Needed: More Money, Money, Money

Higher Education needs more and better fundraising. And fundraisers

A new publication from HEFCE.on developing the HE fundraising workforce:

This report was commissioned by HEFCE to address one of the recommendations in ‘Review of Philanthropy in UK Higher Education: 2012 status report and challenges for the next decade’ (the Pearce report), specifically the future development and training needs of the higher education philanthropy workforce.

More please

More please

The 2012 report showed that investment in fundraising brings results whatever the size or type of university or college. If the success described in that report was to continue, it would be necessary to have a strong and growing group of educational fundraisers who are skilled in leading development teams and working with academics and institutional leaders.

This new review on the philanthropy workforce indicates the pool of professional fundraisers working in UK higher education is too small if the ambitious targets for the next decade are to be met.

In order to attract more people to become and remain educational fundraisers, there needs to be an attractive career structure and a shared understanding of the skills and knowledge-base required to be effective at different stages of that career. This issue has guided this report: what should a career path in educational fundraising look like and how can we retain the best people?

The evidence in this review of the fundraising workforce is intended to address those questions. The arguments in favour of developing a long term view which will provide the staffing required are undeniable but nevertheless it will be challenging to deliver.

I also thought the point made about developing the next generation of fundraisers was particularly important:

Internship schemes (notably the HEFCE-supported CASE graduate traineeships) are working well as entry points and could be extended to a wider range of institutions. Top student callers, who learn their craft on university “phonathons”, are an excellent source of fundraising talent, as are others who carry out student work in development offices.

 
The numbers involved in the CASE graduate traineeship scheme remain small though and there is also a role for the Ambitious Futures programme, the wider graduate training scheme for higher education in the UK, for contributing to the development of this future pipeline of fundraising staff.

It’s an important report.

Guidance or directive?

Easy finance

A new statement from HEFCE advises universities how to make financial information more visible to students. But is it advice, guidance, assistance or in fact a clear directive?

New guidance aims to help universities and colleges in England present information about income and expenditure on their web-sites in a way that is transparent and accessible to current students and the general public.

The guidance has been developed by the British Universities Finance Directors Group (BUFDG), GuildHE, HEFCE, NUS and Universities UK. It follows a request from the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills to HEFCE for universities and colleges to publish financial information more effectively.

It draws on findings from recent research, including a survey of 2,400 current students which found that there is interest in this type of information but that it was often difficult to find and understand.

The research identifies priorities for improving the presentation of financial information such as accessibility, clear signposting and ensuring technical language is clearly explained, as well as keeping information up to date.

Clear enough for you?

In summary, it seems that all this finance stuff is a bit difficult to find and understand and therefore needs to be provided in accessible and easily digestible form. In other words we need to ensure that this aspect of university management can be represented by infographic. Perhaps it would be better if every dimension of university life were to be represented in pictures?

This just adds, as previously posted, to the excess of information already made available to students. And, if it does turn out to be a requirement rather than just encouragement, then isn’t this yet another piece of unwelcome regulation to add to an already excessive burden?

Note that Hugh Jones has a slightly different take on this, favouring transparency and openness with students. He has a similar line on fancy pictures though…

 

More means worse? (Data that is)

 Lots of information is not necessarily a good thing for prospective students

I’ve written before about concerns about too much data and the importance of quality rather than just quantity in the information provided to applicants to higher education.

Now a new HEFCE report on Improving information for prospective students has come to a similar conclusion.

keyboard
The report summarises existing research into decision-making behaviour and comes to some interesting conclusion:

 

Relevant research was identified across a wide range of disciplines, including information science, cognitive and behavioural psychology, behavioural economics and social theory. This research is likely to be relevant to how prospective students make their higher education choices.

The research draws attention to the need to examine fundamental assumptions about how people use information in decision-making.

Key findings in the report include:

  • The decision-making process is complex, personal and nuanced, involving different types of information, messengers and influences over a long time. This challenges the common assumption that people primarily make objective choices following a systematic analysis of all the information available to them at one time.
  • Greater amounts of information do not necessarily mean that people will be better informed or be able to make better decisions.

 

It’s a really detailed, serious and comprehensive report and sets out eight principles which it is proposed should govern future information provision for prospective HE students. Let’s hope it is taken seriously and that we now take a fresh look at this important issue. Mike Hamlyn has also commented on this report and is entertainingly sceptical on its findings.

The 2014 Grant letter: another epistolary triumph

And the wait was finally over

The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills has written to HEFCE with the Department’s annual message on funding and helpful bag of instructions. As excitement in the sector reached near fever pitch, the contents were being live-tweeted by @TimesHigherEd while everyone else waited to get hold of a copy.

The much-delayed letter does not contain much of what you might describe as good news although there is some modest improvement on the capital front. Additional student places and the removal of student number controls altogether from 2015-16 are confirmed:

The settlement will mean reductions in funding for higher education institutions in 2014-15 and again in 2015-16 beyond those accounted for by the switch to publicly funded tuition fees. The Government has asked HEFCE to deliver the reductions in ways which protect as far as possible high-cost subjects (including STEM), widening participation (which is funded via the HEFCE Student Opportunity allocation), and small and specialist institutions.

HEFCE is asked to continue its work with the Research Councils and others to support internationally excellent research and the delivery of the impact agenda through the dual-support framework. The ring-fenced settlement for science and research means that recurrent funding is maintained at £1,573 million, the same cash levels as 2013-14.

Overall, the amount of capital funding for teaching and research will increase in 2014-15 to £440 million.

The grant letter confirms the Government’s provision of a maximum of 30,000 additional student places in academic year 2014-15 for HEFCE-funded institutions. The student number control will be removed entirely from 2015-16, and the Government has asked HEFCE to ensure that higher education institutions maintain the quality of the student experience in these circumstances.

Bur enough of the content, what about the important stuff like length? At 22 paragraphs, excluding the covering letter, or 26 if you include the substantive comments in the letter, it is shorter than any of its three predecessors from the BIS duo which have come in at 36, 35 and 28 paragraphs long. It is pleasing though that the Secretary of State’s signature remains as cheerful as ever (see below).

It is far from the shortest on record though which is the initial 10 paragraph punt from back at the start of the Coalition journey. As this utterly pointless graph (now in need of an update) shows, the long term trend is reduced grant letter length.

The length of Grant Letters to HEFCE down the years

The length of Grant Letters to HEFCE down the years

So much for this year then, what of the past?

The earlier post on this topic back in August 2010 noted:

The most recent funding letter of June 24 2010 from Vince Cable and David Willetts to the Chairman of HEFCE is distinctive for three main reasons. First, and unsurprisingly if dispiritingly, it outlines the first major tranche of savings to be made in the 2010-11 financial year. Secondly, it is extremely short – indeed at 10 paragraphs and just over two pages it is the shortest funding letter to the Council in at least 14 years and undercuts all letters under the previous government by some way. Thirdly, it is the first such letter to be signed by both the Secretary of State and the relevant Minister. And thank goodness too or some of us might never have seen this fascinating signature:

Of course those with longer memories will have fond recollections of the briefest of grant letters from the University Grants Committee (UGC) which simply set out the amount of money available for disbursement. Many will long for the golden age of five year funding settlements under the UGC. Whilst it could reasonably be argued that the UGC served as an effective buffer between the state and the universities, the options for the Higher Education Funding Councils, and in particular HEFCE, are much more limited as the directives from government on spending have become ever more detailed and prescriptive. Fortunately though we are able to examine all of the details of these as HEFCE has a nice collection of funding letters going back to 1996.

This decidedly dubious summary of these letters draws on this collection but refers only to English funding allocations. I’m sure the other funding councils receive similar missives from their respective governments but it is beyond my capacity to deal with them I’m afraid.

The length of funding letters has seen two peaks in the last 14 years: January 2003’s letter was 73 paragraphs long and the December 1998 note ran to 66 paragraphs. The November 1999, November 2000 and December 2001 letters ranged from 40 to 46 paragraphs but the January 2004 letter and subsequent missives tend towards the more traditional brevity of only 15-25 paragraphs of instruction to HEFCE.

Just for completeness then here are some of the details about English Higher Education’s most exciting epistles:

  1. The first letter in this series is the last prepared under the previous Conservative government, way back in November 1996. This 41 paragraph note (signed by a Civil Servant) covers: linking funding to assessment of teaching quality, expanding part-time provision, the importance of closer links with employers, not wanting to see longer courses, a planned reduction in student numbers by 2,000 for the following year and keeping the participation rate at around 30%. Some interesting parallels here with the most recent letter from the current government perhaps?
  2. The December 1998 letter is the first New Labour funding letter. At 66 paragraphs it is one of the longest in recent times and the last one to carry the name of a senior Civil Servant rather than the Secretary of State. Topics covered include sector spending, lifelong learning, increasing participation, maintaining quality and standards (a recurring theme down the years), widening access, promoting employability, research investment, capital spend, tuition fee arrangements and Year 2000 issues (we were all worried then).
  3. The November 1999 letter, 43 paragraphs long, provides David Blunkett with the opportunity to wax lyrical on the importance of maintaining quality and standards, increasing participation and employability, widening access, equal opportunities for HE staff, dealing with student complaints, new capital funding, pfi/ppp opportunities, research funding and HE pay.
  4. David Blunkett, in his November 2000 letter, which runs to a sprightly 46 paragraphs, makes some big points on widening participation as a key priority, business links and the e-university.
  5. In November 2001 Estelle Morris provides a neat 40 paragraph letter which gives lots of direction on widening participation, maintaining quality and standards, strengthening research, the importance of links with industry and communities, as well as something on the value of the e-Universities project (remember that?) and, last but not least, social inclusion.
  6. January 2003 represents the high water mark of recent funding letters: in 73 action packed paragraphs Charles Clarke, in his first outing as Secretary of State, is clearly keen to lead the way. The letter covers, among other things, improvement in research, expanded student numbers, foundation degrees, widening participation, improving teaching and learning and increased knowledge transfer. As if that were not enough we also have the establishment of the AHRC, the introduction of a new quality assurance regime but with reduced burdens for institutions (yeah, right), credit systems, FE partnerships, expanded student numbers and new investments in HE workforce development. A real blockbuster of a letter.
  7. The January 2004 message from Charles Clarke comes in at 20 paragraphs in just over 4 pages with reducing bureaucracy, building research and quality and standards and the establishment of Aimhigher as its central features.
  8. December 2004 brings a Christmas treat from everyone’s favourite Santa, Charles Clarke. With just 16 paragraphs and 4 pages of direction Clarke stresses the importance of maintaining the unit of funding for teaching, controlling student numbers and making efficiency gains.
  9. The January 2006 letter, a first and last offering from Ruth Kelly, comes in at a modest 15 paragraphs and 4 pages. No huge surprises in the text with employer-led provision, more widening participation, additional research and capital funding and a strong steer on reducing bureaucracy being the primary features. Additional points to note include equal opportunities for HE staff, efficiency gains, the new conditions which accompany the new tuition fees regime and reference to access agreements. What’s not to like here?
  10. January 2007’s is a punchy 19 paragraphs and merely five pages from Alan Johnson (his one and only letter). Despite the wordiness there isn’t a huge amount in here beyond employer engagement, growing foundation degrees and a lot on widening participation.
  11. January 2008: as with its successor letter this one is 24 paragraphs and 7 pages long (and note the online version on the HEFCE website is erroneously dated 18 Jan 2009). In this funding letter Denham indicates that his priorities are increasing student numbers, developing employer part-funded provision, and widening participation. The letter also refers to encouraging HE to develop stronger links with schools and colleges, greater investment in research, the importance of STEM, a green development fund, closer measuring of performance, and the establishment of the fund-raising match-funding scheme.
  12. January 2009’s letter is 7 pages and 24 paragraphs long and in it John Denham seeks to encourage HE to support the economy through recession, wider engagement with business, promote employer-led provision, innovative ways to support business, promotion of STEM subjects and widening participation and extending fair access. Additionally, there is the confirmation of the ‘university challenge’ with 20 new HE centres to be established, emphasis on the maintenance of quality and standards, plans for continuing to reduce regulation, commitment to dual support as well as the development of REF, steps to tackle climate change and bearing down on over-recruitment by institutions.
  13. The December 2009 letter from Lord Mandelson comes in at 15 paragraphs. This short note follows up on Higher Ambitions (which, in case you had forgotten, “sets out a course for how universities can remain world class, providing the nation with the high level skills needed to remain competitive, while continuing to attract the brightest students and researchers”) and also covers the Economic Challenge Investment Fund, wider and fairer access to HE, increasing the variety of undergraduate provision, new funding incentives to deliver higher level skills, developing REF, new developments in quality assurance including the publication of a standard set of information for students, engaging with communities and penalizing institutions which over-recruit students.
  14. June 2010 sees the first funding letter from the new coalition government: Cable and Willetts give us 10 brief paragraphs covering initial savings, efficiencies and cuts but also 10,000 extra places (but with strings).

So, that’s your lot folks. All you never wanted to know about 15 years of funding letters.

Do we really need more performance indicators in HE?

Review proposes yet more performance indicators.

An earlier post noted that the UK Performance Indicators Steering Group (or the UKPISG, perhaps one of the least felicitous acronyms in higher education), was undertaking a major review of performance Indicators for higher education. It was hoped (by me at least) that this might lead to some rationalisation of performance indicators and a reduction in the demands placed on universities to provide data.

Disappointingly, but perhaps unsurprisingly, there is to be no reduction in this burden. Rather the group has concluded that the performance indicators are valued by the higher education sector and the current approach should be retained.
performance
It also recommends:

broadening the populations and institutions covered by UKPIs to take account of the changing make-up of HE provision and of the HE sector

introducing a small number of additional UKPIs to take account of the wider role of higher education.

So, more rather than less.

There is also going to be more detailed investigation into current PIs and, once this completed, exploration of new areas for additional PIs will begin.

We therefore have a little breathing room but it remains a very disappointing outcome.

 

Variations in HE participation

Some big differences across the country

HEFCE has just published its latest research on participation in HE for 14 cohorts of young people aged 18 in the academic years from 1998-99 to 2011-12:

In October 2013 we published a report on the latest trends in young participation. This report builds on earlier reports to include cohorts up to and including those who entered HE aged 18 in the academic year 2011-12, or aged 19 in the academic year 2012-13.

This means it covers young people who entered HE aged 18 the year before the new funding and finance arrangements for HE came into effect. So it provides a baseline from which to measure participation rates in the new funding environment.

An interactive map shows the variations across the country.

map1 particpation

But as the report notes significant differences in participation remain – in particular between:

  • young people from advantaged and disadvantaged groups
  • young people living in different parts of the country
  • young men and women.

While it seems that some of these differences have reduced slightly others have become larger. The variations across different regions are most striking on the maps, particularly in North Nottingham where the participation rate, at 16%, is the lowest in the country. We have a long way to go but this is one of the reasons for the importance of Nottingham Potential, the University of Nottingham initiative to increase participation in this region.

Save universities from more misguided regulation

Well-meaning but fundamentally wrong proposals for yet more regulation

hecommission-regulationreportcoversmaller

Just when you thought things couldn’t get much worse in terms of higher education regulation, another group comes along and proposes a whole load more. Brilliant. (I’ve posted before here on this issue.)

I’ve not seen the report yet (it is due to be published today) but the Guardian has and has commented at some length on its contents under the title “What universities need: regulation, regulation, regulation” which gives us a bit of a steer on the conclusions. It is suggested that there is massive risk here which only what looks like a shed load (technical term for a unit of unnecessary bureaucracy) of additional regulation can mitigate:

They warn that without proper regulation, there is little to protect students from disreputable or fly-by-night institutions. “We are concerned that there is a growing unregulated sector of higher education that may be offering insufficient provision to students,” the report states. “This has the potential to damage England’s reputation as a leading provider of higher education.” It also threatens students’ confidence that the thousands of pounds they pay in fees will secure them a top-quality education, at an institution that will not go bust.Paper_tape_table_dispenser-01

The authors argue that there is also a commercial case for better regulation: it encourages businesses to invest in the sector and banks to lend institutions money. “We believe that the current regulatory environment in higher education, and the changes that are in-train, are insufficient to achieve this,” the report says.

It is far from clear what this “unregulated sector” is. Is it the alternative private providers which have been ushered into higher education by this government? Perhaps, but whilst they are arguably under-regulated they are not exactly “fly-by-night” outfits. So where are these shady backstreet higher education providers which are necessitating all this extra red tape? Perhaps they are listed in the report but it is far from clear from this who we are talking about.

Until now, regulation of higher education institutions has been piecemeal, dictated partly by rules, such as health and safety, that govern any large organisation, partly by institutional committees responsible for setting and monitoring standards on research and course programmes, and partly by academic senates, boards of governors and sector-owned bodies, such as the Higher Education Statistics Agency, supporting effective management. Hefce and the Office for Fair Access also act as independent external regulators, monitoring respectively institutions’ financial health and efforts to be socially inclusive, while Hefce contracts the Quality Assurance Agency to monitor teaching quality.

In his review, published in 2010, which recommended lifting the cap on tuition fees, Lord Browne suggested merging all the regulatory bodies into a single, independent Higher Education Council. Earlier this year, the Institute for Public Policy Research came up with a similar proposal. The government has never acted on the idea.

Now, the commission recommends a “lead” regulator, the Council for Higher Education, incorporating Offa, the Office for Student Loans (formerly the Student Loans Company) and a new, lightly staffed Office for Competition and Institutional Diversity, each retaining individual structures and purposes. Other regulatory bodies, including QAA and Office for the Independent Adjudicator, would be linked but independent.

Whilst it is right to identify that there is a messy patchwork of legislation and regulation affecting higher education, the ideas which have been floated to tidy this up seem to have been motivated by views of a need for tidiness and convenience for those involved in regulating than what is actually in the interest of students, universities, the sector or the country/countries concerned. The government has not acted on these ideas for the very good reason that they don’t make sense. Moreover, it looks from this piece as if the report is seeking to combine UK-wide and English agencies without regard to the positions of the devolved nations.

One final point caught my eye here:

The report also proposes an insurance scheme, paid into by every institution, to safeguard students should an institution or course fail, and based on a scheme run by the Civil Aviation Authority. This may be controversial, with traditional institutions reluctant to pay into a scheme designed to bail out new, riskier operations that fail.

“May be controversial”? What delightfully amusing understatement.

To summarise. We need less regulation, not more. Higher education is already over-regulated and this impacts negatively on institutions’ ability to deliver their missions. This kind of report I fear offers only a recipe for further bureaucracy and waste in higher education and will not benefit students or the sector. So, thanks but no thanks.

Unbelievable excitement as website updated

Big announcements about Unistats.

As previously noted there is no shortage of information available to prospective university students. Unistats was intended to enable better decision-making by students but, whilst it is not without merit, it is no substitute for effective advice and guidance. Unfortunately this shiny website seems to be pretty much all that’s on offer. Still, the good news is it has been updated to help students make even better choices:

The updated and improved Unistats web-site includes even more course information than ever before, and will make it easier for users to search and compare courses by location, as well as on the go via a new mobile phone version.

Unistats is one of the most widely used higher education course comparison web-sites in the UK for prospective students, their parents and advisers. Over the past year, it has attracted more than 250,000 unique visitors and over 5.2 million page views, helping to match students to universities and colleges.

unistats latin

It really is this exciting

Anyway, the Universities Minister David Willetts is a big fan and credits Unistats with students getting into their first choice universities (and I thought it depended on their A level grades):

‘We are empowering people by publishing unprecedented levels of information on their options.

‘It is making a real difference and more students than ever before are now getting their first choice university place.

‘The next stage is to let people access Unistats on their mobiles, at a time and place of their choosing.’

Times Higher Education, reporting on the launch, include a quote from Rachel Wenstone, Vice-President at the National Union of Students who seems really keen on all this:

“Deciding what to study and where to go to university is a big decision and it is crucial that prospective applicants have relevant, impartial information in an easily accessible format,” she said.

“I’m really pleased that the improvements to the site have been made with students, parents and carers in mind and I hope it will contribute to helping even more students make the right application choices,” she added.

(Indeed, NUS seems surprisingly enthusiastic about many government initiatives these days.)

Anyway, it’s all very exciting news. Even if it does make it all sound a bit like a dating site…

Higher Ed data – way too much information

Tackling the surfeit of data

I’ve written before here about Higher Education regulation (see for example this general commentary and this post on information provision) and the excess of information provision available to prospective students.

It’s pleasing therefore to see that HEFCE is undertaking a review of providing information about higher education. The aims of the review are set out as follows:

The review will aim to ensure that:

  • wherever possible, the different elements of the provision of information fall within a coherent framework, across UK institutions
  • we gather sound evidence to help us form the future information
  • the outcomes of different mechanisms suit the issues they are designed to address
  • information is usable and accessible, and that we are able to make the best use of technology to facilitate this in the future.

The review will reflect on how much this area of our work costs the public purse. It will also consider the role of a range of organisations in providing independent, contextualised, robust, comparable and usable information.

unistats latin

There’s plenty more where this came from

The review will look at the purpose and use of NSS results, at the Unistats site and the Key Information Set data as well as the Destination of Leavers from Higher Education (Delhe) survey. It is also going to examine how this data is used by prospective students. If all goes well this should be an extremely valuable piece of work and will, it is to be hoped, result in a significant reduction in the quantity of data collected and published (and the bureaucratic burden on universities) in favour of an improvement in the quality of information available to applicants.

A long way to go but let’s hope that the group overseeing the work, the Higher Education Public Information Steering Group (HEPISG, from which acronym I’m afraid I still derive puerile amusement) will do its job well and we will see some real change in this area.

Go West. Or East. Plans for more student mobility

Government wants more students to travel.

There is to be a Government initiative to persuade more students to travel. The aim is that more UK students will be encouraged to broaden their horizons by travelling overseas for part of their degree courses.

The new UK Outward Student Mobility Strategy aims to boost the number of students gaining vital international experience from overseas study and work placements, allowing them to complete in the global race for jobs and skills.

B 4

Currently just one UK student studies abroad for every 15 international students in the UK – and the UK lags behind Spain, France, Germany, Italy and Poland in accessing the European Commission’s Erasmus funding for study or work placements.

The strategy, developed by the UK Higher Education International Unit, comes on the same day as the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, which is providing initial funding for the strategy, publishes its International Education Strategy.

According to the International Unit the Strategy will be consulted on during summer 2013 and published at the start of the coming session. The strategic activities involved will include:

  • Research and data collection
  • Promotion and awareness-raising campaign for study and work placements overseas
  • Coordination of financial support for mobility opportunities
  • HEI services to build capacity and influence
  • An online hub for all information and resources relevant to outward student mobility.

There is some way to go it seems before we get a full strategy. It is to be hoped that it does offer some useful assistance to universities as there is undoubtedly real value in student mobility and the UK is genuinely lagging in this area. Significant improvement to the position will though require substantial and sustained activity, by Government and institutions, and will not happen overnight.

How Green is my Campus?

An exciting new tool to count university plants.

A web-based tool to measure plant diversity on university and college campuses has been developed by the University of Northampton with funds from HEFCE.

The index

The Biodiversity Index is an interactive system which allows organisations with little or no knowledge of biodiversity to assess the level of plant diversity on their land quickly, simply and scientifically.

What does the Biodiversity Index do?

Biodiversity refers to the number and variety of all forms of life – living organisms, the genetic differences between them and the ecosystems in which they occur.

The index enables universities and colleges to identify their different habitats and to make a simple but scientific assessment of the plant diversity of those habitats. The website then makes calculations based on the data, and gives a biodiversity score, a summary and a printable report.

Untitled1

The Index offers tips on how to improve the diversity of habitats, with links to further reading and advice. Many of these suggestions are cost-neutral, and some may actually save money while improving biodiversity. Users of the Biodiversity Index can access information to help them:

  • develop a Biodiversity Action Plan
  • identify a range of activities to benefit biodiversity on campus
  • fulfil corporate social responsibility goals
  • fulfil responsibilities as a public body under the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006
  • raise staff engagement in biodiversity conservation.

It’s an interesting development. Will institutions take advantage of it or indeed the (paid for) consultancy on offer alongside the index? I don’t know but it does look like a potentially useful addition to universities’ wider biodiversity activities

Regulation without legislation

Not a campaign slogan but the next steps in HE regulatory change from HEFCE

Something of a surprise announcement from HEFCE on new changes to HE regulation. The changes follow a written Ministerial statement from David Willetts. The changes cover a lot of ground:

The success of higher education in England is underpinned by the principles of institutional autonomy and academic freedom, and the new arrangements build on these strong foundations. The Government has asked HEFCE and the Regulatory Partnership Group (RPG) to implement them within existing legislation, while recognising that a new legislative framework will be required in the longer term.

The Operating Framework - part of the regulatory framework governing HE

The Operating Framework – part of the regulatory framework governing HE

Working in partnership with the RPG, HEFCE is asked to take on a regulatory oversight and coordination role. HEFCE is leading work on a number of strands of the new arrangements:

  • developing a register of higher education provision in England
  • consulting on proposed revisions to HEFCE’s Financial Memorandum
  • operating of a new system of specific-course designation for alternative providers
  • implementing further changes to student number controls, including extending them to alternative providers from 2014-15.

The Government has announced that it intends to delegate to HEFCE responsibility for the process of approving designation of HEFCE-funded universities and colleges, and for providing assurance that the agreed terms and conditions are met. Eligible courses at these institutions are and will continue to be designated automatically, allowing students to access student support. Institutions will not be required to undergo a separate designation process. This means that in practice there will be little change for existing institutions, and no additional administrative burden.

This last piece is a critical one. Whilst there are new requirements on alternative providers it is claimed there will be no extra burden on universities. To achieve this the changes to the Financial Memorandum will need to be modest. And it is not at all clear that any of these changes will leave us with a reduction in regulation. At some point the focus of higher regulation partnership working moved from seeking to reduce the burden on institutions to concentrating “on policy, strategic and operational issues arising from the development of the new funding and regulatory regime for higher education.” This is a matter of significant concern given the many competitive and regulatory pressures universities are under. So whatever happens in this latest iteration it is vital that the promise of no additional administrative burden is delivered. Then we can move to actually reducing the level of regulation.

£5m for Students’ Green Fund

Big funding for student-led green initiatives.

HEFCE recently announced the launch of the ‘Students’ Green Fund’ which is intended to help students work with their institutions on sustainable development:

NUS will run a single-round bidding competition in summer 2013, to allocate the funding. The funded projects will then receive the funding over two full academic years (2013-14 and 2014-15).

The Students’ Green Fund will encourage local collaborative sustainability initiatives through students’ unions, putting students in the driving seat for sustainability engagement initiatives, as well as supporting them in their role as agents for change.

NUS is determined to create a social norm of sustainability in institutions. The groundwork laid by initiatives such as Student Switch Off in university halls of residence, the sustainable growth programme, Student Eats, and Green Impact, will be strengthened by the Students’ Green Fund.

A handy information video has been developed by NUS:

 

 

Details of the bidding process are on the NUS website. The final deadline for proposals is rapidly approaching and it will be interesting to see who the winners are and what kind of projects are supported. It’s a pretty large sum of money.

Do we need more ways to measure HE?

Clearly we do…

There seems to be a new review of performance indicators for higher education underway. This is, it appears, a “fundamental review” of how higher education is measured in the UK.

The review has been commissioned by HEFCE’s Performance Indicators Steering Group (the acronym for which I get a childish pleasure from saying out loud) and the details can be found at the site “Measuring higher education in the UK“.

The review is asking a number of important questions:

      1. Is there are need for performance indicators – why should we measure the performance of higher education institutions?
      2. Who are the users of performance indicators, and what sort of measures do they need?
      3. Are the existing performance indicators fit for purpose, and how do they link with other measures?
A graph which looks a bit like a KPI but really isn't

A graph which looks a bit like a KPI but really isn’t

They are keen for lots of people to contribute:

We are looking to involve a wide range of stakeholders who have an interest in how performance in higher education is measured. These may include universities and other individual HE providers; HE representative bodies; data users; funders, data owners and statistical bodies; employer representative bodies; and organisations representing and supporting prospective and current students and their parents.

Whilst I fear I have come to late to this to enable more contributions as the deadline has already passed (and there are no other links on this page to take you anywhere useful), it will be interesting to see how many do contribute and what the results are. What will those new performance indicators be? Or will everyone agree that there aren’t any meaningful indicators which can genuinely measure university performance?

Eight minutes to choose a degree course

A report on the use made of Unistats

HEFCE has published an evaluation of the Unistats website after its first period of operation. It suggests that the huge demands made of institutions in providing the necessary data have paid off as Unistats has already become “one of the most widely used higher education course comparison websites”.

unistats latin

Since its launch in September 2012, the Unistats web-site has received over 3.8 million page views and over 175,000 unique visitors – an average of 984 new visitors per day. The site is used extensively by prospective higher education students, their parents, careers advisers, teachers and higher education staff.

The research, commissioned by the Higher Education Funding Councils, looks at the site’s position in the market and how it is perceived and used, as well as issues such as navigation, search, filter and comparison functions, and data presentation. A separate report by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) focuses on the experiences and views of higher education institutions.

Key findings include:

The average length of visit to the site is over eight minutes (a long time compared with use of other web-sites).

Many users regarded the independent and authoritative nature of the site as one of its key strengths.

Prospective students, current students and parents were more positive about the site than careers advisers, teachers and higher education staff, and more likely to describe the site as ’useful’ and ‘easy to get around’.

All very gratifying for Unistats fans. But as an earlier post noted there really is no shortage of information on HE opportunities. The most worrying element of this report though is the eight minute visit. Whilst this is undoubtedly a comparatively long time for a website visit it really is a frighteningly short time to spend looking at possible course choices.