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Everything going on in UK higher education
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Good morning, the long-awaited Industrial Strategy Green Paper is being published by the government today. A political standoff over the Bill in the House of Lords continues into this week. UKIP revisit higher education policy with mixed results. We round up what else is going on, everything you might have missed on Wonkhe and the rest of this week's HE agenda. Have a great week. 

Mark Leach, Editor
mark@wonkhe.com

Industrial Strategy

The UK government's long-awaited Industrial Strategy Green Paper is going to be published today. It had been expected last year, but in time-honoured tradition, tension in Whitehall kept the paper in the sausage factory for longer than planned. It's been said that there had been a particularly notable a tussle inside the new Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy between those pushing for the strategy to have a stronger city and regional devolution focus and those who wanted to prioritise innovation, technology and research. From what has been released so far, it looks like these camps may have ultimately called a truce as the strategy looks like it will contain proposals that speak to both agendas. Although the Green Paper is expected to be quite "high level" (read: lack of hard policy detail), much of it will have an impact on universities and the research community. However, there is to be a renewed push on vocational education with funding for new 'Institutes of Technology' to deliver higher level technical education in STEM subjects. These have already been written up as 'new polytechnics' by the press and the briefing lines over the weekend suggest that the policy is designed to create a route that has "parity of esteem" with higher education. The Sunday Times even suggested that the move "will end the 20-year crusade to send as many children as possible to university". This is unlikely to cause a full-blown existential crisis in HE; universities will get plenty of mentions in the strategy and will benefit from the boost to the Northern Powerhouse and investment in technology. But not being flavour of the month means having fewer eye-catching proposals; something that may be a relief for some in the sector given pace of reform coming from other parts of government. The strategy sets out ten 'strategic pillars' to underpin the strategy which includes investing in science, research and innovation and developing skills as points one and two respectively. 

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Standoff in the Lords

Frustrations are building up on all sides of the House of Lords as peers continue to debate the Higher Education and Research Bill. Opposition leaders, frustrated by the government’s refusal to consider any of the 600+ proposed amendments, have been told that no amendments will be accepted by the government during the current Committee stage. Lord Stevenson, Labour’s higher education lead in the upper house, told Wonkhe, “I think they will come unstuck, as they are short of time, and they don't have a majority in the Lords”. Backroom negotiations are now taking place to find some compromise amendments that the government can introduce at Report stage, and Stevenson’s comments suggest that the opposition senses an opportunity to make some serious changes. Government time in the Lords is limited and will need to be freed up by March in order to begin debating Article 50 and Brexit.

The auxiliary Conservative force has been mobilised for the fight too, with partisan political blogger Guido Fawkes last week criticising “these conflicted ermine-clad boffins [who] voted against the reforms while taking money from universities who want to block them”. Private Eye has also pointed out the existence of a ‘university party’ in the chamber. The sector would be wise to avoid looking like it is blocking any prospect of reform through an unelected upper house, but with so many peers that have some connection to HE, that may be difficult. 

Jo Johnson will now need to act deftly to protect his signature legislation and not cause a drawn out political embarrassment for the government. Some of the most vocal critics of the legislation have been members of his own party such as Lord Patten and even Johnson’s predecessor appears to have reservations. Lord Willetts’ effusive praise for HEFCE - an “extremely successful buffer body”, no less - is in contrast to Johnson’s suggestions that the funding council is no longer fit for purpose. The warmth with which he recalled the pleasure he experienced in writing grant letters with the “excellent” Sir Vince Cable almost made your reporter pine for the golden years of coalition government. Almost. Willetts’ observation in the debate that “we are now moving from that old discretionary high-trust system to a new rule-bound system with a regulatory function” was particularly astute - such is the general cultural drift away from trusting in 'experts'.

The question now is where Johnson’s ‘red lines’ are when it comes to making concessions to the rebellious peers. Ministers have already indicated a willingness to strengthen safeguards over university autonomy, but the most difficult areas to find compromise concern two of Johnson’s flagship ideas: expansion of the alternative sector, and TEF. There are plenty of opposition peers (and many in the sector) who would like to see both scrapped completely, but it is impossible to see the government simply rolling over on these issues. But being such complicated proposals, there may be space for compromise for example in the exact terms of sector entry and degree awarding powers. 

The TEF is a particularly challenging matter for opposition peers as the Salisbury-Addison Convention, dating back to 1945, means that the Lords will not block any government policies proposed in their election manifesto. A teaching excellence framework was indeed in the Conservative’s 2015 general election manifesto (which was incidentally written by Jo Johnson in his previous role as No.10 policy guru), but there could be hand wringing about whether the convention would extend to preventing debate on the TEF’s link to tuition fees. Viscount Younger has already effectively admitted that the manifesto gives no such commitment and so it may still be possible for peers to make some big changes here. 

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The Wonkhe Daily

Subscribe to the Wonkhe Daily for a digest of everything going on in and around UK HE that you need to know about, delivered to your inbox before work every day. The latest policy developments, reports and parliamentary action are analysed, and all new media coverage of HE is digested. Written by our team of HE wonks, the Daily stays on top of every twist and turn so that you don't have to. 
 

What else is going on?

Opening the British Mind?

If you fancy breaking your metropolitan elite filter-bubble, then have a read of UKIP’s latest policy paper on higher education policy, Opening the British Mind - the party's most detailed statement on HE to date. The paper, released last week by the party’s parliamentary resource unit (effectively Douglas Carswell MP’s private office), proposes linking tuition fees to graduate salaries and criticises the sector for “[serving] the interest of its providers at the expense of the people who pay for it". On the site this morning, longstanding watcher of UKIP HE policy Tom Bailey has read the report (so you don't have to) and finds the proposals less nostalgic but still dangerous.  

Not in TEF

The University of Edinburgh has announced that it will not participate in the TEF. In a statement on its website, the university claims that decision has been taken along "with a significant number of other Scottish universities". Although it was widely expected that many Scottish universities would not participate in TEF, the University of Edinburgh is the first to announce its intentions in this way and so the statement implies that the decision (if not the timing of the announcement) has been coordinated in advance with other universities. Expect many similar statements to follow in the coming days and weeks. 

Martha Kanter

HEPI has published the full text of its 2016 annual lecture, delivered by Martha Kanter, former US Under Secretary of Education during President Obama’s first term. Entitled ‘Recreating the American Dream: Wealth Creation for the 21st Century’, Kanta reflects on the election of Donald Trump, the rising costs of higher education in the UK and US, and the need for greater transparency in both countries’ sectors. Kanter argues for a new “wealth-creation framework” for universities, “which informs how we look at achieving success in life beyond how much money one earns”.

Equality data

On Thursday, UCAS will release the second round of equality data, showing offer rates made by universities to students broken down by gender, ethnicity, and socio-economic background. The first release of this dataset, made last summer, caused a big splash and pointed to possible evidence of bias against non-white applicants in some universities. This Thursday’s release will also show how individual universities performed in last year’s admissions cycle.

SFC funding row

Leaked papers from accountants Scott-Moncrieff show the Scottish Funding Council failed to deal with £50 million of unspent reserves which led to internal confusion, left funded projects in doubt and caused a serious communication breakdown between the Scottish Government and SFC. It's an odd tale of many twists and turns, the Herald reports on the story in detail this morning.

New DLHE to be centralised

HESA has announced that the reformed survey of graduate destinations, otherwise known as ‘New DLHE’, will be a centralised survey. This decision has been taken by the stakeholder group overseeing the review of graduate destinations data, primarily due to concerns about the robustness of the current DLHE data. Responses to HESA’s autumn consultation on this issue were split on the merits of centralising the survey, which is currently conducted by institutions themselves and seen as a useful way to monitor the success of their graduates. HESA is keen to stress that this will be a process of “open centralisation” and that institutions’ ability to offer support to alumni and rapidly monitor their data returns will be maintained under the new system. HESA set out their latest thinking and plans on Wonkhe here.

REF2021 wonkery ramps up

HEFCE’s nationwide programme of consultation events on the design of REF2021 are well underway, with events this week in Bristol, Manchester and London. Last week, it was announced that Kim Hackett and Anna Lang would be the REF manager and deputy manager respectively. Along with Steven Hill, HEFCE’s Head of Research Policy, they form the new generation of REF wonks who must hit the road to front up the perennially unpopular policy, such is the fate for any wonks who work on such contentious policy. Previous REF supremo David Sweeney even tweeted last week "Looks to me as if the title of Lord Voldemort of the #REF2021 is passing to @stevenhill". Good luck to them. On the site, Martin McQuillan has picked apart the proposals for the next exercise: Stern times ahead for REF game players.

You might also have missed on Wonkhe

What determines university choice, and what is its value? Gavan Conlon and Maike Halterback from London Economics discuss the findings of their latest research. Maddalaine Ansell of University Alliance critiques the policy proposal to force universities and schools to work together. Colette Cherry highlights some of the weaknesses with the TEF in why my friend's dog will never be Professor of Economics at Oxford.

Also on this week's HE agenda

Monday 23rd January

  • The UK government will publish an Industrial Strategy Green Paper.
  • HEFCE is hosting a Research Excellence Framework consultation event in Bristol.
  • HEPI is publishing its 2016 Annual Lecture by Martha Kanter.
  • The House of Lords has its 5th Committee Stage session for Higher Education and Research Bill.
  • The House of Commons will have its question time for the Home Office.
  • BUFDG is hosting an event in London on Apprenticeship Levy Preparation.

Tuesday 24th January

  • The Supreme Court will give its judgement on Article 50 at 9.30am.
  • The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee is having a private meeting.
  • HEFCE is having a launch event for its National Collaborative Outreach Programme
  • Kingston University is hosting a debate on ‘Higher Education – for enlightenment or the market?’
  • CREST/IEKE is having its network meeting.

Wednesday 25th January

  • BUFDG is hosting a workshop on Apprenticeship Levy Preparation in Manchester.
  • UCEA is hosting a conference on the employment of clinical academics in London.
  • Universities UK and CASE Europe are hosting a conference on Strategic Fundraising for Leaders in Higher Education, in London.
  • HEFCW has its Annual Public Meeting.
  • The House of Lords will have its 6th Committee Stage session on the Higher Education and Research Bill.
  • The House of Commons Education Committee goes to UCL to discuss the impact of Brexit on HE.
  • The House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee will discuss the implications of the UK’s exit from the European Union.
  • The House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee will question the government's Chief Scientific Adviser.
  • The Welsh Assembly’s Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee will meet.

Thursday 26th January

  • UCAS releases its Equalities Data and institutional breakdown from last year's admission cycle. 
  • CASE is hosting a two-day conference on an ‘Introduction to Fundraising and Alumni Relations 2017’ in Manchester.
  • CGHE is hosting a seminar in London on ‘Mobility as a continuum: European Commission mobility policies for schools and higher education’.
  • HEFCE is hosting a Research Excellence Framework consultation event in Manchester.
  • The House of Commons has its Brexit question time.
  • The House of Commons International Development Select Committee will discuss DFID's work on education.
  • The Welsh Assembly will host the Children, Young People and Education Committee’s conference.

Friday 27th January

  • It’s the second and final day of the CASE conference on an ‘Introduction to Fundraising and Alumni Relations 2017’
  • HEFCE is hosting a Research Excellence Framework consultation event in London.

Keep up to date: entries added throughout the week on Wonkhe's HE calendar.

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