Tagged / widening participation

HE policy update for the w/e 26th April 2019

Brexit

No news, just speculation this week.  We’re currently predicting nothing will change and the UK will leave the EU without a deal on Halloween, even though that is the only option that MPs seem to be able to agree that a majority of them don’t want.

There was a PQ, though, on Horizon 2020

Q – Gordon Marsden: To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, what discussions he has had with (a) Universities UK, (b) UK Research and Innovation, (c) Office for Students on whether the UK will participate in the Horizon Europe scheme from 2021 following the extension to Article 50.

A – Chris Skidmore:

  • I chair a High Level stakeholder group on EU Exit. This group meets monthly to discuss EU Exit issues related to universities, research and innovation and is attended by a wide range of stakeholders including Universities UK, UK Research and Innovation and Office for Students.
  • Horizon Europe is still being negotiated through the EU Institutions, but we have been clear that we would like the option to associate to the Programme. Further details on Horizon Europe need to be finalised before we can make an informed decision on future UK participation.
  • In any scenario, the Government remains committed to continuing to back UK researchers and innovators by supporting measures to enable world-class collaborative research.

Election news

The local elections are of course real elections of people who are likely to be in place for 4 years and which relate to real issues, unlike the EU ones.  The two new unitary authorities in Dorset are holding their first elections since coming into existence in April.  They will both hold whole council elections this year and every four years afterwards.  Some unitary authorities (including Southampton and Portsmouth) elect a third of their members on a rolling cycle, missing the fourth year (in which county council elections are held instead – they still have one in Hampshire).

You can read about candidates

And don’t forget to make time to vote next Thursday!

The lists for the EU elections are final now too.  This website is adding statements and other profiles gradually (also profiles for the local elections next week).  Remember, you vote for parties not individuals in the EU elections and it uses a “list” system – and EU nationals can vote as well (as long as they are registered).  The BBC has a useful explainer.  It’s a bit complicated!  If you are intrigued by this D’Hondt voting system, Research Professional have  illustrated it with a sector example using mission groups.

 Graduate Employment

The DfE have published the Graduate labour market statistics covering graduate, post-graduate and non-graduate employment rates and earnings for England in 2018.

  • In 2018 the graduate employment rate (87.7%) was marginally higher than the postgraduate rate (87.4%), and substantially higher than the employment rate of non-graduates (71.6%). However, since 2011 the employment gap between graduates and non-graduates has narrowed by 3.1%
  • At 76.5%, the proportion of postgraduates employed in high-skilled roles in 2018 exceeded that of graduates (65.4%) and non-graduates (22.9%).
  • In 2018, the median graduate salary (£34,000) was £10,000 more than the median non-graduate salary (£24,000). Postgraduates earned an additional £6,000, with a median salary of £40,000.
  • Similar positive trends in median salaries since 2008 for all qualification types, across both population cohorts, suggests that the nominal earnings growth of graduates and postgraduates over this period has not come at the expense of non-graduate salary growth. These nominal rises do not, however, account for inflation and therefore do not reflect changes in individuals’ purchasing power over this period.

The Government have welcomed these figures as evidence of the value of a degree, but has warned that there is further to go in tackling the disparities between different groups.

Universities Minister, Chris Skidmore, said:

  • We have record rates of 18-year-olds in England going into higher education so I am delighted to see that there continues to be a graduate premium and students are going on to reap the rewards of their degrees.
  • However, this Government is clear that all graduates, no matter their gender, race or background, should be benefitting from our world-class universities and there is clearly much further to go to improve the race and gender pay gap.
  • We have introduced a range of reforms in higher education which have a relentless focus on levelling the playing field, so that everyone with the talent and potential, can not only go to university but flourishes there and has the best possible chance of a successful career.”

Widening Participation & Achievement

POLAR, which is used as a measure of deprivation, has long had its critics yet it has outlasted other measures (such as NS-SEC). It’s survival has been in part due to the absence of other usable and reliable indicators that are available to the sector. However, the statistic’s days may be numbered as speaking at events Universities Minister, Chris Skidmore, has agreed with disgruntled audience calls for change and recently he took to Twitter to state he is ‘keen’ to ‘replace POLAR as a metric for measuring widening participation’. When asked what to replace it with the Minister didn’t make a response but Colin McCaig a well-known WP researcher highlighted how POLAR hides disadvantage even within in the most affluent categories in this Tweet.  Read more on the Twitter feed for interesting comments including individualised data and caveats around using free school meals and the Multiple Equality Measure gets a mention.

Wonkhe have an article and tableau chart exploring the access and participation data set.

Intergenerational Unfairness

The Lords Select Committee on Intergenerational Fairness and Provision have published the Tackling intergenerational unfairness report. It calls on the Government to take steps to support younger people in the housing and employment market, and deliver better in-work training and lifelong learning to prepare the country for the coming 100-year lifespan. The report concludes that the actions and inaction of successive Government have risked undermining the foundations of positive relationships between generations.  You can read the report in full here. Here are the most relevant points:

  • Both the Government’s fiscal rules and the way it conducts spending reviews encourage an often damaging short-term approach. They need to be reformed with a new fiscal rule focused on the Government’s generational balance of debt and assets and a more transparent spending review process.
  • Younger people are disadvantaged by an education and training system that is ill equipped for the needs of the rapidly changing labour market and all generations will need support in adapting to technological change in the course of what will be longer working lives. Post-16 vocational education is underfunded and poorly managed. The Government’s apprenticeships strategy is confused and has not achieved the desired effect.
  • The Government should respond to insecure employment amongst young people by ensuring that employment rights cover all those in genuine employment by ensuring that worker status is the default position
  • The Government should substantially increase funding for Further Education and vocational qualifications. Many students would be better served by pursuing vocational educational pathways. The current system of funding and access is inefficient, complex and risks perpetuating unfairness between those who access Higher Education and those who do not. We must rebalance the value attributed to Higher Education and Further Education.
  • The Government’s National Retraining Scheme should be extended and scaled up to prepare for the challenges of an ageing workforce and technological development. This should be targeted throughout the life course and must adequately reach those who are not employees.

In response to the report Julian Gravatt, Deputy Chief Executive at the Association of Colleges, said: “Society is changing and young people of today will be working later into their lives than previous generations. At the same, economic uncertainty means that we need to have as many skilled people as possible – colleges will be central to this. The cuts to the education system have had big implications over the last decade. Many young people are leaving education without the qualifications needed to get on in life. Some of the ones who are gaining degree qualifications are often finding themselves in low-skilled jobs.”

Digital Skills

Apprenticeships and Skills Minister Anne Milton has unveiled new plans to boost digital skills for adults. Her plans centre on new qualifications aimed at those with low or no digital skills learn to “thrive in an increasingly digital world”. They will be available for free to anyone over the age of 19, and are based on rigorous national standards. At the moment, one in five adults lack comprehensive digital knowledge.

The new offer will comprise:

  • A range of new essential digital skills qualifications, available from 2020, that will meet new conditions and requirements set by independent exams regulator Ofqual, also published today (note: this does not appear to be online yet, but I can send it over if you need it).
  • Digital Functional Skills qualifications, available from 2021, that will support progression into employment or further education and develop skills for everyday life.

Anne Milton said:

  • “I want people of all ages to have the skills and confidence they need for work and everyday life.  Being online is more important than ever and yet one in five adults in the UK don’t have the basic digital skills that many of us take for granted. This is cutting many people off from so many opportunities – from accessing new jobs, further study and being able to stay in touch with friends and family.
  • I am thrilled to launch the new ‘essential digital skills’ qualifications which will give adults the chance to develop a whole host of new skills to help get ahead in work, but also to improve their quality of life overall.”

Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries, Margot James, said:

  • “The new entitlement will give everyone the opportunity to participate in an increasingly digital world and take advantage of digital technology, whether it is using a smartphone, learning how to send emails or shopping online.
  • Implementation of the new entitlement will be complemented by the work of our Digital Skills Partnership to boost digital skills at all levels – from the essential digital skills that support inclusion, to the digital skills we increasingly need for work, right through to the advanced digital skills required for specialist roles.”

At the same time, the Government published their response to their consultation on improving adult basic digital skills.

  • 61% of adults with no basic digital skills are female.
  • 76% of those with no basic digital skills are retired.
  • Estimates on internet use in the UK estimate that adults who self-assess they have a disability are four times more likely to be off line than those who do not.

Actions:

  • The DfE has also published standards setting out the digital skills needed for life and work. In addition the DfE has updated the essential digital skills framework. This has been designed to support providers, organisations and employers across the UK who offer training for adults to secure their essential digital skills.
  • The DfE will consult on draft subject content for new digital FSQs, which will replace legacy ICT FSQs. They plan to work with employers, Ofqual and awarding organisations to develop the new digital FSQs for first teaching from 2021.

Immigration and post-study visas

An amendment to the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill has been tabled by former universities minister Jo Johnson and Paul Blomfield, the Labour co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on international students, with cross-party support  – it is backed by nine select committee chairs including Robert Halfon, chair of the education committee; and Nicky Morgan, chair of the Treasury committee.

The proposed amendment would also prevent a cap on the number of international students,without parliamentary approval.  You can see the amendment here on a fairly lengthy list of amendments – it’s on page 17 of 22 so far (NC18)

Flexible Learning & Augar

Oral questions in the House of Lords led to an exchange on flexible learning and questioning of when the Augar review would report.

Baroness Garden of Frognal: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they have taken to encourage flexible lifelong learning in higher and further education.

Viscount Younger of Leckie (Conservative and acting as Government’s spokesperson): My Lords, in 2017 we committed £40 million to test approaches to tackling barriers to lifelong learning to inform the national retraining scheme. This includes £11.4 million for the flexible learning fund, supporting 30 projects to design and test flexible ways of delivering training. We also provide financial support for higher education providers and part-time learners. The independent review of post-18 education and funding is considering further how government can encourage and support part-time and distance learning.

Baroness Garden of Frognal (LD): … [we have] seen dramatic declines in adult learners since the Government’s policies that changed funding. Will the Minister agree that, for all the fine things he has mentioned, the Government’s response to the post-18 review of education and funding is the very best opportunity to tackle post-18 student finance, broaden learning options, encourage lifelong learning and make progression routes more obvious?

Viscount Younger of Leckie: Yes, the noble Baroness is correct. I am certain that Philip Augar, in his review, will take these matters into account. I also note that the Liberal Democrats have sent some recommendations to Philip Augar; I have no doubt that he will take account of them as well.

Baroness Greengross (CB): It is now seven years since the 2012 reforms, which everyone seems to agree are partly responsible for this staggering decline in part-time and mature study. The OU briefing says that there is a 60% fall in part-time undergraduate numbers and a 40% fall in the number of mature undergraduates. Lifelong learning says what it is on the tin—but if we wait another seven years for something to be done to encourage it, a whole generation of potential beneficiaries will not be here to benefit. So does the Minister not agree that this is a matter of extreme urgency?

Viscount Younger of Leckie: The noble Baroness is correct. I reassure the House that the post-18 review, which aims to ensure that there is a joined-up system, is due to report shortly. It will consider the issues around part-time and distance learning.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean (Con): My Lords, now that the Treasury has been required to change the fiscal illusion funding that encourages all higher and further education to be funded through student loans, should the Government not look at restoring direct grants to institutions so that they are able to run these courses? The Augar review was promised for November last year, and then January—and we are still waiting. What is the delay? The Economic Affairs Committee of this House set out very clearly what needed to be done to sort out this problem. Why can the Government not get on with it?

Viscount Younger of Leckie:  I reassure my noble friend that there is no delay, as far as I am aware—”shortly” is the word that I am using. The Government will respond to the proposals that Philip Augar produces by the end of the year. But the Government plan to invest nearly £7 million this academic year for 16 to 19 year-olds in education or training, including apprenticeships.

Lord Watson of Invergowrie (Lab): My Lords, the Government’s 2012 higher education funding reforms have resulted in a drop of something like 60% in part-time undergraduate study. The noble Viscount and indeed other Ministers use as a defence the Augar review recently referred to, saying that no government action can be taken in advance of that—but that does not stand up to scrutiny. Last September, the Department for Education announced the introduction of maintenance loans for face-to-face part-time undergraduates, which was meant to be extended to part-time distance learners this September. But last month, the Universities Minister used a Written Answer to slip out the news that distance learners were no longer to have that access support available to them. Will the noble Viscount explain why, when he talked earlier about barriers to learning, his department believes that that decision will assist in reversing the downward trend of those indulging in part-time education?

Viscount Younger of Leckie: The issue of whether distance learners should receive maintenance grants was considered very carefully and rejected. But the Government are absolutely dedicated to stopping the decline in the number of part-time students. In other words, it has reduced. We have made a number of changes to support part-time and mature learners. This academic year, part-time students are, for the first time ever, able to access full-time equivalent maintenance loans

Parliamentary Questions

Academic Offences

Q – David Simpson: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, how many students had their university degree award rescinded due to cheating or plagiarism in each of the last three years.

A – Chris Skidmore:

  •  The information requested on degrees rescinded because of academic offenses is not held centrally. In 2016, the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) found there were approximately 17,000 instances of academic offences per year in the UK.
  • The use of companies that sell bespoke essays to students who pass the work off as their own undermines the reputation of the education system in this country, and devalues the hard work of those succeeding on their own merit.
  • The government expects that educational institutions do everything in their power to prevent students being tempted by these companies. The most recent guidance from the QAA highlights the importance of severe sanctions of suspension or expulsion if ‘extremely serious academic misconduct’ has been discovered.
  • On 20 March, my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Education challenged PayPal to stop processing payments for ‘essay mills’ as part of an accelerated drive to preserve and champion the quality of the UK’s world-leading higher education system. PayPal is now working with businesses associated with essay-writing services to ensure its platform is not used to facilitate deceptive and fraudulent practices in education. Google and YouTube have also responded by removing hundreds of advertisements for essay writing services and promotional content from their sites.
  • In addition, the department published an Education Technology strategy on 3 April which challenges tech companies to identify how anti-cheating software can tackle the growth of essay mills and stay one step ahead of the cheats.
  • We are determined to beat the cheats who threaten the integrity of our higher education system.

Apprenticeships

Q – Jim Shannon: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, whether apprenticeships are age restricted; and whether they are designed to entice any particular demographic.

A – Anne Milton:

  • Individuals in England can apply for an apprenticeship whilst they are still at school but must be 16 or over by the end of the summer holidays to start an apprenticeship. There is no upper age limit. Apprenticeships offer people of all ages and backgrounds the opportunity to earn whilst they learn.
  • We are encouraging participation from under-represented groups, including people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, people with a learning disability or learning difficulty, and those from disadvantaged backgrounds, so that everyone can benefit from the increased wage returns and employment prospects that apprenticeships offer. We are also working to improve gender representation in sectors where it is needed, such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

STEM

Q – Chris Green: To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, what steps he has taken to increase the skills for people working in STEM research

A – Chris Skidmore: The Government recognizes the need to enhance the UK’s research talent pipeline and increase the number of opportunities on offer for highly-skilled researchers and innovators and has taken steps to do so. For example, in June 2018 we announced £1.3bn investment in UK talent and skills to grow and attract the best in science and innovation. This includes:

  • £900m invested for the UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship which is open to the best researchers from around the world.
  • £50m invested to existing programmes that are delivered through UKRI which include 300 additional PhDs, 90 additional Knowledge Transfer Partnerships, and up to 300 PhD additional Innovation Placements
  • £350m invested for prestigious National Academy fellowships.

Other news

EU support: The Scottish Government has announced that EU citizens who study a Further or Higher education course in Scotland in the 2020/21 academic year will be charged the same tuition fees and will get the same fee support as Scottish students for the entirety of their courses. This follows the previous commitment to continue funding for 2019/20. They have confirmed that this offer will stand even if current legal obligations to EU students cease to apply when the UK exits the EU.

Criminals on campus: HEPI’s new blog, The hardest (higher) education policy question of all? considers what should happen when students break the law or conduct themselves in a socially unacceptable manner (non-academic offences). It questions where to draw the line in expelling a student from their course. Viewing expulsion as clear cut and a priority when there is the need to safeguard the welfare of the victim or other students. However, balancing continued access to the course becomes a trickier decision for minor offences. Furthermore the statistics highlight that access to education within incarcerated communities reduces future crime and improves life chances. So a University may expel a student for an offence far less serious than an incarcerated student may have been sentenced for but receives access to a degree. The blog points to information and guidance sources and urges the sector to begin thinking the issue through properly now, predicting a rise in the number of tricky future decisions which potentially institutions could be unprepared for.

T levels: There is a House of Commons briefing paper on the T Level qualification reforms (select the ‘Jump to full report’ link from here).

Careers: This briefing paper on careers provision in England covers the full education system from schools to HE (select the ‘Jump to full report’ link from here).

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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 29th March 2019

Well it has been a riveting week for those following Brexit – although it is all getting a bit repetitive as the same arguments are made in debate after debate by the same people, and even the amendments to motions are being recycled.  The same amendments are popping up on every motion now.

The PM lost her motion on the withdrawal agreement on Friday despite a lot of Brexit supporting MPs reluctantly changing sides.  Not enough Labour MPs voted with the government to tip it over the edge.  As the time of writing it is on the order paper that the second round of indicative votes will be held on Monday.  Motions are already being laid including the Common Market 2.0 one that lost by 188 to 284 on Wednesday.  If you like playing with the possibilities, this really helpful chart from the Institute for Government shows what the numbers changes would need to be

So what happens now?  There is time for a lot to change between now and Monday morning when the House sits again but at this point it looks like a long extension and EU elections.  Of course, it isn’t clear what the long extension would be used for – perhaps Monday will give a clear direction.  Of course, Parliament has to approve EU elections and they will not be popular.  If nothing else happens and they don’t agree an extension with the EU, and plan to hold EU elections, then we could still end up with a no deal exit on 12th April.

Stepping slightly away from Brexit, The Independent Group of MPs who broke away from Labour and the Conservatives in February have now announced that they will become a formal political party (so that they run candidates for MEPs in the EU elections if we have them) – they will be called Change UK and Heidi Allen is interim leader.

Employment and earnings outcomes for graduates

UUK have published a parliamentary briefing on Longitudinal Education Outcomes Data (LEO):

  • For universities, LEO can be a valuable source of intelligence on how they are supporting and equipping graduates to succeed in the labour market. Universities will use the information, taking in to consideration appropriate context, to inform thinking on course development and design, support for wider employability and skills development of students, and dialogue with relevant employers and sectors on their needs. Although a relatively new source of information, LEO has the potential to become an increasingly valuable tool for institutions.
  • Despite the benefits of LEO there are limits in how it should be used. The main issue is that relying on earnings alone, or in a significant way, to define success and to guide decisions risks limiting opportunity and choice for graduates and the supply of skilled people across important areas of the labour market. These risks are particularly pertinent to using LEO as a direct funding or policy tool. Using LEO as a blunt mechanism to drive funding to institutions, or limiting access to fee income, would create significant risks. LEO is not only new and untested, meaning such an approach would be an experiment, there are also inherent issues with scope, coverage and methodology that mean it is not fit for these purposes. This briefing identifies 10 of these risk areas.
  1. The current LEO methodology does not account for whether a graduate is in full or part-time work…. Used as a mechanism to drive funding decisions or limiting student numbers based on salary outcomes would lead to institutions being penalised for producing valuable part-time workers and lead to labour market distortions….
  2. LEO does not currently account for the region in which a graduate currently works. ….A funding model for higher education driven or informed by LEO could act as a drag on regional growth, limiting an institution’s ability to support local skills needs….
  3. LEO data is impacted by external economic activity. Over the past decade there has been a financial crisis, the subsequent recession, and a period of poor wage growth. …LEO is not a good predictor of current university entrants’ future earnings. In addition, the data is not currently adjusted for inflation….
  4. …most of the earnings and employment figures released so far have excluded graduates who are self-employed in the relevant tax year. The exclusion of the self-employed has more of an impact on arts graduates, and therefore arts-focused institutions, as a larger than average proportion of their graduates are self-employed. ….
  5. The LEO figures exclude those who moved out of the UK after graduation for either work or study, those who are earning below the Lower Earnings Limit, or those who have voluntarily left the labour force. …
  6. LEO does not account for the social and cultural value added by a university degree. … Evidence shows that having a degree means that graduates are less likely to be unemployed, less reliant on social security and use fewer NHS resources. They are also more likely to be engaged in civic and community life, volunteering their time and skills. …
  7. Graduate salaries are significantly influenced by external factors (for example, parental wealth, school attainment). …a funding model based on, or significantly influenced by LEO data, may restrict opportunity from those that would most benefit from a university education. Furthermore, despite reporting lower earnings than men in raw LEO figures, women have been shown to benefit most from higher education earning 50% more than women who don’t (compared to 25% for men)
  8. LEO does not take multi-subject courses into account. …working against innovation and limiting ability to respond to rapidly changing skills and workforce needs.
  9. Going to university provides benefits beyond future earnings. This is especially true for graduates at institutions which specialise in fields like the arts, charity sector, nursing or the public sector, all of which are of benefit to culture, society and the economy but can have below-average earnings. …
  10. Some graduates may be very satisfied with their educational choices and careers, despite having lower earnings. Using LEO to drive funding decisions would restrict opportunity and choice available for those that do not regard salary to be the sole determinant of a good outcome from their university experience.

And there is a blog by David Kernohan on Wonkhe: LEO is an indicator. It’s not an exact measure, and it isn’t a prediction

The DfE have issued statistics, including on apprenticeships, schools and FE.  This one is most relevant to us: Employment and earnings outcomes for higher education graduates data

  • Graduates’ median earnings rise with the time since they graduated, with average earnings in 2016/17 ten years after graduation being £30,500, compared to £23,300 three years after and £19,900 one year after
  • After adjusting for inflation using the Consumer Prices Index, the increases in median earnings between the 2014/15 and 2016/17 tax years are reduced to £1,000 for the one year after graduation cohorts and £400 for the three years after graduation cohorts. For the five years after graduation cohorts there is no increase, and for the ten years after graduation cohorts there is a £600 decrease in earnings.
  • The gender gap in earnings five years after graduation has increased over time compared with previous tax years. In the 2014/15 tax year male earnings were 12% higher, in 2015/16 they were 14% higher, and in 2016/17 they were 15% higher.
  • Earnings by prior attainment – The largest differences in earnings are at the higher end of the prior attainment spectrum. The differences between the prior attainment bands below 300 points (the equivalent of three B grades at A Level) are much smaller

The Universities Minister has welcomed the findings: We now have record rates of English 18-year-olds going into higher education, so I am delighted to see that graduate earnings have continued to increase for recent graduates, showing that it pays to study in our world-class higher education system. We want students and their parents to have the best possible information about higher education. This data is an invaluable tool to help prospective students make the right choice and know what to expect from the course they choose. It is vital that we ensure that higher education carries on delivering for students, the taxpayer and the economy, and it will continue to do so as long as we focus relentlessly on quality in our system.

Data on access and participation

The OfS have published data that shows:

  • 67 per cent of English universities and other higher education providers had gaps in higher education access for young students from the least advantaged areas. There are substantial gaps in access at all higher-tariff universities.
  • Young students from disadvantaged areas are more likely to drop out, less likely to gain a first or 2:1, or find graduate employment compared to their more advantaged peers. Specifically:
    • 89.2 per cent of disadvantaged students continue their studies into their second year, compared to 94.2 per cent of the most advantaged students.
    • 74.6 per cent of students from disadvantaged backgrounds are awarded a first or 2:1. The figure for the most advantaged students is 84.1 per cent.
    • 68.8 per cent of students from disadvantaged backgrounds go on to secure higher-level employment or post-graduate study, compared to 74.8 per cent of students from the most advantaged backgrounds.

Chris Millward, Director for Fair Access and Participation at the OfS, said:

  • ‘The dataset is a game changer for the way in which we hold universities to account on access and successful participation. …Universities will be held to account for their performance, not just by the OfS but by students and the wider public, who are increasingly expecting stronger progress in this area. The data shows that some universities are making stronger progress than others and we expect to use it to ensure that all now make significant improvements during the coming years.
  • ‘We have set ambitious targets to reduce equality gaps during the next five years. Universities now need to focus their attention on the specific areas where they face the biggest challenges. …. for many universities the real challenge is in ensuring these students can succeed in their studies, and thrive in life after graduation. …
  • ‘…Along with the creation of a new evidence and impact exchange, we have a platform to make higher education truly open to all those with the talent to benefit it.’

For the first time, data has also been made available about the differences in outcomes for students who declare a mental health condition.

The data shows that:

  • 86.8 per cent of full-time students with a declared mental health condition progress into their second year of study, compared to 90.3 per cent of full-time students with no known disability
  • 77.3 per cent of full-time students with a declared mental health condition achieve a first or 2:1 degree classification, compared to 78.7 per cent of full-time students with no known disability
  • 69.2 per cent of full-time students with a declared mental health condition go on to secure higher level employment or enter post-graduate study, compared to 73.3 per cent of full-time students with no known disability.

Yvonne Hawkins, Director of Teaching Excellence and Student Experience at OfS, said: ‘The data shows there are clear differences in outcomes for students who declare a mental health condition, compared to those students who have no known disability. Universities should look at the data closely and consider how they can continue to support students reporting mental ill health. Work to improve the mental health of all students is a priority for the OfS. We have made funding of up to £6 million available to drive a step-change in improving mental health, and are working with Research England to deliver further funding of up to £1.5 million to enhance mental health support for postgraduate research students.’

Options for capping the cost of HE

While we await the publication of Augar, there were two blogs on HEPI this week, one by Iain Mansfield (architect of the TEF), and a response by Greg Walker of MillionPlus.

The first, “Comparing a Numbers Cap with an Attainment Threshold” argues for an attainment threshold:

  • A numbers cap of a better way of limiting expenditure (it provides certainty)
  • An overall numbers cap only works with provider numbers caps and that requires qualitative judgements – an attainment threshold is more straightforward to administer
  • A numbers cap violates the Robbins principle (any one with the ability and attainment who wants to go to university, should be able to). An attainment threshold doesn’t  – if you agree that it is a good way to assess ability and attainment
  • What about the WP argument? Iain Mansfield’s answer is that more foundation courses and other routes into HE would overcome the problems that an attainment threshold raises in in this context.

The response doesn’t argue for a numbers cap, but sets out to demonstrate “Why a grade threshold for HE Study is neither necessary or defensible”:

  • Social mobility – “prior attainment is closely linked to social disadvantage and what type of school you attend. It’s correlated also to where you live, with big gaps in qualification attainment between different parts of the country…the grade threshold policy as ‘leaked’ would unfairly block prospective students who were less well-off from attending university because it proposes barring access to a student loan, not admission to a university programme. “
  • Robbins – Greg Walker prefers the Dearing interpretation of Robbins “courses of higher education should be available to all those who can benefit from them and who wish to do so”.
  • Administration – “A grade threshold would be much more complex …as there would have to be a plethora of exceptions (in relation to, say, care leavers, armed forces children or applicants with certain disabilities) that would have to be policed to ensure horizontal equity. Another set of exceptions that might have to be policed would be in relation to those admitted to a degree by the route of a portfolio of work, performances or artefacts, which are frequently used in place of formal qualifications
  • Controlling government spending – just don’t!

The secret life of students –a perspective from SUBU

Next in our series of occasional pieces from Sophie Bradfield of SUBU, is a perspective on the Wonkhe event referred to below (we summarise the Minister’s speech in the next section).

On Monday I attended Wonkhe’s one day event called ‘The Secret Life of Students: Rethinking the student experience’, with a range of sector leaders presenting their research and views on current trends for the student experience. Alongside the Universities Minister, Chris Skidmore and AMOSSHE’s chair, Jayne Aldridge, we had Bournemouth University’s very own Michelle Morgan, Associate Dean for Student Experience in FMC, presenting on how to research students for impact.

The event took place with hundreds of delegates from across the Higher Education Sector in the same room as the famous Christmas Lectures in the Royal Institution in London, setting the scene for conversations about the value of what the sector has to offer at the moment and how it can improve. The day was packed full with 7 hours of back-to-back presentations and Q&As.  It’s difficult to pick highlights from such an insightful day but I’ve selected 3 headlines below.

Student Loneliness

The conference opened with some brand new research from Trendence UK which they said would be released throughout this week, regarding how loneliness is felt by different students. For example they stated that over 15% of students surveyed said they felt lonely every day, but when the data was broken down further, it showed disabled students were twice as likely to be lonely and this was similar for BAME and international students. On a question asked to students about their top 3 concerns about University on a day-to-day basis, mental health was selected by almost half of students (45.5%). This was only edged by ‘Coping with the course’ (55.1%) and ‘Making the most of my time at University’ (48.6%). These overall top 3 concerns were closely followed by ‘Having enough money to get by’ (45.3%), something which was complemented by NUS research presented by David Malcolm, Head of Policy and Campaigns at NUS, later on in the day.

Universities Minister

Chris Skidmore delivered a speech with ‘3 distinct phases’ of Higher Education: Transitions; Experience; and Progression. He acknowledged the diversity of student needs and that not all students have the same aspirations and asked a question of what Access, Participation and Outcomes looks like for all students? He noted different networks and groups he was working with to look into these 3 phases, including the Education Transitions Network which will meet for the first time next week looking “to support students to deal with the challenges that starting university can include to preserve their mental health.”

In the Q&A after, time was short and Mark Leach, the CEO of Wonkhe, prioritised a question about support for Student Unions’ to which Chris noted he thought they were a good example of “leading the way” for example when engaging in civic debate or getting students involved in volunteering in their local community. He went on to say SU’s are “critical friends” for Universities and their “value should be recognised in being part of the wider local solution”.

Squeeze on Students

David Malcolm, Head of Policy and Campaigns at NUS, presented from a number of different research projects on affordability for students, including the Poverty Commission report ‘Class dismissed: Getting in and getting on in further and higher education’. As we heard from the research presented at the start of the day from Trendence UK, costs are a top concern for students, and this can include travel, accommodation and course-related costs. David shared statistics on the rising costs of rent which is disproportionate to inflation; for 2018/19, the average weekly rent for students is now £153 in private hall providers. He also noted a massive rise in bus fares after local authority subsidies had been withdrawn and emphasised the need for Institutions to embed affordability strategies into their Access and Participation Plans, using information and data from the above-mentioned Poverty Commission work.

The Minister speaks

The Minister has had a busy week (apart from voting against all 8 options on Wednesday evening).  He answered a written question on the reasons for the increase in the number of higher education institutions in deficit, saying the OfS will “shortly be publishing its first report on the financial health of the sector”. He spoke at the Wonkhe event called “Secret Life of Students and then later in the week at the International Higher Education Forum (see below). We’ve quoted a lot because it is all interesting…(and they were long speeches)

The Wonkhe speech:

  • …  students are the lifeblood of our universities and colleges, and their campuses and communities. And they are the researchers, the employees, the residents, and the taxpayers of the future.
  • ….since becoming Universities Minister almost four months ago, I have made it a personal mission of mine to go out and see for myself what providers are doing to meet the needs of different types of students at every stage in their student journey. I prefer to think of these stages as STEPs to mark the three distinct phases in the student lifecycle – Student Transition, Experience and Progression….

So three steps:

  • Student Transition

I want every student to feel supported at the start of their journey into higher education, and I was pleased to help launch the Education Transition Network earlier this month, which will look at ways to help students deal with the challenges that may arise when starting university….

… For me, the most shocking statistics I’ve encountered in my role as Universities Minister to date are that only 6% of care leavers go on to higher education and, of these, over half will drop out before completing their course. I desperately want to improve these statistics and I’m pleased to have launched the Higher Education Principles…which set out what we expect higher education providers to be doing to tend to the needs of care leaver students….

…Students face several significant transition moments throughout their student journey, with the transition from first-year into second and third year being, for some, harder than the initial leap of going to university… ….Private landlords must stop exploiting students and face justice when they are failing tenants – especially when they leave students living in squalid conditions. That is why I’m pleased new milestone regulations came into force last week on 20th March … I also want providers to think carefully about whom they choose to partner with in the purpose-built student accommodation market….

..And ….the transition from undergraduate to postgraduate study, for those students choosing to stay on for Masters degrees or PhDs. …I want to see due care and attention being paid to supporting postgraduates, to ensure these students are not overlooked and are offered the specialist support appropriate to their stage in the student journey.

  • Experience at University

[…this] is all about ensuring students have the best experience possible while in higher education. This involves providers thinking about how they are going to create truly inclusive communities and provide different students with the tailored support they need.  Of course, it is clear from the outset that some students will require more assistance than others – such as students with a registered disability. …disabled students can already access Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSAs) …. this is never going to be enough on its own and universities need to accommodate disabled students’ needs.

…some institutions unfortunately remain out of bounds for students with physical disabilities because they know there is just no way they will be able to live comfortably and get around. I think that’s a tragedy. We need to be doing more to improve accessibility on campus for every student. And it is important to remember that not all disabilities are visible. There are plenty students in our universities and colleges struggling with hidden disabilities like poor mental health and anxiety….I intend to get the ball rolling by meeting Minister Jackie Doyle-Price – my colleague in the Department of Health – to begin to explore ways in which we could improve the provision of student mental health even further, particularly around the continuation of care during term and out of term.  I also remain highly supportive of the development of Mental Health Charter, being led by the charity Student Minds….

.. I know the NUS has been campaigning for some time against hidden course costs, and I welcome its report last week calling for transparency from providers….

…Students’ interests must always come first. This is why the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 introduced Student Protection Plans …. it was extremely eye-opening for me to see that very few students are aware these Protections Plans exist. …This is unacceptable and a missed opportunity by the sector to reassure students that it has their best interests at heart. I want to see providers doing much more to raise the prominence and accessibility of these Plans, so that every student knows their specific student journey is secure….

  • Progression and successful outcomes

The higher education sector – perhaps more than any other sector – is lucky to have a wealth of data continually being published about it….I want to see providers making good use of them to inform internal policies and to find solutions that work for them and their own student bodies…

Higher education providers and policymakers need to be empowering students to make the decision that is right for them. This involves giving students as much information as possible in an easily accessible way. Not all students will want to work in London; not all students will prioritise a high-paying career; and not all students will even know what career they would like to embark on in the first place. This is why we launched the Open Data Competition last year …I’m excited that next week I get to reveal the two winning digital tools from this competition…

The speech at the International Higher Education Forum:

Let me begin today by reaffirming our commitment to remaining international. Brexit may well mean that we are leaving the European Union soon, but it certainly does not mean that we are leaving Europe or, indeed, any of our global partnerships behind. If anything, Brexit means we now need to be thinking and acting more globally than ever before. Our world-leading universities and colleges are international at their core. Our higher education sector relies on – and indeed thrives on – international connectivity, collaboration and partnership, and I want to see all those things continuing to flourish.

So far, so topical…then three principles for a positive vision “for UK HE to thrive on the global stage”.  I’ve added some emphasis

  • Grow our role

This means not only bolstering the quality and standing of UK higher education but to promote it abroad as a global leader and as a centre of international excellence, and strengthening our credentials to become an international partner of choice….That is why the International Education Strategy, sets out our intention to appoint an International Education Champion – specifically to amplify the global reputation of UK higher education and help generate further international opportunities including through tackling and breaking down in-country barriers.

And quality is already our watchword. The key to maintaining a strong brand for UK higher education is the UK Quality Code, which sets the core quality standards that providers must adhere to.…In England, the new regulator for the higher education sector, the Office for Students, has placed the UK Quality Code at the heart of its regulatory framework. And it has also gone further, by adding an additional requirement for providers to deliver successful outcomes for all students, which are either recognised and valued by employers or enable further study.

This focus on delivering successful outcomes is reflected across our entire approach to co-regulation in England: setting clear expectations for quality, whilst respecting institutional autonomy and creating the space necessary for providers to innovate.

But we must never be complacent, and I recognise that some quality issues remain. This is why we must work with the sector to protect and improve the quality of higher education in England, including tackling issues such as essay mills, and artificial grade inflation whilst rightly celebrating genuine grade improvements. These measures will help us to protect the quality of our qualifications and ensure they, and the UK’s Higher Education sector’s reputation for excellence, retain their value over time.

  • “enable UK HE to maximise and benefit from the full range of international opportunities and interconnectedness available to it”

The first way we can do this is by increasing international activity or transnational education (TNE)….There is a broad fora of frameworks and platforms beyond this, particularly in the research and innovation space, which also help our international connectedness to flourish. And, of course, there is always more we can do support and strengthen these frameworks for collaboration and engagement.

Research Infrastructures are just one key way that researchers from any country can work together to tackle complex scientific and research challenges. Within Europe, such collaboration is often facilitated by European Research Infrastructure Consortia, known as ERICs….We are committed to ERICs, and we want to continue to host and be members of ERICs after Brexit. I am therefore pleased to confirm today that the UK will continue to meet the obligations needed to be members of ERICs after we have left the EU, irrespective of how we leave the EU. This decision will enable UK scientists and researchers to continue working on scientific challenges with our European partners just as they do now.

We are also working hard to maintain close collaboration in other European research frameworks – not least on the issue of the European University Institute (EUI). …To demonstrate our long-term commitment to this global engagement, we will publish an International Research and Innovation Strategy that will set out our ambition to remain the partner of choice for international research and innovation. And we will support early and effective implementation of the Strategy through an independent review of our future frameworks for international collaboration, as announced in the Chancellor’s Spring Statement earlier this month.

Whatever happens after Brexit, the UK is a key signatory of the Bologna Declaration, which creates a common frame of reference within the European Higher Education Area to promote and support mobility for students, graduates and teaching staff. And it does this mainly by creating a common approach to qualifications. I’d like to use this occasion today to reassure you the UK still remains committed to close collaboration on European higher education with our EHEA partners.

  • “the UK to provide a world leading offer to international students and staff”

As Universities Minister, I want us to give international students the best possible experience of UK higher education and maximise the benefits they bring to institutions, as well as to our own domestic students….That is why we are taking a number of actions to ensure the UK continues to attract international students and the budding global leaders of tomorrow. The International Education Strategy, published just last week, sets out the scale of our ambition, with an aim to increase the numbers of international higher education students studying in the UK by over 30%, to 600,000 by 2030.

We also need to ensure that when international students come here, they are supported to make the most of their employment prospects in this country and in their home countries too. That is why the commitment made by UUKi to work with Government to improve the employability of our international students in the Strategy is so important. We rightly measure outcomes for our domestic students and we should do the same for international students too. 

Beyond economics, we also have a duty of care. If this principle applies for our domestic students, it must also apply to students from abroad. We must ensure that while they are here, they are fully supported. On Monday, I set out in a keynote speech my new STEP framework, working with the sector on ensuring we deliver together the best student experience possible. I mentioned international students, Support for international students is essential especially in the area of mental health and wellbeing – something which is a clear priority for this government. And it is why this government is working closely with UUK on embedding the ‘Step Change’ programme within the sector, which calls on higher education leaders to adopt mental health as a strategic priority and adopt a whole-institution approach to transform cultures for domestic and international students alike.

[note no mention of staff in this section of the speech…]

  • “the sector to help us develop the “global citizens” we need by providing increased international connectivity and opportunity”

We want all domestic higher education students to benefit from an international experience…..And that is why the DfE supports and provides a number of outward mobility programmes to broaden access to international opportunities – such as the Fulbright and Generation UK China schemes; both of which have been expanded with increased funding over the last year. My particular priority here is in improving outcomes for students from disadvantaged or currently under-represented backgrounds. That is why our funding for the Fulbright Scholarship and Generation UK-China specifically focuses on efforts to support disadvantaged students. …I realise part of the solution is making outward mobility more accessible and we, in government, are actively working on doing this by enabling eligible students studying in the United Kingdom to study abroad for up to 50% of their course and still be eligible for support from Student Finance England.

But having the means is no good if students don’t have anywhere to go. So, my challenge to the sector on this is how can you ensure students from disadvantaged backgrounds are getting their fair share of international opportunities?

…We are also considering a wide range of options with regards to the future of international exchange and collaboration in education and training, including a potential domestic alternative to the Erasmus+ Programme. The potential benefits of the UK establishing its own international mobility scheme would include the ability to tailor the scheme to UK needs and target the funding where it is most needed. I will be driving forward this work in the coming months.

Other news

The Royal Society have announced their pairing scheme, applications close on 7th April.

  • Each year 30 research scientists are paired with UK parliamentarians and civil servants. They learn about each other’s work by spending time together in Westminster and the researcher’s institutions.
  • Those taking part gain an insight into how research findings can help inform policy making, and come away with a better understanding of how they can get involved. Find out who has taken part in previous years.
  • The scheme takes place annually, beginning with a ‘Week in Westminster’. Over the week the scientists take part in workshops, hear from invited speakers and spend two days shadowing their pair. This year’s week in Westminster will take place from Sunday 24 – Thursday 28 November 2019.
  • The Royal Society welcomes applications from scientists across all science, technology, engineering, medicine and mathematics (STEMM) disciplines working in academia or industry. To be eligible for the scheme applicants are required to have at least two years postdoctoral research experience or equivalent research experience in industry. We also recognise that a great deal of research is interdisciplinary in nature, therefore we are happy to consider applications from social or behavioural scientists who utilise or have an overlap with STEMM disciplines.

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

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

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

Independent Review of the TEF

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post-18 review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Widening participation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Level 4-5 Qualifications Review Outcomes

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

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

Recommendations:

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

Apprenticeships

The DfE have published Apprenticeship and Levy Statistics for February 2019

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

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

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

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

Key Recommendations:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brexit

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

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

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

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

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

Consultations

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

Other news

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

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

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

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

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

They say:

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

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

HE Policy Update for the w/e 15th February 2019

We expect that Philip Augar will publish the report of his independent panel shortly.  The Panel is advising the Department for Education on the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding and the Augar report has been badged by the DfE as an “interim” report.  Although the Augar report will no doubt grab headlines, after much speculation and many alleged leaks over the last few months, it is only an interim report, and we will need to see what the DfE’s final report says.  The Review itself was originally expected to report in March 2019- but may be delayed for other priorities.  The government is expected to consult before implementing any changes, and had previously announced that any significant changes would take at least two years to implement.

Sadly both your resident policy wonks will be out of circulation next week but you can expect a bumper edition including the reaction from across the sector when we return.

You’ll find a link to the report here when it is published.

Brexit

So another string of meaningless votes this week – the next voting the fun will apparently take place in the last week of February.  Having had their half term holiday cancelled next week the focus in Parliament will be on the secondary legislation required for Brexit rather than on the deal itself.  The BBC has this useful explainer on the timing of all of this

The Lords European Union Committee has published their inquiry report on Brexit: the Erasmus and Horizon Programmes.  You will recall that the government have confirmed that in a no deal scenario there is no back up plan for Erasmus, and that while students and staff already receiving funding will be protected, there is likely to be a gap before any new arrangements can be finalised.

The conclusions are set out below:

  • The UK is a respected and important partner in both the Erasmus and Horizon programmes. It is a popular destination for mobility placements and a world leader in research with an exceptionally strong science base. The UK receives substantial amounts of funding from EU programmes, and other less tangible benefits built on decades of international cooperation with European partners. We strongly believe—and it was the unanimous view of our witnesses—that it is in the UK and the EU’s mutual interest to preserve current close levels of cooperation on research and innovation and educational mobility. We are encouraged by positive indications in the Political Declaration on the future UK-EU relationship that this will be possible.

Educational exchanges

  • The Erasmus programme has played a significant role in facilitating the international mobility of people studying and working in the fields of education, training, youth, and sport in the UK. The programme offers unparalleled financial support and flexibility to enable people from lower income backgrounds, and those with medical needs or disabilities, to take part in educational exchanges. The Government should seek to ensure the UK remains part of this important initiative by seeking full association to the 2021–2027 Erasmus programme.
  • The cost of participating in the 2021–2027 Erasmus programme is likely to be higher than for Erasmus+, as it will have double the overall budget. Nevertheless, we consider this a worthwhile investment to maintain access to Erasmus and the partnerships the UK has built within Europe through the programme over the past 30 years. It is clear, as the Minister himself noted, that the value of Erasmus cannot be measured simply in terms of financial contributions and receipts.
  • As an associated third country the UK would be able to attend Erasmus programme committees but would lose its voting rights, reducing the UK’s strategic influence over the programme. We are reassured, however, that these meetings operate mainly on a collaborative basis and non-EU programme countries are regarded as “valued partners”.
  • As a non-associated third country, the UK would not even have a seat at the table in Erasmus programme committees, and UK participants would have access to less funding and fewer exchange opportunities. We do not consider this to be an attractive option.
  • If association to Erasmus cannot be negotiated, it will be essential to establish an alternative UK mobility scheme. ….Even with comparative financial investment, however, it will be impossible to replicate aspects of Erasmus which are key to facilitating international exchanges, namely, the programme’s strong brand, trusted reputation, common rulebook and framework for partnership agreements, and its established network of potential partners.
  • Launching a new UK mobility scheme—or increasing investment in existing schemes—to extend mobility opportunities beyond Europe would be welcome in addition to continued participation in Erasmus….

Research

  • We note the Government’s commitment to increase spending on research and development to 2.4% of GDP by 2027, and look forward to an ambitious new International Research and Innovation Strategy which affirms the centrality of research and innovation to technological progress and the future economic prosperity of the UK.
  • A key part of this strategy should be to prioritise continued access to EU research framework programmes by securing association to Horizon Europe. The Government should ensure UK universities retain full access to EU funding opportunities and can participate in, and lead, collaborative research projects.
  • We note that the UK’s access to Horizon Europe will be commensurate with the financial contribution it is willing to make to the programme. Given the anticipated increase in the budget for Horizon Europe, this is likely to be larger than the UK’s contribution to Horizon 2020. The financial rebalancing mechanism set out in the draft Horizon Europe Regulation would also prevent the UK from being a net beneficiary of EU research funding, as is currently the case. Nonetheless, an increased programme budget means that Horizon Europe will be able to support more grants and collaborative research projects than its predecessor. We urge the Government to agree an appropriate level of financial contributions to ensure the UK can access these opportunities.
  • As an associated third country, the UK would have observer status in Horizon Europe programme committees but no vote and so would not have the same influence over the strategic direction of the programme as an EU Member State. Even so, given the strength of the UK’s science base and the significant role played by scientists in shaping research programmes, witnesses were confident that the UK can still remain an influential player in European research and innovation. We note that it will be important for the UK to “strike the right tone” in this regard, by seeking to ensure appropriate accountability for UK funds spent via Horizon Europe rather than by exercising overt political influence.
  • If the UK participated in Horizon Europe on a ‘non-associated’ third country basis, it would lose access to key funding opportunities—notably European Research Council grants and Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions—and would be left without any credible means of influencing the future development and funding priorities of the programme. While limited participation in Horizon Europe would still provide the UK with unique opportunities for collaboration which could not be replicated at the national level, it is clear that full association is the most desirable outcome for UK research and innovation.
  • Additional UK research programmes will be needed to replace EU funding opportunities, if the Government is not willing or able to secure association to Horizon Europe. These programmes should maintain the breadth of funding across different subject areas and institutions provided by EU research programmes, and support advanced scientific research and international collaboration. The Government should work with the research community to determine what key features of EU funding should be retained in UK replacement programmes, such as the excellence-based funding criteria of the European Research Council.
  • We commend UKRI’s willingness to work to develop prestigious domestic alternatives to EU schemes, if the UK loses access to them after Brexit. However, we note that it would take many years to emulate the tried and tested mechanism for international research collaboration provided by the EU framework programmes, the established research partnerships they support, and the EU’s joint infrastructure capabilities.

Cross-cutting issues

  • The ongoing lack of clarity over the future availability of EU funds for mobility and research is causing considerable concern among students and researchers in the UK. Although association cannot be secured until negotiations on the draft 2021–2027 Horizon and Erasmus Regulations are complete, the Government should confirm its intentions regarding future UK participation in these programmes as soon as possible to maximise certainty and stability for potential participants, and enable them to plan for any changes.
  • Whether the UK continues to participate in EU programmes or not, it will be important to ensure the UK’s immigration policy facilitates the frictionless exchange of students and researchers across borders. We welcome the Government’s confirmation in its recent Immigration White Paper that the UK will continue to welcome talented international scientists and researchers. The Government should work closely with the research community to ensure the UK visa system accommodates this ambition. Given the significant positive benefits international students bring to the UK, we also support the Government’s decision not to impose a cap on international student numbers.

Migration

From Dods: Universities UK have called on the Government to lower the proposed salary requirement for EEA workers to obtain a high-skilled visa to £21,000. Giving evidence at the Public Bill Committee on the Immigration Bill, this lays out for the first time the university sector’s specific feedback on the Migration Advisory Committee’s proposals.

Vivienne Stern, Director of UUKi, said: “While we recognise that migration checks and controls are necessary, they must not be at the cost of losing talent and leaving ourselves with a skills shortage at a time when focusing on productivity and growth is more important than ever. The Home Secretary himself has given our sector as an example of one where the higher threshold could be harmful. If the government works towards a threshold of £21,000, we feel this would allow recruitment for most technician and language assistant roles in the HE sector.”

Also from Dods: Migration Watch UK have published a paper arguing that, total net migration to the UK would increase by just over half to about 380,000/year if the proposals in the white paper become the basis of the future immigration system.

  • The inflow of EU workers will continue at two-thirds of the average of the last five years.  In total, therefore, we estimate that EU inflows will be approximately 160,000/year once the new immigration system comes into effect following the end of the transition period.
  • We expect to see a total inflow of about 550,000/year from outside the EU following the end of the transition period. This is an increase of over 20% on the latest five-year period.
  • In effect, EU migrants would be replaced – and more – by migrants from the rest of the world. The Government claim that their policy will restore sovereign control of our borders. In reality it will lead to higher levels of immigration

Civic Universities

From Dods: The UPP Foundation has published a report on strengthening the connection between universities and their places. This argues that the industrial strategy and devolution agenda have presented an opening for universities to pursue a more place based approach.

Recommendations:

  • The Civic University Agreement – Civic Universities should enshrine their analysis and strategy in a Civic University Agreement that is co-created and signed by other key civic partners. .We think that the starting point for Civic University Agreements has to be:
    • Understanding local populations, and asking them what they want.
    • Understanding themselves,
    • Working with other local anchor institutions, businesses and community organisations
    • A clear set of priorities.
  • Measuring and incentivising the success of the civic university. There should be a three-part approach to measuring – and therefore incentivising – the success of the civic university
    • Local measurement
    • Removing perverse measurement. It is clear that some of the current measures of teaching and research – which are often designed by government, rather than universities – mitigate against civic activity. Removing those is vital and in particular:
      • Reducing the reliance of measures such as LEO (Longitudinal Educational Outcomes) in high stakes metrics such as TEF, that penalises universities for releasing graduates into regional labour markets with lower employment outcomes, or into self-employment which often involves a period of low / no wages.
      • Any suggestion – linguistic or otherwise – in things like the REF that ‘local research’ is by definition inferior to international research
    • National measurement. …In particular the KEF (Knowledge Exchange Framework) must be a broad measure of civic impact not purely research innovation
  • Funding the civic
    • A new fund – the Civic University Fund. A new fund should be created that allows universities to bid for resources that will allow them to implement their strategies. We think that the fund should be worth around £500m over a 5 year period, with universities bidding on a competitive basis for multi-year projects
    • Doubling the Strength in Places Fund, As announced in the Industrial Strategy White Paper and run by UKRI. The Fund offers £10m-£50m investments for a small number of place-based consortia to work together on innovative projects that build on existing research and innovation capabilities, with the goal of tackling regional disparities by improving the local economy in specific areas. The Government announced in the Autumn 2018 Budget that there would be another £120m for a second round of SIPF. We recommend that this second wave of funding is doubled.
    • Widening Participation/attainment fund.
  • Spreading good civic practice
    • We recommend that a Network for the Civic University is established.

Lord Kerslake said: The importance of this civic role is also growing. As the United Kingdom grapples with the challenges of low growth, low productivity, the impact of austerity and widening spatial inequalities, universities can be (alongside local authorities and the heath sector), significant ‘anchor institutions’, able to make an enormous impact on the success of their places.

Financial sustainability

There was a debate in the House of Commons on 12th February on the financial sustainability of the sector.  Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner asked the Minister to make an urgent statement on the financial statement of universities in the UK.  You can read the whole debate on Hansard here

Responding for the Department of Education, Universities Minister Chris Skidmore expressed concern but said: “This Government recognises the importance of the higher education sector and the massive contribution it makes to this country. We recognise the multiple challenges the sector is facing and that these will require institutions to adapt to a more competitive and uncertain environment […] But ultimately, as autonomous bodies, the financial viability of universities is a matter for the leadership of the HE providers themselves.”

Angela Rayner asked:

  • The Minister said that he is working with the Office for Students towards establishing student protection plans. Can he clarify how many universities do not have plans in place? When will he ensure that they all do? What will it mean in practice? Will students be left with a refund but no qualification after years of study? HEFCE had a list of universities of financial concern. Can the Minister tell us whether the new regulator has such a list and how many providers are currently of concern? Last year, it granted at least one £1 million emergency loan. Can he tell the House how many others have been issued? The new regulator has now said that “The OfS will not bail out providers in financial difficulty.” Is that Government policy and from when does it apply?
  • Can the Minister confirm that his Government have also handed universities a £200 million pensions bill but no new funding to meet those costs? Is he lobbying the Treasury to change that? The Office for National Statistics has demanded that the Government end the “fiscal illusion” of pretending that all loans for fees are repaid. When will the Government follow that ruling? Given the uncertainty that universities now face, can he tell the House whether the Augar review will be published this year? Will he guarantee that any proposals on tuition fees will not lead to cutting universities’ funding?

And the Minister responded: Ultimately, these are autonomous bodies and leaders of HE providers are responsible for ensuring their institutions’ financial viability. They are not part of the public sector; they are autonomous institutions. During the passage of the Higher Education and Research Act 2017, a key point voted on by Labour Members was that universities would remain independent and autonomous. The OfS will therefore work closely with providers in financial difficulty, but neither the OfS nor the Department for Education will prop up failing providers. The OfS may enhance its monitoring or impose a specific condition of registration, requiring a provider to improve its financial performance, but we need providers at risk of any financial difficulties to come forward, so that we and the OfS can work with them on improving those registration conditions, which may require a provider to strengthen its student protection plan.

When asked about student number caps, the Minister said: I am proud to be a member of the Government who reduced the student number cap between 2012 and 2015, and eventually abolished it in 2016, allowing a record number of students to access higher education. We know that, going into the 2020s, we will need a knowledge-based economy, so it is right that we allow more people the opportunity to succeed in their ambition to achieve a degree. Abolishing student finance by looking at fee levels would simply give away a fee freeze to the children of millionaires while capping the number of students who could attend university.

When asked about international student recruitment, the Minister said: When it comes to international students, the Government are absolutely determined to press forward and look internationally at what we can do. Our universities are world-class and world-leading organisations. We have had roughly 460,000 applications from the EU and internationally this year—the highest level of applications ever seen. We will be publishing an international education strategy in the spring. We are clear that we have removed the cap on international student numbers, and we want to do more to ensure that we can increase our ability to compete not just nationally but internationally with other countries that also recognise the value of higher education at the international level.

Widening participation

NEON have published a report about white working class participation. Dr. Graeme Atherton, Director of NEON and co-author of the report states:

  • ‘This report shows that while there is some innovative work being undertaken in the HE sector to address the low levels of participation of this group of students, big variability exists in their chances of participating in HE across providers. We need to know more about why this variability exists and do more to eliminate it’.
  • The report argues that action on a number of fronts is needed. This includes more explicit targets for improvement across HE providers, looking again at the data used to define who is in this group of learners and securing longer term funding commitments to activities to support participation in HE or these students. It also argues for a national initiative to address the educational performance of white learners from lower socio-economic backgrounds which brings together schools, colleges and the HE sector.

From the report:

  • White young people in receipt of free school meals (FSM) are the least likely, next to those from Gypsy/Roma backgrounds, of any group to enter HE. White students make up the majority of those in areas where HE attendance is the lowest.
  • There is huge variability in the participation of the group across higher education providers in England. Exciting work is being undertaken to address this challenge but the strategic commitment to it also appears variable.
  • Most white students from LPN attend larger ‘post 1992’ universities – over 70% of all white students from LPN backgrounds attend these universities
  • But white students are found in the highest percentages in further education colleges – the number of white students from LPN is approaching 50% of the whole student body in some colleges.
  • Big differences in levels of participation for white students from LPN exist by HE provider – In over 50% of university providers less than 5% of their students are white and from LPN backgrounds. If these providers raised the level of participation of HE in their institutions to 5% there would be nearly 10,000 more white students from LPN backgrounds studying in HE.
  • Big differences in the chances of white students from LPN being accepted exist by HE provider – of all applications to HE by students from this background, only 22% are accepted. The chances of being accepted differ greatly by provider, with over 50% of universities accepting less than 20% of the applications they receive from these students
  • Strategic commitment to supporting participation for this group is low – despite many universities only admitting a very small number of these students (and some admitting none at all), less than 20% of HEIs have targets in their Access and Participation Plans (APP) related to white students from LPN.
  • More are trying to address the needs of the group than 3 years ago, but there are limitations in what access work alone can achieve
  • Most HE providers do not target outreach work explicitly at this group. Over 70% of those who responded to the survey are trying to ensure that existing projects reach students from this background. Less than 40% were doing work specifically with male students and less than 12% with female students.

Recommendations

  • Recommendation 1: Set specific targets for white students from lower SEG entering HE
  • Recommendation 2: Re-define widening participation target groups
  • Recommendation 3: Ensure National of Collaborative Outreach Programme (NCOP) investment continues after 2020-21
  • Recommendation 4: Focus equally on working class male and female students
  • Recommendation 5: A national initiative to address the educational performance of white learners from lower socio-economic backgrounds

Dr Graeme Atherton writes on Research Professional here

And in a related story, The Bridge Group have published a report on geographical isolation and progression to Higher Education. This argues that,

  • In the context of thinking about the influence of geographical remoteness, the concentration of policy on ‘fair access’ and ‘widening access’ has taken precedence over more material matters regarding physical access to educational opportunities and the even distribution of resources across the further and higher education sector”.

Professor Danny Dorling (University of Oxford and author of report Foreword): The recommendations in this report will help to initiate the changes required to begin to mitigate some of the worst effects of the opportunity landscape we have created.

Dr Sarah Dauncey (Head of Policy, Bridge Group and lead author of the report): “This report gathers together an array of perspectives and data to identify the barriers to progression faced by young people experiencing financial hardship who live in remote areas. We give voice to the needs and interests of this group of young people who have been overlooked by policymakers, and establish implementable solutions to transform their educational outcomes.”

Key findings

  • The prevailing model of social mobility is widely regarded as unhelpful for remote communities. It places too much emphasis on supporting young people to achieve highly in school in order to leave their local area for higher education and training and secure a graduate job. This means that communities in remote areas are depleted of highly talented young people who have a vital part to play in energising local cultures and economies. …
  • There is a weak evidence base on the relationship between geographical isolation, socio-economic deprivation, school-level attainment, and progression. We have encountered numerous obstacles in trying to redress this deficiency through quantitative data collection and analyses. …
  • Pupils from lower socio-economic backgrounds in rural areas have lower levels of attainment compared to their peers in urban schools…
  • A pupil’s distance from school can impact on their capacity to engage in after school enrichment activity; and a school’s isolation from other schools, employers, charities, colleges, and higher education institutions may affect their capacity to offer a diverse range of additional high quality provision. The pressures on resourcing are more keenly felt without the support of external providers.
  • Educational and widening participation interventions are predominantly focused on deprived areas rather than on the location of deprived individuals, often disregarding the dispersed nature of rural poverty. This has a negative effect on those from lower socio-economic backgrounds living in remote areas.
  • Students from lower socio-economic backgrounds living at a distance from higher education institutions, who do not have the option to commute, are faced with more complex decision-making around participation.
  • Deprivation indices have been consistently shown to be dominated by the characteristics of urban populations and are less able to describe rural deprivation.
  • The higher education sector lacks hard evidence on the spatial distribution of outreach activity and there is no imperative for institutions to consider place in their approach to targeting.

There is a long list of recommendations but some are here

  • Social mobility policy – Government and policymakers should weaken the link between geographical mobility and social mobility and recognise the attraction of place. For too long, there has been a connection between ‘moving on’ and ‘moving up’ which involves treating people as ‘a-spatial’ and assumes a narrow, economic idea of mobility. The economic domination of London and large urban centres has meant that the greatest career rewards, in economic terms, are received by those who are mobile and willing to move to large, ‘escalator’ cities. This yoking of social mobility with geographical mobility has a negative impact on those who have a strong attachment to place and choose to remain in more remote areas.
  • Strengthening the evidence base – Government departments must work collaboratively to improve access to the evidence base ….
  • Schools – Schools with average or below average levels of Pupil Premium pupils should work cooperatively to pool expertise and resources to narrow the gap in attainment. Clusters of schools need to be established with shared strategic objectives to develop and offer a range of interventions to better support pupils from lower socio-economic backgrounds and ensure on-going professional development. …Schools should monitor participation in ‘enrichment’ activities and make provision to ensure accessibility and inclusivity…. Schools serving sparsely populated areas should have additional, ring-fenced funding to recognise the increased costs associated with supporting progression to further and higher education.
  • Further and higher education –
    • Improve understanding of the geographical distribution of outreach activities, particularly those to raise attainment and promote progression. We need to better understand the way that each higher education institution spends its widening participation budget in terms of place.
    • Increased investment in further education and the creation of a national qualification structure at level 4 and 5. For many young people living in isolated areas who choose to remain at home, the lack of choice, quality, and funding available for sub-degree qualifications has a huge impact on their employment outcomes. Increased funding and status needs to be awarded to further education colleges to recognise the vital role they play in remote parts of the country in providing opportunities for learners of all ages.
  • Third sector – Greater flexibility towards measures of deprivation by grant-awarding bodies and increased recognition of the influence of geographical isolation on educational outcomes. Grant-awarding bodies need to adjust their measures of deprivation to recognise the influence of geographical isolation on attainment and progression to higher education and scrutinise their reliance on Free School Meals (FSM) and POLAR as proxies for economic deprivation. This would encourage more charitable organisations to intervene to narrow the gap in attainment and promote progression in remote areas.
  • Increased recognition should be given to the role that the third sector is already playing in identifying remote areas and working with higher education institutions to deliver impactful outreach programmes. The Office for Students (OfS) could do more to identify organisations with particular expertise in working in remote areas to help higher education institutions to develop new creative partnerships.

Sarah Dauncey also wrote on Wonkhe

Technical Education

From Dods: The DfE and Institute for Apprenticeships have awarded Pearson and NCFE contracts to deliver the first three T-levels from 2020.

  • Awarding Organisation NCFE has been awarded a contract to deliver the Education and Childcare T Level
  • Pearson has been awarded contracts to deliver T Levels in Design, Surveying and Planning as well Digital Production, Design and Development.

Around 50 further education and post-16 providers will teach these T Level programmes from September 2020.

Education Secretary Damian Hinds said: This is a major step forward in our work to upgrade technical education in this country. T Levels are a once in a generation opportunity to create high-quality technical education courses on a par with the best in the world, so that young people gain the skills and experience they need to secure a good job, an apprenticeship or progress into further training.

Lord Sainsbury, Chair of the Independent Panel on Technical Education, said: I am delighted that we have reached this milestone in the roll-out of the T Levels programme. With the first schools and colleges to offer T Levels in 2020 well advanced in their preparations, and now confirmation of these initial awarding organisations, I am confident that we remain on track to deliver the transformation to technical education that this country so desperately needs

To support the further education sector to deliver the new T Level programmes, the government will provide an additional half a billion pounds every year once they are all fully rolled out.

Chair of the Education Select Committee, Robert Halfon MP, delivered a speech focussing on creating, “an education and training system that genuinely nurtures the talent we need for the future and creates a ladder of opportunity long and strong enough for each and every young person to climb”.

The speech was delivered at The Edge Foundation on 11th February 2019 and you can read more here

  • Replace GCSEs at 16 with a holistic Baccalaureate at 18 which reflects a young person’s academic and creative achievements, alongside skills and personal development
  • Recognise the value of Further Education colleges and ensure they are properly funded
  • Give teachers back autonomy in the classroom; more high quality CPD; enable them to develop projects in partnership with local businesses and community organisations, to bring learning to life
  • Measure schools by completion of the baccalaureate at 18 and the destinations of their pupils in the years after leaving; make apprenticeships a gold standard destination
  • Question the effectiveness and value for money provided by the Careers and Enterprise Company (CEC) “who are spraying money around like confetti”
  • Despite skills shortage vacancies doubling since 2011 to 226,000, in 2017, latest figure from ONS show in the first quarter of 2018, there were 320,000 young people aged 16-14 who were NEET and unemployed.

There’s a BBC story about it here

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

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

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

Brexit – UUK fights back on Erasmus

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

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

Alistair Jarvis, Universities UK Chief Executive, said:

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

Key facts and stats

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

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

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

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

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

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

Widening Particpation performance indicators

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

Chris Millward of the OfS commented:

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

David Kernohan has analysed the data for Wonkhe:

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

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

Application data for 2019

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

They issued a summary report:

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

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

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

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

  • Applicant numbers from China increase by one third

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

  • Application rates have increased in every English region

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

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

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

Free Speech Guidance

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

Universities Minister Chris Skidmore said:

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

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

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

Key points

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

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

On Academic Freedom:

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

On visiting speakers

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

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

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

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

Ethnic Disparities

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

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

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

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

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

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

The OfS commissioned report has a series of recommendations

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

REF2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Research

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

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

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

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

Other news

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Universities Minister speaks out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They continue:

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

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

Post-18 review

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

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

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

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

Key Findings:

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

Accelerated Degrees

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

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

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

Unconditional Offers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Admissions  – and access to HE

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

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

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

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

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

The carrot and stick measures include:

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

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

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

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

Preparing and supporting students in the transition to University

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brexit

From Research Professional:

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

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

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

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

 From HEPI:

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

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

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

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

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

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

And separately:

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

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

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

Science Salaries

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

Temporary leave to remain

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

Here is the detail from Dods:

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

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

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

The main features of European Temporary Leave to Remain

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

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

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

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

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

Those who don’t need to apply

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

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

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

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

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

Settled status and no-deal

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

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

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

Further reading

Erasmus & Brexit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Research

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

Timeline:

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

Wonkhe discuss the key changes:

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

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

Consultations & Inquiries

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

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

We have recently submitted responses to:

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

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

Other news

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

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

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

The CBI’s report’s key recommendations include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A – Chris Skidmore:

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

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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 11th January 2019

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

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

Who are they?

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

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

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

The challenges:

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

The recommendations:

Value for money (2) – no secrets revealed yet

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

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

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

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

Value for money for students and the taxpayer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The quality of higher education

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Skills

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Social justice

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

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

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

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

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

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

[this is for the OFS to deal with]

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

Response: The department agrees that while good progress has been made in widening participation by under-represented and disadvantaged groups in HE, there is still more to be done. Control over admissions lies with institutions and this autonomy is protected under HERA.

Nevertheless, contextual admissions can play a role if they recognise the case for taking into account wider contextual factors in a student’s level of prior attainment: these type of admissions justify providers making offers of places to those they anticipate have strong potential to succeed in HE. It is important too that providers are transparent in their use of contextual information in offer and admission decisions, publish the rationale for any use of contextual offers, and make clear to applicants the circumstances in which they would make such offers. A clear policy on the use of contextual admissions should work in conjunction with effective outreach work, which is properly monitored and evaluated.

  • Recommendation: We are deeply concerned by the fall in both part-time and mature learners, and the impact this has had on those from lower socio-economic groups going into higher education. We recognise that although the number of disadvantaged school leavers going into higher education has increased, the total number of English undergraduate entrants from low participation areas decreased by 15% between 2011/12 and 2015/16.

Response: [it’s for the post-18 review]

  • Recommendation: The recent decline in part-time and mature learners should be a major focus of the Government’s post-18 education and funding review. We support calls for the review to redesign the funding system for these learners. The review should develop a tailored approach which moves away from the one size fits all approach which has driven the dramatic decline in numbers since 2012.

Response: [see above on flexible provision]

  • Recommendation: Based on the overwhelming evidence we have heard during the inquiry, we recommend that the Government return to the pre-2016 system and reinstate the means-tested system of loans and maintenance grants.

Response: [it’s for the post-18 review]

Graduate employability

  • Recommendation: We are encouraged by the increase in graduate outcomes information and believe this can both support more informed choices for students and make institutions more accountable for the destinations of their graduates. However, there is still a long way to go before students have access to robust data on graduate employment which will inform their choices.

Response: [it’s all about LEO]

  • Recommendation: Better information on graduate outcomes must lead to a greater focus in higher education on outputs and outcomes. Higher education institutions must be more transparent about the labour market returns of their courses. This is not simply a measure of graduate earnings but of appropriate professional graduate-level and skilled employment destinations. We recommend that the Office for Students instructs all providers to be transparent about levels of graduate employment and secure this through funding agreements.

Response: New sources of information such as the Higher Education Statistics Agency’s (HESA) Graduate Outcomes survey, replacing the Destination of Leavers from HE, have an important role in improving information for students. ..

[plus TEF]

The OfS and its partners are developing options for a new resource to replace Unistats in 2019. This will ensure that data is presented in a way which supports students to understand and use the data in a meaningful and robust way

  • Recommendation: The reforms introduced by successive governments to higher education have caused a growing tension between the perceived value of study to a student, the funding and the wider economic value of higher education. This has been caused in part by the way that the system has changed incrementally and is widely misunderstood. The current system of tuition fees and repayments is more akin to a graduate tax. Promoting better public understanding of this should form part of the HE funding review.

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

  • Recommendation: Students lack sufficient high-quality information to make informed choices about higher education and the career paths which might subsequently be open to them. Decisions to take on a financial burden lasting most of a working lifetime are often made by students without adequate information or advice. The long-term implications of an adverse choice can leave students in a vulnerable position. Student choice is central to the debate over value for money in higher education. Our inquiry found a woeful lack of pre-application and career information, advice and guidance, particularly awareness of degree apprenticeships. The Government’s current post-18 review must look at routes into higher education, and the quality of careers advice which students receive.

Response: DfE’s Careers Strategy, published in December 2017, sets out a long-term plan to make sure that all young people have the information, advice and guidance they need to make informed choices about their education, training and employment options….

[It’s all about the OfS and the post-18 review]

Value for money (3) – the OfS position

The Office for Students issued their own response on 10th January.   They promise:

  • Work on transparency on value for money and calling for the sector to define best practice
  • More transparency on remuneration
  • Removing barriers to accelerated degrees
  • Supporting apprenticeships through the Access and Participation guidance [what will that look like?]
  • Gather and share evidence on work experience
  • Force the sector to improve assessment and evaluation of access and participation efforts and continue with fining and licence conditions
  • Raise concerns with league table compilers
  • Announce action on unconditional offers by Spring 2019
  • Challenge providers on mature students through access and participation guidance
  • Replacing unistats

TEF

The OfS have released the data for all institutions including those not actively participating in the new round of TEF. The data sits alongside a refreshed set of criteria and judgements, with specific definitions of the Gold, Silver, Bronze standards. The provider narrative looks to remain influential in the refreshed model and the significant emphasis on the data metrics continues (it is the initial determinant of award level). Wonkhe have crunched the data to make initial institutional judgements which are an interesting read (here). When contemplating Wonkhe’s article remember the metrics comprise only part of the final award judgement.

Wonkhe’s analysis results in less institutions receiving gold overall, with none of the Russell Group institutions reaching the top slot. The below chart shows the movement by displaying institutions with current Gold, Silver, Bronze, provisional, or no current award (-) as the colour of their Wonkhe calculated new award (based only on their metrics). The interactive tableau chart is here.

But it’s all a bit theoretical as it is expected few institutions will enter year 4, as most don’t need to again until 2021 – and by them it may all have changed after the Parliamentary Review and the subject level TEf pilot….

Brexit update

The House of Lords EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee met to discuss the impact of the Horizon and Erasmus programmes and their future in a post Brexit Britain. Chris Skidmore, the Universities Minister, gave evidence.  You can read the summary here.

Otherwise chaos continues – nothing has changed except that no deal looks a lot more likely…at least for this week.

KEF

Research England have launched their consultation on the Knowledge Exchange Framework. We’ll be working with colleagues across BU to prepare our response.  They are also running a pilot.

We wrote about the build up to this in our policy update on 23rd November 2018 The proposal is for a set of metrics plus a narrative that gives the local context including strategic goals, context and local growth and regeneration, and public and community engagement.

Read more on Wonkhe:

Widening Participation and Achievement

A lack of aspiration is not the problem is a new thought provoking blog in Wonkhe which shuns the traditional view that disadvantaged young people attend university less because they lack aspiration and knowledge about the HE sector. It views poor educational achievement at school, brought about by the young person’s accumulation of multiple disadvantages through their childhood, as the crux of the problem. It highlights a study which recognises that these disadvantaged children are rarely exposed to the economic benefits that educational success brings. It suggests drawing on the psychological concept of ‘possible selves’ (considering what/how they want to be in the future to align thinking and motivation and kick start the attainment process needed to get there) as an alternative to aspiration raising in the future. (WP buffs will also want to check out this research on the topic.)  Possible selves is a nice alternative to the deficit model approach to WP but it in isolation it seems unlikely to work. Broad and robust careers support would likely be needed to open the eyes of disadvantaged young people to the myriad of future employment possibilities they may not have been exposed to through their home and social environment. Yet careers support remains a long standing thorny problem that no Government has been able to resolve – it is costly, patchy, and cannot meet all needs. Ironically for a blog which favours Bourdieu’s thinking it is this concept of lack of social capital and networks which means possible selves cannot be a neat solution all by itself.

Attracting Mature Students – the barriers

  • Coincidentally the ONS (Office for National Statistics) have analysed DfE survey data and report that the least qualified adults and vulnerable members of society have the least access to training to boost their employment opportunities and life chances. Lack of confidence was a factor in not accessing opportunities and there was an interesting finding that those without qualifications tended to focus on education or training as a way of improving their wellbeing, whereas those at the other end of the educational spectrum, with degrees or equivalent, seemed more driven by improving their job prospects.
  • The biggest barriers to adults accessing training were, unsurprisingly, cost, caring/family responsibilities, poor health, and the aforementioned lack of confidence. Interestingly a past negative educational experience was rarely a barrier. Below is the full chart.
  • The take up of education and training was exacerbated by a gender effect: Men responded more to incentives that were job or pay-related while women tended to choose more personal reasons such as meeting new people and building confidence. A higher proportion of men than women said an increased income would encourage further training and learning in the future and that their jobs and their ability to do them would be improved. Furthermore, more women than men said family and/or caring responsibilities would cause difficulties. Personal reasons, such as a lack of confidence also showed themselves as an issue for a higher proportion of women than men
  • It would be interesting to compare these barriers that prevent adults from accessing or aspiring to HE study with mature student drop out reasons. Similarities would provide clear signposting on how HE institutions could better attract, support, and retain mature students which, while important in itself, is particularly acute during this period of squeezed recruitment and the young population dip.

Care Leavers – LSE have released a blog explaining why the national figure that only 6% of care leavers progress to HE is inaccurate and that tracking care leavers (who are rarely in a position to perform well educationally at age 16) to age 23 bring the entry rate up to almost 12% (research here). The article goes on to explore other care leaver related factors such as the importance of alternative vocational routes into HE and warns against using the entry statistics as they mask the difficulties with retention of care leavers whilst studying.

Alternative Spending – Wonkhe’s Let’s go fly a kite series sees three bloggers come up with some alternative ideas by which to tackle Access and Participation.

Impact of Selective Secondary Education in progressing to HE

HEPI have published The impact of selective secondary education on progression to HE. It finds that grammar schools potentially contribute to social mobility by enabling better access to elite higher education. It considers the shortcomings of research which mainly utilise Free School Meals as the main data indicator.

The report highlights that:

  • A pupil from the most disadvantaged POLAR quintile is more than twice as likely to progress to Oxbridge if they live in a selective area rather than a non-selective area.
  • BME pupils are more than five times as likely to progress to Oxbridge if they live in a selective area. It notes that England’s has 163 grammar schools which contribute 30% more BME students to Cambridge than all 1,849 non-selective schools combined.

The report calls for:

  • Government to expand the Select School Expansion Fund in disadvantaged areas where this is supported by the relevant local authority.
  • Non-selective schools to improve their efforts at enabling progression of high-ability pupils to highly selective universities and Oxbridge, working with grammar schools where appropriate.
  • Department for Education to commission research explicitly considering the impact of selective schooling on the social mobility of children from households below median income.

On the report Wonkhe state: The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) has published a provocative new paper on grammar schools and selective university access…It argues that grammars increase the likelihood of progression for pupils from the bottom two quintiles of social disadvantage and for Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) pupils. The analysis attempts to factor in the chances of children from different groups getting into a grammar school, and how those children who do get in perform.

It also examines the performance of new specialist maths schools and considers positive attitudes towards grammar schools among some of the public (compared to educational experts).

The report received much press attention:

  • The i – Grammar schools ‘significantly boost chances of poor pupils attending top universities’
  • Schools Week – Poor pupils at grammar schools twice as likely to attend Oxbridge, study claims
  • tes – Grammars boost poorer pupils’ chances of getting into top universities
  • The Times – Beacon grammars could take more poorer pupils
  • The Times – The Times view on grammar schools: they provide only part of the answer
  • Telegraph – Grammar schools send more ethnic minority students to Cambridge than all comprehensives combined
  • Sky news – Grammar schools benefit disadvantaged kids says think tank
  • The Daily Mail – Pupils from the poorest families are TWICE as likely to get into Oxbridge if they attend a grammar school, report finds

Nick Hillman, HEPI Director, stated:

  • ‘The debate on grammar schools has become very one sided. Researchers line up to condemn them for inhibiting social mobility, and the schools do not perform well on every single measure. But the full evidence is more nuanced and shows some pupils benefit a great deal.
  • Compared to other countries, we have a hyper-selective university system. Given so many people benefit from attending a grammar school, it seems what works for universities may also sometimes work for schools.’

Other News

Unconditional Offers: The OfS response to the Commons Education Committee’s report on value for money suggests the review of unconditional offer making will be published in Spring 2019.

Knowledge Exchange: Explaining a PhD thesis to the public can be tricky. In this light hearted article read how Canada is tackling this through the medium of cake.

Essay Mills: the ASA banned online advertising by essay mill Oxbridge Essays – here is QAA’s coverage of the judgement. The Independent also covered the decision.

Academic Freedom: Oxford law students have petitioned for a professor to be dismissed due to his opinions on homophobia. It is debated here on the Today programme and then featured in Parliament:

  • Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con): May we have a debate on the importance of academic freedom? Universities are about the free and frank exchange of ideas, even if they are unfashionable and unpopular. Is it not wholly unacceptable to suggest that a respected academic such as John Finnis, emeritus professor of law and legal philosophy, who has taught at the University of Oxford for some 40 years, should be removed from office simply for holding traditional Catholic views? Is that not the opposite of diversity and open, robust debate?
  • Andrea Leadsom:  My hon. Friend raises an important point. It is essential that young people at university learn how to engage in robust debate and to challenge views with which they may not agree. The solution is not to silence those who make them. The Government said in our response to the Joint Committee on Human Rights’ report that we have concerns about the culture in universities in relation to free speech, and we made it clear that all “education is a place where students should be exposed to a range of ideas, including those that may be controversial and unpopular—and where they learn to think critically and challenge those who they disagree with, not shut them down.”

Accounting of student loans:

  • Q – Wes Streeting: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, if he will ensure that the level of funding allocated to universities is not reduced as a result of the ONS decision on the treatment of student loans in Government accounts.
  • A – Chris Skidmore: The Office for National Statistics (ONS) announced a new treatment of student loans in the public sector finances and national accounts on 17 December 2018. The decision by the ONS relates to the recording of student loans in the national accounts and public sector finances. Prior to the announcement of the ONS review, the government had already launched the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding in which, amongst other features of the system, funding is being considered.The review is considering how to ensure that the education system for those aged 18 years and over is accessible to all, is supported by a funding system that provides value for money and works for students and taxpayers. In addition, the review is considering how the education system incentivises choice and competition across the sector and encourages the development of the skills that we need as a country.

AND

  • Q – Wes Streeting: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, what estimate he has made of the amount by which the deficit will increase in 2018 as a result of the ONS decision on the treatment of student loans in Government accounts.
  • A – Elizabeth Truss: The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) published estimates of potential impacts of the new treatment on the deficit in their October 2018 Economic and fiscal outlook. However, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has made it clear that there is a lot to decide before their methodology is finalised. The ONS currently aim to fully implement the new treatment for student loans in the public sector finances in September 2019.

Immigration:

  • Q – Lord Goodlad: Whether they have conducted an evaluation of the Tier 4 visa pilot for masters students; if so, when it was completed; and what changes are now proposed in the Immigration Rules.
  • A – Baroness Williams Of Trafford: An initial evaluation of the Tier 4 Visa Pilot was published on gov.uk on 19 December. The evaluation supported the proposals set out in the Immigration White Paper: The UK’s future skills-based immigration system.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

HE Policy update for the w/e 4th January 2019

Happy New Year to all our readers! There was a flurry just before Christmas…some of that is here along with the first news of January

Value for money

To start the new year off on the right foot, as we await the Augur recommendations on the post-18 review, Wonkhe have some analysis of a recent poll.

“A poll conducted by YouGov for The Times, and published on January 2nd, sits very much in the instrumentalist camp. It takes the near universal sticker price of £9,250/year, and then cuts and shuts “the standard of education” and “the wages graduates earn” as the things that either do mean it’s “worth the money”, or don’t “warrant the cost”.”

“Do you think too many children in Britain go to university, not enough go to university or the number is about right

  • Too many go to university (40%)
  • Not enough go to university (19%)
  • The number is about right (21%)
  • Don’t know (19%)

“In England, universities can currently charge tuition fees of up to £9,250 a year. Do you think this is or is not value for money?

  • Is value for money – the standard of education and the increased wages graduates earn mean it is worth the money (17%)
  • Is not value for money – the standard of education and the wages graduates earn are not enough to warrant the cost (64%)
  • Don’t know (19%)”

Wonkhe’s view:

  • Looked at internationally the (world class) QAA judgements would suggest that the UK compares well with other national systems of HE. But if you look at individual student experience, the picture may be mixed – though it is difficult to disentangle personal aspects (did said student actually do any work?) with institutional failings (was the teaching actually up to scratch?)
  • We’ve been over many of the return on investment arguments in our coverage of LEO data and related releases. Suffice it to say that the earnings of those who graduated up to a decade ago are of questionable relevance to those starting their study in 2019. Even if you discount the way that the graduate labour market (and the wider economy) has changed in the past and is likely to change in the future, institutions and courses are almost certainly taught in different ways, by different staff, to students from different backgrounds, than they were a decade ago.

And:

  • We could have guessed most of the above already – it’s why May overruled DfE and called the Post 18 review in the first place. The question is whether the sector has the wherewithal to fill in some of the detail – the absence of which allows sloppy polling to fill in the blanks.
  • There doesn’t appear to be any research that asks whether £9,250 a year for a degree place represents good value for money regardless of the balance of the contribution between student (graduate) and state – surely a missed opportunity for the sector to protect (and justify) the unit of resource?
  • We’re still pretty much in the dark about the true “costs” of HE for most undergrads – rent, food, books and travel. How many students are going to take a positive value for money message into their twenties if they couldn’t afford it in the first place?
  • And as long as we have a repayment system whose subsidies only reveal themselves if you are at the end of your career and economically unsuccessful, we shouldn’t be surprised by a negative reaction to a VFM question.

Our view: given these perspectives, and there is no reason to think that the poll is wrong, even if we could argue with the assumptions behind it and the way that the questions are asked, how likely is it that the government will respond to the £12m deficit hit from the accounting changes to student loans (however illusory it is) by saying “oh well, if we’re in for £12m we may as well do the thing properly, and reintroduce maintenance grants, find extra money for FE and adjust the student loan terms further to benefit WP students”.  Not very likely?  2019 will be fun…..

OfS report –evaluation of access and participation outreach interventions

This OfS report – Understanding the evaluation of access and participation outreach interventions for under-16 year olds was published on 13th December

HEPs generally identified similar challenges and barriers to effective evaluation as those highlighted by earlier work (Crawford et al., 2017a; Harrison and Waller, 2017) – e.g. resources, data availability, senior buy-in and staff skills. The principal distinction was that outreach with the pre-16 age group was felt to be considerably harder to evaluate than outreach with post-16 groups due to the long time-lag between activities and desired outcomes (i.e. application to higher education (HE)), including the following epistemological issues:

  • Concerns about the validity of self-report data on long-range attitudes to HE, especially when collected within or soon after an activity;
  • Difficulties collecting meaningful data from younger age groups, especially in primary and lower secondary phases;
  • A shortage of robust metrics or approaches to identify modest learning gains (e.g. below a whole GCSE grade) and their attribution to specific activities;
  • Disentangling the unique contribution of outreach in the complex social field inhabited by young people, with multiple influences and school-led activities;
  • Understanding how individual outreach activities combine over time to influence young people and whether their effects are genuinely additive.

 In addition, the project team identified several potential concerns within the reported evaluation practices, including (a) an over-reliance on descriptive statistics and low use of inferential and/or multivariate analysis (where appropriate), (b) a continuing emphasis on ‘aspiration raising’ as the guiding purpose of outreach activity despite its questionable role in influencing attainment or HE participation, and (c) a conflation of evaluation, monitoring and tracking data, with an unclear engagement with causality.

Evaluation practice was overall found to be somewhat stronger within the third sector organisations (TSOs). In part, this was due to the more focused portfolio of activities provided by these organisations – often a single activity or year group. However, there were also clear elements of good practice that could readily be adopted by HEPs:

  • A clear prioritisation of evaluation as an integral element of delivery, with a culture in which evaluation is foregrounded: well-resourced, with expert staffing and a clear role in both evidencing impact (summative) and honing practice (formative);
  • The use of ‘theory of change’ as a thinking tool to understand and plan how changes in knowledge, attitudes or behaviours might be achieved through specific activities and to challenge underpinning assumptions;
  • A preference for measuring impact through ‘intermediate steps’ towards HE participation (e.g. increased self-efficacy, confidence or career-planning skills) over a focus on long-range aspirations for HE;
  • A stronger engagement with the research literature, especially in evidencing the value of forms of activity (e.g. mentoring) and the use of validated and cognitively tested inventories to measure psychological or sociological constructs.

The project team recommend that the Office for Students (OfS) should promote the elements discussed in point 5 above to guide the future development of evaluation practice. The team believes that these dovetail well with previous work on standards of evidence (Crawford et al., 2017b) by providing a framework for evaluation practice to achieve stronger forms of evidence.

To this end, a separate report for HEPs includes (a) a development tool to suggest incremental improvements to their current practices, and (b) a brief collection of contextualised thinking tools to extend their critical engagement with evidence of impact. An evaluation self-assessment tool has been developed and delivered to the OfS for further development and piloting. These are not intended to form a ‘final word’ in guidance to HEPs, but rather a resource to help to frame the ongoing discussions that the project team have witnessed within the sector.

Major recommendations for the OFS

  1. The OfS should continue with the second phase of work as outlined in the original invitation to tender, comprising work to determine which ‘intermediate steps’ are most appropriate for HEPs to use to plan and evaluate pre-16 outreach activities.
  2. We recommend that HEPs be encouraged to benchmark their evaluation practices against those of their peers with a similar organisational mission and profile of expenditure on access. A proposal for a self-assessment tool has been put forward to the OfS for further development and piloting.
  3. The OfS should make the following changes to its guidance to HEPs about their future Access and Participation Plans:
  4. HEPs should be required to provide separate details through the OfS regulatory processes, covering both pre-16 outreach activities and how they are evaluated;
  5. A minimum expectation of evaluation practice should be made of HEPs based on their overall access spending – this might be based around the 10 per cent ‘rule of thumb’ used more generally in the field of evaluation;
  6. Data on HEPs’ spending on evaluation should be collected, whether or not a minimum expectation is established.
  7. The OfS should encourage HEPs to engage with the tools provided in the accompanying document and especially to promote the use of a ‘theory of change’ approach for planning and evaluating pre-16 outreach.
  8. The OfS should consider working with an HEP to develop a postgraduate certificate (or similar) in outreach evaluation that becomes an expected standard for staff working in HEP outreach teams.

Apprenticeships

The Government have published their response to the Education Select Committee Inquiry report into the quality of apprenticeships and skills training. The Education Committee’s report made a series of recommendations to boost apprenticeships and deliver high quality skills training, including an expanded role for Ofsted inspections and a training cap on new providers. The report also called for more support for apprentices from disadvantaged backgrounds, through measures such as the creation of bursaries and help with travel costs.

There were 27 recommendations so we have picked out a few here:

Quality

  • Recommendation 1: Government should monitor bodies responsible for quality and ensure they have requisite resources.

Response: To reflect the growth in the apprenticeships provider market, we agreed additional funding of £5.4 million for Ofsted to undertake monitoring visits of new apprenticeship training providers within their inspection remit (Levels 2 – 5), within 24 months of the provider’s funding start date.

  • Recommendation 6: The Institute should make the growth of degree apprenticeships a strategic priority.

Response: We disagree that the growth of degree apprenticeships should be treated as a strategic priority in isolation. We do not prioritise degree apprenticeships over other apprenticeships because the reforms are employer-led, so the apprenticeships developed are those that employers have said they want. This makes sure that the apprenticeships we offer are responsive to the needs of business.

  • Recommendation 9: The Government should conduct pilots with apprentices and businesses to explore the effect of introducing greater flexibility in the amount of off-the-job training required by each apprenticeship standard.

Response: Although some employers would like more flexibility on this, many employers are supportive of the 20 per cent minimum requirement. The 20 per cent minimum requirement is in line with international best practice.

  • Recommendation 10: The transition from apprenticeship frameworks to standards has been mismanaged by successive Governments. Employers have been let down.

Response: Standards are being taken up with enthusiasm by employers across a wide range of sectors, and we are already hearing from employers, providers and apprentices how they are creating a real step up in the quality of apprenticeships across the country.

  • Recommendation 12: The Government should increase the top funding band to better match the full cost of delivery for some apprenticeships. It should also double the time employers have to spend their funds to 48 months and allow them to transfer more of these funds to firms in their supply chain.

Response: There is little evidence to suggest that the maximum funding limit is restricting starts, and while we currently have no plans to change the limit, we will keep funding bands under review. The Committee will welcome the fact that we have already announced an increase to the level of funds an employer can transfer to organisations including those in their supply chain.

  • Recommendation 15: The Government should tighten the requirements on providers who subcontract their provision.

Response: The accountability for outcomes and delivery against the funding contract lies with the main contractor and that is who needs to be held to account. That is why Ofsted cover quality and management of subcontracted provision when they inspect directly funded providers.

Social Justice

  • Recommendation 16: The Government should increase incentive funding for small and medium-sized businesses and social enterprises who recruit young and disadvantaged apprentices

Response: We believe that the current model of funding for disadvantaged apprentices provides the most effective means to achieve the recruitment of young and disadvantaged people.

  • Recommendation 18: The Government should introduce bursaries for other disadvantaged groups modelled on the care leavers’ bursary.

Response: We will keep all aspects of apprenticeship funding policy under review to ensure that those from disadvantaged groups are not deterred from starting an apprenticeship for financial reasons, or because their employer is concerned about the cost. Funding alone cannot tackle the disparities in apprenticeship starts.

  • Recommendation 19: The Government should create a social justice fund, using money from the apprentice levy, to support organisations that help disadvantaged people become apprentices.

Response: The apprenticeship levy has been set at a level that raises sufficient funds to support apprenticeship starts; widening its scope would risk our delivery of the target of 3 million high-quality apprenticeship starts.

  • Recommendation 20: The Government should continue to raise the apprentice minimum wage at a rate significantly above inflation. In the long term, it should move towards its abolition.

Response: It is important that the level of the apprentice rate, which applies to those aged under 19 or in the first year of their apprenticeship, does not dissuade employers from investing in skills training and realising the benefits of apprenticeships for their businesses.

  • Recommendation 22: The Government should strongly support existing measures to establish a kitemark for good apprentice employers.

Response: Work is ongoing to develop a kitemark indicating a signal of quality for apprentice employers. Using existing quality measures and working with stakeholders, criteria will be developed and, if met, employers will be able to showcase the kitemark.

  • Recommendation 23: The Social Mobility Commission should conduct an immediate study into how the benefits system helps or hinders apprentices. The Government should act on its findings.

Response: Government would welcome the views of the Social Mobility Commission (SMC) on how we can continue to develop our policy in this area, though any decision on whether to conduct a review remains a joint decision for the Department’s ministers and the Chair of the SMC.

  • Recommendation 24: The Government must stop dragging its feet over apprentice transport costs. It must set out how it plans to reduce apprentice travel costs.

Response: The Departments for Transport and Education will continue to work together to support discounted travel for apprentices, including through existing apprenticeship funding mechanisms, but given the additional cost to the taxpayer, the focus of this work will now turn to preparing proposals for consideration at the forthcoming spending review.

  • Recommendation 25: The Equality and Human Rights Commission should conduct a monitoring review of apprenticeship participation by gender, ethnicity and by people with learning difficulties and/or disabilities every three years.

Response: The Department is carrying out broader activity to encourage more young people to recognise the value of a STEM career path. To support the Government’s commitment to increase apprenticeship starts by learners from BAME backgrounds by 20 per cent by 2020, we launched the ‘5 Cities Diversity Hubs’ project in February 2018.

  • Recommendation 26: The Government should introduce a proper UCAS-style portal for technical education to simplify the application process and encourage progression to further training at higher levels.

Response: We have carried out extensive research to explore how we could introduce a UCAS-style portal for technical education that works for employers and apprentices alike. While the research indicated that young people would value a central source of information as they make decisions about their next steps, it did not show that they found the current application process challenging.

  • Recommendation 27: Too many students are still not receiving independent and impartial careers advice and guidance about the routes open to them, including apprenticeships. We recommend that the Government, with Ofsted’s support, properly enforces the Baker clause.

Response: Following the introduction of the clause in January 2018, we issued statutory guidance to schools, clearly setting out what is expected of them. A review in the summer of 2018 showed mixed compliance with this guidance by schools. The Department is prepared to intervene in cases of serious non-compliance.

The Chair of the Education Select Committee, Robert Halfon MP has commented on the Government’s response:

  • While we welcome the direction of travel from the Government, clearly much more needs to be done. We need to get tough on subcontractors and poor provision. The Government insists its priorities are to ensure more funding makes it to the front line and to improve transparency. But to achieve this, they must strengthen the rules on subcontracting and ensure a more prominent role for Ofsted in inspections to safeguard training quality.
  • We’re not convinced that the Government recognises that degree apprenticeships are special and different to other apprenticeships. They bring together technical and higher education when the two are too often entirely different worlds. We cannot rely on employers alone to drive this forward given the key role which degree apprenticeships can play in fighting social injustice and taking the best from technical and academic education.   
  • Ensuring proper support for apprentices is crucial to delivering social justice. But there are no firm proposals from Government on how to break down the barriers faced by too many young people who would like to take the apprenticeship route. The Government continues to drag its feet on how it will reduce the cost of transport and it must now act on its manifesto commitment and deliver on the promise of significantly discounted bus and train fares.
  • It is not enough to say evading paying the apprenticeship minimum wage is ‘unacceptable’. The Business Secretary has said that the Government has doubled the enforcement budget, but clearly there is more to do to ensure employers comply. Until there are stronger sanctions and tougher enforcement, companies will get away with the mistreatment of apprentices who are making significant financial sacrifices to better themselves.

Brexit update

If you missed them (and who could blame you) the BBC have a useful summary of New Year’s messages from Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn, Vince Cable and Nicola Sturgeon

The next few weeks are critical, of course, with a “meaningful vote” in Parliament due in the week commencing 14th January.

So if the government wins the meaningful vote, and Parliament approves the Withdrawal Agreement Bill before 29th March, we leave with a deal and a transition period. If the government wins the meaningful vote and Parliament doesn’t approve the Bill then we leave without a deal.  This is possible but unlikely – although there will be a fight about the Bill, and attempts to amend it, if the government wins the meaningful vote they are likely to get the Bill through eventually.

If the government loses the meaningful vote, then they have to make a statement about their intentions within 21 days and then there is another vote by Parliament.  What could the government propose in this statement?  It is another opportunity to persuade people to support the original deal with some more concessions or reassurance.  Or this could be the moment to ask for an extension to article 50.

If the motion (whatever it says) is not supported, it is then too late for any other major step (such as a second referendum) before we leave without a deal in March.  Everyone has said that the EU takes negotiations to the wire – there may be last minute concessions after the meaningful vote, if the government loses, in which case the government can just try Parliament again.  Or even without EU concessions, as no-deal panic rises, they may try Parliament again.  Or Parliament could revoke Article 50, as was discussed extensively before the holidays.  That seems unlikely – an extension is far more likely.  And presumably the EU would agree to that.  But remember that the withdrawal date is built into UK law so as well as agreeing to an extension, Parliament would also have to approve regulations to amend that legislation – another opportunity for arguments, amendments and disagreements.

The existing EU (Withdrawal) Act 2018:

  • exit day” means 29 March 2019 at 11.00 p.m. (and see subsections (2) to (5));
  • (2) In this Act references to before, after or on exit day, or to beginning with exit day, are to be read as references to before, after or at 11.00 p.m. on 29 March 2019 or (as the case may be) to beginning with 11.00 p.m. on that day.
  • (3)Subsection (4) applies if the day or time on or at which the Treaties are to cease to apply to the United Kingdom in accordance with Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union is different from that specified in the definition of “exit day” in subsection (1).
  • (4)A Minister of the Crown may by regulations—
  • (a)amend the definition of “exit day” in subsection (1) to ensure that the day and time specified in the definition are the day and time that the Treaties are to cease to apply to the United Kingdom, and
  • (b)amend subsection (2) in consequence of any such amendment.

Change of government

Labour have been threatening a no confidence motion “when the time is right”. Before Christmas there was talk of a no confidence vote in the PM – which is not at all the same thing.  In the Independent on 28th December 2018 Jeremy Corbyn was talking about “when, not if” and “signalling” it will be after the meaningful vote.

So what does happen if Parliament pass a motion of no confidence in the Government?  The Parliament website says:

“A motion of no confidence, or censure motion, is a motion moved in the House of Commons with the wording: ‘That this House has no confidence in HM Government’. If such a motion is agreed to, and a new government with the support of a majority of MPs cannot be formed within a period of 14 calendar days, Parliament is dissolved and an early General Election is triggered. A motion of no confidence is one of only two ways in which an early General Election may be triggered under the terms of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011”

The Labour party believe that they could form a minority government, and presumably would then hope to persuade Parliament to vote for an extension to give them time to renegotiate.

As we wrote in December, if they fail to form a minority government, we are then in a difficult position, because we could be left with no Parliament to vote for an extension or approve the regulations to the Withdrawal Act, leading back to a no-deal Brexit on 29th March with a general election to follow.  Of course at least some of those potentially voting for the no confidence motion might actually want to leave with no deal….

So, we could leave with the Prime Minister’s withdrawal deal, and then hopefully progress will be made on turning the political declaration into a formal agreement.  That won’t be much fun either and it needs to be sorted by the end of the transition period (due to end December 31st 2020 unless it is itself extended – on this see the actual draft Withdrawal Agreement, pages 195 and 206). There are some conditions for an extension, including a contribution to the EU budget to be established by the committee.

Article 126: There shall be a transition or implementation period, which shall start on the date of entry into force of this Agreement and end on 31 December 2020.

Article 132: …the Joint Committee may, before 1 July 2020, adopt a single decision extending the transition period for up to one or two years

Or we leave without a deal.  There has been a huge amount of discussion about this, and we shared the Home Office guidance on mobility in our policy update on 21st December 2018. The official government website is here.  It includes things (many published on or around 21st December) including:

  • Studying in the EU after Brexit
    • The draft EU Withdrawal Agreement means that students in UK-based organisations will be able to continue to participate in Erasmus+ exchanges and placements post-exit until the end of the current Erasmus+ programme in December 2020.
    • In the event of ‘no deal’, the government underwrite guarantee already made(13 August 2016) still stands and successful Erasmus+ bids that are submitted and approved while the UK is still a Member State will continue beyond the point of exit.
  • Preparing for changes at the border in the event of a no-deal Brexit
  • Health and care system operational readiness guidance
  • Providing services as a qualified professional
    • EEA lawyers will be able to practise in England and Wales under the regulatory arrangements and rules that apply to lawyers from other third countries. However, this change will mean:
      • EEA lawyers will no longer be able to provide legal activities normally reserved to advocates, barristers or solicitor under their home state professional title in England/Wales and Northern Ireland. (Reserved activities are: the exercise of a right of audience, the conduct of litigation, reserved instrument activities (conveyancing), probate activities, notarial activities and the administration of oaths)
      • EEA lawyers will no longer be able to seek admittance to the English/Welsh or Northern Irish profession based on experience
    • Guidance for UK nationals
    • Clinical trials
    • Environmental standards
    • Workplace rights
    • Data protection
      • The EU has an established mechanism to allow the free flow of personal data to countries outside the EU, namely an adequacy decision. The European Commission has stated that if it deems the UK’s level of personal data protection essentially equivalent to that of the EU, it would make an adequacy decision allowing the transfer of personal data to the UK without restrictions. While we have made it clear we are ready to begin preliminary discussions on an adequacy assessment now, the European Commission has not yet indicated a timetable for this and have stated that the decision on adequacy cannot be taken until we are a third country.
    • More guidance here

Of course the big argument by Brexiteers is that no deal would not be so bad.

It would certainly involve “some” burden on businesses and individuals – if you look at some of the links above especially on those importing or exporting goods and services.  There have been warnings about gridlock in port towns (including Poole) with a knock on impact on services), shortages of medicines and food.  The government’s planning includes fridges and ferries.

The Week says:

  • There are many senior Leave supporters who think that no deal “would be perfectly acceptable as long as sufficient preparations have been made”, according to the BBC’s Chris Morris.
  • Backbench Brexiteers have sought to present a so-called “cliff edge” Brexit as an opportunity rather than a threat and dismissed criticism as Remainer scaremongering.
  • “It’s Project Fear mark two,” one MP told The Guardian. “Do they think we can’t see that they’re trying to alarm people?”
  • Liz Bilney, CEO of Leave.EU, argues that a no-deal Brexit should be seen as a positive. “It is at worst, benign, at best, a fabulous opportunity for a fairer, more prosperous Britain,” she claims.
  • David Davis even claims there could be advantages if the pound were to fall sharply in value following a no-deal Brexit. 
  • “[The Pound falling] is not a bad thing. The pound’s always been too high from the point of view of industry because of the effect of the City. So, our competitive position with vis-a-vis Europe would be dramatically better even if there are tariffs,” the former Brexit secretary told parliamentary magazine The House in a recent interview.

Or there is an extension to article 50 and we don’t leave in March.  Then what happens?  The current government would be attempting a renegotiation of the withdrawal agreement and possibly some advance negotiation of the final trade deal based on the political declaration with a view to getting a version of the withdrawal agreement through before whatever deadline would have been agreed.  As noted above, Parliament would also have had to approve regulations to amend the exit day consistently with whatever the EU had agreed on article 50.

And what could that year or so be used for?

  • A Tory leadership election – only if the PM chooses to stand down as she is now safe from challenge for a year. She might do a David Cameron and fall on her sword if “her” deal is finally voted down in favour of an extension.   Then someone else could try and renegotiate, leading up to a rerun of the current process in 2020 perhaps after another referendum (unless the referendum result was remain).
  • A Labour minority government having another go at the negotiations? As described above, following a no confidence vote in the government, the PM could resign and Jeremy Corbyn could be invited to form a minority government.   He would then try and renegotiate and re-run the current process in 2020 perhaps after another referendum (again, unless the referendum result was remain).
  • A general election? We wrote about this in our policy update on 14th December 2018
    • Remember that the fixed term Parliament legislation requires a 2/3rds majority for an early election. It is very unlikely that Conservative MPs will vote for that unless they think they would win a strong overall majority (and look what happened last time they tried). They will be pressing for a renegotiation. But it will happen automatically if a minority government cannot be formed, or falls, after a no- confidence vote as described above.
  • Go straight to another referendum. This requires Parliamentary support.  The big question that would need to be resolved is what the question on the referendum would be, and whether it would actually need to include a set of different scenarios, transferable votes, a requirement for a super majority etc.  The problem is that many people oppose the current proposal for many different reasons, and so getting all those who don’t want a no-deal Brexit to agree on the alternative would be very difficult.  Options for a referendum question include combinations of the following:
    • The PM’s deal (with whatever changes might have been agreed in the meantime)
    • Remain on current terms (a possibility from an EU perspective, as noted above, if we just revoke article 50)
    • Leave without a deal
    • A different deal? It is hard to ask people to vote for something that is not on the table.  Canada/Norway style deals would have to be negotiated with the EU.  So to get these on the table there are some steps that would need to happen first – postpone article 50, change of leadership/government/approach, attempt to negotiate a completely different deal with the EU and THEN have a referendum.

What is really interesting about this is the discussions about choices and bias.  You’ll remember the debate about the question the first time around.  For more on this:

In a Guardian opinion piece, David Van Reybrouk proposes a “preferednum”

  • The Eurovision song contest uses a similar procedure: rather than picking out the best song, juries are invited to give points to a range of artists, so that the cumulative effect of individual voting gives a final ranking of competing candidates.
  • This procedure could be applied successfully to the UK. In the polling station people would not just receive the classical yes/no question, but a list of 30 proposals on Britain’s future relationship with the European Union. They might include ideas such as: “The status of Northern Ireland and the UK should be the same, even if that implies a harder border with the Republic of Ireland”; “Only Britain should be able to regulate who enters the country”; “Migration can only be tackled if Britain works with its European partners”; “Travelling to the EU should not require a passport.” Et cetera.
  • In the run-up to the preferendum every voter would receive a brochure with the arguments for and against each proposal, as is already common practice in Switzerland. In the voting booth citizens would be invited to rate the proposals (to show how strongly they agree or disagree) and rank them (pick a top three).

Peter Kellner in Prospect Magazine in early December offered 7 options focusing less on the possible outcome and more on the question of democratic legitimacy of the process.

So while we can’t see much further than a few days into the future on this one and predictions have been hard this last year or so, here are, we think, the two most likely scenarios.  We are being massively cynical here – this is based on an assumption that no-one (remainder or leaver, left or right) actually really believes that they can do a better deal than the PM has with the EU, or wants to be the person who tries and fails.  Or enough Brexiteers believe that if there is a delay, there might ultimately be a vote for remain.

  • Politicians return from the break having been thoroughly scared by the no-deal guidance and harangued by their local businesses etc, and/or the EU come up with some weasel wording on the backstop at the 11th hour, and Parliament approves the deal.

OR

  • Chaos continues, Labour doesn’t make up its mind and the UK leaves with no deal, leading in the short-ish term to a vote of no confidence and a general election, perhaps in 2020 if no deal turns out to be as bad as people think it might be.

And the university perspective?

On 4th January, the news was that UUK, the Russell Group, GuildHE, Million plus and University Alliance had sent an open letter to all MPs.

Dame Nancy Rothwell was on Radio 4. 

Professor Janet Beer wrote in the Guardian.

  • We have just weeks for the UK government and parliament to find a way to avoid a no-deal scenario. Without this, it is no exaggeration to suggest that this would be an academic, cultural and scientific setback from which it would take our universities and our country decades to recover.

The BBC have some of the inevitable backlash:

  • But the journalist and educationalist Toby Young, who says he backs a “clean Brexit”, dismissed the warning as “the usual ultra-Remainer hysteria”, accusing vice-chancellors of “fear-mongering”.
  • “In the event of a no-deal Brexit, I’m sure the government will use some of that £49bn windfall to compensate British universities for any short-term losses,” said Mr Young, associate editor of the Spectator magazine

And while the coverage seems to focus on research funding, Wonkhe cover the student recruitment story with data from the Russell Group:

  • On average, this data shows a 3% decrease in enrolment, which is the first time a decrease in the overall number of EU students starting courses at Russell Group universities has been reported since 2012-13, when tuition fees increased. And while it’s important to note that this is aggregate data and growth will vary between institution and level of study, it indicates a worrying downturn in appetite from the EU to study in the UK – and will be a concern for the sector.
  • When we performed this data collection exercise across Russell Group universities last year, we saw marginal growth of 1% in EU enrolment between 2016-17 and 2017-18. Before that, HESA data shows that growth in the number of first year EU students at Russell Group universities grew by 5%, 4%, 4% and 7% in each consecutive year between 2012-13 and 2016-17 (latest available data).
  • For us, what was striking about the data on enrolments this year was the decrease seen at postgraduate level: while there was a marginal increase of 1% at the undergraduate level, there was a 5% drop in the number of EU postgraduate taught students and a 9% decrease in the number of EU postgraduate research students.
  • The 9% decline in postgraduate research students enrolling at Russell Group universities this year follows a 9% drop reported by our universities in 2017-18. This means there has been a significant decrease in EU postgraduate research students enrolling on courses at Russell Group universities since the referendum.

The Independent led with the financial risk:

  • A predicted fall in EU student numbers and a potential loss of research funding due to a no-deal Brexit could hit universities’ finances.
  • It is understood some institutions could be forced to seek a government bailout to stay open.
  • …. Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) think tank, said he was concerned about the financial future of the university sector because of the negative impact of Brexit, as well as a fall in the number of 18-year-olds and the government’s review into tuition fees.   
  • “A no-deal Brexit would mean even more upheaval than other forms of Brexit for the sector,” he said. Analysis for the think tank has predicted a 57 per cent drop-off in incoming EU students. 
  • … Robert Halfon, Conservative MP and chair of the Education Committee, said: “With the UK leaving the EU, there is all the more reason to ensure that our universities are fit for the future and focused on meeting the country’s skills needs. “Our committee’s report on value for money in higher education outlined how they can play a significant role in filling skills gaps and boosting productivity by promoting degree apprenticeships and improving access for disadvantaged students. “By focusing on a more skills-based future, our universities can ensure they remain among the world’s best performing institutions.”

Taking a longer view

It is easy to be dragged by current uncertainties into taking a short term view of all of this.  But assuming at some point we stop going round in circles on Brexit, what might a future deal with the EU look like for research? Whether there is a deal or  no deal by March, eventually there will have to be at least an attempt to form a future relationship of some sort on research.  We’ve gone taken the circular analogy a bit further back in time to look forward to what might happen next.

There’s an article (by a European) on Research Professional here:  [from November 2017]  In its September 2017 Future Partnership paper, Collaboration on Science and Innovation, [the UK government] stated: “Given the UK’s unique relationship with European science and innovation, the UK would also like to explore forging a more ambitious and close partnership with the EU than any yet agreed between the EU and a non-EU country.”

Assuming we don’t end up in EFTA or staying in the EU, the article suggests the obvious options for the UK were either associated status or third country status.  The government of course has always said it wanted a custom deal. The article therefore suggests something different:

  • A possible solution for this dilemma was mooted by the League of European Research Universities and picked up more explicitly by Pascal Lamy’s High Level Group, which recommended in its report that international cooperation be made “a trademark of EU research and innovation”. It suggested that the EU should “open up the R&I programme to association by the best and participation by all, based on reciprocal co-funding or access to co-funding in the partner country”.
  • The official narrative is to bring strong research countries such as Canada and Australia on board for the Framework programme, but it is clear that this also opens the door for a global research power such as the UK. So instead of trying to fit the UK into one of the three categories that would give it associated access, let’s change the rules to ‘association by the best and participation by all’.
  • Obviously, this will lead to a financial contribution from the UK to the EU budget, the use of European Commission contracts, the authority of the European Court of Justice and the decision-making power of the EU 27 concerning research policy. Suggesting a kind of “association +”, whereby strong research countries from outside the EU also have a formal say in EU policy development and decision-making processes, will probably be a bridge too far for the EU 27, but it certainly could have added value in the case of the UK.
  • Anyway, last Friday’s agreement [the one that meant we moved on to the next phase of negotiations in autumn 2017, remember that…] clearly states: “the UK states that it may wish to participate in some Union budgetary programmes of the new MFF post-2020 as a non-Member State.” So we can be hopeful for FP9, although we must remain aware of two basic premises of the negations: no cherry picking and no deal on anything if no deal on everything.

So maybe there is scope for a special deal, one that isn’t just special for the UK but also for Canada and Australia and others too?

The end of the article provokes a wry smile, in the light of current news, though: Surely, UK vice-chancellors, with the explicit support of their continental colleagues, must increase the pressure in the following days, weeks and months to reach an acceptable Brexit deal by autumn 2018. After all, they are one of the few societal forces left that can speak up and guide the country in these extremely challenging times. I guess the news stories this week suggest the sector is still working on that….

That was in November 2017.  What has happened since then?

An article on RP in May 2018 said that our participation in FP9 was dead in the water

  • The UK government needs to make clear that the default position is at least associate membership of EU R&D programmes. It must then reach agreement with the EU over the size of the UK’s financial contribution and level of influence. Researchers should be lobbying strongly on these issues, on which little progress has been made since the referendum in June 2016.
  • Instead, science and universities minister Sam Gyimah has argued that the UK will not participate in the next EU Framework programme, dubbed Horizon Europe, “at any price”. According to the minister, the government’s position paper published in March simply outlines its views on how any future programme could be improved.
  • The European Parliament’s Brexit steering group believes the UK cannot be a net beneficiary from EU research funds post-Brexit, and is unwilling to give the UK a decision-making role in Horizon Europe. Coming from what is arguably the EU’s most democratically representative institution, this is bad but not irreversible news.
  • The government needs to make a move and offer something substantial to the EU in return for the UK’s participation. An attractive financial offer could still make the UK an appealing partner in Horizon Europe. However, with the Commission proposing a €20 billion budget increase compared with Horizon 2020, the UK might need to increase its contribution accordingly.
  • This would mean paying more to participate than it does at present—with no say on the programme’s direction, and no guarantee that it would see a return on its investment. Such a commitment would also have to compete with other post-Brexit spending priorities.

Of course we then had a change of Minister. Vivienne Stern of UUK International was quoted on RP in December urging the new Minister to do something about it:

  • “Deal or no deal, the UK should seek full association to [the EU’s next Framework programme for research and innovation] Horizon Europe as swiftly as possible, to end uncertainty in academic communities across Europe as well as in the UK,” said Vivienne Stern, director of Universities UK International. “If there is no deal, the minister will need to prioritise planning to mitigate the impact on universities, and press ministers across Europe and the European Commission to decide how they will act to preserve collaboration and student exchange.”

And the Government’s Chief Scientist also intervened (also from Research Professional in December 2018):

  • Appearing in front of a committee of MPs, Patrick Vallance said the government’s desire “is to be fully associated with the European programmes going forward, that’s obviously dependent on a deal”. …EU leaders have repeatedly stressed that a withdrawal agreement must be approved before the EU and the UK can start negotiating their future relationship—to the frustration of the former science minister Sam Gyimah, who told Research Fortnight in October that he wanted to reach a deal on research and innovation at the very beginning of the Brexit negotiations.

And then the European Parliament on 12th December 2018 agreed its position on Horizon Europe (also from Research Professional) – but this didn’t include a position on openness. See this article from 4th December 2018 which suggests it doesn’t look good or that the proposal above will be adopted:

  • The Council agreed on a “partial general approach” to the 2021-27 programme on 30 November, with “promote scientific excellence” listed first in a set of objectives for the programme.
  • Another major issue to be resolved is the budget for the massive research programme. The European Commission originally proposed a budget of €83.5 billion in 2018 prices for Horizon Europe, but the Parliament is seeking €120bn. The Council’s stance has yet to be determined by finance ministers and national leaders.
  • …The Council has also not taken a stance on the participation of non-EU countries, which it says will be part of its budget negotiations. This has added to the fears of Norwegian and Swiss researchers, who were already worried about the position adopted by the Commission on limiting access to parts of the programme, and by MEPs, who want to put greater emphasis on restrictions. Both countries can participate fully at present.
  • …Gunnar Bovim, rector of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, told Research Europe that Norwegian researchers are afraid they will be shut out, and that this could fire up Eurosceptic sentiments.  “We look upon ourselves as inside that fence,” he said. “Some voices have been raised saying why do we send this money to Brussels and leave some of it there, why not just divide it in the Research Council of Norway. To me that would be a very bad decision.”
  • Swiss participation could be limited even more, as the country is not in the European Economic Area. Martin Müller, head of Switzerland’s Brussels R&D liaison office SwissCore, says he hopes politicians do not forget that his country has close economic ties with the EU.

Although there is still hope – see this from 4th December:

  • Moedas had a working lunch meeting in Brussels on 3 December with ambassadors and other representatives from Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, South Africa and the United States. He said on Twitter that they discussed future international cooperation in Horizon Europe, and that there was a strong commitment that the programme would be “open to the world”.
  • The European Commission has proposed a new way for countries outside the EU to join the programme as associate members, which would give more countries the opportunity to participate substantially. This would be based on them having qualities such as “a good capacity” in R&D, and policies to promote social wellbeing.
  • However, the Commission has proposed caveats, such as that the countries would have to pay in what they take out. Countries that associate via the new route are also likely be excluded from parts of the programme.
  • The European Parliament looks set to demand a further tightening of these proposed restrictions, after its research committee backed a report in November that called for association via the new route to be “based on an assessment of the benefits for the EU”.

So in conclusion, something could be done, but the UK will need to ask, and pay, and the EU will, as they have through all the negotiations so far, put their own interests first.  And it is not all about the UK.  If more openness in research programmes suits the EU, then they will agree to it, not just for the UK but more widely, but expect conditions including contribution to budgets.  Whether the UK can negotiate concessions that put it in a better position than others, or can join with other countries around the world to negotiate on these conditions for everyone’s benefit, remains to be seen.

We might expect that leaving with no deal would put us in a more difficult position for these discussions, although it shouldn’t rule anything out, especially if we end up paying the divorce bill anyway….Just on that:

We think all that suggests that we will end up paying it…if not as part of a withdrawal deal, then as part of a future deal that seeks to sort out some of the mess.  Because why would the EU not insist on that as part of a future arrangement?

You might have missed

Our update from 21st December, covering the Immigration White Paper, grade inflation, accounting for student loans and more.

Consultation on the cost of the Teacher’s Pension Scheme

Nick Gibb, the Minister of State in the Department of Education, announced in a written response on 27th December 2018 that “The Department for Education is launching a consultation in early 2019 to seek views on the impact of the changes to employer contribution costs on state-funded schools, independent schools, further education (FE) colleges and other public-funded training organisations, and universities and other Higher Education institutions (HEI) in the Teachers’ Pension Scheme, including which sectors should receive additional funding from the Government. Once the consultation has closed, the Department will make an assessment on the viability of the scheme and the number of institutions participating in the scheme.”

Consultations

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

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HE Policy update for the w/e 14th December 2018

A busy week in politics, and for policy too.  Not looking any quieter as we approach the end of the year, either.  We will do a short update next week because the ONS report on student loan accounting is due and there are likely to be interesting reflections on that through the week.

Student loans and accounting

Ahead of the big ONS announcement on Monday about accounting for student loans, there is a House of Commons library report: Student loans and the Government’s deficit

Following concerns from parliamentary committees, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) is re-examining how student loans are recorded in the Government’s deficit (which is the difference between the Government’s spending and its revenues from tax receipts and other sources). The ONS will announce its decision on 17 December 2018. (more…)

HE policy update for the w/e 7th December 2018

Another lively week in HE policy – starting late last Friday night when the Minister resigned..and we had to wait several days for the new one to be appointed.

New Minister

For those watching HE twitter late on a Friday night, the big news was Sam Gyimah’s resignation over Brexit (amid some whispers from the HE conspiracy theorists that fee cuts are nigh and Sam may have been exiting before the blame falls).  The new HE Minister is Chris Skidmore. We’ve compiled a profile on him here.

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Education Research with Impact: Introducing the 3D Pedagogy Framework

My research, teaching and professional practice have always been centred on equality and social justice, especially in relation to race, ethnicity, culture and gender.

Prior to joining BU in 2014, I established an influential network of intellectuals and scholar-activists committed to the cause of race equality – Black British Academics. A primary consultancy activity we’ve been involved in over the past few years is addressing the lack of ethnic and cultural diversity in the higher education curriculum.

It was from these origins that I developed the final year optional unit in the Faculty of Media and Communication – Media Inequality in 2014/15. The unit centres on critical engagement with historical and contemporary issues around race, ethnicity and culture and their relationship with power across the media and in communications practice. It aims to facilitate the development of cultural competencies that can be applied in a professional context to a range of communication industries.

The unit has run for two academic years in 2016/17 and 2017/18 and during this time I collected quantitative data via an end of unit survey through which students reported high levels of critical consciousness and agency and perception of greater levels of cultural competence. It attracted praise from the external examiner and two SUBU ‘You’re Brilliant’ awards that mention the unit and its focus on social justice. In 2018/19 I won the Academic Excellence Award in the Dorset Ethnic Minority Awards and I was presented with Staff Member of the Year Award by SUBU at their BME Awards last week.

The sector, student and community recognition of my pedagogies around social justice and equality created a strong motivation for me to extend impact beyond my own teaching practice. Over the years I have shared my teaching strategies with the international academic community through education conferences in Hawaii, Washington DC, New York and Austin, Texas, between 2016 and 2018. The positive feedback and engagement I received led me to develop the 3D Pedagogy Framework; an inclusive teaching strategy that aims to decolonize, democratize and diversify the higher education curriculum.

In May of this year I applied for ACORN funding through the Early Career Researcher Network and was successful in gaining a major award. This enabled me to develop and pilot a 3D Pedagogy workshop that I delivered at BU, De Montfort University and the Canada International Conference on Education in Toronto to a total of 27 participants.

The findings from this study documented in a forthcoming journal article suggest 3D Pedagogy is an effective approach to enhance the cultural competencies of educational practitioners and promote critical reflection; important steps towards transforming the curriculum and the student learning experience.

My teaching, research and professional practice on issues around race and equality over the past few years have occurred during an era of increased media and political focus on the curriculum and student outcomes. Proportionally, more students of colour attend university and with increased competition for student recruitment, ignoring longstanding racial disparities in higher education has financial implications for HEIs.

It is within this climate that the Office for Students recently announced plans to publish national data on attainment gaps by institution to incentivise HEIs to develop concrete measures to address ethnic disparities in progression and attainment. Access and Participation Plans require HEIs to demonstrate how disparities in progression and attainment are being tackled and evaluated with documented evidence.

The Access Excellence and Impact Committee (AEIC) was formed in 2017/18 in response to these sector changes to lead education activities, replacing the Fair Access Group.  Membership includes all Executive Deans and relevant Heads of Professional Service, the Head of the Centre of Excellence in Learning (CEL), and SUBU representation.

In July this year the AEIC put out a call for projects aligned with its priority themes of access, success and participation and especially strategies to address gaps in progression and attainment. Having just completed my ACORN project, with preliminary findings of the 3D Pedagogy Workshop being extremely positive; I applied and was successful in gaining an award.

As a result, 3D Pedagogy (which is fully endorsed and supported by SUBU), is to be embedded across BU through delivery of the workshop to all 20 departments, as part of a two-year project. The workshop will be integrated into the PG Cert in Academic Practice offered through CEL and embedded into Academic Quality through future revision to 2B: Programme Structure and Curriculum Design Characteristics. It is being developed as a case study for BU2025 (inclusivity) and will also be promoted through the HEA Fellowship route as an opportunity to develop a case study that meets the UKPSF across Activity (A1, A2), Core Knowledge (K2, K3) and Professional Values (V2, V4).

In addition to a forthcoming paper in the International Journal of Technology & Inclusive Education that documents my pilot study funded by the ACORN award; I have also secured a book contract with Routledge for a forthcoming title that incorporates 3D Pedagogy centred on media education. The book is part of a series on media literacy co-edited by Prof Julian McDougall, Head of the Centre for Excellence in Media Practice (CEMP), of which I am a member and through which I have been developing my education research.

*My AEIC Award provides funding for a research assistant at grade 6 to support the project, working one-day a week for the duration. The role will involve data collection and analysis as well as administration of the project, including assistance in the development of electronic resources. While this post is being advertised externally, internal applications are welcome, ideally from PGRs with an understanding of issues around race, ethnicity and culture in higher education as well as experience of handling quantitative and qualitative data.

I’m pleased to have the opportunity to lead a major project driving changes to education practice at BU, which was facilitated by the ACORN Award, enabling me to pilot the 3D Pedagogy Workshop, and look forward to developing more research in this area.

*Interested parties should contact Dr Deborah Gabriel for further information about the post by email to: dgabriel@bournemouth.ac.uk

HE Policy update for the w/e 23rd November 2018

Considering we were late and included much of Monday’s news in the last update, this is a bumper update for you.  Lots of data and lots of speculation about fees etc.  We have managed to avoid the B word this week – as you will have had enough of it from all the other news sources.

Internships

Sophie Bradfield, the Policy & Campaigns Coordinator for SUBU, returns with another guest piece for us this week

Sutton Trust has published research today on graduate internships detailing that “39% of graduates in their twenties have done an internship, including almost half (46%) of young graduates under 24.” These statistics have a direct correspondence with research published in a Lancaster University HECSU-funded Graduate Resilience Project in 2016, looking at how students transition after graduating, where “45% of respondents identified a concern that they lacked relevant experience.” Pairing this with the competition for graduate jobs, it’s of no surprise that so many students seek to undertake internships. At BU gaining placements and real-world experience is a unique selling point and as BU proudly states on the placement information page “90% of our graduates have relevant work experience and this can give you a real head start in the competitive jobs market.” The Students’ Union at Bournemouth University (SUBU) is in absolute agreement that offering opportunities to gain experience can really help students to stand out from the crowd; learn transferable skills for employment; and increase employability and so we have a lot of extra-curricular opportunities on offer for students and collaborate with BU on a number of joint projects including recruiting paid students to be on programme review panels.

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HE policy update for the w/e 9th November 2018

Two major reports out this week covering value for money and international students plus all the excitement and intense debate from Wonkfest. Enjoy!

Value for Money in HE

The Education Select Committee have published their inquiry report on Value for Money in Higher Education. The committee calls on both universities and the Government to ensure better outcomes for students, expand degree apprenticeships, make university more accessible to a more diverse range of students and tackle Vice-Chancellor pay. Here are the key recommendations taken from the report: (more…)

HE policy update for the w/e 2nd November 2018

The Budget

As previously trailed in the media the Autumn Budget was focused on demonstrating the end of austerity. There wasn’t much in the way of HE announcements, however paperwork released with the budget confirms that the Government intends to continue to freeze the maximum tuition fees at the current £9,250 level (UUK report this means £200 million less funding for the sector by 2023-24). Previously announced increases to research and development funding (£1.6 billion more) were reiterated:

  • £1.1 billion through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund
  • £120 million through Strength in Places fund
  • £150 million for research fellowship schemes
  • Funding for 10 university enterprise zones, and for catapult centres

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HE Policy Update for w/e 26 October 2018

To read the policy update in full with the infographics click here or continue to read below without the infographics for widening participation.

It’s been a busy week for activity in Parliament along with several new reports published, including the subject level TEF details and a focus on part time and flexible provision. Meanwhile the sector continues to lobbying efforts in hope of influencing the forthcoming outcomes of the Review of post-18 Education and Funding. It’s a bumper update this week so do scan through to read the sections of most interest to your role.

TEF and Grade Inflation

Grade Inflation

Sam Gyimah spoke on Monday to outline a new measure to discourage grade inflation within HE institutions which will be piloted through the second year of TEF subject level pilots. The DfE news story states:

Announcing a second year of pilots to move subject-level TEF a step closer, Sam Gyimah confirmed today that these will also look at grade inflation, with TEF panellists reviewing evidence to see whether universities are taking a responsible approach to degree grading and not awarding excessive numbers of firsts and 2:1s. It means a university’s provider-level rating of gold, silver or bronze will take their approach to tackling grade inflation into account.

Grade inflation will be an important feature of the criteria considered alongside how a university is stretching its students through course design and assessment, and through their ability to develop independence, knowledge and skills that reflect their full potential. It forms a key part of the government’s commitment to delivering real choice for prospective students.

This is one of the first measures taken by the government to tackle grade inflation, with the plans confirmed in the government’s response to the subject-level TEF consultation.

In the last five years alone, figures from the Higher Education Stats Authority show the proportion of graduates who gained a first class degree has increased from 18% in 2012/13 to 26% in 2016/17, which means over a quarter of graduates are now securing the top grade.

Despite Gyimah’s speech the grade inflation presence within the subject level TEF pilot will be light touch this year because of the level of opposition to the metric during the consultation process:

Grade inflation is an important issue and the Government is committed to ensuring it is addressed so that students and employers can have confidence in the value of higher education qualifications. It was one of the more contentious topics in the consultation. In response to the question posed, the consultation demonstrated support for our proposal to apply the grade inflation metric only at provider-level and we will therefore maintain this approach. We acknowledge however that challenges to the grade inflation metric were raised in both the consultation and pilot findings. While almost half of respondents agreed to our proposal, many respondents also stated that they did not support the continued use of this metric in the TEF at any level and the pilot found the metric was limited in its current form. To address these concerns, the OfS will use the second year of the subject-level pilots to test some refinements to the grade inflation metric, exploring how it can be improved. This includes presenting additional data such as trends in prior attainment alongside the grade inflation data to help panels better account for other factors that might influence grades. (Pages 6-7 of Government’s response link.)

Research Professional write about the removal of the ‘contentious’ teaching intensity measure.

Conservative Women have an article by Chris McGovern supporting Gyimah’s plans to address grade inflation. While the BBC considers: Does it matter what degree grade you get?

Subject level TEF

The Government issued its analysis and response to the subject-level TEF consultation. The first year of subject level TEF pilots have concluded (read the findings here). The second year pilots are underway; their design is based on the outcomes from the first pilots and the subject level TEF consultation.

While the second year of subject-level TEF pilots runs the Independent TEF Review (required by the Higher Education and Research Act 2017) will also take place. The Government expects this timing will allow full implementation of subject-level TEF for 2019/20. The subject-level pilots will trial the introduction of LEO (Longitudinal Educational Outcomes data) within the core metrics. And Wonkhe report that the teaching intensity metric has been removed and all the TEF awards currently conferred on Universities will cease by 2021 to dovetail the roll out of subject-level TEF.

There are a plethora of new TEF blogs and opinion on the Wonkhe website.

Yvonne Hawkins, Director of Teaching Excellence and Student Experience at the Office for Students, said:

The TEF assesses the things that students care about: teaching quality, the learning environment that supports them; and employment and further study outcomes. The development of a robust model for subject-level TEF is progressing well…last year we tested and evaluated two different assessment models for generating subject-level ratings. This year we will consolidate this work, piloting a single approach that draws on feedback about the best elements from the previous models. The TEF’s strength relies not on any single source of evidence, but in drawing together multiple sources and making holistic judgements. This ensures no one issue is over-weighted. The changes we will be piloting are designed to strengthen this approach, so that ratings are informed by comprehensive contextual information. The input of students to last year’s pilot was invaluable, so this year we are also introducing ways to further strengthen their involvement.”

Transparency

The House of Commons debated the regulations surrounding the Transparency Condition (the requirement for HE institutions to publish data on access and success for disadvantaged and under-represented students).  An Opposition spokesperson argued for the inclusion of data on students with disabilities, the age profile of students, and care leavers to be included:

We also believe that, if the transparency duty is to have any impact, it needs to include as many different dimensions of participation as possible by social background. That view was echoed strongly by the Sutton Trust, which did not believe that the Bill and the regulations went far enough in that area. It said, “evidence suggests many universities are favouring more privileged candidates even when levels of attainment are taken into account”…The Bill should be amended to require universities to publish their contextual admission policies clearly on their websites”.

The Opposition spokesperson also raised the key workforce data that has the potential to impact on the quality of students’ education, such as the use of insecure contracts and student-staff ratios as a potential measure to be included within the Transparency Duty. Finally he argued for the OfS to use broader measures and rely less on POLAR data to examine socio-economic disadvantage. The new MEM measure was highlighted (a multiple equality measure which combines various data sources including free school meals) for inclusion to prevent overreliance on just one data source.

Sam Gyimah responded: Quite rightly, the hon. Gentleman brought up the subject of care leavers. Our guidance to the OfS asks it to monitor care leavers as a key target group, which it has done. We expect to see providers focusing on that in their access and participation plans. Whether to add age and disability is a decision for the OfS, but I am pleased that it has included that in its consultation, as we asked.

Care Leavers

Further to Gyimah’s show of support for care leavers mentioned above the DfE have launched the Care Leavers Covenant aiming to provide more opportunities and support for Care Leavers through work placements, internships and training sessions (supported by bursaries and accommodation provided by the local universities). Chris Millward, OfS Director for Fair Access and Participation stated: Disadvantage goes on to follow care leavers through their adult lives. We need a collective effort to ensure that care leavers are not denied opportunity simply because they’ve had a challenging start in life”. Read the Government’s news story on this new post-care scheme here.

Graduate Premium – female living standards

The Institute of Fiscal Studies have released a new paper analysing the female graduate premium: The impact of higher education on the living standards of female graduates. As the title suggests it looks  wider than just wages on the benefits that achieving a degree brings. It uses data from two longitudinal surveys providing a sample of 1,000 women born in 1970 (so all attended university before tuition fees were introduced) and quantifies the role of working hours, life partners, and tax liability. It finds a graduate premium (compared to female non-graduates) and demonstrates how the above mechanisms vary in importance over women’s life cycles and have changed over time to impact on female graduates’ living standards.

  • HE significantly increases the probability a women is in work and the number of hours they work, boosting labour market returns.
  • HE increased the likelihood women worked in their early thirties, but there was no impact on the likelihood of working in their early forties. This reflects the fact that higher education causes women to delay childrearing until later in their careers.
  • HE also increases the probability of a woman having a partner who also has a HE qualification, the degree qualified partner is typically more likely to work and earn more.
  • However, focusing on gross earnings returns overstates the private benefits of HE, as higher-earning graduates pay more in tax and receive fewer (family based) benefits. This reduces the net financial returns from a graduate wage.
  • The benefits of HE can also vary over the life cycle. While HE increases net family income by around 20% (£9,500 per year) for women in their early 30s and early 40s, the mechanisms change over time:
    • For women in their early 30s, the impact of HE on income primarily comes through their own labour market earnings;
    • By age 40 the importance of the impact on partners’ earnings has increased, likely because at this age women have an increased propensity to work part-time.
      It appears that, through the higher education level of partners, HE provides some insurance for women taking time out of the labour market after having children. The role of partners’ earnings remains an important channel of returns, particularly at older ages.
  • You can read the research assumption caveats surrounding the impact of children (page 13/14), particularly their effect on the choice to work and the wage rate.
  • In summary, as a result of a degree, it is higher wages, more working hours and assortative mating (degree qualified life partner) that explain the graduate females higher living standards

Both the Times and Mail Online articles pick up on the report but mainly emphasise the aspect that female graduates are more likely to marry graduate men – boosting their joint earning potential. The Times go on to consider the male/female gender gap and report that after graduation, women are more likely to have a job or go on to further study than men, but they earn less from the very start of their careers. These figures, taken from The Times, show how the gender earnings gap expands:

When Male Female
At graduation (-£1,600 less than men)
3 years post-graduation £24,200 £21,800 (-£2,400 less)
5 year post-graduation £27,800 £24,500 (-£3,300 less)
10 years post-graduation £35,100 £27,100 (-£8,000 less)

 

Technological Innovation and Regulation

The Council for Science and Technology have written to the Prime Minister to make four recommendations on how to ensure Britain’s regulatory landscape creates an attractive and welcoming environment for technological innovation. Greg Clark’s (Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) response is warm and picks up on several of the recommendations. Furthermore, on Tuesday Greg chaired the new Ministerial Working Group on Future Regulation. One of the aims of the working group is to transform regulation to support innovators to bring new ideas to market.  Greg stated:

“We have a world-beating regulatory environment in the UK which has set standards that have been exported around the world. But we can’t move forward by standing still and we must prepare for the technologies and industries of the future.
I am grateful to the work done by the Council and for their recommendations on how we can put the UK at the forefront of these industries. Through the Working Group on Future Regulation we are going to build on our exceptional foundations, ensuring our regulations keep pace with the technological advances that will reshape our economy.”

Those with an interest in this area can read more on the new working group here.

Civic Universities – Mature Education

UPP Foundation has released a progress report from their Civic University Commission which aims to explore and understand what a modern civic university does and how it benefits local people. This additional report was released to inform the Government’s review of post-18 tertiary education as the research uncovered a link between the decline in adult learning and universities’ civic mission.

They found that adult education used to be an integral part of universities’ civic activities but is now in major decline (non-degree courses for over 30’s have declined by 42% since 2012). The Commission states the decline will become more acute as more professional jobs become automated forcing changes in the labour market structure and increasing the need for retraining. The conditions on part time loans for retaining are noted as a barrier:

Those restrictions mean, for example, that a mother returning to work after a prolonged absence from the labour market — but who might have a degree from 15 years earlier — cannot retrain unless she can just pay the fees upfront, and support herself, from her own resources.

The Commission argues for a better adult university education system:

This is precisely the wrong moment to have closed off adult education. Graduate jobs will change, and as we leave the European Union the need for a good domestic skills base will be greater. We have already lost long-term capacity in universities — courses have closed and they are difficult to re-open. Rebuilding this capacity will take effort and time. In our view, that work needs to begin now.

It is also too limiting to see this education in terms of immediate fulfilling of skills gaps. It is extremely hard to predict exactly what the future skills needs of areas are likely to be — many would not have predicted, for example, the size and growth of creative industries and their importance to the economic wellbeing of places.

And even outside pure economic benefit — short and long-term — the benefits of education for adults are huge. It passes down into how children are educated at home — which has a much greater impact on their future success than the school environment. It improves peoples’ health and makes them more engaged in the labour market. It makes people more fulfilled and engaged in civic life. There is clear latent demand. A recent survey by Universities UK (UUK) found that as much as 24% of adults had seriously considered doing higher education, of which around half did not already have a post-A level qualification. …we believe it [is] important to offer education to existing professionals, women returning to the labour market and struggling to attend courses in intensity, and people who want to learn particular things rather than necessarily qualifications.

The report calls for the Government to:

  • Relax the ELQ rule so that graduates are able to do further learning;
  • Remove the 25% intensity rule so that both short courses, and longer-term learning, are eligible for loans and funding (they consider this particularly important for women with children);
  • Allow education that is not deliberately directed towards a qualification (such as a degree).

It also seems clear that the lack of direct public funding, and the funding of adult education mostly through traditional loans with RAB charges, is off-putting to many adults. Postgraduate provision and re-graduate provision, as well as first time undergraduate provision, needs to have some public subsidy. So the government should consider whether the apprenticeship levy has some part to play. Two options could be:

  • Hypothecating some proportion of the apprenticeship levy for courses that are shorter and more modular;
  • Having an additional, smaller levy for this particular purpose.

The Commission also favours greater pressure on universities to focus on widening participation initiatives that target adults, to be specifically monitored by OfS.

On Knowledge Exchange the Commission stated:

The new KEF metrics should have a strong weighting on knowledge transmission and knowledge exchange between universities and their local population. In our view it is as important that university staff spend time conveying ideas to the local population, and involving them in their activity, as it is to interact with traditional economic stakeholders.

Part time learning and Flexibility

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) are calling for more flexible routes to higher skills noting that the decline in part time students is of crucial importance to the UK’s future economic prosperity. UUK and CBI have published a joint statement drawing on a previous report on the generation of ‘lost learners’. The lost learners are those who are:

  • mainly 25-44 years old,
  • 48% only have a level 2 or 3 qualification,
  • 54% are in full time work
  • they are motivated to upskill and train to develop their careers.

However, the study found many of the learners didn’t enrol or were unable to complete their studies. Familiar barriers are cited: unaffordability of tuition fees (44%) and managing cost of living whilst studying (42%), and an inflexible course that couldn’t be managed against other life commitments (26%). Other difficulties were employer inflexibility and lack of employer financial support plus benefits challenges created by studying. Of those that did enrol but subsequently dropped out 33% stated lack of flexibility (even with part time study) was the cause.

CBI emphasise the need for flexible and part time provision is greater now than it ever has been because technological advances are creating different and higher level jobs for which re-training is essential. CBI states: “Meeting the needs of the economy, therefore, rests on widening access to higher-level education and promoting routes that appeal to people for whom a traditional, three-year university degree may not be the best option.
For a whole range of reasons – from family to work commitments, caring responsibilities and many more – if flexible study isn’t accessible then many people don’t study at all.”

CBI and UUK’s calls are very similar to that of the Civic University Commission (described above).

They urge the Post-16 Review of tertiary funding to:

  • Reform the apprenticeship levy into a more flexible skills levy so that it can cover a wider range of training (more detail on page 5 here).
  • Develop shorter and more flexible provision – enabling students to move between work and study across their lifetimes. Government and higher education providers should work together to consider how a modular or credits-based system for undergraduate study could increase flexibility in the long term.
  • Support collaboration between employers, HE and FE – helping learners progress into provision which falls between A levels and a university degree (level 4 and 5 provision). Government should support… through changes in the regulatory environment, funding new partnerships and collaborations and/or facilitating sharing of information on the need for level 4 and 5 skills.

CBI acknowledge that many universities already have extensive collaboration with employers but state this, alongside flexible provision, needs to shift up a gear.

UUK state:

While in the longer-term, the post-18 education system should move to a modular or credits-based system, we must also ensure higher education institutions can deliver more flexible options as soon as possible. Evidence from our project suggests that while institutions are developing innovative and more flexible methods of course delivery there is a limit on the extent they can test the market and/or roll these out due to financial constraints.

Therefore, Universities UK recommends greater government support being given to higher education institutions wishing to innovate, scale up activity or further develop systems for flexible learning in order to overcome financial barriers and future uncertainties relating to these activities. This could be through targeted funding by government. Targeted funding could help institutions achieve greater clarity on the extent of market demand and how best to tailor their courses to meet the needs of students, so that over time more flexible courses become a central part of the institution’s offer.

Matthew Fell, CBI’s UK Policy Director, stated:

“Investing in our skills base is the best strategy for growth a nation can have…The findings of this project are clear. We need to raise overall levels of education and skills in the workforce. Universities need to play a critical role in responding to the changing world of work by offering education and training for learners for whom a three-year bachelor’s degree doesn’t quite fit their circumstances”.

Professor Julie Lydon, VC University of South Wales and Chair of the group that produced the study, stated:  “For many years, discussion about higher education has focused only on the traditional route of school leavers heading away to study full-time at university for three or four years.  

The evidence from this project shows there is significant demand from learners and employers for more flexible learning, where learners combine study with work, and other life commitments. Learning and improved life chances should not stop when you reach your 20s. It must continue over a lifetime.”

Read UUK’s news blog here, the joint statement here, and their previous publications: the economic case for flexible learning; the employer perspective of Skills Needs In England; report on ‘lost learners’; and the report on flexible learning.

Finally, Research Professional provide their take on the statement here.

Recruitment – record applicants

UCAS report a record number of applicants at the early deadline for the 2019 undergraduate cycle. This deadline mainly covers medicine, dentistry, veterinary and Oxbridge applications, however of interest are the higher than usual rates of applications (+9% from 2018 cycle rates). There are also increases in English applicant rates (+9%) and an 11% rise in 18 year old applicants – despite the further 1.8% 18 year old population decrease. EU applications remained at 2018 levels. The Guardian covers the story and places the high rates within the context of the additional 500 places available through the newly approved medical schools. UCAS are careful to manage expectations in their press release and remind the sector that the recruitment boost seen by these programmes may not mean a corresponding rise in applications for the January 2019 deadline.

There is coverage in the Guardian and the Herald.

Widening participation – evaluating student outcomes

The Sutton Trust has published Student Destinations which looks at the successful impact of their outreach and participation programmes delivered over the 10 year period 2006-2016. They offer three programmes – UK summer schools, a US programme to visit and support applications to study in the US, and pathways to law. Drawing on destinations data from multiple sources and benchmarking progression against controls they have been able to boast excellent outcomes resulting from participation in the programmes.

See this link to view the infographics detailing the impact of the programmes.

Despite their success the Sutton Trust are keen to point out the difficulties in evaluating such programmes brought about by a lack of access to the needed data sources which are owned by multiple other organisations.

By no means is our work on evaluation complete. It will be years of ongoing work looking to refine our methods and working in collaboration with our partners to constantly improve the evaluation we undertake. It will be challenging.

Access to the data needed to evaluate interventions is inconsistent, disjointed and often expensive. Working with NPD, UCAS, HESA, HEAT and co. to negotiate and navigate data requests can be a full time job and typically there is a delay in receiving the data.

We are calling for access to data to become more coordinated and for outreach activity to have a broader definition of success than simply progression to a particular institution.      Source.

The Sutton Trust believe their evaluation success lies partly within their unique position whereby they collaborate with groups of universities to deliver their programmes “…this has enabled us to act as a facilitator to outreach collaboration. This allows for larger data sets to analyse, and data sharing across institutions, which we believe ultimately leads to stronger evaluation.”

Parliamentary Questions

A gaggle of parliamentary questions related to HE were answered this week.

On Brexit this answer covers the negotiation of science and innovation – excerpt: The White Paper set out that the UK is committed to establishing a far-reaching science and innovation accord with the EU as part of our future relationship. As part of this accord, the UK would like to explore association to EU research funding programmes, including Horizon Europe and the Euratom R&T Programme.

And another on participation in the Ninth EU Framework Programme.

A variation on a questioning theme that regularly surfaces with the House – how a Brexit no deal will affect universities

Q – Jared O’Mara: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what plans he has to replace potential lost funding for universities as a result of the UK leaving the EU without a deal (link).

A- Sam Gyimah: We remain confident that we will agree a mutually advantageous deal with the EU – we do not want or expect a no deal scenario. It is, however, the duty of a responsible government to continue to prepare for a range of potential outcomes, including the unlikely event of no deal. Extensive work to prepare for this scenario has been under way for almost two years and we are taking the necessary steps to ensure the country continues to operate smoothly from the day we leave. We have now published 106 specific technical notices – including on Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+ – to help businesses, universities, citizens and consumers prepare for a no deal scenario.

In the event of a no deal scenario the government’s underwrite guarantee will cover funding for successful competitive bids to Horizon 2020 submitted before exit day. In July 2018, we extended this guarantee to cover all successful competitive bids by UK entities to Horizon 2020 calls open to third country participation submitted between exit day and the end of 2020. The guarantee will apply for the lifetime of qualifying projects, even where this extends beyond 2020.

The government will cover funding for successful Erasmus+ bids from UK organisations that are submitted while the UK is still a Member State, even if they are not approved until after we leave. The government will need to reach agreement with the EU for UK organisations to continue participating in Erasmus+ projects and is seeking to hold these discussions with the EU. The government has also extended the underwrite guarantee to cover the payment of awards under successful Erasmus+ bids submitted post-March 2019 until the end of 2020. The eligibility of UK organisations to participate in calls for bids once the UK is no longer a Member State is subject to agreement between the EU and the UK.

Student Loan Sale

Several questions from Angela Rayner delving into the cost effectiveness of both the prior and intended new student loan book sales – with little in the way of a clear answer given.

First a question requesting the estimated proceeds of the (new) student loan sale and for information shared to be accessed centrally.
Sam Gyimah’s response: The government and its advisers are continuing to refine the range of estimates for the expected proceeds of the sale. A report on the sale arrangements, and the extent to which they gave good value, will be placed in the House Libraries within three months of the date of the transfer arrangements.

Followed by another on the book value of the new student loans sale.

Gyimah responded: The department calculates the book value for the pool of loans for any given sale after the sale has completed, and the fully audited number for the second sale will be available in the 2018-2019 annual accounts.

On the previous student loan book sales Rayner questioned:

This asking for the value for money evidence and assessment for the prior student loan book sale and this querying the minimum price for the sale.

Gyimah responded that the report is available within the Parliamentary libraries and disclosing the minimum price was counterproductive as it is commercially sensitive.

 

TEF

On the TEF it is promised there will soon be news on who will conduct the independent review:

QGordon Marsden: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what progress he has made on appointing the Chair of the Independent Review into the Teaching Excellence Framework (link).

A – Sam Gyimah: We have made excellent progress in appointing an independent reviewer of the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework and I hope to make an announcement shortly.

 

On Immigration

Q- Royston Smith: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, what plans his Department has to replicate the provisions of Tier 2 visa requirements for EU students studying in the UK after the UK has left the EU (link).

A – Caroline Nokes: The Government is considering a range of options for the future immigration system and we will publish a White Paper later in the autumn.

The independent Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) published its report on the impact of international students in the UK in September 2018. The Government welcomes this report and thanks the MAC for their work. The report makes it clear that international students offer a positive economic benefit to the UK and offers a number of policy recommendations. We will be considering this report carefully and engaging widely as we develop proposals for the future system which will be implemented from 2021.

 

Widening Access

Q – Paul Blomfield: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, whether he has made an assessment of the potential implications for the Government’s ambition to increase the number of BAME students going to university by 20 per cent by 2020 of implementing the recommendations in the University and College Union report entitled Investigating higher education institutions and their views on the Race Equality Charter; and if he will make a statement.

A – Sam Gyimah: I welcome the report from the University and College Union. Widening access to Higher Education is a priority for this government. We want everyone with the capability to succeed in Higher Education to have the opportunity to benefit from a university education, regardless of background, ethnicity, or where they grew up.

In 2017, 18 year olds from ethnic minority backgrounds were more likely to enter full-time undergraduate higher education than ever before. However, we still have more to do. That is why we asked the Office for Students to continue to ensure ethnic minority groups are supported to access, succeed in, and progress from higher education.

A new transparency condition will also require HE providers to publish application, offer, acceptance, non-continuation and attainment rates by socio-economic background, gender and ethnicity, which will provide greater transparency and help to shine a light on those providers who need to do more.

 

Finally, a question on artificial Intelligence (autonomous weapons).

Consultations

Click here to view the updated consultation tracker. There aren’t any new consultations and inquiries this week, however, there have been several outcome reports and Government responses to the consultations and inquiries we are tracking. Look out for the yellow highlighting to find the new information.

Other news

Free Speech: i news has an article reporting on the BBC’s research stating universities are not restricting free speech. Here is the description of the BBC’s research findings. The findings suggest there are only a small number of isolated cases where free speech is restricted. However, the article continues: A Department for Education spokesperson said while there was no evidence of widespread censorship, there were some “genuine problems”, including the effect of the “complex web of rules and guidance”, as well as the behaviour of protestors and student groups. The OfS Free Speech guidance is expected to be published before Christmas.

Science after Brexit: Fans of Radio 4’s Today programme will have heard Sam Gyimah grasping for answers during a Brexit discussion with Nobel Prize winning geneticist Sir Paul Nurse. Total Politics and The National both reported following the discussion.

Sexual Harassment: The House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee published the outcome of their inquiry into sexual harassment of women and girls in public spaces. The report has a whole section devoted to women’s safety at university. BU readers can access a summary of the report provided by Dods Political Monitoring Consultants here.

Cost of Post Study Work Visas: Wonkhe report on UUK analysis which estimates that the UK economy could have lost out on £8bn in export earnings from international students due to changes to student migration policy in 2012, which include the closure of the Tier 1 Post Study Work Route.

Simon Marginson, writing for Research Professional, also had much to say on the post study work visa this week:

“The notion that we beckon [international students] in through the narrow Home Office doorway, extract as much money as possible from them while they are here, and push them out the moment they graduate, is uncivilised, exploitative and counterproductive.

A mature country will recognise the connections between international education and skilled migration, and understand that while the primary purposes of international education are economic and educational, an important secondary purpose is attracting outstanding future citizens.

Post-study work visas are not only a cornerstone of education exports policy, they are a cornerstone of economic policy on skilled labour.”

Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of UUK, stated:

“To keep up with competitors, the UK government needs to promptly develop a reshaped immigration system that recognises the value of international students as temporary visitors and tells the world that they are welcome here. This should include improved post-study work opportunities”

Students Union officers: Students Union officers are in the news this week with an article on the York University Students Union Working Class Officer and UWE’s short lived men’s officer, which was scrapped after the candidate withdrew citing harassment.

The Budget: The 2018 Autumn budget will be delivered on Monday 29 October. The House of Commons Library has produced a brief on the background to the budget. Political consultants have also been producing speculation documents detailing what has been leaked or is expected within the budget – so far there has been little content directly on Higher Education within the speculations.

Social economic comparators: The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has released Equity in Education which tracks the impact of socio-economic background on the academic performance and outcomes of young people. It notes that high performance and more positive attitudes towards schooling among disadvantaged 15-year-old students are strong predictors of success in higher education and work later on. Furthermore, adults in England with tertiary-educated parents were 9 times more likely to complete tertiary education than adults with less-educated parents. However, this is still below the OECD average of 11 times more likely.

The Independent covers the report stating only 1 in 6 of the disadvantaged UK pupils surveyed report they are satisfied with their lives, socially integrated at school and do not experience test anxiety. The UK also trails behind in that only 15% of disadvantaged students are socially and emotionally resilient (compared to 26% average across all countries surveyed). Although the report does state: Disadvantaged students who are socially and emotionally resilient tend to do better academically which suggests that helping disadvantaged students develop positive attitudes and behaviours towards themselves and their education would boost their academic development. It also notes that greater school choice doesn’t necessarily have a positive impact on disadvantaged pupils and that there can be a lack of sense of belonging amongst pupils. The Equity in Education report utilises PISA data (Programme for International Student Assessment). Click here for an interesting short set of infographics.

FE and Sixth Form Funding Crisis: Twelve associations that represent school and college leaders, governors, students, teachers and support staff in England have written to Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond urging him to increase funding for sixth form education in next week’s Budget. The letter launched the Raise the Rate campaign which hopes to increase the funding rate for sixth form students that has been frozen at £4,000 per student, per year since 2013. In the letter, the associations claim that a combination of funding cuts and cost increases “has left much less money for schools and colleges to spend on the front line education of students at a time when the needs of young people have become increasingly complex (for example the sharp rise in students experiencing mental health problems).” The associations use recent research from London Economics to call for a “minimum” £760 per student funding increase. Without this the campaign states that minority subjects such as languages are at risk of being dropped and there will be decreased extra-curricular activities, work experience opportunities and university visits. As major funding decisions are not likely to be taken until next year’s spending review, and would not take effect until 2020/21, the associations urge the Chancellor to introduce a “modest increase” to the funding rate of at least £200 per student in next week’s Budget “to provide some much needed financial stability and ensure that schools and colleges can continue to deliver the high class education our young people deserve.”        

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders stated:

“It makes no sense whatsoever that the basic funding rate in sixth forms and colleges is a miserly £4,000 per student, while universities are charging tuition fees of up to £9,250, often for fewer teaching hours. Government cuts to 16-18 education have severely damaged a sector which is pivotal to the life chances of young people, and an immediate funding uplift is essential.”

Emily Chapman, Vice President (Further Education) of the National Union of Students said:

“Successive budget cuts have left many colleges in a state of financial instability. The result has been course closures, cuts to student support, and reductions in teaching provision.”

Bill Watkin, Chief Executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association said:

“Sixth form education is not just about exam results, it includes a host of essential wrap-around experiences. If we don’t fund it properly, something must give and young people won’t get the high-quality education they deserve. Every year, colleges are being asked to do more with less, and we must not sit idly by while young people are short-changed.”

Student Opinion: Read this blog on the latest research from an amalgamation of students’ unions: Asking the right questions on student lifestyle which covers wellbeing, living, eating and community identification. There are also previous research summaries giving the student perspective on Value for Money and Teaching Excellence.

Allied Health Professions: The OfS have published the blog Let’s shine a light on the opportunities in allied health professions educating about the wider NHS careers opportunities and how the OfS is supporting growth in recruitment to these programmes.

Immigration salary threshold: Research Professional discuss how the proposed retention of the £30,000 salary threshold for skilled migrant visa will dissuade talented social science researchers from considering a career in the UK.

Unconditional offers: Unconditional offers continue to make headlines as UCAS confirm they will publish data highlighting which HE providers make significant levels of unconditional offers. The data will be shared when UCAS release the annual end-of-cycle data in January 2019. A spokesperson for UCAS stated:  “Unconditional offers can be made for a variety of reasons… Universities may also need to provide necessary context of their figures when they are published for the first time.” Research Professional state that UCAS will publish an analysis of unconditional offers during November to explore the different types of offers and how they are made.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                     SARAH CARTER

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