Tagged / unconditional offers

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

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

New OfS Chair

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

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

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

Research Professional also cover the story here:

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

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

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

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

Research

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

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

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

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

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

ARPA

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

JISC – Support research & innovation 2021-23

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

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

Quick News update

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

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

Parliamentary Questions

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

Admissions

There was UCAS data released on 4th February.

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

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

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

Key findings and trends:

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

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

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

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

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

Free Speech

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

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

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

The Minister speaks (and writes, to everyone)

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

Universities Minister Michelle Donelan said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Access & Participation

Social Mobility Commission

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Disability – price fixing

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

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

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

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

Lost learning

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

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

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

Students in the pandemic

Financial woes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parliamentary Questions: No detriment

Student Experience – retaining some online learning

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

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

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

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

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

In the blog Pearson say:

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

And on a quality experience:

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

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

Moving forward – continuing to teach remotely during Covid

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

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

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

Pearson say:

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

Parliamentary Questions

Regulatory

Programmes

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

Augar

Inquiries and Consultations

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

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

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

Other news

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                             Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

A lot about skills and employment in the “mini-budget” this week.  There is quite a lot on the “poor quality courses” debate, and on the financial impact of the virus on young people and on universities.  Plus some regulatory changes that are starting to look ominous…

A Universities Minister who thinks people shouldn’t bother going to University?

Amidst ongoing rhetoric over allegedly poor quality courses and poor student outcomes (we reported on the Minister’s speech last week) and we report on the debate in the House of Lords below which included some strong lines, including this one from Lord Blencathra:

  • .. we have about 30 useless universities at the bottom end of the quality tables. They are taking fees from students for worthless courses which will not get them jobs, and the fees will never be repaid.”

This week Wonkhe have made it their mission to find these courses – they conclude the data doesn’t bear this out.  Not least because past performance isn’t necessarily any indication of future performance in the jobs market or at a university.  A course whose students may indeed have had poor outcomes 10 years ago might, or perhaps would almost certainly, have changed by now (or what have the QAA, OfS etc been doing all this time and where is the impact of the TEF?).  Of course, the rhetoric muddles institutional outcomes, subject outcomes and the outcomes of particular courses.  It ignores regional disparities in employment opportunities and he different demographic of the students who attend each university.  It also (my pet peeve, as you will know if you read this blog often) assumes that you can look at courses this way because the progression between courses and jobs is linear and therefore all social sciences students go on to have (potentially low earning) careers in community work, so it’s easy, just stop subsidising social sciences.  In fact some of them become Secretaries of State for Education – strange how they forget. Would it have made a difference to his career earnings if Gavin Williamson had studied engineering?  If you think that’s a silly question, that’s my point!

There have been numerous social media and newspaper blogs addressing Michelle’s unfavourable speech last week (delivered at a disadvantaged access conference too).  One does wonder if it was just the clumsiness of her speech writers but it’s probably unfair to blame them. Did she really intend to suggest universities were dumbing down so they could admit disadvantaged students – or was it a general ‘bums on seats’ dig gone wrong?

Wonkhe have long said that Whitehall dislike their Ministers cosying up to the sector – think Chris Skidmore, David Willetts, and even Sam Gyimah did try (though it didn’t really work for the self styled Minister for Students). Donelan is certainly keen to show herself to toe the party line, and we know the refocus on technical education and FE support is coming (and contrary to Augar’s recommendations) will likely result in some level of defunding of HE.

So where does this leave the widening participation agenda? If we listen to the Government or media it seems the sector is to blame, despite the new, stringent Access and Participation Plans rigorously overseen by the OfS (whose golden status also appears to be slipping). Shifting the focus away from the prospective students themselves and shoving them into a deficit model where universities must ‘do’ to correct the disadvantage in their lives. …  Are they planning to stop contextual admissions (note they are still allowed under the new OfS licence condition)?

Just one example,, of the sector push back against Donelan’s speech is found in the gently disappointed Guardian article penned by Chris Husbands (VC Sheffield Hallam)

  • My personal history, and my family’s experience, make me very worried when government ministers lose faithin the power of universities to transform lives.
  • When pushed, very few politicians or journalists can actually identify these courses which “do nothing” or are “low value”.
  • They are odd lines, because they contradict the government’s own ambitions. Michael Gove laid it out for them just a few days before: a future built around “big data, machine learning, artificial intelligence, robotics and further automation, 3D printing, quantum computing”, along with “genetic sequencing and screening, gene editing and other life science and biotech advances”.
  • The 21st century world is a knowledge-led world. Value is generated not through low- or mid-level skills but economic, social and technological transformation. It’s universities which are our best bet for the future because they produce advanced knowledge and research. That’s why all the world’s advanced economies are investing in higher education.

Wonkhe tell us that “Gavin Williamson is expected to give a speech designed to flesh out the government’s post-18 strategy. But don’t expect to like what you hear.” 

Budget

You’ll have read the analyses of the mini budget in the press.  Apart from stamp duty, green homes vouchers,  “eat out to help out” and the VAT cut for food and non-alcoholic drinks, it was mostly focussed on jobs – retaining and creating new ones, with a particular focus on young people.

It was not expected that there would be any announcements about HE, so we should not feel disappointed – this is all about skills and jobs for those who were not planning to go to university in September and face unemployment.

Apart from the headlines, the details are here.

  • Job Retention Bonus – The government will introduce a one-off payment of £1,000 to UK employers for every furloughed employee who remains continuously employed through to the end of January 2021. Employees must earn above the Lower Earnings Limit (£520 per month) on average between the end of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and the end of January 2021. Payments will be made from February 2021. Further detail about the scheme will be announced by the end of July.
  • Kickstart Scheme – The government will introduce a new Kickstart Scheme in Great Britain, a £2 billion fund to create hundreds of thousands of high quality 6-month work placements aimed at those aged 16-24 who are on Universal Credit and are deemed to be at risk of long-term unemployment. Funding available for each job will cover 100% of the relevant National Minimum Wage for 25 hours a week, plus the associated employer National Insurance contributions and employer minimum automatic enrolment contributions.
  • New funding for National Careers Service – The government will provide an additional £32 million funding over the next 2 years for the National Careers Service so that 269,000 more people in England can receive personalised advice on training and work.
  • High quality traineeships for young people – The government will provide an additional £111 million this year for traineeships in England, to fund high quality work placements and training for 16-24 year olds. This funding is enough to triple participation in traineeships. For the first time ever, the government will fund employers who provide trainees with work experience, at a rate of £1,000 per trainee. The government will improve provision and expand eligibility for traineeships to those with Level 3 qualifications and below, to ensure that more young people have access to high quality training.
  • Payments for employers who hire new apprentices – The government will introduce a new payment of £2,000 to employers in England for each new apprentice they hire aged under 25, and a £1,500 payment for each new apprentice they hire aged 25 and over, from 1st August 2020 to 31st January 2021. These payments will be in addition to the existing £1,000 payment the government already provides for new 16-18 year-old apprentices, and those aged under 25 with an Education, Health and Care Plan – where that applies.
  • High value courses for school and college leavers – The government will provide £101 million for the 2020-21 academic year to give all 18-19 year olds in England the opportunity to study targeted high value Level 2 and 3 courses when there are not employment opportunities available to them.
  • Expanded Youth Offer – The government will expand and increase the intensive support offered by DWP in Great Britain to young jobseekers, to include all those aged 18-24 in the Intensive Work Search group in Universal Credit.
  • Enhanced work search support – The government will provide £895 million to enhance work search support by doubling the number of work coaches in Jobcentre Plus before the end of the financial year across Great Britain.
  • Expansion of the Work and Health Programme – The government will provide up to £95 million this year to expand the scope of the Work and Health Programme in Great Britain to introduce additional voluntary support in the autumn for those on benefits that have been unemployed for more than 3 months. This expansion will have no impact on the existing provision for those with illnesses or disabilities in England and Wales.
  • Job finding support service – The government will provide £40 million to fund private sector capacity to introduce a job finding support service in Great Britain in the autumn. This online, one-to-one service will help those who have been unemployed for less than three months increase their chances of finding employment.
  • Flexible Support Fund – The government will increase the funding for the Flexible Support Fund by £150 million in Great Britain, including to increase the capacity of the Rapid Response Service.1 It will also provide local support to claimants by removing barriers to work such as travel expenses for attending interviews. 2.21 New funding for sector-based work academies – The government will provide an additional £17 million this year to triple the number of sector-based work academy placements in England in order to provide vocational training and guaranteed interviews for more people, helping them gain the skills needed for the jobs available in their local area.

More detail is also provided on measures announced by the PM on 30th June.

There are some research-related announcements.

  • Office for Talent – The government will create a new Office for Talent based in No.10, with delivery teams across government departments. The Office will focus on attracting, retaining and developing top research and science talent across the UK and internationally.
  • Direct Air Capture – The government will provide £100 million of new funding for researching and developing Direct Air Capture, a new clean technology which captures CO2 from the air.
  • Automotive Transformation Fund – Building on the announcement last year of up to £1 billion of additional funding to develop and embed the next generation of cutting-edge automotive technologies, the government is making £10 million of funding available immediately for the first wave of innovative R&D projects to scale up manufacturing of the latest technology in batteries, motors, electronics and fuel cells. The government is also calling upon industry to put forward investment proposals for the UK’s first ‘gigafactory’ and supporting supply chains to mass manufacture cutting-edge batteries for the next generation of electric vehicles, as well as for other strategic electric vehicle technologies.
  • World-class laboratories – The government will provide a £300 million investment in 2020-21 to boost equipment and infrastructure across universities and institutes across the UK

Guardian report on the new Office for Talent.

NHS investment

  • NHS maintenance and A&E capacity – The government will provide £1.05 billion in 2020-21 to invest in NHS critical maintenance and A&E capacity across England.
  • Modernising the NHS mental health estate – The government will provide up to £250 million in 2020-21 to make progress on replacing outdated mental health dormitories with 1,300 single bedrooms across 25 mental health providers in England.
  • Health Infrastructure Plan – The government will provide a further £200 million for the Health Infrastructure Plan18 to accelerate a number of the 40 new hospital building projects across England.

And on the education estate (not HE):

  • Further Education (FE) estate funding – Building on the £1.5 billion commitment for FE capital funding made at Budget 2020, the government will bring forward £200 million to 2020-21 to support colleges to carry out urgent and essential maintenance projects. This will be the first step in the government’s commitment to bring the facilities of colleges everywhere in England up to a good level.
  • School estate funding – The government will provide additional funding of £560 million for schools in England to improve the condition of their buildings and estates in 2020-21. This is on top of the £1.4 billion already invested in school maintenance this year.
  • School rebuilding programme – The government has announced over £1 billion to fund the first 50 projects of a new, ten-year school rebuilding programme in England. These projects will be confirmed in the autumn, and further detail on future waves will be confirmed at the Comprehensive Spending Review. Construction on the first sites will begin in September 2021.

LEP funding for local infrastructure:

  • Local infrastructure projects – The government will provide £900 million for shovelready projects in England in 2020-21 and 2021-22 to drive local growth and jobs. This could include the development and regeneration of key local sites, investment to improve transport and digital connectivity, and innovation and technology centres. Funding will be provided to Mayoral Combined Authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships.

Budget context

A slightly different response to a PQ about supporting graduates through the gloomy economic outlook from the Universities Minister:

Douglas Chapman: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what plans he has to support graduates looking for employment (a) during and (b) after the covid-19 outbreak.

Michelle Donelan:

  • Our economic priority is to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on our economy as far as possible. This is an incredibly difficult period for everyone, and we understand that graduates are likely to feel concerned as they enter a far tougher job market than those before them.
  • Some universities are going above and beyond to support those graduating this summer, providing extensive online careers advice, including webinars offering interview and CV-writing tips and skills and follow-up one-to-one calls. However, we need all universities to step up and play a key role to help graduates take the next step, whether into work or further study.
  • The recently announced National Tutoring Programme creates an opportunity for graduates to apply for tutoring roles providing support for pupils and schools in the most disadvantaged areas. More details of the programme will be available shortly.
  • We know that post-graduates often secure employment in higher skilled and higher paid employment than graduates and non-graduates. The government can support with the financial burden of accessing a master’s degree with a loan of up to £11,222. Where graduates are considering a career in teaching, tax-free postgraduate bursaries of up to £26,000 are available for trainee teachers starting initial teacher training in 2020/21, depending on the subject in which they train to tea

The Institute for Fiscal Studies have published COVID-19 and the career prospects of young people and a report on the ‘Prolonged cost’ to young people from COVID-19 career disruption.

The new IFS research, funded by the Turing Institute, shows that the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to severely disrupt the career progression of young workers, suggesting that negative economic impacts on this age group may last well beyond the easing of the lockdown. The new research finds that:

  • Over the last decade, young people starting out in the labour market have increasingly been working in relatively low-paid occupations, many of which are in sectors hardest hit by the COVID-19 crisis – for example, hospitality and non-food retail.
  • The growing importance of those ‘lockdown sectors’ as employers of workers at the start of their careers is primarily due to an expansion of the accommodation and food industry. The share of workers starting their careers in this sector increased by about 50%, from 6% to 9%, between 2007 and 2019.
  • As other sources of wage growth have dried up, young workers have become increasingly reliant on moving into higher-paying occupations as a source of early-career wage growth. Around 28% of wage growth over the first five years of the careers of workers born in the 1970s could be attributed to moving into a higher-paying occupation. This had risen to 50% or more among people born in the 1980s.
  • The pandemic threatens to have a prolonged negative economic impact on young people by reducing demand for the jobs that are typical among early-career workers and making it harder for workers to find better opportunities than their current jobs.
  • The government should have a particular focus on the challenges facing the young as it attempts to manage the labour market impacts of COVID-19 in the coming months.

IPPR, the Institute for Public Policy Research has published a report, Guaranteeing the Right Start, Preventing Youth Unemployment after COVID-19.

  • There is a strong case for bold policy interventions to prevent youth unemployment. Becoming NEET results in a ‘scarring effect’ that lowers long-term employment prospects and earning potential (Gregg and Tominey 2004). Furthermore, those from the poorest backgrounds and with the lowest qualifications are likely to be the worst affected (Henehan 2020). Each person that is out of work and education for six months or more costs on average £65,000 in direct lifetime costs to public finances and £120,000 in wider lifetime costs to the economy and community (Coles et al 2010). But ultimately becoming unemployed is a deep personal crisis with impacts on health, self-worth, identity and status.
  • We recommend the creation of a new ‘Opportunity Guarantee’ for young people: the government should ensure that every young person is either in education or work. The government’s main aim in the short term should be to prevent a rise in youth unemployment as a result of the Covid-19 crisis. But, looking beyond the crisis, they should be aiming even higher: to eliminate all but the most temporary experience of being NEET amongst all young people. This will require government to keep young people in education for longer – but more radically, it also demands a fundamental rethink of labour market policy in the UK (the focus of this paper). This programme should be spearheaded by the prime minster as part of a campaign to inspire businesses to ‘do their bit’, by hiring young people during the crisis as part of an ‘investment in the future of our nation’.
  • Fulfilling this promise will require a new, more active, approach to labour market policy. In recent decades, the UK has embraced a liberal welfare regime, meaning a flexible labour market with limited government intervention, and a welfare system designed to promote ‘work first’ through low replacement rates, conditionality and sanctions. This approach is always questionable, but it is particularly problematic in an environment of high and persistent unemployment. We must now take a more empathetic and interventionist approach, drawing on the Active Labour Market Policies (ALMPs) used more extensively elsewhere. If the UK spent the same proportion of GDP on these policies as other advanced European countries, we would invest £8.5 billion more a year in preventing unemployment. Some of these measures are outlined in this paper but government must also take action for older people as well, for example, through reforming and extending the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

Financial sustainability

And continuing the financial theme, the Institute for Fiscal Studies has published a briefing entitled Will universities need a bailout to survive the COVID-19 crisis? The briefing note examines the resilience of university finances to the likely consequences of the COVID-19 outbreak and the public health response to it.

  • The total size of the university sector’s losses is highly uncertain: we estimate that long-run losses could come in anywhere between £3 billion and £19 billion, or between 7.5% and nearly half of the sector’s overall income in one year. Our central estimate of total long-run losses is £11 billion or more than a quarter of income in one year.
  • The biggest losses will likely stem from falls in international student enrolments (between £1.4 billion and £4.3 billion, with a central estimate of £2.8 billion) and increases in the deficits of university-sponsored pension schemes, which universities will eventually need to cover (up to £7.6 billion, with a central estimate of £3.8 billion). In addition, the sector faces lockdown-related losses of income from student accommodation and conference and catering operations, as well as financial losses on long-term investments.
  • Large sector-level losses mask substantial differences between institutions. In general, institutions with a large share of international students and those with substantial pension obligations are most affected. These tend to be higher-ranking institutions as well as postgraduate and music & arts institutions. Some of the least selective universities, which rely largely on domestic fee income, will also be badly hit if higher ranked universities admit more UK students to make up for the shortfall in their international enrolments. While recently introduced student number caps will constrain some of this behaviour, there are still likely to be falls in student numbers at the least selective institutions.
  • Universities are unlikely to be able to claw back a large portion of these losses through cost savings unless they make significant numbers of staff redundant. In our central scenario, we estimate that cost savings could reduce the overall bill by only £600 million or around 6% without redundancies. The potential for cost savings varies across universities: institutions with a larger proportion of temporary staff will likely be able to make larger savings, but this may impact teaching quality
  • For the university sector as a whole, net losses in our central scenario are only slightly larger than five years of surplus at the pre-crisis level. Assuming that the underlying profitability of universities remains unchanged, the total financial reserves of the higher education sector could still be roughly the same in 2024 as they were in 2019, even without a government bailout.
  • Whether COVID-related losses put a given institution at risk of insolvency largely depends on its profitability and its balance sheet position before the crisis, rather than on its predicted losses from COVID-19. The institutions with the highest predicted losses all have large financial buffers and are therefore at little risk of insolvency. The institutions at the greatest risk tend to have smaller predicted losses, but had already entered the crisis in poor financial shape.
  • In our central scenario, 13 universities educating around 5% of students would end up with negative reserves and thus may not be viable in the long run without a government bailout or debt restructuring. A very tightly targeted bailout aimed at keeping these institutions afloat could cost around £140 million. In comparison, a one-off increase in teaching grants of £1,000 per UK/EU student would cost £1.8 billion but in our central scenario would only push three institutions above the line of zero reserves.
  • There is considerable uncertainty over actual risks to institutions and a trade-off between highly targeted and more general support. And additional support might not be aimed purely at preventing insolvencies. But there is a big gap in cost between a very targeted bailout costing perhaps less than £200 million and the more generalised bailout proposed by Universities UK, which would cost £3.2 billion and at the same time provide very little support to most universities that appear to be most at risk of insolvency; according to our modelling, only two institutions would be pushed above the line of zero reserves by this proposed policy. Government will need to be very clear about the purpose of any bailout package and design it accordingly.
  • Lightly regulated Alternative Providers educate around 3% of all students in the higher education sector. Many of these providers have low reserves and rely almost exclusively on tuition fees for their income. Alternative Providers with a large share of international students are at a significant risk of insolvency, potentially leaving students unable to complete their degrees.

Further to this, the Higher Education Policy Institute has published a response to the report. Nick Hillman, the Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), said:

  • “The IfS report is as lucid and clear as we have come to expect from them. They are right that universities with more international students and bigger pension liabilities are more directly affected by Covid than others and also that institutions which were financially weak before the pandemic are the ones most at risk of actual insolvency. They are also right that the arguments for extra support for universities in the crisis are strong. But that doesn’t mean they’re right overall.
  • “There are three important points to note.
  • “First, the range of projected short-term financial losses for universities, which the IfS calculates at between £3 billion and £19 billion, is so enormous that it’s pretty meaningless in terms of planning ahead. It’s such a huge fan of uncertainty that it doesn’t help either universities or policymakers know where they stand.
  • “Secondly, there are too many reports around at the moment that take old opinion polls of how students might behave as the gospel truth. We know from when tuition fees in England went to £9k that polls which ask students how they might behave are a woeful guide to the future, and the IfS’s figures on student numbers should therefore be taken with a lorry load of salt.
  • “For example, the IfS are assuming there will be 10% fewer UK students, yet the latest UCAS figures show the opposite trend. Who would choose to have a gap year at the moment, when travel and job opportunities are so limited? The IfS are also predicting a 50% drop in EU students as a result of the pandemic, even though 2020 is the last year when they will be treated like home students. Unless there is a major second wave of Covid-19, the IfS’s “central” estimate for the short-term financial losses would be better labelled “pessimistic” and their “pessimistic” estimate would be better labelled “extreme”.
  • “Thirdly, the oddest feature of the IfS report is how very little it has to say on university research. When universities have less income and face big deficits, they can opt to stem the financial losses by doing less research as research generally loses money. Less research would be terrible for the UK as it would hamper the post-pandemic recovery. So the quantity of research that institutions can afford must be a bigger part of the wider conversation about university financing.
  • “There is a strong case for continuing government support for universities of all types because of the jobs they provide, the education they deliver and the support they provide to employers as well as the research they undertake.”

David Kernohan looks under the bonnet.

But it’s ok, because Lord Willetts says foreign investors will be keen to help out, as reported by Research Professional.

University Admissions

The Office for Students finally unveiled their new licence condition on admissions practices at the end of last week, after a very long delay. The consultation results can be found here.

They have changed the time frame from the original proposal so that it is no longer retrospective to 11th March. It is in place until September 2021 so covers next year’s admissions cycle. 

There is a general catch all:

  • This condition…. prohibits a provider from engaging in any form of Conduct which, in the reasonable opinion of the OfS, could be expected to have a material negative effect on the Stability and/or Integrity of the English Higher Education Sector

This is interesting because it doesn’t just mean things that any one university does that could on its own have a material negative effect – but takes into account the cumulative negative effect if lots of universities were to do the same thing.  Deciding what might be covered by this vague and subjective definition will be an interesting process for anyone planning creative recruitment strategies.

To help the sector they have clarified some things that are definitely banned, and some things that are definitely allowed.  As you will see, the gap in the middle is quite big.

Banned

  • They have banned all conditional unconditional offers.
  • They have banned “false or misleading” claims to persuade people from going to another university (surely this would have been subject to action by the ASA in any case).

Allowed

  • the use of an Unconditional Offer in respect of a prospective or existing student who has already attained particular academic achievementswhich are at, or equivalent to, level 3 or above of the Regulated Qualifications Framework;
  • the use of an Unconditional Offer in connection withadmissions policies and criteria which wholly or mainly require a prospective or existing student to demonstrate abilities in a practical way (including, but not limited, by any type of live performance or submission of evidence of abilities through videos, drawings, paintings, photographic pictures, audio recordings, or any other tangible object);
  • the use of an Unconditional Offer in respect of a prospective or existing student who has already accredited prior learning (APL), or prior experiential learning (APEL), that can be accredited under academic regulations that were made and brought into force by the provider before 1 September 2019;
  • the use of an Unconditional Offer in respect of a prospective or existing student who meets all of the following requirements: the student was a private candidate registered to take examinations for A-level qualifications(or other qualifications which are equivalent to level 3 qualifications for the purposes of the Regulated Qualifications Framework) in 2020; and  was unable to take examinations for such qualifications before 31 August 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic or obtain grades for such qualifications on an alternative basis as a result of arrangements put in place by the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (or, as the case may be, the equivalent body in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland); and iii. is seeking admission to a higher education course which will commence before 1 September 2021;
  • the use of a Contextual Offer in connection with implementing any policy which could reasonably be considered as having the primary aim of promoting Equality of Opportunity.

It seems fairly clear that the OfS are intending to restrict unconditional offer-making in all but these cases, although they haven’t actually spelled that out.

Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of the OfS, said:

  • We have previously highlighted that unconditional offers which are conditional on students accepting a university or college as their first choice put pressure on students and distort their decision making. Widespread use of unconditional offers also risks destabilising the system. Our concerns are even more acute in these exceptional times with the shape of the next few months and years still very unpredictable, and information, advice and guidance less readily available than it may normally be.
  • ‘However, we have ensured that the condition explicitly permits unconditional and contextual offers that are clearly in students’ interests, and which support the transition into higher education for the most disadvantaged students.
  • ‘Students can also be reassured that they should not expect to have any offers that they have already received withdrawn, and where there are good reasons for them to receive an unconditional or contextual offer in future, there is no reason that this cannot go ahead.
  • ‘This condition is designed to avoid instability during the current uncertainty, and to protect students and the higher education sector in these extraordinary circumstances: it will not continue past September 2021. This should allay concerns that we wanted to extend our powers permanently, which we have no intention of doing.
  • ‘The condition is a necessary and proportionate means to ensure the stability and integrity of the English higher education sector, to protect students’ interests and to preserve a diversity of choice for students into the future.’

An anonymous senior figure in an English university has responded in a HEPI blog:

  • Conditional unconditional offers are explicitly ‘prohibited in all circumstances’ but the condition applies to: conduct … which, if repeated by other providers, is likely to have a material negative effect on the stability and/or integrity of the English Higher Education Sector (whether or not there is any form of express or tacit coordination, and whether or not a provider is able to anticipate the actions of other providers).’
  • Except for cases where applicants are required to ‘demonstrate abilities in a practical way’ – which are explicitly exempted – I think we can predict the end of all unconditional offer making.
  • As the OfS says, a ‘provider needs only to consider the possible negative effects on stability and integrity if other providers did follow suit.’ As the conceptual universe is overflowing with what is possible, it is unlikely that any university will argue that it is not possible that their unconditional offer-making will have negative effects.
  • Many within and outside the sector will not lament the passing of unconditional offer-making. Whatever your views on their relative merits, they had become a stick with which to beat us long before the pandemic hit. But hang on; that’s a problem. The original consultation stated that ‘the conduct that the condition seeks to address is specific to the circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic’.
  • No one can plausibly claim that the problem of unconditional offers is ‘specific’ to the pandemic. And while there have been worries about the alleged 30,000 unconditional offers made in the first few days of the pandemic, the OfS’s power will not be retrospective. So these will stand.
  • Indeed, given the current stage of the recruitment cycle, the new power will have marginal effect on 2020 recruitment. However, as it will last until 30 September 2021, it will apply through next year’s recruitment cycle. And, unless the OfS know something few others do, the new power will apply outside the pandemic.
  • One cannot help feeling that the bucket of ordure that was poured over the OfS in response to their original consultation so staggered them that it has taken this long to think of a face-saving way to rescue something from a poorly-argued consultation. Even with grade inflation, it would have warranted no more than a 3rd.
  • Still, one should not be ungenerous. The OfS may have done the sector a great favour. Unconditional offers are very much a collective action problem – if one university offers them, so must others. So a centrally-imposed rule is almost certainly the right approach.
  • However, one can still legitimately worry about the consultation outcome. The OfS was not consulting on the acceptability of unconditional offers; it was consulting on pandemic-specific conduct. The OfS seems to have used the exercise as cover to do something it has wanted to do for a long time.

Research

REF & Roadmap – Following last week’s announcement on the R&D roadmap which promises to investigate and reduce bureaucracy (and UKRI’s intention to consider overhauling REF after 2021) Wonkhe have a nice blog on how they do it in the Netherlands.

The roadmap also contained public funding pledges which intended to attract domestic and international private investment. BEIS have issued a report describing the ‘leverage’ that can be expected. They’ve also published the analysis of the economic modelling behind the 2.4% R&D target under the Industrial Strategy banner.

And the roadmap itself is still subject to much comment and articles continuing to analyse the nuance behind the words. Daniel Zeichner Co-Chair of the Universities APPG stated:

  • [the document was] a curious roadmap—much more of a ramble through a complicated landscape where everything gets a mention.
  • Measures to make the UK more attractive to international researchers are welcome, although whether they will undo the self-inflicted harm caused by leaving the European Union, and ill-considered immigration policies, remains to be seen.
  • Anyone following this roadmap will doubtless recognise much of what is described but will wonder about the destination—little surprise that at the end, we find that we have finally arrived at the start of a conversation.

Research Lottery – THE report on a consortium (including UKRI) who are experimenting to judge whether funding certain types of research project by random selection would reduce unconscious bias. Professor Wilsdon, Research on Research institute, stated:

  • When you are sitting on panels, you can often easily spot the really outstanding applications – or the stuff that isn’t much good – but there is also a middle level of proposals that will probably lead to valuable research where it is very hard to choose between candidates. The distinctions between them are so fine-grain that it is sometimes quite hard to defend why you chose one over another – it is this area where grant funders can be susceptible to implicit bias, whether that is linguistic, institutional or gender bias.
  • [Another]…big motivation is making the process more efficient and whether lotteries can be designed that make the application process faster and lighter touch.
  • However, the “killer question” about lottery-based funding systems is “whether they help to fund better research”. We have no idea about this so far, but we will begin to look at this in the study.

The consortium are also tackling whether grant application criteria lead to inequalities in research funding, whether new definitions or alternatives to excellence can be found, and a six-country study in how research cultures can be made more diverse and inclusive.

ECRs – HEPI has a new blog analysing the R&D Roadmap which draws out the 5 points most relevant and positive to the Early Career Researcher experience:

  • Focusing on the person and attributes (more than uncontrollable citations, grants won, publications achieved)
  • Addressing negative research culture
  • Improving diversity and inclusion within research
  • Addressing the instability of short term grants and contracts
  • ‘New Deal’ for PhD student funding

Of course, these are all intentions and it remains to be seen how to tackle the trickier aspects, particularly in a post-pandemic financially squeezed world, however it is a start.

Parliamentary questions:

Student Number Controls

The Lords debate of the regulations which will bring the student number control into being covered the usual topics, including the limits on the devolved nations recruitment of English students, impact on students from disadvantaged backgrounds,  whether there were other incentives that could support universities.

The Lords comments are interesting because we get some different viewpoints. Here’s a little selection.

Lord Blencathra’s comments were notable:

  • First, I am appalled that many universities are ripping off students by refusing to refund part of their fees for non-existent teaching. Over the last six months, university lecturers were on strike for five weeks—more than 1 million students got no teaching whatever. Now, there is no teaching because of Covid-19, and still universities are running the equivalent of Ponzi schemes, like Bernard Madoff racketeers, taking money for a non-existent product while paying themselves huge dividends. I am sorry, but they deserve to be lambasted. Any commercial company which failed to deliver on a contracted service would have to pay compensation. I hope my noble friend can compel our universities to behave honourably.
  • Secondly, I see that the department is considering changing to post-results applications and university courses starting in January. This change is long overdue, and I commend it. It is nonsense to offer conditional places based on predicted results. I hope that the Government will push on with that excellent initiative as soon as possible.
  • Finally, I know my noble friend will not say so, but we have about 30 useless universities at the bottom end of the quality tables. They are taking fees from students for worthless courses which will not get them jobs, and the fees will never be repaid. We desperately need more technical colleges and more skills training, as the Prime Minister said on Tuesday. Will my noble friend look to convert these back to good polytechnics which could do good for the country and real good for young people, rather than them playing at being poor-quality universities?

Lord Chidgey (LD): 

  • My Lords, in the context of this higher education SI on fee limits and student support, Michelle Donelan MP, the Universities Minister, said yesterday: “ higher education should be open to all … who are qualified by ability and attainment.”
  • True social mobility would put students, their needs and career ambitions first—be that in HE, FE or apprenticeships—and must be funded accordingly.

Lord Desai (Lab)

  • My Lords, I find this regulation a little strange. We have faced a surprising pandemic, and some universities have tried to defend themselves against possible losses by recruiting more people than they are supposed to. As far as I can understand these complex things, the universities which have offered more places than they are supposed to will be punished, not this year but next year. That is the kind of Stalinist rationing I do not understand.
  • If universities are taking the initiative to defend themselves against the adverse effects of the virus, they should be rewarded, because they are looking ahead. At least next year, if you are going to punish them for this, please punish them mildly, spread the punishment over more than one year and, if possible, do not punish them at all, because they are doing good work and we need good-quality higher education. Therefore, this is the time not to be harsh on universities but to be kind to higher education, just as the Government are very kind to companies that are going bust and banks which are failing, and so on. If you are being kind to everyone, why not be kind to higher education as well?

Lord  Blencathra  (Con)  said he was “appalled” that universities would not refund students for lost teaching as a result of strikes and then the pandemic. He supported changes to post-result  applications. Finally, he said there should be more technical colleges, and that the bottom 30 universities should be converted “back to good polytechnics.”

Baroness Altmann (Con) asked whether there would be an appeal process for institutions who felt they were treated unfairly by regulations; about the impact of the use of student loan data; and whether smaller specialist higher education institutions could be exempt from these controls.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay:

  • Regarding the consultation period, that the Universities Minister had meetings with representatives across the sector, including Universities UK. The research package announced recently by the Government was UK wide.
  • With regards to devolution, Parkinson said the problem was acute in England; and there was not an intention to interfere with devolution. He said that the ” funding of English-domiciled students is not a devolved matter “; and that devolved nations would be able to continue setting their own fees.
  • On the point of disadvantaged students, Parkinson said the Government expected higher education providers to support such students; and that the Department of Education was seeing to identify steps to assist this.  Apprenticeships would be excluded from number controls.
  • Parkinson said that the issue of the quality of providers was a condition of registration with the Office for students. Appeals for providers regarding controls would be considered on a case-by-case basis.
  • For students from  migrants  families, Parkinson clarified that individuals who had spent the previous three years in the UK could access support equal to most other students.
  • The Government cared about the HE  sector  and the opportunities it provided to all whom use it.

The regulations were approved.

Post-pandemic recovery

The Department for Education published guidance entitled Higher education: reopening buildings and campuses.

This document is designed to help providers of higher education in England to understand how to minimise risk during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak and provide services to students, keeping as many people as possible self-isolating and out of educational settings if they are symptomatic, practising good hand and respiratory hygiene and keeping 2 metres apart from those they do not live with wherever possible. From 4 July, where 2 metres is not viable, reducing the distance down to a minimum of 1 metre can be used but only if appropriate mitigation is in place.

The House of Commons Library have published Coronavirus: Easing lockdown restrictions in FE & HE in England exploring the student number controls, re-opening campuses, graduate employability and lack of catch up funding for FE colleges.

EU Students and Student Mobility

Student Mobility – The Times have an opinion piece discussing the building blocks that the UK alternative to Erasmus should incorporate.

EU Students – An Oxford academic is calling for a Government funded EU scholarship scheme to attract high quality European students into British universities. Research Professional report on a survey by a European student website (Study.eu) where 84%  of potential students said they would “definitely not” study in the UK if their fees roughly doubled to the same amount paid by non-EU international students. 60% of the respondents would have begun university in the 2021-22 academic year.  Study.eu Chief Executive Gerrit Bruno Blöss stated: It is unfortunate that the political process leads to such negative consequences for students and universities…UK’s universities have a lot to offer, but they are facing strong competition on the continent.

T levels

Ahead of the skills and training announcements set out above, Gillian Keegan, Minister for Skills and Apprenticeships had already announced a new package of support to help employers and FE providers deliver high-quality industry placements for T-levels.

  • T Levels – high-quality technical alternatives equivalent to three A Levels – have been created in collaboration with industry experts so students gain the skills they need to succeed in the workplace and so businesses can access the workforce they need to thrive.
  • A unique part of a T Level will be the completion of a high-quality industry placement – of at least 315 hours, or approximately 45 days – where students will build the knowledge and skills and develop the confidence they need in a workplace environment.

The package includes:

  • New guidance setting out the key roles and responsibilities for providers and employers, and a new guide for students to help them prepare for their placement, with hands on support and advice so everyone can get the best experience possible.
  • Additional delivery models for employers and providers including new models for the way industry placements can be delivered in the Construction and Engineering & Manufacturing routes, to reflect modern practices, and allowing Capacity and Delivery Fund placements to be delivered over two academic years, to bring them in line with T Levels, with a reduced delivery target of 25% for the 2020/21 academic year, to reflect the impact of the coronavirus on employers.
  • In recognition of the impact of coronavirus on employers, the government will extend the Employer Support Fund pilot, launched in September 2019, to offer financial support to employers in selected regions where funding is a barrier to them hosting high-quality industry placements. The Employer Support Package, a suite of online guidance, case studies and workshops to help employers to host high-quality industry placements, will also continue: and
  • The government will also procure an organisation with the appropriate expertise to support 2020, 2021 and 2022 providers to help them deliver high-quality placements in line with the delivery guidance.

Gillian Keegan, Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills said:

  • The first three T Levels in Design, Surveying and Planning for Construction, Digital Production, Design and Development and Education and Childcare will be taught from September 2020 with more rolled out gradually between 2021 and 2023. The new qualifications will play a key part in rebuilding the economy after the coronavirus outbreak, boosting access to high-quality technical education for thousands of young people so they can progress to the next level, whether that is getting a job, going on to further study or an apprenticeship.

Other Parliamentary questions

There were a lot of questions on tuition fees for healthcare/nursing students.

Other news

Skills: The EU have set out a 5-year Skills Agenda with policy priorities and targets bringing industry, education and employment agencies together. While this focuses only on EU states it is interesting to note the similarity to the UK context with the increased focus on skills and tackling employment gaps. Including a Council which will make recommendations on vocational education and training.

Force Majeure: If you like a short technical read there is a blog from Shakespeare Martineau on the force majeure clause which allows for extraordinary occurrences in relation to delivery of contracts. The blog takes apart the OfS expectation that it won’t apply to students commencing in 2020/21 questioning whether the OfS position is correct:

  • While all providers have been planning and making strenuous efforts to deliver programmes in the wake of the pandemic, the OIA’s view presupposes that they can simply now return to the status quo ante in September, any deviation from provision as originally promised being a matter of expedience or discretion for the provider and therefore subject to students’ consent.
  • Students who will enrol for the first time in September 2020 will have been made offers which reflected the delivery models of a pre-COVID world, and they will have accepted their offers on those terms. The pandemic nevertheless continues, the threat of transmission subsists, the spectre of a second peak looms larger with each easing of the lockdown, and there is no clear guidance on whether and how providers can resume delivery as promised and safely. Pubs and restaurants, which are permitted to re-open from July, are doing so but in a way that is significantly different from the services we all enjoyed consuming until March.  Why are HE providers different?
  • The OIA clearly believes that, given the passage of time since the outbreak, providers have had time to mitigate its effects.  That may well be the case, though some providers would argue otherwise.  Mitigating effects now for September enrolments, however, does not mean that providers can fulfil promises made pre-COVID without any changes from offers originally made and accepted.  The OIA’s dismissal of force majeure reliance is therefore hard to understand and unhelpful to providers facing an increase in student complaints.

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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 8th April 2020

Well, what a week! Lockdown hasn’t reduced the volume of content, analysis and comment out there (although there is a bit of a theme). Welcome to your fully stuffed policy update which contains more goodies than the average panic buyer’s larder (we know, that is such an outdated concept already). Exams, grades and admissions remain a key focus for the sector, Parliament plan to embrace virtual working, there are some fab opportunities for researchers and we’ve a new Labour leader and Shadow Cabinet.

Good news

One good thing to come out of all this is that the role that universities can play in contributing to wider societal issues is being highlighted – not that it will make much difference to perceptions long term, but it’s nice to share good news.  Take a look at the UUK website for more information on their #wearetogether campaign.  There’s more on the BU website about our own efforts, and the BU news team are looking for more stories so let them know what you are up to.

Parliamentary Business

Virtual Parliament – There is a push for Parliament to operate virtually in a formal capacity during the Coronavirus lockdown. This is challenging because, as we mentioned in the policy update two weeks ago, Parliament has terrible facilities for this. However, Labour’s shadow minister for innovation, Chi Onwurah, sums it up: “People up and down the country have made huge behavioural changes in a matter of days and we must show we are capable of it too”.

Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle and Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg have both given their backing to the virtual Parliament proposals from 21 April (the end of recess). The plan is for certain types of important business to be conducted virtually. Lindsay Hoyle writes:

  • Parliament’s role of scrutinising government, authorising spending and making laws must be fulfilled and in these unprecedented times that means considering every technological solution available. We are exploring options with the parliamentary authorities in readiness for parliament’s return… Once the house returns, if we are still in the grip of the crisis where the physical presence of members, or too many members, in the palace is not appropriate, I am keen that they should be able to participate in key parliamentary proceedings virtually, for example oral questions, urgent questions, statements.

Some select Committees are already operating virtually (you can read the key points from the Education Committee’s session later in this policy update).

In addition, the Speaker is urging the Government to set up a forum of Ministers and senior Government representatives during recess for MPs to ask questions at set times on different days ‘about how things work and how they can be improved’. Hoyle writes: MPs are being swamped right now with questions and case work from distressed constituents who need answers…Responses cannot wait for the House to sit again.

Acting leader of the Liberal Democrats Ed Davey is calling for a specialist select committee focusing on Covid-19. He stated:

  • If it wasn’t a dangerous infectious virus but a major emergency, parliament would have been recalled. We wouldn’t have gone on recess. …We think scrutiny is good for government policy. We’ve shown opposition parties are prepared to behave responsibly. I think we can find a way to get things cracking and get an online virtual parliament to serve the nation.

The Guardian report on the virtual parliament here.

PM powers – ICYMI Prime Minister Boris is in hospital and has designated Dominic Raab (Foreign Secretary and First Secretary of State) to deputise “where necessary”. The UK’s unwritten constitution does not provide a clear outline of what the situation now allows, but as Cabinet takes collective decisions it is understood that Raab will be the first amongst equals. It is unlikely Raab will be afforded the prerogative powers of the Prime Minister, such as the ability to conduct reshuffles or take significant security decisions. However, there isn’t a clear outline of Raab’s new responsibilities nor the limits he has been given by the Government. The decision on whether or not to extend or end the lockdown is due to be taken next week, but it is likely this will be deferred or made by Cabinet collectively if the Prime Minister is incapacitated. In extreme circumstances, it would be expected that the Queen would ask Raab to form a government on a permanent or interim basis.

On Raab Dr Catherine Haddon, from the Institute for Government, said  the situation remains uncertain and that some powers could be distributed to a number of Cabinet ministers – “the power would derive from the prime minister saying who he wants ministries to respond to“.

Labour Leader & Shadow Cabinet – Keir Starmer was elected the leader of the Labour Party in the first round, of voting. He won 56.2% of first preference vote (more actual votes than Jeremy Corbyn in 2015, although a smaller overall percentage of the total). He also won the majority of votes across all three groups – MPs, affiliates and party members. Rebecca Long-Bailey took 27.6% of the vote share and Lisa Nandy 16.2%. On Keir Research Professional say: His grass-roots mandate is significant—and is coupled with a shift away from Corbyn loyalists on the party’s national executive committee.

The new leader pledged to work constructively with the Government whilst holding them to account:

  • Under my leadership we will engage constructively with the government, not opposition for opposition’s sake. Not scoring party political points or making impossible demands. But with the courage to support where that’s the right thing to do…We will shine a torch on critical issues and where we see mistakes or faltering government or things not happening as quickly as they should we’ll challenge that and call that out.

Here is the full Shadow Cabinet Line up:

  • Leader of the Opposition: Keir Starmer
  • Deputy Leader and Chair of the Labour Party: Angela Rayner, elected in the third round of voting with 52.6% of the vote.
  • Shadow Chancellor: Anneliese Dodds
  • Shadow Education: Rebecca Long-Bailey
  • Shadow Home Secretary: Nick Thomas-Symonds
  • Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care: Jonathan Ashworth (incumbent)
  • Shadow Foreign Secretary: Lisa Nandy
  • Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster: Rachel Reeves
  • Chief Whip: Nick Brown
  • Shadow Justice: David Lammy
  • Shadow Defence: John Healey
  • Shadow Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy: Ed Miliband
  • Shadow International Trade: Emily Thornberry
  • Shadow Work and Pensions: Jonathan Reynolds
  • Shadow Digital, Culture, Media and Sport: Jo Stevens
  • Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury: Bridget Philipson
  • Shadow DEFRA (Environment, Food & Rural Affairs): Luke Pollard
  • Shadow Communities and Local Government: Steve Reed
  • Shadow Housing: Thangam Debbonaire
  • Shadow Transport: Jim McMahon
  • Shadow International Development: Preet Kaur Gill
  • Shadow Women and Equalities: Marsha de Cordova
  • Shadow Employment Rights and Protections Secretary: Andy McDonald
  • Shadow Minister for Mental Health: Rosena Allin-Khan
  • Shadow Minister for Young People and Voter Engagement: Cat Smith
  • Shadow Attorney General: Lord Falconer
  • Shadow Leader of the House: Valerie Vaz
  • Shadow Northern Ireland (interim): Louise Haigh
  • Shadow Scotland: Ian Murray
  • Shadow Wales: Nia Griffith Shadow
  • Leader of the Lords: Baroness Angela Smith (incumbent)
  • Lords’ Opposition Chief Whip: Lord McAvoy

Shadow Secretary of State for Education – Rebecca Long Bailey has the Shadow Secretary of State for Education brief replacing Angela Rayner. Rebecca has held Shadow Ministerial posts for almost all of her parliamentary tenure. This gives us little evidence from which to judge her opinions and intents for Education. Dods have pulled together snippets from her parliamentary career when she has spoken out on Education matters.

Universities: That brings me to local industrial policy. Labour has been clear on the need for a national industrial strategy, but we are also clear about the need to be regionally powerful and distinctive, with the resources to match, and to build on the already world-class universities and businesses in our regions and nations (2018)

Further Education: Businesses also need a highly skilled workforce, but the Government have cut real-terms school funding, scrapped the education maintenance allowance and imposed huge cuts to further education funding over the past seven years (2017)

Schools: We have rampant regional inequality, hunger in schools and public services pushed to breaking point by a policy that even the Chancellor now admits was a political choice all along—the choice of austerity (2020)

Technical and Adult Education: Key policies include establishing a technical education system, investing £406 million in maths, digital and technical education, and creating a national retraining scheme with an investment of £64 million. Again, the intent is good, but let us remember that the Government cut £1.15 billion from the adult skills budget from 2010 to 2015. Similarly, on first analysis the £406 million appears to be the sum of the amounts the Government have already spent on maths, computing and digital skills (2017 budget debate)

T levels: Some of the Government’s commitments are welcome, including the national retraining scheme and the T-levels that she has just mentioned, but sadly they are meaningless in the context of the cuts that we have faced over recent years (2018)

Research Professional have this to say on Rebecca’s expected approach to the universities brief:

  • …for the foreseeable future Long-Bailey will double down on the Corbynite legacy of the National Education Service. Starmer committed during the election campaign to retaining the party’s pledge on the abolition of university tuition fees.
  • With Angela Rayner—former shadow education secretary—as chair of the Labour Party and now having a considerable say in policy formation, the National Education Service is probably safe for now. The problem with it as a policy is that it manages to be simultaneously expensive and vague, without cutting through to the public.
  • The appointment of Long-Bailey as shadow education spokesperson is perhaps indicative of how Starmer views the brief. It is not a priority for now and is a safe holding pen for the thwarted aspirations of those still loyal to the Corbyn project.
  • Long-Bailey will find an appreciative audience among many within the University and College Union, which Corbyn’s Labour Party leaned on heavily to outsource thinking about universities. However, others in the union will regret that the choice of shadow education secretary will make it harder, not easier, to move on from past impasses.
  • Playbook would be very surprised if Long-Bailey made it to the next election still in the education role. It is standard practice for a party leader to appoint their recent rivals to sit around their first cabinet table, only to rotate them out in the fullness of time.

HE Connections – Labour does have substantial academic and HE connections within its elected representatives. The shadow chancellor, Anneliese Dodds, was a lecturer in public policy at King’s College London and Aston University before becoming an MP. Shadow Home Secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds, was a history and politics lecturer at Oxford. Rupa Huq was a lecturer at Kingston University. Shadow Justice Secretary, David Lammy, was the Universities Minister under Gordon Brown’s Government. Robert Zeichner, who doesn’t have a ministerial brief in the reshuffle, is the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Universities. Lastly, Paul Blomfield worked with then Universities Minister Jo Johnson to amend the post-work visa system for international students.

Exams, Grades & Admissions

GCSE & A Level – The Government released their grading system for GCSE and A level exams at the end of last week. Alistair Jarvis, UUK Chief Executive, commented:

  • No aspiring student should be disadvantaged because of the current Covid-19 outbreak and this is welcome progress towards ensuring students and universities alike can take confidence in the way A-levels are awarded this year. It is clear that a robust process will be in place that takes account of a wide range of information about a student and their performance throughout the course of their current study, and that standardised judgements and an agreed methodology will ensure consistency and fairness. We are committed to supporting Ofqual as they continue to develop their precise methodology.
  • To provide additional reassurance to students, it is important to note that universities will also have the power to be flexible in taking an applicants’ context into account as part of the admissions process.

On students dissatisfied with their grades who will opt to take the autumn exam Independent Schools Council Chairman, Barnaby Lenon, said: We hope that universities will show flexibility to ensure that students who take this option are able to begin their course with a delayed start time.

Clare Marchant, UCAS’ Chief Executive, said:

  • It’s essential for their future education and careers that students receive a set of fair and justifiable examination results. The processes outlined by Ofqual today will do exactly that. The best available evidence in the extraordinary circumstances we are all in will be used to calculate regulated grades that will stay with students for years to come. For those applying to higher education, we expect them to be treated fairly and consistently, and universities and colleges to consider these grades in the same way as any qualifications from previous years.

On Tuesday Wonkhe reported that A poll by the Student Room found that nearly two-thirds of GCSE and A level students in the 700-person sample answered “no” to the question “Do you think you will be given a fair grade this summer?”. Tes has the story.

Wonkhe discuss HE uncertainties for admissions colleagues from the proposed grading:

  • we don’t know when the 2020 A level results will be available, which is a big deal for universities and those applying to them. This year’s grades will be predicted by teachers and normalised by a nationally applied formula – meaning that taken together, results will look very similar to those from previous years. While this feels fair, there are risks that high-achieving students in historically low-achieving schools may be disadvantaged.
  • A level grades are predicted every year, of course, as a part of the UCAS application process. We are familiar with the weaknesses of those predictions and, in many ways, compensate with these in offer-making and admissions behaviour. With offer-making still furloughed for the time being, it remains to be seen if these same mitigations will work against newer, normalised, predications as the end point – or how many students will want to take the opportunity to sit an exam later in the year.
  • Universities will understandably want to think through how to proceed with admissions in the way that supports good decision making, and is as fair as possible.

 The blog We can make admissions work without A levels explores:

  • a model that dataHE has developed to support admissions on the basis of predicted grades. Though predicted grades are less accurate than exam results, this matters less this year, because there won’t be any exam results. Importantly, since predicted grades were assigned before exams were cancelled, they have roughly the same amount of bias baked in as in any normal year. That makes it possible to use them – carefully, and in an evidenced way – to build a model of exam-awarded grades on which to base admissions decisions.

Wonkhe’s data expert David Kernohan has a blog setting the current situation in context with the wider practice of predicting grades.

And there is another on Changing student recruitment in light of Covid-19.

HE Exams – Wonkhe report that QAA will publish new guidance this week:

  • on academic standards and student achievement alongside a section on practice and lab-based assessment during the Covid-19 crisis. These materials offer examples from providers around the sector alongside principles-based planning – there are detailed proposals for digital assessment alongside suggestions for student support.
  • The general guidance covers modifications to academic regulations (emergency academic regulations), gathering details of local circumstances from students and applying mitigations accordingly, arrangements for progression with reduced academic credit (apparently OfS guidance is on the way here), and assessment boards.

As many universities have already worked out, or made good progress in working out what they are going to do in this area, this is a bit late, really.

There is also a blog by Douglas Blackstock, Chief Executive of QAA, on Wonkhe describing how QAA is helping universities and PSRBs (Professional, Statutory and Regulatory Bodies) accredit students as meeting the requirements to practice within their field.

Surveys – It was inevitable that potential HE students would be surveyed to death and asked about their concerns and whether they intend to continue with their plans to commence HE. The UCAS poll (sample size – 500 students) states the 86% intend to continue on to HE despite the pandemic disruption. 60% have selected their first choice place. 27% are waiting before they confirm their firm choice of institution. UCAS also report that over half (51%) of respondents feel supported at the moment, but want more help. While 37% said felt fully supported now, this is higher amongst white applicants (40%) and lower amongst BAME applicants (29%).

Research Professional (RP) cover the survey and mention the uncertainty surrounding when the next academic year will commence. Humorously, RP remind us that After months cooped up at home with their parents, it’s understandable—and their hopes [to attend HE] might be the only thing keeping us all going.

TES also cover the UCAS poll results.

HEPI have a wider poll, we’ve covered this separately below due to the volume of detail. However, they find that a third of applicants feel less confident they will get into their chosen university since the pandemic.

The Times reports on a QS survey in Universities face crushing blow as overseas students stay away. QS surveyed 11,000 prospective international students (only 4,600 intended to study in UK). 55% stated their plans to commence study in the UK in September 2020 had changed. 32% were still deciding and 14% were determined to go ahead despite disruption and potentially online learning. The Times article states: Our higher education sector will be crucial to the post-crisis recovery, so it is vital that the UK remains a welcoming place for people from across the world, including from China.

International Admissions – HESA released HE sector finance data on Friday and Wonkhe have produced a series of tableau tables showing where institutions sit against the variables. There is an interesting table highlighting the providers with the highest international student incomes (those who may be hit hardest if the predicted downturn in international students for September 2020 intake is realised). Predictably UCL and other London institutions congregate at the top. However, the table can be filtered down to other regions and exclude PG or UG or full/part time provision. You may also be interested in the key financial indicators table, again filterable by different measures of financial health and stability.

The Times and the Telegraph also cover the data release.

Unconditional Offers – Moratorium Extended

Universities Minister Michelle Donelan has extended the moratorium preventing universities from making unconditional offers until 20 April.

Research Professional (RP) say: The Department for Education seems to have rejected the argument that making unconditional offers to prospective students following the cancellation of A levels would be in the interest of stressed and concerned applicants.

RP report in the same piece that Donelan states: I know many students will be anxious at this unprecedented time and worried about what it means for their future..My top priorities are to both reassure students and protect our world-leading higher education sector. That is why I am calling for an extension to the pause on changes to university offers, and I urge universities to adhere to this so we ensure long-term stability across the admissions system.

The OfS are supporting the Minister by exploring the use of regulatory powers to take enforcement action against universities and colleges not acting in the best interests of students or undermining the stability and integrity of the higher education sector—including – considering options for enforcement during the moratorium period. And: Universities and colleges must also ensure that their admissions processes work effectively to identify applicants with the potential to succeed, particularly where those applicants have experienced barriers and disruption on their route to higher education.

RP conclude: The Department for Education has been rattling its sabre over admissions and the regulator has threatened fines. But autonomous university admissions are guaranteed by the Higher Education and Research Act 2017. When push comes to shove, the government might find that there is not much more it can do beyond expressing censure.

Fighting talk certainly, but a later RP blog with content from HE Legal expert Smita Jamdar and Nick Hillman (HEPI) considers the grey areas. The blog is well worth the quick read.

The Times has a related article: Fines for universities using low offers to ‘poach’ students from rivals. In the article they report the OfS as stating it would be looking closely at the financial stability of universities over the next few weeks: “Clearly coronavirus will have a significant impact on universities. One of our main areas of focus in the coming months will be to support the financial sustainability of the higher education sector in England.”

RP were quick to point out The Office for Students has always insisted that it will not bail out universities that are failing. The next few years could test that to the limit. There is also a RP piece on the reduced regulatory load the OfS is requiring of HE institutions during the current crisis: OfS freezes normal regulatory requirements during pandemic and here are the details of the suspended requirements from the OfS website.

OfS

The OfS has been busy. First, they supported the Minister in the extension of the moratorium (above) and pledged to crack down on any wizard wheezes that universities had found around the request. They’ve also reduced the standard regulatory requirements so universities can focus on the most pressing operational issues caused by C-19.

Next they issued guidance for universities on quality and standards of learning and academic assessment during the pandemic. And accompanied it by an introductory descriptive blog: Maintain good courses and credible qualifications for students during pandemic, says regulator urging flexibility, reasonable adjustments, teaching and support on a relative par to ‘normal’, clear communications to students to keep them informed and setting out what the OfS considers examples of effective practice from across the higher education sector.

HEPI Student Survey

HEPI polled 1,000 full-time UG students and 500 HE applicants to explore how the Covid-19 pandemic is affecting them.

Current Students on Assessment

  • 70% of students feel the messaging from their HEI on Coronavirus has been either ‘clear’ or ‘very clear’
  • 36% think the current crisis should lead to their assessments for the rest of the year being cancelled
  • 42% expect universities to continue assessments online but 17% would prefer for the assessments to be postponed until after the crisis.
  • A greater proportion of first year students (44%) thought assessments should be cancelled, compared to second year students (32%) or students in their third year (31%).
  • Just under half of students (49%) are satisfied with the online learning that has replaced their face-to-face teaching; 23% of students are dissatisfied.
  • The majority (55%) of students are living away from their normal term-time residence as a result of the Coronavirus crisis. However, another 45% of respondents said they are still living in their term-time residence.

Applicants

  • 29% of applicants are concerned about whether they’ll get a place at their chosen university (the overall picture is interesting – see later chart).
  • 46% expect their predicted grades to reflect their final grade, whereas 27% think their predicted grades are worse than their final grades would have been.
  • 79% of applicants stated the pandemic has not had any impact on which university will be their first choice. Only 7% plan to change their first-choice university and another 14% are undecided.
  • 53% of applicants feel the messaging they have received on Coronavirus from their prospective universities has been clear.

Rachel Hewitt, Director of Policy and Advocacy at the Higher Education Policy Institute, said:

  • These results show universities are supporting students and applicants well through these challenging times. Despite having to scale up online provision very quickly, few students are dissatisfied with the offering from their institution. Both applicants and students feel they have had clear information around the pandemic. On admissions, it is clear applicants need greater certainty about what will happen to their university places. It is essential this group, who have already lost out on the end of their school experience, are not disadvantaged from getting into the university of their choice. The data shows this is a concern for a significant minority of applicants. Despite all the uncertainty, much remains the same. Two-thirds of students still want the opportunity to complete their assessments from afar. The majority of applicants still intend to go to the same university as before the crisis. What’s more, many students are still living in their term-time residence, meaning they may be reliant on the support of their university and accommodation providers.

Dods say:

  • Whilst the poll suggests that the pandemic has had a limited impact on students consideration of their first choice institution, there is concern that the combination of cancelled exams, the absence of university open days and the potential that the UK could still be moving in and out of phased social distancing measures, could have an impact on the number of students choosing to defer their entry to higher education by twelve months. For universities, the financial impact of a decline in international students, coupled with the cancellation of potentially lucrative conferencing opportunities over the summer, could be further exacerbated by a fall in domestic uptake. Given the lack of control over how students are distributed across institutions and subjects, a decline could result in some providers significantly under recruiting. As such, calls have emerged for the Government to mitigate against volatility in the market by exercising control over student numbers. This could be achieved via statutory instrument under the emergency Coronavirus Bill.

Education Committee – Disadvantage

The Education Committee has published a summary of their 25 March private meeting (with the DfE as part of the inquiry investigating the impact of COVID-19 on education and children’s services). The meeting tackled the impact of school closures on the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their wealthier peers.

  • DfE expects schools to do all they can to ensure lessons continue online or via other means, and that learning should continue. Schools to remain open for the most vulnerable but acknowledged that the effect of school closures on vulnerable and disadvantaged pupils was a concern.
  • DfE expect the system to act flexibly to support vulnerable children. Local Authorities should work with schools and the sector to ensure children with an education, health and care (EHC) plan or social worker are supported and there is appropriate oversight of children remaining at home.
  • Children’s services, already under significant financial pressures, will be given additional resources – an additional non-ringfenced £1.6 billion has been allocated to support councils on areas including social care. The Department said that Clause 5 of the Coronavirus Bill would allow the emergency registration of social workers, to tackle the strain on social care.
  • On concerns where the key worker status is being interpreted differently by schools, parents and employers – DfE stated that if a school refuses to take a child of a key worker as defined by the Department, the parent should raise this with their local authority in the first instance. Initial feedback from schools is that the number of key workers sending children to school is lower than expected.
  • On whether the DfE will undertake longer-term work on the public health implications of exam cancellations on young people (for example, the possibility of increased rates of drug and alcohol abuse). They answer was no, that the DfE expect young people not at school to continue their education at home and would not commit to undertaking work on public health implications.
  • Support for further education (FE) colleges and their students – The number of eligible students taking advantage of provision is very low, and there was already substantial online learning in place for 16-18-year-olds. The DfE said it was working with exam boards on advice and guidance on qualifications. They said this was complicated because of the number of types of qualifications there are for this phase.
  • Support for independent training providers – the DfE stated that as ITPs operate as businesses, they can access the support for businesses that the Treasury has announced. The Department explained that they will not pay for training activity that is not taking place, and encouraged providers to consider greater use of online and remote learning to allow their business activities to continue.

Access & Participation

Graeme Atherton, Director of NEON, writes for Research Professional, No closed doors, summarising the threats facing disadvantaged access to HE as a result of the current Covid-19 crisis. Graeme points to the cancellation of the Aim Higher outreach programme after the 2008 financial crash and issues a plea for the recent progress reducing the access gap and the new, stretching, access and participation targets set by universities with the OfS not to be lost.

Jonathan Simons, Director of Education at Public First, blogs for Wonkhe: We must not abandon widening participation this year following a similar line to Graeme and urging the section to retreat on equality work.

The Telegraph has an article suggesting that undergraduates should be drafted into a national service to boost social mobility by acting as English and Maths tutors for underprivileged children at local schools.

The OfS has a provider guide to coronavirus with a Q&A section. Commenting on the Q&A content Wonkhe suggest that providers are expected to deliver their full access and participation plans. In assessment the regulator will take into account the efforts and suitable modifications each university has made.

There is a HEPI blog tackling concerns over How to square widening participation with student number caps: Student number caps are normally a bad idea. But we don’t live in normal times. If needs must, a one-off cap might be a necessary measure to whack a particularly problematic mole. But we need to make sure that, in implementing it, we don’t hit disadvantaged applicants too.

The Sutton Trust has a report on this too looking at the implications for social mobility and setting out priority areas:

  • Widening access to private and online tuition, both during and after the school closures, in order to minimise the impact on the attainment gap.
  • Ensuring access to technology and online resources for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds while schools are closed.
  • Fair access to higher education, and making sure this year’s changes to A levels and the admissions process do not impact negatively on the prospects of young people from less welloff backgrounds
  • Protecting apprenticeships, making sure that current apprentices are protected financially, and trying to ensure that the apprenticeship system is ready to bounce back when restrictions are lifted.

Allied Health Profession students – paid jobs during COVID-19 outbreak.

Health Education England (HEE) is asking universities to contact their eligible Allied Health Professional (AHP) students to discuss their options for using their education programme to help with the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. I.e. if they would like to opt-in to undertake a paid NHS role.

HEE state the options vary depending on the student’s stage of study and that HEE has worked collaboratively with the HCPC, professional bodies, Royal Colleges, Council of Deans of Health, Government departments of the four nations, NHS Employers and staff side representatives to consider how best to support AHP students to continue their studies and where appropriate use their skills and expertise to support the health and care system during this time of emergency in the safest possible way.

Emergency legislation was also passed by the UK Government earlier in March, giving the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) powers to automatically register former Allied Health Professionals (AHPs) who had de-registered in the last three years and final year AHP students on UK approved programmes who have successfully completed their final clinical placements.

Beverley Harden, Associate Director for Education & Quality at Health Education England, said;

  • We are continuing to develop proposals to provide safe and beneficial opportunities for our AHP students that allows them to keep developing their skills while supporting the NHS at this difficult time. I would like all students to read Suzanne’s and my letter to them, and for those eligible to consider voluntary opting-in to help in the COVID-19 response alongside their registered AHP colleagues.
  • AHP students, during the course of their education and training all spend a large percentage of their time working in clinical environments, learning alongside qualified staff to develop into the outstanding professionals we need.
  • You will be given the option to opt-in to a voluntary revised programme structure whereby students can spend, for example, a maximum of 60% of their time in a support worker role, which would be remunerated, and a minimum of 40% of their time in academic study. The exact nature of the role to be undertaken and the level of supervision will be agreed between you, your university and the organisation in which you will be working in. These roles may be able to be used to support achievement of required practice hours; your university will determine if this is the case.

Research

REF – Kim Hackett, REF Director at Research England writes for Wonkhe on the uncertainty surrounding the REF submission deadlines. The blog reiterates when the clock does start again that institutions will have at least 8 months notice to submit, that they are keen to discussion options with Universities as soon as possible when the disruption associated with the C-19 timescales are better understood.

  • Unless we’re looking at a very considerable delay, the funding bodies do not intend to alter significantly the period being assessed in REF 2021. So the issue around the existing deadlines is really one around determining what the best approach will be to ensuring the exercise can take account of affected areas of submissions.

On consulting with the sector:

  • We’ve paused the REF because universities have other priorities right now. So we can’t fill that with lengthy consultation documents and expectations of similarly lengthy responses. We’ll also need to approach the issues in a phased way, balancing the urgency of the question with how well it can be answered in the current context. That means we’ll be looking to get input on the deadline for impact and environment first.
  • The overarching timetable for developing the revised framework is not fixed – and it has to be this way, so that we can stay responsive while so much is still unknown. But our aim will be to ensure the exercise remains a level playing field, is fair in recognising the extent of impact this period has had, and is also able to capture the tremendous contribution UK research is making to this fight.

On the REF2021 site there is a blog by Anna Grey, York University – Stopping the REF clock – highlighting the changes within an institution and particularly how professional services are reducing the burden on academic colleagues and recognising fears relating to fixed term contracts roles.

Statistics – The Office for National Statistics published estimates of research and development performed and funded by business enterprise, higher education, government, research councils, and private non-profit organisations, for 2018. This is set within the Industrial Strategy target to increase Research & Development investment to 2.4% of GDP by 2027. Key figures:

  • Research and development (R&D) expenditure rose by £2.3 billion to £37.1 billion in 2018; this is an increase of 6.6%, which was larger than the 4.8% growth in 2017 and the largest annual rise since 2013.
  • Total R&D expenditure in the UK in 2018 represented 1.71% of GDP; this is up from 1.67% in 2017, but it remains below the EU (EU-28) provisional estimate of 2.12%.
  • Funding of UK R&D from overseas increased by 1.4% to £5.1 billion in 2018 compared with 2017, but this was 8.4% lower than the peak in 2014 of £5.5 billion.
  • The UK spent £558 per head of population on R&D in 2018; this is up from £527 in 2017.

Contribution of Each Sector: 

  • In 2018, the business enterprise sector spent £25.0 billion on performing R&D, accounting for 68% of total UK expenditure. The sector grew by 5.8% from £23.7 billion in 2017, which was larger than the growth between 2016 and 2017 of 4.8%.
  • The product groups with the largest R&D expenditure in 2018 were: pharmaceuticals (£4.5 billion), motor vehicles and parts (£3.8 billion), computer programming and information service activities (excluding software development) (£1.9 billion), aerospace (£1.7 billion)
  • The higher education sector had the second highest R&D expenditure of £8.7 billion in 2018. This accounted for 24% of total UK R&D expenditure in 2018. However, this was up one percentage point from 23% in 2017.
  • Government (including UKRI) R&D increased by 11.5% to £2.5 billion. This accounted for 7% of total expenditure on R&D carried out in the UK in 2018.
  • UKRI R&D expenditure (excluding Research England) grew by 11.1% from £866 million reported by the seven research councils in 2017 to £962 million in 2018. This jump is in part a result of the new reporting structure established in 2018, which is inclusive of Innovate UK.
  • The Private-Not-For-Profit sector, (including, for example,several cancer charities that carry out extensive research, from cancer prevention to drug development and clinical trials), spent £0.8 billion, up 9.2% from 2017. This contributed 2% to total UK-performed R&D expenditure

Academics – POST

The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology launched a Covid-19 Outbreak Expert Database as the lockdown began. It provides parliamentarians and civil servants with information on academic colleagues’ research specialisms to help them find the experts throughout the country whose wide-ranging work can be applied beneficially to the national context during these changed times. It is a fantastic opportunity for colleagues to obtain greater reach with their research and connect into networks that in the past relied on a ‘who you already know’ system. The database is live and accepting new entries. Please share this information with any academic colleagues you have contact with and encourage them to sign up – the categories are much wider than the Covid-19 context because the pandemic is touching on every aspect of life.

Survey Opportunity – POST also offer the opportunity for colleagues fill in a 15 minute survey sharing expert insights around the short, medium and long-term concerns and issues you perceive relating to COVID-19 and its impacts. The insights derived from the survey will be shared within Parliament and will be used to help inform the work of the POST. POST expect to publish anonymised responses and/or a public synthesis of these insights with a list of acknowledgements to experts who have contributed (no responses will be directly attributed to individuals). POST intend to analyse the first set of responses Tuesday 14 April. They may do a further round of analysis after this initial deadline if the responses warrant it. Colleagues need to be signed up to the Expert Database before they complete the survey.

Learn more – As colleagues will be aware policy impact can be an influential factor within REF gradings. POST support Parliament’s evidence base decision making agenda and aim to maximise engagement with academic research. MPs, Peers and parliamentary staff all use research in their work carrying out the functions of Parliament; scrutinising Government, debating important issues, passing legislation and representing the people. There is a video describing how Parliament uses expert research. And resources and general advice and information on how you can work with Parliament as a researcher here.

Best of all is that POST will be running free 90-minute webinars – Parliament for COVID-19 outbreak experts. The webinars will cover a brief overview of what Parliament is and does, and how it uses research. It will explore the different ways you might engage with Parliament through your research over the coming weeks and months – both in the context of COVID-19 and its impacts, and regarding other areas of research. And share tips around communicating with Parliamentarians and those who work to support them. Don’t be put off by the Covid-19 mention – the majority of the content is usually offered through a paid for traditional training session. This is an opportunity for colleagues to access the training for free and without travelling! Please do share and encourage research colleagues to sign up. We’ll let you know as soon as registration is open.

NUS

Wonkhe tell us about the new NUS executive team that was elected last Wednesday:

The National Union of Students (NUS) has published the results of its full-time officer elections, the first election held since last year’s reform. Only three full-time roles were available – national president, and vice presidents for further and higher education – and each officer will hold their role for two years, starting this July.

Larissa Kennedy, a former officer at Warwick SU and member of NUS’ National Executive Council, has won the election for NUS national president, promising to “build a movement that stretches across the whole of the UK, across students’ and trade unions across the world”. Kennedy is profiled in the Times.

Hillary Gyebi-Ababio, undergraduate education officer at Bristol SU and Wonkhe contributor, has been elected vice president for higher education, advancing the view that “students should be at the centre of their education, not simply viewed as metrics in a market”.

The role of vice president for further education has gone to Salsabeel Elmegri, vice president of Bradford College SU, who says she will “ensure that tackling climate change, fighting for better mental health provisions and tackling harassment all top the agenda”. Elmegri has a profile in TES.

Student Concerns

Wonkhe report that MPs and Peers from every party in Parliament have called for action from the Government to address concerns of students on exams, accommodation costs and financial difficulties caused through the loss of earnings from casual employment. 110 MPs have signed a letter to Universities Minister Michelle Donelan calling for a flexible approach to assessment, refunds of rents on unoccupied accommodation, and a temporary suspension of the rule preventing students claiming universal credit. They argue that students should have the option to resit the year without further fees and with additional financial support. i News covers the letter to Donelan, and the Mail also reports the story. 

And…yes you guessed it…yet another Wonkhe blog – Students need strong leadership and practical solutions from Government sets out practical advice to the Government on changes which would reduce the student struggle. The blog has some refreshing ideas.

The Guardian has an article where 5 students from A level to PhD make sense of the sudden change in their education.

Student Rent – In the Scottish parliament a proposed amendment to the Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill that would have allowed students to bring their tenancies to an immediate end without having to fulfil notice requirements was defeated.

Disability

The Government has a news story announcing that the Cabinet Office’s Disability Unit is working with government colleagues, disabled people, disabled people’s organisations, charities and businesses to achieve practical changes that will remove barriers and increase participation. This work is tied to the National Strategy for Disabled People and is planned work rather than a response to C-19.

The Strategy aims to put fairness at the heart of government work, to level up opportunity so everyone can fully participate in the life of this country. The strategy will build on evidence and data, and critically on insights from the lived experience of disabled people. It will include existing commitments, such as to increase special educational needs and disability funding and support pupils, students and adults to get careers advice, internships and transition into work, whilst identifying further opportunities to improve things.

The press release sets out the following objectives for the National Strategy for Disabled People:

  • develop a positive and clear vision on disability which is owned right across government
  • make practical changes to policies which strengthen disabled people’s ability to participate fully in society
  • ensure lived experience underpins policies by identifying what matters most to disabled people
  • strengthen the ways in which we listen to disabled people and disabled people’s organisations, using these insights to drive real change
  • improve the quality of evidence and data and use it to support policies and how we deliver them

The strategy development has been delayed by the Coronavirus and the press release states we want to ensure we have enough time to get this right and undertake a full and appropriate programme of stakeholder engagement.

Parliamentary Questions

Q – Dan Jarvis: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps his Department is taking to support universities during the covid-19 outbreak. [32182]

A – Michelle Donelan:

  • The higher education (HE) sector is facing challenges during these unprecedented times. The government’s priority is the safety and wellbeing of students and staff. On Friday 20 March, I wrote to HE providers to thank them for the huge amount of work they have done to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 and to outline the steps that the department is taking to support them. On Thursday 26 March, I wrote a second letter to HE providers, giving further government advice on key issues.
  • We are ensuring that information-flows between the department and providers are as strong as possible. We are actively supporting the Universities UK-led Sector Coordination Group and providing guidance on GOV.UK relating to all educational settings. Working with the Office for Students (OfS), as the regulator in England, we will supplement this general guidance with more HE-specific information and have suspended a number of regulatory reporting requirements for the duration of the crisis, so providers can focus on doing their best for students.
  • We will do all we can to support our HE system. The department is working closely with the Home Office, the Student Loans Company, UCAS and Ofqual, as well as equivalent bodies in the devolved administrations, on measures designed to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on the HE sector. We are also working closely with the OfS to ensure that we understand the potential financial implications of COVID-19 on the sector and to keep abreast of developments.
  • The latest guidance for schools and other educational settings can be found here.

Q – Angela Eagle: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what his policy is on universities charging accommodation fees for students while they are closed as a result of the covid-19 outbreak. [33432]

A – Michelle Donelan: We expect universities to communicate clearly with residential students on rents for this period and administer accommodation provision in a fair manner. I have written to vice-chancellors and set out this expectation to them.

Inquiries and Consultations

Click here to view the 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 a number of inquiries which focus on the coronavirus context:

These inquiries will be placed on the tracker if colleagues indicate they intend to submit a response.

Next Week

The Policy team are taking a few days off over the Easter break. We’ll return with the standard policy update on Wednesday 22 April. In the meantime if there is big news we’ll issue a short email to keep you abreast of developments.

Other news

Online Graduation: The Daily Mail describes how four students used robots to cross the stage and ‘attend’ their graduation ceremony in Tokyo.

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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 as at 25th March 2020

Welcome to your new mid-week update! If you missed our admissions special last week, you will also not have seen that we are moving away from Friday afternoon e-mails because we want to support your wellbeing. Nothing much has changed on admissions yet, by the way, so that one is still worth reading.

 Government Updates

Parliament is commencing recess early today (at close of business on Wed 25 March). This will allow MPs to return to their homes and self-isolate with their families. In normal circumstances, recess would end and parliamentarians would return on Tuesday 21 April, however they are not expected to return this year. The Houses of Parliament are ill-equipped to continue normal business remotely. The beautiful, old buildings are crumbling and do not have the high-tech infrastructure to manage remote voting systems. There was much talk of a need for electronic voting in the tight votes over Brexit (with MPs coming in from hospital in wheelchairs or appearing a very few days after having babies) but they haven’t found a way yet. Select committees may be able continue remotely via video link. Home broadband is so much more reliable than trying to get a Wifi signal in Parliament!

The Coronavirus Bill 2019-20 has completed its stages in the House of Lords (just after 4pm on 25th March) and has gone for Royal Assent. The Coronavirus Bill gives the executive wide ranging and unprecedented powers, which will allow them to continue to govern without Parliament over the next few months if necessary.

The House of Commons Library has published a research briefing covering the education provisions in the Coronavirus bill in more detail. The Explanatory Notes and Impact Assessment explain more on the financial implications of the Government’s powers to close educational institutions. Should the government decide to compensate providers, it may be able to provide funds to “approved (fee cap)” institutions using powers under s39 of the Higher Education and Research Act (“Financial support for registered higher education providers”). For “approved” providers these powers could not be used – it is assumed that wider powers for the government to deploy public funds would apply, but this is not certain.

The impact assessment also suggests that, should a provider be sued for breach of contract or under customer protection rules regarding the provision of accommodation or education, force majeure is believed to apply. The Bill also gives the Office for Students a specific power to disregard its conditions of registration for providers.

Research Professional report that the Government’s response to the Augar review:  “has been kicked even further down the path after chancellor Rishi Sunak told cabinet that the 2020 comprehensive spending review, due this summer, would be delayed because of the pandemic. The Augar response is expected to be published alongside the review.

University education in the pandemic

Monday night announced the lockdown for the UK population, meanwhile three Ministerial letters winged their way to English HE and FE institutions and apprenticeship providers. The Universities Minister wrote (link on Wonkhe here):

  • to curtail the practice of unconditional offers
  • to offer DfE support as institutions move towards online provision
  • clarification on Tier 4 visa issues which will arise from shifting to online provision
  • mitigation for enrolment difficulties (with support from the Home Office, the British Council, UCAS, and Ofqual)
  • student residences and support services particularly for students who are unable to return ‘home’ such as care leavers, estranged students, and international students.

Within the FAQs it was stated that DfE will be working closely with the HE sector and OfS, as regulator, to ensure that we understand the potential financial implications of the issues and risks Covid-19 is bringing to bear on the sector, and to keep abreast of developments.

Summer Exams

The Minister issued a Written Ministerial Statement on the impact of Covid-19 on summer exams. Below is the sector stakeholder reaction to the impact of summer exam cancellations: 

The heads of University Alliance, the Russell Group, GuildHE, and MillionPlus  put out a joint statement confirming that universities will do all they can to support students and ensure they can progress to university:

  • We know many students are anxious about what the cancellation of exams and assessments might mean. Our message to students is: we understand and universities are here for you. Universities are committed to doing all they can to support students and applicants and ensure they can progress to university. This will involve being flexible and responsive in their admissions processes. We want to reassure students who have applied to university, or are thinking of doing so through clearing, that every effort will be made to ensure they are not disadvantaged in any way by the decision not to go ahead with exams this summer.

Association of Colleges (AoC), Chief Executive, David Hughes said:

  • “The cancellation of the 2020 summer exam series is the right decision. However, it will have unsettled the many thousands of students who were preparing for exams and assessments in the full range of qualifications and they will need reassurance about alternative arrangements which support their progression plans. The whole education system will need to work together to ensure that no young person is disadvantaged as a result of the cancellation. There are many challenges to overcome to achieve that, but this is also an opportunity to reconsider some aspects of our high-stakes exam regime. We are working with the Department for Education and Ofqual to ensure that the particular challenges faced by colleges and students are understood. Any decisions about assessment and accreditation for the students affected need to take into account the college context because nearly two thirds of all 16-19 year old students study in colleges. Colleges are determined to play their part in helping to safeguard the educational and progression opportunities of every student affected.”

The AoC also made the following recommendations:

  • The guarantee of a place in post-16 education for every student affected by the cancellation of the 2020 summer exam series.
  • Additional resources to increase teaching time for all 16-19 year olds in 2020/21, make up for the lost teaching time in 2019/20 and support catch-up classes and skills development.
  • A national record of achievement and reference system for recording students’ capabilities and achievements in a common and comprehensible way as they transfer between institutions.
  • The development of national online tests in English, maths and other subjects, to support receiving post-16 institutions in advising and guiding students to make appropriate choices for 2020/21.
  • A revision of the English and maths condition of funding in light of the cancellation of GCSEs this summer.
  • Employer agreed skills standards and accreditation requirements for entry-level employment in various sectors and the use of nationally approved skills tests to provide the evidence of students’ skills that employers need.

Teach First wrote to the Secretary of State for Education, calling for:

Support for disadvantaged children to learn at home

  • Internet providers to lift data caps for vulnerable households.
  • Technology firms to provide safe devices for children most in need to be able to study.
  • Energy companies to provide electricity for disadvantaged pupils to learn from home.

Fair exam grades

  • Many young people face uncertainty about their exam grades and futures. We must ensure that steps are taken to award grades fairly and prevent further increases in inequality. Marks linked to past performance could disadvantage hard working pupils, teachers and improving ‘turnaround’ schools.

Long-term support to recover

  • When schools return support must be weighted towards those serving disadvantaged communities. This must be a priority to prevent the attainment gap between rich and poor pupils from growing.

Finally HEPI have a blog – School performance tables are cancelled – should university league tables be cancelled too?

Unconditional offers

On unconditional offers, the Minister’s letter on 20th March followed our update last Friday and, as predicted, criticised those providers who had switched offers to unconditional in reaction to the news about exams.  It was followed by a request on 23rd March to put a two week moratorium on any unconditional offers.

As Research Professional report the Government was unprepared for this quick response from some within the sector. During the pause period the DfE will continue to develop the methodology of how grades will be awarded to students not sitting exams and consider how the application process should be run. The Minister has threatened that any institutions not complying with the ban will undergo regulatory interventionWe will use any powers available to us to prevent such offer making on the grounds that it is damaging to students and not in their interests.  UUK have supported the intervention.

On practical matters UCAS have extended the admissions deadline. Students usually have to decide which university offers to accept by early May. UCAS have confirmed the deadline will be extended by two weeks. UCAS states: Universities and colleges will also have additional time to assess applications and adjust their processes in these unprecedented times… We will email students this week with information on their new May decision deadline, and ensure they understand they have additional time over the coming weeks to make their decisions.

Research Professional (RP):

  • The government is clearly not on top of the situation. On 18 March, rather than mandate the closure of universities, Williamson said that he would support the decisions of vice-chancellors. Less than a week later, universities are being threatened with regulatory action… Vice-chancellors will have acted not out of malice but with the best of intentions to offer comfort to anxious applicants—that’s what comes of sending mixed messages.
  • Donelan says that switching offers to unconditional “risks destabilising the admissions system, increasing financial uncertainty and volatility for all institutions at a time when universities are already facing significant pressures”. The minister wants universities to “avoid actions which might not be in students’ best interests simply to maximise their intake over other universities”.
  • That was probably not the idea behind the switch to unconditional offers, but in a sign of how quickly the world is changing…

The Government’s edict that no new unconditional offers can be made has stimulated debate. Some speculate they may capitalise on the pause to take future action banning all or most unconditional offers (the OfS Admissions consultation has been understandably paused for now). Many lament the impact of the ban on the disadvantaged students who were always intended to be the main recipients of unconditional offers to alleviate some of the turbulence in their lives.

Meanwhile the DfE has reminded students and parents that they are not obliged to accept an unconditional offer and even if they have they can release themselves to explore other options during clearing. DfE state that the release process was introduced last year to support student choice and promote flexibility, and nearly 30,000 students used this functionality.

The OfS press release language is very interesting – they have assumed right up front that NO unconditional offer is in the best interest of a students – they may relax that when they come up with their guidance, but we shall see.

  • ‘Universities and colleges must stop making offers that are not in the best interests of students. They should not make any unconditional offer or amend existing offers for at least two weeks while Ofqual develops the details of the new system.
  • ‘Many universities and colleges have been responding to the enormous challenges of coronavirus with innovation and ingenuity. But it is critical that every university and college puts the student’s interest first in these difficult times. 
  • ‘So, I want to make it very clear to any university or college – and its leaders and governors – that if any university or college makes unconditional offers or adjusts any offer to students during this two week moratorium we will use any powers available to us to prevent such offer making on the grounds that it is damaging to students and not in their interests.

So although they have not done anything about it yet, except issue a review and now a short-term suspension – you could read this as them having already made up their mind and expecting to judge the sector retrospectively against the outcome.

We will let RP have the final word: As higher education pauses admissions activity, it is time now for the government to come up with a workable solution. No more mixed messages: some clarity is needed. As the government has realised on the economy and social distancing, a laissez-faire approach will not see us out the other side of this crisis.

Media coverage: The BBC, The Times and FE Week.

Research in the pandemic

The Under-Secretary of State for Science, Amanda Solloway issued a letter thanking the HE sector for the Covid-19 research and urging institutions to prioritise supporting colleagues (employment terms and conditions) who are working on mitigating this crisis. Skills Minister Gillian Keegan wrote to colleges and training providers and Scottish HE minister Richard Lochhead also issued a letter.

REF 2021 will be pushed back to adjust for the effects of Coronavirus. Currently, the 31 July 2020 census date will be retained. However, the final submission deadline will be delayed. No date for the submission has yet been set but universities have been told they can expect an 8 month notice period when the new date is announced. BU is continuing with the mock REF exercise but will review future timelines as appropriate.

Student Loans

The Student Loans Company has confirmed third term payments will be made as normal even with most teaching moving online.

Zamzam Ibrahim, NUS National President, commented:

  • NUSis pleased that the Department for Education and the Student Loans Company have responded to the strong concerns that we and our member students’ unions have raised in the last week by confirming third term payments will be made as normal, despite the many changes to teaching arrangements made by universities in response to the pandemic. We will continue to work with them to ensure clear communication to students and to ensure students are treated fairly. 
  • Where a students’ family income falls significantly in the year of study, they can ask for a reassessment of their student finance if they are not already receiving the maximum levels of support, and so students should contact the relevant student finance agency as they may be able to receive more support.
  • Students’ income will already be affected as many rely on part-time jobs in hospitality and retail – while we welcome the Chancellor’s commitment to support those who lose employment income we are concerned that those students who are self-employed or who work in the gig economy will not be supported, and most full-time students cannot claim benefits. We need to ensure a safety net is in place for these students, either by extending the wage protections or ensuring access to hardship funding in universities and colleges.

Several parliamentary questions relating to student loans repayments were asked this week. Most have already been superseded in the Government’s announcement that repayments will continue as normal but be reassessed and cease if an individual’s income drops below the repayment threshold.

Last, Peter Lauener was appointed as Chair of the Student Loans company. He replaces Andrew Wathey who was in the role on an interim basis.

The Student Loans Company has announced the temporary closure their contact centre. They state:

  • [We are] closing our customer contact centres temporarily for new and existing students, and for any customer in repayment.
  • The closure of our customer contact centres will not impact summer term maintenance payments to students or tuition fee payments to education providers. These payments will be made as normal. New and existing students in England and Wales can continue to apply for student finance and we will continue to process any applications that have been received as quickly as we can.
  • We are working to restore service at our contact centres as soon as we can and we will provide further information on this over the coming days.

Brexit

A poll on Coronavirus set out to measure the public’s support for the Government’s actions to limit the spread of the virus. It shows favour for a practical potential policy U turn on extending the Brexit end of transition phase. You Gov say: despite it being one of the most dramatic debates in British politics just weeks ago, a majority of the public (55%) would now support extending the Brexit transition period as negotiations have now had to be delayed. A quarter (24%) are still opposed, while 21% say they don’t know.

You can read the full poll analysis here.  An interesting further point is made about the need for the Government to appeal to the young to ensure they understand the seriousness of the crisis and follow social distancing (and now lockdown) requirements. You Gov say: While Boris is still divisive, the public are warming to Rishi Sunak and Chris Witty. Because of this, the Government needs think carefully about its messengers to make sure they are best cutting through with the public.

Parliamentary Questions

Covid-19 Support for Universities

Q – Dan Jarvis: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps his Department is taking to support universities during the covid-19 outbreak. [32182]

A – Michelle Donelan: The Department for Education has indicated that it will not be possible to answer this question within the usual time period. An answer is being prepared and will be provided as soon as it is available.

Covid-19 – Student Accommodation/Online Learning (both due for answer on Thursday)

Q – Rosie Duffield: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, if he will take steps to ensure that universities allow students to terminate their accommodation contracts early without incurring financial penalties during the covid-19 outbreak.

This is due for answer on Thursday – here is the link to follow the response. If you have trouble accessing the response (sometimes they change the link when they add the answer) contact us and we’ll locate it and send it over to you

Q – Stuart Anderson: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, whether he is taking steps to ensure that online access to learning is put in place for pupils and students at schools and higher education institutions that have not developed online resources; and if he will make a statement. [34409]

Disability: Q – Sharon Hodgson: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what assessment his Department has made of the effect on the health and wellbeing of students in higher education with visual stress of the removal of colorimetry funding for those students.

A  – Michelle Donelan: The department is in discussion with the Association of Dyslexia Specialists in Higher Education as to whether any additional types of assistance would be appropriate for students with a diagnosis of visual stress.

And there is one on brain injuries disability funding.

Access: Q – Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Viscount Younger of Leckie on 6 November 2018 (HL10959), whether they are now in a position to ensure that higher education providers have access to free school meals data at the start of the undergraduate admissions cycle as part of measures to widen access to higher education.

A – Baroness Berridge:

  • Everyone with the talent and capability to succeed in higher education should have the opportunity to benefit from a high-quality university education, regardless of age, background or where they grew up.
  • So that providers are identifying talent in areas of disadvantage, they need to use good-quality and meaningful data. We encourage higher education providers to use a range of measures including individual-level indicators, area data (such as Participation of Local Areas, Index of Multiple Deprivation or postcode classification from ACORN), school data, intersectional data such as Universities and Colleges Admissions Service’s (UCAS) Multiple Equality Measure, and participation in outreach activities.
  • We are actively considering how we can make available free school meals data, taking in to account relevant data protection legislation, and will continue to work closely with UCAS and the Office for Students to this end. In general, we are looking to make data as illuminating as possible.
  • The government believes that every young person with the potential should have the opportunity to access higher education, if it is right for them. A person’s background or start in life should not determine their future.

Disability Employment Gap: Q – Marco Longhi: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what steps she is taking to support people with mental disabilities (a) into and (b) to remain in employment. [30042]

A – Justin Tomlinson:

  • The Government is committed to reducing the disability employment gap and seeing a million more disabled people in work by 2027.We help disabled people, including those with mental health conditions and learning disabilities, return to and stay in work through programmes including the Work and Health Programme, the new Intensive Personalised Employment Support Programme, Access to Work and Disability Confident.

Mental Health: Q – Preet Kaur Gill (Birmingham, Edgbaston): To ask the Secretary of State for Education, pursuant to the oral statement of 18 March 2020, what steps he is taking to ensure that children and young people whose educational institution is closed are able to access mental health services provided through those institutions. [32157]

A – Vicky Ford (Chelmsford):

  • The department is working with NHS England and Public Health England who are providing guidance on seeking mental health support, including guidance for parents and carers of children and young people on addressing mental health and wellbeing concerns during the COVID-19 outbreak. Where in place, mental health support teams are also actively considering how they continue to deliver a service to support children and young people.

Industrial Strategy: Q – Alex Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, what progress has been made on meeting the objective in the Ageing Society Grand Challenge to ensure that people can enjoy at least 5 extra healthy, independent years of life by 2035. [29943]

A – Helen Whately:

  • Delivering the Ageing Society Grand Challenge (ASGC) mission will require complex systems thinking across a number of areas and we are already working closely across Government, industry, academia and the voluntary sector to do this.
  • We have invested £98 million through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund Healthy Ageing programme to enable businesses, including social enterprises, to develop and deliver services and products to support people as they age. We have also announced Andy Briggs as the ASGC Business Champion and our plans to establish the UK Longevity Council.
  • In 2019, the Department published the consultation document ‘Advancing our Health: Prevention in the 2020s’, which has the ASGC mission at its core and sets out the commitments to contribute towards achieving it.

Skills Gaps: A question on skills gap vacancies and whether qualifications and apprenticeships can fill the gaps.

Free Speech: Q – Marco Longhi (Dudley North): To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps he is taking to protect freedom of speech and promote diverse debate within universities. [30031]

A – Michelle Donelan (Chippenham):

  • This government has committed to strengthen free speech and academic freedom and ensure our universities are places where debate can thrive. My right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Education has made it clear that if required he will look at changing the underpinning legal framework. We have made it clear that if universities do not uphold free speech, the government will.

Student Accommodation

Safely managing student accommodation through the crisis is a tricky process for the HE sector. Thorny issues include: ensuring adequate safeguards where students are self-isolating and moving back to the family home is not possible or inappropriate; requirements for students to continue paying for accommodation or pay retainers whilst not in residence; student evictions as providers close down student residences; concerns over 2021-22 contract pressures. Here are two blogs on student accommodation. On Research Professional Fiona McIntyre reports that universities have been told to pressure firms in charge of private halls of residence to make sure no student is left without a place to stay during the coronavirus epidemic, while the Student Loans Company has said that third-term payments will proceed as planned.

And on Wonkhe Eva Crossan Jory from NUS describes the crisis facing student rents resulting from coronavirus, and what universities, private halls operators and government should do to avert it.

Wonkhe also report that: Student accommodation providers Unite and Liberty Living have promised not to charge students for accommodation for term three if email notification is received before 10 April. Arrangements will be made to support students who need to stay on in accommodation through term three and beyond.

Student Trust

HEPI have a blog from Mary Curnock Cook on Connectedness, Trust and Student Engagement. Excerpts:

  • A new report from Enlitened, part of the Student Room Group, looks at how ‘connected, engaged and supported’ undergraduate students are in the UK. In a classic virtuous circle, the report suggests that feeling connected is highly correlated with trust, and trust increases with awareness of and confidence in university resources. Addressing these areas quite directly could help universities significantly improve theirstudents’ overall experience, as well as helping prepare them better for the world of work. It goes without saying that in the current coronavirus crisis, universities resorting to remote working and online learning will soon feel the pinch if they don’t have some connectedness-credit in the bank.
  • The research suggests that only just over half of students feel ‘connected’ to their university. Connectedness is a wider and more nuanced concept than student experience because it signals a whole range of propensities from supporting the university more generally, being prepared to help it out or give it the benefit of doubt when things go wrong, to getting actively involved in the university’s success. But it goes further than this because this new research indicates that connected students are more likely to trust their university, and when they trust their university, they will be more likely to seek support with emotional and wellbeing issues as well as more prosaic issues such as academic or financial support. 
  • Feeling connected and trusting the university will also help overcome the lack of confidence and shyness that respondents cited as some of the key barriers that stop them from accessing support. This is important as 63 per cent of respondents reported to have kept their mental wellbeing concerns to themselves in the last year, without seeking help from their university. With the findings showing that third year respondents are more likely than both second and first year students to keep concerns around anxiety, stress, depression, and academic and financial issues to themselves, trust and self-confidence seems to erode rather than deepen as students progress through their courses. Unsurprisingly, students with disabilities are even more likely to hold back from asking for help.

Also buried in the report is an astonishingly low engagement level with student unions (which also score relatively poorly on the National Student Survey). Given that peer support is often the first port of call for students in distress, it’s worrying that only 12 per cent of respondents said they trusted their student union and only 3 per cent would go to them for information and support.

Friends and family remain the most trusted source of support for students for a range of anxieties and concerns but it’s worth noting that students are also likely to turn to online resources. The anonymity of online help is often a draw for students shy or lacking in confidence to seek face to face help… With universities across the sector reporting huge increases in demand for student support services, online resources and apps can be vital in making sure that students know about and connect with their university services when they need help.

BU has two 24/7 anonymous online platforms and support services – the Employee Assistance Programme for staff and Big White Wall which supports staff and students. There is also a wellbeing section on the staff intranet.

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:

Other news

Student Nurses: Next week student nurses will join the ‘front line’ to support the NHS as the nation battles Covid-19. The Times covers whether they should be paid.

Home Working: As the majority of the nation converts to home working on a more regular basis than usual the Office of National Statistics have published their research which investigates to what extent different people within the labour market work at home, either on a regular or occasional basis (pre-crisis).

Of the 32.6 million in employment, around 1.7 million people reported working mainly from home, with around 4.0 million working from home in the week prior to being interviewed for the survey.

  • Around 8.7 million people said that they have worked from home; this is less than 30% of the workforce.
  • Some industrial sectors, such as transportation and storage, accommodation and food services, and wholesale, retail and repair provide relatively few opportunities for people to work from home.
  • Other industrial sectors, such as information and communication, professional, scientific and technical activities, financial and insurance activities, and real estate activities, provide far more homeworking opportunities.
  • Occupations requiring higher qualifications and experience are more likely to provide homeworking opportunities than elementary and manual occupations.
  • Younger workers are the least likely to be working from home, whereas those who continue to work beyond State Pension age are increasingly likely to be working from home.

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Did you know? You can catch up on previous versions of the policy update on BU’s intranet pages here.

JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

HE policy update for the w/e 20th March 2020

We are going to change the way that we do the BU HE policy update to respond to current circumstances.  No-one wants to receive a long bulletin on a Friday evening after a long week juggling working from home with all the other requirements on your time.  And really, we need to discourage anyone from working at the weekend if you don’t have to.

So, we will move to publishing mid-week, probably Wednesday.  However, as admissions are such a hot topic we are doing one last Friday update focussed only on admissions and the current state of affairs.

What on earth are we going to do about admissions

Since the summer exams were cancelled earlier this week, HE policy communications channels have been lit up with speculation, opinion and views about what might happen next.

The latest government guidance (afternoon of 20th March) says:

There will also be an option to sit an exam early in the next academic year for students who wish to.

Ofqual will develop and set out a process that will provide a calculated grade to each student which reflects their performance as fairly as possible, and will work with the exam boards to ensure this is consistently applied for all students.

  • The exam boards will be asking teachers, who know their students well, to submit their judgement about the grade that they believe the student would have received if exams had gone ahead.
  • To produce this, teachers will take into account a range of evidence and data including performance on mock exams and non-exam assessment – clear guidance on how to do this fairly and robustly will be provided to schools and colleges. The exam boards will then combine this information with other relevant data, including prior attainment, and use this information to produce a calculated grade for each student, which will be a best assessment of the work they have put in.
  • … More information will be provided as soon as possible.
  • The aim is to provide these calculated grades to students before the end of July. In terms of a permanent record, the grades will be indistinguishable from those provided in other years. We will also aim to ensure that the distribution of grades follows a similar pattern to that in other years, so that this year’s students do not face a systematic disadvantage as a consequence of these extraordinary circumstances.
  • We recognise that some students may nevertheless feel disappointed that they haven’t been able to sit their exams. If they do not believe the correct process has been followed in their case they will be able to appeal on that basis. In addition, if they do not feel their calculated grade reflects their performance, they will have the opportunity to sit an exam at the earliest reasonable opportunity, once schools are open again. Students will also have the option to sit their exams in summer 2021.
  • There is a very wide range of different vocational and technical qualifications as well as other academic qualifications for which students were expecting to sit exams this summer. These are offered by a large number of awarding organisations, and have differing assessment approaches – in many cases students will already have completed modules or non-exam assessment which could provide evidence to award a grade. We are encouraging these organisations to show the maximum possible flexibility and pragmatism to ensure students are not disadvantaged. Ofqual is working urgently with the sector to explore options and we will work with them to provide more details shortly.
  • The Government will not publish any school or college level educational performance data based on tests, assessments or exams for 2020.

Issues raised include:

Does no exams = no results = students who want to, not being able to go to university either because they have to go back to school and do another year or because they are just left in some sort of limbo? Under the government plan some students might choose to go back and take exams later, or even in summer 2021. But most will end up with grades calculated using the new process.

Does no exams = no results = all existing offers become unconditional and we enter a mass clearing and adjustment process? As everyone will have a grade, this is not necessary.  However, some universities seem to be already doing this in the meantime.

  • The government doesn’t like unconditional offers because they think they are a form of “mis-selling” with students potentially being bamboozled into taking an offer from a university when they could go somewhere “better”, and because they then don’t try too hard with their A-levels.   We have written about this before and remain unconvinced about either of these arguments, but this is why the OfS are doing a (now paused) review of admissions.  If you are stuck at home with not enough to do, it is worth looking at the OfS questions, a new deadline will be set at some point and your policy team are co-ordinating a BU response (read more here).
  • There was always going to be a risk that the Minister and the OfS would, retrospectively, require universities to inform them if they have done this and then criticise those institutions for “taking advantage” of the situation and “taking advantage” of student anxiety to get bums on seats and protect their financial position.    Institutions will of course argue, not unreasonably, that they have done it to reassure students.  But it is certainly too late to reverse it.  And sure enough, after we wrote this, the OfS asked universities to pause making unconditional offers: Some universities and colleges have in recent days reportedly been making unconditional offers that may not be in students’ best interests. We are today asking that all universities and colleges pause unconditional or other offers that could disadvantage students. Given today’s reassurances there is no reason to depart from the normal admissions processes. All universities and colleges should work to put the student’s interest first.’

Does no exams = different assessment methods = wait until “results day” in August and carry on as normal – including a clearing and adjustment process once the results are out? This is what we have got.

  • Students could simply have been given their predicted grades – this would have had the advantage that for those students already in the UCAS system these grades already exist.  It has the disadvantage that they are notoriously inaccurate.  They may have been “gamed” to help a student with an application to a super-elective university.  They may not reflect the potential of a disadvantaged student.  These things are problems in the current system.  They are mitigated to some extent by adjustment and clearing – mitigations that would not be available if everyone was just given their predicted grades.  Although simple, at least for HE, this did not look like a totally attractive solution.

So we have a new calculated grade process:

  • Teachers will recommend a grade based on mocks and other non-exam assessment – using guidance from the DfE.
  • Exam boards will moderate this using other data – including prior attainment (that suggests looking at GCSE for A-levels).
  • The distribution of grades will follow a similar pattern to other years (“so this year’s students do not face a systematic disadvantage”, it says – but also no grade inflation either).

What does this mean for HE?

In theory, not much changes.  Offer have been made, we will get grades a little bit earlier than usual, clearing can happen more or less as usual.  But is it that simple?

  • Research Professional on 20th MarchSmita Jamdar, partner at the law firm Shakespeare Martineau, suggested to Playbook that if students were assessed in a new way, offers based on meeting a different kind of assessment would no longer be valid; from a legal perspective, the whole offer-making process would need to start again, although higher education institutions might still be able to come up with a practical solution. [We say: surely not – the government won’t want that to happen. Their announcement says: “ In terms of a permanent record, the grades will be indistinguishable from those provided in other years.”]
  • The government plan while it aims to reduce some of the risks with using predicted grades, still potentially has problems in relation to disadvantaged students and Johnny Rich has a good thread on twitter on this

And what about the sector more generally?

  • Will student numbers go down across the UK with a potentially devastating effect on some institutions? Even if the virus itself is in retreat by September it seems highly likely that international student numbers will go down as students across the world miss their own assessments, are unable to take language tests, are still subject to travel restrictions or are simply unwilling to take the risk and travel abroad for a while.
  • That has led some to speculate that universities will be rushing to fill the corresponding gap in their budgets by recruiting additional UK students, leading potentially to a “rush to the top”. Remember that we are also at the bottom of the demographic dip.
  • So will the government take steps to cap student numbers? There have been rumours that they are thinking of doing this anyway, although in a more sophisticated way than time would allow this year.  [HEPI responded to the more general story on 19th March here]
  • And will there be other financial support available for universities? Read Jim Dickinson on Wonkhe on 19th March here.

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External readers: Thank you to our external readers who enjoy our policy updates. Unfortunately we cannot subscribe you to receive the updates direct to your inbox as they may contain privileged content from our partners and subscriptions which we may only be permitted to share with our internal staff. However, you can continue to read our truncated updates which omit the restricted content on the policy pages of the BU Research Blog – here’s the link.

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 17th January 2020

Another busy week  in HE policy– with consultations and a very short timeline for the KEF.  Everyone has hit the ground running in 2020!

The third leg of the HE stool arrives: KEF has landed

The outcome of the KEF consultation in 2019 has come out. UKRI have published the “Decisions for the first iteration”.  They have given a very short timeline for the publication of the first set of data and narratives from institutions – they will all be published this summer.  Narratives have to be submitted by May.  Data will be published for everyone, whether they submit narratives or not.

They have also indicated that it is likely that from 2020/21 institutions will have to submit narratives for the KEF to be eligible for Research England funding.

  • This first iteration of the KEF will take place in the current academic year 2019/20. All Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) eligible to receive Research England Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF) funding in this current academic year are in scope for this exercise.
  • The KEF is taking a metrics-led approach, although it also includes a narrative component. As previously advised, all proposed KEF metrics use existing data sources that are already collected via existing statutory returns or other means. …. This reflects the minimal burden of this exercise as there is no need for any institution to gather or submit new metrics for this iteration of the KEF.
  • The narrative component of the KEF will consist of three brief narrative statements … we intend to publish in summer 2020 the KEF metrics of all institutions in receipt of HEIF in this 2019/20 academic year. Therefore, institutions in receipt of HEIF in this academic year 2019/20 are strongly encouraged to submit narrative information to contextualise their results….
  • This report will be followed by publication of the narrative templates and final cluster membership in February 2020. If institutions in scope for this exercise wish to have their narrative templates published alongside their results, the completed templates should be returned on Friday 15 May 2020.
  • …Research England will provide further contextual information about the external environment in which the HEI operates that should be considered when interpreting results. This contextual information will be in the form a standard set of indicators at the LEP-region level.
  • Results will be presented through an online visualisation platform displaying perspectives and underlying metrics, as well as narrative statements and contextual information

The metrics will be reported against “clusters”. They have changed their original cluster proposals somewhat, removing the Social Science and Business specialist cluster – final cluster membership will be published in February with the templates. These clusters have been designed to allow meaningful comparison.  When BU responded to the consultation we suggested that it is unhelpful to introduce a third methodology for comparison – the TEF uses institutional benchmarks, something that has challenges itself, and the REF is of course organised by subject.  We remain concerned that this will be confusing and not very meaningful for businesses and other organisations (the declared target for this information) who may not find the cluster comparison useful if they only have limited experience with a small number of universities.

You will recall that the metrics are grouped into seven “perspectives” – only two will require narratives.  The consultation looked at additional metrics but has discounted any that are not already “gathered through existing statutory returns, or available from other UKRI or external sources”.  This is because they want to make it a “low burden” exercise.

Public and Community Engagement narrative – a statement:

  • identifying the public and community groups served by the institution and how their needs have been identified;
  • description of the targeted activities that are undertaken to meet these needs;
  • evidence that needs have been met and tangible outcomes achieved.

Local Growth and Regeneration narrative – a statement:

  • identifying the geographical area(s) that the institution considers to be its local area;
  • explanation of how needs of the local area(s) that relate to economic growth and regeneration are identified;
  • description of the targeted activities undertaken by the institution to meet those needs and any outcomes achieved.

The third narrative will be an institutional context narrative – “setting out the geographic, economic and social context within which the higher education institution is operating…. The information contained within this statement will not be used to normalise any of the metrics or perspectives across clusters.”

David Kernohan has written for Wonkhe about it:

  • The Knowledge Exchange Framework is not (like REF and TEF are) an “excellence framework”. It doesn’t make any judgement on the quality of business and community interaction, just on the proportional volume and likely output of a number of activities described in the HE-BCI survey data. Neither is it of use to professional or armchair rankers – it doesn’t offer named awards or simple stepped gradations that demonstrate one thing is unfailingly better than another.
  • It may eventually be used to support the allocation of the £200m Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF), which is currently allocated using similar data. But for the first year (2020-21) it is for entertainment and edification purposes only.”

David summarises the pages of normalisation methodology in the document nicely: Metrics are a three-year average, mostly …as ratios, which are converted at perspective level into deciles. This reduces a great deal of data and analysis into what amounts to a set of marks out of 10, which are compared to an average mark from comparable institutions (the infamous clusters)”.

And the visualisation approach: “Research England has a grand plan to use spider graphs to show institutional scores alongside cluster averages, with an option to drill down into more detailed data on each metric. I’m not as struck by this as they are – the exercise is designed to support comparisons and spider diagrams are an unwieldy way to do this. I also feel like the individual metrics are still fairly abstract, you have to go quite a long way back down the methodology to get something that the mind can easily take hold of.”

Erasmus after Brexit

After the social media storm last week when Parliament didn’t approve the Erasmus amendment to the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (it doesn’t mean we can’t be in it, it just means that government won’t be bound by the new Bill to make sure we are in it), there have been a few questions this week.

Douglas Chapman (SNP) said that the end of Erasmus scheme was an “utter disaster, culturally and socially” and asked the PM to comment on the end of the participation of the scheme. Boris’ response implied that the UK would continue to participate in the scheme.

And there were several questions on Erasmus (see this one and this one) – all with similar response – that the Government is including it within the Brexit negotiations and is working towards remaining within the scheme.  The House of Commons Library have released this briefing paper on Erasmus to inform MPs ahead of Monday’s scheduled Education debate.

New HESA data

HESA have published higher education statistics for 2018/19.  Interestingly, the OfS focussed on grade inflation in their response –and nothing else.

Sex of students

  • Of all HE students 57% were female in 2018/19 (see Figure 4), this has been the same since 2016/17.
  • A larger proportion of part-time students were female than full-time students.
  • For other undergraduate students, 64% were female, compared with 49% of postgraduate (research) students.

Age of students

  • The overall number of first year students aged 30 and over has increased in 2018/19 after a decreasing trend in previous years.
  • The number of first year students aged 21-24 has increased from 2015/16 to 2018/19.
  • The number of first year full-time students aged 30 and over has increased every year since 2014/15.
  • Numbers of full-time students aged 20 and under have increased year on year since 2012/13.

Student disability status

  • The overall number of students with a known disability is increasing year on year. The main reason for this increase is students identified as having a mental health condition.
  • Of students with a known disability in 2018/19 the category of specific learning difficulty is the largest group accounting for 36% of the total.

Ethnicity of students

  • The percentage of UK domiciled students that are White has decreased over the last five years. However, the percentage that are Asian, Mixed and from Other ethnic backgrounds has increased.
  • HE providers in England show the largest decrease and the lowest proportion of UK domiciled students that are White compared to HE providers in all other countries of the UK.

Within the European Union:

  • Italy has seen a notable rise to become the top European Union country sending students to the UK, overtaking three other countries in the last five years.
  • Germany is the top European Union country to send students to Wales and Scotland, and Ireland is top in sending students to Northern Ireland.

Outside the European Union:

  • China sent more students to the UK than any other overseas country. In 2018/19, 35% of all non-EU students were from China. The number of students from China was also 34% higher in 2018/19 than in 2014/15, increasing from 89,540 to 120,385 in the five year span.
  • Student numbers from India increased from 18,325 in 2014/15 to 26,685 in 2018/19.
  • The other countries in the chart are more in line with European Union student numbers.
  • Nigeria has seen a 41% decline in student numbers coming to the UK over the five year period, dropping behind the United States, Hong Kong and Malaysia.
  • For more recent trends in international student visa applications and granted visas, refer toTable 1 of Immigration statistics published by the Home Office in November 2019. Please note that although on a similar theme, these statistics are not directly comparable. Home Office statistics cover further education as well as higher education, and immigration data provides an indication of the number of people who have an intention to enter the UK for study reasons, not whether, or when, an individual actually arrived in the UK, or what they did on arrival to the UK.

Of those gaining a classified first degree:

  • The percentage of students achieving a first class honours remains stable at 28% for both 2017/18 and 2018/19. This follows an increase year on year since 2009/10 where 14% of students achieved this classification.
  • A larger proportion of female students gained a first or upper second class honours than male students.
  • Full-time students had a larger proportion of first or upper second class honours than part-time students.

Subjects

In 2018/19:

  • More qualifications were awarded in business & administrative studies than any other subject area.
  • Amongst part-time students, more qualifications were awarded in subjects allied to medicine than any other subject area.

Over the five year period 2014/15 – 2018/19:

  • There has been an overall increase in the number of qualifications gained in biological sciences and social studies.
  • There has been a decline in the number of qualifications gained in languages and education.

Mental Health

Student Minds has launched The Wellbeing Thesis, a website designed to support postgraduate research students to maintain their mental wellbeing.

Baroness Tyler of Enfield has presented a Bill in the House of Lords which would amend the Education Act 2002 and the Academies Act 2010 for schools to promote the mental health and wellbeing of their pupils. The Bill will proceed to a second reading at a future date.

And some Parliamentary questions:

Q – Conor McGinn: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps his Department is taking to (a) reduce the level of social stigma in relation to mental health and (b) promote awareness of mental health issues among young people.

A – Nick Gibb:

  • The Department is making teaching about mental health part of compulsory health education in all state-funded schools in England from September 2020. The statutory guidance sets out that pupils will be taught about the importance of good physical and mental health including the steps pupils can take to protect and support their own health and mental wellbeing. The content will also cover understanding emotions; identifying where someone is experiencing signs of poor mental health; simple self-care; and how and when to seek support.
  • The Department is also working with the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families to pilot setting up peer support approaches in schools and colleges that allow young people to play an active part of creating a mentally healthy and supportive environment. The findings from the programme’s external evaluation will be shared nationally, to help more schools to develop or improve their own mental health peer support programmes.
  • To support school staff, the Department has set up Expert Advisory Group on teacher and leader wellbeing which has a remit to advise the Department on what it can do to help schools and colleges promote good wellbeing, including tackling stigma around mental health.

Labour leadership

Monday was the closing date for Labour leadership candidates to secure the 22 nominations from MPs to run for party leader. Chris Lewis and Barry Gardiner did not secure the required amount. The following candidates will progress to the next round (number of nominations received noted in brackets):

  • Keir Starmer (89)
  • Rebecca Long Bailey (33)
  • Lisa Nandy (31)
  • Jess Phillips (23)
  • Emily Thornberry (23)

Candidates for deputy leader:

  • Angela Rayner (88)
  • Ian Murray (34)
  • Dawn Butler (29)
  • Rosena Allin-Khan (23)
  • Richard Burgon (22)

We explained the leadership contest process in detail in last week’s policy update. However, here is a quick recap: the next phase requires the candidates to seek nominations from Constituency Labour Parties and the Unions by 15th Jan – to carry on they need support of 5% of the constituency parties (the BBC said 30) OR 3 affiliate organisations, including 2 trade unions.  The members’ ballot opens on 21st Feb and runs to 2nd April.  Votes are redistributed if there is no clear winner.  Results announced on 4th April

An interesting background briefing on the Labour leadership candidates prepared by Dods is available here. It is worth a read to get to know the candidates better.

Fees and funding

The House of Commons Library has a new briefing paper on the Augar Review (Post 18 Education and Funding Review). The paper considers the recommendations of the Augar Review and the (page 26) initial responses to it from major HE bodies. The Government is rumoured to have made the decision on how they will respond (which parts they will adopt) of the Augar Review and intend to release their response at a suitable point (soon-ish!). Most likely the briefing paper has been produced because Education Questions will take place in Parliament next Monday.

And some Parliamentary questions:

Q -Baroness Bennett Of Manor Castle: following the announcement that nursing bursaries are to be reintroduced, what plans [the Government] have to support nurses, midwifes and other healthcare professionals with any debt incurred before the reintroduction to support their study and training.

A -Baroness Blackwood Of North Oxford:

  • We have committed to 50,000 more nurses in the National Health Service by 2025 and our new financial support package is crucial to delivering this.
  • Eligible pre-registration students on nursing, midwifery and many allied health students’ courses at English universities from September 2020 will benefit from additional support of at least £5,000 of non-repayable funding, with up to £3,000 additional funding for some students, who choose to study in regions or specialisms struggling to recruit, or to help with childcare costs, which they will not have to pay back.
  • The Government has no plans to introduce a scheme that will backdate the offer for students who completed courses in earlier years.

Q – Dr Matthew Offord (Hendon): To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps his Department has taken to introduce Sharia compliant student loans.

A – Chris Skidmore (Kingswood): The government remains committed to introducing an Alternative Student Finance product for tuition fee and maintenance loans. Details on implementation will follow the conclusion of the review of post-18 education and funding.

Select Committees

Parliamentary business has been laid to commence the election of the select committee chairs now the new Parliament has formed. We anticipate the chairs will be announced early in February.  Below is a diagram stating which party will chair each select committee.

There are several committees where the previous chairman has vacated their position through losing their seat, or where the chairmanship has switched from Labour to Tory to reflect Parliament’s new arithmetic (the number of chairs for each party is proportionate to the size of the party in Parliament).  These include the Treasury, health, transport and work and pensions committees.

There is a potential change on the horizon. In the past when a parliamentary session ends the chairmanship and membership of a select committee ceases – as it did when the 2019 general election was called. However, a parliamentary motion introduced this week seeks to remove the limit on the maximum length of time an individual can chair a committee. This would allow parliamentarians to become long-serving chairs. There is also a clause which stipulates that the Brexit committee will continue for another year, even though the department it shadows — DExEU — is being wound up at the end of January.

Education Debate

There was a major Education and Local Government debate within the House of Commons this week led by Gavin Williamson, Secretary of State for Education. On schools the debate covered content on: the minimum school funding (per pupil), rolling out free schools (Midlands, North and South West), extra funding to Councils to support children in care, capital funding for childcare provision within schools (for school aged children), an arts activities premium for secondary schools from 2021, school building safety – following advice in the independent Hackitt review,

Gavin Williamson also said:

  • The Government’s £3bn national skills fund would build on ongoing work to develop a national retraining scheme in underpinning economic prosperity.
  • Capital investment of £1.8bn into the further education estate.
  • The Government plans to create more mayors across England to devolve power away from Westminster via a devolution white paper.

Angela Rayner challenged the Government on the lack of response to the Augar review, particularly in relation to decision on the regulation of home education. She said: “While we are on the subject of Bills that are missing in action…The Augar review went from being a flagship to a ghost ship”.

SNP Shadow Secretary of State for Education, Carol Monaghan, asked the Minister whether a fee change would be forthcoming, further to the Augar review recommendations. She also raised concerns over the implications of Brexit on HE staff, research funding, infrastructure and collaboration: “A recent report from the Royal Society has shown that the UK’s share of EU funding has fallen by €500 million since 2015. There has also been a drop of 40% in UK applications to Horizon 2020. We are still in it just now, but we have had that drop because people do not have any certainty. The UK is now seen as a less attractive place to come and do research, with 35% fewer scientists coming to the UK through key schemes. That is of concern, as is Erasmus and what Brexit will mean for that programme”.

David Davis (Conservative) criticised the university tuition fees and loans scheme for delivering poor-quality education, high levels of expectations and low levels of outcome. He called for concerted action to tackle low productivity, including translational research, but also, “investment, education, infrastructure, magnet cities and garden villages”.

Previous chair of the Education Select Committee Robert Halfon welcomes the Queen’s Speech and said that he believes that “skills, social justice, standards and support for the profession should be the four interlocking foundations of this Government’s education programme.” He called on the Government to turbocharge adult learning, citing that adult learning is at its lowest since 1996 and that this county needs a world-class apprenticeships programme.

Halfon also raised concerns about disadvantaged pupils who are often 19 months behind by the time they reach their GCSEs, he called on the Government to have a “bold, assertive agenda that has compassion and aspiration right at its core.” Halfon told the chamber that the Government should offer top-quality childcare, to help plug the gap of disadvantaged children who are already left behind when they start primary school.

Shadow Minister for Northern Ireland Karin Smyth told the house that the Government has got it wrong in its implementation of apprenticeships, particularly by making the process more complicated for small and medium sized enterprises.

Janet Daby (Labour, Lewisham East) raised a number of concerns surrounding the funding of schools and local authorities. She told the house that “in the midst of a mental health crisis in young adults, we must do more to address the increasing lack of support in further education colleges.”

Steve McCabe (Labour, Birmingham, Selly Oak) welcomed the Secretary of State’s admission of the problems faced by pupils with special educational needs and disabilities. He also hoped that the new student visa would make it easier for people to come here to study, but noted that PhD students did not find it particularly easy to stay after they completed their doctorates.

Alex Norris (Labour/Co-op, Nottingham North) spoke about the educational trouble faced by working class boys, saying that it was caused by a cocktail of poor discipline, irregular attendance and below par curriculums. He called on the Government to have better curriculums based on international best practice; specific, targeted resource to augment the pupil premium; a focus on catching up for boys who fall behind at key stage 1; and the deployment of the best teachers in the most challenged schools, incentivised to work in the hard environments.

Bambos Charalambous (Labour) said there wasn’t enough school funding to reverse cuts on areas like school maintenance and a lack of further education.

You can read the debate in full here.

Skills gap

The Local Government Association (LGA) published a report (compiled by the Learning and Work Institute) considering 2030 projected skills gaps in England. It considers eight areas and quantifies potential loss of economic output due to the skills gaps. They conclude that 6 million people in England risk being without a job or in work they are over-qualified for by 2030. This is a similar message to the Government’s line on upskilling the workforce to plug business needs due to insufficient skills within the workforce. However, the LGA imagine a more localised solution to the skills gaps.  Key points:

  • 1 million low-skilled people chasing 2 million low-skilled jobs – a surplus of 3.1 million low-skilled workers
  • 7 million people with intermediate skills chasing 9.5 million jobs – a surplus of 3.1 million people
  • 4 million high-skilled jobs with only 14.8 million high-skilled workers – a deficit of 2.5 million

This note looks at the extent and nature of the potential skills gap that could be faced in the future through to 2030 – at both the level of England as a whole and in eight selected local areas:

  • Nottingham City
  • Staffordshire
  • Gloucestershire
  • Greater Lincolnshire
  • Essex, Southend and Thurrock
  • Lambeth, Lewisham and Southwark
  • North of Tyne
  • Southampton and Portsmouth

The LGA are critical of the current centrally-governed skills and employment system whereby £10.5 billion a year is spent by eight government departments and agencies across 20 different national schemes. Unsurprisingly the LGA is calling for the Government to use the Budget to devolve all back-to-work, skills, apprenticeship, careers advice, and business support schemes and funding to the local areas in which they are used. They envisage groups of councils across England with the power and funding to deliver a one-stop ‘Work Local’ service for skills, apprenticeship, employment, careers advice and business support provision. Bringing together local skills planning, overseeing job support including Jobcentre Plus and the Work and Health Programme and coordinate careers advice and guidance for young people and adults.

Cllr Kevin Bentley, Chairman of the LGA’s People and Places Board, said:

  • Millions of people face a future where they have skills mismatched for jobs at a huge cost to people’s lives and the local and national economy. Councils are ideally placed to lead efforts to help the Government bring growth and jobs to all parts of the country and ensure everyone is fully equipped with the skills they need to compete for future jobs.

Stephen Evans, Chief Executive of Learning and Work Institute, said:

  • Improving skills is central to making the 2020s a decade of growth. Other countries have continued to invest in skills, while progress in England has stalled over the last decade, the result of large cuts in England’s adult education budget which has left us lagging behind other countries and the number of adults improving their skills at a record low. We now need a decade of investment, in order to boost life chances,

Widening participation

A thought provoking HEPI blog considers the last 20 years of research published on addressing widening participation (WP) aims. It covers all the expected current topics from the BME attainment gap to the non-participation in HE by costal and/or rural areas. It highlights international approaches such as that from Australia and Canada explaining how studies addressed the same enduring gaps as the UK has now. Overall there are no magic solutions but the blog is reinvigorating in the way it brings all the WP themes together for fresh reconsideration. You can read the full blog here.

At Prime Minister’s Questions this week previous Head of the Education Select Committee, Robert Halfon said that despite improvement in educational standards and funding, white working-class boys underperform at every stage of education system. He questioned whether, in the context of large infrastructure projects expected, and the high value apprenticeships associated, whether the apprenticeship levy could be reformed to enable such young people to climb the skills ladder of opportunity. Boris responded that the House should follow Halfon’s advice and reform the apprenticeship levy, and intimated that the Education Secretary would update the House on this in due course.

And some Parliamentary questions:

Q – Lord Bourne Of Aberystwyth: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they have made in improving education outcomes for Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller communities.

A – Lord Agnew Of Oulton:

  • The latest published data, including breakdowns for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) pupils, relates to 2019 at key stage 2 and 2018 at key stage 4. At both stages, the data showed a small improvement in headline attainment measures for this group compared to the previous year. At key stage 2, the percentage of GRT pupils attaining the expected standard in reading, writing and mathematics rose from 19% in 2018 to 20% in 2019. At key stage 4, the percentage achieving grades 9-4 in English and mathematics rose from 11.8% in 2017 to 13.1% in 2018.
  • The government is taking significant steps forward to support attainment and progression for all pupils, including GRT pupils. Our education reforms, including those aimed at improving teaching; encouraging good attendance and behaviour; and strengthening the curriculum and examination system, are designed to improve opportunity and standards for all pupils. These reforms are underpinned by school accountability measures, which are intended to encourage schools to focus more closely on the attainment of all their pupils.
  • Through the pupil premium; we are addressing low economic circumstances. This is a key factor that predicts future educational outcomes, and affects a high proportion of GRT children. Since 2011, we have provided over £15 billion of this additional funding, with a further £2.4 billion being distributed in this financial year.

Life Sciences

Medical Science is one of BU’s strategic investment areas (SIA). Colleagues with an interest in this SIA area will be interested in the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy update which highlights progress in delivering the strategy since 2017. It covers:

  • NHS collaboration
  • Business environment
  • Reinforcing the UK science offer, including clinical research, data and genomics
  • Skills
  • Advanced therapies, including developing advanced therapies and advanced therapies manufacturing

The report notes very substantial progress in making the UK a more attractive place for life sciences companies to succeed and grow. These developments are the result of a strong collaboration between all aspects of this diverse industry – pharma, biotech, medtech, digital and diagnostics – the wider research community in the UK, the NHS and government. And states A substantial majority of the objectives in the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy have been met and more are being delivered now. Page 5 details the key achievements and page 10 onwards details the health and clinical research and development. Page 20 covers growing the skills base and workforce to deliver the life sciences industrial strategy. However, the content is limited and mainly covers AI and existing initiatives. It does not that the 2030 Skills Strategy will be published this year so we can expect more detail in the new future facing document. Page 21 briefly touches on commercialisation of university research.  You can read the sections that interest you most here.

Other news

Unconditional offers: Nottingham Trent have followed their public discussion on grade inflation last year by collaborating with The Times and publishing detail of their defence on conditional unconditional offers.  Wonkhe had an article by Mike Ratcliffe, their Academic Registrar.

Care Students: The Scottish Funding Council has published its National Ambition for Care-Experienced Students, which outlines its commitment to equal outcomes for those students by 2030.

Languages: The Financial Times responds to the HEPI language report, arguing that foreign language study should be made compulsory.

Social Commuting: The Guardian have a short, to the point, piece advising commuter students how to balance a social life with their commuting arrangements.

R&D – extending definition to cover the Creative Industries: Last week there was an interesting mini-debate following this question by Baroness Bull: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what consideration they have given to adopting a broader definition of research and development that includes, and incentivises, research and development investment in the creative industries. You can read the debate responses and follow on questions here.

Universities and Crime – a Parliamentary question

Q – Lord Taylor Of Warwick: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with UK Universities about reports that universities are not reporting crime statistics.

A – Baroness Berridge:

  • Criminal acts and misconduct are unacceptable in our world-leading universities, which should be safe and inclusive environments. Universities are autonomous institutions, and it is for each provider to determine what information should be collected and reported. Institutions have no statutory requirement to report crime statistics but have a responsibility to ensure students feel safe and able to report incidents, and to provide robust policies and procedures to address all forms of misconduct.
  • Current recorded crime statistics cover incidents reported to police. Where an institution (or the victim themselves) report the matter to the police it will be recorded and therefore captured in crime statistics. The government is aware that third party organisations collate data relating to incidents reported as taking place in Higher Education Providers (HEPs) and officials monitor this information.
  • The government expects providers to keep records of incidents disclosed to them and act swiftly to investigate and address them, with police involvement where necessary. Effective data collection processes enable HEPs to review and analyse reported incidents and complaints to inform continuous improvement. HEPs should continue to break down barriers to reporting, to ensure students and staff feel safe and able to report incidents.
  • The government continues to work closely with Universities UK (UUK) on implementing its Changing the Culture framework. The most recent progress report, published in October 2019, showed that 72% of responding institutions had developed or improved recording of data on incidents with a more centralised approach. UUK are also supporting HEPs in handling misconduct and criminal offences, including working with the Police Association of Higher Education Liaison Officers to explore how to best support information sharing between police forces and universities, and government officials meet regularly with UUK representatives.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

HE Policy Update for the w/e 20th December 2019

It’s our last update until the New Year – we give you the Queen’s speech (not that one, the one at the State opening) and the OfS annual review, to get you ready for what will be coming in the New Year. At the time of writing MPs are expected to pass the second reading of the EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill, paving the way for the more detailed third reading stage in January.

Happy Christmas and a happy new year to all our readers, and thank you for your patience in what has been a very interesting year!

Queen’s speech (again)

You can read the Queen’s Speech here along with the PM’s introduction and briefing notes about all the legislation etc. The Executive Summary in this briefing document sets out the legislative programme clearly.

This Queen’s Speech will deliver Brexit on 31 January and allow the Government to deliver on people’s priorities and unleash the country’s potential. The Government’s first priority is to deliver Brexit on 31 January and to negotiate an ambitious free trade agreement with the EU that benefits the whole country This Queen’s Speech sets out how we will seize the opportunities created by Brexit:

  • The European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill will ratify the deal secured by the Government in October, delivering Brexit.
  • The Agriculture Bill will reform UK agriculture by improving environmental protections and strengthening transparency and fairness in the supply chain.
  • The Fisheries Bill will enable us to reclaim control over our waters, ensuring the sustainability of our marine life and environment.
  • The Trade Bill will establish the Trade Remedies Authority to protect UK industry from unfair trading practices.
  • We will end free movement and pave the way for a modern, fairer points based immigration system.

You will remember that “The Home Secretary has commissioned the Migration Advisory Committee (the MAC) to consider points-based systems, including the Australian immigration system and other international comparators. The MAC is due to report in January 2020.”

And this from the more detailed briefing:

Our new single system will allocate points on a range of criteria in three broad categories and it will be focused on skills and talents, not nationality:

  • Migrants who have received world-leading awards or otherwise demonstrated exceptional talent and sponsored entrepreneurs setting up a new business or investors.
  • Skilled workers who meet the criteria of the points-based system and have a job offer.
  • Sector-specific workers who enter on schemes for low-skilled work, youth mobility or short-term visits. These provide no route to permanent settlement and will be revised on an ongoing basis based on expert advice from the MAC.

Although it isn’t mentioned in the briefing, this was the October 2019 briefing on graduate employment rights

  • A Private International Law (Implementation of Agreements) Bill will provide a clear framework for cross-border resolutions for individuals, families and UK businesses involved in international legal disputes.
  • We will provide certainty, stability and new opportunities for the financial services sector.

The Speech sets out a number of proposals to invest in and support our public services:

  • Legislation will enshrine in law the largest cash settlement in the NHS’s history and we will deliver the NHS Long Term Plan in England to ensure our health service is fit for the future.
  • A Medicines and Medical Devices Bill will ensure that our NHS and patients can have faster access to innovative medicines, while supporting the growth of our domestic sector.
  • We will also pursue reforms to make the NHS safer for patients.
  • We will provide extra funding for social care and will urgently seek cross-party consensus for much needed long-term reform so that nobody needing care should be forced to sell their home to pay for it.
  • We will continue work to modernise and reform the Mental Health Act to ensure people get the support they need, with a much greater say in their care.
  • We will increase levels of funding per pupil to ensure all children can access a high quality education.

This is from the more detailed briefing on education

  • The Government is giving schools a multi-billion pound boost, investing a total of £14 billion more over three years, on top of £5 billion for teacher’s pensions. Overall, that translates to £150 million a week. The core schools budget will be £7.1 billion higher in 2022-23 compared to this year.
  • Every school will have more money for every child and we will level up minimum per-pupil funding for secondary schools to £5,000, and primary schools to £3,750 next year, and £4,000 the year after.
  • From next year, we will legally require all local authorities to deliver the minimum per-pupil funding in their local area. And that will be an important first step towards delivering this funding directly to schools, through a single national formula, so that it is fair and equitable for every school in the country.
  • It is vital we ensure that the pay offer for teachers is positioned at the top of the graduate labour market – ensuring we recruit and retain a world class profession – and that is why we have announced plans to significantly raise starting pay to £30,000 nationally by September 2022.
  • The Government will also continue to expand the successful free schools programme, promoting choice, innovation and higher standards to kick-start wider improvement.
  • The Government wants to bring renewed focus to further and technical education, and will ensure our post-16 education system enables young people and adults to gain the skills required for success and to help the economy.
  • This means an extra £400 million for 16-19 year-old education next year, an increase of 7 per cent overall in 16-19 year-old funding and the biggest injection of new money in a single year since 2010.
  • There will also be additional investment in T Levels, supporting continued preparation for these courses with the first three starting from September 2020.
  • The Government will invest an additional £3 billion over the course of this Parliament to support the creation of a ‘National Skills Fund’.
  • The Government will invest £8 billion over five years in a rebuilding programme to upgrade the entire further education college estate.
  • The Government are also planning to establish 20 Institutes of Technology across England- unique collaborations between further education colleges, universities, and employers –– offering higher technical education and training in science, technology, engineering and maths subjects, to give people the skills they need for key sectors such as digital, construction, advanced manufacturing and engineering.
  • The Government is committed to making sure higher education funding reflects a sustainable model that supports high quality provision, maintaining our world-leading reputation for higher education and delivering value for money for both students and the taxpayer.
  • The Government will ensure that our universities are places where free speech can thrive, and will strengthen academic freedoms.
  • The Government wants to ensure we deliver better value for students in post- 18 education, have more options that offer the right education for each individual, and remove barriers to access for disadvantaged young people.
  • The Government is considering the thoughtful recommendations made in the Augar Review carefully.
  • The Government will boost Ofsted inspection so that parents can be confident they have the fullest picture of quality at their child’s school. We will consult on lifting the inspection exemption so that outstanding schools are inspected routinely.
  • To ensure children are getting an active start to life, The Government will invest in primary school PE teaching and ensure that it is being properly delivered. The Government wants to do more to help schools make good use of their sports facilities and to promote physical literacy and competitive sport.

The Speech sets out a variety of measures to support workers and families:

  • An Employment Bill will enhance workers’ rights, supporting flexible working, extending unpaid carers’ entitlement to leave and ensure workers keep their hard earned tips.
  • A Renters’ Reform Bill will enhance renters’ security and improve protections for short-term tenants by abolishing “no-fault” evictions and introducing a lifetime deposit.
  • To ensure residents are safe in their homes, we will bring forward measures to implement the most urgent recommendations from the first phase of the Grenfell Tower Public Inquiry. We will also publish a draft Building Safety Bill to implement the recommendations of Dame Judith Hackitt’s review of building regulations.
  • Recognising our commitment to making the UK the safest place to be online, we will continue to develop an Online Harms Bill.
  • The Pension Schemes Bill will enable people to better plan their saving for later life and improve the protection of people’s pensions, strengthening the regulator’s powers to tackle irresponsible management of pension schemes.
  • We will reduce the cost of living, including through increases to the National Insurance threshold and the National Living Wage.

The Speech reaffirms our commitment to strengthening the criminal justice system, ensuring it keeps people safe:

  • A Counter Terrorism (Sentencing and Release) Bill will ensure the most serious and dangerous terrorist offenders stay in prison for longer.
  • A Sentencing Bill will ensure the most serious and violent offenders serve more of their sentences in custody.
  • A Serious Violence Bill will place a duty on public bodies to work together to identify and tackle early factors that can lead to crime and ensure the police can more easily stop and search habitual knife carriers.
  • A Police Powers and Protection Bill will establish a Police Covenant and ensure the police are able to fully conduct their duties by providing them with additional support and protection.
  • Recognising the pain felt by victims and their families when offenders refuse to disclose certain information about their crimes, the Prisoners (Disclosure of Information about Victims) Bill will require the Parole Board to take this into account – a version of “Helen’s Law”.
  • The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill will remove unnecessary conflict during the divorce process, in which children are so often caught up, while ensuring that divorce remains a carefully considered decision.
  • We will re-introduce the Domestic Abuse Bill, strengthening protections for victims and providing new enforcement mechanisms.
  • The Extradition (Provisional Arrest) Bill will empower police officers to immediately arrest someone wanted for a serious crime committed in a trusted country, without having to apply to a court for a warrant first.
  • We will consider proposals to deal more effectively with foreign national offenders, including increasing the maximum penalty for those who return to the UK in breach of a deportation order.
  • We will set up a Royal Commission to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the criminal justice process.

The Speech sets out how we will improve our infrastructure and level up opportunity across the country:

  • We will invest in public services and infrastructure while keeping borrowing and debt under control and will publish a National Instructure Strategy.
  • We will accelerate the delivery of fast, reliable and secure broadband networks to millions of homes, with legislation to make it easier for telecoms companies to install digital infrastructure and to ensure all new homes are built with reliable and fast internet.
  • The Air Traffic Management and Unmanned Aircraft Bill, will maintain our position as a world-leader in aviation by modernising our airspace, making journeys quicker, quieter and cleaner whilst also tackling the unlawful use of unmanned aircraft (drones).
  • Legislation will be brought forward to ensure that minimum levels of service are maintained during transport strikes so that hard-working commuters can still get to work.
  • We will develop measures to ensure people can get home quickly when an airline goes bust.
  • In response to the Williams Review, we will publish a White Paper containing reforms that address passengers needs while providing value for the taxpayer and delivering economic benefits across the UK.
  • A draft National Security and Investment Bill will strengthen the Government’s powers to investigate and intervene in business transactions (takeovers and mergers) to protect national security.
  • To maintain the UK’s position as a global science superpower, we will boost public R&D funding, launch a comprehensive UK Space Strategy and develop proposals for a new funding agency.

The detailed note says:

To build on our world-leading excellence in science and deliver solutions to some of the world’s greatest challenges we are:

  • Setting out plans to significantly boost public R&D funding.
  • Backing a new approach to funding high-risk, high-payoff research in emerging fields of research and technology. The Government will work with industry and academics to finalise this proposal.
  • Introducing a new fast-track immigration scheme for the best and brightest scientists and researchers.
  • Reducing bureaucracy in research funding to ensure our brilliant scientists are able to spend as much time as possible creating new ideas.
  • Establishing a new National Space Council and launching a comprehensive UK Space Strategy.
  • The R&D funding plans the Government will unveil will help accelerate our ambition to reach 2.4 per cent of GDP spent on R&D by 2027. This boost in funding will allow the UK to invest strategically in cutting-edge science, while encouraging the world’s most innovative businesses to invest in the UK.
  • Under our new funding plans the Government will prioritise investment in industries of the future where the UK can take a commanding lead – such as life sciences, clean energy, space, design, computing, robotics and artificial intelligence. The Government will drive forward development of these technologies by investing in hubs around world-leading universities.
  • Some of this new R&D spending will go towards a new approach to funding emerging fields of research and technology. It will provide long term funding to support visionary high-risk, high-pay off scientific, engineering, and technology ideas, and will complement the UK’s existing world class research system.
  • The Government will increase the tax credit rate to 13 per cent and review what R&D-related costs qualify for tax credits, so that important investments in cloud computing and data, which boost productivity and innovation, are also incentivised.
  • Removing unnecessary bureaucracy in the science funding system will help ensure all UK investments have the greatest possible impact by cutting the time wasted by scientists filling out forms.
  • The UK’s new fast-track immigration scheme for top scientists and researchers will help significantly enhance the intellectual and knowledge base of the UK. The changes to the immigration system will:
  • Abolish the cap on numbers under the Tier 1 Exceptional Talent Visas;
  • Expand the pool of UK research institutes and universities able to endorse candidates; and
  • Create criteria that confer automatic endorsement, subject to immigration checks.
  • Under the current Tier 1 Visa system, the immigration system already:
  • Ensures dependents have full access to the labour market;
  • Removes the need to hold an offer of employment before arriving; and
  • Provides an accelerated path to settlement.
  • This new immigration scheme will support our world-leading research by ensuring that UK teams can recruit the best skills and talent from abroad. We will continue to collaborate internationally and with the EU on scientific research, including with the EU through Horizon.
  • The Government will unlock long-term capital in pension funds to invest in and commercialise our scientific discoveries, creating a vibrant science-based economy post-Brexit.

 

  • We will publish a White Paper to reiterate our commitment to levelling up opportunities and investment in the regions across England.
  • We will reform business rates to protect high streets and communities from excessive tax hikes and keep town centres vibrant. We will bring forward the next business rates revaluation and make future revaluations in England more frequent.

This Queen’s Speech deepens our commitment to safeguarding the natural environment for future generations:

  • Our landmark Environment Bill will protect and preserve the planet for generations to come. It will establish a new Office for Environmental Protection, increase local powers to tackle air pollution, introduce charges for specified single use plastic items, and ban exports of polluting plastic waste to non-OECD countries.
  • We will also continue to take steps to meet the world-leading target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
  • We will introduce legislation to promote and protect animal welfare, including measures to increase maximum sentences for animal cruelty, to ensure animals are recognised as sentient beings, and ban the import and export of trophies from endangered animals.

The Government will continue to work to strengthen the bonds between the different parts of the UK and to safeguard its constitution and democratic processes:

  • We will continue to uphold the constitutional integrity of the UK, working constructively with the devolved administrations and their legislatures to ensure our Union continues to flourish.
  • We will urgently pursue the restoration of the devolved power-sharing government at Stormont to ensure the people of Northern Ireland have the political leadership of their elected local representatives.
  • We will set up a Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission to consider the relationship between Government, Parliament and the courts and to explore whether the checks and balances in our constitution are working for everyone.
  • We will take forward work to repeal the Fixed-term Parliaments Act.
  • We will protect the integrity of our democracy and elections, tackling electoral fraud through the introduction of voter ID and banning postal vote harvesting.

The Speech confirms our determination to celebrate and support the work of our courageous armed forces and to retain and enhance the UK’s global status and reach as we leave the EU:

  • We will continue to invest in our Armed Forces and honour the Armed Forces Covenant.
  • We will continue to uphold the NATO commitment to spend at least two per cent of national income on defence.
  • We will legislate to bring an end to the unfair pursuit of our Armed Forces through vexatious legislation.
  • We will seek the prompt implementation of the Stormont House Agreement to provide both reconciliation for victims of the Troubles in Northern Ireland and greater certainty for military veterans.
  • The Prime Minister will undertake an Integrated Defence, Security and Foreign Policy Review – the deepest review of these issues since the end of the Cold War.
  • We will secure ambitious new trade deals with our international partners across the world.
  • We will take forward our commitment to ban public bodies from imposing their own direct or indirect boycotts, divestment or sanctions campaigns against foreign countries.
  • Finally, this Government will champion Conservative values and put a strong United Kingdom front and centre in the world. We will champion the UK’s interests and uphold our values of the rule of law, freedom of expression, and the importance of human rights on the international stage. We will continue to work alongside our international partners to tackle the most pressing global challenges, including terrorism and climate change.

Research funding

We have mentioned the government’s promises on research funding above. Wonkhe have done some analysis

  • The ten-year science and innovation investment framework launched to much fanfare in 2004 made a similar promise, but ultimately didn’t deliver. Given 2.4 per cent is a “whole economy” target, i.e. made up of both public and private sector spending, we’d argue that what really counts this time is the pledge made by the Prime Minister during the election that a returning Conservative government would increase its annual investment in research and development to £18 billion by 2024/25.
  • Clearly that level of investment will need to ramp up over time to address capacity issues in the research sector: the UK will need thousands more research workers in universities, businesses and research institutes and the wider public sector.
  • Interestingly, the Conservatives’ costings document appears to only indicate a rise to just over £14 billion public investment in research and development by 2023/24, so these pledges will also need ongoing scrutiny. And we will need a strategic plan to deliver this level of change and that plan will need to show how the government will leverage private investment, alongside its own, to deliver on the GDP target as soon as possible.

Office for Students Annual Review

The Office for Students have issued an annual review which defends their approach to date and sets out some continuing and  new frontiers for intervention in the sector. The headline lets you know what is coming: England’s universities world class, but pockets of poor provision letting students down.

Before we get stuck into the detail, there is some analysis of this and the OfS board papers from Wonkhe – Jim Dickinson on plans for student protection:

  • The interesting question here is what students actually expect in each of those areas, where they get those expectations from, and what happens if the expectation doesn’t match the reality.
  • For example – a university website that boasts ”there’s lots of support available to you… no problem is too big or no worry too small for our team of experts, and there are plenty of services so you can choose the one that’s best for you” might not be setting an appropriate expectation of its waiting lists to access these services are over a term long.
  • Similarly, a university boasting that “students experience an open, informal study environment with teachers and students usually on a first-name basis… a more collaborative approach, where students are respected as junior colleagues and their opinions valued and encouraged by more experienced peers” sounds great, but may be hard to access if there’s 300 people on all your modules.
  • A student enrolled at a university whose assessment policy says that “you will normally receive work back within three weeks” and claims “you will be allocated a supportive personal tutor” might reasonably have rights to redress if all their marks take six weeks to appear, and if they get to their final year having never met their personal tutor.
  • Much of this sort of stuff isn’t in contracts now, but is certainly implied in prospectuses or university policies – and what this probably points to is providers having to be much more specific about the nature, quality and level of service on offer – both to help students compare, and enable them to enforce their rights if it doesn’t materialise.

And David Kernohan on the OfS board papers – he has a whole advent calendar full of points (26) but we’ve pulled out a few

  • 13) More publications on the way. There’ll be more guidance on value for money transparency expectations in early 2020, which may include a consultation (and thus, we guess, changes to the regulatory framework)
  • 14) We’ll be getting the results of a survey of students and graduates about VfM views in March 2020.
  • 15) There’s a consultation coming very soon, which may mean changes to the regulatory framework to help tackle harassment and sexual misconduct.
  • 19) The Student panel have been getting stuck into TEF, and they reckon the purpose of TEF should be to “incentivise continuous improvement” within providers rather than to guide student choice, which tells its own story. They don’t like the current stratification of awards (Bronze can still mean bad), but they do fancy an increased number of awards to identify providers with greater precision.
  • 20) The panel also “appreciated the level of student engagement” included within the subject-level pilot and supported “increasing the level of direct engagement and introducing more qualitative data to TEF”. There was even support for “less reliance on NSS data” as there was a feeling that “it could be gamed” and that low response rates “can lead to unreliable data which then can’t be used”.

So back to the Review.  Nicola Dandridge says:

  • ‘It is simply wrong to suggest that criticism of poor-quality provision and poor outcomes for students, when appropriate and evidenced, amounts to disloyalty that will damage the reputation of English higher education. Indeed, the reality is exactly the opposite: saying that everything is perfect in every university and college, when it plainly is not, is dishonest and corrosive, and ultimately will do more damage by undermining trust and confidence.
  • ‘More to the point, it is not in the interest of students. The OfS seeks to be honest about the experience students receive, however uncomfortable that may be. That is our job. In this, we take our cue from the principles that underpin the institutions we regulate: universities are places of intellectual exploration and, above all, honest enquiry. By drawing attention to the evidence, and to areas of concern as well as outstanding strength, we aim to offer challenge, support and opportunity for improvement that will make our exceptionally strong higher education sector even stronger

The blog summarises the areas of focus:

  • Within the OfS’s broad agenda, Ms Dandridge highlights three key issues that the OfS will pay particular attention to in the year ahead: admissions and recruitment, the quality of information for prospective students, and improving the quality of teaching and courses. To address the first of these issues, the OfS plans to launch a review of the admissions system. Ms Dandridge says:
  • ‘To the extent that the existing system is not serving students’ needs in a fair, transparent and inclusive way, it must change, and we will consult widely with students, schools, providers and others to understand their views and perspectives.
  • ‘We will also consider ways of addressing increasing concerns about some student recruitment practices. Students can be offered enticements and inducements which are often not in their best interests, at a time when they may be especially vulnerable. In particular, we will continue closely to monitor the impact of the damaging growth of ‘conditional unconditional’ offers that require students to commit to a particular course.’
  • Reforming admissions practices is one way of addressing entrenched gaps in access and participation in higher education which, historically, universities and colleges have been too slow to address. Ms Dandridge continues:
  • ‘What we have seen in the past is ‘slow but steady’ improvement. The trouble is that slow and steady is too slow when people’s livelihoods and opportunities are at stake. That is why we are now looking for a radical improvement in progress.
  • ‘There is work to do to dispel wider, persistent myths and misperceptions about access and participation: that universities and colleges cannot be expected to compensate for poor schooling and wider social inequalities; that contextual admissions are unfair; that disadvantaged students will always do less well in their degrees. Research shows that if students from disadvantaged backgrounds are helped to make the right choice of what and where to study, and given the support that they need during their time in higher education, they can end up performing just as well as, if not better than, their more privileged peers.’
  • The second of three issues identified by Ms Dandridge as priorities for the year ahead is improving the quality and reliability of information available for prospective students:
  • ‘Providers registered with the OfS must demonstrate that the information on their websites and marketing materials is accurate and accessible. At a time when questions are being asked, and concerns raised, about the value of a higher education degree, it is more important than ever that students are able to make informed choices about what and where to study based on clear, correct information. There can be no place for false and misleading advertising in how universities sell themselves to prospective students, or a lack of clarity about their rights.
  • ‘We cannot have a situation where students’ expectations are raised unrealistically before they go to university, only to be dashed when they get there. Such marketing is clearly within the scope of consumer protection law, and we will act swiftly and decisively where we find evidence of breach.’
  • The third priority identified is how universities, colleges and other higher education providers address concerns identified by the new regulatory system – particularly the quality of teaching. Ms Dandridge says:
  • ‘As our attention turns to regulating the providers we have now registered, we now plan to use our regulatory tools to support improved quality of teaching and courses. We plan to consult on whether our requirements for quality are sufficiently demanding to ensure that all students receive a good education.
  • ‘We set numerical baselines for indicators such as continuation, completion and employment as part of our assessment of the outcomes delivered for students. Our view is that a minimum level of performance should be delivered for all students, regardless of their background or what and where they study. We will consult on raising these baselines so that they are progressively more demanding and using our regulatory powers to require providers to improve pockets of weak provision.’

In the main document, there are some interesting points:

Registration:

  • Over 500 applications were received from higher education providers to join the OfS register.
  • A total of 387 providers were registered.
  • Eight providers were refused registration
  • The majority of applications (446) and registrations (330) were for the ‘Approved (fee cap)’ category, which allows providers to charge tuition fees up to the higher limit.
  • The majority of providers on the Register (373) had been regulated under the previous higher education regulatory systems. 14 providers not regulated under the previous systems have been registered

And the process has not been without challenges:

  • The vast majority of registered providers have had some form of regulatory intervention imposed. Some have had more than one intervention applied to them. Only 12 providers had no interventions as part of the registration decision. The total number of interventions applied as of 23 October 2019 was 1,109.
  • Most interventions (615) took the form of a formal communication. There were 464 requirements for enhanced monitoring, and 30 specific ongoing conditions were imposed.
  • As Table 1 on page 23 shows, interventions have been imposed across all of the conditions of registration. The majority relate to the first condition, on access and participation plans. This is in large part a reflection of our level of ambition and challenge in relation to access and participation.
  • Fair access and participation is an important OfS objective, and there is an expectation of continuous improvement in reducing the gaps between the most and least advantaged students in access, student success and progression into further study and employment. Many providers not considered to be at increased risk for other conditions of registration were judged to be at increased risk for this condition. The greatest number of interventions (229) have been made to improve progress on access and participation by those universities and colleges that wish to charge higher tuition fees. 

And what does the future hold:

  • There are notable gaps in the data we collect on students’ wellbeing. We are developing ways of capturing more data and as a first step have produced experimental statistics on background characteristics including sexuality and gender identity, which will cover mental health.
  • We intend to publish a consultation document laying out our expectations for universities and colleges in terms of preventing harassment and sexual misconduct, and dealing appropriately and effectively with reports of infringements
  • We will work to improve the quality of the academic and pastoral experience of students, using our powers of monitoring and intervention where appropriate.
  • We will:
  • Explore expanding the NSS survey to cover all years of a student’s course.
  • Continue to fund and evaluate priority areas such as mental health.
  • Set out our expectations of universities and colleges in preventing and dealing with incidents of harassment and sexual misconduct.
  • Following the outcomes of the independent review of the TEF, develop the scheme to increase its future role in securing high-quality teaching and learning in the sector.
  • To ensure we fully understand students’ ideas about value for money, and to maintain pressure on universities and colleges to deliver it in the future, we will:
  • Consider putting a question in the NSS about value for money.
  • Encourage universities and colleges to be more transparent in their value for money plans about how student fees are spent.
  • Continue to monitor the pay of senior staff, and consider taking action if it is unjustified.

On 20th December, Nicola Dandridge published a blog with similar themes:

  • …students reported valuing the quality of teaching and the learning environment above everything else. This chimes with the discussions I have had with students over the past 18 months, during which the quality of their courses and the academic support on offer was raised again and again – but not always in complimentary terms. Addressing poor quality provision, where it exists, has been one of our top priorities and will continue to be into the future
  • In particular, we are deeply concerned that some students – disproportionately from disadvantaged backgrounds – are recruited inappropriately on to poor quality courses and left to flounder without the support they need to succeed. Many end up dropping out altogether – a terrible waste of talent.
  • Over the course of the next year, we will champion areas where universities and colleges are doing great things. Where there are examples of good practice from which others can learn, we will promote them. We want to get the balance right between promoting good practice where we can, while never shying away from identifying and addressing poor practice and speaking openly about what we are doing

Prevent statistics

From Wonkhe: The Home Office has published statistics on individuals referred to and supported through the Prevent programme for April 2018 to March 2019. Of 1,887 cases reported by the education sector (the largest single sector in terms of referrals), only 324 linked explicitly to Islamic extremism – 530 cases specified right wing extremism. David Kernohan asks if we should be thinking again.

Nursing bursaries are back

In an announcement trailed in the Conservative manifesto the government has confirmed the reintroduction of maintenance support for nursing (and other healthcare) under=graduates, with more details to follow in the New Year.

Students will receive at least £5,000 a year, with up to £3,000 further funding available for eligible students, including for:

  • specialist disciplines that struggle to recruit, including mental health
  • an additional childcare allowance, on top of the £1,000 already on offer
  • areas of the country which have seen a decrease in people accepted on some nursing, midwifery and allied health courses over the past year

This means that some students could be eligible for up to £8,000 per year, with everyone getting at least £5,000. The funding will be available from next year. Further details on who can access the support will be available in early 2020.

The funding will not have to be repaid by recipients. Students will also be able to continue to access funding for tuition and maintenance loans from the Student Loans Company.

What about the Youthquake?

The day of the election, twitter was full of pictures of long queues of students at University polling stations waiting to vote. Students were encouraged by the Labour party to vote tactically.  HEPI have a blog about the impact and David Kernohan of Wonkhe did some more intensive analysis.

Nick Hillman says:

  • The embers of Labour’s defeat are now being pored over for clues on how they might do better next time. It would be wrong to assume that appealing even more to students is likely to boost Labour significantly at the next election, at least with regard to these seats. This is because, despite the general swing away from Labour, Labour held on to all 18 out of 20 that they already held, with the two Scottish seats staying in the hands of the SNP. When you already hold 90 per cent of the most student-dominated seats, there isn’t much further room for improvement.
  • Indeed, if anything, our tentative results support the idea that Labour’s problem is among less well-educated older people than it is more well-educated younger people.

David asks:

  • Are constituencies with universities in likely to see changes in the size of the majority of the winning party, or changes in voter turnout?
  • Turnout is down on 2017 (with a wet December day certainly playing a part in this trend). Intriguingly, turnout fell more in seats now held by Labour, and less in seats held by the SNP. SNP seats, too, saw a polarisation effect – the majority is higher for the winning party on a higher turn out. Conservative seats tended towards a falling turnout and a rise in polarisation.
  • But there was no way of associating “university seats” with these trends. Behavior was indistinguishable from non-university seats. More generally, if you are looking for an “anyone but the tories” get-the-vote-out pattern in any seat in England you will look in vain. Like other elections before it, 2019 was not the tactical voting election.

Updated UCAS data

UCAS issued more data about the 2019 admissions cycle. There were headlines about unconditional offers (they went up) with some faux outrage associated with it (the bit Ministerial assault on conditional unconditionals came too late for any institution to change its policy for 2019.

From the UCAS reports – main report

  • Clearing acceptances have been on the rise for several years. This continues into 2019. Over 34,000 UK 18 year olds secured a place through Clearing – the highest number on record. This figure accounts for 14% of all placed UK 18 year old applicants.
  • On A level results day this year, almost all UK universities and colleges had courses available in Clearing. This covered over 30,000 courses.
  • Clearing covers a broad range of subject areas. This includes typically highly selective courses, such as preclinical medicine (over 400 placed through Clearing, comprising 7.9% of all UK 18 year old acceptances to this subject) and mathematics (over 600 placed through Clearing – 14% of acceptances to this subject).
  • 2019 also brought the highest ever proportion of places secured through Clearing at higher tariff providers – 9.8%, compared with 8.3% in 2018.
  • New in 2019 was the option for placed applicants to ‘self-release’ online into Clearing. Nearly 16,000 UK 18 year olds with main scheme places took advantage of this option, with over 11,000 of these placed on a new course.

On unconditional offers:

  • In 2019, 20.6% of these applicants selected their conditional unconditional offer as their first choice, compared to 25.6% in 2014. Despite applicants needing to select their conditional unconditional offer as their first choice if they wish it to become unconditional, they are now only marginally more likely (1.3 percentage points) to select their conditional unconditional offer as their first choice than any of their other offers individually.
  • Applicants with unconditional offers were less likely to report feeling stressed when waiting for their exam results. In 2019, over 30,000 English, Welsh, and Northern Irish 18 year old applicants told us how they felt whilst waiting for their exam results. Figure 3 shows applicants with an unconditional offer at their first choice were less likely to feel stressed, worried or uncertain while waiting for results, and more likely to feel calm.
  • Men receiving an unconditional offer are, on average, 15.5 percentage points more likely to miss their predicted attainment by three or more grades than if they had received a conditional offer.
  • Women are, on average, 9 percentage points more likely than if they had received a conditional offer.
  • However, men with conditional offers are less likely to miss their predicted attainment by three or more grades than women with conditional offers. The net effect of the above is that men and women with an unconditional offer have similar attainment relative to predicted grades.
  • Overall, POLAR4 quintile 5 applicants are least likely to miss their predicted attainment by three or more grades (and quintile 1 most likely).
  • However, modelling did not show a significant difference between POLAR4 quintiles in the impact of an unconditional offer on attainment.
  • When the OfS talk about incentives, this is what they mean – UCAS have some data:
    • Based on responses from over 30,000 applicants in 2019, 54% of 18 year old applicants in England, Northern Ireland, and Wales reported receiving an offer with an incentive to select the provider as their first choice.
    • Of those:
    • 56% reported receiving an offer where the provider would change the conditional offer to unconditional (a conditional unconditional offer)
    • 30% reported receiving an offer promising a guaranteed place in university halls
    • 17% reported receiving an offer which would include a scholarship, bursary or cash payment
    • The biggest change in the responses to this question was in the promise of a lower grade offer or entry requirement as an incentive for selecting the provider as their first choice. In 2018, 23% reported receiving this type of offer. In 2019, this proportion has risen to 36%.
    • UCAS’ terms of engagement require providers to communicate their offers through the UCAS system. This promotes transparency and provides consistency in experience for applicants.
    • However, survey data suggests 30% of applicants who received any type of incentivised offer only received them directly from the provider – via post or email.
    • When looking at applicants who received an offer which would be changed from conditional to unconditional if selected as their first choice, 26% reported only receiving it via post or email, and that it was not mentioned in their offer conditions.

    All very interesting stuff for the OfS when doing their review of admissions.

    Wonkhe have an article

    • With only one in five 18 year olds meeting or exceeding their predicted grades in 2019, there are clearly questions to be asked
    • However the margin of error is highly predictable – predictions generally lie within 2-3 points above the actual grades, and this year’s figure is 2.35 points. There are differences based on attainment – higher predicted grades are likely to mean a smaller average difference – and more likelihood that an applicant would meet or exceed predicted grades.
    • ….The emphasis in guidance and reporting is that predicted grades should be seen as one part of a holistic system – a nod to more contextual approaches to admissions playing a wider role. Intriguingly there has been a rise in the acceptance rates for applicants holding three E grades over last year.

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

Temperatures are rising as election fever grips the politicians, there are reports on educational spending and OfS have more to say on unconditional offers.

Parliament

General Election

It has been confirmed the general election will be held on 12 December. Parliament will dissolve on 6 November, with purdah commencing and full scale campaigning officially from 7th November.   The election for a new speaker will take place on Monday, as planned.

Election signs and banners are already appearing, requests to donate to the party’s campaign are being emailed, the commentators are in full tweet mode, and MPs are campaigning .

Jeremy Corbyn made a major speech on Thursday which covered many areas we can expect to appear in the Labour election manifesto including ending rough sleeping, cancelling tuition fees and tackling “tax dodgers, dodgy landlords, bad bosses and big polluters”. Particularly trailed was his commitment to using the first day in office to buy all the properties necessary to house rough sleepers. Labour also stated that they would be happy to govern the country as a minority Government and had no intention of forming a pact or coalition with other parties. Should parliament return Labour as a minority Government they intend to stick to their manifesto and believe parliament would fall into line behind their policies.

Boris Johnson continues to highlight his health, education, and crime themes whilst stating that if the electorate deliver him a majority then he “can deliver on the priorities for the British people.” He stated the UK could leave the EU on 31st January 2020 as his Withdrawal Agreement was “oven-ready” and ready to go in the “microwave.”

Earlier this week Boris welcomed half of the ostracised MPs who rebelled over Brexit back into the party stating they had completed an internal party process for readmission. Alistair Burt, Caroline Nokes, Greg Clark, Sir Nicholas Soames, Ed Vaizey, Margot James, Richard Benyon, Stephen Hammond, Steve Brine and Richard Harrington have all had the party whip returned meaning they can stand as the Conservative candidate in their constituency again. Interestingly the Liberal Democrats will not field a candidate to run against Dominic Grieve in his constituency of Beaconsfield to avoid diluting the vote and help him be re-elected as an independent (as he is one of those who has not had the Conservative whip restored). Amber Rudd was also not given back the whip and has now said she is standing down.

And (more rumours) the Brexit Party are reported as saying they will not contest key seats to ensure the Conservative candidate is elected. It seems the parties are being unusually open about the political manoeuvring required to maximise seat gains this year.

At each election there is always churn as some parliamentarians retire from politics or switch to different constituencies. Here is a list of the 46 MPs standing down (so far). The list feels quite significant for this election not necessarily because of the volume of churn but because of the prominence of ex-Ministers and long-standing parliamentarians who will not run for re-election. While some members had long planned to step down, some are doing so because of disagreements with their party or because of personal reasons linked to abuse and security.

Election purdah is a confusing concept.  A simple view is that civil servant decisions are handcuffed and all MPs stop Government and constituency business to campaign for election. But it is more nuanced than that in practice. Here is a comprehensive guide to Purdah from the parliamentary perspective in case you want to understand more. Meanwhile colleagues engaging with parliamentarians from 6 November onwards should contact the policy team.

Select Committees

Parliamentary business effectively ceases during the run up to a general election. This means those MPs and Lords who were successful in the Private Members Bill ballots will not be able to introduce their legislation. It can also mean bad news for the Select Committees who were conducting ongoing investigations. Technically all open inquiries cease and after a general election select committees must re-elect their members. However, the new members can choose to continue the previous inquiries and still publish reports based on evidence already gathered. The change in personnel does lead to changes in priorities and allows an avenue for the new Government to kill off any troublesome inquiries.

Other business this week

The Commons Speaker of 10 years, John Bercow, stepped down from his role. He cites personal reasons for his retirement from politics, however, during the last few months he has been dogged with accusations of siding with the opposition and angered Boris when the Benn (Brexit extension) amendment passed.

Sajid Javid also announced that the Brexit budget planned for 6 November would not go ahead – the decision was taken before parliament agreed the general election because it was linked to Brexit.  . Labour intend to continue their previous manifesto pledge to abolish tuition fees and cancel student debt so tuition fees will continue to be a hot topic in this election – we wait to see what will be in the Tory manifesto.

We expect little in the way of announcements before Christmas when the new Government meets. Parliamentary recess generally commences on the Friday of the week prior to Christmas. If this timescale is adhered to then the new Government will only have one week before recess, barely enough time to quibble over premium parliamentary office space and what will happen before the new 31st January Brexit deadline, Brexit let alone introducing new Bills.

So what now for HE and academics aiming to influence policy through their research?

Traditionally purdah is a time for lobbying. The big organisations, NGOs and charities publish policy recommendations, case studies and stark statistics trying to influence the parties to adopt a sympathetic stance to their cause through the party manifesto or individual speeches. We can expect to hear much from UUK and social mobility organisations over the next month. However, the main focus of the parliamentary candidate is to be (re)elected and for the party to form a majority Government. A lone researcher can often get lost or be ignored during this period. Often the time is best spent identifying key contacts and preparing information to target parliamentarians once the election outcome is known. Talk to Sarah or Jane in the policy team if you are aiming for policy influence and impact through your research. We can advise on approach, content and timing so you are primed once the parliamentary dust settles.

Voting Behaviour

Wonkhe report a surge in voter registration:

  • Almost a third of the 316,264 voter registration applications submitted this week have been from voters aged under 25, according to figures from the government’s Voter registration service. Almost 45,000 applications were submitted on Tuesday after the announcement of a snap general election on 12 December, which increased to 59,000 on Wednesday. The totals marked the highest and second highest number of applications submitted on any day of 2019.
  • However the Electoral Reform Society said that with up to 9.4m people missing from the electoral roll, there is “a long way to go” before the registration gap is closed – and has reissued calls for a “registration revolution” to narrow the gap.

HEPI always have something to say on the student vote phenomenon and this week they put out two blogs on the topic. The first has some interesting points:

  • The power of the student vote – Cambridge was a safe Conservative seat for much of the twentieth century. Students got the right to vote in their place of study in the mid-1970s (a few years after the minimum voting age fell from 21 to 18) and the Conservative vote share in Cambridge then fell in every general electionfrom 1979 to 2005.
  • Term dates are important – the HEPI blog provides examples from Canterbury and the University of Kent comparing results from 2015 (Conservative, election held before term started) and 2017 (Labour, election held just before the end of term).
  • The change from household to individual voter registration led to big drops in the number of students registered to vote. HEPI explain when the new individual registration system came in, meaning halls of residence couldn’t just put all their resident students on the electoral roll in one go, it was said that 9% of voters fell off the registerin University ward in Lancaster. Many students find voter registration a hassle and not always as straightforward as it should be.
  • Constituencies with the most students tend to be Labour, seats with the fewest number of students have much more mixed representation. HEPI state: there is a huge difference between the results in seats with very high proportions of students and seats with very low proportions of students. Of the 20 seats with the highest proportion of students, 19 were won by Labour in 2017…Of the 20 seats with the smallest proportion of students, there are MPs from seven different parties. However, HEPI go on to explain that sometimes student votes just stack up to bigger majorities – Universities tend to be in big towns and cities and it is probably true to say that urban areas have a higher tendency to vote Labour… whereas rural ones have a higher tendency to vote Conservative. So Paul Blomfield may be sitting on a stonking Labour majority of 27,748 in Sheffield Central, with 70.9% of the vote. thanks in part to students. But my guess is that, if you remove the students, it would still be red.

PM Boris has been criticised for his earlier plan to hold an election in early September (before students arrived/or while they were still settling in and had not registered at their new student address) and similar criticisms have been made of the 12 December date which falls at or after the end of term. It is particularly important in marginal constituencies. It is a gamble which could result in more Conservative wins and it is difficult to see what the downside is for the Conservatives (unless it motivates more students to register and turn out!).  There is a Wonkhe blog on the topic too – Will the student vote swing a December election?

Other points made in the HEPI blog:

  • The arguments over the introduction of £9,000 fees [losing votes for the Lib Dems] were too long ago to make much difference to many students. For a new student today who is aged 18, debates about £9,000 tuition fees may be old hat. Well, maybe.
  • Corbyn remains relatively popular among students but Corbynmania has dissipated… more than one poll this year (see hereand here, for example) suggest students’ support for Jeremy Corbyn is not what it was.

And in summary on the influence of the student vote HEPI say:

  • For the student vote to make a difference, lots of things have to happen. As hinted at above, to make a difference to the outcome in any single constituency, students must register to vote, turn out to vote, be in a marginal constituency, vote as a block rather than cancel each other out and not just support the party that would have won anyway. Although there are hundreds of thousands of student voters, their voice can easily get swamped when voters as a whole decide to give one party or another a clear mandate. Indeed, it is hard to find a single general electionwhen the student vote determined who got the keys to Number 10. Even if the contested claim that student support for Jeremy Corbyn made a big difference at the 2017 election is true, Labour still lost (as Kay Burley famously reminded Richard Burgon MP the other day).

HEPI’s second blog More thoughts on the student vote (and pricking some of the nonsense) has some more interesting points. HEPI dismiss claims that students are too busy to vote and highlight that the sympathies of the student vote varies over time not due to volatility but because every 3-4 years undergraduates graduate are replaced by a different set of individuals. To illustrate this point HEPI say:

  • Consider this: only one-third of students on three-year degrees were doing their courses back when Theresa May called her 2017 election and pretty much none were students when the referendum happened over three years ago, let alone when Cameron’s last election took place in 2015.
  • Given the political cycle is designed to be five years long and the average undergraduate degree course lasts for only three years, in normal political times it is even possible to go through higher education without the chance to vote in a general election
  • So changes in the student vote have less to do with individual students changing their minds and more to do with students themselves changing. They are, quite simply, different people.

HEPI also highlight that student voters care about matters far wider than ‘student issues’. And on Augar’s proposals for tuition fees HEPI say: new evidence suggests recent specific proposals to tweak fees, such as those in the long-awaited Augar report (which proposed fees in England of £7,500 with a 40-year repayment period), are no more popular among students than the current system of £9,250 fees with a 30-year repayment period.

Finally, on student issues the blog states the Conservatives…enter this election with some important parts of their higher education policy currently opaque. This means it could be hard for someone who is determined to vote on so-called student issues to know whether to back them or not. [By this HEPI mean the TEF review, which remains unpublished, no response to Augar recommendations or the final conclusions of the Post-18 Education and Funding review].

The New Statesman also has an article on the (lack of effect) of the student vote. They argue the university left/liberal effect is due to the viewpoints of the university staff who’s employment concentrates these political leanings in the residential areas surrounding the university. And that the students who won’t be in residence on 12 December election date really only means a Russell Group effect.

Unconditional Offers

OfS have published a report following further work to extend their Jan 2019 data analysis into unconditional offers to examine how it affects continuation rates between years 1 and 2 of the HE study  and the impact of conditional unconditional offers.

  • In 2019 1 in 3 students received an unconditional offer (in 2012 it was 1 in 100).
  • An unconditional offer is associated with lower performance in A level/level 3 exams (source).
    An additional 5 in every 100 students holding an unconditional offer underperforms compared to those holding conditional offers (see 21-22 on page 11). This 5% difference has remained stable during the recent increases in unconditional offer making.
  • Students who accept unconditional offers are less likely to continue into year 2 of their HE study – the analysis was statistically significant and took a range of factors such as entry grades and student characteristics into account. OfS estimate a 10% rise in the non-continuation rate, which equates to reducing the continuation rate by 0.65%. [OfS modelled the data to reach this 10% rise prediction. This was necessary because other factors influenced whether a student continued their studies such as the institution and the subject of study alongside student characteristics. See page 15 for the modelling methodology notes and Table 4 which sets out the model estimation rates.]

Conditional offer holding entrants continuation rate = 94.5%
Unconditional offer holding entrants continuation rate = 92.9%

There is a potential interaction here. OfS state:

  • Continuation rates are known to vary by level and type of entry qualification13. In particular, students who enter higher education with BTEC qualifications tend to have lower continuation rates than those who enter with A-level qualifications. The level of attainment is also important. If unconditional offers lead to lower attainment at A-level or BTEC this could potentially lower continuation rates.

And a potential confounding variable – we know BTEC students are more likely to drop out and less likely to achieve a top grade in degree outcome – they are also more likely to receive an unconditional offer (15% of BTEC students Vs 8% of A level students). However, the unconditional continuation phenomenon doesn’t seem to apply to BTEC students. OfS note:

  • ..continuation rates are slightly lower for unconditional offer entrants at each predicted A level attainment level, but generally much higher for entrants holding A-levels than those holding BTEC qualifications. Among BTEC entrants the continuation rates are not always lower for those who enter with unconditional offers than with conditional offers.

While OfS modelling found that non-continuation for those with unconditional offers was statistically significantly worse than those with conditional offers the effect is relatively small as the below charts illustrate (and see this). Both show the same data but the continuation rate axis is adjusted on figure 3 to highlight the differences more saliently:

There is an excellent Wonkhe blog by David Kernohan which digests and sets the OfS finding in context. It highlights the standard error rate in the OfS calculation is larger than the effect size (therefore the significant finding is more likely to be erroneous or a less meaningful finding. He also highlights that the larger population (because of more unconditional offers) itself makes it easier to find statistical significance. If you are interested in the unconditional offer debate (but statistical speak leaves you cold) read the first 12 and last 4 paragraphs of the blog which explain the practicalities around OfS’ figures. David concludes with a mild call to action – ignore the headlines and media/Government push and instead focus on the intersectionality behind the non-continuation rates, particularly entry qualifications and BAME, to make the data actionable and design and target interventions which stop students dropping out of their studies. He says:

  • It’s only two years of data but you could imagine building it year on year to do a fairly decent piece of research that could have a real student benefits.
  • I suppose the continuation of a moral panic over unconditional offers is useful to some people too. Just not students, or those who support them.

And if you are hardcore enough to read the comments to the blog Cath Brown comes up with an interesting ‘survivorship bias’. It isn’t that much of a stretch to apply her comment to grade inflation and ask whether increased non-continuation rates for subjects with high numbers of top grades might factor in the increase as the chaff is whittled out early on.

An unconditional offer doesn’t make it more likely a student will enrol with an institution (see 4b on page 4 and 16-18 on page 10, and chart below).
[This is an interesting finding and may suggest saturation in the market – applicants are aware of the likelihood of receiving an unconditional offer, it may be less flattering or simply sway their decision less. This (in part) flies in the face of the recent media and Government who suggest that an unconditional offer attracts disadvantaged students away from a higher prestige institutions. However, the Government may still have a valid point. Perhaps the disadvantaged student with less careers guidance, who doesn’t have a guide from a family member who attended HE, who is concerned about exam underperformance and keen to improve their life circumstances might be significantly more influenced by an unconditional offer.]

  • Due to the time lag in completing a degree and the recent sharp rise in unconditional and conditional unconditional offers OfS have not yet assessed the impact of these unconditional offers on degree outcome/grade.

Education Spending

Turning our attention to this week’s educational matters the National Audit Office have published a report on the DfE’s responsibilities and spending.

Spending – key points

  • The Department for Education (including the core Department, its executive agencies and its non-departmental bodies) spent £67.1 billion in 2018-19. £56.7 billion was spent via the Education and Skills Funding Agency as resource grants.

Student Loans:

  • The government’s student loan portfolio is expanding rapidly. The face value of all outstanding student loans held by the Department increased from £101.9 billion on 1 April 2018 to £116.7 billion on 31 March 2019.
  • The Department records student loans in terms of their ‘fair value’, which is an estimate based on expected future cash receipts in the financial accounts (how much will be repaid) and is therefore a lower figure than the full outstanding loans. The fair value of student loans increased from £60.6 billion in 2017-18 to £67.9 billion in 2018-19. This change stems from the December 2018 Office for National Statistics decision that, in the UK National Accounts, student loans should be accounted for on a basis more closely aligned with the treatment in the Department’s financial statements. As a result, instead of recognising the face value of the loans until they are written off, the National Accounts will in future write off, on issue, the portion of loans not expected to be repaid.

Support for Children:

  • The number of children placed in residential care by local authorities increased by 9.2% between 2013-14 and 2017-18, the cost increased by 22.5% in real terms. 68% of local authorities reported that they did not have enough residential homes for children aged 14 to 15 years, and 59% for those aged 16 to 17
  • Local authorities are budgeting to spend £4.2 billion on looked-after children in 2018-19, which is £350 million (9.1%) more than they budgeted to spend in 2017-18
  • At January 2019, 1.3 million pupils in England (14.9% of all pupils) were recorded as having SEND. 21% of these pupils had legally enforceable entitlements to specific packages of support, set out in education, health and care plans (EHC plans). The remaining 79% did not have EHC plans, but had been identified as needing additional support at school. The report also mentions the recommendations arising from the review into support for children with SEND, announced in September

Skills Development:

  • The first full academic year after the apprenticeship levy was introduced saw 375,800 apprenticeship starts – 26% lower than in 2015/16, the last full year before the levy. The Department had expected a broad year-on-year increase in starts; it did not project a drop in numbers after introducing the levy.
  • The average cost of training an apprentice on a standard is around double what the government expected. The Department’s projections show that, even if starts remain at current levels, spending could rise to more than £3 billion a year once all apprenticeships are on standards.

The report ends with a ‘things to look out for’ [forthcoming in the future] and this includes:

  • Government response to the Timpson recommendations on school exclusion
  • Government’s response to the recommendations of the Augar Review
  • Roll out of T-levels from 2020-22

IFS Report on Education Spending

Within the DfE report reference is made to the September IFS education spending report, here are the summarised points from the schools, FE and HE sections:

Schools

Despite the funding increases delivered at the recent spending round, there will be no real terms funding growth in per pupil funding from 2009/10 to 2022/23.

  • Total per pupil spending has fallen by 8% in real terms between 2009/10 and 2019/20.
  • Funding cuts have partly been delivered through higher class sizes (particularly in secondary schools)
  • The Government allocated an extra £4.3bn to school budget for 2022/23 in real terms. This represents a 7.4% growth in spending per pupil reversing the cuts of 8% since 2009/10 – so no real terms growth in spending per pupil, which is historically unprecedented.

Further Education & Skills 

  • Between 2010/11 and 2018/19 spending per pupil feel by 12% in 16-18 colleges and 23% in school sixth forms. Following on from larger cuts, FE spending per 16-18 year old is only 13% greater than 30 years earlier in 1989/90. Per pupil funding is; £4,800 in sixth form colleges, £4,900 in school sixth forms and £5,900 per young person in FE colleges.
  • The Government have allocated a real terms one year funding increase of £300m in 2020/21, increasing spending per pupil by 4%. However, fully reversing funding cuts since 2010/11 would cost a further £1.1bn over and above existing plans by 2022/23. This increases to £1.4bn to ensure that spending on T-levels is additional to unchanged level of spending per student.
  • Total spending on adult education has fallen by nearly two thirds since 2003/04 (47% since 09/10) but this is broadly commensurate to falls in learner numbers which are down from 4.4m in 2004/05 to 1.5m in 2017/18.
  • Spending on adult education has become increasingly focussed on apprenticeships (54% of expenditure).

Higher Education

  • Universities receive £27,500 per full time undergraduate student to fund the cost of teaching for the three year course of their study. This has fallen by 5% since 2012.
  • Whilst per student funding is similar today to early 1990s, the near doubling of student numbers has driven a commensurate increase in total resources for teaching undergraduates over that period. The nature of funding has changed significantly from grants to tuition fees.
  • The cost of the current system is about £17bn per cohort, with £9bn coming from graduates and £8bn coming from Government (about £7.4bn through unrepaid student loans).
  • The Augar Review proposals of cutting fees to £7500, reintroducing maintenance grants and changing the terms of repayment (1.2 loan value cap, 40 year repayment period), is broadly cost neutral and would give policy makers greater control of spending on different subjects.
  • Labour policy to abolish tuition fees and bring back maintenance grants would cost the public finances £6bn per full time cohort per year. This is significantly cheaper as a result of the 2017 increase in the repayment threshold on student loans from £21,000 to £25,000. The part time cohort would cost another £1bn, but could increase if the large decline in mature student numbers since 2010 were reversed.

Dods provided this analysis of the HE section of the IFS report:

  • The domination of funding by tuition fees and the lack of controls on student numbers means policymakers have little control over the spending distribution of spending in subject and institutions. Augar would give policymakers greater control, whilst Labour’s proposals would give even more control. Augar’s proposals would reduce repayments amongst the highest earners and increase repayments mainly among middle earners. Labour’s proposals would benefit the highest earning graduates substantially.

Scottish Educational Bursaries and Grants

The Scottish Government announced that the number and value of bursaries and grants awarded to students in Scotland, including to young people with disabilities or from deprived areas, has increased since last year. It has risen 5.3% to £80.3 million and supported students from the most-deprived areas of the country were three times more likely to receive one than those from the least deprived areas. The number of full-time students who received a Disabled Students’ Allowance increased 5.2%, with an average pay out £1,990. There was also an increase in the number of full time UG students in receipt of the non-repayable Care Experienced Bursary (from 545 in 2017-18 to 840 in 2018-19). Moreover, there was a 67% increase in the amount of support provided

Further and Higher Education Minister Richard Lochhead stated:

  • “These annual rises once again underline this Government’s strong levels of financial support to domestic and EU students, regardless of their background. It’s very encouraging to see the level of bursaries and grants rising so significantly. We have seen other increases right across the board, with students from the most deprived areas of Scotland also receiving more per head than those from the least deprived. And with 10% of all our students now coming from the EU, there was also a 0.5% rise in the number of those receiving financial support, with the average award £2,100.”

Ministerial Statement

SoS Education, Gavin Williamson, issued a written ministerial statement update on Education. On HE it covered:

  • Record rates of 18 year olds are going to university. In 2018, one-third of all 18 year olds entered full-time higher education – the highest on record. The proportion of 18 year olds from disadvantaged backgrounds entering full-time higher education is up from 13.6% in 2009 to 20.2% in 2018. This is the highest on record.
  • We have removed the cap on student numbers, allowing more people with the talent and potential the opportunity to be successful at university.
  • Through the Higher Education and Research Act we introduced a duty to promote equality of opportunity in access and participation in higher education and we expect to see further progress, particularly among the most selective institutions.
  • All higher education providers must now publish application offer, acceptance, dropout and attainment rates of students by ethnicity, gender and socio-economic background. This will help hold the sector to account for their record on access and retention of students from lower socio-economic and other backgrounds.
  • Higher Education providers have committed to spend £860 million in 2019/20 on measures to improve access and student success – up significantly from £404 million in 2009. The Office for Students is monitoring how effectively higher education providers spend this money.

Improving higher technical education by establishing new Institutes of Technology – making it easier to upskill and gain highly skilled employment.

  • An Institute of Technology is a legally binding collaboration between further education colleges, higher education institutions and employers.
  • They are being created to specialise in delivering higher technical training at Levels 4 and 5 (above A Level but below degree level), primarily in STEM subjects aligned to local economic priorities.
  • IoTs will deliver a mix of apprenticeship and classroom-based provision for industries such as digital, advanced manufacturing and engineering – industries where there are skills gaps and growing demand – in order to provide employers with the skilled workforce they need.

We are investing up to £290 million capital funding to build an IoT network across the country. The first 12 IoTs are now starting to go live, following a comprehensive competition, and we have recently announced plans to open up to 8 more to enable there to be an IoT in every region of the country.
More people are benefitting from new high-quality apprenticeships. Our reforms have fundamentally changed what apprenticeships involve and the long-term opportunities they provide.

University Technical Colleges

Meanwhile the National Audit Office (NAO) published an investigation into university technical colleges (UTCs).Which embody the Government’s aim for employers and universities to work together, with educational experts, to open new institutions to deliver technical education in specialist areas that meets the needs of local employers and the economy.

In December 2016, the NAO reported that 22 of 47 UTCs were at risk due to financial concerns, caused in part, by the fact that UTCs had fewer students than predicted.  This struggle to attract enough students was confirmed by the NAO again in January 2018.

The financial and recruitment statistics make troubling reading:

  • 58 UTCs have opened but 10 of these subsequently closed. Most became subsumed within academy trusts but one university was gifted one UTC site.
  • The 48 open UTCs were operating at 45% of capacity on average at January 2019, which has implications for their financial viability.
  • At July 2019 there were significant concerns about the finances of 13 UTCs.
  • The ESFA has formally intervened in eight UTCs, of which two subsequently closed.
  • The Department monitors whether students from UTCs that close move to other schools or colleges, but has not retained evidence of where students have been placed
  • The Department spent £792 million on the UTC programme from 2010-11 to 2018-19, the vast majority (£680m, 86%) in capital grants. £28m in transitional revenue aimed at improving financial position of UTCS, £8.8m covering UTC deficits, £9m on closing UTCs

The educational performance paints a more encouraging picture:

  • After GCSEs a higher proportion of UTC students progressed into sustained apprenticeship (9%) and employment (4%) destinations compared to the national average (5% and 3%). However, less progressed to sustained education destinations.
  • After A levels 21% of UTC students moved to a sustained apprenticeship, higher than the national average of 6%. This includes 16% UTC students who undertook advanced/higher or degree-level apprenticeships (compared to national average of 3%).
  • 20% moved to sustained employment, compared with the national average of 22%; and 38% went on to higher education, below the national average of 50%
  • At August 2019, Ofsted rated 52% of UTCs as good or outstanding, compared with 76% of all secondary schools. However, the Department considers that not all its metrics are appropriate for UTCs because of UTCs’ technical focus and age range.

Plans for Improvement

  • The Department is seeking to help UTCs improve their educational and financial performance: An important part of the Department’s approach is to encourage UTCs to join multi-academy trusts, which it considers are well placed to support UTCs to improve. The Department is also open to UTCs applying to align their age range more closely with other secondary schools by taking students who are younger than 14, if there is a need for the additional places in the area. It considers that this will make it easier for UTCs to attract students and thereby improve their financial viability.

HE Registration   

The OfS published the key themes and analysis of the registration process and outcomes 2019-20. Across the full range of registration requirements 65% of HE providers received additional monitoring requirements or conditions. Access and participation for disadvantaged groups was a regular concern. Here we take a closer look on what OfS highlight as strengths and concerns in relation to student protection plans:

Areas of Strength:

  • Some student protection plans were excellent and demonstrated a real engagement with the requirements resulting in plans that had made a comprehensive assessment of risks and were clear on the protection that was available to students.
  • OfS assessment of financial viability and sustainability revealed a large number of providers in good financial health and the vast majority have no additional monitoring in relation to their financial viability and sustainability – financial strength was not isolated to a particular type of provider.
  • Sector-level data suggests there is strong performance in student outcomes and this was reflected in the data of a large number of individual providers.

Areas of Concern:

  • Student protection plans were variable in their quality
  • Very few providers demonstrated a broader consideration of value for money encompassing the value their students may feel they receive from their tuition fees. Few also appeared to have considered how they could present information about value for money in a way that would be accessible to their students.
  • Significant weaknesses in providers’ responses to the ‘fit and proper person’ public interest governance principle. Most relied on declarations from governing body members.
  • There was a lack of convincing evidence about the adequacy and effectiveness of providers’ management and governance arrangements. A large number of providers were unable to evidence regular external input into reviews of their arrangements.
  • Significant numbers of providers had based their financial viability and sustainability on optimistic forecasts of growth in student numbers without convincing evidence of how this growth would be achieved

Susan Lapworth, Director of Competition and Registration, Office for Students said:

  • “Our higher education sector is rightly praised as world-leading. The sector should be proud of its achievements and its continuing ability to change lives for the better and society for good. But the analysis shows – starkly – that universities must improve the work they do to ensure that students from disadvantaged backgrounds are supported not only to get into higher education, but to get on, too. Too many providers glossed over the possibility of closure in their student protection plans, or relied on ambitious projections for student recruitment when making financial plans. Others have questions to answer about the quality of their provision, or high drop-out rates. These are not – by any means – insurmountable challenges but providers must now look honestly at areas of weakness and seek to make improvements. We will be closely monitoring providers, focusing our attention on those who present the highest risk to ensure that they are able to give students an enriching experience of higher education which leaves them well placed to find successful careers.”

Research Integrity

Norman Lamb MP (current Chair of the Science and Technology Select Committee) has commented on the revised concordat to strengthen research integrity. He stated:

  • “My Committee welcomes the publication of the updated concordat and are pleased to see that recommendations we made have been included. Tackling the improper use of non-disclosure agreements and establishing independent investigation panels will help to strengthen and improve how universities approach research integrity.
  • However, the impact of this revised concordat will only be fully realised if all organisations in the sector comply with the requirement to publish annual statements on research integrity. We have yet to see a plan or timetable for achieving this goal, as recommended by the Committee and agreed to by UKRI. We hope that this will be forthcoming shortly.
  • We will be closely following the development of the new national research integrity committee and look forward to hearing what role it will play in improving research integrity by upholding the commitments of the Concordat and what powers it will have to tackle those unwilling to comply.”

Other news

Prisoner opportunity: Despite HEPI’s publication last week and plea to get prisoners learning earlier during their incarceration Universities Minister, Christ Skidmore, has turned a deaf ear to the cause as the parliamentary question response below states. However, perhaps this might feature in some parties forthcoming election manifestos:

  • Q – Chris Ruane: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what recent assessment he has made of extending student loan eligibility to people in prison who have more than six years to run on their sentence.
  • A – Chris Skidmore : Prisoners set to be released within 6 years have been eligible for tuition fee loans with the consent of the prison authorities. There are no plans to change this policy.

Higher degrees: Wonkhe report on the Human Capital Estimates analysis released this week. It highlights that there are now more economically active people in the UK with a masters degree or a PhD (4.5m – 10.7% of the population) than without any formal academic qualifications (3.4m). The lifetime earnings premium for someone who has a higher degree over and above an undergraduate or equivalent degree remains between 9-11%. However, women with higher degrees have around 33% lower lifetime earnings than men with similar qualifications. Last week we told you about the HESA research which found a drop in the graduate earnings premium, the ONS analysis also reports a dip from 45% in 2004 to 34% in 2018.

Student Engagement: The Telegraph and the Daily Mail cover Advance HE’s Engagement survey, focusing on the statistic that only 46 per cent of students attend more than 11 hours of lectures per week. The Independent instead focuses on the high level of engagement among Black students.

Health Professions: This PQ is interesting because Hinds (ex-SoS Education/Hampshire) asks it and because of the regional context: Q – Mr Damian Hinds  (East Hampshire): To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, with reference to the Answers of 9 September 2019 to Question 286692 and 4 October 2019 to Question 290772 on Health Professions: Hampshire, what estimate he has made of the number of FTE (a) doctors (b) nurses and (c) other staff employed by the NHS in (i) Hampshire and the Isle of Wight STP area, (ii) Frimley Park Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, (iii) Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, (iv) Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust, (v) Solent NHS Trust, (vi) South Central Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust, (vii) Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust and (viii) University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust in (A) 2010 and (B) the most recent year for which figures are available.

  • A – Edward Argar NHS Digital publishes Hospital and Community Health Services workforce statistics for England. These include staff working in hospital trusts and clinical commissioning groups, but not staff working in primary care, local authorities or other providers. The data requested is attached. PQ3720 and 721 table (Excel SpreadSheet, 31.5 KB)

Dental content in public health training: Q – Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to include oral health in pre-registration training for all public health professionals, as recommended by the Royal College of Surgeon’s Faculty of Dental Surgery’s report The state of children’s oral health in England, published in August.

A – Baroness Blackwood of North Oxford

  • The independent professional health and care regulators set the outcomes required from undergraduate (and in some cases postgraduate) education and training for registration as a healthcare professional. It is for education training providers to determine the content of training in order to meet these required outcomes.
  • Health Education England has an important role in supporting health and care professionals, including public health professionals, to promote good health, including good oral health and has a number of free to access resources to guide good practice in this area. This includes e-learning, evidence-based toolkits and competency frameworks.

(And another PQ on schools becoming sugar free.)

Medicine: Education 6336: Q – Dr Dan Poulter: To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, what plans he has to introduce a national exam for all medical students in England upon graduating from medical school.

A – Edward Argar:

  • The Department has no plans to introduce a national exam for medical students in England upon graduating from medical school.
  • The General Medical Council (GMC) is the independent regulator of doctors in the United Kingdom, and sets the standards for undergraduate medical education and training.
  • The GMC has announced that from 2023 it will introduce a Medical Licensing Assessment (MLA) that all UK medical students and non-European Economic Area international applicants must pass before they can join the medical register. The MLA will test the core knowledge, skills and behaviors needed to practise safely in the UK

Dr Registration: Q – Dr Dan Poulter (Central Suffolk and North Ipswich): To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, what plans he has to bring forward the point of full registration of doctors with the GMC to graduation from medical school. [6337]

  • A – Edward Argar: The Department of Health and Social Care has indicated that it will not be possible to answer this question within the usual time period. An answer is being prepared and will be provided as soon as it is available.

Joint Replacements: Waiting Lists (6403): Q – Dr Philippa Whitford: To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, what the waiting times were for (a) hip replacement and (b) knee replacement surgery in 2018-19 by NHS Foundation Trust.

  • A – Edward Argar: The Department of Health and Social Care has indicated that it will not be possible to answer this question within the usual time period. An answer is being prepared and will be provided as soon as it is available.

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Sorry last week’s policy update didn’t reach your inbox until late on Tuesday. We hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s round up of the remaining news. There may be some disruption to your regular policy update next week as we celebrate Graduation but we’ll be back in full swing on Friday 15 November dissecting the political declarations and shenanigans for latest insight.

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

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

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

 OfS urged to act on ‘quality’ matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

Access, Participation & Success

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brexit and Parliament

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

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

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

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

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

Education Spending

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

The HE highlights are (our emphasis added):

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

 

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

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

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

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

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

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

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

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HE policy update for the w/e 13th September 2019

Parliament has been prorogued, but did not go quietly and next week will see two court cases on whether it was lawful or not heard together in the Supreme Court.  There were cheers from the sector as Chris Skidmore returned to the University Minister role and Gavin Williamson as Education Secretary also seems to have adopted a more conciliatory role than his predecessor.

Next week sees the start of the party conference season with some interesting HE fringe events for us to report on.  With an election on the horizon, these events take on a heightened significance.

Post Study Work Visa

A Government announcement which outlined new genetics research project also served as the vehicle to announce revised post study work visa arrangements.

Under the scheme, international students to work in the UK for two-years post-graduation. A welcome announcement for the HE sector (although we are awaiting for the full details). The post study work visa was championed by Sajid Javid (in his previous Home Office role) and Jo Johnson.  With Jo Johnson having stepped down, the PM announced it, in a clear break from the approach of his predecessor.  He spoke about ensuring the UK is internationally welcoming and the wisdom of attracting the ‘brightest and best’ to work in the UK. The announcement (so far) overturns the recommendations of the Migration Advisory Committee. Currently overseas students must leave the UK four months after finishing their degree unless they get a separate work visa.

  • It applies to any subject
  • Apparently there is no restriction on type of work, i.e. it doesn’t have to be “graduate level” jobs.
  • There is no cap on the number
  • It talks about graduates from “trusted” providers – not defined but likely to mean those already approved for Tier 4 visas.
  • Initially the announcements said it would apply to students starting their courses in 2020/21, leading to fears of widespread deferrals, but it seems that it will apply to all students studying in the UK on a Tier 4 visa in 2020/21 – including students who start multi-year courses this September.

Chancellor, Sajid Javid tweeted “about time. Should have reserved this silly policy years ago. Britain should always be open to the best talent from across the world.”

  • BBC: Ministers reverse May-era student visa rules
  • Alistair Jarvis, Chief Exec Universities UK, welcomed the move, suggesting it would benefit the UK economy and reinstate the UK as a “first choice study destination. Evidence shows that international students bring significant positive social outcomes to the UK as well as £26bn in economic contributions, but for too long the lack of post-study work opportunities in the UK has put us at a competitive disadvantage in attracting those students“.
  • The Scottish Government have welcomed the announcement. Scottish Minister for FE & HE, Richard Lochhead: The Scottish Government has been consistent in arguing for the reintroduction of a post-study work visa following the decision by the UK Government to end the previous route in 2012. This is a welcome step forward but only one of many measures required. It should not have taken seven years for the UK Government to accept the arguments from partners across Scotland and reverse their decision. It is clearer by the day that Scotland urgently needs a migration policy tailored to our distinct needs and for the devolution of powers to develop, deliver and maintain policies that meet the needs of Scotland’s universities, communities, public services and economy.

Two for one – ministerial speeches

After Jo Johnson resigned and left UUK with a big gap in their annual conference programme, they fixed the problem by having both the Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson MP, and the newly (re)appointed Minister for Universities, Chris Skidmore.  Chris Skidmore was welcomed back as Universities Minister on Wednesday after a brief Ministerial stint in the Department for Health (he called it a placement).

The sector is pretty relieved.  Jo Johnson was familiar, and had a positive agenda around international students and participation in EU programmes (see previous story for some of his handiwork), as well as his opposition to the proposed Augar reform of tuition fees but had become rather negative and critical towards the end of his last period in the role.  Chris Skidmore, on the other hand, was positive, constructive and engaging last time round.  Although he wasn’t in the role long he seemed to be genuinely committed to developing research and as a history graduate and former academic he had some credibility amongst those worried for the future of social sciences and humanities in a world where value for money has been paramount (although see below, it seemed to be less of a priority?)

So what did they have to say?

Gavin Williamson went first.

He called the sector as a national treasure

He spoke about “openness to the world”. See the previous section on post-study work visas

  • A recent report by the Higher Education Policy Institute found that after graduation, a single cohort of international students contributes almost £3.2billion in tax over 10 years and plays a key role in filling existing skills shortages in the UK economy. But they bring far more than that. They contribute to the diverse tapestry of our national life; they not only bring the best of the world in, they also help us to look out, and our entire economic and cultural spectrum is the richer for what they bring to our country.
  • In the months and years ahead, the partnerships we make through these international networks will be crucial. Partnerships which I know benefits many of our young people through the exchange of ideas and learning. Many of you are wondering about what’s going to happen to them after we leave the EU. I want to reassure you that my department is open to continuing to be part schemes like Erasmus+. But we have to prepare for every eventuality and it is sensible to consider all options. As such I have asked my officials to provide a truly ambitious scheme if necessary.

He challenged the sector on access and participation – a sign that despite changes of leadership, the big focus on this continues. It was a major part of the Johnson reforms (merging OFFA and HEFCE into the OfS) and key in Theresa May’s social mobility agenda (the current government don’t talk as much about social mobility, but they are still looking for an aspiration story).  The terminology is interesting.  It’s a deal and it isn’t just about access, it’s about working with schools as well.

  • When I took on this job, you told me that you wanted the post-study Graduate visas more than anything else. Indeed whenever I spoke to a vice chancellor the first thing I would hear is visas. Well, we listened and the Prime Minister and I have given you what you asked for, what you wanted most.
  • So I have to ask you for something in return. I see this as a deal. I expect you, in exchange, to drive greater access to your institutions. Young people from deprived backgrounds who have the ability, deserve to benefit from studying for a degree.
  • We cannot forget that ability is evenly spread across this country but opportunity – sadly – is not. We must continue to crusade to put that right.…
  • And I have another challenge for you: I want you to be ambitious in your engagement with the wider education landscape, with schools, colleges, and employers: share your resources and expertise, drive excellence across the sector more widely. You are world leaders but you need to share your expertise with everyone in the country. I’d like to thank those universities like Kings College and Exeter who have set up maths specialist free schools; and other universities that are in the process of doing so. What you are doing will change lives. I encourage others to rise to the challenge. I expect others to rise to the challenge.
  • I see this as a shared effort and I want to work with all of you in the sector to make sure all our children have access to this kind of excellence and expertise….
  • The sector plans to spend around £1billion this year alone on improving access. But we still don’t know enough about what’s working and what isn’t. This is taxpayers money. This is students’ money. This isn’t about virtue signalling. This is about one thing, and one thing only. And that is ensuring that talented young people, from Southend to South Shields, can get on.
  • It is your duty and our duty to make sure that happens. So as a priority, the OfS needs to ensure that evaluation programmes are in place to make sure these schemes are doing what they are supposed to do. I will be watching carefully to see how these are now delivered and I will support the OfS in any action it takes if universities are not delivering against their commitments.

Unconditional offers and grade inflation

  • Unconditional offers have shot up, going from under 3,000 in 2013 to nearly 76,000 this year.
  • Grade inflation has become even more entrenched. When I was at university, you could count the number of students on my course who got firsts on one hand. I am sad to say that I was not one of them. In 1997 – which is when I graduated – 50% of students gained a first or a 2:1; last year 80% of students did so.
  • I’m delighted that some universities have already scrapped making so-called ‘conditional unconditional’ offers and I hope that the rest will soon follow suit.
  • Universities UK and OfS reviews of admissions are an opportunity for the sector to get its house in order here, perhaps by agreeing a minimum predicted grade threshold, or a maximum proportion of students who may be offered one.

[HE Professional explain what that might mean: What he might have meant is that the UUK and OfS reviews on university admissions are looking at options on how to tackle the perceived scourge of conditional offers, and two of the options they are looking at are: reducing the number of unconditional offers made each year to a fixed percentage of total offers; and ensuring everyone is expected to obtain at least a minimum set of grades. The brightest and the best would still be able to get unconditional offers because they would do well in their A levels anyway. Everyone else should at least meet a minimum expectation. “We don’t want to do away with unconditional offers entirely but there is no justification for universities to offer conditional unconditional offers,” he said, looking to his civil servants for help and not finding any. So, in short, conditional unconditional offers are to be unconditionally banned, but unconditional offers are to be conditionally banned. Hope that’s clear.]

  • I want you to know that I will always speak up for your autonomy. I know it’s what helps foster the brilliance of our teaching and our research but I also need to safeguard our reputation, so that everyone knows that they can trust the system. So we need to work together on some of these issues.
  • If we don’t tackle them, your hard-won reputation for excellence will be undermined. Worse still, there is a risk that employers will begin to lose faith in grades and foreign students will think twice about investing their time and money in studying here.

He also mentioned mental health, Institutes of Technology, apprenticeships, civic engagement

Afterwards he told the press that a response on Augar would come “before the end of the winter” (THE article here).  That’s a long way off.

Chris Skidmore’s speech: (apparently he adlibbed a bit)

  • The benefits of the Arts and Humanities
  • Students’ Unions
  • Civic Universities

Research (he gave 4 speeches on this in his last stint in the role)

  • I’ve only been gone from this role less than fifty days, but already we have had key announcements on expanding the government guarantee to fund European Research Council grants, and a crucial restatement of our ambition to raise R&D spending to 2.4% of GDP by 2027…. After outlining my vision in a series of speeches before the summer, I am keenly looking forward to getting this detailed roadmap published this autumn. Let me just offer one early reflection, though. If we want to turn the UK into scientific superpower and achieve our ambition to reach 2.4%, then we need to ramp up capacity and capability in our universities. …
  • Connected to this, I am determined to see renewed focus given to basic research. Funding for blue-skies, curiosity-driven research has been dwindling as a proportion of our overall spend. This is a problem. … I want to see further increases to QR and a significant uplift to response-mode research council funding.  Don’t get me wrong. It is of course essential that we should continue to drive application and impact from our research investments – turning great ideas into real benefits for the UK in the form of better jobs, improved products and services, and real action on issues such as climate change. Let me reassure you that I remain firmly committed to the impact agenda and to knowledge exchange, including support via HEIF and implementation of the Knowledge Exchange Framework.
  • But if we want to succeed in the long term, the really long term, then we need to ensure we are doing everything we can to entice and empower our research community to undertake the most ground-breaking, cutting edge work, raising the UK’s international reputation even higher….
  • And as we approach leaving the European Union, I will continue to make the case loud and clear, that while we are leaving the EU, we are not leaving our European friends and research partners behind. We want to get a deal with the EU which will protect our continuation in Horizon 2020, and will continue our participation in Erasmus+. We will be fully exploring the option of participating in the next Erasmus programme, whilst also developing potential alternatives which are ambitious and truly global. We will protect our participation in Erasmus+ and will be working hard to secure full association with Horizon Europe – I personally will be doing everything in my power to achieve this.

On funding

  • But a well-functioning university culture needs sustainable institutions. And when it comes to ensuring that we have a sustainable university landscape, while it is absolutely right that we focus on post-18 education for all, making investment in Further Education that is desperately needed, we must not lose sight of what we have in the HE sector.
  • We cannot afford as a society to pit FE against HE: as I have argued elsewhere, both are crucial to a unity of purpose in our post-18 landscape that needs to be more flexible, more portable, and one that meets the needs of the learner, not simply those of the provider.

And what didn’t really feature?

  • Update on the Pearce review promised “shortly”
  • Apart from unconditional offers and grade inflation, no mention of quality or student experience
  • Not a big focus on value for money

HEPI released a blog this week sweeping aside the political power plays and Brexit turmoil to refocus on the 6 (+3) key issues that will dominate HE this side of Christmas no matter what happens in national politics. The blog succinctly covers Augar, the SoS Education remit, FE (not) vs HE, OfS (and providers going bust), diversity in university governance, the 2.4% research spend targets, plus three bonus items.

Parliament

To extend or not to extend – that is the question

On Monday the bill aiming to prevent the Prime Minister from leaving the EU without a deal (European Union (Withdrawal) (No 6) Act) received royal assent and became law. The PM is currently refusing to consider asking for an extension, which the law requires him to do, so what are his options?

How the PM can wriggle out of asking for an extension:

  • Semantics – if the Government can find a tenable enough loophole in the badly worded, hastily constructed extension bill. Dominic Raab said: We will adhere to the law but also this is such a bad piece of legislation … we will also want to test to the limit what it does actually lawfully require. We will look very carefully at the implications and our interpretation of it.” In response MPs have threatened an emergency judicial review if the Government seek to contest or ignore elements of the Bill.
  • Send 2 letters – as discussed in the media (an unlikely scenario). The extension letter is sent, however, they append an additional letter making clear that the UK Government does not want the additional extension – making it less likely the EU would grant the extension. However, former supreme court judge, Lord Sumption, argued on the Radio 4 Today programme on Monday that that sending two letters – one requesting an extension and the other asking the EU to reject one – would not be legal.
  • Veto – it would be easier for the Government to block an extension via the back door by asking an EU sceptic ally, such as Hungary, to veto any request for extension. Also France are rumoured to have said they will veto an extension request.
  • Step down – if Boris resigned as PM on 19th October (so he wouldn’t personally request the extension) it is likely the Queen would ask the Opposition to try and form an alternative Government. If successful in forming a caretaker Government then they could request the extension. If not, Britain crashes out of Europe without a deal.
  • Get a deal that Parliament approves. Despite all the noise, this is still possible.

General Election: Boris’ motion for an early general election failed on Monday. However, a YouGov poll has ranked Prime Minister Boris as the most popular Conservative politician (31% positive opinion, 47% negative opinion) and the third most famous. Boris’ fans describe him as conservative, humorous, intelligent, charismatic and clever. The poll included: Theresa May (27%), John Major (23%), Ruth Davidson (22%), William Hague (21%), Kenneth Clarke (20%), Jacob Rees-Mogg (18%) and other prominent figures. Boris was most popular with Baby Boomers and Generation X; Millennials were less keen.

Parliament Prorogued

Parliament is prorogued until 14 October. This means Select Committee, APPGs and all other business will cease. MP’s will return to constituency matters and engage in the party conference during this period. Party conference dates:

  • 14 September – Liberal Democrats (at Bournemouth International Centre)
  • 21 September – Labour (Brighton)
  • 29 September – Conservatives (Manchester)
  • 4 October – Green Party (ICC, Wales)

Later this week Boris’ suspension of the UK Parliament was deemed unlawful by judges at the Scottish highest civil court, overturning an earlier ruling that the courts did not have the powers to interfere in the Prime Ministers political decision. The exact consequences of this are unclear. It is unlikely Parliament will be recalled, not least because it couldn’t take place before Conference Recess commences (today). The British government will appeal against the Scottish appeal court’s decision, particularly as it contradicts a decision in Johnson’s favour by senior English judges last week, at the supreme court. The supreme court will hear both Scottish and English cases on Tuesday 17 September, alongside a third challenge brought in the courts in Belfast. In practice, not much will change, unless Boris is found to have behaved unlawfully. iNews have an article in which Boris denies misleading the queen about Parliament’s prorogation (and another classic Boris photo pose).

House of Commons Speaker quits: John Bercow announced he would stand down as a Speaker and MP following a promise to his wife for more family time. He will stand down at close of business on Thursday October 31st, saying he doesn’t want to leave the Commons with an inexperience speaker during such a “lively” period.  A ballot for replacement Speaker will be held on 4th November.

Reshuffle

Chris Skidmore will not attend Cabinet, as Jo Johnson did. Instead Boris has given the ‘attends Cabinet’ seat to Zac Goldsmith (his Twitter acceptance) in his existing ministerial role across Environment and International Trade. Zac is a long term supporter of Boris and has experienced his share of controversy in the past – including accusations linking Sadiq Khan with Islamist extremists.

Edward Argar replaces Chris Skidmore as Minister of State at Department of Health and Social Care. Chris Philp moves to the Ministry of Justice and Helen Whately takes up a junior ministerial post at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

The DfE have issued a news story confirming ministerial portfolios on last and this week’s changes here. Last week we told you Michelle Donelan would become Children and Families Minister as maternity cover for Kemi Badenoch. She’ll hold both roles and retain her current position as a Government Whip (Children’s Minister will be additional unpaid role). Michelle was previously a member of the Education Select Committee between July 2015 and October 2018.

The announcement also explained that:

  • Minister of State for School Standards Nick Gibb will take on policy for early education and childcare including funding, support for the early years workforce, curriculum, quality and the early education entitlements. Plus PE, school sport, and the Pupil Premium to his existing portfolio.
  • Minister for the School System, Lord Agnew, will take on responsibility for the FE ‘provider market’, including quality and improvement. He will also lead on EU exit preparation, delivery of the Careers Strategy, the Opportunity Areas programme, school food and safeguarding in schools and post-16 settings, in addition to his existing brief.

Minister for Children and Families Michelle Donelan said:

  • I truly believe that a good education is the key to creating a fair society where everyone, no matter where they come from or their circumstances, has opportunities to succeed.
  • From the earliest years of children’s lives to the point at which they make decisions about their further education or training, I am proud to be joining a department that is focusing its efforts on the most disadvantaged in society.

Given his short stint in the Health Minister role alongside his keen HE interest Chris Skidmore’s response to a parliamentary question on recruiting more nurses is interesting. It sits within party lines, firmly avoids mentioning bursaries but has a different, more collaborative, tone than recent ministers talking of a forthcoming final NHS People Plan which sets out the immediate actions to grow the nursing workforce across the next 5 years.

Access and Success

OfS have published the first 41 approved Access Agreements under their new regime. Wonkhe note that 31 of these 41 are subject to enhance monitoring (but not the pesky B2 additional registration condition). However, this high rate is because these are the early deadline submitters – those with medical schools and conservatoires – so tend the have high entry requirements, and therefore many have poor rates of access by disadvantaged students. And the enhanced monitoring is really just a running check across the year to ensure the institution is delivering on its promises. The OfS announcement – Highly selective universities must follow through on promises to improve access, regulator warns provides more detail, albeit with a positive OfS spin:

 ‘These new plans prove that – following sustained challenge from the OfS – there is genuine ambition and drive among universities to address equality of opportunity. I am pleased they are rising to the challenge…” Chris Millward, Director for Fair Access and Participation at OfS.

Media coverage on this first tranche of new plans from the Independent, the Daily Mail, and the TES.

What’s the point of university?

Universities UK published polling research revealing that only 34% of students and recent graduates decided to go to university to get a higher salary. While 79% agreed that the government should do more to promote the broader benefits of a degree or university study, irrespective of potential salary.

  • Students and recent graduates say that they decided to go to university for a broad range of reasons, including their interest in their chosen degree subject (56%), enjoying studying and learning (48%) and as a first step in building a career (50%).
  • 84% agreed that their future salary was not the only factor they considered when deciding to go to university.
  • 86% of those surveyed agreed that they have met people from diverse backgrounds and with different views to them at university. Suggesting that university plays an important role in social cohesion in communities in the UK.
  • Future earnings are not the top motivation for choosing a career. Work-life balance was their top consideration (53%), followed by earning potential and financial benefits (42%), with the opportunity to take on a variety of interesting work (39%) coming a close third.
  • 84% would recommend university to others as a worthwhile experience.
  • 86% said university had given them the opportunity to think about what they want to achieve in the future and the same proportion said that university had helped them learn to be independent.

The findings are reported as suggesting a need for greater investment in student information – from better careers advice in schools and colleges, through to clearer, more accessible financial guidance.

  • better career information to help in their choice of subject (39%)
  • career experiences – not just salaries – of past graduates in their subject and institution (38%)
  • information on the cost of living while studying (37%)

The poll backs up UUK’s lobby line that earnings potential is an inappropriate tool for defining the value of university degrees, and making funding decisions. However, the TEF gold, silver, bronze classification and the use of LEO metrics (longitudinal education outcomes) which consider the proportion of graduates in sustained employment that are earning over the median salary for 25-29 year olds are currently key metrics institutions are benchmarked against with a view to quality and value for money. UUK are keen to point out that their findings suggest that a range of considerations are underpinning student motivations.

Professor Julia Buckingham, President of Universities UK and Vice-Chancellor of Brunel University London, said: “These results tell us loudly and clearly that policy makers and politicians have got it wrong when it comes to understanding what motivates today’s students and graduates. Students do not judge the value of universities on their future salaries and neither should policymakers. We should all be asking ourselves if we really want to live in a culture that identifies success by salary alone.  It is time to listen and take notice of what students, graduates and society really value about the university experience and consider how we can ensure prospective students have access to the information they want to inform their future decisions. Only then can we ensure that universities are valued by all.”

Nicola Marsh, Head of Social & Political Research at ComRes, said: “Our research demonstrates that university students and graduates recognise value in the range of benefits gained from attending university, including building independence and confidence, exposure to new experiences, and enjoyment of learning. Future earning potential is amongst the benefits considered by students and graduates, but it is not the most important. Quality of life – for example, work/life balance – is the top priority for students and recent graduates when considering what they look for in a career, suggesting that they take a more holistic approach to their careers.”

Value for money – what do students really think?
A guest blog from SUBU’s Sophie Bradfield

Value for money is a phrase we hear a lot in reference to Higher Education and it’s an important conversation point for students. Value for money should surely not be as crude as looking at graduate earning potential, yet TEF continues to use graduate earnings as a metric to measure student outcomes.

As part of the independent review of TEF earlier this year, SUBU responded to a question on student outcomes noting “the very simplistic measurement of Student Outcomes and the focus on graduate salaries does not foster a healthy approach for provider enhancement. Strategies to support employability such as alumni mentoring and specialist programmes for Widening Participation students to address progression enhance student outcomes for providers and recognise an important aspect for students.” (See SUBU’s full response).

Many voices in the Higher Education sector have shared the same concern and finally the Government has evidence from students themselves that future earning potential is not the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about the value of university. A report on the value of university published this week by ComRes on behalf of Universities UK [see above] surveyed students and recent graduates in the last 5-10 years. The report finds that 5 in 6 students or 84% of those surveyed agreed that “my potential future salary wasn’t the only factor I considered when deciding to go to university.” The report further shows that students and recent graduates decided to go to University for a range of different reasons, including 56% saying it was an interest in their chosen degree subject; 48% saying it was because they enjoyed studying and learning; and 50% saying it was the first step in building a career. Furthermore, future earning potential was not the top priority for students when choosing a career; it came second to students wanting a work-life balance.

Back in December 2017 SUBU hosted Nicola Dandridge, the Chief Executive of the Office for Students, for a roundtable discussion with BU students chaired by the Vice President Education (of the time). Nicola asked students who attended why they chose to go to University and many of the students present stated they felt University was an “expected” next step. Nicola further asked students what made their university experience ‘value for money’. The BU students present spoke of the additional opportunities on offer to them alongside studying, such as the opportunities to join a club or society or to take up a leadership position and gain experience. The conversations were around the opportunities available to build a life around their degree, yet they noted this information was not promoted when making decisions between institutions and instead it was something they realised upon going to University.

The ComRes UUK report expands on this. As noted in a summary of the report by Universities UK:

“The poll also reveals the following skills, facilities and other assets which students benefit from at university, including:

  • developing skills such as time management, social skills and teamwork
  • access to academic tutors and experts and libraries
  • improving levels of confidence and becoming more independent
  • making new friends and developing beneficial social networks
  • awareness of social issues and debates”

Providing students with the information they need to make an informed choice about whether to go to University and which one to pick, is something the Office of Students has taken responsibility for. This month they have launched a new student information website to do just that, called ‘Discover Uni’. This is in line with what students are asking for, with the ComRes UUK report findings suggesting a need for “greater investment in student information” (see UUK). However it was shown that this information should extend to careers advice in schools and colleges as well as clearer financial information and guidance.

That students need more information and guidance on finances was highlighted in a report on value for money back in 2018, which was commissioned by the Office for Students and led by a consortium of Students’ Unions in partnership with Trendence UK (see ‘Value for money: the student perspective’). A more recent poll by YouGov commissioned by the Office for Students also shows this is not just an issue for prospective students as 82% of parents in England and Wales are not sure how student loans work (see Research Professional).

The cost of living is a significant area of interest for prospective and current students as they might not be aware of all costs involved in being at University until arriving, especially if they are the first generation in their family to go to University. As many of us are aware, students often need to top up their finances by taking up part time work. The latest Government’s Student income and expenditure survey (SIES) 2014-2015 results showed that over half of full-time students did some form of paid work during the academic year to contribute to their income. (On average full time students were working just over 10 hours per week to account for 10% of their average total income). The more recent NUS Poverty Commission Report 2018 found a significant financial shortfall for students after comparing student loans with living costs (see NUS, page 67) showing that students need to find other ways to top up their finances, whether through part time work or borrowing from friends or relatives (which is not an option for all). Money Saving Expert by Martin Lewis remains the most comprehensive source of information for students and parents on this matter (see MSE) and it highlights how much more needs to be done by the Office for Students on providing information to students and parents about financing a University degree.

Despite all these findings, and as David Kernohan of Wonkhe notes, it is unclear if OfS’ new student information platform ‘Discover Uni’ will extend to providing students with information beyond finding a course and University. What we do know is that the Office for Students is commissioning a lot of research and is currently running an online consultation and going out to visit universities and colleges to see how they should be engaging students ahead of publishing an overall student engagement strategy early next year (see OfS).

Hopefully there will be further changes to come on information and support for students going into HE, driven by all these findings. Regardless, it seems difficult to have conversations about the value of University and whether future earning potential should have any part to play in decision-making, when reports are showing time and time again that students care more about immediate issues such as the cost of going to University.

Research

The Science and Technology Committee has published 43 recommendations to the Balance and effectiveness of research and innovation spending inquiry report.  The recommendations include the 2.4% target, a big data focus to evaluation, QR funding, central link point for all R&D funding streams and opportunities, the tax credit system, and to quickly action the FCA review of patient capital with a further update at Budget 2020.

The final version of the updated Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers has been launched.  The new one is here.

“It sets out three clear Principles of environment and culture, employment, and professional and career development. The principles are underpinned by obligations for the four key stakeholder groups, funders, institutions, researchers and managers of researchers, to realise the aims of the Concordat.”

In other news, Sir Mark Walport has announced he will stand down as CEO of UKRI in 2020.

Parliamentary Questions

Despite only one Parliamentary sitting day this week a whole tranche of HE relevant parliamentary questions were answered.

The Lords also raised a question on student accommodation rent levies by developers – this one was too late and couldn’t be answered before prorogation, however, it is interesting this angle has been picked up.

Consultations and Inquiries

Click here to view the updated inquiries and consultation tracker. As Parliament is prorogued Committee and APPG work ceases so over the coming weeks there will only be new content from sector bodies. Email us on policy@bournemouth.ac.uk if you’d like to contribute to any of the current consultations.

Other news

Joined up schooling: Scotland have announced phase one in a £1 billion replacement programme for 26 schools. Several of the replacement projects will bring together nurseries, schools (including specialist centres for pupils with additional support needs), colleges and universities in multi-purpose campuses for pupils aged from three to 18, with additional facilities that benefit surrounding communities. The first phase projects could open as early as 2022/23. First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon said: “Modern, state of the art buildings can make a real difference to the lives of pupils, teachers and parents, as well as the wider communities they serve. This investment continues our efforts to improve the condition of our entire learning estate, from early years through to schools and colleges.”

Mental Health: The Welsh Government has published guidance on responding to self-harm and suicidal thought in young people.

Children’s Manifesto: While Parliament hasn’t voted for a general election MPs are quietly lining up their campaign ducks and sector bodies are ramping up their lobbying. This week the Children’s Commissioner for England published ‘Guess How Much We Love You – A Manifesto for Children’ calling on Britain’s political parties to include a six-point plan in their election manifestos to transform the life chances for disadvantaged children and to help all of England’s 12 million children to thrive. The six key themes are: supporting stronger families, providing decent places for children to live, helping children to have healthy minds, keeping children active, providing SEND support for those who need it, and creating safer streets and play areas. The Manifesto is costed and argues that existing statutory services must be put on a sustainable financial footing. Contact Sarah for a summary of the key recommendations and estimated costs – or read the short 12 page document .

Discover Uni: the new OfS service for potential applicants launched this week to general hilarity because of the huge number of bugs and problems.  (The first search your intrepid policy team did said that there were no (as in zero) full time biology degrees on offer in England – some appeared when we re-ran it the search, but even so).  Despite the obvious problem (i.e. don’t actually use it to actually make any choices until it is more reliable), there are some more important points.  Research Professional note  “The UK’s new higher education information website will not include data on the proportion of firsts and 2:1s awarded by universities, because of concerns that doing so could fuel grade inflation”.

Lifelong learning: the Learning and Work Institute have published the findings from their adult (17+) participation survey which examines when they last learnt, their experience, and likelihood to do so again.  The survey shows adults who have not recently taken part in learning are unlikely to say they would be likely to do so in the future. Among adults who have not engaged in learning since leaving full time education, just 16% said they would take part in learning in the future. Among adults currently taking part in education, 77% expect to do so again. With participation at a record low, the analysis states that progress in improving the skills and qualification levels of the workforce has stalled, and that the UK is at risk of falling behind in skills post-Brexit. By 2030, out of the 17 PIAAC countries, the UK is predicted to fall from 10th to 14th for basic literacy, and from 11th to 14th for basic numeracy.

  • Social class – 48% of adults in higher social grades (AB) have taken part in learning in the last three years, compared to 20% of adults in lower social grades (DE). This participation gap has widened by 3 percentage points in the last year
  • Employment status – 40% of full time employees participated in learning in the last three years, compared to 17% of people out of work and not seeking employment

Graduate employment: The Institute of Student Employers published their 2019 annual graduate labour market survey.

  • Almost 22,000 graduate jobs were created. This was mainly driven by significant increases in finance and professional services as well as public sector employers who recruited 35% more graduates, particularly in policing and education.
  • However, employers are cautious and the short-term and temporary hire of graduates through internships or work placements has dropped by 4% and 7% respectively. Employers also anticipate that Brexit and/or a recession will reduce hiring over the next five years.
  • The energy and engineering, and legal industries made small reductions in the number of graduates they recruited, down 1% and 3% respectively (these were the only sectors to show a reduction).
  • The average graduate starting salary offered by ISE members remained competitive at £29,000. Up £750 on last year, however, when indexed to the Consumer Price Index, salaries have still not recovered to pre-recession levels in real terms.
  • The average ISE member is paying £1.225 million annually to the government through the apprenticeship levy. They reported starting 11,224 apprentices this year of which 52% were non-graduates, 25% graduates and 23% existing staff.

Stephen Isherwood, Chief Executive of ISE said:

  • “Although the drop in temporary opportunities is concerning as this offers students the opportunity to gain valuable work experience, employers are mainly resisting the urge to dial down their recruitment in the face of current and future challenges. 
  • Hiring is up, employers are receiving a healthy volume of applications and they are paying more. We hope that this continues and will do everything that we can to support firms as they manage the uncertainty that lies ahead.” 

Wonkhe blogger, Tristram Hooley, suggests that the skills shortage problem is more complicated than it appears

Student loan sale controversy: It’s been a while since the student loan book sale controversy resurfaced but this week Wonkhe report that The London Review of Books published a detailed analysis of government student loan book sales by Andrew McGettigan. He sets out how the government “skewed the test” that made a loss-making loan sale show value for money.

Education Spending: The House of Commons Library has published a report on Education Spending in the UK. Key Points:

  • Education spending peaked in around 2010 at 5.7% of GDP or £104 billion (2018-19 prices).
  • The real level of public spending on education in the UK was static in the early 1980s.
    It increased gradually from the mid-1980s to the early 1990s.
    After then it increased to new record levels in each year to the peak in 2010-11.
    The Government has removed spending on the subsidy element of student loans from data from 2011-12 onwards.
    Despite this break in the series there was a clear decline in spending in the five years from 2012-13 onwards.
  • Education spending has fallen as a % of GDP in each year from 2011-12 to 2017‑18. This was the longest continuous period of decline in this measure
  • Almost 80% of education spending went on schools -primary and secondary education. The relatively low share going on tertiary (higher) education reflects the fact that the data exclude the subsidy element of student loans which forms the majority of higher education spending in England.
  • Public spending per head on education in 2017-18 was highest in Scotland at around £1,550, followed by £1,490 in London and £1,440 in Northern Ireland. It was lowest in the South East and South West of England at around £1,200.
  • OECD analysis puts UK public spending on education at 4.2% of GDP in 2016. This was 12th highest out of the 34 OECD members with data on this measure and higher than the OECD average of 4.0%.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

[1] See above

[2] We also cover this in “other news” below

HE policy update for the w/e 23rd August 2019

A quieter week for HE policy, however, there’s news on the KEF and lots of other relevant content.

STEM for Britain

As a member of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee BU’s early career researchers and PhD and post-doc researchers all have the opportunity for exposure of their work through the annual poster competition. Posters are being accepted for the following areas:

  • Biological and Biomedical Sciences
  • Chemistry
  • Engineering
  • Mathematical Sciences
  • Physics

Prizes will be awarded for the posters presented in each discipline which best communicate high level science, engineering or mathematics to a lay audience.

Please share this information with ECR, PhD and PDR colleagues and those who work directly with them. This is a rare opportunity to showcase work within parliament at this level. All the shortlisted posters will be shared during a parliamentary reception in March 2020 and there will be the opportunity to talk about the research directly with policy makers.

The poster competition is open now please contact Lisa Andrews, RDS Research Facilitator, for more details and to enter.

www.stemforbritain.org.uk

Mental Health

The House of Commons library has a briefing paper setting out data on the prevalence of mental health conditions in higher education students in England and outlines the action higher education providers, the government and the Office for Students are taking to help students with mental health issues. It also flags up how students can get support.

From the briefing:

  • Student mental health has been the subject of a number of reports as students are increasingly declaring mental conditions and reporting issues with stress and poor mental wellbeing. It has been suggested that student mental health is in ‘crisis’.
  • The proportion of students who disclosed a mental health condition to their university has increased rapidly in recent years.
  • Surveys of students have found much higher rates of mental ill health than those disclosed to universities. A recent survey found that 21.5% had a current mental health diagnosis and 33.9% had experienced a serious psychological issue for which they felt they needed professional help. Survey responses are confidential and are likely to give a better idea of the full extent of mental ill health.
  • Many factors have been suggested as contributing to the rise in cases of mental ill health among higher education students – work pressures, moving away from home, financial worries, or more generally higher education institutions are said to be feeling the impact of the rise in metal health conditions among the 16-25 age population.
  • The effect of mental health issues on students can be serious and can lead to consequences such as: academic failure, dropping out of education, poorer career prospects and in the worst cases suicide.
  • Concern has been expressed about the availability of support for students with mental health conditions and the response of universities and higher education institutions.
  • In 2017 Universities UK, published Stepchange Mental health in higher education. Stepchange provides a framework to help higher education providers embed good mental health across all university activities.

Placement Premium

A Chartered Management Institute commissioned survey finds 3 in 4 parents believe that qualifications that combine with work experience and study are the best way to prepare young people for the workplace.

With record numbers of young people going through university clearing, the survey also shows that:

  • Parents rate degree programmes that combine work and study over traditional university degrees.
  • Nearly two thirds of parents (64%) favoured a degree apprenticeship with a major company like Rolls-Royce over a degree at Oxford or Cambridge (36%).
  • Nearly three quarters (73%) rated a degree that combines full-time work with study over a traditional 3 year university degree based on lectures and seminars alone (27%).
  • 71% of parents also wanted all graduates to have the opportunity to develop management, enterprise and leadership skills.

Rob Wall, Head of Policy at CMI said: “Innovations like degree apprenticeships – which bring together work and study, and allow apprentices to apply their learning in the workplace – are hugely attractive to employers. Our survey shows that they are now increasingly popular with parents, with the vast majority rating a degree apprenticeship with a FTSE 100 corporate over a traditional 3 year degree at a top university. Our message to all those young people receiving their GCSE results this week is that, whatever your results and whatever path you take next, developing those employability skills like self-management and leadership will always give you an edge in a competitive jobs market.”

 FE Funding Push

The Association of Colleges are capitalising on the recent announcement that there will be an accelerated spending round by the end of September. They have issued a paper to the Treasury and the DfE making recommendations for tertiary education. In headline their proposals cover the full remit of college work and request a one-off cash injection of £1,114m in revenue and £240m in capital. The paper capitalises on the Augar Review which discussed the lower funding rates and investment in FE education. It covers the items you would expect such as a higher funding rate for all FE provision, better pay and status for FE teachers. It also suggests a ten year funding plan for education. A larger adult education budget to support retraining, improve skills and develop lifelong learning (at a one-year cost of £250 million).

Of relevance to HE are the apprenticeship funding reforms they suggest (at a one year cost of £200m).

  • Increase funding for non-levy employers and for young people. The non-levy budget should increase by £200 million and all 16-to18 year olds should be funded through the education budget to guarantee their training opportunities.
  • The increase in degree apprenticeship numbers is a concern because these involve high costs and because it appears that obligations previously covered by tuition fees have been shifted onto the apprenticeship budget. It would seem more appropriate for apprenticeships at level 6 and above to be funded from the higher education teaching budget, regulated by the Office for Students and operated with the same rules on equivalent and lower qualifications as loan-supported programmes.

They also suggest a development fund for higher technical education (one year cost of £40m).

  • For students, it would be simple to offer the same tuition fee cap, student finance rules and teaching grant funding as offered for degree-level study. For colleges there needs to be a modest fund to support set-up costs which precede the relevant income because enrolments take time to build.

On regulating to protect students and employers while maximising impact:

  • Colleges spend a growing and disproportionate share of their budgets on administration and compliance and account for themselves to two different parts of the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA), to the Office for Student (OfS), to Ofsted, to local enterprise partnerships and combined authorities, to the Home Office, to lenders, pension funds and any other funding organisation. Some complexity is unavoidable but there is a case for the DfE group to consider whether there are ways to focus regulation more clearly on activities that benefit students and employers, to cut compliance costs and to place simpler duties on college governing bodies to account for the public investment they receive.

David Hughes, Chief Executive, Association of Colleges, said:  After making great efficiencies over the last decade, there is a strong consensus now that colleges need major investment to put them in a position to be able to thrive and from that position to be able to maximise the impact they can have. The UK’s industrial strategy identifies skills as an issue across a range of priority sectors and the need for action to avoid shortages. Without thriving colleges, this priority will not be met.

  • Total expenditure on 16-19 education fell by 17.5% in real terms between 2010-11 and 2016-17, while the funding allocated to 16-19 education fell by 13% in real terms between 2013-14 and 2017-18.
  • The funding rate for students aged 16 and 17 in education in 2018-19 has been frozen at £4,000 since 2013-14, while the funding rate for students who are already aged 18 has been frozen at £3,300 since it was cut by 17.5 % in 2014.
  • The government is currently consulting on ambitions to build a “new generation” of higher technical qualifications at levels 4 and 5 for T-level students to progress onto. The introduction date of 2022 has been set to fit with the first cohort of T-level students, who will start their two-year level 3 qualification in 2020.

Labour’s Education Policies

Recent news has detailed Jeremy Corbyn’s efforts to amalgamate enough support that should the autumn vote of no confidence succeed he may be able to form a temporary caretaker Government. Labour are hoping for an early General Election and Wonkhe have covered all their recent Education related announcements into one blog.

KEF

Research England have published the outcomes of the Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF) consultation and pilot exercise. Final decisions on the KEF will follow later in 2019.

  • 72% of responses agreed the KEF should be an annual, institutional-level, metrics driven exercise.
  • The respondents commented on the balance between running a low burden exercise at the expense of losing valuable detail.
  • Significant themes within the report were noted as:
    • The (mostly) output metrics do not necessarily capture the quality of knowledge exchange activity
    • Varied responses on how often the KEF should take place, although the report notes the majority favoured an annual exercise.

Below follow the main points picked out of the KEF report narrative

Clusters The KEF clusters institutions together, BU is in cluster E.

  • “The conceptual framework underpinning the analysis and the variables and methods employed were broadly well received, with the majority of respondents somewhat agreeing or agreeing with these aspects, and the resulting composition of the clusters. There was less consensus on whether the clusters would help fulfil the stated aims of the KEF (Q6.4), and the purpose of allowing fair comparison. Although a majority agreed to some extent, there was a higher level of ‘disagree’ responses than for Q6.1-6.3.”
  • “In regard to the overall approach to clustering (Q6.4) it is worth noting that the majority of negative responses were ‘somewhat disagree’. This is borne out by the associated commentary, with the most common response (105 respondents) welcoming the clustering approach, with only 10 respondents making critical comments on the overall concept. Respondents indicating an overall ‘slightly disagree’ or ‘disagree’ tended to be for very specific reasons. For example, while broadly welcoming the concept of clustering they disagreed with the range of variables used. Other more negative responses were driven by consideration of whether clustering helped the KEF meet its aims (and how businesses and other users might use or interpret them), with more agreement on their positive role in enabling fair comparison between HEIs.”

“There were a substantial number of points in the commentary focussing on the descriptions and presentation of the clusters:

  • There were a significant number of comments relating to the cluster descriptions – e.g. describing a cluster as having HEIs with ‘limited world leading research’ could be seen as negative in itself, and that it may be better to frame cluster descriptions on what the institution does do, rather than what it doesn’t.
  • Multiple requests to provide a brief introduction into what the clustering is for, how the descriptors work and how the cluster names (which are random letters) were assigned. It was noted that this was particularly important for external audiences.
  • Approximately 15% of responses suggested clusters may be confusing for businesses and other users or they suggested that there should be flexibility for users to be able to group institutions in different ways that were more relevant to them.
  • There was some concern that whatever the intent, the clusters will be seen as a hierarchy in their own right (10%).
  • That there is still too much variation within clusters (although we would argue that the KEF proposals include further steps to normalise for size, and the scaling of metrics mitigates this).
  • That specialist institutions are difficult to place in clusters, but most respondents making this point stated that this approach was still preferable to not using clustering or a comparable method to aid fair comparison.”

“There were also multiple comments and suggestions on the variables used to create the clusters, including on the role of professional services staff not being represented, concerns that variables were too heavily skewed towards research activities, and that 3* (as well as 4*) REF outputs should be used.

 “Overall, there was no clear consensus from the responses received on a course of action that would satisfy all and no appropriate alternative models were proposed that would meet the requirements of providing a means of fair comparison. Given that the concept of clustering was well received for those in the main clusters, it is unlikely the fundamental approach to this aspect of the KEF proposals will change….

Perspectives and metrics

“For the proposed perspectives and associated metrics, we asked for feedback on both the overall range and balance, and also views on the metrics proposed under each perspective.

  • A majority agreed that a sufficiently broad range of KE activity was captured (72%), although a sizeable minority of 26% disagreed to some extent”
  • The range of perspectives were welcome with around 40% of responses agreeing that they broadly captured a sufficient variety of KE activity. However, around 15% of responses felt that the individual metrics within the perspectives were too narrow to adequately capture the full range of KE activities undertaken by HEIs.”

“The majority of recommendations for KE activities that could be considered for inclusion in the KEF fell into four key areas:

  • Contribution to public policy
  • International partnerships
  • Partnerships with SMEs
  • HEI-HEI collaboration

Other common themes expressed in the commentary related to:

  • The timing of the HE-BCI review and the subsequent impact on the KEF. …
  • How the quality and sustainability of partnerships with business can be captured e.g. regular student placements, repeat business, voice of the customer.”

On working with business:

“A significant number of responses considered there was a disconnect between the broad nature of the perspective title ‘Working with business’ and the proposed income metrics. The metrics were considered by over a quarter of respondees to be very narrow, and not reflective of the full breadth of knowledge exchange activities undertaken in HEIs. In particular 15% of respondees felt that income from use of specialist facilities and equipment should be included as a useful indicator of interactions with business.”

“The nature of the metrics as income measures brought feedback across a number of points:

  • Some argued that income is not an appropriate proxy for impact and does not well reflect the quality of the interactions. A number of alternative metric areas were suggested such as repeat business, length of relationships or nature or number of strategic partnerships.
  • The opportunities for undertaking consultancy and contract research and the income value of that activity will be impacted by the local economic context, particularly for some types of interactions e.g. with SMEs.
  • Across all disciplines, but especially in the public and third sectors, it was considered that a significant proportion of knowledge exchange activity is not monetised and so not well reflected in the metrics.
  • The role of students is seen as significant by about 10% of respondents, either through the close relationships developed with businesses through degree apprenticeships or placement work, or directly by supervised services delivered as part of their course or extra curricula activity.

About a fifth of respondees provided feedback on the use of ‘academic FTE’ as the denominator for two of the metrics. While 4% expressed support for the use of academic FTE to account for the size of the institution, 10% considered it to be misleading to restrict it to academic staff when a signification proportion of knowledge exchange activity is undertaken by professional services staff or students. Some 5% requested a clearer definition of who is included in ‘academic FTE’ and 2% felt that it would be more relevant to restrict it to research active academic staff.”

On local growth and regeneration:

“We recognise that this metric on its own does not sufficiently capture the breadth of activity in this area and therefore have proposed the use of additional narrative. The feedback from respondents verified this view, with over a quarter expressing support for the use of narrative. The primary areas of concern expressed for the proposed metric were:

  • The metric was considered by over 20% of respondees as unhelpfully focused on income, it was felt that this is a less effective proxy for impact within local growth and regeneration.
  • Around 14% of respondees noted that the metric was very narrow as a standalone metric and needed to be part of a wider basket of metrics. A further 5% of respondees felt that the metric was too poor to be used at all and suggested that the perspective should be ‘greyed out’ until additional metrics could be identified. It was considered that the forthcoming HESA review of the HE-BCI survey may be an opportunity to find additional metrics. …
  • Inconsistency of returns to the HE-BCI survey were believed to impact this metric in particular, ….
  • A small number of respondees felt the use of academic FTE as a denominator was inappropriate, with a wide variety of reasons cited.

A number of alternative or additional metric areas were suggested by respondees:

  • The investment that individual institutions make to their local areas, either through the local supply chain, direct regeneration investment in cash or in kind was viewed by over 10% of respondees as a helpful addition.
  • While 9% suggested that activity and income related to local industrial strategies and related government funding such as city deals, regional growth funds or local growth funds should be included.

A small proportion of respondees (4%) also looked to create links to the strategies and action plans being developed by institutions who have signed up to the Civic University Commission’s Civic University Agreements.”

On IP and commercialisation:

“A wide range of comments concerned timeframes around these metrics including:

  • The concentrated nature of income-generating commercialisation activity within relatively few institutions and its ‘lumpy’ nature (i.e. that volumes vary significantly year-to-year) means the metrics in this perspective may not be relevant to some institutions, and that it would be hard for external audiences to draw conclusions from them (18% of respondees).
  • Whether the proposed three year time series and normalisation by research income was appropriate for measuring spin-out performance, given the long time-lags involved. Would a longer time series of 10+ years be more appropriate?
  • The time lags between research being undertaken and spin-out creation was seen as particularly problematic for the metric of ‘research resource per spin-out’. Several respondees also expressed concern that given the relative ease of creating a spinout that this metric may create a perverse incentive to incorporate spin-out companies too early, or where a more appropriate exploitation route existed.

This question also elicited specific suggestions for new metrics based on other areas of the HE-BCI collection:

  • In addition to licensing income, nearly 10% of respondees argued that the numbers of licenses granted (whether or not they generate income) may also give a useful indication of performance. Numbers of free licenses could (subject to a rigorous treatment that differentiated end-user licenses from other forms) indicate active exploitation of IP (the licensee having gone to the effort to enter a formal agreement) where impact rather than income generation was the primary driver.
  • Other common suggestions focused on proportions of patents or licenses generating income (indicating active exploitation), rates of disclosures, or ratios of disclosures to patents and IP income (indicating effective translation of disclosures).
  • There was also a group of suggestions for metrics which focused less on income and more on capturing results from enterprise structures and IP exploitation strategies that do not focus on income generation, such as social enterprises, open innovation strategies or open source products and software.”

On public and community engagement

‘Public and community engagement’ received the lowest average score when participants were asked to rate their percentage agreement…while the inclusion of the perspective in the KEF was broadly welcomed, there was also a clear message that the metric did not adequately capture the range of activities undertaken by HEIs in this area.

  • Around 17% of respondees suggested that the current metric of time per FTE was not adequate to capture performance or quality of the events recorded, with an additional 12% of respondees suggesting that this risked the role of professional services staff being overlooked.
  • The consistency of reporting in Table 5 of the HE-BCI return (Social, community and cultural engagement: designated public events) was a concern for 15% of respondees, highlighting the need for clearer guidance on how this information should be recorded across the sector.
  • The inclusion of narrative was welcome, but 10% of respondees raised the concern that it was not assessed and would therefore not be viewed as of equal value to metric element of the perspective.

Additional metrics that were suggested included:

  • The number of times that university assets are opened up to the community in some way
  • HEI investment in brokerage
  • Public involvement in research
  • Metrics collected by public relations and marketing departments e.g. the number of academics/professional staff blogging on external sites, social media interactions, media appearances by academics, or coverage of research
  • Number of performances or events and the associated number of attendees.”

Use of Narratives:

The NCCPE concluded that there is strong rationale for adopting and adapting the approach to narrative within the KEF. Whilst the proposed template delivers some effective prompts that elicited useful information, there was considerable variety in the level of specificity and supporting evidence provided in the pilot drafts.

The NCCPE have provided specific recommendations to Research England on how the templates and use of narrative could be improved to draw out more relevant and consistent information. Alongside the consultation responses these recommendations are informing the development of the KEF.

Respondees showed an exceptionally strong preference for the provision of an overarching institutional statement being provided by the HEI with 89% agreeing to some extent (and almost half strongly agreeing). 101. This was echoed through the written responses which expressed the broad view that an overarching narrative would be beneficial and that it should be provided by the institutions themselves. There was also a strong articulation that the local economic context needs to be considered to place knowledge exchange activities in context, and that it may be appropriate for Research England to provide this data in a standardised format

A number of respondees felt that an overarching statement could also be a useful tool to demonstrate an institution’s overall strategic goals in relation the perspectives. This may help mitigate any perceptions of relative ‘poor’ performance in areas that were not of strategic importance to a particular HEI. However, it was recognised that this would be difficult to achieve through the visualisation. Other voices expressed concern that the statements could become marketing tools with little added value.

And finally: We note the concerns expressed in both the consultation and pilot regarding timing of implementation and potential overlaps with the REF and TEF. We will pay regard to this when agreeing implementation timescales.

You can read the report in detail here.

Widening Participation and Access

  • National Care Leavers Week will be held on 24-31 October 2019.
  • Estranged Students Solidarity Week is 25-29 November 2019
  • Former Prime Minister Theresa May recently announced plans for a new body, the Office for Tackling Injustices (OfTI), to monitor government efforts to tackle “deep-seated societal injustice”.

Inquiries and 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: Lords inquiry in Ageing: Science, Technology and Healthy Living

Other news

Arts rise: The DfE published information on GCSE entries on results day. It highlights that entries to arts subjects have risen by 3.2% to 320,000. The DfE see this as positive new because previously the EBacc was criticised as squeezing these subjects out of the curriculum because of the opportunity to select them was less than other curriculum models. The news sits alongside a 3.7% rise in entries to EBacc subjects and an increase in foreign language entries (particularly Spanish and French). For more detail, including the key stats for other subjects click here.

T levels: The House of Commons Library have one of their helpful briefing papers on T Levels: Reforms to Technical Education which provides an overview of the proposals to reform the technical education system.

Student Debt Sanctions: the CMA have taken action causing the University of Liverpool to change their student debt penalty policy. They will no longer issue academic sanctions – such as the as the removal of library or email access – for students who have debts which are unrelated to their fees. Susan Lapworth, Director for Competition and Registration, at the Office for Students, said: “We welcome today’s announcement that, following CMA action, the University of Liverpool has formally committed to drop academic sanctions for students with debts, for example for accommodation costs, that are not related to their tuition fees. The fair treatment of students is important to us as a regulator. All universities and other higher education providers should be mindful of today’s CMA announcement and ensure that their debt collection policies comply with consumer law. Our own regulatory framework sets out the need for universities to demonstrate they are complying with consumer protection law, and we will continue to support the important work of the CMA on these issues.”

AI job displacement scheme: On Tuesday new Education Minister, Kemi Badenoch, announced an extension in the roll out of a pilot programme aiming to help adults whose jobs may change due to new technologies – such as automation and AI – to retrain and get on the path to a new career. The Get Help to Retrain digital service will now be rolled out to the West Midlands and the North East following success in Liverpool City during the summer.

Student Grants: The Student Loan Company are raising awareness of their practitioners’ page. They are also sharing information on their grants –  Childcare Grant; the Adult Dependants’ Grant; and the Parents’ Learning Allowance – to ensure those eligible apply for the funds.

Market Signalling: HEPI have a new blog exploring the marketisation of HE alongside the Augar Review and institutional autonomy.

Unconditional Admissions: The most effective and fairest admissions system continues to be debated this week. A provocative Wonkhe article makes the barest nod to grades asking what if all university offers were unconditional? The comments at the end are well worth a read too as sector colleagues suggest other alternatives and admissions tweaks, primarily moving away from the overreliance on A level grades. And The Guardian have an article which suggests social class is a barrier to good A level/exam performance.

PQA: Post qualification admissions. Mary Curnock Cook, ex-CEO of UCAS, explains the factors that made her turn from determined to implement post qualification admissions to remaining with the current system.

OfS Student Tool: The OfS have a new online tool for prospective students which launches in September: Discovering Uni: planning your HE journey.

NEETS: Office for National Statistics published the quarterly stats on 16-24 year olds who are classified as NEET (not in education, employment or training).

  • There were 792,000 young people in the UK who were NEET; this number increased by 28,000 from January to March 2019 and was up 14,000 when compared with April to June 2018.
  • The percentage of all young people in the UK who were NEET was 11.5%; the proportion was up 0.4 percentage points from January to March 2019 and up 0.3 percentage points from April to June 2018.
  • Of all young people in the UK who were NEET, 41.6% were looking for, and available for, work and therefore classified as unemployed; the remainder were either not looking for work and/or not available for work and therefore classified as economically inactive.

The report details examples of specialist projects (Medway, Southwark, Blackpool) which have effectively decreased the NEET population.

Schools Funding: One of Boris’ campaigning objectives was his pledge to increase the minimum per pupil funding level for English schools – this House of Commons Insight Guide has an interactive mechanism which checks which schools within a constituency area will see an increase against the £4k (primary) and £5k (secondary) proposed thresholds.

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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 10th May 2019

Research

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

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

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

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

Supporting Researchers

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

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

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

Academia in industry

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

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

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

Additional points:

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

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

Master’s Loans

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

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

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

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

TEF update

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

Election fever

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

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

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

Brexit is still missing

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

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

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

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

In the meantime:

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

Mental Health & Well-being

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

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

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

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

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

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

Care Experienced Students

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

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

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

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

Still no news from the Augar team

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

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

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

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

Consultations and inquiries

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

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

Other news

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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 5th April 2019

A week is a long time at the moment.  We have a mixed bag this week but we lead with Brexit to get it over with.

Brexit

In the Westminster Brexit bubble things can turn upside down several times in the space of a week.  And even though many more people are watching Parliament live