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To boost social mobility, we must first accept that it does not yet exist

As Staffordshire University launches a new widening access initiative, its Vice-Chancellor Professor Liz Barnes explains why she believes institutions like her own have a crucial role to play in making social mobility a reality.

Minimal Covid-19 impact on 2020 NSS results, analysis finds

The vast majority of students were satisfied with their university course in 2020, despite the Covid-19 lockdown from March, a sector-level analysis of the National Student Survey results has found.

Collegiality enhances university leadership in a post-Covid world

Jonathan Baldwin, managing director of higher education at Jisc, looks at the changing role of post-Covid university leadership and the enduring need for collaboration.

Moving the HE landscape’s quality contours … again

The government's announcement of a major review of the National Student Survey signals a worrying shift in the HE regulatory landscape, warns Jon Scott, higher education consultant and former Pro Vice-Chancellor (student experience) at the University of Leicester.

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.

The shape of things to come in higher education?

Policy decisions now could lead to big changes in the future for higher education, suggests Stephen Isherwood, chief executive of the Institute of Student Employers.

 

I once told a market researcher that putting a camera into a mobile phone was a dumb idea. So maybe I shouldn’t attempt to predict the future. But even though it is beset with problems, I think that ten years from now a significant proportion of school leavers’ routes into work could be through higher and degree apprenticeships.

Policy Connect senior researcher Tom McEwan is right to point out in a Higher Education Policy Institute blog the significant issues degree apprenticeship providers and employers face when working with the apprenticeship levy. Even the Cabinet Office has cancelled one of its programmes. If the government can’t make its own policy work for itself, you have to wonder what smaller, less resourced businesses are supposed to do.

The levy is disliked by employers, but they are starting to work out how to spend it. The Institute of Student Employers (ISE) pool of employer members are hiring apprentices at a greater rate than graduates as they become better at utilising the levy. And the levy isn’t going away as I can’t see the Treasury handing the money back to employers. I know the accountancy sector very well. In the decade after PwC created the first accounting & finance partnership degree with Newcastle University, the industry created a plethora of alternative qualification routes with a range of partners. Sectors that have previously not considered apprentice routes will eventually find ways to spend their levy pot.

Employers love students with work experience but student demand for internships often outstrips employers’ supply, particularly in the legal sector. Sheffield Hallam University has come up with an innovative solution: create your own law practice to offer intern places to students. Employers always tell me their intern students make better hires as they are more likely to accept a job offer, stay longer and outperform their peers. Although SHU might find its subject level TEF employment score suffer -  in a WonkHE blog, Stuart Johnson, Director of the Careers Service at the University of Bristol, says he has discovered that because the next qualification an aspiring lawyer takes on graduation isn’t higher than level six, it is not deemed a positive outcome. Let’s hope this gets ironed out in the pilot stage.

Five years ago, fewer than 20 per cent of ISE employer members were focused on social mobility. Now over 70 per cent are. But progress is slow and cold spots are only going to get worse unless the government does more, says the APPG on social mobility. Often singled out for criticism, Oxford is doing more and will give £5,000 bursaries to students with parents on low incomes from 2020. Unlike in the 1950s, we don’t have an expanding pool of middle-class jobs – the opposite if artificial intelligence consumes much white-collar work. Will some have to descend the escalator as others ascend? Will HE have to turn away some of those it currently accepts? If it does, HE and policy makers will have to be prepared for a backlash.

But Theresa May can’t think about much beyond Brexit at the moment. I’m sure at times she would like to post a sweary rant on social media as Shakira Martin, NUS President, recently did on Facebook. With just over 30 days left to tick off the Brexit calendar, two news items highlighted our Brexit problems. The outlook for Erasmus remains uncertain and Britain’s disengagement from the European University Institute shows what ‘taking back control’ looks like in practice. In a WonkHE blog Iain Mansfield attempted to predict Brexit’s silver linings for the sector to Remainers like myself (and failed if the post’s comments are anything to go by). I sympathise with the Brexiters’ sovereignty and anti-bureaucracy arguments. But the amount of toil and treasure we are expending on Brexit to the detriment of all other issues we must tackle beggars belief.

In a month’s time the crystal ball may clear, but as Bill Gates once said, “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten”.

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