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HEi-think: Tertiary review must untangle some knotty problems facing HE

The review of post-18 education launched by the Prime Minister faces some knotty problems to untangle over higher education funding and student finance, but in itself adds another thread to the tapestry of changes woven around the sector, says Diana Beech, Director of Policy and Advocacy for the Higher Education Policy Institute.

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Live higher education news roundup

Former universities minister Lord Willetts to be Leicester University Chancellor

The University of Leicester has announced that former Universities and Science Minister David Willetts is to be installed as its new Chancellor.

HEi-think: Latest UCAS data shows student market competition is hotting up

Mike Ratcliffe, Oxford-based university administrator and Director of More Means Better, examines the latest UCAS data, and finds competition for mobile students is on the rise.

HEi-think: Staffordshire's new £17m hub is a vote of confidence in apprenticeships

Staffordshire University is aiming for significant growth in apprenticeships with the launch of £17m digital apprenticeships and skills hub that offers a model for the rest of the sector, says its Pro Vice Chancellor ( Partnerships and Region), Professor Ieuan Ellis.

Faster progress needed on widening access, says OFFA

The fair access watchdog OFFA has published its latest guidelines for universities on access agreements and told universities they will have to make faster progress on widening participation to meet new government targets.

Universities in England need to draw up such agreements and have them approved by OFFA to be allowed to charge higher tuition fees up to a maximum of £9,000 a year.

The latest guidelines cover agreements for the academic year 2017-18.

In them, OFFA sets out the government’s priorities as well as progress made on widening access to universities for disadvantaged and under-represented groups.

OFFA says there has been progress, but that to meet the Prime Minister’s new goals for social mobility “it is important to accelerate the rate of progress”.

By 2020, the government wants to double the proportion of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds entering higher education from 2009 levels and increase by 20 per cent the number  from black and minority ethnic communities from 2014 levels.

The watchdog highlights the recent call from ministers for universities to tackle the under-representation of white, working-class boys and also urges institutions to consider how “to support students with mental health problems and specific learning difficulties”.

It also tells universities to encourage more people to study flexibly, part-time and as mature students, saying the slump in numbers doing this has implications for equality because “part-time learners are more likely to be from a disadvantaged background, to be women, and to be mature learners”.

It identifies some low-participation areas as “coastal areas, former industrial towns in the Midlands and the North; rural areas of the South West and East of England” and east London.

The watchdog tells universities to “maintain or increase expenditure” on widening access, but acknowledges the possible impact of planned cuts to the teaching grant and student opportunity funding.

Universities, it says, should focus on evidence and the outcomes of their activities and “consider moving resources away from financial support” for students if there is not “strong evidence” that it is having an impact.

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