HE Policy update w/e 29th June 2018

Mental health – the next policy frontier

The self-styled “Minister for Students” has been campaigning this week on student mental health.

You can read the government press release here.  “The plans include, As part of a new package of measures announced by Sam Gyimah on student mental health:

  1. The announcement of a University Mental Health Charter will see the development of new standards to promote student and staff mental health and wellbeing.
  2. The set-up of a Department for Education-led working group into the transition students face when going to university, to ensure they have the right support, particularly in the critical in their first year transition.
  3. Exploring whether an opt-in requirement for universities could be considered, so they could have permission to share information on student mental health with parents or a trusted person.”

The Charter is being developed by Student Minds, who have covered it on their website here:

  • A Charter is a voluntary award and quality improvement scheme which will recognise universities with exceptional approaches to promote and support the mental health and wellbeing of students and the university community.
  • To develop the Charter, Student Minds will lead a formative partnership of the UPP Foundation, Office for Students (OfS), National Union of Students (NUS) and Universities UK. This partnership supports the national view, and we will be inviting wider collaboration. …A wider advisory group will be announced in Autumn 2018.
  • …The Charter will recognise and reward those institutions that demonstrate good practice, make student and staff mental health a university- wide priority and deliver improved student mental health and wellbeing outcomes.
  • … we will invite universities to achieve recognition for high standards of practice in areas established in University UK’s Step Change, such as leadership, early intervention and prevention, data collection and high quality services, and will stretch institutions in their approach to co-producing with students and members of the university community and reducing inequality by ensuring the needs of all students, including BAME, LGBTQ+ and widening participation groups, are met by excellent services.
  • …We anticipate that the charter will take a banded approach, setting out basic, advanced and aspirational goals. Training and expert support will be provided to support the change and assessment process. We will take an outcomes-focused approach.“

The Minister was on Radio 4 and the BBC story is here.  The story from Thursday is in The Guardian:

  • The government has issued an ultimatum to vice-chancellors on student mental health, warning them it is not good enough to suggest that university is about academic education and nothing else. With as many as one in four students seeking help from counselling services at some institutions, the universities minister, Sam Gyimah, is calling on vice-chancellors to prioritise student mental health and take a personal lead on the issue.
  • The minister, announcing plans for a new deal on mental health for students, said: “There are some vice-chancellors who think that university is about training the mind and all of these things are extra that they don’t have to deal with.
  • “They can’t do that, they’ve got to get behind this programme. It can’t be something that belongs to the wellbeing department of the university. This requires sustained and serious leadership from the top.”
  • One of the key measures now being considered is asking students if they want to opt in to an alert system authorising their university to contact their parents in an emergency if they find themselves in a mental health crisis at some point during their studies. Until now universities have been unable to share a student’s private information because of data protection restrictions, but parents of students who have killed themselves have complained of being kept in the dark about their child’s illness when they might have been able to help had they known sooner.
  • Under the proposed scheme, outlined by Gyimah, students arriving in their first week at university would be asked if they would like to opt in to the system by nominating either a family member or friend to be contacted in case of serious mental health problems. The minister said it would be entirely voluntary and any students would be entitled to withhold information from their parents or change their preferences at a later date.
  • Gyimah was due to outline his plans on Thursday at a student mental health summit in Bristol where the issue has come under the spotlight with the deaths of 10 University of Bristol students since October 2016. A further two students from the University of the West of England (UWE) in the city have also died. A number have been confirmed as suicides.

The BBC have the link to this week’s Office for National Statistics report – interestingly this showed that the proportion of student suicides is lower than in the general population for the same age group – but of course suicides are, as the Minister says, only part of the problem:

“Earlier this week, the Office for National Statistics published data suggesting 95 students took their own lives in England and Wales in the 12 months to July last year.”

And on Friday, Nicola Barden from the University of Winchester has written for Wonkhe on the role of parents in supporting students:

  • Parents and carers are the people we want to see when students need a helping hand that is beyond the university’s power to deliver. This could be financially (the bank of mum and dad), emotionally (going home for some TLC after a bad week), and in emergencies (who else will come out at midnight?) – but the law is clear that students are autonomous adults and have a right to be in control of their own information and choices. Universities are not in loco parentis, but they do have a duty of care to their students. So how, as HE institutions, can we view and engage with parental involvement, and consider the possibility that they too can be partners in education, while also respecting the rights of students to lead their own adult lives?
  • For the purposes of this discussion I will use the word ‘”parents”, but actually mean all those with parental responsibilities, as patterns of family life are now so varied that the role is no longer restricted to just two biological relationships….
  • Should parental contact be a default arrangement? As a policy suggestion, this has implications needing some serious thought. How informed is a student when they enrol at university about the sorts of things that may come under this rubric – would they really know what they were consenting to? How would they say no, if pushy parents wanted them to say yes? How would we explain to the parent that permission had not been given if they thought it had been, potentially worsening an already difficult situation? It is not simple – if it was, it would already have happened.

Race Equality and the Race Equality Charter

Race equality has also been in the HE headlines.  There was an article in the THE about the “onerous” red tape requirements of the Race Equality Charter.

  • “…the Race Equality Charter has struggled to win the same support from universities, with only two further universities achieving awards since the inaugural eight winners were named almost three years ago. At the same stage, Athena SWAN had managed to more than treble its initial number of award holders. Some university equality officers have complained that the race charter award is far more difficult and time-consuming to achieve than an Athena SWAN award. That is because it requires universities to collect information on staff, as Athena SWAN does, but also for students, with institutions required to create policies to address the fact that ethnic minority undergraduates often score lower than their white classmates of similar ability.…
  • Others have claimed that it is more complex to create policies for ethnic minority staff than for female academics, given the different challenges faced by different groups, such as black female staff, Asian men or international faculty.
  • Speaking at a forum organised by the Higher Education Race Action Group (HERAG) in London, Alison Johns, chief executive of Advance HE, which now has responsibility for the charter scheme, said she would undertake a review of the scheme next year after a similar examination of Athena SWAN had concluded.
  • Ms Johns told Times Higher Education that Advance HE was “incredibly proud” of the race equality charter scheme and, given that it was aimed at “tackling many centuries of ingrained racial inequality”, it was “unrealistic to think the process will be easy”.
  • The review would ensure that the scheme “is not unnecessarily burdensome and ensure higher education institutions are able to spend time advancing race equality, rather than applying for charter marks”, she added.

Wonkhe have had a series of articles this week on the issue.

Jess Moody of Advance HE writes about definitions and ownership:

  • Despite the diversity of institutions across the UK, the debate about ensuring diversity in institutions tends to be narrowly focussed, particularly in the mainstream press.
  • Time and again the public is invited to look at a couple, maybe a handful, of “top” institutions as undisputed symbols of national academic excellence and employability. Stories almost always focus on full-time undergraduate provision, and on school-leavers. When it comes to “race” and ethnicity, different identities tend to be aggregated into “BAME” (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) experiences: terminology with both strengths and limitations.
  • Such a narrow focus can draw attention to a problem in a powerful way: it can be a way to draw a line in the sand about expectations of a wider complex HE system in tackling injustices, lost voices, talents and opportunities. It can also lead to greater accountability, self-assessment and hard questions about white privilege. All this is wholeheartedly acknowledged, and discussed elsewhere in Wonkhe today. The following is meant as an “and” and not a “but”.
  • If we’re going to move forward on race (in)equality amidst a focus on who gets a place at university, what lessons can we draw from all these media and policy narratives about “convincing the unconvinced” that structural inequality even exists (let alone requires action)? There are some common barriers seen by those who do “diversity work” to moving forward as a sector, even in the middle of a (stumbling) national conversation on ‘race’.

Amatey Doku, the VP (HE) of the NUS, writes on the Black attainment gap:

  • There are issues at all levels of post-compulsory education where race is a determinant factor in students’ experiences of education, and yet Black students’ experiences have been routinely minimised, dismissed, or ignored by those able to make change.
  • These issues should be tackled simply to make sure our education systems are fair to Black students, although often they highlight the structural and systemic issues affecting all students that plague our institutions.
  • I am delighted to have just launched a project in partnership with Universities UK and Valerie Amos designed to gather and audit best practice on what institutions – and students’ unions – can do to begin to eradicate the “Black attainment gap”.
  • The sector has made some inroads in tackling the attainment gap. One of these is thanks to Advance HE – previously the Equality Challenge Unit – and its Race Equality Charter. Bronze awards in the REC demonstrates institutional commitment to racial justice – in itself, demonstrating commitment to race equity is a challenge and not one that most universities in this country have managed. In addition, under HEFCE, grants were given to groups of institutions under the Catalyst Fund to begin work on this area.
  • Race, in the context of equality, diversity and inclusion, is now firmly in the remit of the Access and Participation Plan framework – a development this year thanks to the Higher Education and Research Act, on which NUS lobbied extensively. I hope the recommendations from the audit we are conducting with UUK will also steer future access guidance. But access, retention and success at institutions has always been relatable to race. The new regulations merely reflect the existing reality.

Arthi Nachiappan writes about the lived experience:

  • It is always difficult to build arguments from lived experience rather than indisputable “facts”, especially when not everyone engaging with your argument has lived those experiences. It involves a level of trust to take someone’s experience as true and to draw wider conclusions from it – but when it comes to understanding systematic problems, experience is necessary.
  • And she looks at data before concluding:
  • I found when analysing data on black applicants to higher education earlier this year that there are few strong trends across mission groups, TEF awards, or regions. Institutional trends were more notable: there are a handful of institutions that have placed among the highest number of black applicants over the last few years and many others that traditionally place very few black applicants.
  • When challenged about institutional culture, small year-on-year variations mean that pointing to an incremental increase in recruitment of ethnic minority students in the previous year might just do enough for an institution to be seen as welcoming to ethnic minorities. But it does not do a lot to reach out to prospective students to show them any level of recognition that there is a culture that needs tackling. I, like Gopal, am tired of us all coming together to put pressure on organisations of all sectors to publish reactive written statements detailing how much they “abhor” racism, without making real cultural changes.
  • The communicative function of these instances and the wider experiences of staff, along with their visibility in higher education, all contribute to prospective and current students’ perceptions of their own place in these institutions. What it will take to deal properly with these issues is sensitivity towards experiences that are not universally understandable, and an understanding of the messages communicated to prospective students about institutional culture.

David Morris of the University of Greenwich writes about admissions:

  • A couple of years ago, UCAS took a substantial step forward in opening the admissions debate by releasing the rather un-sexily titled “Undergraduate reports by sex, area background, and ethnic group”.
  • In my previous life as Wonkhe’s resident data-digger we managed to publish some of the most comprehensive analysis of that dataset. We were able to demonstrate the continued substantial variance in university entry by both ethnicity and social class and, more importantly, point to where the data suggested that there might be bias operating in admissions.
  • I say “suggested”, because the data provided by UCAS is by no means conclusive proof of bias.

He goes on:

  • Simply looking at the offer-rate – the percentage of a group of applicants made an offer by a university – is insufficient, as it tells does not let us discern between differences in the entry grades of different groups of applicants. It also tells us nothing about the subject which applicants are applying to, as different subjects within universities tend to have very different entry criteria, patterns of offer-making, and demographics of applicants.

Free speech

The discussion, anecdotes and arguments about free speech at universities continue – there is no real agreement about whether there is an issue or not.  What seems clear is that even if there is no actual free speech problem on university campuses, enough people think there is, and there is enough confusion, it seems, about what the rules are and whose responsibility it is to (a)} ensure free speech and (b) stop illegal hate speech or radicalisation to mean that something needs to be done.  Student Unions think they need safe space policies to stop hate speech (or protect snowflakes from potentially offensive views, depending on your perspective).  Universities have to implement Prevent.  Many commentators forget that universities don’t control Students’ Unions.  And the Minister and others keep talking about being “nearly” censored, about self-censorship (I decided not to go because they wanted to see my speech in advance) etc. etc.

Research Professional report:

  • “As recently as Monday, the universities minister Sam Gyimah told Rachel Sylvester of The Times that “there’s a culture of censorship. At one institution when I turned up to speak to students they read the safe-space policy and it took 20 minutes. I’m all for safe spaces for vulnerable people, but the entire university can’t be a safe space. No-platforming just because you disagree with someone’s views is unacceptable. The lack of diversity of thought and a tendency towards a monoculture on campus is a problem. If universities are not for free speech, then what are they for?”
  • “Reading the safe-space policy” could become an idiom in English. Just as constables read the riot act in front of angry mobs in the 18th century, today—if the minister is to be believed—university administrators read the safe-space policy in front of bored audiences of students as a warning to moderate their language.
  • It is a ludicrous image, and in the absence of a named university we cannot confirm if this incident actually took place. However, it does show that the minister continues to double down on his claims about censorship on campus, even if his remarks demonstrate his own lack of familiarity with the government’s Prevent strategy and his inability to tell the difference between the unpopularity of the Conservative Party in universities and a crisis in Enlightenment values.”

[NB, Ed ; it wasn’t at BU]

And then we have a survey by YouGov. 

Research Professional report, using this research:

  • “that students are more likely to want to see speakers banned than the general public. 
  • The polling agency asked 1,004 students and 1,636 members of the public “whether they found each of nine controversial views offensive, and then whether or not they believed a speaker with each of those views should be allowed to give a speech at a university”.
  • The results provide no evidence that students are any more censorious or intolerant than the public at large. In five of the nine cases, there is essentially no difference between the percentage of students and of the general public who would ban a speaker. Three speakers were more likely to be banned by students, while the public were more likely to ban a speaker in one case.”

However, the reporting of this story seems to demonstrate our opening point – that this debate all depends on your perspective.  The Telegraph use the same data to say:

  • The “snowflake” generation of students’ hostility to free speech on campus has been revealed in a new survey which shows that the majority want controversial speakers to be “no-platformed”.
  • Students were presented with a list of hypothetical speakers holding a spectrum of contentious views, ranging from someone believes climate change is not caused by humans, to someone want to ban religion.
  • Assuming the speaker had already been invited to give a talk at their university, students were asked whether or not a talk should be allowed to go ahead.
  • More than two-thirds of students (68 per cent) said that talks by Holocaust deniers should not be allowed to take place, according the a YouGov poll of 1,004 British students.[Ed,as noted above,  the data shows that 61% of members of the public agreed with this]
  • Meanwhile 64 per cent said they would ban speakers who believe that terrorist attacks in the UK can be justified.[that one is 63% for the general population]
  • One in ten students said that speakers who want to Royal Family to be abolished should be no-platformed.[it was 23% of the general population]
  • And a fifth said speakers should be banned if they believe that God literally created the universe in six days.[that one is 19% for the public]

Conclusion: at least we are all free to say what we believe about all of this.  More serious conclusion: the debate seems really to be really about this (from the Telegraph article):

  • Sam Gyimah warned that universities must stamp out their “institutional hostility” to unfashionable views as he prepares to issue new guidance on free speech. His intervention came after a series of attempts to censor gay rights activists, feminists and Conservative politicians due to concerns from students that their views may cause offence. 

So is this really about the perception that universities are monocultures (left-wing, remain voting ones)?  And therefore not really about safe spaces or free speech at all?.  It might be argued that this is more about the government shaking up an academic establishment which it believes is home to a lot of people who disagree with its views, and who have a dangerously high level of influence on impressionable students.  That may be true, of course.

And what will be impact of all this be?  There may be some clearer guidance.  But generally, those who believe in snowflakes will become further entrenched in their views as this goes on, and the reputation of the sector will continue to be diminished in the minds of those people and also others who only catch the headlines.

And it all sits very oddly besides the focus on mental health – which is one of the reasons behind safe spaces.  Politics can get a person into some very sticky paradoxical situations, it seems.

Social media, apps and student information

The Quality Assurance Agency has published a report on whether social media reviews can identify poor courses in higher education.

  • The study—called The Wisdom of Students: Monitoring quality through student reviews—compares publicly available online feedback through Facebook, Whatuni and StudentCrowd with the results of the NSS, the Teaching Excellence Framework and external reviews of the quality of provision.
  • It finds that in the main, online feedback about UK universities is positive. Universities were assigned a star rating out of five based on the combined social media rating. The average score of the 210,000 online reviews was a highly impressive 4.18 stars. This chimes with high rates of student satisfaction in the NSS, and the ratings in the report mapped onto institutions awarded gold, silver and bronze in the TEF.
  • The report’s authors (Alex Griffiths, Meghan Leaver and Roger King) encourage universities to engage with real-time online feedback as a good way of capturing concerns about course quality. To test if the report’s findings hold true over time, the QAA will undertake a pilot with 10 higher education providers this autumn.
  • As a co-regulator of UK higher education, the QAA seems to have faith in the wisdom of students. It is a shame that the government would like to use the conditions of registration at the Office for Students to send the message that it is more ambivalent when it comes to the common sense of young people.

Wonkhe also have an article on this topic by Alex Griffiths

  • A couple of years ago I was highly sceptical about the value of user reviews. Tiring of hearing the perennial promises that the Care Quality Commission (CQC), England’s health and social care regulator, would look at social media posts to identify poor quality care, my colleague and I decided to investigate. Much to our surprise, we found that patient reviews and social media posts were good predictors of the outcome of CQC’s in-depth inspections. When the data from multiple sources was combined, it proved even more effective than any of the individual data sources. Collectively, despite the majority having no clinical training and only interacting with a fraction of the services offered by a hospital, we found that patients provided meaningful insights into quality….
  • This “wisdom of students”: means the collective-judgement score is an effective predictor of other quality measures, but it also has a number of other attractive qualities. Collective-judgement is available in a more timely manner than many existing data sets, often at a more granular-level, offers new insights at different stages of the student experience, and adds no burden to providers’ existing duties.
  • It does of course have drawbacks too. Measures such as APR, TEF and NSS are not without their critics, and one must question whether agreeing with them to varying degrees is a positive.
  • In our research we have been careful only to use reviews that students have actively made public (e.g. we have not searched individuals’ Facebook profiles), and any future use of this metric must be mindful to maintain the privacy of reviewers. Finally, there is the clear incentive for providers to enter their own reviews to project a positive image. Steps can be taken to identify and reduce the impact of (or penalise) such activities, and the impact will always be limited by the large and growing volume of genuine feedback, but it cannot be wholly discounted.

This comes as The Minister promotes his app development competition

Wonkhe have an article by Sue Attewell from JISC:

  • Helping applicants choose the right course is a complex problem – our members tell us – and we welcome the potential use of this LEO data as a way students can make informed decisions about sustainable careers which also meet their expectations for future earnings… The benefit of this competition from DfE is that it brings bright minds from beyond the sector to tackle a very real problem. Using current data to design a tech-based solution should help students make informed decisions, so long as they too can inform the design process of an app that makes sense of their own data.

You’ve seen our views on this in previous issues of this update

Industrial Strategy

The government have issued responses from the Department of Health and Social Care and the Department for Business, Energy and the Industrial Strategy to the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee report “Life Sciences Industrial Strategy: Who’s driving the bus”.  They respond to each recommendation, but the headlines are:

  • The views and recommendations expressed within the report have in many instances now been superseded by Government action. This reassures us that we have the support of the Committee for actions we are taking to support and grow the life sciences sector in the UK and we are grateful for their detailed scrutiny.
  • In terms of headline progress, only 12 weeks after the publication of the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy, the Government published the initial stage of implementation in the form of the first ever Sector Deal. The Life Sciences Sector Deal (herein referred to as the Sector Deal) committed £500m of Government funding to the UK life sciences sector and was backed by investment from 25 organisations across the sector. It was secured through extensive collaboration between Government and the sector, working together strategically to enhance the attractiveness of the UK. Our globally-renowned NHS will be a key partner in delivering the deal.

Since the publication of the Sector Deal in December, the Government has:

  • Set up the Accelerated Access Collaborative (AAC), held its first meeting and is on track to launch the full pathway this year.
  • Issued a £30m contract for a Vanguard Study, the first phase of a programme to whole genome sequence all 500,000 participants of UK Biobank.
  • Worked with industry stakeholders and the NHS to fully scope the competition for a digital pathology and radiology programme with artificial intelligence (AI), launched on 6thJune 2018.
  • Allocated £146m in support for medicines manufacturing from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund(ISCF), with £130m awarded so far.
  • Announced the Medicines Manufacturing Innovation Centre, a £56m UK innovation centre, which will revolutionise how medicines are manufactured, located in Renfrewshire.
  • Appointed Health Data Research UK to lead the delivery of Digital Innovation Hubs and agreed an outline vision and delivery plan to form the basis for the programme.
  • Announced the mission, as part of the AI and Data Grand Challenge, to use data, artificial intelligence and innovation to transform the prevention, early diagnosis and treatment of diseases like cancer, diabetes, heart disease and dementia by 2030.
  • Convened , alongside NHS and sector partners, the inaugural meetings of the Life Sciences Council (a strategic partnership between Government, NHS and the life sciences sector) and the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy Implementation Board (which oversees implementation of the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy including the first Sector Deal)

The government have issued their response to the Industrial Strategy: Intellectual Property Call for Views: Proposals:

  • First, as per the Chancellor’s Autumn statement of 22 November 2017 and the Industrial Strategy White Paper the IPO will work with businesses, lenders, insurers, the British Business Bank and HM Treasury to overcome the barriers to high growth, intellectual property-rich firms, using their intellectual property to access growth funding.
  • Secondly the IPO is working with Local Enterprise Partnerships and universities in the West Midlands to introduce an ‘Innovation Enabler’ fund. The fund is a pilot and it will provide financial and advisory support to help local SMEs develop and implement an IP strategy. In doing so, the fund will enable innovation and business growth.
  • Thirdly, the IPO will review the IP Finance Toolkit. The toolkit was launched in March 2015 in response to the IPO commissioned “Banking IP” report which highlighted the barriers IP-rich SMEs face when accessing finance. The report recommended that a resource be introduced to support a better dialogue between businesses and financial services professionals.
  • In addition to the interventions highlighted above, a strong theme throughout the responses was that whilst the IP system is strong and fit for purpose, there needs to be more work done to help users of the IP system to understand and navigate it, to ensure they get the most out of their IP. To that end the IPO will look to consolidate and enhance its suite of educational tools and services, focussing on the strategic protection and commercialisation of IP.

Consultations

Click here to view the updated consultation tracker. Email us on policy@bournemouth.ac.uk if you’d like to contribute to any of the current consultations.

Other news

Think tank Localis have produced the report Monetising Goodwill: empowering places for civic renewal following a public survey. The survey finds that many people would be willing to pay more in council tax or voluntary one-off levies to better fund certain local services across the country, in particular (and in order of popularity): public health, fire, police, adult social care and children’s social care. The survey uncovered six issues with majority support for paying some extra cash as a voluntary one-off levy: helping older people to live independently for longer; support for local homeless people; improving disability access; repairing potholes; reducing loneliness and reducing anti-social behaviour.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

Follow: @PolicyBU on Twitter                   |                       policy@bournemouth.ac.uk

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