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Public Policy|Southampton

Higher Education Digest March 2018

Snowy Picket

Highlights from March 2018

USS Strike

Members of the University & Colleges Union (UCU) staged strikes in many universities in February and March over changes to the USS pension scheme. A set of proposals was agreed between UUK and UCU centrally in early March following talks at ACAS, but this was rejected by UCU local branches. A revised set of proposals was later agreed and it was decided on 28 March to put those proposals UCU members in a consultation, which closes on 13 April.

Key elements of the proposal are:

If the proposals are not accepted, further strikes are planned for the week beginning 16 April.


Freedom of Speech in Universities – report by Parliamentary Select Committee

On 21 March, the Joint Committee on Human Rights published its final report on Freedom of Speech in Universities. The report finds that a number of factors are inhibiting lawful free speech within universities, including intolerant attitudes, intimidatory behaviour by protestors, bureaucracy, fear and confusion over the Prevent duty, regulatory complexity, unduly complicated and cautious guidance from the Charity Commission, and concern by student unions not to infringe what they see as restrictions. However, the Committee points out that much of the concern about freedom of speech in universities comes from a small number of widely-reported incidents, and it is not a pervasive problem across the whole sector.

In parallel with the report, the Committee has also published guidance for universities and students organising events.


Post-18 Education review – call for evidence

Following the announcement in February of a major review into post-18 education, the Government has published a call for evidence. The questions in the consultation include overall priorities and concerns, how people make choices about study options, alternatives to three year degrees, how to create a more dynamic market in undergraduate fees, more flexible study options, barriers to entry and widening participation, delivering the skills needed by the economy, how should students and graduates contribute to the costs of post-19 education, and value for money.

The deadline for responding is 2 May 2018.


OfS Report – Students perception of value for money

On 14 March, the Office for Students published research on student perceptions of value for money. Findings included:

UPP Foundation Civic University Commission


The UPP Foundation launched a Civic University Commission in March 2018. Chaired by Lord Kerslake, and with representation from within and outside higher education, the Commission will look at how universities can combine a national and global ambition with serving their local communities. A poll across a 10 university cities published in parallel to the launch showed that 58% of respondents were “proud” of their local universities, with 7% “not proud” and 28% “indifferent”.

The Commission will conduct its review over the next six months and publish a report in October 2018.

The effect of student characteristics on difference in student outcomes

HEFCE published a report in March on employment outcomes and degree outcomes of different groups of students. Comparing 2016-17 graduates with those graduating in 2013-14, findings include:

The report also shows difference in graduate employment outcomes, where for highly skilled employment, the gender gap has risen slightly to 1 percentage point and the non-disabled/disabled gap risen slightly to 2.6 percentage points. The ethnicity gap has decreased to 5 percentage points and the education disadvantage gap has decreased to 4 percentage points. 


University non-continuation rates

In March, HESA published data on non-continuation rates of UK-domiciled entrants to degree courses in 2015-16. The data show that for the UK as a whole, 6.4% of young entrants and 11.6% of mature entrants did not continue into their second year. The equivalent data for the University of Southampton are 2.8% (young) and 5.4% (mature). 


UUK – Policy priorities post-Brexit

On 23 March, Universities UK published a new priorities statement to support universities post-Brexit. Short term priorities include enshrining the agreement on citizens’ rights into UK law, confirming EU students starting in 2019/20 will be eligible for home fees and loans, and supporting awareness that the UK remains eligible for certain EU programmes until the end of 2020. Longer term, priorities include association to Framework Programme 9, access to the Erasmus+ successor programme, continued mutual recognition of qualifications and continued arrangements with the European Investment Bank. Other priorities include development of an immigration system which encourages international students to study in the UK, support for international research collaboration and outward student mobility, the creation of a UK Shared Prosperity Fund, and maximising UK HE and research opportunities through free trade agreements. 


HEPI report – Demand for Education to 2030

The Higher Education Policy Institute has published a report on the Demand for Higher Education to 2030. Findings from the report include:


Sutton Trust Report on Part Time Education

In March, the Sutton Trust published a report on the Lost Part-Timers, looking at the decline of part-time undergraduate education in England since 2010. Key findings include:


UK Quality Code

The UK Standing Committee for Quality Assessment has published a revised document on Expectations and Practices under the Quality Code, following QAA’s consultation. It lists core practices and common practices in both expectations for standards and expectations for quality. There will be further consultations in May 2018 on the Advice and Guidance part of the Quality Code.



Gavin Costigan


Director of Public Policy|Southampton

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