Policy Sandra Booth

April 2019 Policy Briefing

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THES Impact Rankings, Education Minister issues warnings on Unconditional Offers, Universities Minister says humanities degrees are not worthless, OfS says sector in reasonable financial health but ambitious growth targets are unrealistic.
Briefing produced by Sandra Booth
Main sources: THES, DfE, BBC, Guardian, OfS, The Times, MediaFHE, HEPI and WonkHe

May claims Brexit extension.

In another week of pivotal Brexit deadlocks, missed deadlines and the longest case of extenuating circumstances deferral…….ever, the world scrutinises our Brexit shambles, headlines criticise our confused position in global politics, and domestically, the UK is tackling an identity crisis resulting in breaking news last weekend of ‘European Union’ being removed from our passports even though Brexit hasn’t happened. Adding to our anxiety, OfS told us to make more realistic planning assumptions, the Minister issued 23 written warnings on the use of conditional unconditional offers, UCU warns staff stress levels are rising and our systems were ethically hacked in less than 2 hours.
Whilst Members of the House of Lords highlighted the “total uncertainty” ahead for the UK’s future participation in Erasmus+ and Horizon 2020 programmes, countering these concerns, Nick Hillman of HEPI and Michael Gove in the Daily Express comment on why Brexit is not the worst disaster that could have happened.
Furthermore, Mark Carney, Governor of Bank of England, warns of an ‘economic shock’, increased borrowing and risk of no deal as alarmingly high yet the HE sector is collectively going for growth.

Highlighting the therapeutic agency of Art amidst the catastrophic failure of politics, Andrew Marr says ‘I can’t talk about Brexit. So I paint it’.

Sustainability Goals

In a more uplifting move, HE welcomed the Times Higher Education new impact rankings based on UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 500 universities from 80 countries were assessed to “elevate public perception of universities most committed to service to humanity”. THE says its pioneering Impact Rankings evidences universities’ societal impact. Most media coverage was from THE itself alongside local and social media from achievers in the new rankings and HESA announcements that Business-Community Interaction income reached a record £4.5 billion.

In 33rd place, the University of Worcester is the highest-ranked institution in the overall impact table that does not feature in the more research-focused THE World University Rankings. The University of Leicester is in 37th place, and Glasgow Caledonian University is 44th.

Domestic and International Growth

The OfS report on Financial Sustainability of HE Providers in England said the sector is in ‘reasonable’ financial health and notwithstanding demographics, Augur and further economic uncertainty, many Institutions predict positive growth including for full-time students and 20% growth in International over four years. Many newspapers including The Times slammed these ambitious and unrealistic growth forecasts casting doubt on planning assumptions supporting these targets. ‘Universities overestimating future student numbers’ says The Guardian.
£33bn is the aggregate income for the English HE sector in 2017/18, which is up 7.5% on the previous year, according to figures published by the Office for Students.
It warns however that the general picture masks significant variations between individual providers and forecasts a deterioration in universities’ financial performance over the next year.
This begs the question whether the over-ambitious growth targets show university managers are losing their sense of responsibility over maintaining realistic standards in the sector. Jim Dickinson writing for WonkHE calls for balance rather than a chaotic gamble for growth and ‘rampant marketisation’, from individual institutions
Professor Michael Shattock argued in his Centre for Global Higher Education’s Annual Conference lecture that by stifling innovation and creativity “the ‘business model’ of university governance” is in “danger of producing an academic climate which represses rather than stimulates creativity and innovation”. Leaders are challenged to rise above mediocre managerialism, be more enterprising and show some ambition.

OfS to undertake admissions review

Education Minister Damian Hinds clearly thinks the sector could do better demanding action on unconditional offers (Daily Mail), telling 23 institutions to cease pressure-selling Unconditional Offers, calling the practice “unethical”, arguing it is unacceptable for students to feel “backed into a corner”. THE reports that OfS will carry out a “comprehensive” review of university admissions practices. A leader in the Times calls the decision to “name and shame” long overdue, calling unconditional offers ‘objectionable’ since they “disincentivise students from studying in their last year at school”. Dr Greg Walker, Chief Executive of MillionPlus, cautions that universities take their autonomous responsibility for admissions seriously. WonkHE suggests, legally, victims of pressure-selling should get their money back and asks why OfS hasn’t emphasised this.

Encouraging words from Chris Skidmore MP
The Universities Minister tweeted about the false binary divide between subjects.
‘Entirely agree- hopefully future course combinations and flexibilities – already being explored but more to do- as well as better tailored modular learning will ensure that we finally end the ‘two cultures’ narrative of arts vs sciences’
He also commented on ‘An important article in the debate over ‘value’ in HE- humanities, arts and languages degrees not only help to develop vital skills, they are vital to defining, interpreting and shaping our future society’

Other news

A new parliamentary group has been set up to support diversity in the arts.

DfE have launched and JISC has pledged support for a new £10 million education technology strategy launched by the government that aims to bring together teachers, lecturers and education experts with edtech businesses to tackle challenges from reducing teachers’ workload to supporting access and inclusion through technology.

A new online platform developed by the Open University and the BBC “promises to take mass participation in research to a new level”. The platform has been designed to run experiments set up not just by scholars and broadcasters but also by members of the public and claims to combine citizen science and enquiry learning.

Scottish universities face losing much of an “integral” £150 million income stream if England’s post-18 education review leads to a lowering of the £9,250 tuition fee cap, Universities Scotland has warned, as its prepares to publish a call alongside Universities Wales for the impact of England’s post-18 review on the devolved nations to be given full attention.
David Blaney, chief executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, looks forward to the task set by the Welsh education minister for establishing a new Commission for Tertiary Education and Research in Wales.

UK university staff have been offered a 1.3 per cent pay rise for the next academic year, lower than last year’s 1.7 per cent opening offer.

Half of private higher education providers registered at Companies House in 2014 had ceased operating in the sector three years later

And finally, PayPal is preparing to withdraw services from essay-writing firms