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Government plans mark a seismic shift in higher education policy

Statements from ministers this week have made it clear that higher education in England is facing significant reforms, re-setting its focus towards helping to plug the UK's skills gaps and rebuilding the economy. Fariba Soetan, Policy Lead for Research and Innovation at the National Centre for Universities and Business, argues that the proposed changes bring a welcome focus on graduate outcomes and supporting the careers of young people.

UK universities affirm 'deep commitment' to high quality TNE

Universities UK and GuildHE have commissioned the Quality Assurance Agency to develop a new approach to reviewing and enhancing the quality of UK TNE. QAA will consult on a new review method later this year and will launch a programme of in-country enhancement activity in 2021.

Cassandra calling out higher education

After a week of largely disappointing news for UK higher education, Nicola Owen, Deputy Chief Executive (Operations) at Lancaster University, fears that gloomy forecasts for the future of the sector may prove to be uncomfortably accurate.

Whatuni award winners announced

Loughborough University has been named University of the Year for the second time in three years in the latest Whatuni Student Choice Awards .

Welcome to the higher education rollercoaster

UK higher education had more than its fair share of ups and downs over the past week. Charlie Ball, Head of Higher Education Intelligence at Prospects, charts the highs and lows.

Cassandra calling out higher education

After a week of largely disappointing news for UK higher education, Nicola Owen, Deputy Chief Executive (Operations) at Lancaster University, fears that gloomy forecasts for the future of the sector may prove to be uncomfortably accurate.

 

For those of a fatalistic disposition, two publications at the start of last week heralded one of the most significant switches in policy for UK Higher Education since the start of the century.

The first was the publication of the new ‘Z3 condition’ by the Office for Students.  The expected cessation of almost all types of unconditional offers was not a surprise, but the removal of the retrospective application of the condition means that it has very little relevance to this cycle of admissions. However the extension of the condition until 30th September 2021 focuses on the next admissions cycle and reinforces Jo Johnson’s view that the Student Number Controls in place for 2019/20 are an indicator of a more permanent attitude towards greater control of a (smaller) HE ‘market’.

The second publication was from the Institute for Fiscal Studies which indicated that as many as 13 British universities could face financial disaster in the after-effects of the coronavirus pandemic. There were plenty of Cassandra’s following on: Gordon Marsden, Alec Cameron, Dame Nancy Rothwell, Peter Dolton and Alexander McCall Smith all provided perspectives along the same theme, highlighting the structural dependency on international student recruitment keeping both research and moreover, the majority of the University system, afloat. The evidence for these prophecies remains dynamic – although some early indicators of postgraduate deferral and withdrawal are starting to emerge.

Aside from the consequences of the coronavirus outbreak, other indicators in last week’s news also painted a bleak picture of the UK’s two largest student recruitment markets for the prospects of that financial dependency.  The growing negative press coverage of UK universities’ relationships with China in terms of concerns about restrictive practices, censorship and threats to intellectual property in teaching and research, alongside the continuing tensions around Hong Kong, has the potential to create longer-term disruption to our largest overseas student recruitment market if not handled sensitively. In parallel, the ‘deliberate’ disruption to the EU student recruitment market resulting from Brexit may mean that while we are immediately focused on university finances for 2020-21, the concern of leaders and planners should really be for 2021-22 onwards. We are unlikely to see the same kind of bailout package repeated and this is the more likely scenario for how the context of the OfS condition into the next cycle will play out.

And then on Thursday 9 July came the formal confirmation that had long been suspected - the earlier OfS condition being the oracle for: that the government wanted to ‘tear up’ the target for expansion of higher education and ‘rebalance’ the country’s post-18 education system towards further and technical education. This was centred around ‘exasperation’ of ‘snobbishness’ about the ‘value’ of HE, of which the (salaried) return on investment was proof of the need for change.

A combination of a continuing Student Number Control, which only allows for expansion for certain kinds of universities evidencing certain indicators of perceived ‘value’; a continuation of coronavirus pandemic outbreaks and associated responses internationally; the end of Home funded status for EU students and continuing sensitivities in geopolitics; and various governments within the UK finding higher education in disfavour augurs ill for the health of the sector.  

Was this week the end of the Third Act of this Greek HE Tragedy?

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