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In a week when the government reshuffled its cabinet, HE issues that made headlines gave the newly-appointed universities minister a taste of things to come, says Stephen Isherwood, Chief Executive of the Institute of Student Employers .
The past week’s events and news are a sign of turbulent times for UK universities, warns Nicola Owen, Deputy Chief Executive (Operations) at Lancaster University.
Mike Ratcliffe, academic registrar at Nottingham Trent University, reflects on issues emerging from a packed week of higher education news.
The Office of the Independent Adjudicator for higher education has reported almost a 21 per cent rise in the number of complaints it received from students last year – rising to their highest ever level at 2,371.
Professor Cam Donaldson, Pro Vice Chancellor and Vice Principal (Research) and Yunus Chair in Social Business & Health at Glasgow Caledonian University, explains how his institution has put into practice a research strategy led by Sustainability Development Goals.
Reviewing a week of HE news, Ross Renton, Pro Vice-Chancellor Students at the University of Worcester, identifies challenges and opportunities for UK universities over enrolment of both international and home students.
The University of Buckingham has appointed Dame Mary Archer as its new Chancellor. Dame Mary will be joining the University from 24 February, succeeding Lady Tessa Keswick, who has been in the role since 2014.
The UK government has announced that EU students applying for a place at an English university or further education institution in the 2017 to 2018 academic year will continue to be eligible for student loans and grants - and will be for the duration of their course.
The decision will mean that students applying to study from 2017 to 2018 will not only be eligible for the same funding and support as they are now, but that their eligibility will continue throughout their course, even if the UK exits the European Union during that period.
The government said the move will give institutions certainty over future funding, while assuring prospective students applying to study at one of the UK’s universities that they will not have the terms of their funding changed if the UK leaves the EU during their studies. The same assurance will be available for EU students studying in further education.
The announcement came as a new policy paper from MillionPlus, the association of modern universities, called for on the UK to allow students from EU countries to become temporary residents with the right to live and study in the UK with minimal restrictions post-Brexit - provided that reciprocal arrangements are applied to UK students studying in Europe.
It follows assurances given by the government in June shortly after the EU referendum result, including immediate guarantees that students currently in higher or further education, and those applying for a place this year (2016 to 2017) would continue to be able to access student funding support - including loans and grants - under the current eligibility criteria.
But vice-chancellors had raised concerns about uncertainty over funding arrangements for students starting in 2017, who are now considering where to study.
Universities minister Jo Johnson commented:
"We know that the result of the referendum brought with it some uncertainties for our higher education sector. That is why in June we acted quickly to provide immediate funding guarantees for existing students and those applying to study this year.
"International students make an important contribution to our world-class universities, and we want that to continue. This latest assurance that students applying to study next year will not only be eligible to apply for student funding under current terms, but will have their eligibility maintained throughout the duration of their course, will provide important stability for both universities and students.
"We are also taking steps, through our Higher Education Bill, to maintain the world status of our universities while delivering students value for money and choice and employers the skills they need to help our economy grow."
Under current student finance rules, EU students are eligible to receive undergraduate tuition fee loans if they have resided in the European Economic Area for at least 3 years prior to study. EU nationals who have resided in the UK for over 5 years, are also able to apply for undergraduate maintenance support and master’s loans. Similarly, under EU law, EU students are also eligible for home fee status - which means they are charged the same tuition fees as UK students. Other, non-EU, international students do not have their tuition fees capped in this way.
The government said its announcement meant that for EU nationals, or their family members, who are applying for a place at university from August 2017 to study a course that attracts student support, the current funding rules will remain unchanged. All applicants will be eligible for student loans and/or grants under the current terms and, if deemed eligible, will be able to receive those for the duration of their course.
The migration status of EU nationals in the UK is being discussed as part of wider discussions with the EU as the government works on reaching an agreement protecting the status of EU nationals here and our citizens in Europe.
Responding to the Dame Julia Goodfellow, President of Universities UK said:
“This announcement provides much needed clarity for EU students applying to start courses at English universities in autumn 2017. Over recent weeks the university sector has made very clear to Government the urgent need to address this issue. It is good to see the Government has recognised the value of EU students and acted positively to guarantee their access to financial support.”
“Every effort must now be made to ensure that this announcement is communicated effectively to prospective students across Europe. We hope that this announcement by the UK Government will be followed by similar reassurances by Governments in the devolved nations shortly.”
In its policy paper Trade in higher education services and research – negotiating Brexit, MillionPlus calls on the UK government, the Scottish Government, the Welsh Assembly and the Executive in Northern Ireland to give an early guarantee to fund EU students on the same basis as their home students up to 2020 to avoid the UK losing its share in the international higher education market.
The paper also calls on the UK to allow students from EU countries to become temporary residents with the right to live and study in the UK with minimal restrictions post-Brexit - provided that reciprocal arrangements are applied to UK students studying in Europe.
The report points out that UK universities have forged highly successful and beneficial relationships with the European Union and that the UK has been able to export education without tariff barriers to a market of 500 million people. The primary target of these exports has been EU students who study at UK universities and whose fees and off-campus expenditure is worth around £4bn of economic output to the UK each year.
Other recommendations in the paper include:
Professor Dave Phoenix, Chair of MillionPlus and Vice-Chancellor of London South Bank University, said:
“Discussions about whether or not Ministers are intent on a hard or soft Brexit miss the point. The government’s negotiating position cannot be decided behind closed doors with key stakeholders such as universities excluded.
“Membership of the EU is currently worth at least £6bn in trade in higher education services and research and universities are leading European structural funding schemes which make a real and positive difference in regions throughout the UK.
“Replacing the value of this trade from sources wholly outside the EU is neither desirable nor can it be achieved overnight. There are very good reasons why Ministers should ensure that the UK’s higher education trading links with Europe are retained, albeit on potentially different but reciprocal terms.
“The Prime Minister must now make clear which Ministers and officials have responsibility to work with universities, not only on the different options but also on their potential consequences for the UK’s higher education sector.
“Our recommendations provide a starting point for these discussions but also highlight the decisions which UK Ministers and Ministers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland must take as a matter of urgency to ensure that the UK’s universities are not disadvantaged during the Brexit negotiations and any transition period.”
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