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Public Policy|Southampton

Higher Education Digest | February 2017

HE Bill

Highlights from this month's Higher Education Digest include:

HEFCE Grant Letter

1. The HEFCE grant letter from Government was published on 23 February. This is an annual letter setting out firm allocations for HEFCE for 2017/18, and indicative allocations for 2018/19. The letter also traditionally indicates areas of priority for the Government which it wishes HEFCE to take forward. Key elements from the 2017 letter are:

Higher Education & Research Bill

2. Having completed the Committee Stage of the House of Lords on 30 January, the Higher Education & Research Bill is due to begin the Report Stage on 6 March. The Bill sets up the Office for Students (OfS) and UK Research & Innovation (UKRI). It also introduces regulations to make it easier for new entrants to teach degrees and become universities. In recognition that a large number of amendments from Lords would be tabled during the Report Stage – many of which were expected to be supported by peers – the Government through the Minister Jo Johnson announced a series of amendments in a speech on 24 February.

3. The key amendments announced include measures designed to:

Senior Appointments

4. Sir Mark Walport, currently the Government Chief Scientific Advisor, has been appointed as the first Chief Executive of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). Sir Michael Barber has been appointed as the Chair of the Office for Students.

UCAS Recruitment data

5. On 2 February, UCAS published data about applications for undergraduate study in 2017, as of the main 15 January application deadline. The data include:


6. A number of papers have been published relating to Brexit in February with relevance to universities.

7. Following the Prime Minister’s speech on Brexit in January, the Government published a White Paper on Brexit . The White Paper expands on the 12 negotiating aims set out in the original speech. The 10th of these twelve negotiating aims is “Ensuring the UK remains the best place for science and innovation”, and the White Paper notes actions already taken, such as the guaranteeing Horizon 2020 funding for any UK grantholders beyond the point of Brexit, the funding regime for EU students starting in 2017, and the establishment of the High Level Stakeholder Working Group on EU Exit, Universities, Research and Innovation . The White Paper notes previous UK collaboration in a range of European research areas and concludes this section with: “As we exit the EU, we would welcome agreement to continue to collaborate with our European partners on major science, research and technology initiatives.”

8. Universities UK have published a briefing note on what the Government’s priorities should be in Brexit negotiations to maximise the contribution of UK universities. The briefing document includes recommendations for:

9. The Government has also published its responses to two Select Committee reports. One is the response to the Commons Science and Technology Select inquiry on the implications for science and research of Brexit, and the other is the response to two reports from the House of Lords Select Committee. Mostly these responses refer to announcements in the Brexit White Paper, the Industrial Strategy and the Autumn Statement. The Government rejects the request to remove international students from migration statistics. It also describes an enhanced role for the FCO’s Science and Innovation Network for communicating the UK’s science priorities internationally.

HEPI reports – Technology in HE and Reforming BTECs

10. The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) published two reports in February. The first report, Rebooting learning for the digital age: What next for technology-enhanced higher education? , finds that technology can have both learning and financial gains, if it is built into the curriculum form the start, but that an evidence base is needed on what works to help inform decision-making. It also highlights the benefit of learning analytics, and the potential of digital technology as a key tool in the REF. Achieving these benefits will need leadership commitment and a digitally-skilled workforce.

11. The second report, Reforming BTECs: Applied General qualifications as a route to higher education , notes the increasing number of university students who have entered with BTEC qualifications, and some of the different experiences which those students have at university. It discusses some reforms of BTECs, but to avoid turning them all into A-Levels. It also notes the need for Universities to provide better guidance on which BTECs are most useful for the courses they offer.

Access Agreement guidelines

12. In February, the Office for Fair Access published revised guidelines for 2018/19 Access Agreements. The guidance builds on previous years, with a greater focus on universities

helping to raise attainment in schools and colleges, for instance by sponsoring schools. This builds on recommendations in the Schools that work for everyone consultation.

Student Loan Sale

13. The Government has announced the start of the process for selling the part of the student loan book. It is selling some loans from the period 2002-2006.

Student Plagiarism

14. University Minister Jo Johnson has highlighted the issue of “essay mills”, online sites which sell custom-written essays to students to use as part of their degree. He has asked QAA to develop guidance for universities and for students on this type of cheating, and to take action against the advertising of services by these organisations.

Gavin Costigan

Director of Public Policy|Southampton


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