srhe

The Society for Research into Higher Education

Policy and Funding in England (October 2020)

The Secretary of State’s aims for higher education

In his 10 September speech at Universities UK Gavin Williamson had three key messages: keep going; collaborate; stay alert. On the same day government issued updated guidance on Higher education: reopening buildings and campuses.

Jo Johnson changes his tune

One of the many recent former Universities Ministers, Jo Johnson (King’s College, London), now ennobled by his brother the Prime Minister, wrote in The Spectator on 22 August 2020 that “It’s time to end Tory uniphobia”. He urged expansion rather than contraction of the HE system. Just presumably, not all those ‘low quality courses’ he was banging on about just a few months earlier.

Many degrees are a waste of time and money

So wrote the Britain Editor of The Economist Emma Duncan in The Timeson 15 August 2020 – a classic of the ‘low quality courses’ genre, with her twin daughters having just finished their own first degrees: “second-rate universities should be allowed to fail”. She did not, of course, identify any of the second-raters, thus failing the Skidmore test.

A new type of free university

Philip Cunliffe (Kent) blogged for HEPI on 21 August 2020 about his report with Lee Jones (Queen Mary University of London): ‘Saving Britain’s Universities: Academic Freedom, Democracy and Renewal’ published by Cieo: “If universities are to escape their default reactive posture … it is time to start thinking not only of immediate redress for the sector’s woes, but also to consider a longer term vision for Britain’s higher education sector.” In particular, his report proposed four new ‘free universities’ – “inspired by the continental model, repurposed for the twenty-first century”.

A manifesto for university education

The new book by SRHE member Paul Ashwin (Lancaster) is Transforming University Education: a Manifesto, a must-read cri de coeur: “Paul Ashwin shows how economic arguments have come to dominate our thinking about the purpose and nature of university education around the world. He argues that we have lost a sense of the educational purposes of an undergraduate degree and puts forward a case, backed by international research, for how we can (and why we must) reinvigorate our understanding of a university education.”   

Explaining the failure of public inquiry recommendations

Alastair Stark (Queensland) had an article in Public Administration: (98(3):609-624) “inquiry recommendations do not get implemented when: they do not respect the realities of policy transfer; they are triaged into policy refinement mechanisms; and they arrive at the ‘street level’ without consideration of local delivery capacities.” 

Willetts on Goodhart

Hindsight’s experience of his many successors as universities minister is starting to suggest that David Willetts could have been a lot worse. Certainly his review (Literary Review, 4 September 2020) of David ‘somewheres and anywheres’ Goodhart’s latest book is a good read: “The contempt for those ex-polytechnics, brilliantly captured in Howard Jacobson’s Coming from Behind, is an unusual and unappealing feature of English culture, and it is on display in this book. It means, frustratingly, that Goodhart’s mind is closed to the very institutions that have the best chance of helping the people and places he rightly cares about. Ironically, the research-intensive, socially and academically selective universities of which he approves are the most global. The former polytechnics are more local.” Dean Machin (Portsmouth) was not impressed either, in his review for HEPI.

Student Financing Policies Worldwide

The 2019 report by Ariane de Gayardon (UCL) and Lucia Brajkovic (Georgia/World Bank) was published by the American Council on Education. It analysed national-level HE financing approaches for a diverse set of countries world- wide, and how each approach related to equity and attainment. “We break national funding policies worldwide into four categories: 1) free tuition (both open and restricted access), 2) low tuition fees, 3) high tuition fees supported by loan schemes (mortgage-style and income-contingent), and 4) dual-track policies.  We then turn to funding approaches designed to improve equity or foster completion and discuss whether these approaches are working. … The central finding of our analysis is that targeting is important. The majority of national cost-sharing policies lack a consistent link with equity and completion. Policies that apply to all students, regardless of their background or means, tend to sustain the status quo in terms of who attains a higher education degree. Non-targeted financial policies subsidize students who do not need it, thus wasting scarce national resources. Policies that target funding directly at disadvantaged students—including grants, loans, and specific tuition fees—have a higher probability of creating a positive impact for those students.”

Office for Students

OfS calls for fairness for all students

In the feverish post-A-level results storm the OfS on 18 August 2020 issued a statement of the blindingly obvious about the need for fairness – welcome, if only because it was not misleading and did not get anything wrong, unlike most government announcements during the period.

OfS denial of registration to Bloomsbury quashed

Jim Dickinson picked apart the legal judgment in the Bloomsbury Institute’s case against OfS, for WonkHE on 14 August 2020. It rested on OfS exceeding its powers by deeming some issues ‘operational’ when the judges concluded they were clearly policy matters on which OfS should have consulted before implementation. “The whole case is a fairly stinging rebuke to the way that OfS worked in that period of initial provider registration.”

OfS cuts regulatory burden

The 10 September 2020 statement by OfS seemed to be mostly about cutting its registration fees by 10% – and requiring QAA and HESA to do the same.

New Chair of OfS

The candidate pack for the role of Chair of the Office for Students was published at the end of August, following the departure of Michael Barber.

‘Burdensome regulation’ and the National Student Survey

David Kernohan of Wonkhe gave his instant assessment of the 10 September 2020 DfE statement on ‘Reducing bureaucratic burden in research, innovation and higher education’, the one that said the NSS was promoting dumbing down. SRHE luminary Paul Ashwin (Lancaster) wrote an impassioned blog for WonkHE on 17 September 2020 about the government review of the National Student Survey, condemning its complete disregard for the evidence about the NSS in its determination to have a review which will support its astonishing assertion that “Since its inception in 2005, the NSS has exerted a downwards pressure on standards within our higher education system.”

OfS announced on 23 September 2020 theterms of reference for the NSS review:

“The … radical, root and branch review … follows a request by the Universities Minister to address concerns about how the survey may be creating burden and impacting on standards, while ensuring the NSS remains an important indicator of student opinion. A two-stage internal review process of the survey is to be conducted. The first stage will address those concerns and will report later this year. The second stage will look more widely at the role of the NSS, including which questions should be asked to support regulation and student information across all four countries of the UK.

The terms of reference for the first phase of the review will be:

  1. Assess the bureaucratic burden the NSS places on providers and how this could be reduced.
  2. Explore the unintended consequences of the NSS for provider behaviour and how these could be prevented, including whether the NSS drives the lowering of academic standards and grade inflation.
  3. Examine the appropriate level at which the NSS could continue to provide reliable data on the student perspective on their subject, provider and the wider system, and what could be done without depending on a universal annual sample.
  4. Examine the extent to which data from the NSS should be made public, including the implications of Freedom of Information (FoI) legislation.
  5. Ensure the OfS has the data it needs to regulate quality effectively.
  6. Ensure the NSS will stand the test of time, and can be adapted and refined periodically to prevent gaming.

Ensure the UK wide role of the survey is considered in any recommendations.”

In his 10 September speech at Universities UK Gavin Williamson had three key messages: keep going; collaborate; stay alert. On the same day government issued updated guidance on Higher education: reopening buildings and campuses.

Jo Johnson changes his tune

One of the many recent former Universities Ministers, Jo Johnson (King’s College, London), now ennobled by his brother the Prime Minister, wrote in The Spectator on 22 August 2020 that “It’s time to end Tory uniphobia”. He urged expansion rather than contraction of the HE system. Just presumably, not all those ‘low quality courses’ he was banging on about just a few months earlier.

Many degrees are a waste of time and money

So wrote the Britain Editor of The Economist Emma Duncan in The Timeson 15 August 2020 – a classic of the ‘low quality courses’ genre, with her twin daughters having just finished their own first degrees: “second-rate universities should be allowed to fail”. She did not, of course, identify any of the second-raters, thus failing the Skidmore test.

A new type of free university

Philip Cunliffe (Kent) blogged for HEPI on 21 August 2020 about his report with Lee Jones (Queen Mary University of London): ‘Saving Britain’s Universities: Academic Freedom, Democracy and Renewal’ published by Cieo: “If universities are to escape their default reactive posture … it is time to start thinking not only of immediate redress for the sector’s woes, but also to consider a longer term vision for Britain’s higher education sector.” In particular, his report proposed four new ‘free universities’ – “inspired by the continental model, repurposed for the twenty-first century”.

A manifesto for university education

The new book by SRHE member Paul Ashwin (Lancaster) is Transforming University Education: a Manifesto, a must-read cri de coeur: “Paul Ashwin shows how economic arguments have come to dominate our thinking about the purpose and nature of university education around the world. He argues that we have lost a sense of the educational purposes of an undergraduate degree and puts forward a case, backed by international research, for how we can (and why we must) reinvigorate our understanding of a university education.”   

Explaining the failure of public inquiry recommendations

Alastair Stark (Queensland) had an article in Public Administration: (98(3):609-624) “inquiry recommendations do not get implemented when: they do not respect the realities of policy transfer; they are triaged into policy refinement mechanisms; and they arrive at the ‘street level’ without consideration of local delivery capacities.” 

Willetts on Goodhart

Hindsight’s experience of his many successors as universities minister is starting to suggest that David Willetts could have been a lot worse. Certainly his review (Literary Review, 4 September 2020) of David ‘somewheres and anywheres’ Goodhart’s latest book is a good read: “The contempt for those ex-polytechnics, brilliantly captured in Howard Jacobson’s Coming from Behind, is an unusual and unappealing feature of English culture, and it is on display in this book. It means, frustratingly, that Goodhart’s mind is closed to the very institutions that have the best chance of helping the people and places he rightly cares about. Ironically, the research-intensive, socially and academically selective universities of which he approves are the most global. The former polytechnics are more local.” Dean Machin (Portsmouth) was not impressed either, in his review for HEPI.

Student Financing Policies Worldwide

The 2019 report by Ariane de Gayardon (UCL) and Lucia Brajkovic (Georgia/World Bank) was published by the American Council on Education. It analysed national-level HE financing approaches for a diverse set of countries world- wide, and how each approach related to equity and attainment. “We break national funding policies worldwide into four categories: 1) free tuition (both open and restricted access), 2) low tuition fees, 3) high tuition fees supported by loan schemes (mortgage-style and income-contingent), and 4) dual-track policies.  We then turn to funding approaches designed to improve equity or foster completion and discuss whether these approaches are working. … The central finding of our analysis is that targeting is important. The majority of national cost-sharing policies lack a consistent link with equity and completion. Policies that apply to all students, regardless of their background or means, tend to sustain the status quo in terms of who attains a higher education degree. Non-targeted financial policies subsidize students who do not need it, thus wasting scarce national resources. Policies that target funding directly at disadvantaged students—including grants, loans, and specific tuition fees—have a higher probability of creating a positive impact for those students.”

Office for Students

OfS calls for fairness for all students

In the feverish post-A-level results storm the OfS on 18 August 2020 issued a statement of the blindingly obvious about the need for fairness – welcome, if only because it was not misleading and did not get anything wrong, unlike most government announcements during the period.

OfS denial of registration to Bloomsbury quashed

Jim Dickinson picked apart the legal judgment in the Bloomsbury Institute’s case against OfS, for WonkHE on 14 August 2020. It rested on OfS exceeding its powers by deeming some issues ‘operational’ when the judges concluded they were clearly policy matters on which OfS should have consulted before implementation. “The whole case is a fairly stinging rebuke to the way that OfS worked in that period of initial provider registration.”

OfS cuts regulatory burden

The 10 September 2020 statement by OfS seemed to be mostly about cutting its registration fees by 10% – and requiring QAA and HESA to do the same.

New Chair of OfS

The candidate pack for the role of Chair of the Office for Students was published at the end of August, following the departure of Michael Barber.

‘Burdensome regulation’ and the National Student Survey

David Kernohan of Wonkhe gave his instant assessment of the 10 September 2020 DfE statement on ‘Reducing bureaucratic burden in research, innovation and higher education’, the one that said the NSS was promoting dumbing down. SRHE luminary Paul Ashwin (Lancaster) wrote an impassioned blog for WonkHE on 17 September 2020 about the government review of the National Student Survey, condemning its complete disregard for the evidence about the NSS in its determination to have a review which will support its astonishing assertion that “Since its inception in 2005, the NSS has exerted a downwards pressure on standards within our higher education system.”

OfS announced on 23 September 2020 theterms of reference for the NSS review:

“The … radical, root and branch review … follows a request by the Universities Minister to address concerns about how the survey may be creating burden and impacting on standards, while ensuring the NSS remains an important indicator of student opinion. A two-stage internal review process of the survey is to be conducted. The first stage will address those concerns and will report later this year. The second stage will look more widely at the role of the NSS, including which questions should be asked to support regulation and student information across all four countries of the UK.

The terms of reference for the first phase of the review will be:

  1. Assess the bureaucratic burden the NSS places on providers and how this could be reduced.
  2. Explore the unintended consequences of the NSS for provider behaviour and how these could be prevented, including whether the NSS drives the lowering of academic standards and grade inflation.
  3. Examine the appropriate level at which the NSS could continue to provide reliable data on the student perspective on their subject, provider and the wider system, and what could be done without depending on a universal annual sample.
  4. Examine the extent to which data from the NSS should be made public, including the implications of Freedom of Information (FoI) legislation.
  5. Ensure the OfS has the data it needs to regulate quality effectively.
  6. Ensure the NSS will stand the test of time, and can be adapted and refined periodically to prevent gaming.

Ensure the UK wide role of the survey is considered in any recommendations.”

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