The Society for Research into Higher Education

Policy and Funding in England (July 2019)

Boris Johnson’s view of higher education?

During Boris Johnson’s tenure as Shadow Minister for HE in 2006 he wrote a tract for right-wing think tank Politeia called Aspire Ever Higher: University Policy for the 21st Century, saying “It is high time that we Conservatives mounted a thorough-going defence of higher education, its students and teachers, and the benefits it can bring.”


Higher technical qualifications to be rebadged

Secretary of State for Education Damian Hinds announced on 8 July that higher technical qualifications such as CertHE, DipHE and Foundation degrees, would be ‘renamed and revamped’ to attract more students and make their value clearer to employers. Well, it’s not as if that’s been tried before.


Be fair: reintroduce student number caps, abolish TEF, and restore external examiners’ authority

English Universities in Crisis: Markets without Competition, by Jefferson Frank, Norman Gowar and Michael Naef (all Royal Holloway) was reviewed by David Midgley (Cambridge) for the Campaign for the Defence of British Universities on 30 April 2019. Back to the future, then.


What government spends on different university degrees

The Institute for Fiscal Studies crunched some numbers for an interesting analysis of the cost to government of different degrees, reported by Jack Britton, Laura van der Erve, Neil Shephard and Chris Belfield on 4 March 2019. Education Secretary Damian Hinds responded to the IFS analysis on 26 May 2019 by arguing that universities were letting down students by providing ‘low value’ degrees, in a statement widely criticised for reducing the value of higher education to a financial assessment of future earnings.


Student loans – proposed form is not a fix

Andrew Mcgettigan wrote on his Critical Education blog on 15 May 2019: “You’ve probably seen the coverage of the Money Saving Expert / Russell Group team-up and their proposals for overhauling the annual statements provided by Student Loans Company. Although the intentions are good, the “revamp” misfires and they’ve based a key part of their statements on an elementary mathematical blunder.”


Politicisation and decision‐making of senior civil servants

An article in Public Administration by Falk Ebinger (Vienna University of Economics and Business), Sylvia Veit and Nadin Fromm  (both Kassel) (online 21 June 2019) examined the politicisation of civil servants and its consequences: “While considered an effective instrument to safeguard political control over ministerial bureaucracy, partisanship of senior civil servants is likewise associated with patronage and deemed detrimental to professionalism and meritocracy … the article examines how a party‐political background of senior civil servants influences their decision‐making behavior. Two theoretically derived conceptions of loyalty are put therefore to the test: responsiveness and responsibility. … The results are surprising insofar as they reveal that politicized senior civil servants neither act more responsive nor less responsible than their non‐politicized peers. These findings challenge common assumptions and call for a more refined analysis of the conditions under which politicization leads to negative effects.”

Why ambitious meta‐policies so often fail

Werner Jann (Potsdam) and Kai Wegrich (Hertie School of Governance, Berlin) explored conflicts between specialists and generalists in the politics of policymaking in executive government, in their article for Public Administration (online 18 June 2019): “This paper … introduces the analytical distinction between generalists and specialists as antagonistic players in executive politics and develops the claim that policy specialists are in a structurally advantaged position to succeed in executive politics and to fend off attempts by generalists to influence policy choices through cross‐cutting reform measures.”

Office for Students

In what some have seen as a worrying expansion of its reach, on 10 July 2019 OfS published a consultation on collecting finance information, suggesting that it might introduce a single return which would cover data previously gathered by HESA.

On 11 July 2019 OfS issued a further analysis of degree results at all HEIs, showing a continuing rise in so-called ‘unexplained’ increases. It’s only grade inflation if you don’t think better teaching has anything to do with it. Better school results? A result of great policymaking. Better university results? Dumbing down.

The OfS has removed the registration of the Bloomsbury Institute, London, because of concerns over student progression, management and governance. This means that new students will not be eligible for student loans, although existing students are protected and may continue at the Institute. The Bloomsbury Institute, formerly known as the London School of Business and Management, was launched in 2002 and changed its name in 2018. Its courses are validated by the University of Northampton, according to its website. Bloomsbury Institute should not be confused with any of the many other business and management schools based in London, nor with the Bloomsbury-based New College of the Humanities. The Institute’s website says the OfS hasn’t understood the challenges facing its students and it will reapply for registration.

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