|The higher education week ahead
Good morning. This is the last Monday Morning Briefing of the year which will be back in force in January for the new term. Meanwhile we will continue to publish new articles on the site up to Christmas. The calendar is naturally quiet for events this week, but there's still plenty going on in policy. The big one will likely be the UCAS 2015 End of Cycle report on Thursday. On the same day we will also get a new Social Mobility Commission report which is set to 'name and shame' worst performing Oxbridge colleges. We might finally see the launch of the Government's new review of REF and the (interim) Diamond Review of HE funding in Wales is now scheduled for Friday, plus there's plenty going on in Westminster all through the week. The Scottish Government publish its draft budget on Wednesday.
I'm dreaming of a White Paper
It is now just 20 working days until the Green Paper consultation wraps up and thinking is already advancing to the shape of a White Paper. There's widespread hope in the sector that an all-singing, all-dancing White Paper will be drawn up early next year, fleshing out all the areas short on detail in the Green Paper (of which there are many) and including all the reforms to the research and science landscape which have so far existed largely in other places e.g. the Nurse Review. All of this was meant to lead in to the introduction of a new Higher Education Bill. At least that was the assumption until this weekend. The Independent on Sunday reports of division within the Government on this very question. It has been reported that Cabinet Office Minister Oliver Letwin believes that the Government's HE plans, as set out in the Green Paper, can and should be delivered without primary legislation, so as to avoid popular political difficulty, particularly around the measures on fees. The paper reports that Jo Johnson is set against this proposal and wants to put the plans before Parliament. The outrage garnered by the article over the weekend might just do the trick for the universities and science minister, whose allies have clearly briefed the story to the Indy (whether it was done with his authorisation remains unknown). But the suggestion that the policies may never reach Parliament has received all but universal condemnation so far.
Regardless of machinations in Whitehall, it's obvious even to a casual observer that Oliver Letwin is wrong: the Green Paper's proposals - even a modest version of them - would require primary legislation to put in to action. Luckily we're not casual observers around here: Dennis Farrington co-author of The Law of Higher Education, and an authority on higher education legislative issues, today dives in to the Green Paper in detail and highlights the many changes to legislation that it proposes through its various measures. Hopefully someone in the Cabinet Office is reading.
Elsewhere, the TEF portion of the Green Paper debate continues apace. Johnny Rich builds on his recent HEPI report to argue that the TEF should measure employability, not employment outcomes.
End of the cycle
On Thursday UCAS will publish its analysis of the 2015 application cycle, now it has come to an end. The End of Cycle is always a fascinating report: after all the policy and all the marketing bluster, we finally get to see what really happened. Key things to look out for include:
- There was speculation that there would be a late surge in applications following the announcement in the summer that maintenance grants would be switched to loans next year. The hypothetical surge would have come from applicants choosing to study a year earlier than planned in order to take advantage of preferable terms of support. However, it is possible that the announcement came too late to have a major impact, so we may not see an effect until next year's cycle. But any change we do see to applicant behaviour could offer first clues as to the impact of the grants to loans switch.
- Has the overall number of accepted places increased - and if so, in which parts of the UK? The Government estimated there would be an additional 60,000 places after the liberalisation of number controls. So did any actual increases match the rhetoric?
- Is widening participation still going up and if so, to which institutions? Given the Government's well-publicised target to increase the proportion of young people going to university from lower socio-economic backgrounds, people will be following this one even more closely than usual. Also of interest will be the gender balance, with women applying in larger numbers across the board and appearance of particularly low-NSSEC male cohorts recently.
- How are institutions responding to increased competition? Last year providers made more offers than ever before - will that trend continue? Also look out for who the offers are being made to - i.e those with A Levels or BTECs. And will BTEC applications continue to grow and if so, to which institutions?
- EU and non-EU acceptances make up a small proportion but have been growing over recent cycles - will this trend continue?
- The story of clearing will be an interesting one. With increased competition following the removal of the SNC cap, applicants are likely to have been marketed to far more aggressively, which may have led to a greater "churn" in the clearing process.
- The situation at private providers will also be interesting. Private providers with Teaching Degree Awarding Powers (TDAP) are uncapped like the rest of the sector. However those without TDAP were capped, and are in fact the only providers in England still subject to student number controls. The increases or decreases recorded at these providers will be interesting to compare to uncapped providers and will be useful in assessing the overall impact of the the SNC liberalisation (as well as the health of this part of the sector).
Diamonds are not just for Christmas
Last week the Welsh Government published its draft budget, which envisaged a 32% cut to the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW). Around half of the £41m will be directed towards tuition fee grants, some of which will end up funding Welsh students to study in England. It is timely then that on Friday we will see the long-awaited interim report from Ian Diamond's review of the student finance arrangements in Wales - a review commissioned by the Welsh Government in February 2014. Although the part of the review being published this week is unlikely to offer any concrete recommendations - these are more likely to follow early next year. The review is being followed closely across the policy community as its outcomes could have big implications for student funding and finance across all UK nations. Alongside all of this, there is a separate review underway of HEFCW, which in conjunction with tighter budgets and the final outcomes of the Diamond Review, could together spell big changes to Welsh HE.
What else to look out for this week?
Last week the Monday Morning Briefing predicted that the Government would launch its new review of the REF. It never materialised, and so it seems probable that it will launch this week instead. If you missed last week's email and want to read our analysis of this, you can find it here. tl;dr - Government review of REF led by someone outside the sector, likely given a remit to help the Government's 'simplification' agenda and give cover to introduce further use of metrics in the exercise ahead of it moving across to Research UK. All wrapping up in the summer.
On Thursday the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission is publishing its Annual Report - the last under Alan Milburn's time as social mobility tsar. Early briefing of its content to the media suggest the report is going to take on Oxford and Cambridge. The Guardian reported on Saturday that the Commission will recommend that to meet benchmarks for disadvantaged students, Oxford will need to increase the percentage of state school pupils by 24% and Cambridge by 18%. The report will also 'name and shame' the worst performing colleges for state school admissions. Also on Thursday and on a related theme, OFFA publishes a review of evidence for different approaches to widening participation.
Hot on the heels of the Welsh Government's draft budget last week, the Scottish Government is publishing its draft budget this Wednesday which could have big implications for Scottish universities. Also look out for the Scottish Parliament's Education and Culture Committee report on the Higher Education Governance Bill - it's due later this week and could prove to be an important moment in the journey of this controversial piece of legislation.
Westminster also sees plenty of HE-related action this week: BIS oral questions tomorrow, hearings on the Nurse Review in the Commons and science/EU membership on Wednesday in the Lords.
On Friday the wide-ranging consultation about the future of HESA and information landscape finishes, don't forget to respond here.
The rest of the week's HE agenda
Tuesday 15th December
PARLIAMENTARY: BIS oral questions
Wednesday 16th December
PARLIAMENTARY: House of Lords Science & Technology Committee hearing on EU membership and UK science
PARLIAMENTARY: Scottish Government Draft Budget
PARLIAMENTARY: House of Commons Science & Technology Committee hearing on Nurse Review
EVENT: ARMA Regional Symposium, Cardiff
EVENT: Wonkhe Christmas Quiz
Thursday 17th December
PARLIAMENTARY: Christmas Recess House Rises
PARLIAMENTARY: European Council Meeting (until 18th)
REPORT: UCAS End of Cycle
REPORT: Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission Annual Report
REPORT: OFFA review of evidence of approaches to WP
Friday 18th December
DEADLINE: HESA sector consultation
PARLIAMENTARY: Scottish Parliament Rises
REPORT: Interim Diamond Review of Welsh HE funding
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