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Emerging HE policies highlight new political landscape

Interventionism is suddenly all the rage with the Westminster Conservative government, and higher education is feeling the impact as new policies and legislation are brought to bear on the sector, writes Johnny Rich, Chief Executive of Push and of the Engineering Professors’ Council.

Rethinking universities from the outside in

Mike Boxall, an independent researcher and consultant on higher education policies and strategies, and a senior adviser to PA Consulting, considers the emerging post-COVID world and its implications for the future of universities. His blog is based on a paper published recently by PA Consulting, and co-authored with its HE lead, Ian Matthias.

Disadvantaged students and graduates need even more help in a pandemic

Commenting on a week of higher education news, Alice Gent, Policy, Research and Communications Intern, and Ruby Nightingale, Communications and Public Affairs Manager at the Sutton Trust, highlight evidence that Covid-19 is having a disproportionate impact on students and graduates from poorer backgrounds.


This Thursday marked University Mental Health Day, and with the challenges facing young people at the moment it couldn’t have come at a more crucial time.

In an effort to improve student mental health literacy, a new campaign, What’s Up With Everyone?, has been launched by Paul Crawford, Director at the Centre for Social Futures at the Institute of Mental Health at the University of Nottingham, to get students talking about mental wellbeing. And the Office for Students is working hard to make mental health a priority too, collaborating with providers and the third sector to support students, as explained in a blog from their Head of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Amy Norton. There have been positive steps taken for young people’s mental health in recent months, with the appointment of a new Youth Mental Health Ambassador and more targeted funding. But as young people continue to be affected by the pandemic, support and funding is going to need to be built to last.

Students and graduates are facing one of the toughest job markets in generations, with internships and work experience being cancelled by employers, and part-time work in areas like hospitality and retail largely unavailable. With this in mind, it is unsurprising that, according to new research by Prospects, over a quarter of students and graduates are changing their career plans due to the health crisis. But it’s not all bad news - some of the respondents are doing so after being inspired by people involved in the pandemic. Given that the harsh graduate landscape is unlikely to be going anywhere soon, effective careers advice and guidance before students leave university is essential. With over a quarter of students leaving university feeling that their institution did not give them the necessary skills for the jobs they wanted, there is still more to be done to help students prepare for life beyond campus.

The anticipated pressure for university places this year is reportedly pushing some universities to create secret waiting lists to fill places, ahead of exam results in August. We already know how difficult the admissions system can be for disadvantaged students to navigate, especially for those who may be less able to access support from their families. Particularly at a time of enormous uncertainty for young people, universities need to be upfront about their admissions and work to make sure that the process is as transparent and easy to navigate as possible.

New research by the Education Policy Institute (EPI) is putting 16-19 year olds on the map this week, with a study revealing that in some areas of England, students from disadvantaged backgrounds are the equivalent of five A level grades behind their better-off peers. Whilst the impact of the pandemic on the attainment gap has been widely publicised, we often see a focus on school-age children, so it’s welcome to see a focus on older teens who are dealing with the impact of Covid during some of the most critical years of their education. This study comes hot on the heels of last week’s education recovery announcement by the Prime Minister, which set out an extra £102 million for the 16-19 tuition fund. While this extra funding is a welcome step, there is a clear case for further support for this group. It is right that EPI is calling for additional targeted funding (a call also echoed by the Sutton Trust) to provide much-needed support for young people through some of the most important years of their education.