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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.

UK universities affirm 'deep commitment' to high quality TNE

Universities UK and GuildHE have commissioned the Quality Assurance Agency to develop a new approach to reviewing and enhancing the quality of UK TNE. QAA will consult on a new review method later this year and will launch a programme of in-country enhancement activity in 2021.

Cassandra calling out higher education

After a week of largely disappointing news for UK higher education, Nicola Owen, Deputy Chief Executive (Operations) at Lancaster University, fears that gloomy forecasts for the future of the sector may prove to be uncomfortably accurate.

UK universities face challenges and opportunities on student intakes

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 Lunar New Year is normally a time for families and friends in China and beyond to reunite and look forward to the year ahead. But the outbreak of a new strain of coronavirus will be casting a dark shadow over the celebrations this year. Many outside of the epicentre of the outbreak, Hubei Province in central China, will be anxiously contemplating the unprecedented announcement from President Xi Jinping on Saturday warning that the country was facing a "grave situation".

The news has also raised public awareness in the UK of the scale and importance of Chinese students in our universities, with the various media outlets, including the Guardian, reporting 120,000 Chinese students enrolled in UK universities last year.

The Telegraph and others claim University cities in Britain are on high alert citing various examples of warnings being issued to staff and students. This included a report that the University of Chester has warned students thinking of heading home for the Chinese New Year that they would face being quarantined on their return, following Foreign Office advice warning people not to travel to the region affected around the city of Wuhan.

In my experience, the response by universities will be proportionate and calm. Universities already work closely with Public Health England and procedures will exist to manage cases of other communicable diseases. However, I know that across higher education in the UK we are sending our thoughts and best wishes to our students, partners and alumni during this developing situation in China.

This news comes as the THE reveals that fee income from Chinese students is likely to account for more than 10 per cent of all income at a growing number of UK universities, worth £1.7 billion to sector. It means that more than a third (35 per cent in 2018-19) of all non-European Union students at UK universities are now from China. I also suspect the numbers from the Indian subcontinent to rise significantly in 2020-21, following the introduction of the new post-study work visa arrangements, helping to enrich our campuses.

Meanwhile the Government has been making a series of highly anticipated student funding announcements relating to healthcare education over the past few weeks. The latest initiative, reported in the Nursing Times, will support student nurses in England receive an additional £1,000 on top of their annual cost-of-living grant if they chose to study mental health or learning disability nursing. Many in the sector will also be celebrating the announcement that, for the first time, paramedic students will receive additional financial support whilst at university. This is a group who often face financial challenges, accessing university hardship/access funds, and any additional support will be welcomed.

This week, WonkHE reported on the findings of a Council of Deans of Health census of academic staff in nursing, midwifery and allied health faculties. It shows that just as demand is rising for more healthcare academics to teach more nursing students, entering an academic career has become less attractive for professionals working in the NHS. Dorothea Baltruks, Senior Policy and Research Officer at the Council of Deans of Health, correctly identifies that universities and the NHS will need to work together to attract more professionals from a variety of backgrounds to consider teaching the future health workforce.

There was also some encouraging medical education news, announced by the OfS, that the intake of medical students in the UK in 2019-20 rose by 9 per cent to 9,409. The reality over the next decade is that we will need significantly more doctors within the NHS. There will have to be innovation within the sector and an increase of funded places to meet the rising demand.

Elsewhere, in the latest briefing report published by the Higher Education Policy Institute, Professor Tim Blackman, Vice-Chancellor of the Open University, argued that UK universities should be required to admit set numbers of students with different levels of attainment to end the academic and social "polarisation" of the sector. Whilst his calls for the introduction of a sector-wide minimum entry requirement and the reintroduction of student number controls may not be universally welcomed by the sector, the upturn in demographics and the financial burden on the Treasury will mean that a wider debate on student number controls in England is certainly on the horizon.

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