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Public Policy|Southampton

Higher Education Digest | January 2017

Industrial Strategy

Highlights from this month's Higher Education Digest include:

Industrial Strategy

1. The Government published its Industrial Strategy on 23 January. The Strategy is divided into 10 “pillars”. As well as the national perspective, there is a local area/place flavour included throughout. The pillars are:

I. Investing in Science, Research & Innovation. This confirms the new additional investment in R&D announced in the Autumn Statement and the creation of UKRI. It hints at expanding HEIF, reforming RPIF and expanding STEM PhD student numbers, as well as additional capital funding. There will be an Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF), which will focus on specific technological challenges. The initial suggestions for the ISCF are smart, flexible, clean energy technologies; robotics & AI (including autonomous vehicles); satellites & space technologies; leading edge medicine & healthcare; manufacturing & materials of the future; bioscience & biotechnology; quantum technology; and transformative digital technologies.

II. Developing Skills. The main elements of this are a) improving basic skills and b) developing a new technical education system.

III. Upgrading infrastructure. There is a commitment to develop infrastructure, including road, rail, airports, flood defence, broadband, cyber security and nuclear power.

IV. Supporting businesses to start and grow. This focusses on both access to finance and other issues to help support successful business growth. It is seeking to ensure access to funds, some of which will be regionally based.

V. Improving Procurement. This section describes the stimulation of both innovation and economic growth through government procurement.

VI. Encouraging Trade & Inward Investment. This pillar concerns supporting exports and inward investment, the new Department for International Trade and the realisation of potential opportunities post-Brexit.

VII. Delivering affordable energy and clean growth. This pillar covers the future shift to low carbon energy in the UK, and in particular the need to ensure that the costs to consumers and business is minimised, that the right infrastructure is in place (e.g. for electric vehicles) and that the UK wins a substantial share of global cleantech markets.

VIII. Cultivating world-leading sectors. There are proposals for “sector deals”, consolidated support from government to industry sectors who are able to come together to work with them. Part of this is supporting emerging sectors & innovative businesses. There are specific reviews to look at life sciences, ultra-low emission vehicles, industrial digitisation, nuclear industry and creative industries.

IX. Driving Growth across the whole country. This chapter reflects on the disparities between regions and sets out activities to tackle some of them. The chapter emphasises amongst other things regional disparities in R&D funding and notes that new investments for HEIF, KTPs and the “D” part of R&D generally will help spread investment across geographies.

X. Creating the right institutions to bring together sectors and places. This section talks about local institutions, primarily LEPs, Local Authorities and Mayoral Combined Authorities, but others as well, one group of which is “institutions which support innovation”, including universities, Government research labs, science parks, catapults etc. SETSquared is specifically mentioned, and there is a suggestion of joint investment funds for groups of universities.

2. The Industrial Strategy is published as a Green Paper for consultation, with responses due by 17 April 2017.

Higher Education & Research Bill

3. In January, the Higher Education & Research Bill completed its way through the Committee Stage of the House of Lords. The Bill sets up the Office for Students (OfS) and UK Research & Innovation (UKRI). It also introduces regulations to make it easier for new entrants to teach degrees and become universities. More than 500 amendments to the Bill – which had only very minor amendments following its passage through the Commons –were proposed in the Lords. The Lords forced a vote on the first of these amendments (an addition at the start of the Bill to define what Universities are – including statements on autonomy and freedom of speech) and won. It has not forced a vote on subsequent amendments but may well do so at the Report Stage of the Bill. Other than this first amendment, there have not yet been significant amendments agreed by the Government.

4. The Bill will move to the Report Stage in Lords, probably in the second half of February and in March, before returning to the Commons

Bell Review of Higher Education Sector Agencies

5. The final report of the review group chaired by Sir David Bell to look at Higher Education Sector Agencies was published on 31 January. Recommendations from the review included:

• The Equality Challenge Unit (ECU), Higher Education Academy (HEA) and Leadership Foundation for Higher Education (LFHE) should be merged into one body.

• The Higher Education Careers Service Unit (HECSU), Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), Jisc and UCAS should form a strategic delivery partnership.

• HECSU should become subscription free in the next 2 years.

• There should be a new forum for chairs of sector agencies, with senior representation from UUK and GuildHE. It should report to the UUK and GuildHE Boards.

• Agencies should work on some broad strategic challenges, including engagement and consultation with members; more effective inter-agency working; greater choice and more flexible subscription models; demonstrable value for money; and supporting access to sector-developed assets and resources.

Prime Minister’s Brexit Speech

6. The Prime Minister gave a major speech on Brexit on 17 January. That speech set out 12 objectives in the UK’s Brexit negotiations. One of those is for the UK to be “one of the best places in the world for science and innovation”, with the statement that “we will also welcome agreement to continue to collaborate with our European partners on major science, research and technology initiatives.” The speech also confirmed that the UK would be leaving the single market, and ceasing the main UK contribution to the EU budget. It did however include the following sentences: “There may be some specific European programmes in which we might want to participate. If so, and this will be for us to decide, it is reasonable that we should make an appropriate contribution.”

HEFCE Report on Prevent

7. On 18 January, HEFCE published a report on the first year of universities’ responsibilities under the Prevent agenda (where HEIs must have “due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism). The report shows that 84% of HEIs had robust policies in place, and the remainder had further work needed. Key issues for HEIs included staff training, policies and processes for external speakers, routes for sharing and reporting concerns, and working in partnership with regional Prevent co-ordinators, police and local authorities.

Universities participating in the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF)

8. The deadline for universities to confirm their participation in the TEF was 26 January. Figures released by HEFCE show that 222 HE providers in England have signed up to participate. However, only 5 Scottish universities have signed up (out of 19), with 7 Welsh universities and none from Northern Ireland. The TEF is not compulsory but offers the ability of English institutions to raise tuition fees. Universities in the other UK nations are funded differently.

Research Integrity – POST Note and Select Committee Inquiry

9. The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology produced one of its regular briefing papers (called POSTnotes) on Research Integrity. Key points included:

• There are fears that the “publish or perish” culture can lead to poor or questionable research practices.

• Compromised research integrity can cause real harm as well as undermining public trust in science and damaging individual reputations

• Various mechanisms exist to promote good practice in research, including institutional guidelines; a sector-wide concordat; regulatory bodies for some disciplines; peer review; and a variety of legal actions. There are differing views on whether these are sufficient, or whether another form of oversight, such as regulation, is needed.

10. As a result of the POSTnote, the House of Commons Select Committee for Science and Technology has launched an Inquiry into Research Integrity. The inquiry is looking into the extent of the research integrity problem, recent trends, the effectiveness of controls and regulations, and the division of roles between the academic community and the government. The deadline for submissions is 10 March 2017.

HEPI report – International Students

11. The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) published a report on 12 January on the determinants of international demand for UK HE. about International University Rankings. The report explores different issues which could reduce demand (higher fees for EU students) and increase demand (depreciation of sterling). The modelling shows that international student numbers may go down whilst tuition fee income may go up. This comprises a fall in EU students of 31,000 but a rise in non-EU international students of 20,000, and assumes that EU fees will move to international fee levels. Some universities will gain and others lose.

12. The analysis assumes no change to the current visa regime for international students. If the Home Office brings in new visa restrictions which prevent the additional 20,000 international students from coming to the UK (a potential consequence of a forthcoming consultation), the UK could lose almost £2B a year (of which £463M was in tuition fee income).

QAA Viewpoint - Doctoral Research Students

13. QAA have published a two page Viewpoint paper on what they think that doctoral students should expect from their academic experience. Three years of Higher Education Reviews and UK HEIs have identified a number of areas where the postgraduate student experience could be improved in some institutions. These include supervision, development and induction; the breadth of subject and supervisory expertise available to research students; delivery through partnership arrangements; and the collection of and response to feedback. There were also some features of good practice identified, including high quality research environments; opportunities to study internationally; integrated approaches to student support; and the monitoring of student employability rates.

 

 

Gavin Costigan

Director of Public Policy|Southampton

@CostiganGavin

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