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Public Policy|Southampton

Higher Education Digest January 2018


Highlights from January 2018


Government Reshuffle – New Ministers

1. The Prime Minister announced a reshuffle early in January. Sam Gyimah replaced Jo Johnson as Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation. As his predecessor, Gyimah is a minister in both the Department for Education (for the higher education side of his role) and the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (for the research and innovation side). He was previously a minister in the Ministry of Justice.

2. The Department for Education also has a new Secretary of State, Damian Hinds – previously a minister in the Department of Work and Pensions, who replaced Justine Greening. Most Cabinet posts remained the same, although there are new Secretaries of State for Work & Pensions (Esther McVey), Justice (David Gauke) and Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (Matthew Hancock). Social care has been brought together with health in the same department, with Jeremy Hunt as the Secretary of State.

Major Review of Tertiary Education

3. According to many commentators, the appointment of Sam Gyimah and Damian Hinds makes it more likely that the Government will carry out its proposed “major review” of tertiary education, first announced in the Prime Minister’s speech at the Conservative Party Conference. Such a review could encompass overall fee levels, differential fees by subject, the decline of part time education, and routes from FE into HE, amongst other issues. No firm plans for the review have been announced yet, but they are expected soon.

USS Pensions and UCU Strike

4. Following the 2017 valuation of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pension fund, which saw an increase in the deficit compared with the previous valuation in 2014, the Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC) of USS has been discussing whether adjustments are needed to pension benefits. The JNC consists of employer representatives (from Universities UK) and member representatives (from the Universities and Colleges Union), plus an independent chair. There was no agreement between the two sides, and the JNC considered reform proposals from both UUK and UCU. On 23 January, it voted in favour of the UUK proposal, with the casting vote of the independent chair. Consultation with employees will begin in March 2018.

5. The major change in these 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.

6. As a result of these proposals, UCU has balloted staff for industrial action and announced 14 strike dates at 61 universities (including the University of Southampton). The strike dates are over four consecutive weeks beginning in mid-February.

Costs & Benefits of International Students

7. On 11 January, the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) and Kaplan published a report with analysis by London Economics on the costs and benefits of international students. The report found:

HESA Data – 2016/17

8. On 11 January, HESA released student statistics for 2016/17. The data include:

Social Market Foundation – Vocation, Vocation, Vocation

9. On 29 January, the Social Market Foundation published a report entitled Vocation, Vocation, Vocation, examining the role that vocational education plays in preparing young people for higher education. The report shows:

10. The report recommends that FE and HE providers work together to ensure good progression routes from vocational courses into HE. It also recommends that the Government raise the profile of technical and vocational qualifications, and that universities should publish the grade requirements for all types of qualifications. With the upcoming changes to post-16 skills policy, the report recommends that the Government funds bridging courses as part of 16-18 learning, which would be developed by the FE and HE sectors together

Advance HE

11. Advance HE is the new name of the agency which is being formed by the merger of the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education, the Higher Education Academy and the Equality Challenge Unit. This follows the Bell Review published in January 2017. The Chief Executive-designate is Alison Johns, and the new agency will be fully in place by 1 August 2018. 

Collapse of LCCM

12. The London College of Creative Media entered administration in January 2018. The administrators sold LCCM to Global University Systems (who own a number of universities) in a closed sale. This has secured the future of current students, whose degrees will continue to be taught by the same staff and validated by the same body (the Open University). However, there have been concerns raised, both about the system of oversight which allowed the LCCM to fail, and the nature of the sale when other bidders might have been interested. 

Migration Advisory Committee inquiry

13. The Migration Advisory Committee inquiry into the economic and social impact of international students closed on 26 January. A number of organsiations have published their responses to this inquiry, including the Russell Group, the University Alliance and Million Plus. They all demonstrate the benefits of international students and the risks to national and regional economies if numbers decline. They go on to propose steps the Government should take to actively encourage more international students to come to the UK, mainly through changes to the visa system. 

Committee of University Chairs – Guidelines on Senior Pay

15. Following a number of concerns about Vice-Chancellor’s pay expressed in the media in the second half of 2017, the Committee of University Chairs are consulting on a draft new set of guidelines to determine how universities should approach senior pay. The code notes that there are three key elements – a fair, appropriate and justifiable level of remuneration; procedural fairness; and transparency and accountability. It then sets out principles in each of these areas.

16. The consultation is open until 12 March 2018. 

Toby Young

17. Toby Young’s appointment to the Board of the Office for Students was announced on 1 January. There was a considerable amount of concern expressed about this appointment in the press and amongst universities given previous comments which he had made. As a result, he resigned from the Board on 9 January. 

Gavin Costigan


Director of Public Policy|Southampton


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