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Public Policy|Southampton

Higher Education Digest September 2018


Highlights from September 2018


Migration Advisory Committee Report – International Students

1. On 11 September, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) published a report on international students. The report’s findings included:

2. The report recommended retaining the “no cap” policy on international students, and that the Government and sector should work together to increase numbers. It also recommended changes to extend the time that students may stay in the UK following study, although as part of their original visa, rather than via a post-study work visa.

3. The report did not recommend, however, that international students be taken out of the net migration target, which is what many had hoped. The MAC concluded that it would be difficult to do as the data was unreliable, and that it would probably make very little difference to net migration as the overwhelming majority of international students left (and those that didn’t would have to be counted). The MAC noted that there was some evidence of there being an image problem for the UK in having students in the net migration target, but suggested that this was more because the net migration target existed at all, rather than the fact that students were contained within it.

Universities UK – post study work visa proposal

4. The MAC report was released a few days after Universities UK released their own proposals for a new post study visa, allowing universities to sponsor Tier 4 visa students to remain in the UK for up to two years post-graduation to seek work.

HE Commission – Staying Ahead

5. The Higher Education Commission also published a report on international students in September, entitled Staying Ahead. The report finds that the UK is in danger of losing its second place in the global market for international students to Australia. There are a series of short term recommendations, including increasing the number of English language test centres in target countries, establishing a “friendly environment policy” for international students, and simplifying the compliance requirements for universities of Tier 4 visas.

Transnational Education – new UUK report

6. On 20th September, Universities UK released a new report on transnational education (TNE). The report found that 84% of UK universities deliver TNE, with over 700,000 students worldwide. It shows a large variation in TNE partnerships, driven by diverse factors, and a constantly evolving TNE landscape. The report is illustrated with a number of case studies, which show that success occurs where there is clear alignment with partners’ priorities, and strategic planning at the institutional level.

Time Higher World University Rankings

7. In September, the Times Higher Education announced its 2019 World Universities Rankings. The top five universities were Oxford, Cambridge, Stanford, MIT and Caltech. The top five UK universities were Oxford (1st), Cambridge (2nd), Imperial (9th), UCL (14th) and LSE (26th). The University of Southampton was 118th (15th amongst UK universities).

USS – Joint Expert Panel report and consultation

8. On 13 September, the Joint Expert Panel (JEP), appointed jointed by UUK and UCU to consider the USS pension scheme valuation (following earlier industrial action) released its first report. The report looked at the 2017 valuation of the USS, and suggests a number of areas where adjustment to the valuation should be considered. If they were implemented in full, the report suggests that a total contribution rate of 29.2% would be needed. This is more than the current 26% (18% employer/8% employee) but significantly less than the current USS proposal of 36.6%, which is based on the current valuation.

9. Following publication of the report, UUK issued a consultation among USS employers on the JEP recommendations.

Student Mental Health

10. Sam Gyimah, Universities Minister, wrote to all Vice-Chancellors in September on the subject of student mental health. The letter notes that the University Mental Health Charter will go live in 2019/20, but that action is needed this year. The letter urges university leaders to assess their institutions approach to student mental health in light of the UUK StepChange Framework. It also references transitions guidance from Student Minds and new suicide prevention and response guidance from UUK.

Migration Advisory Committee Report – EEA Migration

11. The Migration Advisory Committee released a second report in September, on EEA Migration into the UK. The report gives recommendations on what the UK’s post-Brexit migration system might be if taken in isolation, though it notes that migration is wrapped up with the Brexit negotiations. Findings from the report included that migrants have little or no impact on employment outcomes for the UK-born workforce, have a positive effect on productivity, and pay more in tax than receive in benefits. The key recommendation is that there should be no difference between EEA and non-EEA migrants once free moment ends. The MAC recommends removing the Tier 2 visa cap and extending it to cover medium-skilled workers (as well as high-skilled). It recommends that there is no work migration route for low skilled workers, with the possible exception of seasonal agricultural work.

HE participation statistics

12. The Department for Education has released annual statistics for participation rates in HE for England. The data show:

13. Meanwhile UCAS have released acceptance figures for the 2018 application cycle. The data (to the nearest thousand) show:

Essay Mills

14. 45 universities have written to the Government to ask them to introduce legislation to ban “essay mills”, companies that provide bespoke pieces of work to students that cannot easily be detected by anti-plagiarism software. Essay mills are already banned in some other countries, such as New Zealand. The Office for Students issued a response to the letter, in which they pledge to work with the government and the HE sector to close down essay mills.

Gavin Costigan


Director of Public Policy|Southampton

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