HE policy update w/e 28th April 2017

The Higher Education and Research Bill – now the Higher Education and Research Act 2017– was finally passed on Thursday. As expected, the House of Commons rejected the Lords amendments, including those relating to the TEF and international students. The government did propose a number of amendments to address some of the issues raised in the Lords, and having been approved in the Commons, these were approved by the Lords, after some discussion.

  • Although the Lords amendment removing the link between TEF and fees was rejected, the new amendment postpones the differentiated fee arrangements (which would have taken effect in 2019/20, using TEF year 3 ratings) until at least 2020/21.
  • Another amendment has changed the approval process for inflation raised increases to fees, which will now need approval by both Houses of Parliament (instead of the current “negative” procedure).
  • TEF year 2 will be subject to a formal and independent review, which will go beyond the “lessons learned” exercise that had been announced before. This will include a review of the ratings and the public interest benefit of the TEF – so may result in substantial changes.
  • The Office for Students (OfS) can require cooperation between higher education providers and electoral officers a condition of registration – this was to address the amendment inserted by the Lords.
  • The OfS must take advice from the designated quality assurance body when awarding degree awarding powers (DAPs) and must notify the Secretary of State when granting DAPs to institutions that haven’t previously had a validation agreement with another higher education provider or the OfS.
  • When authorising use of ‘university’ title, the Secretary of State and OfS must consult with the representative bodies of higher education providers and students.
  • The grounds for appealing a registration decision by the OfS have been broadened to address a rather woolly amendment in the Lords about appealing decisions because they were “wrong”.
  • The new transparency duties will now include information that will be “helpful” for prospective international students.

Universities UK and GuildHE wrote a joint letter which generally supported the amendments and the Bill.

Teaching Excellence Framework: So despite hopes that the Lords amendments might result in more sweeping changes to the TEF, we will need to wait until the review, and an opportunity to provide feedback in the summer once the year 2 results have been published.

No more announcements have been made about subject level TEF which was due to be piloted over 2 years – starting with year 3, with submissions due in January 2018. With the general election holding up the year 2 results, timing for the review and guidance for year 3 will be very tight.

Subject to approval in each year, it seems likely now that all universities in the TEF will be able to raise fees by inflation in 2018/19 and 2019/20. It is important to remember that any university that does not qualify for TEF or chooses not to participate will have its fees capped at £9000 – the rises from previous years cannot be banked.

It was originally proposed that year 2 ratings (now due in June 2017) would last for three years – so unless there is a radical overhaul and everyone is required to resubmit in year 3,  it seems likely that in year 3 participation may be restricted to those universities who choose to resubmit in the hope of increasing their ratings. So it will be interesting to see what happens to the pilot for subject level, whether more than one model is tested and whether participation is optional.

Universities UK published a blog clarifying the impact on fees after some sensational headlines linked to the Bill.

EU and International Students: The biggest issue in the Bill for UUK and GuildHE, and the issue most debated in the Lords on Thursday was international students. The long awaited consultation won’t happen now until after the election, we’ll see how quickly it will happen then – and what is said in the manifesto.

The House of Commons Education select committee report on the impact of Brexit on HE which recommended an immigration system that facilitates the needs of higher education, including a specialist route for academics other than Tier 2.

UUK have published a report on International Research Collaboration After the UK Leaves the European Union.

Benefits of Research Collaboration:

  • Cross-nation collaboration increases citations and combined talents produce more innovative and useful outcome.
  • The paper emphasises that the researchers themselves need to drive the collaboration. Sectors have different needs and Britain needs to collaborate with the countries with the richest talent and expertise. Funding needs to be well-structured and flexible to allow this.
  • The paper says that the government should seek to access and influence the 9th Framework Programme (the Horizon successor), alongside new funding sources to incentivise collaborations with high-quality research partners beyond the EU.
  • UUK call for a cross-government approach to supporting international research and the drawing together of the current disparate funding mechanisms.

Collaborative Partners

  • The report notes that “Research undertaken with EU partners like Germany and France is growing faster than with other countries – hence while it is vital that the UK takes every opportunity to be truly global in their outlook, the importance of collaboration with EU partners should not be underestimated”.
  • Almost all the growth in research output in the last 30 years has been brought about by international partnership.

Addressing Collaborative Barriers

Addressing the barriers to research collaboration is more than just funding, the report calls for:

  • Better information on capabilities and strength of UK researchers
  • National policy frameworks of all partners must be flexible enough to support international exchange, enabling critical human resources – including technical expertise – to flow between systems.
  • The report highlights South Korea and Taiwan as attractive collaborators because of their research-intensive economies, strong technology investment, excellent university system, and high-English speaking rate. However, collaboration is challenged by geography, proximity and cultural differences. UUK report that communication problems are a key barrier alongside the uncertainty about research profiles of UK universities and significant differences in research governance.
  • Policy and funding stability is essential – partners need to have confidence that the policy and funding environment will not be subject to unexpected or dramatic change after they have invested the time and resources necessary to develop productive and beneficial partnerships. Stability and certainty in both policy and funding environment is a key facilitator.
  • Bilateral agreements with defined funding facilitated by a coordinated application process – the report effectively highlights the difficulties of ‘double jeopardy’ (Roberts, 2006) whereby all partners need to individually secure funding across a sustaining period to both commence and fully complete. Individuals make research choices that further their career and are fundable.
  • Furthermore, UK research funding beyond the EU is highly dependent on the ODA budget which limits research themes and fundable countries. Post Brexit the UK needs new money without ODA type restrictions to support collaborations with partners not eligible for EU funds.

Note: UUK have also released a second report on whether free trade agreements can enhance opportunities for UK higher education post Brexit.

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