Is there bias in university admissions?
Wonkhe has published the most in-depth analysis available of UCAS’s newly-released data about admissions which was broken down by sex, ethnicity and socio-economic background. Our analysis shows that a small number of institutions appear to have lower than expected offer rates for applicants from areas of greatest disadvantage and over 20% of universities in the release have lower offer rates than expected for black applicants.
While the sector is keen to stress that progress has been made in opening up higher education for greater socioeconomic and racial diversity overall, our findings show that a not insignificant number of institutions may want to look very carefully for risk of bias in their admissions decisions. Our findings also show the vast geographical diversity in the application preferences of many disadvantaged and black applicants, and the continued gulf in the likelihood of attending high and low tariff institutions for applicants from the top and bottom of the socio-economic ladder.
You can read our full analysis here. We have updated the piece to incorporate analysis that shows further institutions with lower-than-expected offer rates for black students. The amount of data published by UCAS last week was unprecedented, and our work on it continues - we will continue to publish further analysis this week and beyond.
Did Offa jump the gun on fees and TEF?
There is some disquiet about a recent letter from the Office for Fair Access to vice chancellors and principals, asking them to adjust their access agreements for 2017-18 to account for the anticipated increase in fees that will follow the TEF. Although Jo Johnson announced that next year’s increase would be 2.8% in the Queen’s Speech debate, new fee regulations to allow it to happen have not yet been laid before Parliament which has the final say about any changes to fees.
Some institutions are unhappy that they are being asked to decide quickly about whether they will participate in TEF 1, particularly while the consultation on TEF 2 is still ongoing. However, the actual numbers involved are very small, with only a possible £25 extra per student going towards access agreements for institutions that will get the 2.8% increase. BIS told us last week that they agreed with Offa that they could “start negotiations on a provisional basis” with providers on fees, subject to Parliamentary agreement. But it appears that this is not how the letter has been interpreted by some.
Since access agreements will now be dependent on TEF judgements, expect this to be a continually tricky logistical and political issue, as the two processes are run independently of each other. Parliamentarians may want to take a closer look at the timing and mechanics of the various technical changes that they will need to approve. It's clear that the next battles over fees have barely begun.
You can read the Offa letter here, and Wonkhe’s analysis of upcoming fee changes here.
On Wednesday, HESA will make their first ever release of data on students at English alternative providers of higher education (remember them?) in the 2014-15 year. The data will cover student enrolments and qualifications obtained, and complement research recently released by BIS into the state of the alternative market in 2014. How data is collected on alternative providers is a matter of some political sensitivity. Many APs have a very different profile of students accepted and courses delivered compared to the established sector, and so counting both in the same way could be problematic.
Another important focus will be on completion and retention rates, with questions about whether these will be directly comparable between the old and new parts of the sector. Whatever the data shows there will be ample opportunity for advocates and opponents of private HE to spin it to their cause.
Less importantly, the language about this part of the sector continues to evolve. For these purposes, HESA are using the 'alternative provider' label, popularised by the last government after its 2011 reforms (and also happens to be deeply unpopular with the leaders of those institutions). The government has recently been using 'challenger institutions', although in a speech last week Jo Johnson talked about 'innovative and specialist providers' to describe this increasingly nebulous part of the landscape. There's also an 'independent university' association that meet and lobby for the respectable private providers. With the authoritative HESA laying down the 'AP' gauntlet again this week, it's an issue that looks set to run and run. Please send suggestions on a postcard for how the Wonkhe Style Guide should weigh in on the matter.
Degrees of satisfaction
Last week’s release of the influential student experience survey from HEPI and HEA received widespread media attention because of its finding that increasing numbers of students don’t believe their courses are value for money, continuing a trend since 2012. The report made a wide variety of conclusions on issues such as BME attainment, student wellbeing and contact hours. The results show that students’ anxiety levels are markedly higher than the rest of the population and that many students continue to be unhappy about their amounts of contact time, but also showed that most students believe that teaching staff are supportive, work hard, and explain things clearly.
David Morris was written on five key lessons that the sector can take from the survey including the thorny issue of contact hours and expectation management. And on Policy Watch, Louisa Darian has summarised the key findings and context for the report and its predecessors.
The business case for HE’s new overlords
Last week BIS released its business cases for setting up the Office for Students (OfS) and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), as well as its impact assessment of the Higher Education and Research Bill.
In the business cases, we can learn a little bit more about how BIS expects OfS and UKRI to be run and funded - although much could change as the transition process has yet to get fully off the ground. OfS is estimated to have running costs of £30.9 million in its first year of operation. The assumptions here are interesting: it merges the relevant operating costs of HEFCE and Offa in 2014-15, adjusts for inflation, and deducts “an estimated 10% efficiency saving resulting from merging functions and the introduction of more efficient systems such as the risk based regulatory framework”. Although the government will provide 48% of OfS funding in 2018-19 to cover for transition costs, from 2019-20 registration fees from providers will cover 75% of OfS running costs. Continued government funding will be exclusively for covering the costs of new provider entry, and for ‘activities with wider economic benefit’. The latter will include the OfS responsibilities for overseeing Prevent, and also research and insight work into the sector.
Estimates for the future costs of UKRI has been based on the current costs of the research councils, Innovate UK, and the research functions of HEFCE. Added to this is an estimated “cost of delivering a greater focus on cross-cutting issues”, and deducted is an efficiency saving of 5%, bringing the total annual cost of UKRI to £103.5 million. Unlike the OfS case, the UKRI business case does not outline 10-years projections, and the contrasting tone of the two documents suggests that while OfS is predominantly viewed as a cost to BIS, the government view spending on UKRI as an investment because of the economic returns from research funding.
As we’ve pointed out before, BIS’s overall impact assessments of reforms are curious for projecting that no established HEIs will exit the market between now and 2027/28, and also that no FE colleges providing HE will either, despite the government's current work to reduce the number of FECs through ‘area reviews’. So all forecasting must be viewed with a healthy level of scepticism.
You can read the OfS business case here, the UKRI business case here, and the Higher Education and Research Bill impact assessment here.
You also have until the end of the day to enter our competition to design a logo for the OfS.