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Many issues await the attention of the new universities minister

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 .

Storm clouds are gathering over UK universities

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.

The UK must look after its global talent

Mike Ratcliffe, academic registrar at Nottingham Trent University, reflects on issues emerging from a packed week of higher education news.

Student complaints rise by nearly 21% in a year

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.

Adopting Sustainability Development Goals for research must go beyond ‘SDG washing’

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.

Social mobility, the TEF and KEF -- key strands in another busy HE news week

Professor Jon Scott, Pro Vice-Chancellor Student Experience at the University of Leicester, picks out the dominant themes in higher education news of the past week.

 


Social mobility, TEF, KEF and, of course, the ongoing speculations surrounding the possible outcomes of the Augar review of fees were among the major themes picked up across the media in another busy week for news about higher education during the last week.

The social mobility strand can be followed from a number of different perspectives in this week’s news. The first angle was seeing the Office for Students flexing its regulatory muscles again in terms of applying financial penalties. Writtle University College became the second provider to be fined by the OfS, in this case to the tune of £250,000, for a ’major access agreement breach’ . Writtle had failed to comply with the provisions in its access agreement leading to what Chris Millward, Director of fair Access and Participation of the OfS reported as ‘a total deficit in spending on outreach over the six-year period of £776,120’.

Some of the latest speculations around the Augar review of post-18 education funding also focused on social mobility. The Times, the Observer  and the Guardian commented on warnings from three previous ministers within the Department for Education, Justine Greening, Jo Johnson and Lord Willetts, that cuts to the tuition fees would damage social mobility and benefit the wealthy. Justine Greening was particularly forthright, as reported by the Observer, in her reference to the threat of a ‘cack-handed fees reform that means we go backward on social mobility and access’. In its opinion piece, the Observer again called for a graduate tax as being the fairest way to pay for university.

The Guardian also reported on the response of vice-chancellors to the proposals to restrict access to student loans if they failed to obtain three Ds at A level. Dominic Shellard, Vice-Chancellor of De Montfort University, claimed that such a move would ‘strike at the heart of social mobility’, a view endorsed by Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) who stated that ‘It will hit entrants from the poorest backgrounds disproportionately’.

Two other stories also picked up on the social mobility theme. The first of these was a revisiting of the concept of grammar schools as engines, or not, of social mobility. A report published for HEPI was widely reported in the media. Its author Iain Mansfield, who was formerly a civil servant at the DfE, claimed that previous reporting of grammar schools had taken too narrow a focus and that grammar schools are making a ‘vital contribution’ to social mobility. The report provides evidence that entry statistics for Cambridge showed that grammar schools were more successful than other state schools in providing entrants from POLAR 1 & 2 groups and non-white entrants. Meanwhile, on Wonkhe, Neil Harrison and Richard Waller challenged the long-espoused view that disadvantaged young people are under-represented in higher education because of a lack of aspiration.

Thursday’s big story was the publication of the TEF year 4 provider level metrics. This provides a wealth of data for analysts to pore over and Wonkhe’s David Kernohan was quick off the mark with an initial, headline-grabbing analysis. Comparing the core metrics for TEF4 against the final outcomes for awards currently held under TEF2 or 3 suggests that there would be fewer Gold awards made. Each year there have been differences in the metrics and their weightings. For example, although there are additional NSS metrics included in TEF4, their weighting has been halved. Continuation, however, has been double-weighted. The core metrics only tell part (albeit a major part) of the story and inclusion of the split metrics and, in particular, the institutional submissions have previously resulted in significant movement across the awards. Nonetheless, the attention-grabbing head-liner, was that none of the English Russell Group Universities would initially be rated as Gold based on the core metrics.

Finally, in the world of three-letter acronyms, Research England published its consultation on the KEF (knowledge Exchange Framework) which will run until 14th March. The proposal is that universities will be judged against seven ‘perspectives’ with universities being ranked on their performance in each aspect.

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