on the results and make professional judgements about its statistical reliability.

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 6th May 2020

Dissection of the Government’s HE support ‘package’ has dominated all this week and the Sutton Trust have a new report reminding us of the importance of considering disadvantage within HE access and participation.

HE ‘package’

The Government announced its ‘package’ to support the HE sector through the financial trauma caused by C-19. It has dominated all HE news this week so we’ve included a big feature on the most relevant content here. We will outline the facts, then unpack and interpret it, followed by sector stakeholder reaction, and a little humour.

The package doesn’t provide new money for the HE sector, it is not a bailout, rather it moves payments forward (a bit) to ease cash flow and, although it has not been explicitly stated, the Government continue their watch and see approach awaiting the outcome of the autumn term recruitment. There may be some emergency cash earmarked for OfS distribution should recruitment turn disastrous, however, Government have consistently stated they will not bail out what they consider as poor quality or failing HE providers and this will be an absolute last resort.

The ‘package’ has been about as popular as the proverbial regifted toiletry set from Great Auntie Doris. While the wait and see is an understandable policy measure (universities are way down the priority list, and it isn’t “urgent” (yet),  the C-19 crisis has finally provided an opportunity for the Government to change aspects of admissions and quality that were previously limited by institutional autonomy (as enshrined in the Higher Education and Research Act 2017). While student number controls and new licence conditions are described as temporary, there may be long term impacts of these changes.

The (English) package aims to stabilise admissions across all providers as the recruitment of domestic students takes higher precedence against the expected drop in international student enrolment. To this end:

Stabilising admissions

Temporary student number controls will be put in place for domestic and EU students for academic year 2020/21, to ensure a “fair, structured distribution of students across providers”. These measures mean that providers will be able to recruit students up to a temporary set level, based on provider forecasts, which allows additional growth of up to 5% in the next academic year. We await more details of the actual numbers by institution.

If a provider does not abide by its student number controls, the Government will reduce the sums available to the provider through the student finance system in the subsequent academic year.

The Government have also made funding provision for an additional 10,000 places on top of 5% growth student number controls. 5,000 of these places are ringfenced for students studying nursing or allied health courses. The remaining 5,000 places will be allocated at the discretion of the Secretary of State for Education. Again, we await more details of where these will go.

The OfS is running a consultation on a new temporary condition of registration which intends to  prohibit (registered) HE providers from any form of conduct which would have what they describe as a negative effect on the stability and/or integrity of the English HE sector.

  • Examples include conditional unconditional offers, mass unconditional offers, offers not linked to prior educational attainment, tempting students with incentives such as free laptops (a strange choice of example given the current virtual learning concerns for disadvantaged students) or cash incentives.
  • Any admissions tactics which are considered to put undue pressure on students or conduct leading to commercial advantage over other providers are a big no no, with a whopping fine per case (£500,000+) if the institution breaches this. The justification for the fine is to negate the positive financial effects any institution would feel from the recruitment boost as a result of engaging in the prohibited behaviour.
  • There is also concern over how the OfS intend to implement this retrospectively – with some concerns it may seek to outlaw and punish activity that was not prohibited before the C-19 crisis. The proposal is to look back to behaviour since 11th March and for patterns or linked actions by institutions since then.
  • Although this is a consultation, the sector is expecting the conditions to be implemented and there are questions over how temporary it will actually be given the expected long term effect of C-19 on university finances. This condition is seen as a significant erosion into the autonomy of universities over their admission policies which has always been enshrined in law, most recently in the HERA legislation.
  • OfS have blogged regulator warns of penalties for recruitment practices.

UUK is working on a new sector agreement and statement of fair admissions practice. Including adhering to a new principle where HE providers will not put undue pressure on students, and new rules to restrict destabilising behaviours such as use of unconditional offers at volume. Both key aims the Government has been trying to influence for several years.

Wonkhe added more detail on the conditions:

  • Outlawed actions would include making conditional unconditional offers, making a lot of unconditional offers (or very low offers), offering gifts or discounts designed to attract students away from their original choices, and making false or misleading statements (including comparative claims) about one or more providers.
  • Outlawed actions would also include using financial support packages made available by the government for purposes that do not serve the interests of students or the public, failing to secure the standard of qualifications awarded to students, making offers to international students that significantly lower the academic or language requirements for a course, taking advantage of OfS relaxing particular regulatory requirements during the pandemic, and even “bypassing, or seeking to bypass, the admissions processes of the University and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), where the provider would normally use UCAS processes”.
  • If that all sounds wide, it’s because it is. It’s another of these huge, open-to-interpretation regulatory nets designed to catch all sorts of behaviour. It’s significant – the new condition would enable OfS to consider imposing penalties that would “cancel out any financial benefit to providers of acting inappropriately”. It doesn’t so much chip away at as kick a big chunk out of institutional autonomy. But the question remains whether now is the right time for providers to kick up a fuss about autonomy, when the sector is desperate for financial support?

Research Professional reported that failing to abide by “voluntary requirements” is also included. Quite the catchall! On the conditions consultation Research Professional state: …But these are not normal times. The condition—which is out for consultation but is almost certain to be implemented—could even be “actively renewed” in the future. Take a look at RP’s article here –  well worth a read! Key excerpts:

  • When considering a fine, the OfS would look at whether universities have stuck to Universities UK’s framework on fair admissions practices for 2020-21, agreed as part of the government’s so-called bailout package to help institutions through the coronavirus crisis.
  • But Smita Jamdar, head of education and partner at law firm Shakespeare Martineau, warned the proposals in the consultation were “so much broader” than admissions and could mean the condition applied to institutions’ actions in other areas such as employment.
  • “It has got a huge potential for unintended consequences”, Jamdar told Research Professional News, adding it was a “quite frightening set of proposals when you put it all together”. Jamdar also warned universities could expect fines to be handed out if the current proposals are carried out, and pointed out that breaches could be back-dated to 11 March. “It’s quite clear they are putting this in place and they intend to use it,” she said.

Smita has more detail on her viewpoints in her own blog on the topic.

Supporting Students

The last few years have seen an increase in the number of students entering clearing, many joining the admissions process for the first time at clearing having not previously applied to university. The government package sets out to boost the role of clearing – and specifically the adjustment part of it – even further.

In conjunction with UCAS the Government have arranged for both ‘placed’ and ‘unplaced’ students to have a greater – or at least more visible – opportunity  to change their choice of provider/course once they receive their grades. This will be supported by a new service that can suggest alternative opportunities, based on their achievements, their course interest, and other preferences.

UCAS is also working with BBC Bitesize to give students enhanced advice on applying to university and Clearing. In the weeks leading up to results day, UCAS will be running a high-profile and multi-channel campaign, ‘Get Ready for Clearing’.

This fits well with the Government’s agenda – they are concerned that able students, especially disadvantaged ones, are not accessing high tariff ‘prestigious’ institutions– and therefore not receiving the social mobility employment boost associated with graduating from certain HE institutions. As has been pointed out by many, this does not support the stability of the sector, and confirms that protecting the sector is not the government’s first priority .

  • The 5% increase cap will allow room for growth and many “prestigious” institutions will have a significant amount of capacity as they usually take high numbers of international students, who are expected not to come this autumn. This is interesting as these same institutions have fought back for a long time against arguments that “foreign” students take places that home students could take. The reality of course is that international students help to fund places for home students by paying higher fees – so the financial impact of this change in balance is quite complex.
  • The UK is still coming out of the demographic dip and there was already increased competition for domestic students. The lowest tariff institutions are expected to fare worst. These may be the institutions which also have the lowest financial reserves, take the highest number of disadvantaged and local students, and have higher associated drop out rates (at least partly as a result of their student profile). A gloomy picture given the Government has stated it won’t bailout “failing” or “poorer quality” providers.
  • However, a little discussed element in recruitment is localisation – students attending institutions near to them locally or regionally. This year, students may choose to stay close to family for lots of reasons, including ongoing restrictions on travel, or a wish by students to stay closer to home. Given the publicity about rent payments this summer, some new students may decline to commit to accommodation contracts and choose to stay closer to home instead.

On the 5% admissions cap Research Professional state:

  • That is quite a loose cap and for some institutions it represents the opposite of a bailout—they will feel that the pistol has been fired for open season on their students. For universities struggling to recruit before the pandemic, the news that other institutions can now maximise recruitment of the limited number of UK school leavers will seem like the government has just poured a bucket of water into an already sinking canoe.

Wonkhe comment:

  • From a student perspective, the offer is even thinner – the Office for Students has clarified that universities can allocate student premium funding and expenditure committed in access and participation plans to provide additional financial support for students, which is far from addressing the economic impacts of Covid-19 on students’ families or the inherent lack of protections in the system for students.

Michelle Donelan also confirmed that students should continue to pay full tuition fees even if provision from Autumn 2020 is online. While this supports Universities (and stops Government from having to fund even more to stabilise them) there is, of course, a policy point emphasised in her tweet: To be clear, we only expect full tuition fees to be charged if online courses are of good quality, fit for purpose & help students progress towards their qualification. If Unis want to charge full fees they will have to ensure that the quality is there. Reading the comments to Donelan’s tweet also paints an interesting picture of the public’s perspective.

Student Fee Petition

The Commons Petitions Committee has rejected the government’s initial response to a petition requesting the reimbursement of 2019-20 student fees due to Covid-19 and industrial action. The committee felt the initial response did not address the issue directly. The petition received 336,265 signatures (see this map of the signatures’ locations, including Bournemouth West – BU’s constituency). The Petition is now awaiting a date for a parliamentary debate (which may not be as exciting or drastic as it sounds, and potentially will go over the same Government messaging we have heard already).

The petition stated:

  • All students should be reimbursed some of this year’s tuition fees as universities are now online only due to COVID-19, with only powerpoints online for learning materials which is not worthy of up to £9,250. Furthermore, all assessments are being reconsidered to ‘make do’ and build up credits.
  • Field trips have also been cancelled which our tuition fee was to pay for. There is also no need for accommodation which students have paid between £4,000-£8,000 for in advance and adding to their student debt. Lastly, the extended strikes of this year have severely disrupted student-staff interaction and personalised help, with staff not replying to emails or available for meetings. Grading is also being delayed. Overall, university quality is poor this year and certainly not worth up to £9,250.

If you scroll down on this page you can read the Government’s response to the petition. The Petition’s Committee rejected the government response. They require the Government to provide another response because they felt that the response did not directly address the request of petition. Once the Government issues a further response it will be published on the same page.

Parliamentary Question:

Q – Caroline Lucas: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, whether (a) his Department and (b) the Student Loans Company plan to provide support to (i) current and (ii) prospective students whose parents have lost their jobs as a result of the covid-19 outbreak by (A) facilitating access to full maintenance loans and (B) reinstating maintenance grants. [38455]

A – Michelle Donelan:

  • Many higher education providers will have hardship funds to support students in times of need, including emergencies. The expectation is that where any student requires additional support, providers will support them through their own hardship funds. Contact details are available on university websites.
  • In addition, students will continue to receive payments of maintenance loans for the remainder of the current academic year, 2019/20. Students who need to undertake additional weeks of study on their course in the current academic year may also qualify for additional long courses loan to help with their living costs.
  • Parents who have lost their jobs and whose income has dropped by 15% or more in the current financial year will be able to apply to Student Finance England to have their children’s living costs support reassessed for the 2020/21 academic year from 1 August 2020 onwards. This will increase the amount of support students and prospective students are entitled to in 2020/21.
  • Information for parents on how to apply for a current year assessment is available on the Student Finance England website at: https://media.slc.co.uk/sfe/currentyearincome/index.html.

International Students

The Government has stated it will work to update the International Education Strategy, designed to support the recruitment of international students, by autumn 2020, in respond to the impact of COVID-19.

They have also restated the commitment to a graduate immigration route launching in summer 2021, giving international students (who graduate summer 2021 onwards) the right to remain for two years after their studies and providing an incentive to study in the UK. This includes students who have already started their courses, even if, due to coronavirus, they have needed to undertake some of their learning remotely.

The Government is ‘applying discretion’ to ensure that international students are not negatively impacted if they find themselves in a position where they cannot comply with certain visa rules as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Much of the media coverage on the prospects of international students to commence HE provision in autumn 2020 has been negative. However, several opinion surveys have hinted that prospective students remain committee to UK study. Here is another one – Wonkhe report that it might not be all bad news for international recruitment – a new survey today from IDP Connect finds that 69 per cent of a sample of nearly 6,900 prospective students applying to universities in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK, and the US are intending to commence their studies this year as planned. Only 5 per cent expect to abandon plans to study overseas.

However, the UK face to face nature still seems to be the sticking point. Wonkhe continue: The survey found a huge willingness to start learning in January 2021 if this meant that the course could begin with face-to-face learning. Just 31 per cent would be happy to start online and move to the campus later on. Exposure to international culture is clearly a key component of the decision to travel for study.

Of course, another unanswered question is what happens if lockdown goes really long – would the post-study work visa still be honoured if all of the course is delivered online and the student is never resident in the UK?

Financial Sustainability

The Government will bring forward the second term tuition fee payments (expected to be worth £2.6bn) for providers so that they receive more cash in the first term of academic year 20/21 to help with cashflow issues. Currently HE providers receive the tuition fee payments in this profile: **25% on October, 25% in February, 50% in May. Instead the second payment will be brought forward – it’s not clear when it will be paid.  That’s not a big shift.

Alongside this the Government have reiterated that HE providers are eligible to apply for Government support schemes, including the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS), Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CLBILS, COVID Corporate Financing Facility (CCFF) and the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. All of which are not straightforward for the HE sector due to the sources from which our finance comes. However, the OfS estimates these schemes could be worth £700m to the sector.

It comes with strings attached. HE providers are expected to make efficiencies. Furthermore, the bringing forward of tuition fee payments will mean very careful management of finances to cover the whole academic year and avoid fresh cashflow problems further down the track.

The Government state that they

  • will only intervene further where we find there is a case to do so, and only where we believe intervention is possible and appropriate, and as a last resort. In such instances, DfE will be working with HMT and other Government departments to develop a restructuring regime, through which we will review providers’ circumstances and assess the need for restructuring”.

The sector has interpreted this as bespoke individual support, with a host of conditions attached (potentially including losing land), and the erosion of the management of the institution.

Research Professional comment:

  • The £2.6bn on offer is neither a grant nor a loan. It is an advance payment of tuition fees from the next academic year. Theoretically, this will smooth immediate financial shortfalls. But it will also mean that universities have to cut their cloth further down the line.
  • A haircut is coming, says the department. The advance payments will “help universities better manage financial risks over the autumn, including taking steps to improve efficiencies and manage their finances in order to avoid cash flow problems further ahead.” ‘Efficiencies’ is an ominous word at the best of times… It is very clear indeed that the government has no appetite to bail out badly run universities.

The Government has also set aside £100 million to purchase land and buildings to create new or expand schools and colleges. While this money isn’t solely for purchasing HE assets many HE institutions do have large estates with substantial potential. Once again, the Government has thought carefully about its ideals and seen an opportunity to acquire land to meet its policy ideals. During Theresa May’s time as PM one of her big pushes (which was unsuccessful) was to bring HE, FE and schools together in collaboration to improve quality, opportunity and cohesion within communities. Sharing resources and expertise. Potentially acquiring land and placing conditions on failing institutions seems another wizard wheeze for overcoming the reluctance of the HE sector to get behind the initiative.

Wonkhe comment:

  • The Government expects [that] access to the business support schemes, reprofiling of public funding and student number controls should be sufficient to help stabilise most providers’ finances, and that should certainly be the first port of calls for providers.
  • This implies that a calculation has been carried out using OfS financial sustainability data and projections on student numbers that may or may not turn out to be accurate. We can’t see those calculations, as OfS’ annual report on the financial sustainability of the sector is missing in action. The sector would want to see the workings so that if the wider situation follows worst-case scenarios (mass deferrals of current students, even worse international numbers, etc.), the government could be approached with a freshly minted begging bowl.
  • That ominous paragraph also describes the development of an HE “restructuring regime” in which DfE would review providers’ circumstances and assess the need for restructuring – and where action is required, this will come with “attached conditions.

And some breaking news – the OfS on 6th May published the outcome of their recent consultation on cuts to OfS spending. Bad timing, as the cut in budget and the consultation all started before the pandemic hit.

A selection of Parliamentary Questions

Q – Colleen Fletcher: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what assessment his Department has made of the effect of the covid-19 outbreak on (a) the number of (i) international student numbers and (ii) domestic student numbers intending to take up a university place in the 2020 academic year and (b) research and innovation funding. [39637]

And

Q – Rachel Hopkins: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps his Department is taking to support UK universities affected by reduced international recruitment as a result of the covid-19 outbreak. [38988]

A- Michelle Donelan:

  • We are very grateful for the work that universities are doing in supporting students, undertaking ground-breaking research and providing specialist equipment. We are working closely with them to understand the financial risks and implications that they might face at this uncertain time.
  • The COVID-19 outbreak will have an impact on international students. The government is working to ensure that existing rules and regulations relating to international students, including visa regulations, are as flexible as possible under these unprecedented circumstances.
  • My right hon. Friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, has also announced an unprecedented package of support, including the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and a range of business loan schemes, to help pay wages, keep staff employed and support businesses whose viability is threatened by the outbreak. We recently confirmed universities’ eligibility for these schemes, and we are working closely with the sector, the Office for Students (OfS) and across the government to understand the financial risks that providers are facing, stabilise the admissions system and help providers to access the support on offer. [This response was provided before the package was announced.]
  • The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and UK Research and Innovation analysts are working closely with the Department for Education, OfS and wider non-government stakeholders to undertake a rapid programme of analysis to better understand the impact of COVID-19 on a range of research institutions including universities and analyse suitable policy responses.

Q – Emma Hardy: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps he is taking to engage with (a) small and specialist higher education institutions, (b) institutions that are not members of Universities UK and (c) universities in remote, rural and coastal areas on their financial sustainability as a result of the covid-19 outbreak. [41578]

A – Michelle Donelan: answer here, but it doesn’t specifically mention rural or coastal universities

Research

In England, the Government will bring forward £100 million of quality-related (QR) research funding for the current academic year for ‘vital’ activities to address some of the immediate pressures being faced for university research activities and “to ensure research activities can continue during the crisis”. The QR top up is intended “to offset short-term impacts caused by the coronavirus outbreak, including alleviating immediate cash flow issues and where other income which would normally pay for research is no longer available”. Research Professional state: This does not come close to the cross-subsidy that research receives from the £7bn in tuition fee income that international students provided last year.

A joint DfE/BEIS Ministerial Taskforce – the University Research Sustainability Taskforce – will also form, jointly led by Science Minister, Amanda Solloway, and Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan.

It aims to act as an advisory forum for ministers and will:

  • share information and intelligence about the health of the university research and the knowledge exchange carried out by and within HE providers
  • identify potential impacts on the sustainability of university research and knowledge exchange directly arising from the response to coronavirus
  • share intelligence on government and other sources of funding for research, and develop approaches building on these to address the impacts of coronavirus and protect and sustain HE research capability and capacity
  • where possible share evidence of the impacts on university research and knowledge exchange of the taskforce’s advice

The Government have stated they expect universities will also want to develop their own proposals to build an efficient, effective and sustainable research and development system, focused on driving recovery. (See Chris Skidmore’s comments below.)

Research Professional have this to say:

  • It is the research proposals that have received the most criticism. A £100 million advance on quality-related funding represents just 5 per cent of what Universities UK had asked for…Why, then, was there so little in this announcement about shoring up research? If the research budget is due to double in five years, why the reluctance to spend now?
  • Writing exclusively for Research Professional News today, former universities minister Chris Skidmore appears to think there is more on the way—accepting that while £100m “may not be what the wider sector was hoping for…it remains a promising start”…“This first £100m of additional QR funding should be welcomed, but universities should try to do all they can to demonstrate its vital importance for the Covid-19 recovery—by going out to sell its benefits together,” he says. “Ideally, institutions should publicise and highlight where this money will go, working in collaboration where possible to demonstrate its necessity.
  • …Was there a clue too in the statement from Research England’s executive chair David Sweeneyyesterday? He said: “The higher education package announced today builds on some detailed proposals recently from UUK…English universities will want to similarly develop more detailed proposals to build an efficient, effective and sustainable R&D system and Research England looks forward to working with them and the government to achieve that end.” In the politesse of statements from senior civil servants, ‘universities will want to’ usually means ‘universities should hurry up and get on with’.
  • Following the announcement of the underwhelming bailout plan, we spoke to several well-placed figures in the research firmament. According to one of them, the government feels that while there has been some good thinking on the education side from universities, there has been less thought on the research side. They have “talked turkey on education, now it is time to talk turkey on research”, we were told.
  • In other words, ministers are not simply going to release £2bn into university accounts without a quid pro quo. As a number of sources close to government told us yesterday, there will be no substantial cash injection for research without recognition from universities that they have a shared responsibility to contribute to the post-coronavirus recovery. In other words, what are universities going to put on the table and what is the government going to get out of it? We understand that the government is looking for movement on topics such as: regional inequality, or levelling up; skills and training; and precarious contracts for researchers. 
  • …By allowing the Office for Students to consult on sweeping new powers, universities have put their admissions autonomy at risk. Do they really want to do the same with research in return for the false security of 100 per cent full economic costs?

Meanwhile Wonkhe note that:

  • UKRI hasupdated its useful “guidance for the research and innovation communities” to incorporate research focused aspects of yesterday’s government announcements. It links to Research England’s brief note on the funding advance related to next year’s QR allocation.

And Scotland have announced their own £75 million research boost for Scottish universities.

The Guardian has an article by Chris Skidmore

On HEPI former director Bahram Bekhradnia describes the proposed student number cap as “unworkable”.

Legal firm Pinsent Masons ran the article UK higher education restructuring ‘inevitable’ without targeted support stating the UK university sector should brace for potential insolvencies and reluctant mergers as the medium term impact of the coronavirus pandemic becomes clear. They base their analysis on the London Economics & UCU report of several weeks previous (the report has not escaped criticism for aspects of its calculations and assumptions).

Wonkhe also have lots of blogs, of course, here are some:

And Michelle Donelan also responded to a parliamentary question outlining the Government’s package.

Finally Research Professional’s spoof column Ivory Tower has a particularly good grasp of the ‘bailout’, especially as it was published in advance of the Government’s announcement of the ‘support’ measures. Do read Spads: bailout for a little light relief. (If you hit a log in page from the link select Bournemouth University and then log in with your BU username and password.)

What next?

The support package has been announced and whilst the dust is settling sector press is asking what next for the ‘new normal’? Both Wonkhe and Research Professional (RP) ran features on it on Wednesday. RP considered the new normal from the institutional perspective of what could open and how social distancing could be maintained. The blog is a neat consideration of the complexity of the HE context. Excerpt: The pressure will therefore be on institutions to open their doors for educational business as soon as possible, especially given student grumblings about paying full fees for courses that are now being delivered entirely online. However, as an educational setting, it is probable that universities can expect to be handed guidelines by the Department for Education as well.

Wonkhe tackle risk, audit and the student interest but from a strategic University Board perspective. Here are their series of blogs:

RP also state that AdvanceHE is launching an international project this week to help university leaders share information and find solutions to the difficulties posed by a socially distanced campus.

Education Select Committee

The Education Select Committee met this week to question Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson. Much of the Committee session focused on school aged children alongside disadvantage and SEN concerns; exam grades for FE courses including BTECs were touched upon. HE content has mainly been superseded by the Government’s support package announced after the Committee met. However, it also covered international students (no answer from Williamson), the difficulty in taking English language tests, and there was still no answer on nursing tuition fees. Dods summarise the nursing exchange:

Halfon [Select Committee Chair] said that “apparently” the Department for Education had not clarified whether nursing students who worked for the NHS during the pandemic would still be paying tuition fees. Pressed on this, the secretary of state said he would come back to the committee.

The Minister reiterated that a response to the Augar review is still expected around the time of the next Spending Review. Also that T Levels will go ahead in the original timeframe set out because the introduction of T-Levels and raising the status of vocational qualifications was “one of the most important tasks this Government had”.

Finally Johnson asked about domestic students who were stuck at university alone and unable to return home. The Government would “very much” want to facilitate their return, Williamson said.

On lessons the DfE have learnt from the crisis Williamson thought there were many. The ability to support children within the home and through holidays had been really transformed, he said. The department recognised that resources could be much more rapidly shared and they would be looking at how this could be used to reduce the workload for teachers. Additionally, by moving tribunals online, the department were getting through them much more rapidly, the committee heard. (Summary of the Minister’s response supplied by Dods.) The Education committee also published Ministerial letters for transparency:

Sutton Trust

The Sutton Trust published a brief on the impact of covid-19 on university access. The research surveyed 511 university applicants (pupils aged 17 to 19); found that working class applicants are more likely to be worried about the impact on them than their middle-class peers. Also that almost half of university applicants think that the coronavirus crisis will have a negative impact on their chances of getting into their first-choice university. The report also covers poll of 895 current university students raising their financial concerns resulting from the pandemic.

Access, Participation & Success

Social Mobility Commission

Chair of the Social Mobility Commission, Dame Martina Milburn, has resigned. The press points out that the social mobility commission has lost two Chairs in 2.5 years. Her predecessor Alan Milburn resigned (en masse with all other members of the Commission) in frustration at the Government’s failure to do more to tackle social mobility. Dame Martina stated she was resigning “with deep regret, and after several sleepless nights”  her substantive role as Group Chief Exec of The Prince’s Trust required her full commitment. Her letter states:

  • I am extremely proud of what has been achieved at the Commission in the last two years – appointing the 12 very diverse commissioners, re-establishing the secretariat and commissioning a variety of reports from the State of the Nation to an employers’ toolkit. Currently, we have 16 reports in the pipeline, have conducted a popular series of webinars for employers and have begun to form partnerships with bodies such as the metro-mayors and with other important commissions. We have also brought the social mobility charities together and appointed a range of social mobility ambassadors.
  • However, it is not nearly enough and given the strong links between social mobility and poverty I fear this current crisis will only serve to make social mobility harder than ever. My reflections from my time in office are that appointing a Chairman on three days per month, as I was, has proved a real challenge. To make an impact, what the secretariat needs is an executive chairman on at least three days per week or a different structure perhaps something more akin to that of the Children’s Commissioner?

She also stated that either of the Deputy Commissioners she appointed are capable of taking over her role.

Education SoS Gavin Williamson responds to her letter here.

Other blog posts

  • The BAME degree-awarding gap is likely to be an even bigger issue now. Gurnam Singhreflects on what universities should do next (Wonkhe blog).
  • The University Mental Health Advisors Network (UMHAN) blog covers the OfS briefing on supporting student mental health. Excerpt: given the disruption to normal study patterns, and potential longer-term changes to higher education as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, it is possible that universities and colleges will see new patterns in their students’ mental health and wellbeing emerge. They also plan a White Paper setting out good practice and recommendations.
  • The Guardian has an article written by the Master of Birkbeck explaining why unconditional offers for foundation years are important for social mobility

Finally another Guardian piece bringing to life the rhetoric around disadvantaged students struggling with online access

Disadvantaged Catch Up Plan

The Education Policy Institute has published a policy paper with proposals to prevent the disadvantage gap from increasing due to C-19. Before the outbreak of Covid-19, EPI research found that disadvantaged children are already on average one and a half years of learning behind other pupils by the time they take their GCSEs.

Graduate Employment Outlook

Wonkhe report that

  • the Office for Budgetary Responsibility (OBR) forecast of a 6.1 percentage point increase in the unemployment rate due to the impact of Covid-19 will have a disproportionate effect on the employment prospects of young people, according to a new briefingfrom the Resolution Foundation. Graduates would have a 13 per cent lower likelihood of being in employment three years after completing their education, with non-graduates seeing an even worse impact.
  • There’s also bad news on pay – with forecasts suggesting real hourly graduate pay would be, on average 7 per cent lower two years on. But the recession will disproportionately hit sectors where young people tend to work – non-food retail, hospitality, travel, the arts, and entertainment. One year after having left full-time education, more than one-third of non-graduates, and more than one-in-five, graduates would expect to work in a sector that is now mostly shut down.
  • The briefing suggests that – as in previous recessions – young people will be more likely to remain in education rather than enter the workforce. However, the demographic dip will make it easier for the government to offer support for those making this decision.

Youth movement:

  • 70 of the country’s leading youth charities, employer groups and experts have united to form the ‘COVID-19 Youth Employment Group’, a cross-sector emergency response to rising concerns about the economic and educational impact of coronavirus on young people. The Youth Employment Group is led by Impetus, the Youth Futures Foundation, The Prince’s Trust, Youth Employment UK and the Institute for Employment Studies. It will design, deliver, and campaign for solutions to the immediate and long-term impact on young people’s employment prospects, particularly those who already face considerable challenges entering the labour market.
  • As research increasingly warns of the potentially catastrophic impact on young people’s future employment prospects, there is a clear need for a rapid cross sector approach. The group will work to ensure young people receive quality support now, as well as helping plan for a healthy recovery of the youth labour market post-lockdown.
  • The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has warned that younger workers will be hit the hardest, as they are nearly two-and-a-half times more likely to work in a sector that is now shut down. The research also shows that on the eve of the crisis, sectors that shut down as a result of social distancing measures employed nearly a third (30%) of all employees under 25; compared to just one in eight (13%) of workers over 25.
  • The group’s membership meets virtually every week as they begin to pool together expertise and develop rapid solutions during and after lockdown. They have set up a LinkedIn Groupfor those interested.

Parliamentary updates

Online Voting: Chair of the Commons Procedure Committee, Karen Bradley, has written to Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle to confirm that the remote voting system for MPs is now ready to go live. The confirmation stated the system is suitable ad secure as long as MPs behave: MPs will have a “personal responsibility to ensure the integrity of the system”, a warning against letting others vote on their behalf. And with a tone as stern as the OfS’ she emphases: It is highly likely that any action by a Member which led to an authorised person casting a vote in a division would constitute a contempt of the House and a breach of the Code of Conduct, and would be likely to be punished accordingly.

Parliamentary Questions 

Schools – Q – Alex Sobel: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, whether his Department plans to allow parents who are in the covid-19 at risk groups to decide whether their children return to school, when schools reopen. [39792]

A – Nick Gibb: Schools will remain closed until further notice, except for children of critical workers and vulnerable children.

Heath Professions – Training – Q – Geraint Davies: To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, whether final year trainee (a) doctors and (b) nurses will be charged tuition fees while working for the NHS during the covid-19 outbreak. [37381]

A – Helen Whately:

  • Medical students and student nurses will continue to be required to pay tuition fees for their final term. Given the extended length of medical degrees, which can be up to six years in length, Health Education England pay medical student tuition fees from year 5 of study.
  • As part of the Government’s COVID-19 response, current year 5 medical students are currently being graduated by their medical schools early to enable them to apply for Provisional Registration with the General Medical Council, and if they so choose to deploy in to Foundation Year 1 posts. Those that do so will be contracted from the date they start their employment and employed under the 2016 terms and conditions for doctors and dentists in training. They will also continue to get their National Health Service bursary and student maintenance loan.
  • Year 3 nursing students have been invited to opt in to paid placements in the NHS. All students who do opt in to support the COVID-19 response will be rewarded fairly for their hard work. Students will be getting a salary and automatic NHS pension entitlement at the appropriate band. They will also still receive their student maintenance loan and Learning Support Fund payments too.
  • Decisions about the NHS workforce in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, including the funding that they provide for students, are a matter for the devolved administrations of those countries.

Scam Risk

C-19 and lockdown have increased fears that loved ones, particularly those newly venturing online, will experience attempts by scammers to obtain money, resources and personal information. You may be familiar with the work of BU’s National Centre for Post-Qualifying Social Work and Professional Practice. Professors Keith Brown, Lee-Ann Fenge and their close knit team have published many freely available downloadable guides in recent years, worked closely with Government agencies and held successful parliamentary receptions to raise the awareness of policy makers. The team have a new publication out – Scams the power of persuasive language. Do download it to take a look and share with loved ones, neighbours and vulnerable contacts. All the team’s publications on fraud, scams, mental capacity and advanced care planning can be accessed here.

Inquiries and Consultations

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

New consultations and inquiries this week:

The Skills Commission have launched a new inquiry, entitled; The Workforce of the Future – ‘Learning to earning’ transitions and career development in a challenging labour market.

Other nes

Student complaints: The Office of the Independent Adjudicator for HE (OIAHE) published the 2019 annual report setting out:

  • The number and outcomes of complaints received and closed
  • Examples of the complaints students make
  • Trends and common themes in complaints and lessons learnt

NUS VP for HE Claire Sosienski Smith commented on the report release making the same calls for action as in previous weeks:

  • “We know that next year, the number of complaints as outlined in the report might look quite different: NUS’ Coronavirus and Students Survey of 10,000 students showed that 74% of students are worried about the impact of the pandemic on their final qualifications and 20% of students who had been offered online learning did not agree that they were able to access it adequately. A lot of providers have been leading the way by offering ‘no detriment’ policies, to ensure that their students’ attainment is not unfairly captured by end of year exams this year. We believe a policy of no-detriment should be the way forward for the sector as a whole.
  • Students need a safety net, and urgently. The OIA is a fantastic service to make students more powerful, but it is set up for individuals or for small groups of students on courses. The pandemic has impacted every single student in the UK, and we need a national-level, government solution to this problem: that can only be the ability to redo the year at no extra cost, giving students the chance to make up for the education they are missing out on, or have their debt and fee payments written off or reimbursed.”

Graduate Outcomes: HESA announced dates for the publication of the first datasets from the Graduate Outcomes survey –  high-level findings on 18 June and the full release (including provider level data) on 23 June. This is a month’s delay to existing plans, and reflects the time required to prepare and assure data under lockdown conditions.

Virtual Open Days: Wonkhe have a thought nudging article on the benefits of a virtual campus tour for recruitment.

Evidence based policy making: Research Professional report that trust in science in at a record high in Germany with approval for evidence-based policy skyrocketing.

Apprenticeships: The Government have published their annual update on the apprenticeship reform programme. It reports progress towards the 3 million starts apprenticeships target between 2015 and 2020. The Government have achieved 69.6% of the 3 million target (2.09 million starts). Much fuller detail on other factors within the apprenticeship report is contained in the above 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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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 3rd May 2019

Did you know you can access previous editions of the policy update online here?  You can also find them on the BU research blog by searching on the “policy” category, although that is often a shorter version without the pictures.

Local elections

If you are reading this on Friday, the results are still being announced.  The main headline at the time of writing is that the Conservatives and Labour have been hit by a Brexit backlash – interestingly there is a contradiction between the view that people are fed up with the two main parties for bodging Brexit – and the fact that they seem to have voted for the Lib Dems instead.  Which would be odd, but of course it probably isn’t as simple as that.

With the Brexit party not standing, UKIP having swung perhaps too far to the right for those ex-Conservatives who have voted for them recently, and Labour holding their vague line on Brexit, leave voters may have had nowhere to go and may have stayed at home, while fed up remainers have turned out and voted Lib Dem.  As turn-out is apparently close to the last time, despite predictions it would be low, that doesn’t seem to stand up.

The Lib Dems were previously the party of local politics, especially in the South West.  Perhaps the swing back to them is just about local issues.  Or, maybe they have just recovered their national position after their post-coalition drubbing, as former Lib Dem voters have finally forgiven them.

And the much shouted about swing to independents may not be all it seems either.  We reviewed the candidates for the Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch election and found that a proportion of the independents had previously been Conservative or UKIP councillors or candidates.  So despite the potentially attractive image of a set of independent minded councillors who will change local politics, they may be the same people who are fed up with their former party for a range of reasons – national or local (perhaps opposed to the council merger for BCP) – and will therefore not advocate radical change if elected.  We’ll see.

All in all, while there will be a lot of handwringing and speculation, in the end there is no one story here.  A clearer view of the state of the nation might emerge from the EU votes, although they are likely to pull out the protest votes – people may vote for parties that they would never vote for in a general or even a local election just to make a point (especially as these appointments are likely to be short term and leave voters are fed up at having the elections at all).  And turn out in the EU elections may be spectacularly low for the same reason.

Local results:

Brexit goes missing

There is very little news on Brexit.  The government seem to have stopped pretending that the deal will be approved in time to stop the EU elections, the government/Labour party compromise discussions seem to be going nowhere and it has all gone very quiet.  No-one even asked the PM about it in PMQs.  At some point someone will have to do something if they don’t want a no deal Brexit by default in October, but there seems to be no hope of a breakthrough or plan to achieve one. It’s strange that we have gone so quickly from the chaos a parliamentary takeover and daily mini-crises to hopeless inaction.  And it really shows the importance of a deadline in politics.  Without one, they seem unable to do anything.  Perhaps they have just been distracted by the local elections, but it doesn’t seem likely.  Or perhaps everyone is waiting for someone else to find a solution.

Contextual Admissions

The OfS have published Contextual admissions – promoting fairness and rethinking merit challenging the sector ‘to be ambitious and innovative in reducing persistent inequalities in access and participation.’ They go on: ‘Contextual admissions are one way of doing this, but a more radical approach is needed if we are to achieve fair access.’… ‘In parts of the sector, good progress has been made in recruiting disadvantaged students. Overall, however, analysis shows that contextual admissions have not yet had a significant impact on fair access to higher education.’

 Key points:

  • While there has been some progress as a result of the increased use of contextual offers, gaps in equality of access between the most and least advantaged groups remain wide. Universities need to rethink how they are judging merit, rather than focusing narrowly on school exam success alone. A more radical use of contextual admissions is one way to achieve this conceptual shift.
  • Through reforming access and participation plans the OfS will instigate more honest self-assessment, more ambitious targets, more evidence-based measures and better evaluation. Each university will need to demonstrate how it will make progress to reduce its access gaps, including where appropriate the use of contextual admissions.
  • Alongside the government, the OfS will continue to work to persuade league table providers to use measures that do not penalise contextual admissions.
  • The OfS will encourage providers to evaluate their approaches rigorously and to share widely their approaches to admissions, including through the new ‘what works’ centre, the Centre for Transforming Access and Student Outcomes in Higher Education and the A to Z guidance on effective practice.

The University of Bristol is included as a case study and OfS praise the ‘evolving approach’ at Bristol since 2009. Accepted students are automatically offered a lower grade if they attend a state school in the bottom 40 per cent for attainment, live in POLAR3 quintiles 1 or 2, have completed a University of Bristol outreach event, or have spent time in care. Although the students are not offered any additional targeted support once admitted, research has shown that students admitted to Bristol with one grade lower than the entry requirements do just as well as, if not better than, those admitted on the standard offer.

The publication concludes: The OfS has high expectations of universities and colleges to reduce equality gaps in relation to access and participation. Through our reforms to regulating access and participation, we are giving them the time and flexibility to be more ambitious and to innovate.

Read more on the OfS’ expectations and other case studies here.

BAME attainment

Universities UK and NUS have co-published a report on BAME attainment at Universities. It covers how a student’s race and ethnicity can significantly affect their degree outcomes highlighting that the biggest gap is that between white student and students from Black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds getting a ‘good degree’ (first- or upper-second-class degree) at 13% in 2017–18 graduates. It calls on the sector to partner meaningfully with students and robustly demonstrate commitment to addressing the BAME attainment gap.

Key Recommendations:

  • The Office for Students, (OfS) Evidence and Impact Exchange should systematically review ‘what works’ (as well as what does not) as a priority, to inform universities’ investment and strategies to address the attainment gap.
  • The government’s Race Disparity Audit should consider how it can support different parts of UK civil society – including universities – that are addressing similar, structural inequalities, and draw together evidence on how different types of organisations have achieved success.
  • Universities should raise greater awareness amongst staff of how to support BAME students, gain greater insight into BAME students’ perceptions, and ensure practices and initiatives on this issue reflect varied experiences and needs.

Read more here.

Amatey Doku, Vice President Higher Education, National Union of Students, said: I ask university leaders, from whom strong leadership on these issues is essential, not to treat the BAME attainment gap as a numbers game. Data analytics and targets will be critical to ensuring that there is accountability and transparency, but we must never lose sight of the fact that we are dealing with the lives of individuals who face systematic discrimination from all parts of society.

Social Mobility

The Social Mobility Commission (restarted last year after all its members resigned) have published the State of the Nation 2018-19: Social Mobility in Great Britain report stating inequality is now entrenched in Britain from birth to work, and calling on the Government to take urgent action to help close the privilege gap.  The report looks at early childhood, schools, FE, universities, and work to reiterate familiar messages that social mobility has stagnated for the last 4 years. The report analyses Office for National Statistics (ONS) data to show the wide gap in school attainment and income between the rich and the poor has barely shifted, with the financially better off nearly 80% more likely to end up in professional jobs than those from a working-class background. Other findings include:

  • People from more affluent backgrounds are 70% more likely to move region than those from working class backgrounds and are three times more likely to move to London
  • The class pay gap: those from working class backgrounds earn 24% less a year than those from professional backgrounds. Even when those from working-class backgrounds are successful in entering professional occupations, they earn on average 17% less than their more privileged colleagues.
  • Living standards: there are now 500,000 more children in poverty than in 2012. Those from working class backgrounds are less likely to own a home than those from more privileged backgrounds. Young people are less likely to own a home, and typically earn less than in previous generations.

To help address this inequality, the commission calls on the government to:

  • extend eligibility and uptake of the 30 hour childcare offer to those only working 8 hours a week, as a first step to make it available to more low-income families
  • raise per pupil funding by a significant amount for those aged 16 to 19, and introduce a new pupil premium for disadvantaged students in that age group
  • become an accredited voluntary living wage employer so that government departments pay the voluntary living wage to civil servants and all contracted workers including cleaning and catering staff

Dame Martina Milburn, chair of the commission, said: “Our research suggests that being able to move regions is a key factor in being able to access professional jobs. Clearly moving out is too often necessary to move up. At a time when our country needs to be highly productive and able to carve out a new role in a shifting political and economic landscape, we must find a way to maximise the talent of all our citizens, especially those that start the furthest behind.”

Matthew Fell, CBI Chief UK Policy Director, said: “Social mobility is fundamental to people feeling that the economy is working for them. Most companies understand their responsibilities and want to do even more to support the next generation of talented people from all backgrounds. Companies succeed when they embrace life-long learning and work with schools and colleges to give young people the best start in life. That’s why the Government must end the financial neglect of England’s further education system and carefully consider this recommendation as part of its Spending Review.”

EU tuition fees post-Brexit

Over the weekend BuzzFeed leaked plans suggesting the Government is considering an increase in tuition fees and ending EU financial support. The government has previously confirmed that all EU students starting courses in the UK in the 2019/20 academic year are eligible for student finance and will be treated as “home” students for fee purposes – regardless of whether the UK leaves the EU with a deal or not.  Scotland has recently extended their own guarantee to students starting in September 2020.  The UK government has not confirmed what will happen in the 2020/21 academic year.  It was always expected that – unless a post-Brexit deal is done with the EU which includes an ongoing arrangement about EU student finance – at some point the UK government would stop requiring universities to treat them as home students and stop providing student finance.

So what would happen then?  The absence of student loans would probably impact the number of EU students coming to the UK, but also the demographic of those students who do come – like international students now, EU students would have to find their own fees.  They do not usually qualify for maintenance loans (unless they have been resident in the UK for a number of years).

And what would those fees be?  The press articles assume that they would be the same as other international students.  It is important to note that the government does not set international student fees, and so a steep rise in tuition fees for EU students is not guaranteed.  At the time of the referendum, there was an argument made that it would be anti-competitive for universities to charge (say) US students one fee and EU students something less, in the absence of an agreement between governments.  The government has taken its current position unilaterally, as has the Scottish government, but there could be complaints by non-EU students against individual universities who chose to do the same in the future.  One way to mitigate this might be to offer bursaries to EU students, but again, that might be challenged.

The rumours over the weekend suggest that the government is going to announce that their current policy (of extending the guarantee a year at a time) will finally end – perhaps for students starting in 2020 or maybe 2021.

UUK are quoted in the Guardian:

  • “It is essential there is no further delay in the UK government confirming the fee status for EU students starting courses at English universities in autumn 2020. The recruitment cycle is already well under way,” a spokesperson for Universities UK said.
  • “The ongoing uncertainty is restricting student choice and the ability of English universities to recruit the best students from the EU. Whatever the eventual fee status of EU nationals, universities need at least 18 months’ notice of any change.”
  • A DfE spokesperson said: “Last year, we announced that students from the EU starting courses in England in the 2019-20 academic year will continue to be eligible for home fee status, which means they will be charged the same tuition fees as UK students.
  • “The government will provide sufficient notice for prospective EU students on fee arrangements ahead of the 2020-21 academic year and subsequent years in the future.”

And what about the impact?  You may remember at the time of the referendum there was a big argument about whether EU students repay their loans – the suggestion being that this was a huge hidden contribution that the UK was making to EU citizens.  The SLC brought out a repayment strategy to address this.

HESA have the data about where EU students come from but it’s in rather more digestible form from the Complete University Guide here.  One possibility as noted above is that the overall numbers of non UK students may not fall or at least not drop off completely, but that the demographic might change, so that we will see fewer EU students from less wealthy backgrounds.

Parliamentary debate

On Monday the Opposition tabled an urgent question on EU tuition fees. Universities Minister Chris Skidmore said no decision had been made yet but that the Government would provide enough notice for 2020/21 applicants. The Opposition also questioned the Government’s International Education Strategy expansion plans (more on this below), the Minister explained the need to attract HE students from all corners of the globe and think beyond EU residents. Carol Monaghan, SNP Shadow Education Secretary, highlighted that despite Scotland’s continuation of free tuition for EU students they anticipate a drop in EU demand because the “European temporary leave to remain scheme will not suit many courses”.  She also asked when the post-study work scheme would be reintroduced for international students (EU and globally). The Minister said the immigration white paper would tackle this issue and reminded that postgraduate fees were separate from this discussion of EU undergraduate fees and that the Government “do not want to do anything that will damage the potential of UK universities to research and continue with their research partnerships”. The post-study work issue was raised again in light of the length and greater expense of medical and dental degrees highlighting that the lack of opportunity to work in the UK after completion was hurting recruitment. Skidmore acknowledged this was particularly an issue for the Scottish Universities. Politics Home ran an article quoting Jo Johnson as in favour of the post-study work visa: Britain [is] missing out on billions of pounds, and losing top talent to other countries, by limiting their post-study stay to just four months.

Former Universities Minister, Sam Gyimah, took part in the debate stating: “whilst no decision has yet been made on this specific policy, the cumulative impact of some our policy decisions, whether it’s the immigration cap, which would make it more difficult for researchers from abroad to come and work and study here, whether its policy which would hike up fees for EU students or lack of clarity on Erasmus, the cumulative effect could be that we are undermining the university sector.”

Speaking outside of the debate previous Education Secretary Justine Greening also criticised the proposal to end EU fee remission: “As one company put it to me recently, Britain is in a talent war. We won’t be successful in that if we put up more barriers to encouraging talent, from home or abroad.”

During the urgent question debate Vicky Ford MP alluded to a recent agreement between the EU27 and UK on future cooperation in science, innovation, youth, culture and education, calling for “fair and appropriate financial contribution”. She encouraged members to vote for the Government’s withdrawal agreement to guarantee such a future relationship. Chris Skidmore agreed stating that the UK does disproportionately well out of scientific grants from the EU and confirmed that he would attend the EU Competitiveness Council meeting on 28th May.

There was some to and fro over whether subsiding EU students to study in Britain prevented students coming from elsewhere, particularly developing countries.

Chris Skidmore’s tone was on the whole supportive and positive of the contribution that Universities make. In conclusion to the urgent question discussion he said: “we have provided the certainty on 2019-20, and an announcement on 2020-21 will be made shortly. Any future policies will be part of those future negotiations, which, if we can have the EU deal voted through by the House, we will be able to get on with”.

Post-18 Review – policy options

The Education Policy Institute have published a report examining the evidence on various policy options for the Government ahead of the Augar Review. The report scrutinises policy proposals on tuition fees, student support, and non-HE funding; it outlines the evidence for each policy option, before setting out recommendations on how the government should proceed.

Key Findings:

  • Proposals from the government and opposition parties to reduce or abolish tuition fees, or lower interest rates, would have a regressive impact. Most of the high profile options for reform would benefit higher earners, and have little impact on improving education access or quality.
  • To help address inequities between higher and further education funding, maintenance loans should be extended to 19-23 year olds pursuing vocational, level 3 qualifications. The government should offer more financial support to those pursuing study outside of higher education. Currently, vocational learners are not entitled to maintenance loans.
  • The government should avoid a system in which tuition fees vary by subject or university. Varying fees by subject to steer students toward high demand courses has been ineffective when applied in other countries, with demand largely unresponsive to changes in price. Varying fees by institution may entrench inequality. Rewarding high graduate returns with extra funding may penalise institutions with high proportions of disadvantaged students.
  • Imposing a minimum academic standard to access university loans – a ‘UCAS tariff floor’ – should not be introduced without strong evidence that the majority of those denied loans would be better off pursuing other education routes.

You can read the full detail here.

 Rt Hon David Laws, Executive Chairman, EPI said: Many of the most widely discussed policy options would be likely to have little or no impact on participation or education quality, and higher earning graduates would often be the major gainers from reform – even though it is arguable that in education terms they are not the obvious priority at a time when difficult public spending choices are necessary.

International Expansion

Education Secretary Damian Hinds delivered a speech on the Government’s International Education Strategy (published in March). He confirmed that the strategy aims to increase the number of international higher education students to 600,000 by 2030. Hinds said:

In higher education we are still gaining volume, but we are losing share, as we have grown around 5% from 435,000 students in 2013/14 to 458,000 in 2017/18. We do have quite a reliance on one source market – albeit a very big one: China. We should look to develop both existing markets but to diversify and develop new and sustainable opportunities too, for example continuing to grow the Indian market, and countries from South East Asia and Africa too.

We need to talk about Education Technology too. This is a flourishing business sector for the UK, with a steadily growing export market. We know that domestic market development and export success are closely linked, so we will support UK EdTech businesses in both.

Specifically, this means:

  • defining 10 new “EdTech challenges” to galvanise industry action on some real-world issues faced by the education sector where technology has strong potential to drive progress;
  • helping to forge new connections between technology innovators and their users, through the creation of testbed schools and colleges; and
  • supporting more effective procurement practice for both suppliers and users. For example, through support for BESA’s LendED platforms – a try-before-you-buy service linking EdTech companies and educators.

It has never been more important for us to be globally-minded, outward looking and ambitious. The competition has never been fiercer. But the opportunities have never been greater. They are there to be taken.

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

Food for thought: Results of two interesting national polls:

Schools – Ofsted positivity: Ofsted published their fourth annual parents survey which explores parents’ awareness and perceptions of the regulator and is used to feed into Ofsted’s strategic priorities. Key points:

  • 68% of parents agreed that Ofsted is a valuable source of information about education within the local area
  • 68% believe Ofsted’s work helps to improve standards of education (this was a statistically significant increase compared to the previous year results)
  • 65% agreed that Ofsted provides a reliable measure of a schools quality (statistically significant increase)
  • 65% of parents agree that Ofsted is a valuable source of information about childcare in local areas
  • 9 out of 10 (89%) parents know the Ofsted rating of their child’s childcare provider or school.
  • Parents are most likely to feel ‘core’ subjects of Maths, English and Science are sufficiently covered in their child’s education. However, 4 in 10 parents or less feel that subjects such as Art, Music, Languages and D&T are sufficiently covered
  • Three quarters of parents feel Ofsted is a reliable source of information and there has been a drop in parents who feel their judgements are unreliable (down 3% to 16%). However, some parents were concerned that the Ofsted reports didn’t provide an accurate representation of what that school is like, and some felt the reports were pointless as they would be sending their child to that school anyway.

Read more or delve deeper into the pretty charts representing the data from page 11 onwards.

Disinformation Committee: Fake news and disinformation continue to be of importance to the public so the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee are launching a new sub-committee on Disinformation:

  • We believe that there is a public interest in continuing our examination of the continuing threat posed by disinformation to democracies.
  • In order to do this, we are forming a new Sub-Committee on Disinformation. We are launching a new website and will hold evidence sessions in May 2019 with the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Rt Hon Jeremy Wright QC MP, and with the Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham. Among other issues, we will discuss with them the Government’s response to our report on ‘Disinformation and ‘Fake News’’, and the White Paper on Online Harms, due to be published shortly.
  • …we plan to make use of the new Standing Order enabling us to invite members of any other select committee to attend any meeting of the Sub-Committee to ask questions of witnesses. In this way, the Sub-Committee will become Parliament’s ‘institutional home’ for matters concerning disinformation and data privacy; a focal point that will bring together those seeking to scrutinise and examine this threat to democracy.
  • In launching this Sub-Committee, we are creating a standing programme of work. It signals our commitment to continuing our rigorous scrutiny of democratic accountability, and to play our part in protecting individuals from the insidious onslaught of disinformation and digital disruption. We look forward to continuing the highly important work that we have begun.

School work experience: Founders4schools and LKMco have published a joint report on young people and work experience, focussed upon making work experience fit for purpose. This highlights that the quality of work experience is hugely variable, and often very poor. A large proportion of young people do not think the work experience they undertake is good quality. However the quality is likely to be higher for more affluent pupils, who have access to stronger, higher-status networks relevant to their needs and aspirations. Key points:

  • Many young people do not have access at all. Survey data indicates that half of young people aged 14- to 25-years-old have not participated in work experience.
  • Demographic characteristics affect access to work experience opportunities. Poverty, minority ethnic status, gender and special educational need or disabilities all reduce pupils’ likelihood of participating.
  • Access is also affected by subject choices. Pupils choosing ‘academic’ routes in school are less likely to participate in work experience. In addition, work experience is more readily available in certain sectors and organisations than others.

Carolyn Fairbairn, Director-General, CBI said: “… young people who have at least four interactions with business at school are five times less likely to be unemployed as an adult, with early exposure to business – whether through work experience, internships, mentoring or career talks – helping young people to feel better prepared.”

Ed Tech investment: The Australian SEEK Group have invested £50 million to half own the FutureLearn social learning platform in partnership with the Open University making this it largest ever private-sector EdTech investment in Europe. FutureLearn currently has over 9 million learners.

  • OU VC Mary Kellett said: “Our partnership with SEEK and the investment in FutureLearn will take our unique mission to make education open for all into new parts of the world. Education improves lives, communities and economies and is a truly global product, with no tariffs on ideas.”
  • The partnership with SEEK will have contractual arrangements in place to protect the University’s academic independence, teaching methods and curriculum.
  • SEEK CEO, Andrew Bassat, said: “This investment follows the same logic applied to IDP and Online Education Services ‘OES’ in that we like to invest in disruptive business models that provide world class student education outcomes. Technology is increasing the accessibility of quality education and can help millions of people up-skill and re-skill to adapt to rapidly changing labour markets. We see FutureLearn as a key enabler for education at scale”.
  • FutureLearn CEO Simon Nelson said: “This investment allows us to focus on developing more great courses and qualifications that both learners and employers will value. This includes building a portfolio of micro-credentials and broadening our range of flexible, fully online degrees and being able to enhance support for our growing number of international partners to empower them to build credible digital strategies, and in doing so, transform access to education.” 

Rankings: The Complete University Guide published its University League Table 2020.

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

JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

 

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

Tuition Fees – means testing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Education Spending

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

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

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

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

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

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

The key points from the IFS report:

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

Higher Education

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

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

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

Other fees and funding news

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

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

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

Graduate Employability

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Admissions

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

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

Explore the data more through interactive charts here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Electoral Registration

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

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

Staff Migration

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

Labour Market Impacts:

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

Productivity, innovation, investment and training impacts

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

Public finance and public fund impacts

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

Public service impacts

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

Summary of recommendations for work migration post-Brexit:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The survey also calls for:

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

On the new universities it continues:

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

International Students

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

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

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

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

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

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

Artificial Intelligence

Advent of AI leads to job refocus

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

A parliamentary question on AI was responded to this week:

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

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

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

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

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

Technological Change

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

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

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

Research

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

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

Other news

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

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HE Policy update for the w/e 23rd February 2018

It has been a busy week with the launch of the “major review of HE fees and funding” (except it may not be…) on Monday and a deluge of commentary and calls for change to follow. And other things happened too.

Major Review of HE

The much announced, long postponed HE “major” review is finally happening. And following the early start during last summer’s “national conversation” there is a lot to say – and it is being said. So we will try to help you navigate the many, many arguments and angles over the next year .

To start with the facts

  • The review has been announced, it has a panel and terms of reference (these are very short and high level). There are links to the speeches and press releases on the gov.uk website. The PM’s speech is here: The right education for everyone
  • The review will run for a year with an interim report (not sure when) – and will be concluded in early 2019.

Panel (from the website):

  • Chaired by Philip Augar, a leading author and former non-executive director of the Department for Education
  • Bev Robinson – Principal of Blackpool and The Fylde College. She has over 20 years’ experience in Further and Higher education colleges in England and has been Awarded an OBE for her services to FE.
  • Edward Peck – Vice-Chancellor of Nottingham Trent University since August 2014. Previously, Professor Peck worked at the University of Birmingham as Director of the Health Services Management Centre and subsequently became Head of the School of Public Policy in 2006.
  • Alison Wolf – (Baroness Wolf of Dulwich) a cross-bench peer in the House of Lords, and author of the influential Wolf Review of Vocational Education, published in 2011. She has advised the House of Commons select committee on education and skills as well as the OECD, the Ministries of Education of New Zealand, France and South Africa, and the European Commission among others.
  • Sir Ivor Martin Crewe – Master of University College, Oxford and President of the Academy of Social Sciences. He is the former Chair of the 1994 Group and President of Universities UK.
  • Jacqueline De Rojas – President of techUK and the chair of the Digital Leaders board. She also serves on the government’s Digital Economy Council and was awarded a CBE for Services to International Trade in Technology in the Queen’s New Year Honours list 2018.

The terms of reference

After that there is much less detail – it all becomes less about facts and more about politics.  Firstly – the review is a DfE review not an independent review – the external panel is advisory – the website says:

  • The wide-ranging review will be informed by independent advice from an expert panel from across post 18 education, business and academia”.

There is a total absence of process in any of the materials published so far. So what will the process be? Will there be a consultation? Surely there will be – but this does not look like the sort of review that has led to major review in the past.

Then there is the timing. The review will run for a year with an interim report at some point– and will be concluded in early 2019. Which, as has been pointed out, coincides with Brexit (we are due to leave and start the “transition” period on 29th March 2019) – and has also been pointed out, may coincide with a leadership change or a general election in the UK – depending on how things are going with Brexit including how things go with the parliamentary “meaningful vote” on Brexit.

The Minister for Universities was very open on this subject the question of timing early after his appointment (see our policy update from 2nd Feb)– he said it would not be “credible” to expect changes before the 2018/19 intake. On the announced timing, the changes may not be in time to take effect before the 2019/20 intake either – although less significant changes to the current system, such as interest rates, repayment thresholds, small changes to fee caps, would be possible. If maintenance grants are part of the change they could be in place for 2019/20 entry although they may not affect access that year as most students will already have applied or made other plans – unless plans are trailed very heavily in the interim report and clear indication is given that they will be in place. But we are leaping ahead.

After much discussion about the need to review funding for Further Education as well, and people talking about a post-16 review, the terms of reference call it a “Review of Post-18 Education and Funding”. So it does apply to FE but only applies to post-18 provision.

So it is a major review of fees and funding?

The title is important – it is a review of “Education and Funding”. The speech and the terms of reference were revealing – at least as it has been announced, this is not primarily a review of tuition fees and university funding. What it is (from the terms of reference) is “a major review across post-18 education and funding to ensure a joined up system that works for everyone”.

  • It’s a review of the “system”.
  • Its objectives are:
    • accessibility of the education system
    • a funding system that “provides value for money and works for students and taxpayers”
    • choice and competition
    • skills development

But isn’t this already happening anyway?

So the review is about choice, competition, flexible provision, accelerated degrees, degree apprenticeships, technical education. We already have:

  • the changes put in place by the Higher Education and Research Act
  • the arrangements for the Office for Students and new regulatory system to promote choice and accessibility
  • a new regime for alternative providers
  • an consultation on accelerated degrees which has just closed
  • arrangements for degree apprenticeships and Institutes of Technology
  • a plan for better careers advice (see our policy update from 8th December)

The two areas that have not been addressed by existing initiative are part-time and life-time education.

Might the review therefore make new recommendations to take these initiatives and priorities forward?

In her speech the PM said:

  • This is a review which, for the first time, looks at the whole post-18 education sector in the round, breaking down false boundaries between further and higher education, so we can create a system which is truly joined-up.  Universities – many of which provide technical as well as academic courses – will be considered alongside colleges, Institutes of Technology and apprenticeship providers. There are huge success stories to be found right across the sector, at every level, and by taking a broad view, Philip and his expert panel will be able to make recommendations which help the sector to be even better in the future.”

So it seems not. It is about “joining up” and “breaking down false barriers between further and higher education”. What does that mean? Changing admissions policies after recent press relating to BTECs? (see a recent HEFCE publication here), doing something to support pathways from FE to HE. From the terms of reference it seems to be about transparency and choice for students in relation to funding.

That’s really interesting. Degree apprentices not only don’t pay (or borrow) tuition fees, but they also receive a salary while completing their apprenticeship. That will be a real incentive and as more apprenticeships become available over time is likely to have an impact on enrolments for traditional degrees. So is this just about making sure that more students realise the financial implications of apprenticeships?

Or is this something different – is this hinting at having one single system of funding for all post-18 education at whatever level? If based on loans, that would reduce the value of the current apprenticeship offer – and it would not help with recruitment to achieve the government’s target. But there could be – the government is piloting a flexible lifetime learning fund.

It is interesting that the two quotes alongside the PM’s on the website are from the CBI and David Hughes, Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges, who said:

  • “I am very pleased that the Review is looking at the whole system of post-18 education funding. The growth in higher education numbers and the widened access has almost exclusively been for young people taking traditional 3 year undergraduate degrees. That is good news for our economy and for society, and must not be damaged going forward.
  • However, that very growth has been at the expense of adequate and fair investment in the 50% of young people who leave education at 18 and who want to study to higher levels later. Their opportunities have been hampered because of the lack of attention, leading to fewer chances, less funding and a lack of support for them to learn whilst working.”

It will be interesting to see what questions the review starts to ask and where this goes.

It’s all about skills

Consistent with the Industrial Strategy, the term of reference talk about skills.  The Industrial Strategy has a focus on skills which is supported by a whole raft of educational policies, some before 18, such as the new T-levels, and some mentioned already, such as Institutes of Technology and degree apprenticeships.  This is another area where it will be interesting to see what more the review will do beyond the policies already announced. After all, Baroness Wolf was the author of the review on vocational education for 16-19 year olds.

Of course, there is also the potential link between skills and differentiated fees or funding (see below).

It’s about fairness and access

The first point is about access, progression and success for people from disadvantaged backgrounds – a consistent theme from the PM since her appointment – the “great meritocracy” and a focus on social mobility. This is enshrined in the rules of engagement for the Office for Students, and we are eagerly awaiting the first set of guidance from the Office for Students on the next round of fair access agreements. So the review might look at how this is going and what more could be done – although it seems a bit early as this the first opportunity the OfS will have had since taking over.

The second point is very important.   You won’t have missed the many calls from students, the NUS, UUK and others to remember that tuition fees are not the whole story – and that day to day, the real worry for many students is their living costs.

  • Unlike tuition fees, which for undergraduate students are covered in full by loans paid directly to universities, so that they never see the money or the bill until much later, concerns about maintenance costs directly affect students while they are at university.
  • Maintenance loans are means tested based on family income. They therefore fluctuate each year, leaving parents to make up the difference. Not all parents are able, or willing to do that, especially when the assessment depends on last year’s income – which may have changed.
  • The cost of living for students can be extremely high, especially in London, but also depending on the available accommodation – so even students with a full loans are unlikely in many cases to have enough money to cover all their living expenses.
  • Students may have to work to support themselves, which can have an impact on their studies.
  • There are concerns about the impact that this pressure has on the wellbeing and mental health of students.

So many have called , not least UUK, to look at a reintroduction of maintenance grants for disadvantaged students. Could this be the big change that this review will recommend?

Before anyone gets carried away, though, the terms of reference refer to support from the government and from universities and colleges. Is this a reference to the question of bursaries – OFFA have for a long time questioned the effectiveness of bursaries in supporting access and with the new focus on participation and outcomes this area may now be looked at again.

According to OFFA, in 2015/16, universities spent:

  • £447.5 million on financial support, of which:
    • £428.8 million on bursaries, scholarships and fee waivers (discounts) for lower income students and other under-represented groups. The vast majority of this money (87 per cent) went to the poorest students i.e. those with a household income under £25,000
    • £18.7 million on hardship funds for students experiencing severe financial difficulties.

Could universities be directed to increase bursary funding (and presumably not reduce other fair access expenditure)? That seems unlikely given the OFFA view that bursaries don’t necessarily improve access – OFFA have recently challenged institutions to collect evidence about impact. Maybe there are different ways of organising bursaries.

There are already concerns expressed in the new regulatory framework about universities gaming the system to improve outcomes by cutting back on WP students but the conflict would be even greater if universities have to fund maintenance costs for WP students. So universities may be calling for incentives and support if the funding is to come from them and not in the form of grants.

So it’s about fees and funding?

So while we have said above that the review is about the system, about skills and about social mobility, of course fees and funding are at the heart of the review. Aren’t they?

What the PM said was:

  • But the review will also look more widely, and examine our whole system of student funding.  There are many aspects of the current system which work well.  Universities in England are now better funded than they have been for a generation. And sharing the cost of university between taxpayers as a whole and the graduates who directly benefit from university study is a fair principle. It has enabled us to lift the cap on the number of places – which was in effect a cap on aspiration – so universities can expand and so broaden access.
  • But I know that other aspects of the system are a cause for serious concern – not just for students themselves, but parents and grandparents too. This is a concern which I share. The competitive market between universities which the system of variable tuition fees envisaged has simply not emerged. All but a handful of universities charge the maximum possible fees for undergraduate courses.
  • Three-year courses remain the norm.
  • And the level of fees charged do not relate to the cost or quality of the course. We now have one of the most expensive systems of university tuition in the world.  We have already begun to take action to address some of these concerns. We scrapped the increase in fees that was due this year, and we have increased the amount graduates can earn before they start repaying their fees to £25,000.
  • The review will now look at the whole question of how students and graduates contribute to the cost of their studies including the level, terms and duration of their contribution. Our goal is a funding system which provides value for money for graduates and taxpayers, so the principle that students as well as taxpayers should contribute to the cost of their studies is an important one. I believe – as do most people, including students – that those who benefit directly from higher education should contribute directly towards the cost of it. That is only fair. 
  • The alternative – shifting the whole burden of university tuition onto the shoulders of taxpayers as a whole – would have three consequences.
  • First, it would inevitably mean tax increases for the majority of people who did not go to university, and who on average earn less than those who did.
  • Second, it would mean our universities competing with schools and hospitals for scarce resources, which in the past meant they lost out, putting their international pre-eminence at risk.
  • And third, it would mean the necessary re-introduction of a cap on numbers, with the Treasury regulating the number of places an institution could offer, and preventing the expansion which has driven wider access in recent years.
  • That is not my idea of a fair or progressive system.”

So no major review of the funding system, then. Instead it will look at “the whole question of how students and graduates contribute to the cost of their studies including the level, terms and duration of their contribution”. That’s not a shift away from loans to government funding of HE although it may be a shift towards renaming and changing the current system as a graduate tax of some form. It suggests a review of interest rates, and of the 30 year repayment term. Many will argue that this is not the “whole question” at all. And of course the review may be faced with overwhelming evidence that there is more to the issue than this, despite the assumptions made at the start.

And the Prime Minister herself chose to describe the system as broken:

  • “…we must have an education system at all levels which serves the needs of every child. And if we consider the experience which many young people have of our system as it is, it is clear that we do not have such a system today.”

This is a direct response to the argument that young people turned to Labour partly as a result of the Labour position on fees – see my blog for the Lighthouse group on this. More recent research has questioned whether young people really did turn out in force after all.

It is worth mentioning here that the idea that the PM has just realised that tuition fees are high is odd – but apart from the point that this is a result of her own party’s policy in the coalition government there is a real point here – i.e. that nearly all courses cost the same. Many of those involved in the changes to tuition fees – including David Willetts, have said that was not what was expected. I have heard, but have not seen any analysis, that although fees generally replaced HEFCE funding (so no windfall), there was an uplift in university income because the modelling did not assume that the full amount would be charged for all courses. Of course the change in the student number cap has meant an increase in income as well – but with associated costs.

The news over the weekend was all about differentiated fees. There is nothing about that as an outcome in the terms of reference.   They do however refer to the problems that might drive the review towards differentiated fees

  • the fact that most universities charge maximum fees for their courses (implication is that this may not be value for money – but the value for money section doesn’t refer to it
  • the fact that graduate debt has increased but salaries haven’t
  • the issues raised by the PM in her speech “…the level of fees charged do not relate to the cost or quality of the course”.

There are various ways that fees could be differentiated, on cost, on quality, on outcomes, or by having differentiated fees for different groups of students, different fees for course that support the skills agenda, for example, or a combination of all of them. Read some of our earlier analysis of this in my blog for the Lighthouse Group in October. See what students think about this idea in the section about the HEPI report below.

We’ll be watching and reporting on the next steps and the main ideas raised be commentators over the next months.

Differential tuition fees

Talk of differential tuition fees has been constant over the last year and as described above this is a likely feature of the review. The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) have responded by publishing a report Differential tuition fees: Horses for courses? summarising the debate and results from a relevant student survey.

Here are excerpts from HEPI’s briefing on the report’s contents:

  • around two-thirds of students (63%) think full-time undergraduate courses should all have the same fees while one-in-three disagree (33%)
  • when asked to state a preference, students prefer higher fees for ‘courses that cost more to teach’ (57%) than ‘courses that lead to higher earnings’ (17%) or ‘courses at more famous universities’ (7%)
  • when questioned about the possibility of introducing higher fees for some subjects, more than half of students (52%) say higher fees might be justified for Medicine but just 7% think they could be justified for Arts (such as History or English) and only 6% for Modern Languages
  • when questioned about the possibility of introducing lower fees for some subjects, 39% say lower fees might be justified for Arts (such as History or English), but just 9% think they could be justified for Law and only 8% for Physics
  • most students (59 per cent) oppose lower fees for poorer students, although a substantial minority (38 per cent) back the idea

The survey was conducted using YouthSight’s Student Omnibus survey, which is the UK’s largest panel of young people, and there were 1,019 full-time undergraduate respondents. Quotas were set on gender, university type and year of study and weights were applied to ensure a balanced sample. Respondents received a £1 Amazon gift voucher

There is a lack of consensus among those who favour greater differentiation in fees for undergraduate students:

  • some want lower fees for science and engineering courses;
  • some want lower fees for disadvantaged students;
  • some want lower fees for less prestigious universities;
  • some want lower fees for courses that tend to deliver poorer outcomes;
  • some want lower fees for courses that tend to deliver higher earnings;
  • some want lower fees for less intensive courses; and
  • some want a free for all with no fee caps.

The possibility of introducing greater price differentiation for undergraduate degrees has been under discussion for at least 20 years, since the Dearing report appeared in 1997. Variable fees for undergraduates were the most controversial aspect of Tony Blair’s Higher Education Act (2004), the main recommendation of the Browne review (2010) and promised by the Coalition.

Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI, said:

  • ‘Different degrees are already meant to cost different amounts but, in England, fees have bunched up at the maximum price of £9,250 a year. Moving to a system of truly differential fees has many influential supporters. Some people seem to think having different fees for different degrees is inevitable. But the supporters of differential fees are deeply split on who should pay less and who should pay more, while most students reject the whole idea. At first glance, differential fees appear to have some advantages. It seems they could help poorer students, send signals about the value of different courses or help satisfy labour market needs. But, on closer inspection, these benefits prove to be largely illusory. Students are not price sensitive when choosing courses and differential fees are not even guaranteed to bring extra resources to universities. There are sound reasons why course fees have bunched at the level of the current fee cap. In opposing differential fees, students appear – yet again – to understand the logic of the current funding system better than many of its critics. It is vital the Government’s funding review takes the whole picture in to account.’

Treasury Committee Student Loan Review

Before the major review of HE was announced the Treasury Committee published the outcome report of its review into student loans.

  • The report found no justification for student loan interest rates to be above the market or inflation rate and called for the Government to ditch the ‘flawed’ RPI method of interest calculation.
  • It criticised the accumulation of loan interest pre-graduation.
  • The committee concluded that reducing tuition fees would be regressive (only the highest earning graduates benefit and university funding would reduce).
  • The report criticised the replacement of grants with maintenance loans inferring the government was creating additional barriers for the very students they were trying to encourage to attend University.
  • A fundamental rethink of part time funding should take place
  • Sharia-compliant student loans should be introduced as soon as possible
  • Simplify the system to ensure that student finance is better communicated
  • The report recommended the Government consider transferring responsibility for loans away from the Student Loans Company to HMRC.

Reported in Research Professional the Treasury Committee said:

  • …it welcomes the planned major review of student financing and university funding, initially announced in October 2017. However, it said it hoped that the universities and science minister Sam Gyimah would keep more of an “open mind” than his predecessor Jo Johnson, who “regrettably” ruled out radical change to the system through the review.

Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF)

Read John Vinney’s blog KEF: the missing HE accountability link, or an unnecessary distraction? published by Wonkhe. The blog considers how a discipline level KEF with a wider set of benchmarked metrics supplemented by qualitative assessment would benefit the sector. It calls for Government to reconsider the limitations of the current KEF proposals:

  • One of the often-repeated strengths of the REF is that it allows excellence to be highlighted and celebrated (and funded) wherever it is found. The KEF could do the same for knowledge exchange. But not without a much broader view of knowledge exchange, and a much wider, more meaningful, and fairer assessment. The definition phase for the KEF seems to have been skipped in a rush towards more metrics – we hope that it will be reconsidered.

Widening Participation

A parliamentary question focussed on low household income applicants:

Q – Dan Carden: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps his Department is taking to increase the number of people from lower socio-economic backgrounds applying to university.

A – Sam Gyimah:

  • Widening participation is a central priority for this government….The independent Office for Fair Access, led by the Director of Fair Access (DfA), is the regulator currently responsible for widening access to higher education (HE) in England (a function that will soon transfer to the Office for Students). HE providers wishing to charge tuition fees above the basic fee level must have an Access Agreement, setting out their targets and planned expenditure to improve access for disadvantaged and under-represented groups, and approved by the DfA.
  • The department is introducing sweeping reforms through legislation. The Office for Students (OfS) will have a statutory duty to promote equality of opportunity, across the whole lifecycle for disadvantaged students, not just access. As a result, widening access and participation will be at the core of the OfS’ functions. The department’s reforms will introduce a Transparency Duty requiring HE providers to publish application, offer, acceptance, dropout and attainment rates of students by ethnicity, gender and socio-economic background. This will help to hold the sector to account for their record on access and retention of students from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

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.

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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 19th January 2018

A quieter week policy-wise following the cabinet reshuffle.

New minister – new set of priorities?

Our new minister has been fairly quiet as he settles in and thinks about the many priorities – we expect that the PM wants him to focus on the “major review” – and despite pressure he has refused to get drawn into a discussion of details. He gave a formal response to a parliamentary question earlier this week:

Q – Wes Streeting (Labour): To ask the Secretary of State for Education, if he will publish the (a) scope, (b) timetable and (c) membership the review panel for the review of university funding and student financing announced by the Prime Minister in her speech to the Conservative Party Conference in October 2017.

A – Sam Gyimah (Conservative, new Universities Minister):

As stated in the Industrial Strategy white paper published on 27 November 2017, the government is committed to conducting a major review of funding across tertiary education to ensure a joined-up system that works for everyone.

As current and significant reforms move into implementation, this review will look at how we can ensure that the education system for those aged 18 years and over is:

  • accessible to all;
  • supported by a funding system that provides value for money and works for both students and taxpayers;
  • incentivises choice and competition across the sector;
  • and encourages the development of the skills that we need as a country.

The government will set out further details on the review in due course.

And the minister spoke at Queen Mary University of London this week in a date agreed while he was still at the Ministry of Justice – clearly the subject matter had moved on given his new appointment. The discussion was covered by Wonkhe – it seems to have been a balanced and reasonable set of responses from someone who is thinking carefully before leaping into the fray.

Of course there has been plenty of advice for the new minister – from calls for him to get stuck into Brexit discussions to defend research funding, mobility etc. (he did vote remain, after all), to questions about the freedom of speech agenda and BME students at Oxbridge (he was one).

UKRI

John Kingman has been named as the permanent chair of UK Research and Innovation, officially taking the role in April. He has been acting as the interim chair to date to support the shadow running and new set up of the organisation. The Commons Science and Technology Committee are required to ratify his appointment. Also reported in Times Higher.

Freedom of speech

The debate over free speech continued in the Parliamentary Joint Human Rights Committee this week. NUS VP Doku has called for the number of events with freedom of speech issues to be published to quantify if the ‘issue’ is government rhetoric or genuinely needs tackling. Wes Streeting (MP Ilford North and former NUS President) claims the challenges are “overstated” and that Prevent has had the greatest impact on freedom of speech. He continued that no platforming, under NUS policy, was only used to prevent racism and fascism.

International Students

The Home Affairs Committee published Immigration policy: basis for building consensus calling on the Government to make it a clear and stated objective of public policy to build greater consensus and trust on immigration as part of major overhaul of immigration policy making. Read the short summary.  The report does not consider specific policy options for EU migration. The Committee will examine these once the Government publishes its forthcoming White Paper on immigration.

Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, Rt Hon Yvette Cooper MP commented:

  • “The Government has a responsibility to build consensus and confidence on immigration rather than allowing this to be a divisive debate. But that requires a transformation in the way that immigration policy is made as too often the current approach has undermined trust in the system.
  • The net migration target isn’t working to build confidence and it treats all migration as the same. That’s why it should be replaced by a different framework of targets and controls. And frankly the system needs to work effectively. As long as there are so many errors and so many problems with enforcement, people won’t have confidence that the system is either fair or robust.”

The Report recommends:

  • An Annual Migration Report setting out a three-year, rolling plan for migration.
  • Clearer and simpler immigration rules, underpinned by principles and values – including the contributory principle, supporting family life and safeguarding security
  • Replacing the net migration target with an evidence-based framework for different types of immigration that takes into account the UK’s needs. There should be no national target to restrict the numbers of students coming to the UK, and at a minimum the Government should immediately remove students from the current net migration target.
  • An immigration system which treats different skills differently. There is clear public support for the continued arrival of high-skilled (not just highly paid) workers who are needed in the economy. Immigration rules should allow UK businesses and organisations easily to attract top talent, with restrictions and controls focused more on low-skilled migration.
  • Immigration plans should be linked with training plans to increase domestic skills in sectors and regions where there are skills gaps that need to be filled through migration.
  • A national integration strategy and local authority led local integration strategies

The report also notes:

  • “In calling for more international students to come and study in the UK, universities must be mindful of local impacts of large numbers of students and work with local authorities to help manage pressures on housing and public services. Universities should be expected to consult local authorities on future student numbers in their area.”

Mayoral pressure

The Financial Times ran an article noting how seven cross-party metro mayors have united to press the Prime Minster to provide a ”more open and welcoming message” to overseas students. The mayors have also written to the Migration Advisory Committee. The FT quotes the letter:

  • As the UK prepares to leave the EU, it is important that any future immigration system acknowledges the vital contribution international students make to regional jobs and growth. This includes projecting a more open and welcoming message for international students.

The letter combines last week’s HEPI report showing the huge net financial benefits international students bring with HESA data illustrating a downturn in international student numbers. The FT critiques the letter which uses 2016/17 data stating most students would have applied for their courses before the Brexit result was not known. What the FT fails to consider is that a lower conversion rate between application and enrolment does support the premise that Brexit has caused a fall in student numbers.

The Migration Advisory Committee is due to report to Government in September 2018, however, think tank HEPI is campaigning for an earlier response.

Widening Participation

Grammar Schools- A Financial Times article More grammar schools and lower tuition fees are not the answer covers the cabinet reshuffle (the widely reported demise of Justine Greening for blocking the PM’s school agenda) and draws on Education Policy Institute research:

  • On grammar schools, EPI analysis is very clear — more selective schools might deliver a small exam grade benefit to those who gain entry, but at a cost to those (poorer) children who do not pass the entry test. More grammar schools are therefore likely to worsen the country’s social mobility problem.

Meanwhile A Guardian article aiming to criticise Damian Hinds suggests that Theresa May is still determined to push grammar schools through

BME withdrawal – The Guardian considers the influence of social cultural and structural factors in Why do black students quit university more often than their white peers? The article quotes the Runnymede Trust (think tank) 2015 report: “University institutions have proved remarkably resilient to change in terms of curriculum, culture and staffing, remaining for the most part ‘ivory towers’ − with the emphasis on ‘ivory’.”

Admissions – In Robin hood and the America dream a Dorset born educator and careers advisor compares the HE admissions differences between Finland, America and the UK, and contemplates their social mobility implications.

STEM

A National Audit Office report: Delivering STEM skills for the economy has been published this week. It suggests Government initiative to improve the quality of STEM provision and take up of these subjects and rectifying the skills mismatch has met with some success. However, it pushes for Government departments to create a joined up vision sharing their aims, and a co-ordinated cross departmental plan, the delivery of which can then be examined for value for money. The report notes that the STEM gender gap continues.

Technical education

The House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee continued its examination of the economics of higher, further and technical education across two sessions. The first session considered the differences between UK education provision and comparable economically advanced countries (e.g. Germany). The panel discussed how FE could be enhanced, which countries integrated FE and HE effectively, and methods of encouraging lifelong learning. The narrowing of subjects after GCSE was also criticised. The following session address whether HE was currently prioritised over technical education, and whether this produces individuals with the necessary skills. Apprenticeships and T-levels were discussed in detail.

Enterprise and Entrepreneurship

The QAA has published Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Education: Guidance for UK HE Providers. The guidance says

  • all students should have an opportunity to engage with Enterprise and Entrepreneurship, and to align it with their subject(s) of choice. This will enable them to identify and seek out new opportunities; have higher aspirations in their careers; be resilient; and better adapt to change”.
  • Learning about and experiencing Enterprise and Entrepreneurship while at university can have several benefits. It gives students alternative perspectives on their career options and ultimately, the confidence to set up their own business or social enterprise.”

The guidance aims to inform, enhance and promote the development of Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Education and includes description of good practice.

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

Full on: In the brave new world of accelerated degrees and intensified courses a Wonkhe blogger talks about working and studying (MSc) full time. She says universities can make studying more accessible to employees and employers by:

  • Teach modules in intensive blocks, e.g. 3 days, rather than spreading across a whole term
  • Provide assignment information well in advance of deadlines, ensuring no deadline clashes between other modules on the same programme
  • Sharing reading lists, presentations and essay topics well in advance of a module beginning – so the employed student can start reading and have an overall understanding of the subject area before attending lectures.
  • Careful structuring of the courses are important, as is the option to switch to part time study
  • Access to robust pastoral care and academic check ins

On the employer side the blogger notes that planning a balanced workload with her managers and knowing when key work deadlines fall within her academic calendar. She also recommends employers take a personalised approach to their employees study/work balance. For some this could me changing their hours or work pattern for all or part of their course.

  • “Studying is challenging. Working is challenging. Doing both at the same time certainly isn’t a walk in the park. However, employers and universities can help employed students to make it work.”

The Smart Machine Age: A Financial Times article describes the changes associated with the smart machines age and the skills graduates will need to develop.

  • Smart technology is already moving beyond manufacturing into the service industries and the professions, such as medicine, finance, accounting, management consulting and law. Businesses will reduce their headcount, because humans will only be needed for jobs that technology will not be able to do well: involving higher order critical, creative, and innovative thinking and/or emotional and social intelligence.
  • When they graduate, a student’s multidisciplinary skills should contain at least the following: scientific method; root cause analysis; unpacking assumptions; critical thinking purposes and questions; insight processes; design thinking; premortems; and after-action reviews .They ought to have emotional and social intelligence; the ability to collaborate and to know how to learn and develop their cognitive and emotional capabilities.

Graduate Recruitment: High Fliers have published The Graduate Market in 2018 noting a 4.9% decrease in the number of jobs available for 2017 graduates. They state this is the first drop in 5 years. The decrease was sharpest in the financial and banking sectors. Part of the blame was, of course, attributed to Brexit effects. Press coverage: The Times, The Guardian and The Telegraph (who note supermarket Aldi is now offering graduate salaries comparable with law and investment banking starter salaries).

Political inventions: It cannot be disputed how often HE has featured in the news in the last year. A Times Higher article reports on a (PA Consulting) Vice-Chancellor survey which reality checks the press, suggesting that some of the furore was politically motivated and often without genuine substance.

Woodgates, PA’s head of education, sums up that university leaders felt under siege.

  • Before the [2017 general] election, universities were still seen as one of the jewels in the crown of UK plc, and suddenly we seem to have moved to a world where nothing is different but the political narrative is that universities are a bit of a problem: they don’t provide value for money, their teaching quality is not very good, and vice-chancellors are overpaid.
  • Most of our respondents felt that this is fundamentally politically driven by the fact that Labour did well courting the youth vote and the Tories have responded to that, but there was also a feeling that the sector hasn’t done a very good job of responding to that and needs to be more proactive.
  • The sector has got locked into a position of responding to a political narrative rather than asserting their own narrative about the value they add: in relation to research, but also in relation in education, [and] the fact that they are very important players in social and economic development.”

What students want: The Guardian ask students what they would like the Office for Students to focus upon

Antisemitism on campus: Communities Secretary Sajid Javid announces £144,261 of funding for a new programme to support universities in tackling antisemitism on campus. The programme will be delivered by the Holocaust Educational Trust and the Union of Jewish Students and will involve 200 students and university leaders from across the country visiting the former Nazi concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau. It is expected that the 200 university student leaders who visit Auschwitz-Birkenau will then go on to deliver activity that engages a further 7,500 university students.

Communities Secretary Sajid Javid said:

  • “We all have a duty to speak out in the memory of those who were murdered during the Holocaust and all those, today, who are the subject of hatred and antisemitism. Holocaust education remains one of the most powerful tools we have to fight bigotry. The Holocaust Educational Trust has been hugely successful in teaching school children about where hatred, intolerance and misinformation can lead. That’s why I am proud that the government will fund this new programme to tackle antisemitism, prejudice and intolerance on university campuses.”

Josh Holt, President of the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) said:

  • “ UJS are very grateful that our partnership with HET is being recognised and supported by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. The resources committed today will enable a substantial expansion of student and university leaders receiving the education and training needed to combat antisemitism and prejudice on campus. Sadly we have seen a distressing increase in swastika graffiti, Holocaust denial literature and politicisation of the Holocaust on some UK campuses. We are determined to combat this and welcome this significant contribution to our longstanding work bringing students of all faiths and backgrounds together to create cohesive campus communities.”

The new programme will be jointly funded by the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Department for Education, building on the Holocaust Educational Trust’s highly successful ‘Lessons from Auschwitz’ programme for school students.

Subscribe!

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

JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

HE Policy update for the w/e 15th December 2017

Despite Sarah and Jane donning their sparkly Christmas jumpers there has been no let up this week – here is your fully stuffed pre-Christmas policy update (and not a turkey in sight)!
We’ll be back in the New Year unless anything really exciting happens next week.

Accelerated Degrees

The long awaited consultation on accelerated degrees has finally been launched.  The proposals are for students to study over the summer to complete their degree within two years. These degrees would be subject to the same rigour and quality assurance standards. Institutions will be able to charge higher fees per year (to a maximum which will be 20% less than the total for 3 normal years) to cover the additional costs of teaching through the summer, research time squeeze, and rental income lost on summer lets of student rooms. However, the overall cost to the student will be less, with lower living costs as well, and interest will accrue over a shorter time before the student starts work. The OfS will be responsible for determining whether a degree course can be defined as ‘accelerated’.

The Minister’s statement said that “The current means-tested living cost support package (the “long course loan”) available to students whose courses last for longer than 30 weeks and three days each academic year will continue to provide maintenance for students on accelerated degrees on the same terms.” It is not clear whether this will be enough to cover the additional costs for students on these courses.”

Jo Johnson says that these courses will appeal to: “highly motivated students hungry for a faster pace of learning and a quicker route into or back into work”.

He continues: “The growing dominance of the classic three-year residential degree reflects more the convenience of the sector and financial incentives on providers than the needs of students for flexible ways of pursuing higher education. I believe there is significant untapped potential for accelerated courses, starting first with degrees, in higher education. They offer benefits to students of lower costs, more intensive study, and a quicker commencement or return to the workplace. Innovative providers would like to offer more of these courses but face significant financial and operational disincentives in the current system.”

And later:  “Our aspiration is for the number of students enrolled on accelerated degree courses to build over the next decade to around 5% of the total undergraduate population[currently its 0.2%], and for an additional 100,000 students to have studied on this basis over that period.”

Accelerated degrees are expected to commence in September 2019, subject to parliamentary approval of the new fee arrangements.  The consultation press release sets out the benefits for the public purse:

For the taxpayer, it means significantly lower tuition loan outlay, higher rates of repayment and therefore a lower cost to the public purse of higher education. A higher proportion of students on accelerated degrees will also repay their loans in full”.

Jo Johnson and Les Ebdon expect the accelerated degrees to appeal to mature students. It’s clear that individuals currently in work, looking to take a sabbatical to upskill, then return to the sector are perfect candidates for accelerated provision. This scenario is certainly a perfect fit with the Industrial Strategy’s aspirations.  It also provides students with more options –depending on how may institutions offer them and the range of subjects covered. However, there could be some bumps in the road. Presumably the admissions process will select those most capable of intense study and who do not need to work part-time to fund their living costs– which leads to questions around widening participation. How will contextual admissions apply to accelerated provision? Will mature students with family commitments be considered to have the capacity to cope with an intensive degree? And what happens to those who find the pace too much or run into financial difficulty and switch back to the traditional 3 year model – would they end up paying more in fees in total? There may be concerns about student experience in the summer when services are often reduced and building maintenance is carried out.

Sector responses:

Angela Rayner MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Education: “It seems that every higher education policy from this government comes with another plan to raise tuition fees, with students on part time degrees now facing charges of over £11,000 a year. With universities facing uncertainty over Brexit, ministers must address concerns like the impact on staff workload before imposing more major changes. So far they have offered no concrete evidence that squeezing three years of learning into two will stem the huge drop in part-time students, or lead to better outcomes.”

Professor Les Ebdon, Director of Fair Access to Higher Education: “Accelerated degrees are an attractive option for mature students who have missed out on the chance to go to university as a young person. Having often battled disadvantage, these students can thrive in higher education and I hope that now many more will be able to take up the life-changing opportunity to get a degree.”

Karl McCormack, who teaches accelerated degrees in Accounting & Finance at Staffordshire University, commented on the increased focus of students on accelerated courses. “I find that the accelerated degree offers so much more to students, including the extra focus, the drive and the immersive experience of constantly learning over the two years. Accelerated degrees appeal to a broad spectrum of students, including mature students who want to retrain and enter the workplace more quickly, and those who do not take a traditional A-level route into higher education.”

Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI: “Making two-year degrees more attractive makes sense as the current rules aren’t great and more diversity is generally good in higher education – so long as quality is maintained. So the overall idea of altering the financial rules for two-year degrees is sound or even overdue. Lower fees for two-year degrees might increase demand, probably from older students as many school leavers are remarkably price insensitive and like the idea of staying at university for three (or more) years. It also might increase the supply of two-year degrees, although getting £11,100 to educate students for 40 weeks a year (£280 a week) rather than £9,250 for 30 weeks a year (£310 a week) is unlikely to make a major difference. ‘But it remains an open question whether there is sufficient support in Parliament for a higher tuition fee cap for a minority of courses. Overall, today’s announcement may not be a game changer.”

Read more on the consultation on accelerated degrees: widening student choice in HE.  Please contact Sarah if you would like to contribute to BU’s institutional response to the consultation.

Brexit

This week the Government and EU agreed continued contributions to the annual budgets for the years 2019 and 2020 (the remaining 2 years of the EU budget after the exit) as if the UK were remaining in the EU. This enables continued participation in Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+ until the end of the programmes. On Thursday evening the BBC reported this story.

The phase one negotiations concluded with assurances for citizen’s rights – hopefully reassuring for the 46,000 EU nationals within the UK university sector who can remain to work and gain settled status. Some questions remain, but it was clarified that EU citizens can live outside the UK for up to 5 consecutive years without losing their settled status.

In response UUK have stressed that phase two of the negotiations continue to be ‘hugely important’ for universities. They continue to push for access to the next European research and innovation programme (FP9) and to the Erasmus+ mobility programme. “Developing a post-exit immigration system, with minimal barriers to allow talented European staff and students to work and study in the UK, is a priority.”

Research Professional have a simple article tacking the main points of the Brexit progress: Now the real work begins. Amongst other points they highlight that with a majority of students registering an interest in studying abroad 12 months in advance the need for decision on whether EU citizens will be eligible for home fee status and loans for 2019/20 entry remains urgent.

Parliamentary Questions

Q – Joanna Cherry: What assessment she has made of the effect of the UK leaving the EU on staffing levels in universities.

A- Jo Johnson: EU staff make an important contribution to our universities. The UK and the EU have reached an agreement on citizens’ rights that will allow EU citizens to continue living here broadly as now, which will help to provide certainty to such staff in our institutions.

Joanna Cherry: Heriot-Watt University and Edinburgh Napier University in my constituency have made staff redundant, citing Brexit and the UK Government’s immigration policies as a proximate cause. Napier University has advised me that potential staff members from other EU countries are turning down job offers. What concrete reassurance can the Minister give these international award-winning universities that Brexit will not further affect their staffing levels?

Jo Johnson: That uncertainty is completely unnecessary. I point the universities to the joint report issued last Friday by the Commission and the UK Government that points to our continued participation in programmes such as Horizon 2020 not just up until March 2019, but until the end of 2020. They should appreciate that important reassurance.

Paul Masterton (Con):  Many of my constituents in East Renfrewshire work in academic research and are concerned about the impact of Brexit on collaboration with European institutions. What reassurance can the Minister give to my constituents that Brexit will not put that collaboration in doubt?

Jo JohnsonThey can take reassurance from the statement that was put out on Friday. We will participate in Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+ beyond the point of Brexit—until the end of 2020. That is of fundamental importance to our scientific endeavour.

Policy impact

A Research Professional article: University research ‘failing to influence parliament’ discusses the dominance of other sectors in capturing the parliamentary ear. Non-governmental organisations are most successful in translating their lobbying into policy with ‘other interest groups’ having far greater influence. University research contributed less than 10% of the evidence to elect committees. David Willets pointed out that the public funding of R&D is weighted heavily towards universities – which are having a very small impact on policy.

A Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology report stated “academic research frequently arrived too late to influence their work or never came at all, and was often “poorly presented with overly technical jargon”. David Willetts advises, “academics should try to engage more with what parliament’s policy preoccupations actually are”; he criticised REF and stated, “there is a need for a change in the incentives that drive academics”.

Mark Walport (former chief scientific adviser) commented that for politicians want an overview more than what the latest paper says. “If you’re advising government, what you’re interested in is the totality of the research.

BU’s Policy team support academics to present their research to Westminster. Contact Sarah if you would like to consider how your work could influence Government policy.

2017 – a year in Admissions

UCAS published the final two elements of the End of Cycle report for 2017 this week. Here is the full set – read the summary, the analysis of patterns of entry to HE, patterns by age, patterns by subject, patterns by geography, patterns by applicant characteristics, offer making, and an analysis of entry by qualification types and academic performance.

Here is Wonkhe’s summary of the last report: Overall, applications across the UK decreased by 3.1% (18,220) to 572,285 since last year, and acceptances are down by 0.5% to 462,945. Both the numbers and proportions of 18-year-olds accessing higher education in the 2017 admissions cycle were the highest they’ve ever been. 282,380 18 year-olds applied to higher education, up 0.5% on last year, and 241,585 were accepted (+1.1%). The overall decline in UK acceptances comes from a drop in older age groups entering HE. The number of 19 year-olds applying fell 5.2% on last year, while numbers for those aged 21-25, and over 25, fell 7% and 9.8% respectively.

And a Wonkhe blog neatly rounds up the key details of all reports in just 1,500 words, concluding: the data draws our attention to some important trends. The stark difference in patterns among different age groups within higher education, the changing demographics of the international student population entering the UK, and the largely unchanged gap in access between the least and most disadvantaged all require attention … and action.

Education and Society debate – House of Lords

This week during the Lords Education and Society debate there was critical comment about the value of the University sector. This comes at the end o f a year in which there has been very serious and sustained criticism of the sector across a range of topics and issues. It will be interesting to see whether everyone just needs a break – or whether this continues in the New Year.

Lord Adonis (Lab, former schools minister) called for “bold action” on apprenticeships, recommending that the Government should require every large public service organisation, including the Civil Service, the NHS and local authorities, to recruit as many apprentices as graduates. He also continued to campaign for tuition fees to be reduced to around £3,000 and a reduction in the student loan interest rate.

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale (Lab) described the importance of having a good teacher, and argued the role of individual teachers shouldn’t be forgotten by policymakers. He went on to discuss the role of colleges, claiming they were being unaddressed and that they were “fundamental to the life opportunities of a section of the population who, in many ways, need them much more than people who go to university.”

Lord Rees of Ludlow (Crossbench, academic scientist and lecturer) said that the extreme sophistication of modern technology was, ironically, an impediment to engaging young people with reality and learning how things worked. Speaking as a lecturer he stated that the traditional honours degree was too specialised for almost all students.

Lord Storey (Lib Dem) questioned the Minster about the impact to reputation and integrity of essay mills on higher education.

The Archbishop addressed the business community’s calls for graduate to be “work ready”. He challenged this call asking “who here was work ready on their first day of employment?” Furthermore, he pushed back declaring that it was the “duty of employers to invest in their employees to take them from the first day of their employment to the last…and build up their skills.”

Widening Participation (WP)

Justine Greening spoke at the Reform social mobility conference on Thursday on why Britain has not ‘cracked’ social mobility and her ambition for education to turn disadvantage around. It called on all sectors of society to be part of the solution: “everyone’s problem needs everyone’s solution – if we’re going to achieve anything then social mobility, equality of opportunity needs to be a common ambition – with schools, colleges, universities, but also businesses, civil society, local communities all playing their part.”

She described a comprehensive strategy for lifelong learning. A national strategy that (in keeping with current Government trends, like the industrial strategy) is differently tailored to meet localised needs. The strategy: Unlocking Talent, Fulfilling Potential was accompanied by a short summary. References to universities are interwoven but not addressed specifically, and fit with current political themes around productivity through the promotion of technical education. For example:

Creating high-quality post-16 choices for all

“We have more people going to university than ever before, including more disadvantaged young people, but we need to expand access further to the best universities. We need a skills revolution which includes making technical education world class, backed by a half a billion pounds’ investment at the last budget.” (Excerpt taken from the Minister’s speech.)

The messaging of the strategy is consistent with the Careers Strategy launched last week. Read BU’s summary of the Careers Strategy here.

Chinese internship programme

Earlier in the week the Minister also announced an expansion to the UK-China government-funded internship programme. It will offer 300 young people from a disadvantaged or less represented background the opportunity to live and work in China on an internship. “This scheme allows our young people to immerse themselves in different cultures, broaden their horizons and develop the skills they need to thrive in an increasingly global jobs market. Many of them will be people who were the first in their family to go to university and programmes like this help young people to experience first-hand just how far their talents can take them.”  (From speech at the UK- China People-to-People event.)

Parliamentary Questions

Q – Justin Madders (Lab): As chair of the all-party group on social mobility, I am very concerned to read the Social Mobility Commission’s report and the subsequent comments from the outgoing chair. Will the Secretary of State, or one of her ministerial team, agree to meet the all-party group to discuss where we go from here?

A – Justine Greening: I hope the hon. Gentleman will be able to welcome the plan I will set out later this week. I think the time has come for us all to move on from talking about the problem, which we have done a lot for many, many years, to deciding that we have it within us to work together up and down the country to now tackle it. [This is the policy paper described above.]

Q – Gordon Marsden: With reference to paragraph 34 of the Government’s Careers Strategy… what discussions her Department has had with the Director of Fair Access to Education on the continuation of targeted career outreach interventions for disadvantaged pupils.

A – Anne Milton: The government’s careers strategy is clear that we want higher education institutions to continue working with schools and their pupils to encourage them to go on to higher education. We have spoken to the Office for Fair Access about their role in helping to deliver the strategy. Our most recent guidance asked the Director of Fair Access to be firmer with institutions to make sure that investment through access agreements is allocated to the most effective interventions, encouraging more investment in outreach.

Q – Gordon Marsden: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what [the] budget is for the National Collaborative Outreach Programme.

A – Jo Johnson: The Higher Education Council for England launched the ‘National Collaborative Outreach’ programme in January 2017. The programme budget was set at £120 million over two years. It has established 29 consortia to target those areas of the country where progression into higher education is both low overall and lower than expected given typical GCSE attainment rates. One of the consortia, Future U, led by the University of Central Lancashire and involving three other universities and five further education colleges, targets Blackpool and will receive a little under £2.3 million in funding over the two years.

Q – Eddie Hughes: What steps the Government is taking to ensure that more students from disadvantaged backgrounds go to university.

A – Jo Johnson: There are already record numbers of disadvantaged English 18 years olds benefitting from full-time higher education, and universities expect to spend over £860 million in 2018/19 on measures to improve the access and success of disadvantaged students, up from £404 million in 2009, through their access agreements.

The Higher Education and Research Act includes a transparency duty requiring all universities to publish applications, offers, acceptance and retention rates broken down by gender, ethnicity and social economic background. This will help to hold universities to account for their records on access and retention.

Q – Luciana Berger: who is responsible for the provision of counselling and wellbeing services to university students in England.

A – Joseph Johnson: As autonomous and independent organisations, it is for Higher Education Institutions to determine what welfare and counselling services they need to provide to their students. Each institution will be best placed to identify the needs of their particular student body, including taking actions in line with any legal responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010.

In addition, the department is working closely with Universities UK (UUK) on their ongoing programme of work on Mental Health in Higher Education. As part of this, UUK launched their Step Change programme on September 4, which encourages higher education leaders to adopt mental health as a strategic imperative and implement a whole institution approach. UUK has also worked in partnership with the Institute for Public Policy Research to strengthen the evidence-base on mental health in higher education. Their independent report, Not by Degrees: Improving student mental health in the UK’s universities was published on 4 September 2017.

Q – Luciana Berger: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what assessment her Department has made of the adequacy of access to mental health services for university students.

A – Jo Johnson: Mental Health is a priority for this government. This is why the Department for Health, together with the Department for Education, have published a joint green paper on Children and Young People which sets out plans to transform specialist services and support in education settings and for families.

In higher education, there is already much work underway to improve the quality of mental health services for students, alongside services provided by the NHS, including through the NHS programme ‘Improving Access to Psychological Therapies’. The recently published green paper sets out plans for a new national strategic partnership with key stakeholders focused on improving the mental health of 16-25 year olds by encouraging more coordinated action, experimentation and robust evaluation.

Differential fees would undermine social mobility, argues MillionPlus

In advance of the UK Government’s review of higher education funding in England, promised by the Prime Minister Theresa May at the 2017 Conservative Party Conference, MillionPlus, the Association for Modern Universities, on 13 December published a new policy paper focusing on differential fees and student maintenance grants.  The paper outlines why differential fees linked to graduate earnings or courses would undermine social mobility and lead to greater inequality in student funding. Instead, MillionPlus urges Ministers to adopt a ‘common-sense’ approach and restore student maintenance grants to help students now and save taxpayers’ money in the long run.

Pam Tatlow, Chief Executive of MillionPlus, said:

“All students deserve to study at well-funded universities, wherever, whatever and however they choose to study – full or part-time. Linking differential fees to graduate earnings or courses would switch resources to students from wealthier backgrounds and would simply rob Peter to pay Paul. Rather than promoting the social mobility that both Theresa May and Justine Greening, Secretary of State for Education, support, differential fees would create greater inequality in funding. 

“If Ministers want to help students and young people, they should restore student maintenance grants. This would reduce student debt and offer a lifeline to students for whom the cost of living while they are studying, presents huge challenges. In 2015, the government said that maintenance grants were ‘unaffordable’. It was a claim that never really stacked up and it’s time for Ministers to move on. Restoring maintenance grants is ‘common-sense’ economics and would be good for students but also cost-effective for taxpayers who would have to write-off less in unpaid student loans in the future.”

And the British Academy have published a report showcasing “practical, evidence based interventions which could be replicated in other parts of the country to improve relationships between communities of different ethnic backgrounds and to help new arrivals feel welcome”. “If you could do one thing…” Local actions to promote social integration

Parliamentary Questions

Q – Melanie Onn: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, whether student loans are classed as complete income for the purposes of calculating universal credit eligibility.

A – Damian Hinds: When Universal Credit calculates eligibility, it takes into account the elements of student loans or grants which provide for the student’s basic maintenance. Universal Credit disregards elements paid for specific additional costs the student has, such as tuition or books. Once the total annual loan is calculated, Universal Credit applies a flat rate monthly disregard of £110 whilst the claimant remains a student.

Q – Lord Adonis: In respect of the duty of the Chief Executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England to safeguard the efficient use of public funds, what assessment they have made of the value for money of salaries paid to vice-chancellors.

A: Viscount Younger Of Leckie: The government is determined to ensure that students and taxpayers can be confident that they get a good deal from higher education (HE). Over recent years, the government has become increasingly concerned about the level of remuneration for senior staff in the HE sector. It has asked the Higher Education Funding Council for England to look at this issue using its regulatory powers, which has resulted in updated guidance to the sector on senior pay and greater transparency in relation to vice-chancellor salaries. Holding universities to account for value for money has been a key objective of the HE reforms, enacted in the Higher Education and Research Act, and it continues to guide the government’s work as the Office for Students (OfS) is launched. The OfS has a statutory duty to promote value for money in the sector. The government will ask the OfS to use its powers to take action to protect value for money for students and taxpayers in the future.

Q – Lord Adonis: Whether Ministers and the Higher Education Funding Council for England plan to investigate the decision-making process at the University of Bath which led to an “exit package” being paid to the Vice-Chancellor… and whether they consider this was consistent with the proper and efficient use of public funds.

A – Viscount Younger Of Leckie: The government expects the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) to look into issues related to value for money with regard to English higher education institutions…We understand that HEFCE is currently considering whether it should investigate the governance processes concerned with the Vice-Chancellor’s retirement.

Q- Gordon Marsden (Lab): Friday’s National Audit Office report on the higher education market is hugely damaging. It says that the market is failing students and that such practice anywhere else would raise questions of mis-selling. Meanwhile, the Student Loans Company is in crisis. This is all under the watch of the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation. What does he say now to the NAO?

A – Jo Johnson: The National Audit Office rightly pointed out that students want value for money, which has been the guiding objective of our entire suite of HE reform programmes. That is why we have set up the Office for Students, which will ensure that universities are held to account for the teaching quality and value for money that they deliver to our students.

Credit Transfer

Sheffield University, in partnership with HEFCE, have published Should I stay or should I go? drawing on student perception of mobility and credit transfer. It calls for the OfS to consider these issues from the student perspective and press for HE providers to facilitate easier transfers between courses and institutions. Students felt universities only offer limited support at present, which exacerbates their difficulty at such a transition point in their lives. It also notes that students are concerned about the message transferring to another university sends. Contemplating whether it devalues their degree (lecturers also expressed concern about the intellectual integrity of a degree ‘broken’ across institutions) and whether changing course and/or institution makes the student look unreliable. The report recommends an independent and impartial advice service to help students identify when transfer to another provider is the right for them.

Industrial Strategy – Engineering and Technology Crisis

The Institution of Engineering & Technology published a report on skills and demand in industry which noted the industrial strategy needs to tackle the skills gap if it is to work. The report describes the lack of diversity in the workforce as contributing to the recruitment shortage.

  • 81% stated employers need to provide work experience to help improve the supply of engineers and technicians
  • 87% of employers don’t have LGBT/BAME diversity initiatives in place
  • Only 15% of employers make particular efforts to attract and retain women in engineering and technical roles (beyond the statutory equality requirements)

Joanna Cox, IET Head of Policy, said: “As the UK goes through a period of economic uncertainty, the skills shortage in engineering remains an ongoing concern for engineering companies in the UK. Employers tell us that tackling this problem is fundamental to making the Government’s Industrial strategy viable. We must now bring businesses, academia and Government together and strengthen their working relationships to ensure that the next generation of talent has the right practical and technical skills to meet future demand.

Read more here.

Consultations

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

New consultations and inquiries this week:

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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 December 2017

Fees and funding – the latest developments

The fees and funding discussions continue with some interesting developments this week.

Firstly, there was a written response by the Minister -responding to the Resolution of the House on 13th September 2017 on tuition fees (the non-binding one that was essentially passed unanimously because no Conservative MPs attended). The statement included a few important points and some hints:

  • Maximum grants and loans for living and other costs will be increased by forecast inflation (3.2%) in 2018/19.
  • For the first time, students starting part-time degree level courses from 1 August 2018 onwards will qualify for loans for living costs.
  • I expect to lay regulations implementing changes to student finance for undergraduates and postgraduates for 2018/19 early in 2018. These regulations will be subject to Parliamentary scrutiny.
  • The Department of Health will be making a separate announcement on changes to student finance for postgraduate healthcare students and dental hygiene and dental therapy students in 2018/19.

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