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Public Policy|Southampton

Higher Education Digest | August & September 2016

HEPI Student Mental Health

Highlights from this month's Higher Education Digest include:

Teaching Excellence Framework

1. On 29 September, the Government issued its specification of Year 2 of the TEF, along with a response to the TEF Year 2 consultation. There have been some minor changes in comparison to the Higher Education White Paper and the Technical consultation earlier this year. The key elements of TEF Year 2 are:

  1. Teaching quality (NSS teaching and assessment & feedback scores)
  2. Learning environment (NSS academic support scores plus non-continuation rates)
  3.  Student outcomes & learning gain (DLHE employment & highly-skilled employment data)

2. Year 1 of TEF is already underway. Universities will be judged on the basis of having met the standards of their latest Higher Education Review. All those who meet the standard (including the University of Southampton) are permitted to increase fees by inflation for students entering in Autumn 2017.

Higher Education Bill

3. Following the summer Parliamentary recess, the Higher Education and Research Bill has continued its passage through the House of Commons in September. It is currently in the Committee stage, where the Bill is scrutinised line by line and potential amendments are considered by the Bill Committee. So far, no significant amendments have been agreed by the Committee, although there have been a number tabled (for example to seek student representation on the Board of the Office for Students).

4. Public Policy | Southampton is maintaining a web page on the Higher Education and Research Bill and its progress through Parliament, which can be found here.

New grammar schools and universities required to sponsor schools

5. On 9th September, the Prime Minister announced new education reforms. The headline change was that the Government would allow the creation of new grammar schools and the expansion of old ones. The reforms also included a requirement that any university wishing to charge more than £6000 fees would be obliged to set up a new school or sponsor an existing one. The following week, the Department for Education launched a consultation about the reforms.

Diamond Review of HE in Wales

6. The Welsh Government has published the Diamond Review of Welsh higher education funding, conducted by Ian Diamond, President of the University of Aberdeen. The proposals are a fundamental change to the funding arrangements for Welsh students. The key recommendation is for Welsh students to move more in line with English students with £9,000 tuition fees and loans payable after graduation contingent of levels of earning. All Welsh-domiciled undergraduates would be eligible for a £1000 non means-tested grant, with further income-related maintenance grants and maintenance loans available. Loans should also be extended to postgraduates. On research, the dual support system and QR should continue.

Assurances on Horizon 2020 funding post-Brexit

7. In August, the Government confirmed in a letter that the Government would underwrite payments of Horizon 2020 funds when specific projects extend beyond the UK’s departure from the EU. In the same letter they confirmed that they would underwrite any European Structural and Investment Fund projects which have been signed before the Autumn Statement 2016.

New Select Committee Inquiry

8. On 29 September, the House of Commons Select Committee for Education launched a new inquiry in the impact Brexit on higher education, looking at the potential impacts for both students and institutions and what steps the Government should take to mitigate risks and take advantage of opportunities. The deadline for submissions is 11 November.

Revised NSS Questionnaire

9. HEFCE have published the revised NSS questionnaire, following a two-year review. The biggest change is nine new questions on student engagement. There are also updated questions on assessment and feedback. Some other questions have been made optional and two which were seen as duplicative have been removed.

10. The timing of the NSS will be similar to in previous years, with the survey open between January and April 2017, and the results published in September.

NSS 2016

11. The 2016 NSS results were announced in August. For the sector as a whole, 86% of students were satisfied with the quality of their course, the same figure as 2015. Overall satisfaction at the University of Southampton was also rated at 86%.

University Rankings

12. The 2016-17 Times Higher Education World Rankings were published on 21 September. The top five universities were Oxford, Caltech, Stanford, Cambridge and MIT. The UK has 12 universities in the top 100 and 32 in the top 200. The University of Southampton is ranked 121st, the 16th highest UK university.

13. On 23rd September, the 2017 Times/Sunday Times Good University Guide ranking was published. The top five universities were Cambridge, Oxford, St Andrews, Durham and Imperial. The University of Southampton was placed 21st.

14. The 2016-17 QS World University Rankings were published on 6 September. The top five universities were MIT, Stanford, Harvard, Cambridge and Caltech. The UK has 18 universities in the top 100 and 30 in the top 200. The University of Southampton is ranked 87th, the 17th highest UK university.

HEPI Report – Mental Health

15. The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) have published a paper on students’ mental health. The report concludes that whilst robust data is scarce, survey data repeatedly show that students are less happy and more anxious than non-students. The report notes how students are vulnerable, particularly on transition to higher education. It has recommendations for the NHS (in particular being able to register for a GP at both home and university) and for universities, including more funding, more training for staff and the creation of mental health action plans.

Interdisciplinary research – HEFCE/RCUK reports

16. HEFCE and RCUK have published two reports on interdisciplinary research in the UK, a Landscape Review and a Case Study Review. The Landscape Review identified a number of barriers to interdisciplinary research in universities, including the challenge of collaboration, discipline-orientated cultures, career-related barriers, evaluation of research outcomes and funding. Actions to help lower those barriers include interdisciplinary training, effective leadership and institutional support. It was noted that outcomes from interdisciplinary research can take longer to emerge, and this needs to be factored in by funders, universities and the REF.

17. The Case Study review examines interdisciplinary research in 10 UK institutions. The University of Southampton forms one of the case studies.

UK University Technology Transfer – the McMillan Report

18. On 31 August, HEFCE published a report by the group chaired by Trevor McMillan on university technology transfer. Some of the key findings included:

19. Recommendations included involving university leaders in setting UK policy on technology transfer; improving the evidence and debates on what makes successful technology transfer; universities supporting staff and student entrepreneurs; and support for the development of Praxis-Unico, a professional association focussed on technology transfer.

HEPI Report – Teaching Excellence Framework

20. HEPI have published a paper on the Teaching Excellence Framework. The first part of the paper looks at the prestige of research and teaching, and concludes that the TEF and the new, separate governance and funding structures for teaching and research will drive a wedge between the two which will not lead to increased prestige for teaching. Instead, the report argues for linking teaching and research at all levels. The second part of the report looks at the proposals to assess graduate outcomes in part through long term earnings data, and questions the value on relying on this data, arguing for the continued need for short term graduate destination data as provided through the DLHE survey.

HE-BCI Survey

21. In August, HEFCE published the annual Higher Education – Business & Community Interaction Survey (HE-BCI). The survey shows collaborative research, access to specialist facilities and equipment and economic regeneration all increased by around 10 per cent. Large companies increased their total knowledge exchange investment by 6.6%, SMEs by 7.8%. There were increases in graduate start-ups and social enterprises. The data compare favourably with other countries, with the return on investment from commercialisation of research higher in the UK than in the USA or Japan, and engagement with industry similar in level to the USA.

IPPR Report – Migration and International Students

22. On 6 September, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) published a report entitled Destination Education about migration policy on international students. The key findings of the report include:

23. The report recommends that students are removed from the target numbers for net migration, and that the Government develops a ten year plan for expanding the international education sector. This should include the reintroduction of the post-study work visa, and have the right to stay extended from 4 months to one year post-degree.

Russell Group – Advancing Access

24. In September, the Russell Group launched a new website called Advancing Access. The website contains free resources for teachers and advisors, including detailed information on choosing post-16 subjects, choosing a university and degree course, applying to leading universities and how the admissions systems in universities work.

Million Plus – Policy Briefing on Research Funding

25. On 8 September, Million Plus published a policy briefing on science and research funding. The briefing looks at the way that research funding is allocated and identifies significant geographical disparities. It identifies a lack of dynamism, and notes that under the current model, research recognised internationally and of national significance goes unfunded. The briefing includes a number of recommendations, including increasing the investment in science, innovation and research to 2.4% of GDP, a new fund for translational research to support innovation and economic growth across the country, and a link between baseline research funding and student numbers at all universities with degree awarding powers.

Staying the Course – Social Market Foundation report

26. The Social Market Foundation published a report on 6 September entitled Staying the Course, about retention rates in higher education in England. The report finds that there is no significant progress across the sector in retention rates, and also concludes that there is no correlation between increasing widening participation and worsening continuation rates, although retention for students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds is still lower than for other students. HEIs with higher satisfaction rates and which prioritise student success have higher completion rates. There is a group of around 20 institutions where around 10% of students drop out in the first year, although there are other institutions where retention rates are extremely high.

HEA – Research Informed Teaching

27. In September, the Higher Education Academy published a booklet with a series of case studies about research-informed teaching, in collaboration with University Alliance.


Gavin Costigan

Director of Public Policy | Southampton


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