The Society for Research into Higher Education

Policy and Funding in England (January 2020)

What happens after an election is not necessarily what the winner’s manifesto says

There were some sage observations from Nick Hillman on the HEPI blog on 11 November 2019. The Higher Education Policy Institute issued an Election Briefing document, which discussed and summarised five higher education issues linked to the 2019 general election: Student voters; Undergraduate fees and funding; Participation and access; Research and development; and Internationalisation. The Institute for Fiscal Studies also put out an Election Briefing note about higher education fees on 19 November 2019, notable for its references to Augar and to the policies of Labour, Liberal Democrats and Green Parties – without actually mentioning the Conservative Party in its executive summary. Former Conservative HE Minister Sam Gyimah, now a Liberal Democrat, said that abolishing fees was ‘fantasy economics’; it meant rationing HE places and increasing disadvantage in HE recruitment, as reported in The Daily Telegraph by Charles Hymas on 11 November 2019.

 Chris Skidmore reappointed Universities Minister

Chris Skidmore tweeted on 18 December 2019: “Delighted and proud to be reappointed as Universities Minister to represent the best and fairest HE system in the world. Our fantastic universities across the U.K. are part of the solution, not the problem, to ensuring everyone, regardless of background, fulfils their potential.”

 Who influences UK higher education policy?

Louis Coffait (London Metropolitan, previously at WonkHE) offered a higher education version on @HEPI_news of the @TeacherToolkit @RossMcGill charts of think tanks for teachers.


Students: would you like to take longer to pay back a lower fee?

A HEPI survey showed student opinion divided evenly between the Augar proposals for a £7500 fee repaid over 40 years and the current £9250 repaid over 30 years, as John Morgan reported for Times Higher Education on 10 October 2019.

 UTCs aren’t working

Rajeev Syal reported for The Guardian on 30 October 2019 on a highly critical report by the National Audit Office on University Technical Colleges (UTCs). The NAO said UTCs are half full and were less likely to be rated as good or outstanding by Ofsted. The UTC programme, promoted by former Education Secretary Kenneth Baker for 14-19 year olds, has cost £792m since it was launched in 2010.

 Go to university on your phone

This recruitment ad appeared on 7 October 2019: “ASK UK are looking for a business leader with 10 plus years of experience as Chancellor/Vice Chancellor in setting up and running a diverse multidisciplinary education institute in keeping with present generation needs. The university is to be setup in UK and will operate entirely through an App on Mobile phones and will link into mobile network being built by us across Europe. The App will allow students across the world to attend classes online via secured video link and interact with the Teacher and other students through VR And AR tools. AI tools will moderate the Class and the questions being asked by the students so the teacher can see the reaction of students and the number of people having similar doubts or quires for him to decide when to answer or address the quires. The successfully candidate will be responsible for Entire setup and running of the Ask APP university.”

We think there may be a lot of ‘quires’. Starting with, who exactly are ASK UK?

 Adieu to UK HE?

SRHE Council member Harriet Barnes asked if we could resurrect a truly UK-wide approach to HE and advised us, if not, to prepare for the consequences of increasing diversity in the UK’s HE systems in her blog for WonkHE on 6 January 2020.

 Street level bureaucrats make society even worse at writing people off

That was the argument of Muhammad Azfar Nisar and Ayesha Masood (both Lahore University of Management Sciences)  in their article for Organization published on 6 November 2019.

Office for Students

The OfS has been flexing its muscles in the second half of 2019. There was New guidance for registered higher education providers, published on 15 October 2019, and then a value for money strategy on 18 October 2019, which built on previous work by the OfS and identified key priorities for ensuring value for money for both students and taxpayers. (Felicity Mitchell, the Independent Adjudicator at the OIA, spoke at a HEPI conference on value for money and her remarks were later edited into a HEPI blog on 19 November 2019.) Soon afterwards came the Office for Students registration process and outcomes 2019-20: key themes and analysis, published on 30 October 2019. The sabre-rattling OfS media release said: “Regulator requires action by 65 per cent of English universities and colleges in student interest”.

It had not gone unnoticed that OfS has repeatedly failed to meet its own deadline for finalising its register of providers, amid a growing number of legal challenges to its registration decisions. John Morgan reported for Times Higher Education on 22 October 2019 that “newly published OfS board papers state that it has made eight refusals and issued “minded to refuse” letters in a further 20 cases, suggesting providers have challenged a number of decisions, causing a delay in final announcements.” Ofs denied registration to Barking and Dagenham College on the grounds of unsatisfactory student outcomes; the College unsuccessfully sought an injunction to prevent OfS publishing this decision.

Nevertheless, the upbeat English higher education 2019: The Office for Students annual review was published on 19 December 2019.

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