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Public Policy|Southampton

Higher Education Digest | July 2016

Theresa May arrives at No10

This month's Higher Education Digest features:


Ministerial & Departmental Changes

1. Following Theresa May becoming Prime Minister, there have been some significant Ministerial and Departmental changes relating to universities.

2. Responsibility for Higher Education (but not research) has moved to the Department for Education, along with Further Education and Skills. This is similar to the situation until 2007. The new Secretary of State for Education is Justine Greening, who was previously Secretary of State for International Development. Greening is a University of Southampton alumna.

3. A new Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has been created. This combines the responsibilities of the previous Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (except higher education) – including research and innovation – with those of the previous Department of Energy and Climate Change. The new Secretary of State for BEIS is Greg Clark, who was previously Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and for one year was also science and universities minister 2014-15.

4. Jo Johnson retains his role as Minister of State for Universities and Science Minister, now with a joint appointment in both the Department for Education and BEIS.

5. A full list of all Ministers in the new Government can be found here .

Higher Education Bill

6. The Higher Education and Research Bill had its second reading in the House of Commons on 19 July. Second reading is where there is a debate on the floor of the House discussing overall themes. Points raised included the effect of Brexit, the link between TEF and fee increases, degree awarding powers to new providers, threats to quality, graduate debt, effect on students of potential closures of universities, student representation on the Board of the Office for Students, separation of teaching from research, widening participation, and the link between universities and schools. The text of the debate can be found here. The Committee Stage, where the bill is scrutinised line by line, will take place in the Autumn.

7. 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.

Inflation Increase for Tuition Fees

8. On 21 July, a written Ministerial Statement by Jo Johnson confirmed that the maximum undergraduate fee cap in 2017/18 will be £9250 for those universities that have achieved a TEF rating of Meets Expectations and have an access agreement with OFFA. For this first year of TEF, the TEF rating of Meets Expectations will be awarded to all universities with a successful QAA Higher Education Review, including the University of Southampton. This is based on an inflation rate of 2.8%. It also confirms that other loans and grants will rise by 2.8%. The statement also confirms that undergraduate nursing, midwifery and allied health professional students will become part of the student loan system.

9. The statement allows for fees to be increased for continuing students as well as new students, although some concerns have been raised as to whether universities will be able to do this in practice under consumer law.

10. The Government will need to lay a Statutory Instrument before Parliament in the Autumn to bring this into effect (increasing fee caps by inflation does not need new legislation), but the announcement allows universities to advertise courses from 2017 onwards at the higher fee level.

REF – Stern Review

11. The Stern Review of the Research Excellence Framework was published on 28 July. The review was looking at how to reduce the financial burden of the REF whilst ensuring that its benefits were maintained. The report identifies strengths and weaknesses of the current system, including elements of gaming. It then has a number of recommendations, including:

• All research active staff should be returned in the REF.

• Outputs should be submitted at UoA level with a set average number per FTE but with flexibility for some staff to submit more and others less than the average.

• Outputs should not be portable (so if staff move institution, they can ony submit outputs completed at the new institution).

• Panels should review with a mixture of peer review and metrics.

• There should be ‘institutional’ level impact case studies, part of a new institutional level assessment. This will benefit interdisciplinary and collaborative impacts.

• Impact case studies linked to a research activity and a body of work as well as to a broad range of research outputs. There should be a clearer and wider definition of impact.

• The introduction of a new, institutional level Environment assessment, with individual UoA environment statements being condensed.

• REF data and metrics should be open, standardised and combinable with other data collection processes.

Concordat on Open Research data

12. HEFCE, RCUK, UUK and the Wellcome Trust launched a concordat on open research data . The purpose is to ensure that research data gathered and generated by members of the UK research community is made openly available for use by others wherever possible; in a manner consistent with relevant legal, ethical, disciplinary and regulatory frameworks and norms; and with due regard to the costs involved.

Post-16 Skills Plan

13. The Department for Education and the previous Department for Business, Innovation & Skills published the post-16 Skills Plan on 8 July. The plan sets out the development of a technical education route, to complement the academic education route provided by HEIs. The key elements are:

• Students will need to choose either a technical or academic pathway after GCSEs.

• Under the technical option, there will be one of 15 technical education routes (for different skills and industries).

• There will be a choice between a two year college programme and an employer-based programme (e.g. an apprenticeship)

• All college programmes will have a “common core” of English, maths and digital skills

• After two years, the pathways lead to either level 4 or 5 higher technical education programmes, degree apprenticeships or higher apprenticeships. There is an option in some cases to take a “bridging provision”, leading to an undergraduate degree.

UCAS Student Survey

14. UCAS published a survey on 20 July on student choices. They headline finding was that the earlier children felt sure that they would apply to Higher Education, the more likely they were to attend a higher tariff university. Other findings included:

• What makes a university “good” are quality of teaching, academic reputation and research, graduate job prospect, and quality of facilities.

• 64% say the right accommodation is as important as the right course.

• Reasons for not going to university included getting jobs or apprenticeships instead; concerns about finance and debt; lack of clarity of information; and lack of confidence in the graduate job market.

• Open days are hugely important in helping make choices

OFFA – Access agreement monitoring

15. In July, OFFA published its annual monitoring of institutional evaluation and equality and diversity in 2014-15 access agreements. It follows on from the report issued in May on the overall outcomes from 2014-15 access agreements. Key findings included:

• Almost all institutions are evaluating their work, with 14 per cent of institutions reporting that they were at an advanced stage – with evaluation fully embedded into practice, while a further 51 per cent of institutions were actively evaluating their work and seeking to continue to improve how they evaluate

• Those institutions that had embedded evaluation into practice were most likely to meet the high-level outcomes targets they set themselves through their access agreements

• Many institutions have used findings from evaluation to modify their activities and programmes.

QAA Review of Alternate Providers

16. On 28 July, the QAA published its first report summarising findings of Higher Education Reviews amongst alternate providers. In a relatively small sample size (27 reviews for 23 alternative providers), it identified a number of factors associated with high-performing alternative providers:

• courses or programmes generally lead to an award from a university

• educational provision is underpinned by a distinct mission or rationale

• a sustainable volume of higher education students

• a tendency to be among the more longer established providers (however, the report noted that some newly established alternative providers can deliver an excellent student experience).

HEPI – Student loans: lessons from New Zealand

17. HEPI have published a study on the lessons which could be learned in the UK from the HE system in New Zealand. Key elements include:

• New Zealand abandoned charging interest on student loans (except for those working abroad).

• Compared with the UK, NZ students pay back larger amounts on smaller loans, and therefore pay them off faster.

• NZ has broken the link between income and loan repayments from graduates, making it easier to chase repayments for those who work abroad. Non-payers are arrested at the New Zealand border.

• NZ has reintroduced student number controls.

• NZ has made great efforts to improve the student experience for international students



Gavin Costigan

Director of Public Policy | Southampton

More more updates follow Gavin on Twitter @costigangavin


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