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Good morning. The latest LEO data has given the sector a lot to chew on. The Bill heads to the House of Lords this week, debates over the TEF are heating up, as are jitters over application rates. OFFA seeks to demonstrate the impact of bursaries, we round up what else is going on, what you might have missed on Wonkhe and the rest of the week's HE agenda.

Have a great week,
Mark Leach, Editor

LEO: caveats and complexities

In a sector that loves a good acronym, one looks set to rise quickly into the common HE vocab: LEO, or Longitudinal Education Outcomes. This new set of data, made possible by the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act, links graduates from English universities with employment, benefits and earnings information. It enables analysis of graduate salaries (the data straight from HMRC) by subject studied and institution, and can also be broken down by gender, ethnicity, attainment prior to university, and other characteristics. Graduate cohorts can be tracked over time, from one year to ten years after graduation. The implications are wide and have been debated vigorously for the last couple of years since the previous government stated its intention to release the data.

Last Thursday DfE produced an ‘experimental release’ of LEO data, which looked at employment and further study outcomes by institutions, and earnings outcomes by subject studied, prior attainment, and demographic characteristics. They also released one combined set of earnings outcomes for law graduates by institution. The government confirmed that the full whack of LEO earnings data broken down by both institution and subject will be released in the spring, as well as LEO data for postgraduates.

Thursday’s publication was very much a ‘raw’ release, without the rigorous analysis and controlled analysis that characterised the IFS’s early study of LEO data back in April. Despite the government’s ambition to provide “authoritative data … to facilitate an improved understanding of the value added by a higher education degree”, releases of this sort do not provide comprehensive conclusions on ‘value added’ by degrees to any one individual’s earnings prospects. There is still a great deal of work to be done before LEO can be considered for inclusion in the TEF, as is the government’s stated ambition in the White Paper, which would be an exceptionally controversial move for many. And all this besides, the very nature of LEO means that the most comprehensive picture we have of graduate outcomes is for those who graduated a long time ago; in this case the 2003-04 graduating class. Quite what the university applicants of today can learn from the graduate careers of those seventeen years their senior remains to be seen.  

Nonetheless, there is still a great deal of insight that can be gleaned from Thursday’s release, much of it adding to known trends in graduate outcomes. Attainment before entering university matters massively for graduate earnings, suggesting university attendance is far from a ‘grand equaliser’ for social mobility. Earnings gaps quickly emerge after graduation for both women and ethnic minorities, and especially so for ethnic minority women. Some findings, however, are a little more curious, such as the wild variation between different institutions whose graduates are ‘not captured’ by the LEO data. We’ve done our best to set it all in context as well as provide the first flush of analysis - which much more to follow.

On Wonkhe:

Lords above

Tomorrow the Higher Education and Research Bill will move into what MPs call ‘the other place’, as the Peers of the realm have their say on the new legislative framework for higher education in England. This looks set to be a much more significant event than it was in the Commons, and dozens of Peers are already lined up to speak in tomorrow’s Second Reading debate - already far more than the 40 MPs who made contributions at the equivalent stage in the Commons. Not all will necessarily speak, but it does point to the heightened overall interest that will now be taken in the Bill. 

The government does not have an overall majority in the Lords and will not simply be able to crack the whip to move legislation on, as in the Commons. And so hopes are running high that the Lords will be able to give the Bill some very considered scrutiny. Presenting the Bill for the government will be Viscount Younger, whose background is in management consultancy, and Baroness Neville-Rolfe, once a civil servant and Tesco executive. The opposition will be lead by Lord Stevenson, longtime academic registrar at Napier College, Edinburgh (now Edinburgh Napier University), former director of the Smith Institute and adviser to Gordon Brown. Tomorrow’s debate will be hopefully shed light on the thrust of the opposition we can expect to the Bill in the Lords. However, the real scrutiny and chance for change will begin afterwards during Committee Stage where amendments can be made.

Passing legislation in the Lords can be more cumbersome and time-consuming than in the Commons. All peers may participate in the Committee Stage of a Bill, unlike the select number used in the Commons, which can further undermine a government, and the government cannot impose a time limit on the subjects under discussion - another trick often used in the Commons. There is a large stack of amendments waiting to be introduced that either never made progress in the Commons, or have not yet been publicly floated by parliamentarians or lobbyists.

Looming over the debate over this Bill will be the need for the government to free up time in the Lords to pass the Bill that will very likely be required to trigger Article 50 before next March. So the government may prove willing to accept some amendments in order to move the passage of the Bill along and limit delay. And so once again, the sector’s fate will be impacted by Brexit.

On Wonkhe:

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Fun with flags as TEF debate heats up

As we covered a few weeks ago, higher education institutions now know their benchmarked TEF metric scores and are now busily preparing their written provider statements in time for the deadline on January 26th. It is fair to say that it is still unclear just how much of an impact these written provider statements will have on the overall result. Recent guidance from HEFCE made it appear that such submissions were subordinate to the objectivity of the data but TEF Chair, and vice chancellor of Sheffield Hallam University, Chris Husbands has written for Wonkhe arguing that “the provider statement is a critical part of the process.” 

While benchmarking the metrics for each institution based on their student intake is a central part of the TEF exercise, not everyone is happy that this will meet the concept of excellence. Tony Strike, from the University of Sheffield, has denounced the emphasis on evaluating performance relative to expectations. His case is that excellence comes from the best absolute levels of performance and not simply exceeding the benchmark and makes a plea to the TEF panel to resolve the problem.

Meanwhile, using information from HEFCE’s recent briefings on TEF, we’ve dug further into the flagging system that will determine each provider’s positioning in the TEF based on their metrics. The TEF guidance gives straightforward rules on the initial hypothesis for judgements on university performance, presumptions which may be changed when the assessors and panel members evaluate the provider submissions. The current state of play leaves room for the TEF panel to move more institutions up to Gold while still maintaining within the bounds of the projected proportions in the three judgement categories. The combination of positive and negative flags could create some curious results come the end of May...

On Wonkhe: 

Jitters as applications are down

There's considerable disquiet in the sector as we approach the 15th January deadline as university applications from UK students are down more than 10% on average. It appears to be an equal opportunity downturn, high tariff institutions are feeling the squeeze just as much as low tariff universities which indicates that this is not just a question of competition in the market. There's a demographic dip of 16-18 year olds, but it's not so pronounced that it could explain away such a big drop off. It is hoped that students are just taking longer to make their decision, but if the falls were to continue through the cycle, then it could spell disaster for some - particularly those at the sharpest end of this problem reporting up to a 20% drop from what they would expect at this stage. It's going to be a very nerve-wracking holiday season for many.

On Wonkhe:

Demonstrating the impact of bursaries 

OFFA has today published a report and a set of tools to help universities better evaluate the financial support they provide. OFFA commissioned a team at Sheffield Hallam University in June 2015 to develop a statistical model which will help universities investigate whether bursaries and other forms of financial support are an effective tool to help students from disadvantaged backgrounds enter higher education, succeed in their studies, and be prepared for life after graduation.

On Wonkhe:

What else is going on?

International students: in or out
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson yesterday became the latest senior cabinet minister to publicly break ranks over international students, telling Peston that they should not be included in the net migration numbers. The remarks will be seen as a boost to the campaign that never ends. Elsewhere, new immigration stats released last week show that the number of university-sponsored study visas granted has remained relatively stable, with a marginal decrease of 1%. However, there has been a 6% increase for Russell Group universities, while applications for sponsored visas at all other universities has fallen by 6%. 
Does opening up the market create more choice?

The Higher Education Commission, a cross-party group of parliamentarians and sector representatives, will today launch its latest inquiry. It will focus on alternative provision of higher education and “examine whether ‘challenger institutions’ offer a genuine choice to students”. The Commission has previously run inquiries and released reports on the sustainability of the student loans system, higher education regulation, and the emerging use of data analytics in the sector. The latest inquiry outline implies a challenge to the government’s assertion that opening up the higher education market will create more choice for prospective applicants, but the full terms of reference and call for evidence will be released in the new year.

Post-Brexit studentship funding

The government has announced that EU nationals will remain eligible for postgraduate funding from Research Councils UK for EU applicants beginning in the 2017/18 academic year, and funding will cover the duration of their courses even if the UK leaves the European Union during their period of study.

You might also have missed on Wonkhe

Stephanie Harris asks: Is the government picking favourites in university-led teacher training? Paul Greatrix of Registrarism returns to the importance of university Governance (with a capital G). Rachel Brookes writes about the rise of global student activism. And you can catch up with the live blog from last week's UUK / CASE Political Affairs Forum.

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Also on this week's HE agenda

Monday 5th December

  • HEFCE and Universities UK are hosting a private event on ‘Putting universities at the heart of a thriving, global post-exit UK’ in London.
  • ECU is hosting an ‘Introduction to the Race Equality Charter’ event in London.
  • Bank of England Governor Mark Carney is delivering the annual Roscoe Lecture at Liverpool John Moores University.

Tuesday 6th December

  • The APPG University Group will meet to discuss the impact of social media on the mental health of staff and students
  • The House of Lords will debate the Higher Education and Research Bill.
  • The House of Commons Public Bill Committee will hold two sessions on the Technical and Further Education Bill.
  • QAA is holding its Quality Matters 2016 event in Birmingham.
  • The Leadership Foundation is hosting an event in London on ‘GDP: Trustee responsibility for governors in higher education’.
  • SRHE is hosting its Newer & Early Career Researchers Conference in Newport.

Wednesday 7th December

  • Wonkhe is hosting a conference on the Diamond Review in Cardiff, and a workshop on proactive relationship management in HE in London.
  • Universities UK is holding an event in London on ‘Enhancing the student experience’.
  • HEFCE is hosting a Prevent seminar for alternative provider governing bodies in London.
  • The Leadership Foundation is hosting its Aurora Dublin event, and an event on ‘Prevent: The Board's Role in Providing Assurance, Alternative Providers’ in London.
  • The House of Lords will hear an oral question on 'Raising the prestige of technical education and apprenticeships and to ensure that they are viewed positively'.
  • The Student Accommodation Conference 2016 is hosted in London.
  • The Welsh Assembly’s Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee will meet.
  • SRHE begins its International Annual Research Conference 2016 in Newport.

Thursday 8th December

  • ECU is provisionally releasing a report which will discuss the post-qualifications admissions system.
  • HEFCE, RCUK and the British Academy are co-hosting an event on ‘Interdisciplinary research: Policy and Practice Conference’ in London.
  • The HEPI Annual Lecture 2016 will be held in London, and will be delivered by Dr Martha J. Kanter, former US Under Secretary of Education.
  • HEA will announce the Winners of the 2016 National Teaching Fellowship Scheme.
  • BUFDG is hosting an event on ‘Selection and Award Criteria’ in Wakefield.
  • CREST is holding its Cloud Chamber research mentoring workshop

Friday 9th December

  • SEEC is hosting a seminar on ‘Credit re-invented: policy and practice’ in London.
  • LSE is holding a conference on the BME Attainment Gap and Social Mobility in London
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