it’s an online space where higher education professionals can talk to one other, get advice and insight from peers and industry experts and grapple with the challenges that face the whole sector.
With so many changes and challenges facing the sector and its workforce, we feel this is the perfect time to create a place where HE professionals can share their experiences, ideas and even horror stories. We’ve started the ball rolling here with an anonymous blog exposing the less glamorous aspects of international officer’s role – the first in our series of ‘confessions of a…’
There’s lots of really good stuff in here and hope it will develop. I’m not just saying that because they happen to have carried a piece by me on students as consumers (or not). OK, that does have a bearing but there is I think a gap to be filled here. Will be interesting to see if it works out.
The BBC reports on a warning from the Universities Minister concerning fee setting plans. Speaking at the Dearing Conference at the University of Nottingham on 17 February he warned that, because the government had assumed that the average fee would be £7,500, if most universities charged higher than this the additional cost of student finance would have to be met from elsewhere in the HE budget. Thus, higher fees will result in more cuts:
David Willetts has warned that there will be more cuts to higher education if too many universities opt to charge maximum tuition fees. The government wants most universities to pitch their fees lower – because it faces costs from supporting students’ loans. The universities minister said savings would “reluctantly” have to be found.
The government has said it wants the top fee to be charged only in “exceptional circumstances” but as independent bodies, universities are free to charge fees they want. Imperial College, London has become the first to opt to charge the top rate and Oxford and Cambridge appear to be moving that way.
The government says if too many universities charge higher fees, the costs to it will be too high.
The key point here is the independence of universities. Without further legislation on fees the government is not able to dictate what universities will charge. So, the exhortations to pitch low and the assertion that £9,000 will be exceptional represent helpful advice from the Minister but it will be up to universities to decide. And, if we have the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Central Lancashire, as reported in The Times (£), saying that his institution probably needs to charge around £8,000 in order to survive, then we will soon see whether this means that even more cuts will be on the way for higher education or if this was just sabre-rattling.
New Sutton Trust report on access has some rather staggering data
The Sutton Trust report suggests that private school students are 55 times more likely to win a place at Oxbridge and 22 times more likely to go to a top-ranked university than students at state schools who qualify for Free School Meals (FSM). The Trust is proposing, quite reasonably, given the evidence, that the Government’s new £150m per year National Scholarship programme should be used to expand proven outreach work and pilot new approaches – rather than being solely directed to financial support for students. In terms of participation, the report makes a number of telling points:
The latest research from the Sutton Trust calculates that less than one student in a hundred admitted to Oxbridge between 2005 and 2007 had been an FSM pupil. There were only 130 FSM pupils out of 16,110 students in total – whereas nearly half the intake came from independent schools.
These stark university participation gaps are driven by significant gaps in attainment at GCSE level and before: pupils at fee-paying schools were three-and-a-half times more likely to attain five GCSE with grades A*-C including English and maths than the pupils from the poorest homes.
The position is not much better for the 25 most academically selective universities in England according the figures which are based on official statistics covering just under 2 million students enrolled at university over three years.
Only 2% (approximately 1,300 pupils each year) of the intake to these universities was made up of Free School Meal pupils, compared with 72.2% from other state school pupils and just over a quarter (25.8%) from independent schools. That means that independent school pupils were six times as likely to attend a highly selective university as those in state schools (the majority) not entitled to Free School Meals.
Whilst some of the recommendations in the report are, arguably, over-directive, the strength of the case here is undeniable.
A story from the Guardian from back in October noted that the supermarket chain said it will pay for students’ university fees if they enrol on a degree course it is sponsoring. Morrisons is to fund 20 undergraduates a year on a three-year degree course in business and management.
The supermarket admits the course will leave little time for the recreational side of university life. Students will not take university holidays, but will have an annual leave allowance. They will receive £15,000 a year and will not have to pay their tuition fees of £3,290 a year. The students are also guaranteed a job once they graduate and must work for Morrisons for at least three years. Teenagers apply through Morrisons rather than Ucas, the centralised system for all university applications in the UK.
Morrisons is not quite the first retailer to offer a degree: in June Harrods announced it was to offer two-year degrees in sales with Anglia Ruskin University. A week ago GlaxoSmithKline announced it would sponsor a module on University of Nottingham chemistry degrees – the first collaboration of its kind between a pharmaceutical company and a university. Tesco sponsors a pre-degree foundation course in retail with Manchester Metropolitan University and University of the Arts London.
An earlier post commented on the Harrods development along with a Wal-Mart programme in the USA. Following the Browne review outcomes we can expect more of this.
Following the fun and games with the Tier 1 and 2 changes which may yet serve to keep the best academics out of the UK, the government has now turned its attention to Tier 4, students. According to the UK Border Agency , which is launching a brief consultation on proposed changes:
The government intends to reduce annual net migration to the UK to sustainable levels, in the tens of thousands a year. It has made clear that it expects the student route to make its contribution towards reducing net migration to the UK.
Students now represent the largest proportion of non-EU net migration. We need to ensure that the number of international students coming to the UK is broadly in balance with the number leaving.
The government’s policy aim is to ensure that only genuine students who are committed to their academic study come to the UK, with a presumption that upon completion they will leave promptly. This consultation sets out our proposals for achieving this aim.
You can respond online to this consultation here. (It is not entirely reassuring that UKBA is using survey monkey for this rather important consultation. At least it’s cheap I suppose.)
“It is crucial that the UK continues to attract the very best academics and students from around the world if we are to maintain our global standing in higher education. There is a fierce global market for the best academic talent, and our track record in attracting international staff and students has made a very important contribution to the considerable success of UK higher education to date.
“Changes which make the visa regime stricter can severely diminish the international attractiveness of a nation’s universities. It is crucial that the immigration system continues to support the efforts of our leading universities to attract talented people who have a legitimate interest in studying, teaching, or carrying out research here.
Universities are a big export business, bringing in £5.3 billion a year to the UK economy each year (according to UUK). The consequences of this change could be disastrous. Surely we should be seeking to sustain this rather than seeking to turn off the tap?
Schools, colleges, universities, student unions and a wide range of other bodies are being asked to comment on the information that higher education (HE) providers publish to help prospective students choose the course and institution that are best for them.
They are invited to respond to a consultation being conducted by HEFCE, Universities UK and GuildHE. The consultation mainly concerns a proposed Key Information Set (KIS) which all publicly funded HE providers in England and Northern Ireland would be required to publish for each course on their web-sites.
The press release continues:
The consultation is informed by the results of research commissioned by HEFCE, and undertaken by Oakleigh Consulting and Staffordshire University, which identified the information current and prospective students identified as ‘very useful’. This mostly relates to costs, satisfaction and employability. Information about the fees for each course will also be included.
The intention is that information will be presented in a standardised format on each university and college web-site, looking similar for all courses at all institutions, thus making the information potentially more useful, comparable and accessible. Discussions are also taking place about how the information can be linked to the UCAS web-site.
But do prospective students really need more information? And is this kind of standardised set of data really going to help inform decisions. Or will most students turn to other sources such as The Times League Table rather than this sort of information. Guess we’ll find out.
Naturally, all of the attention today will be on the funding elements of the Browne report. However, one significant change which is unlikely to attract much comment will nevertheless carry major implications for universities. It is proposed to merge four agencies into one:
The higher education system is currently overseen by four bodies: HEFCE, QAA, OFFA and OIA. These will be replaced by a single Higher Education (HE) Council. It will take a more targeted approach to regulation, with greater autonomy for institutions.
The Council will be independent from Government and institutions. It will have five areas of responsibility:
• Investment – identifying and investing in high priority courses; evaluating value for money; dealing with the unexpected, with the primary aim of protecting students’ interests
• Quality – setting and enforcing minimum quality levels across the whole sector
• Equity of access – making sure that individual institutions and the sector as a whole make measurable progress on admitting qualified students from disadvantaged backgrounds
• Competition – ensuring that students get the benefits of more competition, by publishing an annual survey of charges, and looking after the interests of students when an institution is at risk
• Dispute resolution – students can ask the Council to adjudicate on a dispute that cannot be resolved within their institution and provide a decision which binds both sides
The HE Council will explain how it is investing taxpayers’ money, and safeguarding students’ investment in higher education, through an annual report to Parliament.
So, it looks like the end of the road for the QAA, OFFA and OIA.
(Arguably the dullest post ever to appear on this blog. And that’s saying something. I’ve been wanting to do this for ages but apologies in advance for any distress caused.)
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:
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?
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 14 years of funding letters.
A really good article by Philip Altbach, Liz Reisberg and Laura Rumbley in Change Magazine.
A global revolution has been taking place in higher education during the past half-century that is at least as dramatic as the one that happened when the German research model fundamentally changed the nature of the university worldwide in the 19th century. And the transformation of the late 20th and early 21st centuries is more extensive than the earlier one, due to the sheer numbers of institutions and people involved.
In our view, four fundamental and interrelated forces have impelled the current academic revolution: the “massification” of higher education, globalization, the advent of the knowledge society and the importance of research universities within it, and information technology (including distance education). These forces have presented nations with enormous funding challenges and fueled the rise of the private sector and the privatization of public colleges and universities, the accountability movement (including today’s imperative to measure the outcomes of higher education), and deep changes in the nature and role of the professoriate.
The article gives a comprehensive overview of global changes in universities across a wide range of activities before addressing some of the consequences of the financial crisis:
The crisis is likely to have the following consequences worldwide:
* In many cases, the priority will be to allocate funds to ensure that access to the higher education system is not dramatically cut. But at the same time, universities will face pressures to establish or increase tuition fees for students, and higher education is likely to become increasingly unaffordable to marginalized populations. In countries where student loan programs exist, either in the public or private sectors, they may be severely limited.
* Research universities are likely to see significant constraints on their budgets, since governments will be unable to provide the resources needed for their continued improvement.
* Cost-cutting practices at many universities will result in a deterioration of quality. More part-time faculty are likely to be hired, class sizes increased, and other savings implemented that potentially threaten the overall health and effectiveness of higher education.
* We are likely to see freezes on hiring, the construction of new facilities, improved information technology, and the purchase of books and journals.
It’s a grim prospectus but a realistic one. The piece overall is an excellent take on global changes in higher education and one of the best pieces of this kind I’ve seen recently. Well worth reading.
In The Broken University, education expert James Stanfield examines what is seen and what is not seen in the UK higher education sector. In contrast to the conventional wisdom, he finds no compelling evidence to suggest that public subsidies to higher education have any economic benefit. Moreover, Stanfield convincingly argues that once its hidden costs and unintended consequences are taken into account, government intervention in higher education is doing far more harm than good, and is holding back the development of one of the UK’s most important service sectors.
Mr Stanfield’s report also criticises research council funding, highlighting costly projects that it considers to have been a waste of money. It adds that the lack of a profit motive in higher education has had a negative effect on the qualifications universities provide. “Without government intervention, there would now be a variety of different, competing private qualifications providing a variety of educational experiences – many of which would have more purpose and relevance to an individual’s future career than a degree,” it says. It recommends abolishing the cap on fees, allowing “full freedom of entry” into university, and extending tax benefits to for-profit institutions.
THE also includes some robust responses to the claim that UK higher education cannot be considered a success while it receives a £14.3 billion annual public subsidy:
Steve Smith, president of UUK, responded that higher education provided an “outstanding return” on public investment. “For every 61p of public investment received, universities also lever out 39p of private and international investment,” he said. “Compared with other sectors, this represents an excellent return. Universities now generate £59 billion a year for the UK economy, £15 billion more than in 2004.” He added that the sector achieved this despite receiving lower levels of public and private funding than competitor countries.
The proposals don’t seem to have garnered a huge amount of support to date. It might have something to do with the fact that the argument that public funding does more harm than good is rather a difficult one to sustain.
Should top independent schools set up a new private university on the lines of American liberal arts colleges, providing high-quality teaching, a broad curriculum and charging full fees? The proposal, floated by Terence Kealey, Vice-Chancellor of the private University of Buckingham, may delight a possible incoming Tory government. It may attract parents who are used to paying high school fees as well as those who are afraid that their offspring are being squeezed out of university by poorer applicants.
These are of course the same parents and students who benefit disproportionately from the current student finance set up. And I think we are still rather a long way from the level of social equity which would disadvantage this group. However, Stevens’ suggestion is not about creating a new bastion of privilege:
So, let’s suppose two or three of the most famous fee-charging schools – perhaps those with the biggest endowments and the highest prestige – became universities. They could do so by merging with existing universities to provide new opportunities not for the rich but for poorer students. Take Winchester. The university in Winchester is pioneering a broader undergraduate curriculum. Winchester College is an ancient and distinguished school. Its beautiful buildings would make a fine university campus. The school has a high academic reputation and expertise in post-16 teaching.
This would, undoubtedly, be a new kind of institution. And it’s an interesting proposition. But would it really work? And is any university, in Winchester or elsewhere, going to be willing to make the kind of changes required to deliver such an outcome?
ONCE again there is talk of a funding crisis facing higher education and some are talking of cuts as swingeing as those enacted during the first Thatcher administration…During the last two decades, university managers, academics and others have become accustomed to increases in the level of income in support of teaching and research, and although the sources of income have been diversified, there remains a great demand upon the public purse to deliver increasing resources to universities. There are questions of justice regarding this – particularly in Scotland, given that students make no direct financial contribution – for many who pay for the provision of university education do not participate in it, and much of what is paid for may not be valued by the wider society, nor deserve to be.
Haldane refers to two mid-19th Century works: Newman’s Idea of a University and John Stuart Mill’s Rectorial Address to the students at St Andrews University, delivered and published in 1867 (it lasted for three hours apparently).
From the perspective of the present, the most striking features of these two accounts of the nature and value of university education is what they exclude. Newman thought that it was not the business of universities to engage in research. He writes that “a university is a place of teaching universal knowledge. This implies that its object is the diffusion and extension of knowledge rather than the advancement of it. If its object were scientific and philosophical discovery, I do not see why a university should have students.” Newman was not against research, but thought it should be conducted in special institutes. Mill likewise thought that the fact that certain activities are important for individuals and society does not mean they should be part of the university curriculum.
In short, the argument is this:
the growing mass of researchers may have become a drag on and even an obstacle to the pursuit of the primary purpose of universities – namely, education. It impedes the effort to put students first and it consumes vast sums of private and public funding.
So, given the new constraints on funding higher education faces and will continue to experience, the proposition is that we consider rebalancing limited funds to invest more heavily in teaching and learning and less in research. Controversial stuff but, as he shows, entirely in keeping with the ideas of Newman and Mill.
Lord Mandelson commented on Lord Dearing’s contribution to higher education:
Lord Dearing was very clear that our higher education system was central to what made our society intellectually curious and critical, what made it socially just and humane. It is the place where we define and redefine our sense of ourselves and the forces that shape us.
The main thrust of his speech though was about the consequences of the cuts in HE funding he had recently announced. In essence, he was uncompromising in presenting the reductions as a necessary contribution to wider public finance savings and as an opportunity to universities to reconsider their spending and help to “focus minds” on the need to seek out new sources of funding (and he also commented specifically on the University of Nottingham):
Universities have been able to leverage a steep rise in non-state funding. They have widened their sources of income by exporting their teaching brands, opening their doors to fee-paying international students. Higher education is now a major export industry for the UK and a key comparative advantage – some £5.3billion in exports in 2008. Nottingham has done this very well. The best university systems in the world are defined by a wide range of public and private funding and British universities need the same diversity. I recognise that sources of additional business income are not limitless and can be irregular, especially during a downturn. But even a small expansion in this work would go a long way in closing the gap created by a period of fiscal constraint.
But a large part of the speech was dedicated to discussing the extension of part-time study and two-year intensive degrees with the argument being that these are creative ways to reduce spend:
The push to save costs can and should actually push the system in the direction of the modes of study I have been advocating. Part-time degrees, shorter and more intensive courses all offer the potential to lower student support costs, use resources more intensively and improve productivity.
Not terribly convincing. Whilst strong arguments about the need for savings can be made, the proposals around alternative modes of study are much less persuasive.
Grave anxiety in the Times that middle-class students might have to pay higher contributions post-graduation:
Students from middle-class families may be denied grants and cheap loans and be charged higher tuition fees under a “double whammy” to be considered by a government review of university funding. It could add nearly £7,000 a year to the cost of university for a student from a family with an income of £50,000 a year.
The higher charges are being advocated after Lord Mandelson, the first secretary of state, announced £950m of cuts to higher education. Costs are expected to increase, whoever wins the general election. Lord Browne, the chairman of the government review, has the task of producing more money for universities without extra cost to the taxpayer and is expected to look favourably on cuts to what critics claim are middle-class subsidies.
Pure speculation of course but difficult to feel a huge amount of sympathy for this special pleading, especially in the light of another piece in the same edition of the paper which explains how much middle-class parents are prepared to stump up for extra tuition:
As many as half the children in London have received private tuition as parents become more and more desperate to win places at the best schools, new research has found. The latest edition of the Good Schools Guide has found the recession has had no apparent effect on parents’ willingness to pay between £20- £40 an hour to top up their children’s education.
The boom is being fuelled both by parents’ ambitions for children to win places at the best universities and by a glut of unemployed graduates tutoring part-time while they look for a full-time job. Tuition agencies report growth of 15%-100% last year, with popularity growing quickly in cities such as Birmingham and Manchester as well as in the traditional heartlands of London and the southeast.
From Mark Harrison’s blog – Student Fees: Four Myths and a Certainty
Professor Mark Harrison (economist) offers an intelligent, well-argued, timely and rather pithy contribution to the fees debate:
Student fees are in the news again. These are the top-up fees paid by British and EU students to take degree courses at British universities, presently capped at £3,225 a year. They're called “top-ups” because they help to bridge the gap between the public money that goes to universities and the actual cost of degree programmes — which is considerably more. So, should our universities be allowed to raise their fees? The government has announced a review. The lobbies are brushing up their arguments. Everyone has their opinions about the justice or injustice of student fees. As it turns out, fairness and economics are closely connected, but not always in the way that the lobbies think.
He observes that low (or no) fees benefit primarily the middle-classes:
Hundreds of thousands of middle class families know they can benefit to the tune of tens of thousands of pounds from no fees or low fees for their children. In contrast, the gain to society from higher fees will be spread more thinly over millions of citizens, none of whom may feel confident of reaping a personal gain — particularly if they have children that may become students in due course.