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Eventful week sees HE buffeted by spelling and campus re-opening rows

Alison Johns, Chief Executive of Advance HE, reviews another week in which higher education found itself in the spotlight, even when a royal funeral dominated the headlines.

Graduate earnings and HE admissions data mark another Groundhog Week in HE

Charlie Ball, Head of Higher Education Intelligence for Prospects at Jisc, reviews a week of higher education news which felt much like every other since lockdown, as new research on graduate earnings and university admissions was published.

Universities and students grapple with Covid and Brexit-related issues

Stephen Isherwood, chief executive of the Institute of Students Employers, reviews a week of HE news in which student accommodation, fee refunds, graduate jobs, and research funding surfaced as key issues.

Pandemic highlights gender inequality in HE

Reviewing a week in which issues affecting women’s lives were in the spotlight, Sandra Booth, Director of Policy and External Relations at the Council for Higher Education Art and Design (CHEAD), sees hopeful signs of moves to address gender equality in higher education.

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.

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.

 

The last week of the UK’s membership of the EU started with some foretaste of policy direction for the next stage.

The Government announced the replacement of Tier 1 in the immigration system with a ‘Global Talent’ visa.  Judged by UKRI, candidates will not need to be sponsored by individual universities.  The government’s announcement, which mostly remembered that ‘science’ was being used as a synonym for ‘research’, also picked mathematics for a new £60 million a year investment and news on a consultation on reducing research bureaucracy. 

There are significant issues that will need to be resolved after the 11 months of transition, not least on the rest of immigration policy, and the migration advisory committee made a series of recommendations on salary thresholds for a points-based system.  On Brexit Day the DfE put out a helpful reminder for EU students of all the areas of continuity through 2020. 

Who’s admitted

The release of UCAS’s end of cycle reports were completed with chapters 9 and 10. However, OfS had chosen the day before to publish a summary of the first tranche of Access & Participation Plans while launching Uni Connect to highlight the work being done to meet its targets.  It was the Access & Participation Plans that attracted attention as the HMC worried away at the prospect that students who had attended their schools might be discriminated against.

The indicator of State/Independent school is a proxy measure for access, but an emotive one.  There’s an annex to an OfS board paper that sets out the challenge. If we close the access gap, we have to expand the sector or exclude the kinds of students who are currently going.  As much as apprenticeships (whose number of new starts fell again this week) are equivalent routes, we’re not seeing the HMC complaining their students are being discriminated against getting onto apprenticeships.    

UCAS’s data on offers and acceptances provides a window into the dynamics of a market so fervently desired by some.  There are big swings identified, with David Kernohan on WonkHE plotting individual providers.  Simon Baker in the THE highlighted the four providers who’d dropped more than a fifth in five years.  The data doesn’t say whether these are planned swings, but in another perspective Chris Skidmore sounded concerns about student accommodation not being ready on time as universities expanded.  How this ‘market’ for applicants works, will be an important context for the UUK review of admissions.  

An interconnected world

While being warned by Chris Skidmore that universities should not be too over-reliant on China as a source of international students, universities were quietly swinging into action with their emergency planning this week.  As the novel coronavirus outbreak developed, the press noticed universities cancelling travel plans, planning returns and providing advice to students who had recently travelled from China.  Movement around term/semester breaks is accentuated by a growing number of new starts for the ‘second’ semester and most universities will have had a lot of their student population in flight during the last few weeks.

Reports of potential cases came from campuses all over the world, with Australian universities, such as Monash, postponing exams or semester starts.  The report of a University of York student and their relative being the first confirmed cases (out of 266 people tested) completed the week.  Reports of universities following public health guidelines and their own action plans, such as respecting the incubation period, will no doubt follow.  We will be looking after our global talent.

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