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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.
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.
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.
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 have boosted spending on facilities while in England class sizes have improved since the introduction of higher fees, analysis by the Complete University Guide has found.
The findings coincide with the publication of The Guide’s annual university league table, which is the first to use the latest data on research quality.
The top of the table in this year's rankings is unchanged from last year, with Cambridge, Oxford and the London School of Economics occupying the top three spots. Lancaster and Surrey have moved into the top ten, and Imperial College London has risen two places to fourth.
Other climbers are Ulster (up 17 to 67th), Sussex (up 17 to 21st), De Montfort (up 17 to 54th), Bradford (up 15 to 62nd) Liverpool John Moores (up 14 to 67th), Leeds Trinity (up 12 to 101st), Bournemouth (up 11 to 54th), and Gloucestershire (up 11 to 80th).
Eleven universities fell ten places or more: Winchester (27 places), Chester (15), Falmouth (15), Hertfordshire (14), Arts, London (14), Newman (14), Glyndwr (13), Leeds Beckett (12), Salford (12), Glasgow Caledonian (11), and Plymouth (11).
A review of the data for the league table since 2010 shows an initial worsening in student:staff ratios followed by an improvement across the whole of the United Kingdom that began with the introduction of fees of up to £9,000 a year in England.
The exception is Wales where the ratio worsened slightly between 2012 and 2013 before a reduction last year. But Welsh universities still have the highest student:staff ratios of any in the UK.
Spending on facilities increased steadily over the full five year period.
The growth in the number of “good” honours degrees - graduates achieving first or upper second class honours - also increased, as did student satisfaction.
A sustained rise in the percentage of graduates in professional employment or engaged in further study six months after graduation reflects the continued recovery from the financial crisis, according to the Guide. Recovery was already apparent before the coalition came to power and graduate employment levels have since returned to pre-crisis levels in every part of the UK, although the improvement in Wales has been less marked. In contrast, Scotland has consistently achieved the highest rate in every year reviewed.
Dr Bernard Kingston, principal author of TheCompleteUniversityGuide.co.uk, said: “UK students seem to be getting a better deal for their higher tuition fees in almost every area. It remains to be seen how far this trend can continue but in the short term at least, students are benefitting from spending on facilities that affect them directly.
“It is probable that the improvement in student:staff ratios has been influenced in part by universities recruiting for the Research Excellence Framework exercise.
“And the graduate employment market has recovered more quickly from the financial crisis than might have been predicted, offering increased chances of professional-level work or further study after graduation.
“There is significant evidence that universities’ efforts to develop employability skills has had a knock-on effect on graduate prospects. This is crucial for the first cohort of students from English universities to pay tuition fees of up to £9,000, who graduate this summer.”
Dr Kingston added: “There is a considerable degree of stability at the upper end of the league table this year, suggesting that the transition from the previous assessment of research quality to this year’s Research Excellence Framework has not made a significant difference.”
Complete University Guide Top 40
London School of Economics
Imperial College London
University College London
King's College London
Queen Mary, University of London
Royal Holloway, University of London
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