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Public Policy|Southampton

Higher Education Digest April 2018


Highlights from April 2018

USS Pensions

1. In April, members of UCU voted to accept an agreement reached between UUK and UCU negotiators, involving maintain the status quo on pensions until April 2019 whilst a Joint Expert Panel is convened to look at the valuation of the USS and make recommendations on any potential adjustments to contributions and benefits. However, the trustee of the USS has not put the valuation on hold (to wait for the work of the Joint Expert Panel), but has decided to proceed with the original timetable. As a result, at the Joint Negotiating Committee meeting on 27 April, the JNC formally rescinded the January (pre-strike) proposals, and did not propose any others. The Trustee Board of USS will now decide the next steps, but one option is to impose higher contribution costs on both institutions and individual staff from April 2019.

Complete University Guide

2. The 2019 Complete University Guide league tables were published on 25 April. The top five Universities in the ranking are Cambridge, Oxford, LSE, Imperial and St Andrews. The University of Southampton was placed 20th, up 6 places from last year, with nine individual subjects rated in the top ten nationally (Aeronautical & Manufacturing Engineering, Anatomy & Physiology, Aural & Oral Sciences, Civil Engineering, Communications & Media Studies, Computer Science, Education, Electrical & Electronic Engineering, and Mechanical Engineering).

NUS Poverty Commission report

3. On 26 April, the NUS Poverty Commission published a report on the affects and barriers of working class students accessing post-16 education. Findings include:

4. The report recommends introducing a minimum living income for students, reinstatement of maintenance grants, a review of means testing, and practical solutions to help students spread costs. They also recommend that measures to ensure access to affordable accommodation for low-income students should form part of Access and Retention Agreements.

Industrial strategy sector deal on AI

5. The Government published the Industrial Strategy Sector Deal for Artificial Intelligence on 26 April, which responds to the recommendations of the AI Review led by Southampton Professor Dame Wendy Hall and Jérôme Pesenti of Facebook, which was published in October. The sector deal includes several announcements of investments of AI (e.g. AI in the service industry, robotics in extreme environments, AI in the public services) and £300M investment from EPSRC in AI research. There are commitments to additional doctoral studentships in AI, along with industry-funded Masters programmes, and investment in the Alan Turing Institute. The Government will establish an AI Council (involving industry, academia and Government) and an Office for Artificial Intelligence.

House of Lords Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence

6. The House of Lords Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence published its first report on 16 April. The report has a number of recommendations including the opening up of more public sector data, the need for guidance on AI systems to be intelligible, and reviewing the potential monopolisation of data. It recommends that the Alan Turing Institute should develop policy advice for UK universities on licensing IP and forming spin outs in AI, and also a further expansion of PhD places in AI and machine learning.

Graduate Labour Market Statistics 2017

7. On 24 April, the Government published the Graduate Labour Market Statistics 2017, which cover England only. The data show:

Reform: Apprenticeship levy report

8. The think tank Reform has published a report on the first year of the apprenticeship levy. The report shows that the introduction of the levy has been followed by a decrease in the number of apprenticeships offered, and also a reduction in the quality – with many low-skilled and short training courses being counted as apprenticeships. The report also finds many employers rebadging existing training provision as apprenticeships to shift the cost of training onto Government. Almost 40% of the “apprenticeship standards” approved by the Government since 2012 are below international or historical definitions of an apprenticeship, and consume over 20% of the funding available. The report also finds an increase in the number of degree level apprenticeships, but that only 12% of these are delivered to those under the age of 19. The report recommends that the Government drops the target for 3 million apprenticeships by 2020, and instead focuses on quality, adopting an internationally-benchmarked definition of an apprenticeship.

HE-Business & Community Interaction data

9. On 5 April, HESA released the results of the annual HE Business and Community Interaction survey for 2016/17. The data show that UK HE providers earned almost £1.3B in contract research and nearly £150M in intellectual property. The top 5 UK universities by total income from business and community services are Oxford, Imperial, UCL, Manchester and Bristol. The University of Southampton is 14th in this list.

Whatuni Student Choice Awards 2018

10. In April, Whatuni released its annual Student Choice Awards ranking based entirely on student feedback. The top 5 universities are Loughborough, Harper Adams, Bangor, Glasgow and Aberystwyth. The University of Southampton was rated 60th.

HEPI – benchmarking widening participation

11. The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) has published a report attempting to benchmark widening participation, using the Gini coefficient on POLAR participation data. The data show an average coefficient of 0.18, with the “most equal” university (Hull) having a coefficient of 0.03, and the “most unequal” university (Cambridge) having a coefficient of 0.48.

Resignation of Open University VC

12. The Vice-Chancellor of the Open University, Peter Horrocks, resigned in April. He had plans for significant cuts to courses and jobs, following financial difficulties at the OU, but lost the confidence of staff and the university’s Council. 


Gavin Costigan


Director of Public Policy|Southampton

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