HE policy update for the w/e 15th September

REF 2021

As we noted last week, on 1st September 2017 HEFCE published the initial decisions on REF 2021. This does not include decisions regarding submitting staff, output portability or the eligibility of institutions to participate in the REF. There is another consultation on those issues and BU’s response is being prepared by RKEO – please contact Julie Northam if you would like to be involved. This week, the four UK funding bodies published a summary of the responses to the previous consultation. The document summarises the 388 formal responses to the consultation.

Some highlights:

  • Over a third of respondents suggested that the proposal might result in changes to contractual status, with some staff being moved to Teaching-only contracts. A small number of HEI respondents suggested that they would make such contract changes if the proposal is implemented.
  • “the predominant suggestion (by one-fifth of respondents addressing this issue) was that HEIs should retain a key role in identifying staff with significant responsibility for research”.
  • Many respondents stressed the importance of research independence as a criterion, especially for staff employed on Research-only contracts. The majority of respondents argued for a nuanced approach to the inclusion of research assistants where they could demonstrate research independence. There was some support for using the REF 2014 independence criteria, although many requested clearer guidance to limit the burden on HEIs.
  • Of those who commented on question 9c., asking for views on the minimum number of outputs per staff member, over half supported setting a minimum requirement of one output per person. Over one-third were in favour of no minimum at all. This support was often linked to the use of contracts to determine research-active status and concern about the ability to submit large numbers.
  • Of those who provided a clear view, around three-quarters did not support the introduction of non-portability rules.
  • Just over 50 per cent of respondents to Question 38 agreed in principle with the introduction of an institutional element to the environment template; this support came with a lot of caveats.
  • Almost half of the responses to Question 26 supported the principle of maintaining the volume of impact case studies overall. The majority recognised that this would affect the ratio of case studies required per FTE when applied alongside the submissions of all staff with significant responsibility for research. Respondents were keen to know the multiplier as soon as possible, to enable HEIs and submitting units to plan the number of case studies required.
  • A third of responses agreed that the minimum number of impact case studies per submission should be reduced to one. This was felt to be of particular benefit to smaller submitting units. However, a number of respondents discussed the risks associated with a minimum of one case study.
  • A small number of respondents drew attention to the Teaching Excellence Framework, which was mentioned in the context of incentivising research-led teaching and minimising burden on HEIs. It was stressed that an aligned approach is necessary to avoid creating a division between teaching and research

Office for Students

Higher Education Commission launched its report: ‘One size won’t fit all: the challenges facing the Office for Students’ The report makes recommendations for the OfS, following hot on the heels of those made by the Minister last week – it looks at alternative and niche provision.  There’s a Wonkhe article here

Strategic challenges for the OfS:

  • The unintended consequences of policy reform and funding continue to favour the offer of certain modes of study and undermines choice for students
  • The balance between upholding quality and encouraging innovation is not achieved, either damaging the sector’s reputation or meaning the sector does not keep pace with changes in technology and the labour market
  • Innovation and growth in the sector does not effectively align with the industrial strategy or aspirations for regional growth
  • Price variation and two tier provision result in greater segregation across the system damaging social mobility
  • The student experience of higher education is undermined as some providers struggle with competition and funding challenges
  • Institutional decline, and ultimately failure, reduces choice and the quality of provision in certain areas, or damages the student experience or the perceived value of their qualification
  • The Office for Students in its new role as the champion of ‘choice for students’ and ‘value for the tax payer’ must address these challenges. It is hoped that the findings in this report and the recommendations outlined below will aid the new regulator in ensuring the continued success of the sector.

The report includes an interesting overview of how we got to where we are now, and then moves on to look at some knotty issues facing the sector, including alternative models, and a number of themes that arise in that context (such as access, support for students and progression). They look at class and course size, which is interesting given the new TEF focus on “teaching intensity”, practitioner lecturers, industry experience, sandwich degrees and apprenticeships. There is a chapter on funding, costs and fees and of course the report looks at part-time and accelerated courses, also another hot topic for universities as well as alternative providers.   The report also examines some of the perceived barriers to innovation which were cited in government papers – validation (which is described a barrier to innovation rather than entry) and retention being a problematic measure for alternative providers.

The consequences lf all this start in chapter 4 (page 55) where the report turns to recommendations for the OfS as the regulator.

The recommendations are:

  • Universities should learn lessons from the further education sector to create an environment that feels more accessible to students from low participation backgrounds.
  • The OfS should work with HEIs and alternative providers to identify how personalised and industry-orientated provision can be scaled up and replicated across the system.
  • The OfS, as a principal funder and regulator of the HE sector, should develop ways of incentivising industry practitioner involvement in universities.
  • Universities should consider flexible models of placements for sandwich degrees in order to meet the needs of SMEs.
  • The OfS should closely monitor the impact of degree apprenticeships on sandwich courses and other work based learning provision.
  • The OfS should address cost issues around part-time study and accelerated degree programmes, so as to support wider provision of these non-standard modes.
  • We recommend that the OfS monitors the implications of different delivery costs between HE and FE, not least in terms of enabling entry to part-time and mature students.
  • Research should be commissioned by the OfS to better understand how students, especially from disadvantaged backgrounds, can be encouraged to use sources of information more critically in their HE choices.
  • The Office for Students should provide Parliament with an annual report mapping the diversity of provision across the higher education sector, commenting on trends and explanations for changing patterns of provision.
  • The DfE and the EFSA should consider the viability of allowing employers to use the apprenticeship levy to fund work-relevant part-time HE
  • The DfE should consider the extent to which accelerated and flexible programmes could be supported by changes to the funding based on credit.

Fees and funding

There was a debate in the House of Commons this week on an Opposition motion to reverse the legislation on tuition fees – these debates are non-binding and after the DUP said they would support them the government declined to have a formal vote – so they were passed. The same thing happened on a motion about the pay cap in the NHS.   As they were non-binding, this is largely symbolic, but much has been made about the “anti-democratic” implications of this..

Meanwhile, the Resolution Foundation hosted a lively debate on fees and funding – you can see the (very long) recording on YouTube, and the Times Higher did their own short version. Rumours persist that despite Jo Johnson’s staunch defence of the system, No. 10 may be getting cold feet, and the new fee cap for 2019/20 has still not been announced….

And Philip Hammond contributed to the speculation while giving evidence at the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee (reported widely, here is the Telegraph link):

“I do think there’s a significant difference between a graduate who leaves university with a, perhaps, quite significant level of debt and a well-recognised degree in an area which is known to provide strong employment opportunities; and a graduate on the other hand who perhaps has a very similar level of debt but who may not have a degree that is going to enhance his or her employment opportunities in the same way..We need to look at…the information we provide to students to enable them to make value-for-money assessments about what they are buying and what it’s going to cost them.”

And to contribute to the debate, the Commons Education Committee have launched an inquiry into value for money in HE. They are inviting written submissions on the following issues by 23rd October 2017:

  • Graduate outcomes and the use of destination data
  • Social justice in higher education and support for disadvantaged students
  • Senior management pay in universities
  • Quality and effectiveness of teaching
  • The role of the Office for Students

JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

65111                                                                                 65070

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

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