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Good morning. The transparency revolution promised in the White Paper begins this week. HEPI and HEA release their student experience survey and UCU step up the fight.

The revolution will be televised

On Thursday, UCAS will be pre-empting the ‘transparency revolution’ promised by the White Paper. For the first time, data on applications and offer-making by sex, ethnic group, and area background will be published at an individual university level. UCAS have taken this initiative after consultation with the sector, although it’s clear that many would rather the data was not being released in this way at all. It’s highly likely that the media will pore over these figures and ‘name and shame’ individual institutions over their record on access. Expect figures to be decontextualised, abused and splashed over headlines in cringe-worthy ways.

UCAS has recently been at an impasse with researchers over what admissions data is telling us about fair access. Analysis by the Equality Challenge Unit and research by Vicki Boliver argues that there is evidence of systemic bias in the process. UCAS claim there isn't. It's an area over which good policy making demands some degree of consensus, so there's hope that a renewed commitment to transparency and the release of this data will be able to give some clarity to researchers and policymakers. It's all a gamble though: the sector needs to demonstrate that it is doing all it can to facilitate fair opportunities and social mobility but the new data could show a rather mixed picture. 

On the site this morning, Ant Bagshaw writes on the transparency revolution and asks if it is likely to go far enough? And how will universities respond to the many challenges brings?

It's the experience, stupid

On Thursday, HEA and HEPI will launch their joint annual report into the student experience, based on a survey of 15,000 undergraduates across the UK across all years of study. The survey has also asked students about issues such as wellbeing, their experience as compared to their expectations, their evaluation of their own effort and their views on fees and value for money.

It has been influential in the past, but not always for the right reasons. The White Paper referenced the last round of results several times to justify the introduction of the TEF: as we pointed out at the time, the government claimed that the survey showed “over 60% of students said they feel their course is worse than expected.” This stat has also been repeated in several recent government press releases and announcements. However, a closer look at the data shows that only 12% of students felt their course was worse than expected, while 49% felt it was “better in some ways and worse in others.”

This survey will undoubtedly frame ongoing discussions about the TEF and its purpose. That it will not compare institutions, however, is both a blessing and a curse; it prevents use in league tables but also means the sector is taken together as one homogenous blob. The homogeneity might irritate some, but assuming there hasn’t been a massive and measurable decline in teaching this year, the data could provide a common defence for a sector that probably needs to pull together to defend against the accusation of “lamentable teaching” made by the government (and likely to be repeated ad nauseam as the debate over the Bill ramps up in Parliament). Let’s just hope the results aren't as poorly-interpreted as last year's.

UCU step up the fight

While the latest round of industrial action appeared to be a rather familiar (almost bi-annual) story, it appears that a diversification of tactics might give UCU more bargaining power than in previous fights. Sally Hunt’s suggestion last week that docked pay should go towards student hardship funds caught some attention, as did the announcement that there would be mass resignations as external examiners. The latter could prove to be particularly disruptive and embarrassing while the sector is trying to demonstrate that it has a firm grip on standards, something which the Bill would take away from universities and give to OfS (over the strong objection of universities). Last week’s UCU Congress also voted to disrupt open days and graduations and to begin an assessment boycott in the autumn if an agreement is not reached. Hunt also announced that UCU and NUS will be holding a joint demonstration in the autumn against the increases to tuition fees, TEF, and marketisation. However we understand this may have been premature: NUS had not yet agreed to take part.

What else is going on?

Learning gain

During the White Paper and Bill news flurry and with little fanfare, HEFCE put out a tender for work on a new survey of students to assess their critical thinking and problem-solving skills. The work is part of HEFCE's learning gain project and will result in a survey piloted in some universities from the autumn. Students will be given a survey at the start of their course and then followed up three more times at the end of each academic year. The work has taken on added importance as it is highly likely that if successful, the survey could be rolled out nationally and form part of the "additional metrics" that will be input into the TEF in future years. You can read all about it in the tender document here or see The Sunday Times report of the story yesterday as 'Students get new tests to expose poor universities.'

Home Office slammed by MPs on student immigration

On Friday the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee published a report which strongly questioned the Home Office’s appalling treatment of international students who they had unjustly accused of cheating in their language tests. The Committee will now launch a further inquiry into the whole sorry debacle. 

NUS avoiding mass disaffiliation

The ‘domino effect’ of students’ unions disaffiliations from NUS predicted by some has appeared not to come to pass, with several unions last week deciding to remain affiliated. Oxford, Essex, and Bath Spa are the latest unions to vote in favour of continued affiliation. The overall scorecard looks much more positive for the national union than a few weeks ago. Of the twelve referenda that have happened in the last few weeks, eight have voted in favour of NUS. Upcoming or ongoing votes include Durham, Nottingham, and York.

You TEF if you want to

On Friday, HEFCE announced the role specifications for 25 panel members and 65 assessors for TEF year 2 - applications are now open, and you have until 1st July to apply.

Help us design a logo for the new Office for Students and win your very own #WonkLife mug. We've got the ball rolling with our own suggestions. Find out more.

You might have missed on Wonkhe

On the site today we begin a series looking at the White Paper and its effect on devolved UK nations. David Morris argues that like it or not, these reforms will reach deep into the Welsh higher education sector.

We outlined and analysed the proposed changes to tuition fees that will result from the TEF. Based on the different fee caps and different levels of reward, we’re able to assess the real terms value of the increases: will the rises require universities to run faster, just to stand still?

Geoff Stoakes of the HEA PVC network argues that student engagement metrics are more appropriate for the TEF than satisfaction scores.

How have the government’s expectations for using data changed since the 2011 White Paper? Andy Youell takes a look.

There has been concern that the TEF will cut the link between teaching and research in universities. Jane Forster of Bournemouth University writes on this topic.

On Registrarism, Paul Greatrix argues that the government has failed to fulfil Jo Johnson’s promise to avoid unnecessary bureaucracy.

Martin Hewitt of Huddersfield University suggests that the introduction of a Grade Point Averages marking system has been delayed once again.

Are the coming reforms shaping up to be a government blunder, and how can mistakes be avoided? Continuing our series on the White Paper and policymaking, David Morris gives some recommendations on making the reforms as effective as possible.

This briefing is kindly supported by our friends at:

The rest of the week's HE agenda

HEFCE consultation on teaching funding expected this week

Monday 6th June

PARLIAMENTARY: House of Lords Sci/Tech Committee Inquiry on Innovate UK (10.40am)
EVENT: BIS TEF technical consultation event, London
EVENT: Kingston University Megatrends in HE over the next 5-10 years,London
EVENT: ARMA Annual Conference 2016, Birmingham

Tuesday 7th June

EVENT: ARMA Annual Conference 2016, Birmingham
EVENT: JISC New HE subject coding system webinar
EVENT: Vitae Researcher development for non-linear career paths (Birmingham)
EVENT: LFHE Implementing the prevent duty, Manchester
EVENT: SRHE Preparing Research Proposals, London

EVENT: NUS Sustainability Roundtable, Manchester

EVENT: ARMA Induction workshop, Birmingham

Wednesday 8th June

PARLIAMENTARY: HoC Sub-Committee on Education, Skills and the Economy hearing on Apprenticeships

EVENT: ARMA Annual Conference 2016, Birmingham

EVENT: UHR The Art Of Influencing Line Managers

EVENT: JISC Information security management special interest group, London

EVENT: UKCGE Supporting the Future of PGT Education conference, Litchfield
EVENT: UCAS conference for teachers on inspiring choices and progression to HE, London

EVENT: UHR Group Meeting, London

EVENT: AoC Y&H HE in FE Network, Yorkshire

Thursday 9th June

REPORT: UCAS Equality data
REPORT: HEPI-HEA Student academic experience survey

EVENT: HEPI Annual Conference on the Student Journey, London

EVENT: QAA Enhancement themes conference 2016, Edinburgh

Friday 10th June

MEETING: UUK Harassment Taskforce, London

EVENT: OIA Annual Open Meeting, London

Have a great week,
Mark, Editor
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