The Society for Research into Higher Education

Policy and Funding in England (July 2018)

By Rob Cuthbert, Editor, SRHE News

Universities no longer required to set up schools

The Government’s response to the consultation on Schools that work for everyone, published in September 2016, was slipped out in May 2018, conceding that it was not such a good idea to require every university to set up a school. Now, universities are merely encouraged to do so; if not, then they should support state schools through ‘sustainable and reciprocal partnerships’.

Stephen Topping reported for The Chester Chronicle on 26 June 2018 that Education Minister Nick Gibb had announced that University Church of England Academy (UCEA) in Ellesmere Port, after Ofsted judgments that it was ‘failing’, will be ‘re-brokered’ – meaning it will be taken off the hands of the University of Chester Academies Trust (UCAT) and handed over to another multi-academy trust.

NAO says Government failed to oversee the Student Loans Company effectively

The National Audit Office issued a report in May 2018 which criticised the government for failing effectively to oversee the Student Loans Company during the tenure of former chief executive Steve Lamey. Mr Lamey was dismissed from the SLC in November 2017 for gross misconduct in public office, as Ellie Bothwell reported for Times Higher Education on 11 May 2018. Civil servants had advised that his appointment a year earlier would be ‘too risky’, but were overruled when an unnamed special adviser in the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills argued he had been described as a ‘top performer’ at HMRC in 2011-2012 and suggested his HMRC reference had been ‘unfair’, as reported by Robert Wright for The Financial Times on 10 May 2018.

Public Accounts Committee says the HE market isn’t working to benefit students

A Public Accounts Committee report published on 15 June 2018 found “no evidence greater competition between providers will improve quality of education they provide … The original aim of introducing a market into higher education was that student choice and competition between providers would improve quality and value for money. In reality the planned-for competition did not emerge.” The OfS welcomed the report but denied its observation that the OfS is not working with the NUS. Wonkhe commented that the Committee had failed to draw the obvious conclusion that perhaps a market is not an appropriate way to organise an HE system, preferring to aim to ‘improve’ the way the market functions.

 Universities UK and Freedom of Information

A petition to make UUK subject to the FOI Act has been rejected by the government.

Who can save the Open University?

Pam Tatlow, until recently chief executive of Million+, was unimpressed (in her THE article on 10 April 2018) by MPs who in July 2017 voted for the HE and Research Act, promoting market forces to improve failing universities, but less than a year later were calling for government intervention to save the Open University.

University of London

A University of London Bill before Parliament in April 2018 proposed to modernise the process for making statutes for the university. It’s that word ‘modernise’ that makes you suspicious

Not the Real Madrid University

Not the real Manchester University either, but two institutions in Manchester now have ‘university’ in their title with the blessing of the DfE, as John Morgan reported for Times Higher Education on 19 April 2018. The artists formerly known as UCFB are now the University Campus of Football Business, thanks to a partnership with the new University of Buckingham. In 2017 a venture by Gary Neville and the University of Lancaster was permitted to call itself University Academy 92.

HEFCE chief executive had her contract paid up, and no more

John Morgan breathlessly reported for Times Higher Education on 12 April 2018 that after much digging he had induced HEFCE to reveal that chief executive Madeleine Atkins, who lost her job when HEFCE was closed on 31 March, had been paid to the end of her contract period, a total of £178,000, but had not taken any redundancy payment, and her bonuses had in the past been donated to charity. Not the most sensational bit of news this year.

T-levels prompt a Ministerial Direction

The timetable for introducing the government’s T-levels reform to schools and FE was such that the DfE Permanent Secretary, Jonathan Slater, advised against it, and – when Secretary of State Damian Hinds pressed on – Slater required a Ministerial Direction to proceed. This is a rare event in Education, as the Institute for Government website explains. The letters published on 24 May preserve an intended 2020 start, whereas civil servants had advised a delay to 2021, meaning further slippage after the original 2019 target. Richard Johnstone reported for Civil Service World on 25 May 2018 that: “Slater’s direction is the fifth received by a permanent secretary this year, with a majority relating to authorising Brexit-related spending that lacks legislative consent.” FE Week’s Billy Camden reported on 25 May 2018 that: “The Institute for Apprenticeships is giving the FE sector just five working days to respond to its consultation on the draft content for the first three T-levels – during half term. … It is asking for views ahead of their planned roll-out in 2020, but it has sensationally set a consultation deadline for June 4. … Mark Dawe, the chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, branded the deadline as “staggering”.”

Gyimah grabbing headlines again

Universities Minister Sam Gyimah was at it again on 3 May 2018, with a story in The Times by Rosemary Bennett about a supposed ‘Crackdown on students who silence free speech’ through ‘tough guidance’, which he intended the OfS to implement. His predecessor Jo Johnson also often highlighted the supposed dangers of ‘no platforming’. A solution in search of a problem, or perhaps not even a solution – Amatey Doku of NUS was soon tweeting that he had attended the meeting and ‘no new duty, rule or legislation was announced’. Once again Gyimah had manufactured a headline out of a consultative meeting.

Chris Parr reported for *Research on 17 May 2018 on a Westminster Hall debate on the findings of the Freedom of Speech in Universities report by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which Harriet Harman MP chairs. Harman said that: “The previous minister [Jo Johnson] spoke a lot about [freedom of speech on campus], but I couldn’t detect any action,” she said, whereas current minister Sam Gyimah “is actually doing something about it”. Gyimah made a speech at the University of Buckingham on 15 June 2018 in which “he said a student made a complaint against a King’s College London lecturer for “hate speech” after taking the side of the British when teaching the Berlin Blockade.” But Eleanor Busby reported for The Independent that King’s said they had no record of any such complaint and denied it had happened.

One more time: neoliberalism is to blame

SRHE Vice-President Roger Brown made yet another return to the fray in ResearchResearch on 26 April 2018, railing against neoliberalism and marketization. Brita Bergland (Oxford/King’s College London) argued in Educational Philosophy and Theory (online 17 July 2017) that the incompatibility of neoliberalism and interdisciplinary development in HE might be resolved by the “(Re)introduction of a feminist ethics of care into the university, as suggested by the feminist slow scholarship movement”.

 Post-New Public Management?

New Public Management is, well, old now. Are we past it? The literature review by Renate Reiter (Leipzig) and Tanja Klenk (Helmut Schmidt University/University of the Federal Armed Forces, Hamburg) in the International Review of Administrative Sciences (online 21 May 2018) said: “so far, the post-New Public Management idea has been very influential as an ‘ideational weapon’ to indicate a crisis of the New Public Management model. The use of the post-New Public Management idea as a blueprint for future reform, however, still needs further treatment.”

The HE Finance Review

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) launched an international investigation of how governments treat income-contingent loans in April, after Parliament’s Treasury Committee issued a critical report in February 2018. The ONS also declared that the December 2017 securitisation of loans was a genuine sale and that the company created to arrange the sale was a ‘financial corporation outside the public sector’. Andrew McGettigan, who gave evidence to the Treasury Committee, blogged on 24 April that he was happy about the former but not the latter, which he has asked ONS to explain.

Ariane de Gayardon (UCL) looked at international experience and argued in University World News on 15 June 2018 that abolishing tuition fees, as in New Zealand, is likely to lead either to systematic underfunding of institutions or to limitations on access.

Rob Brelsford-Smith (Swansea, Director of Finance) blogged for Wonkhe on 21 May 2018 with a sharp corrective to recent misleading media stories about universities ‘hoarding cash reserves’.

Mike Boxall of PA Consulting tried to demolish some misconceptions about HE funding in his article on 29 May 2018 for Times Higher Education, in particular he argued against thinking that: “Students are customers of universities … Students pay £9K for their degree … Tuition fees pay for teaching … Taxpayers are subsidising students”.

Jack Britton and Chris Belfield (both Institute for Fiscal Studies) blogged for Wonkhe on 7 June 2018 about graduate earnings for different kinds of course and university.

Alison Wolf (King’s College London) and Andrew Jennings (UCL) had an article in Higher Education Quarterly (online 19 April 2018) reporting research on university fees in England, suggesting that “Public universities with high rankings in global league tables and on domestic measures can command teaching income per student which is very much higher (in this case typically more than a third) than lower‐prestige institutions”.

Former SRHE Scoping Award winner Ceryn Evans (Cardiff) and Michael Donnelly (Bath) wrote in the Journal of Youth Studies (online 28 March 2018) that “‘debt commentaries’ play out very differently across schools according to the nature of their catchment and the sorts of views staff hold about pupils in relation to their fear of debt. Furthermore, students’ views on debt largely contradict these popular ‘debt-as-deterrent’ narratives and instead are often characterised by acceptance, ambivalence and at times positive orientations towards the prospect of debt.”

Nevertheless, Danny Dorling (Oxford) argued at a CGHE seminar on 14 June 2018 that we should write off student debt to mark the Queen’s 70th jubilee in 2022, because “the English student income-contingent university loan and fee system is unfair, inefficient and unsustainable.” Andrew McRae (Exeter) was justifiably scathing about a report from the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee, Treating Students Fairly: The Economics of Post-School Education, in his blog for Wonkhe on 19 June 2018.

Office for Students

The Office for Students published its Strategy and Business Plan on 30 April 2018. It will distribute £1.5 billion for the 2018-19 academic year across four key areas of activity: £1,290 million for recurrent teaching grant; £47 million for knowledge exchange; £51 million for national facilities and regulatory initiatives; and £150 million for capital funding.

Gill Evans (Cambridge) doesn’t think the OfS as worked out what ‘governance’ and ‘management’ means, as she argued persuasively in her blog for Wonkhe on 23 May 2018. What’s more: “The Office for Students may find it challenging to understanding fully how the “public interest” registration requirements operate across an increasingly diverse sector.”

Former QAA head Peter Williams said the OfS guidance to institutions published on 1 April 2018 was “extraordinary” in requiring institutions to deliver successful outcomes for all students. He said it was sloppy drafting and ‘dangerous nonsense’, as Jack Grove reported for Times Higher Education on 10 April 2018.

Almost all universities and some other HE institutions are ‘exempt charities’ – exempt from registration with and direct regulation by the Charity Commission, but regulated instead by the OfS. Guidance issued in May 2018 by OfS explains that: “The OfS has adopted a different approach to its role as principal regulator from that taken by HEFCE. In line with its legal duty, the OfS will focus on promoting compliance by a charity’s trustees with their legal obligations in exercising control and management of the administration of the charity. The OfS has removed many of HEFCE’s disclosure requirements for exempt charities and will require only those disclosures that are legally required. This will reduce regulatory burden for those providers that are exempt charities.”

A Statutory Instrument which proposed to release student data held by the OfS to other organisations was temporarily blocked by Labour Party intervention, as Camilla Turner reported for The Telegraph on 18 June 2018. The SI would have been approved on 18 June but Labour’s intervention required a debate in Parliament. Data would have been given to a range of other organisations including the private organisation Pearson Education, as well as HMRC, the Student Loans Company and the Competition and Markets Authority. OfS chair Michael Barber was Pearson’s Chief Education Advisor from September 2011 to March 2017.

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