HE policy update for the w/e 8th December 2017

Fees and funding – the latest developments

The fees and funding discussions continue with some interesting developments this week.

Firstly, there was a written response by the Minister  -responding to the Resolution of the House on 13th September 2017 on tuition fees (the non-binding one that was essentially passed unanimously because no Conservative MPs attended).  The statement included a few important points and some hints:

  • Maximum grants and loans for living and other costs will be increased by forecast inflation (3.2%) in 2018/19.
  • For the first time, students starting part-time degree level courses from 1 August 2018 onwards will qualify for loans for living costs.
  • I expect to lay regulations implementing changes to student finance for undergraduates and postgraduates for 2018/19 early in 2018. These regulations will be subject to Parliamentary scrutiny.
  • The Department of Health will be making a separate announcement on changes to student finance for postgraduate healthcare students and dental hygiene and dental therapy students in 2018/19.

The question is about the regulations – what are these?  Just to cover the points listed here, or to make arrangements for an inflation based increase in the cap for 2018/19 (against what was implied in the budget papers – which suggested a two year freeze).  Or something more drastic?  It seems very unlikely that it will be something more drastic – at the bottom of the statement it says:  “And the Government is committed to conducting a major review of funding across tertiary education to ensure a joined-up system that works for everyone. As current and significant reforms move into implementation, this review will look at how we can ensure that our post-18 education system is accessible to all; and is supported by a funding system that provides value for money and works for both students and taxpayers, incentivises choice and competition across the sector, and encourages the development of the skills that we need as a country.

This repeats the Conservative manifesto language about a “major review of tertiary funding” – is that the same as a major review of HE student finance?

The statement also mentioned the anticipated accelerated degrees consultation will be released shortly. Its aims to widening the number of accelerated degrees for intensive study, offer a lower cost degree and a quicker entry or return to the workplace. However, media speculation is that a more intensive course will not result in lower fees because it costs universities more to continue tuition through the summer break (Guardian: U-turn on two-year degrees predicted).

This morning there is a Conservative Home interview with Jo Johnson. (it’s interesting generally, lots about pay and Brexit  – and doesn’t mention the review. There were  two existing reviews – as we have mentioned before:

The Education select committee has published written evidence in the Value for money in HE inquiry. The oral evidence sessions continue throughout December. Meanwhile an online survey for students to provide their views on the quality of teaching, contact hours, support available, graduate outcomes and employability is expected to be launched shortly.

The summary of the NAO report is here and the full report  and the  NAO press release.  The story was heavily reported in the media and there was a ferocious response from the sector.

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, 8 December 2017, said:  “We are deliberately thinking of higher education as a market, and as a market, it has a number of points of failure. Young people are taking out substantial loans to pay for courses without much effective help and advice, and the institutions concerned are under very little competitive pressure to provide best value. If this was a regulated financial market we would be raising the question of mis-selling. The Department is taking action to address some of these issues, but there is a lot that remains to be done.”  

Wonkhe article:

  • “One key reason this report matters is that we’re still expecting the “major review” of fees and funding, one which may stray beyond HE to look at funding across the whole breadth of tertiary education. And, more importantly, reports which highlight “poor value” and the differential outcomes between institutions and subject areas signal further that any funding review could spell any (or all) of: less money overall; less money for some institutions; less money for some subject areas.
  • The other reason that this report is important is the timing alongside the regulatory framework for how the OfS will operate. It would be entirely possible for OfS, in its deliberation of the consultation responses, to see this report as an endorsement of its establishment as a tough and challenging regulator rather than a gentler guiding hand. Neither the prospect of hard regulation nor differentiated fees (and less funding) should come as a surprise, but with each report that reinforces these ideas, we edge ever closer to assuming that this is an inevitable future.”

Nick Hillman on the Higher Education Policy Institute blog:

  • “It is true that the higher education market is still evolving and that there are areas where further improvements can be made – such as improved information for applicants. It is also good that the NAO have highlighted the sharp decline in part-time students, which is an urgent problem that needs tackling.
  • But it is wrong to think higher education will ever resemble other markets very closely. For example, there are fee caps, nearly everyone is entitled to an income-contingent loan and you only know the full value of your degree long after you have graduated. It is not meant to be a perfect market – nor should it become one.
  • There is a world of difference between buying a tin of beans and making the right decision about higher education. Of course, mis-selling can happen when people apply for degrees. But it is an inherently difficult thing to assess because no one knows how they will change as a person as a result of their education. Straight comparisons between regular markets and educational markets don’t actually make much sense.”

Despite all the hype about whether HE is a market or not, and whether the market is working or not, it is worth spending a bit of time on the recommendations are actually much less controversial and are summarised from page 11.  The report says that the Department for Education should:

  • Ensure that careers advice in schools and other support reaches those that need it most.
  • Work with the OfS to monitor the sector and identify criteria to determine whether it needs to intervene, particularly where providers are failing.
  • Commission an independent review of the new regulatory arrangements once these have had time to bed in.
  • Work with the sector to understand incentives for providers to offer courses in government’s priority subject areas, and address deficiencies where necessary.

And the OfS should:

  • Look to learn from other regulators in making the most effective use of its new powers. The OfS will be a market regulator, with similar challenges to regulators addressing competition and consumer issues in other sectors. The Department has set an expectation that the OfS should learn from regulatory best practice. This learning could include:
    • reviewing the effectiveness of competition in the sector, with assistance from the Competition and Markets Authority as necessary;
    • ways to empower students to make informed decisions, whether through direct regulation or other means; and
    • understanding how to monitor potential threats to the sector and translate these into effective stress-testing and preventative action (particularly in student protection plans).

Lords parliamentary question on fees

Q – Lord Smith Of Clifton (Lib Dem): What is the resource accounting budgeting charge in England for (1) fee-loans for part-time higher education undergraduate students, (2) loans for adult learners at Level 3, (3) loans for adult learners at Levels 4 and 5, and (4) future maintenance loans for part-time higher education undergraduate students.

A – Viscount Younger Of Leckie (Con):  The Resource Accounting and Budgeting (RAB) charge for fee loans for part-time higher education undergraduate students is estimated to be around 40%.

  • The RAB charge for Advanced Learner Loans at Level 3 is estimated to be around 50%-55%. The estimate includes Access to Higher Education (HE) courses which allow any learner progressing to HE to have their loan written off at the point of completing their HE course.
  • The RAB charge for Advanced Learner Loans at Level 4 and above is estimated to be around 20%-25%.
  • It is estimated that the RAB charge for part-time higher education undergraduate loans will increase to around 45% once maintenance loans have been made available to part-time students.

The cost of the system is a conscious investment in young people. It is the policy subsidy required to make higher and further education widely available, achieving the government’s objectives of increasing the skills in the economy and ensuring access to university for all with the potential to benefit.

REF 2021

The final decisions on staff and outputs were published in November.  Julie Northam, Head of RKEO, has blogged the key information here.

  • All staff with significant responsibility for research to be submitted provided they are independent researchers. See Julie’s blog for more on the criteria and definition of ‘significant responsibility’.
  • Minimum of 1 output to a maximum of 5 outputs required for each FTE staff member (can count staff members that have left).
  • Outputs are portable so can be submitted by both original and current employer of the staff member (with the ‘demonstrably generated’ caveat – see blog for explanation).
  • Outputs must be freely available through open access by 1 April 2018, or within 3 months of publication.
  • A minimum of 2 impact case studies are required per submission, with additional impact case studies required based on the number of FTE staff submitted (+1 more for every 15 staff FTEs up until 105 FTE staff are returned, then +1 more study per every 50FTEs returned).

More general information on REF 2021 is available here.  HEFCE provide answers to frequently asked REF questions here.

The 34 REF sub-panel chairs have been announced. You can view the main panel chair’s biographies here and the names of the appointed sub-panel chairs here.

Finally, HEFCE blog on the crucial importance of involving international expertise for REF, both to oversee the assessment and in developing the discipline-specific criteria. The nomination for REF panel members remains open until 20 December.

Widening Participation

OFFA have published another of their helpful topic briefings, this time the focus in on care leavers and provides the background research highlighting care leavers experience of and access to HE plus four good practice case studies. Read the other OFFA case studies on: mature learners, disability, financial support, BME students, estranged students, and white British students from low socio-economic status groups.

Social Mobility Commission  –Earlier in December the entire social mobility commission resigned in protest over the lack of progress the government had made in addressing the inequality within society. Paul Gregg writes in the Conversation to explain the commission’s decision to quit en masse stating “we were always there to call for action and progressive change. By resigning, I hope we have made one last loud call”.  Read more here.

The Role of Confidence – Nathalie Olah, a WP Oxford graduate, passionately writes on The Confidence Gap – tackling the interplay between a WP upbringing and the importance of confidence for admissions processes, employment selection tests and the entrenchment of privilege within Oxbridge:

  • “[There] are ways of weeding out working-class imposters to maintain systems of power that have existed for centuries… We cannot hope to change Oxford and Cambridge, the public school system, the banking and management consultancy sectors… All we can do is…change our acceptance of their wildly outdated and absurd modes of success, on which these ideas of preordained superiority are built.”

David Lammy MP also challenged Oxbridge admissions in October and this week he spoke to the Financial Times about the need to consider affirmative action to redress the ‘social apartheid’. Lammy calls for an education system that ‘encourages… the socially and economically disadvantaged, particularly in the north of England, in the seaside towns, and in some ethnic minority groups.’  Later in the FT article Lammy describes the success of the top American universities who have diversified their student body through directly seeking out students and using contextual admissions sensitive to their circumstances.

Les Ebdon ‘fails’ the sector’s achievements for widening participation – TES asked Les Ebdon (OFFA Director) how he would grade the sector’s performance during OFFA’s six year reign. He stated ‘he would award a B for the picking of “low-hanging fruit”, such as persuading high-achieving students from poorer backgrounds to apply for elite universities and removing bias from the applications process. But he gives a D for efforts on all other aspects of admissions, and a “fail” for efforts to address “long-term inequalities” by measures such as improving disadvantaged students’ school attainment and adjusting admissions policies to reflect the challenges they face.’ The article goes on to consider the international performance of other countries tackling the WP challenge.

Student loan book sale

The student loan book as finally been sold for £1.7bn (this is part of the pre-2012 loan book, known as ‘Plan One’). Jo Johnson made a written statement on the asset sale confirming terms for student would not change:  “The position of all borrowers, including those whose loans have been sold, will not change as a result of the sale. The sale does not and cannot in any way alter the mechanisms and terms of repayment: sold loans will continue to be serviced by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and the Student Loans Company (SLC) on the same basis as equivalent unsold loans. Purchasers have no right to change any of the current loan arrangements or to contact borrowers directly. Those whose loans have been sold will be notified in writing by the Student Loans Company within 3 months, for information only. No action will be required. Government has no plans to change, or to consider changing, the terms of pre-2012 loans.”

A statement by Gordon Marsden MP (Shadow HE Minister) stated the public purse will lose £800 million due to the student loan book sale.

Parliamentary question on SLC

Q – Gordon Marsden (Lab): To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what plans she has to (a) increase the membership and (b) expand the diversity of the Board of the Student Loans Company.

A: Jo Johnson (Con): The Board of the Student Loans Company (SLC) currently has three male and three female non-executive members. Following an open recruitment earlier this year, two further non-executive members, one male and one female, are shortly due to be appointed to the SLC Board.  I will continue to monitor diversity on the SLC Board to ensure that it has an appropriate and diverse range of skills and backgrounds.

Student wellbeing and outcomes

The DfE have released Careers strategy: making the most of everyone’s skills and talents.   You can read our summary here.

The House of Commons have released a briefing paper – Mental health services for post-16 students in England – outlining recent studies on the mental health of students, Government policy, and mental health support in FE and HE.  This briefing paper has been released ahead of next week’s tabled parliamentary questions on student mental health.

Graduate Outcomes: The operational design for the new Graduate Outcomes survey  (replacing the DLHE survey) has been published. For more information read the data specification and the roles and responsibilities of providers. HESA will now conduct cognitive testing to ensure the survey questions are reliable, refine the financial principles behind the survey and procure a contractor to carry out the survey. The Graduate Outcomes survey will commence in December 2018 to survey 2016/17 graduates.

Life Sciences Sector Deal

The government announced the Life Sciences sector deal (part of the Industrial Strategy) aiming to create a step change in medical technology and pioneer new treatments. The deal is a combination of investment from the private sector, key charities and government research and development funding.  Read the Life Sciences Sector Deal here, the key commitments start are on page 10 with the sector elements on pages 11, 14-15, 17 and 19. The government have stated they will change immigration rules to attract more talent into the sector including making it quicker for highly-skilled international students to stay to work in the sector after completing their degree. The labour market test will also be relaxed to hire international researchers, and the research councils and some sector organisations will be permitted to sponsor and bring in leading international researchers. Apprenticeship development is earmarked to help address skills gaps within the life sciences field and this sector is prioritised for the development of T level standards.  Implementation of the sector deal will commence immediately in January 2018 and the first review of its effectiveness will take place in December 2018.
Media coverage from the BBC: Glaxo invests £40m in UK’s life sciences sector.

The full Industrial Strategy white paper is here.

Parliamentary Questions


Q – Mr Barry Sheerman (Labour): what estimate he has made of the amount each university has spent on payments for early retirement in each of the last 3 years.

A – Jo Johnson (Cons): The information is not held centrally.

Next week

Two questions have been tabled relating to university students’ mental health, and further questions on Student Loan Company complaints, and the National Collaborative Outreach Programme. Oral Education questions are also scheduled for Monday. As always we’ll bring you the latest information in next week’s policy update.


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.

New consultations and inquiries this week:

Other news

Pay: pay remains a hot topic in the media. This week a HEFCE blog explains the legislative limitations of the regulatory bodies and the independence of universities. Whilst the Guardian speaks up in support of VC’s: “If we want public servants who are capable, we need to accept high pay and high inequality…. we need to remember that Britain’s university sector is the goose that laid a golden egg”. Meanwhile on Thursday Jo Johnson pledged that University pay will be brought ‘under control’. Johnson expects the OfS to resolve the matter through the new regulatory framework and promised ‘greater restraint.’ He stated: “value for money is at the heart of why we set up the Office for Students”.  There is more from the Minister on Friday in the  Conservative Home interview mentioned above, noting that he is not happy about the media “hounding” of individuals.

The value of humanities: A Times article “humanities students are now the future of business” sets out why the skills of liberal arts graduates are in demand by the business world. A focussed article worth a quick read as it provides balance to the current government reductionist consideration of  ‘value’ defined as the degree courses leading to the highest earning potential.

Open access: UUK have published Monitoring the transition to open access highlighting sharp rises in the numbers of papers available through open access since 2014.


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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

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