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Public Policy|Southampton

Higher Education Digest | July 2017

Sir Ernest Rutherford
Sir Ernest Rutherford

Highlights from July 2017

Student Fees – Parliament, IfS and London Economics

1. Student tuition fees have been an active topic of discussion in July, including an emergency debate in Parliament on 18 July. This follows the commitment from the Labour Party to scrap tuition fees which was included in their manifesto for the June 2107 election. So far, there has been no change to Government policy on the issue, although there was no commitment before the summer Parliamentary recess to raising fees for 2018-19 from £9250 to £9500, as had been expected. Any such announcement may come in September.


2. On 5 July, the Institute for Fiscal Studies published a major report on the fee system, Higher Education funding in England: past, present and options for the future. Key findings from the report include:


3. London Economics published a report on 20 July commissioned by the Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) on the impact of student loan repayments on graduate taxes. The report looks at the effective average and marginal tax rates of graduates in certain typical graduate professions for students starting their degrees in 2016/17. Key findings from the report include:

Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) – Subject level pilots

4. Following the publication of Year 2 TEF results in June, the Department for Education has announced that there will be subject level pilots for the TEF Year 3 in 2018. The pilots will run alongside the main, university-level TEF Year 3 process (Autumn 2017 to Spring 2018). Universities can apply to take part and 30-40 will be selected. No results of the pilots will be published. This pilot will feed into the creation of the full subject-level TEF, which is expected to be launched in TEF Year 5 (Autumn 2019 to Spring 2020).

Jo Johnson speech – value for money for students and taxpayers

5. Jo Johnson, Universities Minister delivered a wide ranging speech on 20 July about recent changes in the higher education system. In the speech, Johnson argues that the recent HE reforms meet three key aims, to enable wider participation in HE, to fairly share costs between the student and the taxpayer and to have a system which is financially sustainable. He also defends the interest rates charged on the loans, noting that the system is more akin to a graduate contribution, and notes that the significant percentage of loans not paid off is a deliberate feature of the system and not a sign that the system is broken. He also discusses value for money for students, and notes that the new HE and Research Act has made it easier to set up new providers, and easier for universities to offer accelerated degrees.

6. In the speech, Johnson announced some upcoming changes to the TEF:


7.  Other things announced in the speech include a consultation on student contracts (between students and universities), and new guidance to the Office for Students on the issue of Vice-Chancellor pay.


8.There has been significant discussion in July about the Government’s plans to leave Euratom this month, as part of leaving the EU. Euratom is governed under a separate treaty and concerns both the movement of nuclear material but also nuclear research, including the Joint European Taurus (JET) experiment in Culham, Oxfordshire. It is not clear whether leaving the EU legally requires the UK to also leave Euratom, but many politicians have spoken in favour of staying in Euratom.

9.The House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee published a report on Brexit and the Labour Market. HE related conclusions include the urgency to secure an early agreement on the rights of citizens from other EU countries living in the UK, the removal of international students from any migration target, and the inadequacy of the international passenger survey to provide reliable immigration data.

Student Retention – Social Market Foundation

10. The Social Market Foundation has published a new report on student retention, which argues that whilst there has been significant focus on increasing the proportion of students from ethnic minorities and disadvantaged backgrounds entering university, more needs to be done to retain these students, who data show are most likely to drop out. London over-performs in getting young people into university, but has a high drop-out rate. Campus universities may have an inherent advantage of non-campus universities, perhaps from the “sense of belonging” which that engenders.

HEPI report – The Comprehensive University

11.  On 20 July, the Higher Education Research Institute (HEPI) published a paper encouraging a move away from academically selective universities to comprehensive ones, similar to comprehensive education at secondary level. It includes recommendations to limit the numbers of student places that can be subject to academic selection, set targets (driven by levies) to rebalance the skewed social class intake of the most selective universities.

UCAS Data – 2017 applicants by 30 June deadline

12. On 12 July, UCAS published the data on student applications for courses beginning in 2017, following the 30 June deadline. The data show a 4% decrease in applications compared with 2016 (including a 4% drop for applications from the UK, a 5% drop from other EU countries and a 2% increase in international applicants). The data also show a 19% drop in total nursing applications (including a 20% drop for applications from the UK, a 24% drop from other EU countries and a 38% increase in international applicants).

 Attitudes and perceptions of university applicants

13. The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) and Unite Students published a report on the attitudes and perceptions of university applicants. Findings included

Rutherford Fund – attracting highly skilled researchers

14. On 4 July, Universities Minister Jo Johnson announced a new global talent research fund to attract highly researchers to the UK. Called the Rutherford Fund, it will provide fellowships for early-career and senior researchers, from the developed world and from emerging research powerhouses such as India, China, Brazil and Mexico.


15.  A number of appointments related to HE have been announced in July:

o  Professor John Iredale (Bristol) – Medicine, Health & Life Sciences

o  Professor David Price (UCL) – Physical Sciences, Engineering & Maths

o  Professor Jane Millar (Bath) – Social Sciences

o  Professor Dinah Birch (Liverpool) – Arts & Humanities



Gavin Costigan

Director of Public Policy | Southampton

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