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Public Policy|Southampton

Higher Education Digest February 2018


Highlights from February 2018

USS Strike

1. Members of the University & Colleges Union (UCU) have staged five days of strikes in late February, with a further nine planned for early March, over proposed changes to pensions following the revaluation of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS). The major change in the proposals is the removal of the defined benefit part of USS pensions (for future benefits, from April 2019) – i.e. specific benefits relating to length of service and pensionable salary. Future benefits will instead be determined by a defined contribution scheme via the USS Investment Builder – i.e. based on how pension investments perform.

2. UCU and Universities UK met for talks about the dispute on 27 February, at which UCU made some new proposals for resolving the dispute. The key elements of this are retention of the defined benefits scheme for salaries up to £55,550, an increase in contributions of 4.1% (shared between employers and employees), a reduction in the annual accrual rate from 1/75 to 1/80, and an increase in risk for employers.

3. UUK and UCU have agreed to talks mediated by ACAS on 5 March.

Review of Post 18 Education

4. On 19 February, the Prime Minister launched a major review of post-18 education, which had first been announced at the Conservative Party Conference in 2017. The four headline elements of the review are:

5. The review will be looking at ensuring provision of high quality academic, technical and vocational routes, and helping young people make choices between them, with information on earnings outcomes and quality of teaching. It refers to “a more dynamic market in provision”, which is likely to mean encouraging differential fees based on subject and/or institution. The review will also be looking at more flexible learning (part time, distance, accelerated degrees).

6. On access, it will be looking at all aspects of widening participation, and has specifically highlighted the issue of maintenance support – suggesting a possible return of maintenance grants.

7. In terms of value for money, one principle of the review is that “students should contribute to the cost of their studies”, so some form of tuition fees will continue. Another principle is that “there should be no cap on the number of students that can benefit from post-18 education” – so it is unlikely that there will be a return to student number controls. The review will look at institutional efficiency and transparency of costs.

8. The review is not an independent review (like the Browne Review published in 2010) but has an advisory panel advising it. The panel is chaired by Philip Augar. It is due to report in spring 2019, but with an interim report later in 2018.

Regulatory Framework

9. On 28 February, the Government published the Regulatory Framework for higher education (following an earlier consultation), and a raft of accompanying documents.

10. According the framework, there are four primary regulatory objectives.  All students, from all backgrounds, and with the ability and desire to undertake higher education:

11. Under the previous system, HEFCE was funded directly by the Government. Under the new system, there will be subscription fee to pay for the work of OfS, with the amount based on the number of FTE students studying at the institution. Fees will vary from £10,400 per year (for institutions with less than 25 students) to £158,200 (for those with more than 20,000 students). The full table can be found on page 25 of the Government response to the consultation on subscription fees. For large organisations, the fee is significantly higher than in the consultation.

12. Providers of HE can register under to categories – “Approved” (able to charge up to £6000 fees) and “Approved (fee cap)” (able to charge up to £9250 fees). As now, those charging above £6000 have a requirement to agree an Access Agreement with the OfS (previously was OFFA). All providers who wish to access the student loan system, recruit international students with Tier 4 visas, or apply for degree awarding powers or university title, will need to register for one of these categories. The previous idea for a “Basic” registration for other providers has been dropped – so these institutions will not be regulated at all under the new system.

13. OfS will be able to grant degree awarding powers, but following the consultation, this will not include research degrees.

14. Under the framework, the OfS will inherit a number of responsibilities form HEFCE, including distributing the remaining teaching grant, and operating the TEF.

15. Within the overall framework, HESA and QAA have been designated the designated data and quality bodies.

HEPI Report – Differential Tuition Fees

16. In February, the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) published a report on Differential Tuition Fees. The report notes existing differential fees (e.g. across the 4 countries of the UK, at alternative providers, postgraduate degrees, international students). For undergraduate study at traditional HEIs in England, it is a stated aim of the Government to promote variation in fees, but many charge the maximum £9250 for all courses. The report contains the results of a survey amongst students, in which 63% think all full time undergraduate courses should cost the same, and 33% disagree. The survey showed no consensus in which subjects should cost less or more, or if poorer students should pay less.

UCAS Application data

17. UCAS have published data for applications to commence study in 2018/19, including data up to the 15 January application deadline. Amongst other things, the data show:

HESA - Widening Participation Data

18. On 1 February, HESA released data on widening participation for 2016/17. The data show:

House of Commons Science and Technology Event

19. The House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee held a Brexit Science and Innovation Summit on 22 February. This included panel sessions discussing people, funding & collaboration, and regulation. It also included a speech by Universities Minister Sam Gyimah.


20. On 26 February, the Chanel 4 programme Dispatches broadcast a programme on expenses claims within UK universities.

Commissioner for Public Appointments - OfS Board

21. Following concerns about the process for the appointment of Toby Young and the student representative to the Board of the Office for Students, the Commissioner for Public Appointments investigated and published a report. The report finds that there was a disparity in the level of due diligence between different candidates. It also finds that the appointment to the student experience role was made without open and fair competition and was mishandled.  


Gavin Costigan


Director of Public Policy|Southampton

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