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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.

Is the government missing the real 'levelling up' value of HE?

The Westminster government should wake up to the full potential of higher education to help it meet its ‘levelling up’ goals, argues Professor Martin Jones, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Staffordshire University.

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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