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Is the admissions system ready for reform?

With calls for a post-qualification admissions system, greater transparency around unconditional university offers, and the need for a more ambitious contextual admissions strategy – is the current admissions process fit for purpose or is it ready for a refresh? June Hughes, University of Derby Secretary and Registrar, discusses the complexity of the university system.

The TEF may not be perfect -- but it's still worth going for gold

As the latest Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF) results are published, Sue Reece, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Student Experience) at Staffordshire University, says the efforts her institution made to move up from a Silver to a Gold award were worth it, despite flaws in the TEF methodology.

Study finds progress on tackling hate crime and sexual harassment on campus

Universities awarded funding as part of a large-scale programme to tackle hate crime and sexual harassment on campus have made good progress, an evaluation of the scheme has concluded.

Hinds urges OfS to take “ambitious” measures to protect HE standards

Education Secretary Damian Hinds has urged the Office for Students to adopt “ambitious” new measures “in order to tackle risks to the world class quality of higher education” in the UK.

"Open border" universities perform best in new U-Multirank rankings

The most internationally engaged "open border" universities perform best in the quality of their education, research impact, and knowledge transfer, according to U-Multirank, which has published its latest set of global rankings.

Augar proposals must not mean supporting FE at the expense of HE

The Augar review panel was right to highlight under-funding of further education, but addressing this should not mean cuts in the higher education budget, argues Dr Joe Marshall, Chief Executive Officer of the National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB).

 

Understanding the real drivers behind the Augar review or predicting how much will see the light of implementation remains to be seen,  but the its scope and depth leaves it difficult to ignore. Testimony to this fact has been the number of reaction pieces that have framed their response as at best initial or with strong caveats that more detailed analysis will follow.  

Many commend the Augar team for the depth and breadth in which they have grappled with significant and seismic issues.  As with all government sponsored reviews, there were constrains on the review team (fiscal neutrality), significant political interest (not just from the now outgoing PM but also from her would be successors), but also on where to draw the boundaries (post-18 is a very, very broad canvas).

Not all of the early leaks and rumours made it into the final report, for which many leaders in the university sector will be thankful for. But there is, as reported in a number of other places, enough to be concerned about if the recommendations are enacted: reduction in tuition fees with no guarantees as to where the funding shortfall will come from; threats around recruitment of students to courses with “poor retention, poor employability and poor long-term earnings”; redirecting the HE capital grant to further education.

It is on the last point that I think the constraints (or pressures) on the review team have pushed elements of the review into a polarised and binary discussion: HE or FE.  Clearly in looking at the totality of the Post-18 education system they need to think about ‘the other 50 per cent’ that do not go into higher education.  But should this be at the detriment to a system that the review acknowledges is considered to be outstanding across a range of measures (research, teaching, economic, civic). 

The fiscal neutrality forces a series of recommendations to rebalance funding or priorities away from HE towards FE. The figures in the report make for stark reading and Augar rightly puts a spotlight on the imbalance.  But imbalance does not necessarily mean it needs to be rebalanced. There is a collective effort needed to make the case that more funding is required for further education but not at the expense of the higher education budget.

A binary decision between FE or HE also assumes an absolute delineation between the two. Not just through the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy but in responding to changes in labour markets – universities increasingly partner with and often co-deliver programmes that offer more technical and vocational routes.  These partnerships are often rooted in the needs and requirements of particular places.  Further and higher education working together to meet the needs of local employers and local populations.  One recommendation not visible in the review would have been to encourage more of this to happen rather than reinforcing divisions between a perceived separate two worlds.

As noted above, the Augar review is too substantive a piece of work for both politicians and the sector to ignore.  More analysis and interpretation will emerge.  The Government will (when it can) offer calls to action when it published its response. But it needs to take up the baton from this review and really consider the needs of a future advanced knowledge economy.  We need to create a Post-18 education system truly capable of pushing the best and brightest minds as well as genuinely supporting and empowering others to realise their potential. It is not binary decision.  But a simple and powerful AND.  We need an education system in which all contribute AND all benefit.  

 

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