The media and sector are still digesting last week’s policy onslaught. You can read more in last week’s BU policy update here (for staff) or here on the blog. We also did a separate 6 page summary of the White Paper for BU readers.
There are new student statistics out, a new independent reviewer of Prevent, the international students’ graduate visa is still unclear and remote learning must continue for most students.
Online teaching continues
Restrictions remain in place for universities who are only permitted to offer remote learning until 8 March at earliest. Students on ‘critical courses’ such as medical, clinical and healthcare subjects will continue with their Covid-secure face to face teaching. Students and staff on campus are instructed to continue to take part in twice weekly testing on offer to help limit transmission and identify asymptomatic cases. The Government’s press release is here. The position will be reviewed on 22nd February.
Former Universities Minister, Chris Skidmore, comments on the recent raft of HE policy documents issued by the Government. Chris says:
- …it is tempting to think that something is happening in the education world. That temptation should be tempered, for nothing really will—or indeed can—happen until the sound of the Treasury till ringing open at the Spending Review later in the year. Samuel Beckett might have titled this particular ongoing saga, ‘Waiting for Rishi’.
- Still, enough morsels—consultations on consultations—have been thrown out there to keep the higher education policy world busy for now. And those with learned, occasionally bitter, experience of these matters know that there’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip, as the history of white papers and their eventual chrysalis into legislative butterflies demonstrates.
Tuition Fees & Student Loans:
The latest petition to reduce the maximum student fee from £9,250 to £3,000 has been rejected by the Government with this rebuff: Tuition fee levels must represent value for money and ensure that universities are properly funded. Government is not considering a reduction in maximum fee levels to £3,000. There is a full Government response here which closely follows the established party line and ticks all the HE policy bingo boxes you would expect it to.
The Government also confirmed there are no plans to cap the income repayment threshold for student loans.
R&D Roadmap: The Government published the results of their consultation on the proposed UK Research and Development (R&D) Roadmap.
During the November 2020 Spending Review the Government committed to cement the UK’s status as a global leader in science and innovation by investing £14.6 billion in R&D in 2021/22, supporting the R&D Roadmap commitments and helping to consolidate the UK’s position as a science superpower on the road to spending 2.4% of GDP on R&D by 2027. The Government report the research community was overwhelmingly supportive of the ambitions set out in the R&D roadmap (published July 2020). The Roadmap proposals included setting up an Office for Talent and creating an Innovation Expert Group to review and improve how the government supports research; the proposals are expected to be developed into a comprehensive R&D plan.
Dods summarise the responses:
- Responses emphasised that the sustainability of funding was an important factor in achieving bigger research breakthroughs and for strengthening our research infrastructure and institutions. Specifically, support for a balanced portfolio of research and innovation activities, with a diverse range of funding mechanisms was considered “important to increase the effective application of new knowledge and encourage innovation.
- Responses also suggested that place-based funding—which is a major priority of the government—could build upon local expertise and existing strengths using both new and existing mechanisms. Increased funding for both research and innovation activities, as well as for public engagement activities, was viewed as important to inspire and support the new generation.
- The need for an improved research and innovation culture was also emphasised. Responses indicated that improving research and innovation culture through promoting greater diversity in the R&D community, making R&D a more attractive career, and reducing bureaucratic processes were vital factors in achieving bigger research breakthroughs, encouraging innovation, and attracting, retaining and developing diverse people and teams.
- Responses also suggested that research must be informed by, and partnered with, a wide range of relevant stakeholders to achieve real-world impact. Other key themes that emerged from the survey included greater support for collaboration and knowledge exchange across the R&D landscape, a strategic and long-term approach to set a clear direction for the UK and continued support for education, training and skills.
You can read all the responses in detail here.
Whilst discussing the next steps the Government have committed to publishing a new places strategy for R&D (including the devolved nations). They also continue to explore how we best create an environment where diverse and talented people from all over the world are enabled and encouraged to work to the best of their ability and fulfil their potential in their career of choice.
Innovation slump: The National Centre for Universities and Business published a report on the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on how universities contribute to innovation. It found that:
- nearly 90% of UK universities reported a significant proportion (I.e. over 10%) of their innovation projects had been delayed due to the pandemic.
- 48% of the universities surveyed reported that the scale and scope of innovation projects were being reduced.
- 36% reported that more than 10% of their innovation activities and projects with external partners were cancelled. With 45% recognising a decline of at least a 6% in the overall level of innovation activities they have with industrial partners. Aerospace, automotive manufacturing and within the creative industries experience bigger adverse effects.
- Institutions stated that the lack of financial resources to support collaborations, insufficient government funding to such activities and the inability to access the necessary facilities and equipment for work to continue were the reasons behind the reduction in innovation.
- It was also recognised that the roles of universities in driving innovation may change as the UK confronts the economic recovery
On moving forward the report finds:
- Government schemes helped universities continue to contribute to innovation through the crisis
- More needs to be done to enable universities to contribute fully to economic renewal
- More funding for core knowledge exchange services, translation and commercialisation, and challenge & outcome driven programmes
- Supporting place-making
- Targeted support for place and sector recovery from Covid
- Improve flexibility, bureaucracy and terms of funding
- Ensure metrics capture diversity of contributions and reward diversity of universities
- Ensure long-term sustainability of the university system and its ability to contribute to innovation and economic development
Dr Joe Marshall, Chief Executive of NCUB said:
- Covid-19 has brought the importance of collaboration between academia and industry firmly into public awareness. Indeed, breakthroughs such as the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine are only possible because of the advent of collaborative partnerships. This is why the new survey data released today is so worrisome. Nearly 90% of universities have been forced to delay a significant proportion (more than 10%) of new innovation projects with external partners, and over a third have reported that projects have been cancelled.
- Maintaining these types of innovation projects is vital if we are to boost productivity, improve livelihoods, and drive forward economic recovery. Innovation requires collaboration. And we see time and time again that collaboration requires strong partners. We are therefore urgently encouraging all businesses and UK universities to continue to form these vital partnerships. What’s more, we are also calling on the Government to take proactive steps to help companies stay afloat and investing in R&D through the crisis. This includes extending Covid-19 support schemes and postponing repayment of loans until lockdown restrictions are significantly eased. In no uncertain terms, for the UK to emerge from this crisis stronger, we need to encourage innovation. Driving an innovative economy, through tax incentives, effective regulation and well-targeted support schemes must be a fundamental component of the March 2021 Budget. We need to see action now, before it’s too late.
Tomas Ulrichsen, Director of the University Commercialisation and Innovation Policy Evidence Unit at the University of Cambridge, who led the study and authored the report said: The new findings released today show that Covid-19 has had a hugely disruptive impact on universities and their ability to continue to contribute to innovation through the current health and economic crisis. We have seen the transformational effects of universities and businesses working together in finding practical and innovative solutions to wicked societal problems. This is why the findings of our study are so worrying. A strong, resilient and sustainable system of universities, research institutes and technology development organisations, working in close partnership with the private, charitable, and public sectors will be crucial to driving an innovation-led economic recovery and tackling other critical and urgent global challenges. Unless we proactively tackle the many challenges facing universities and their innovation partners to reverse these worrying trends, we risk not only hampering our economic recovery but also the UK’s longer-term competitiveness in key sectors.
Research Professional comment on the significant proportion of innovation projects delayed due to Covid: This is not surprising given that most institutions are still imposing bans on ‘non-essential travel’, labs have been closed periodically during the pandemic and industrial partners have been making extensive use of the furlough scheme. There is a limit to the innovation you can do on MS Teams—it doesn’t even have a ‘breakout rooms’ function, for pity’s sake.
Research Funding Subsidy: Last week’s funding letter cut the additional teaching funding that London institutions receive to cover the additional costs relating to teaching within the capital. This prompted fears from London institutions that they may also lose research subsidies associated with their higher costs (12% inner and 8% outer London) – which would run to significant figures and threaten some London institutions’ stability. Research Professional explore this concern in London Waiting and explain that Research England have stated they haven’t yet received the funding allocations for 2021/22 so cannot consider the impact on quality related funding.
- Sustainability: The University of Exeter have launched the National Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Hub (CE-Hub). The hub will work with the five centres recently announced to explore how reusing waste materials in a wide range of industries, including textiles, construction, chemical and metals, could deliver huge environmental benefits and boost the UK economy… It will create a repository of national research, knowledge and tools to inform new research, policy and industry solutions, facilitating collaboration across a wide range of sectors and strengthening a UK-wide community dedicated to delivering a circular economy.
- Everyone loves a space story. Here is the Government’s press release on the spacewalk to install the British funded Columbus Ka-band Terminal.
- Research Professional: Horizon Europe ‘will be open to UK researchers from the start’. European Commission encourages applications from, and collaboration with, UK-based researchers
- The rumours that Scotland and Wales are committee to find a way to stay in Erasmus+ have bounced about ever since the announcement the UK would not take part. Research Professional covers the latest here.
Home Secretary, Priti Patel, has announced the new Independent Reviewer of Prevent will be William Shawcross. Shawcross will have some time to settle into his role and to adjust the terms of reference and set timescales before he relaunches the Independent Review of Prevent. Originally a call for evidence as part of the review was launched in December 2019 but progress stalled due to the pandemic. Shawcross’ appointment isn’t without controversy. Prior to his confirmation in the role Muslim Engagement and Development expressed concern given his longstanding history of propagating Islamophobic views.
All the way back in November 2017 Theresa May’s Government finally published the Industrial Strategy admist much fanfare and after months of trailing its contents. A flurry of activity and focus on the four grand challenges followed. However, Theresa May was ousted as PM and when Boris assumed the mantle there was an unofficial cooling towards the Industrial Strategy which was never explicitly stated. However, this week Boris’ Government have made a move and updated some of the missions associated with the four grand challenges and laid out further progress updates. You’ll need a keen eye to spot the new material. It looks much the same.
More engaging was this week’s BEIS Committee session Post-pandemic economic growth: Industrial Strategy which contained various elements relating to HE (quick points below). Dods have provided a fuller summary of both sessions here. The second session included testimony from both Science & Research Minister Amanda Solloway and CEO of UKRI Dame Ottoline Leyser.
- The scale of ISCF initiatives had led to a remarkable acceleration in collaboration with universities and that increasing the ISCF would be welcome by the university community.
- The Grand Challenges largely spent money in the right places but there were issues in how this was then used, in particular which risk sharing mechanisms were used and relative spend on pure science/blue sky research vs targeted research.
- Where there are linkages between universities facilitation of collaboration between academia and business at local level to support local industrial strategies the evidence shows large spillover effects on the local economies. The Researchers In Residence programme which puts academics into industry to solve specific problems was also mentioned.
- Defining success of the delivery of the industrial strategy – Leyser, stated that defining success was a contested issue. She said proximal measures such as number of patents and jobs created could be used; she said the ISCF metrics on these issues looked positive but there was an issue over whether this translated into long-term productivity.
- On ISCF delays/ Innovate UK grants Solloway said BEIS needed to work to fund ways to reduce bureaucracy and get grants out quicker.
Access & Participation
White & left behind: This week the Education Committee continued its inquiry into Left behind white pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds (summary of the session here). There was little content on HE aside from witness, Dr Javed Khan, Chief Executive Officer, Barnardo’s, stating that it was important not to over-emphasise the importance of university, compared with other further education pathways when he was questioned on what solutions there were to address the issue of white pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds being the least likely to attend university.
Meanwhile Chris Millward, Director for Fair Access and Participation, has published a new OfS blog – White students who are left behind: the importance of place. It reiterates familiar messages that HE colleagues focussed on access will be very familiar with, alongside hints and mentions of other Governmental priorities such as levelling up and HE institutions working in partnership with schools and colleges. It even tentatively touches on the (slightly controversial but so far has flown under the radar) sudden move of the Social Mobility Commission into the Cabinet office. Below are the best bits from Millward’s blog, but, really, I’d recommend you read the succinct version by the BBC instead.
- The expansion of educational opportunities, and the belief that equality of opportunity would flow from this, have not delivered for them. So they are less likely to see education as the way to improve their lives. Research suggests that this is not about low aspirations or wanting any less for children; it is about expectations – a realistic assessment of the barriers to getting on. Schools can do a lot to shift expectations, but as recent focus groups have shown, people in left-behind towns feel the decline of local institutions and civic engagement. The Social Mobility Commission has identified the need to join up educational interventions with other measures to improve local prosperity and it is now better placed to drive this across government through the Cabinet Office…universities and colleges can bring this together in their local areas through the breadth of their subject interests, their relationships with businesses and public services, and their bridging of education and skills with research and development. This equips them to create pathways through all levels of education, both full-time and while in work, and for adults as well as young people.
From the BBC article, Poor white teens in ‘left behind’ towns not going to uni:
- …male white British free school meal pupils are the least likely of all the main ethnic groups to progress to higher education (DfE)
- 59% of youngsters from black African families on free meals went to university and 32% of black Caribbean youngsters eligible for free meals… for white pupils on free meals the figure was 16% – and only 13% for boys.
- The research emphasises the importance of place, identifying particularly low entry rates in “former industrial towns and cities across the north and midlands, or coastal towns”.
- But white students on free meals in London seemed to have bucked the trend, with an…entry rate that “has pulled away from that in other parts of the country” – and the capital overall has higher rates of going to university.
TASO: Wonkhe: A report from Transforming Access and Student Outcomes in Higher Education (TASO) highlights the lack of good quality evidence for interventions to support care-experienced students in higher education. Summarising 57 published studies, and validating findings with 18 sector practitioners, it calls for the availability of better quality data drawing on agreed definitions. There are also recommendations that each provider should have a named contact for care-experienced students.
Exams: Minster for School Standards Nick Gibb: Although exams are the fairest way we have of assessing what a student knows, we cannot guarantee all students will be in a position to fairly sit their exams this summer.
Disability: Wonkhe: The Disabled Students’ Commission has released guidance for pupils with disabilities when applying for undergraduate courses. The guide aims to highlight potential barriers during the UCAS application process, as well as detailed routes to and eligibility for funding for reasonable adjustment.
Decolonisation: Wonkhe: The National Union of Students (NUS) has launched a library of decolonisation resources. It hosts information on what decolonisation is and links to podcasts, books, videos and articles to help readers explore, and expand skills and knowledge of the decolonising higher education movement.
- The business case for moving the Social Mobility Commission to the Cabinet Office, and the consultations undertaken prior to the move
- 2019/20 disadvantaged applications and entry details
- Equality – Further to their report Interim Conclusion of the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding, published on 21 January, what equality assessment they have carried out into the impact of introducing minimum entry requirements to higher education institutions on (1) Gypsies, Travellers and Roma, (2) care-leavers, (3) refugees, and (4) other under-represented groups; and what steps they are taking to ensure that such groups have equitable access to higher education
- The education of excluded children during Covid
- What methodology was used to determine the level of the one-off funding of £20 million to higher education providers in December 2020 to help to address student hardship during financial year 2020-21.
Graduate Visa Route – Covid Barrier. Research Profession explore the confusion surrounding graduate visas stating it threatens to undermine the government’s message to international students. This stems from the Government’s decision that international students who did not return to the UK by April 2021 might lose their eligibility for the Graduate Immigration Route (i.e. the right to remain in the UK for two years after completing their studies). The Government have stated: It is a core principle of the graduate route that someone must have spent some time studying in the UK…In light of the impact Covid-19 has had on international students, those who began studying overseas in autumn 2020 and who enter the UK before 6 April 2021 to complete their course will be eligible for the graduate route if they meet the requirements. And: Those who begin study overseas in January 2021 will also be eligible for the route if they enter the UK to complete their course before 27 September 2021 and meet the requirements…Any period of distance learning in the current academic year will not count against eligible students who graduate after 2021, providing they complete their course in the UK under the student route. Those who do not complete their studies in the UK will be ineligible.
Research Professional explain that the sticking point is that that government guidance for international students urged them to stay away unless their course required them to be on campus for face to face teaching. A commentator within the article states it is: highly unreasonable, and from a policy point of view self-defeating, to take fees from international students, advise them to delay travel for health policy reasons and then pronounce that they cannot follow the graduate visa route because they did not return to the UK in time. Particularly when the pandemic’s second wave is raging and they would put themselves at risk by arriving in the UK. Quite!
Vivienne Stern, Director of Universities UK International, responded: We are working closely with the government, UK universities and sector bodies to support the smooth implementation of the route and to ensure its success. Given the current Covid-related restrictions, we understand that international students are, on the whole, being advised not to travel to the UK at this time, and we continue to work with partners to ensure that students can still benefit from this opportunity. And that Universities UK was “actively working with the Home Office to explore what further flexibilities can be introduced given the ongoing restrictions”.
You can read the full Research Professional article here.
Access to Healthcare: Wonkhe cover the i News report explaining that European students who study in the UK will have to pay more than £1,000 to access healthcare, with the opportunity to claim the cost back a year or more later.
More on last week’s announcements
You can read more in last week’s BU policy update here (for staff) or here on the blog. We also did a separate 6 page summary of the White Paper for BU readers.
Admissions: Wonkhe have a short and interesting article outlining three options to address differential learning loss arising from pandemic restrictions. You’ll need to read the article to discover the options (worth doing) but these two HE-centric snippets stand out for admissions and student performance:
- Because our education system, at multiple levels, is both about sorting and learning gain, it all presents two interlocking problems. One is how we fairly assess children and students given the impacts of restrictions have not been felt equally or equitably across society. The other is what we do about overall levels of learning loss which we might reasonably assume matter if we wish our society to be educated.
- …If nothing else, there is a clear and present danger that universities will underestimate and underfund the support needed to address the problems presented by the intake of 2021. That seems to be a much more pressing educational issue than packing the Russell Group even tighter, destabilizing the rest of the rest of the sector in the process – which will mean no part of the sector will realistically have the time or capacity to address the issues we’re about to receive.
Credit transfer and flexible learning: HEPI have a blog “Can the pandemic bring a new dawn for flexible higher education?” by Luke Myer, Policy and Public Affairs Officer at the Quality Assurance Agency, looking at the new enthusiasm for credit transfer described in the Skills White Paper.
- One major challenge identified by our participants was England’s current regulatory metrics. The importance placed on data for continuation, retention, and completion creates a regulatory disincentive to provide short, flexible higher education programmes. …So, the metrics need to change.
- A related challenge is regulation from professional bodies on maintaining the currency of knowledge for particular sectors. One solution here may be to differentiate durations on the portability of different qualifications, depending on their relevance.
- Along with regulation, the funding model in England was identified as a barrier. There is typically no module-based funding under the Student Loans Company’s current model; this is compounded by other limitations including inflexibility in the use of the apprenticeship levy and Equivalent and Lower Qualification (ELQ) funding restrictions.
And some of the solutions?
- Bringing higher education and further education closer together will require a careful balance between joining up the funding system and avoiding damage to institutional autonomy. Our participants referenced the new tertiary systems which appear to be developing in several Asian and emerging high-income economies, which have strong permeability between ‘academic’ and ‘occupational’ provision. …
- A key part of this work should be to map the silos which already exist – between higher education and further education, between academic and vocational learning and between different kinds of learners – in order to understand the potential progression pathways for new students….
The pathway to high level skills: a HEPI blog “The Government risks narrowing the path to higher level skills” by Dr Scott Kelly:
- We are already seeing the negative impact of reducing the number of qualifications available at level 3. Earlier this month Ofqual warned about the scale of the disruption that will be caused by the DfE’s decision to remove funding from Applied General qualifications such as BTECs. As Ofqual noted, the number of students accessing HE with BTECs continues to grow, with the proportion accepted with A levels alone having fallen from 63 per cent in 2017 to around 60 per cent in 2019. Ofqual echo the concerns I raised in my report for HEPI on BTECs in 2017
- As with previous attempts to overhaul the qualification system, up to and including the introduction of T levels, policy is likely to fail because it falls between two stalls – neither driven by the market nor based on sufficient industry engagement to ensure employers really value the qualifications on offer.
The OfS have published a guide for students, representatives and students’ unions – Office for Students notifications. It explains how the OfS regulates universities, and specifically that the notifications process allows students, staff members and others to let us know about issues within a university. It emphases that the OfS doesn’t have a direct role in in dealing with individual complaints or with disputes between students and their university but they do want to hear about current issues on the aspects they do regulate on. Such as issues that might be affecting particular courses or groups of students (examples are given on pages 4-5) and recognising that students’ unions and representatives often have a great understanding of students’ experiences through their engagement and support
Wonkhe have a blog on the new guide Should students tell tales on their university or college? It states: What the guide doesn’t do is address in any meaningful way why a student, student representative or students’ union would bother. It doesn’t address what doing so might achieve, or what the ideal would be internally before getting this far. And nor does it reveal what OfS’ emphasis on it hides in the process – that the regulator doesn’t have much of a clue about what’s going on in universities.
The blog also explores the cost cutting reduction in OfS monitoring of universities and highlights how students sharing information on their university might be an opportunity for the OfS:
- … during a pandemic in particular that leaves you in a bit of a monitoring hole – so to the rescue comes a beefing up of reportable events via students, student reps and students’ unions.
- We’re not sampling. But we are “inviting” students and their reps to tell us stuff.
- In practice, it is difficult to explain quite how flawed this monitoring sticking plaster really is. But I’m going to try.
The blog then carefully explains why it’s flawed and that it is unlikely students will use the OfS process en masse. Although perhaps they’ll complain to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator instead. This week they published their Operating Plans and we learnt that they received 2,604 complaints in 2020 (a 10% increase compared to 2019). Research Professional highlight:
- Since student queries take some time before making their way to the OIA (complainants must first exhaust the internal arbitration options at their institutions), the numbers in today’s report will not include all those whose pandemic-related complaints about their universities were made last year.
- Nonetheless, records have been broken. The OIA says it received 2,604 complaints in 2020—representing a 10 per cent increase on 2019 and marking the highest-ever number in a single year.
It is hard to imagine that this record will still stand when the numbers for 2021 are published next year. The OIA has reported record-breaking complaint numbers in each of the past three years, resulting in a cumulative increase in its caseload of nearly 60 per cent since 2017.
2019/20 student statistics
HESA released statistics on HE student enrolments and qualifications achieved in 2019/20. We’ve got some extracts for you.
Much of the news in forthcoming weeks will likely focus on the increase in first class honours that were awarded (see below) which it will be argued are linked to the no detriment policies most institutions implemented. Wonkhe have good coverage on this in the first part of this blog. They remind us to:
- …remember this. Students obtain at least their average grade. To get a first, someone would need to have been averaging a first in the year so far. This is emphatically not a matter of handing out firsts like confetti – this is recognising work that has already been done. Nobody who got a first in 2019-20 did so without working at a first class level for at least the normal part of the academic year. Class of 2020, take your praise.
- The percentage of students achieving a first class honours increased from 28% in 2018/19 to 35% in 2019/20. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic this year, many providers issued public statements that a ‘no detriment’ approach would be adopted when it came to assessment. This typically ensured that students would be awarded a final grade no lower than the most recent provider assessment of their attainment.
- The share of students who received a lower second qualification classification fell by 4 – from 19% in 2018/19 to 15% in 2019/20.
- A larger proportion of female students gained a first or upper second class honours than male students.
- In a continuing trend, full-time students had a larger proportion of first or upper second class honours than part-time students.
- The percentage of qualifiers who gained qualifications in science subjects increased according to age group.
- Among qualifiers obtaining a first degree, there was a 50% split between males qualifying in science subjects versus those qualifying in non-science subjects. For females, the proportion qualifying in science subjects was 41%.
Qualifications by level
- There was a decrease in the number of qualifications obtained in all levels for the 2019/20 academic year, despite growth in the overall number of first year students in preceding years. Evidence suggests that some of this decrease is explained by significant numbers of qualifications awarded this year not being reported. This is likely to be linked to the impact on examinations and awards resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The impact is most noticeable on the number of part-time qualifications awarded (see figure 15 here). More details of the impact of COVID-19 on the data can be read in the notes.
- The number of other undergraduate qualifications continued to decline, reflecting the decrease in first year other undergraduate student enrolment numbers.
- The total number of HE students in the UK in 2019/20 was 2,532,385, an increase of 3% from 2018/19. (2,697,380 when including HE students registered at FE providers.)
- Undergraduate first degree courses account for the overall increase in number from 2018/19 to 2019/20
- 15% increase (37,605) in first year masters taught course enrolments from 2018/19 to 2019/20. Full time enrolments increased more than part time.
- During the five year period 2015/16 to 2019/20, masters taught and first degree level course enrolments have seen year on year increases. All other postgraduate and undergraduate level courses have seen year on year decreases in enrolment numbers.
- Full time postgraduates had the highest level of international students (see Figure 8 here)
- Business and management attracted the highest number of students overall with 16% of all students enrolling in this subject
- Among science subjects, subjects allied to medicine was the most popular for students, accounting for a quarter of all science subject enrolments
- The overall number of students with a known disability is increasing year on year both in enrolment numbers and in proportion of all students – from 2018/19 to 2019/20 the increase was 28,370
- There were 122,755 students with a specific learning difficulty such as dyslexia, dyspraxia or AD(H)D in 2019/20 – this number accounts for 33% of all students with a known disability
- A further 105,590 students reported a mental health condition, such as depression, schizophrenia or anxiety disorder.
- The percentage of UK domiciled students that are White has decreased over the last five years, while the percentage that are Asian, Black and from Other ethnic backgrounds has increased
- In terms of diversity within subjects, 82% of students studying veterinary sciences were female. For engineering and technology and computing, only 20% of students were female
Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of the OfS, said [and here is the kick on grade inflation, if you were waiting for it]:
- This latest set of figures covers students graduating during the early stage of the pandemic. This was a period of intense disruption, with universities needing to move studies online very rapidly. As a result of this many universities implemented ‘no detriment’ policies, and these policies lie behind the significant increase in first class honours awarded to students graduating in 2020.
- Before the pandemic, OfS analysis found evidence that unexplained grade inflation at our universities had begun to slow. However, there is more to be done to ensure that students, graduates and employers can maintain their confidence in the value of a degree and temporary changes in response to the pandemic should not bake in further grade inflation. This will require careful work which balances the importance of standards being maintained with recognition of – and response to – the exceptional pressures that students remain under this year.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) published the results of their experimental statistics on Coronavirus & HE students in England for January 2021, covering student’s life satisfaction, mental health and accommodation status.
- Of those students who travelled to stay with family or friends over the winter break, 40% have since returned and 60% have not yet returned to their term-time address.
- Of those students who provided complete travel information, 33% travelled to stay with family or friends over the winter break and 37% stayed in their accommodation; the remaining 30% were already living at their usual non-term address or family home, or in ‘other’ accommodation.
- Almost two-thirds (63%) of students indicated that their well-being and mental health had worsened since the start of the autumn 2020 term.
- A statistically significantly higher number (63%) of students reported a worsening in their well-being and mental health, compared with 57% reporting the same in the previous student survey (20 to 25 November 2020).
- Average life satisfaction scores of students decreased by 9% from 5.3 to 4.8 out of 10, between 20 to 25 November 2020 and 8 to 18 January 2021.
- A greater proportion of students reported being dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with their academic experience since the start of the autumn term (37%), compared with 29% reporting the same at the end of November 2020 (20 to 25 November 2020).
The ONS provide some context:
- The most recent data collected from the Student COVID-19 Insights Survey (SCIS) show a further decrease in students’ average life satisfaction scores, with almost two-thirds of students reporting a worsening of their mental health and well-being.
- These numbers are not surprising considering the new lockdown measures in place and the fact that many students have not yet returned to their university town or city. This is also reflected in the academic experience scores, with the number of students reporting dissatisfaction showing an increase since the last report.
Specifically on dissatisfaction:
- A greater proportion of students reported being dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with their academic experience since the start of the autumn term (37%), than the 29% reporting the same at the end of November 2020 (20 to 25 November 2020). Of those who were dissatisfied with their academic experience, the most common reasons were learning delivery (75%) and quality of learning (71%).
- Over half (56%) of students reported being dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with their social experience since the start of the autumn term. The most common given reasons that students were dissatisfied with their social experience were limited opportunities to meet other students (86%) and limited opportunities for social or recreational activity (85%).
- Healthcare students on placement are confirmed as eligible for priority access to the vaccine.
- Still no answer on decisions re: nurses out of pocket due to course extensions. Which is odd because the Universities Minister has already said they will not have to pay additional tuition fees: Health Education England is working locally with each higher education provider so that placements are available and is supporting healthcare students to ensure that as many as possible graduate on time.
Institutions should not charge nursing students additional tuition fees in circumstances where they need more study time to complete their course as result of undertaking a paid placement in the NHS, or as result of needing to undertake clinical placements over an extended period.
- Discussing ELQ exemption for paramedic science
- Retaining physiotherapists within NHS
- Whether the Office for Students has fulfilled its four primary regulatory objectives in response to the covid-19 pandemic.
- The likelihood of enforcement action under the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 against universities in respect of potential non-compliance with the general ongoing conditions of registration due to the covid-19 pandemic.
- Improving the external oversight of universities in the handling of cases of sexual misconduct.
- Parliamentary Question: The Government ‘guidance’ to universities on accepting students unable to obtain functional skills qualifications during the covid-19 lockdown announced in January 2021.
- [The phrasing belies the intent in this one!] How many students have graduated with a degree in video games in each year since 2010.
- No detriment policies for 2021
- The first students funded through Turing are intended to take up their international placements from September 2021.
Inquiries and Consultations
Click here to view the updated inquiries and consultation tracker. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to contribute to any of the current consultations.
Budget 2021: You can read the Russell Group’s submission to the 2021 budget here.
Contract cheating: Previous Universities Minister Chris Skidmore intends to try his luck by presenting a Ten Minute Rule Bill aiming to make essay mills illegal, including advertising them, in the UK. Skidmore is concerned that the pressures of pandemic learning and being physically distanced from a student’s academic community and usual resources may create vulnerabilities that contract cheating services thrive upon. He has called on the sector to contribute evidence and examples for his Bill presentation. He writes: This bill won’t be the immediate end to essay mills, but it can be the start of a legislative process that can and does influence government to take action. By making the collective case against essay mills, at the very least I hope this is one legislative effort the sector can welcome. For an explanation of the Ten minute Rule Bill see last week’s policy update (page 18) or Chris provides a succinct explanation: the canary in the legislative coalmine. Research Professional cover the story.
Appeals and academic judgement– there’s a HEPI blog on this, linked to the consultations on the new proposals for A levels and vocational qualifications, which close on 29th January.
Careers Resourcing: The Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services publishes a report on resourcing higher education careers services. Wonkhe say: More than 90% of careers services experienced a drop in income, related to the inability to host careers fairs. The majority of services have reported a rise in demand from students, with none experiencing a decrease.
Wellbeing: The Education Policy Institute and the Prince’s Trust has published a report on the drop in girls well being during adolescence. While the wellbeing of all young people (Gen Z) declines by the end of their teenage years, there is a strong gender divide within this: girls see far lower levels of wellbeing and self-esteem than boys – driven by a sharp fall of both during mid-adolescence. Depressive symptoms rise among both boys and girls between the ages of 14 and 17 but they increase more markedly for girls. For a summary of the paper including which factors have an impact on the mental health and wellbeing of Generation Z contact us.
Also out this week is the Children’s Commissioner for England’s fourth annual report on the state of children’s mental health services in England. Dods tell us it finds that, while there has been an expansion of children’s mental health services over the past four years, such was the poor starting point that services are still nowhere near meeting the needs of many hundreds of thousands of children. With 1 in 6 children estimated to have a probable mental health condition, the Children’s Commissioner calls for a major recovery programme for including an NHS-funded counsellor is every school in England and online wellbeing support.
Young employment: The Office for National Statistics released the latest Labour Market Overview on young employment.
- The number of 16-24 year olds employed stands at 3,561,077 . This has fallen by 24,487 on the last quarter and by 203,386 on last year.
- The number of 16-24 year olds unemployed stands at 596,400, up 15,403 on the previous quarter, up 114,662 on the previous year.
- The number of 16-24 year olds economically inactive stands at 2,699,569, a decrease of 43,662 on the previous quarter, but up 53,514 on the previous year. This is an economic inactivity rate of 9.4%, down 0.6 ppts on previous quarter but up 1.0 ppt on previous year.
- The number of 16-24 year olds claiming unemployment related benefits is 515,905. This is an increase of 2,730 or 0.5% in the last quarter and 281,413 or 120% on the previous year.
Student Accommodation: The House of Commons Library has published Coronavirus: Student accommodation issues to brief MPs on the key points prior to participation in parliamentary business. The blurb: Compliance with coronavirus restrictions has meant many students haven’t been able to live in their term-time accommodation for significant periods and many have had a poorer experience at university than expected due to Covid outbreaks and restrictions. This has led to students demanding rent refunds or discounts. How have universities, other accommodation providers and the Government responded to this?
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VC’s Policy Advisor Policy & Public Affairs Officer
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