Students and Universities - Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee Contents


Framework for higher education
1.We support the approach of the former Secretary of State, John Denham, in examining the function and structure of higher education ahead of reaching decisions on funding. We regret, however, that the Government did not initiate and complete the examination of the function and structure of higher education in time to allow the review of fees to be completed in 2009 and therefore ensure the matter is fully aired in the run up to the next General Election. (Paragraph 9)
2.We recommend that in responding to this Report the Government set out a detailed timetable for publishing the higher education framework. (Paragraph 10)
Future scrutiny of higher education
3.Two areas our successor committee might find rewarding to examine are: international students and postgraduate students, including those studying for masters degrees and also including the terms under which universities require postgraduate students to teach undergraduates. We have deliberately kept our focus on the undergraduate. (Paragraph 11)
Demand for places in higher education institutions in 2009
4.We recommend that in responding to this Report the Government provide a detailed breakdown of the 4,805 full-time places (Additional Student Numbers) announced in October 2008, in particular how 1,800 ASNs were required for year two and three students. (Paragraph 14)
5.We recommend that in making future statements about the provision of additional places in higher education the Government provide a breakdown between full-time and part-time places and state clearly how many of the additional places will be available for new entrant, first-year undergraduates. (Paragraph 17)
6.We did not have the opportunity to take evidence on the Government's Written Ministerial Statement made in July 2009. While we welcome a potential increase in student numbers, these measures do not appear to meet all our concerns and have the potential to set an unfortunate precedent in that no additional teaching grant is being made available, particularly for science subjects where the costs are higher. Moreover, in our view, the pressure caused by the strong increase in demand for places in higher education in 2009 may still require the attention of our successor committee later in the year, after this year's A-level results are published, and we therefore flag this up as an issue for our successor committee. (Paragraph 18)
7.We therefore welcome that part of the Written Ministerial Statement which states that the "Government will pay the student support costs for extra places in courses" related to the agenda set out in the policy statement "Building Britain's Future—New Industry, New Jobs" (20 April 2009) such as science, technology, engineering and maths. We agree that new places in higher education should meet the strategic needs of the country for STEM graduates, subject to our concerns in the previous paragraph. (Paragraph 19)
8.We highlight the provision and education of STEM graduates as an issue for our successor committee, and also it may be an issue that we examine as part of our revised remit of scrutinising science and technology across government. (Paragraph 20)
Balance of funding
9.The apparent disparity of funding in favour of young full-time students raises questions about the justification of the balance of the allocation of resources in higher education funding between young full-time, young part-time, mature full-time and mature part-time students. The allocation of resources between these groups and the broader question of a single funding stream for higher education and further education are matters that our successor committee with responsibility for both further and higher education may wish to examine. (Paragraph 37)
The use and application of contextual factors
10.We commend the University of Leeds for its programme of entry for students from disadvantaged backgrounds and conclude that this should be standard practice across the sector. In our view this practice will require higher education institutions to develop programmes for entry, which take account of contextual factors giving a discount on A-level requirements, to ensure fair access. (Paragraph 47)
11.We recommend that the Government require higher education institutions, in receipt of public funds, to take contextual factors into account and to set out which ones it requires higher education institutions to take into account. (Paragraph 48)
12.We recommend that, within the next year, the Government review and report on the extent to which higher education institutions have adopted the findings of the Schwartz Review on Admission to Higher Education. The review also needs to examine the extent to which contextual factors are applied consistently across the sector. We also recommend that the Government put in place arrangements to monitor the consequences of the use of contextual factors on measures such as completion rates. (Paragraph 48)
Code of practice on admissions
13.In our view the principle of fair access to higher education is the paramount principle that must govern admissions and we have no reservation in stating that it overrides other standard assumptions of the sector such as institutional autonomy. In our view it is unacceptable for any part of the higher education sector to cite higher education institutional autonomy as a reason to sidestep the requirement to ensure fair access. (Paragraph 49)
14.We consider that there is a role for government working with the higher education sector to agree a set of principles that apply to the admission process, which should be promulgated as a code of practice on admissions to higher education across institutions. We stress that we are not calling for a common admissions process or for government to specify the actual admissions and selection rules, but, given the diversity of higher education institutions, we conclude that the sector should have arrangements that reduce the elements of randomness and chance in the system and help ensure students to get a fairer deal. (Paragraph 51)
15.We consider that where universities agree to recognise each other's students—either applicants who have met their admission criteria, including those who have earned a discount on the usual entrance requirements, or students who have earned credits—such an approach could make a significant contribution to credit transfer and portability for students wishing or needing to transfer between higher education institutions and in expanding both participation and diversity in the student body. We recommend that the Government require those higher education institutions in receipt of public funds to enter mutual recognition agreements and for the terms of all agreements to be published. (Paragraph 52)
Fair access to universities in the Russell Group and 1994 Group
16.We consider that fair access must be seen as important by the whole higher education sector, particularly those higher education institutions that historically have generated the highest lifetime earnings and most social capital for their graduates. (Paragraph 56)
Widening participation
17.It appears that not only are levels of attainment between state and independent schools diverging at Level 3 but also large numbers of able young people are not studying to Level 3, the main entrance gate to benefit from higher education. (Paragraph 61)
18.We recommend that the Government carry out, before the next Spending Review, a full review of the provision of education at Level 3, including the Qualifications Framework and all routes into higher education, to ensure that those who have the ability to benefit from higher education have the opportunity to fulfil their potential. (Paragraph 62)
19.We recommend that the review include an examination of expanding higher education provided in further education colleges, to assist those who currently could, but do not, go forward into higher education. (Paragraph 63)
20.We conclude that the performance indicators which the Higher Education Statistics Agency publishes on the composition of students from under-represented groups in individual higher education institutions provide a useful focus for the higher education sector on widening participation and should continue to be published annually. We consider, however, that benchmarks should not be used as targets and that failure to meet benchmarks should not be used to criticise higher education institutions until they are better developed to discount all confounding factors. (Paragraph 68)
Schools and further education colleges
21.We welcome the outreach to local schools and colleges that many universities undertake and the growing co-operation between higher education, schools and further education, which has the potential to widening participation in higher education. We encourage all higher education institutions to develop such partnerships. We recommend that the Government put arrangements in place to enhance the co-operation between schools, further education colleges and higher education to facilitate widening participation in higher education. We recommend therefore that the Government and HEFCE urgently examine ways in which both higher education institutions and staff are incentivised to instigate and carry out outreach initiatives. This might, for example, include ring-fenced funding of a relatively modest nature to support widening participation specifically to encourage new outreach initiatives and to recognise the specific contributions of individual lecturers and staff at higher education institutions. (Paragraph 73)
22.We consider that the Government should encourage higher education institutions to pilot initiatives that have potential to increase higher education/school co-operation and facilitate wider participation. (Paragraph 74)
23.We have not examined in detail in this Report the relationship between higher education and further education and this is an issue that our successor committee with responsibility for further education and higher education may wish to consider. (Paragraph 75)
Foundation degrees and foundation years
24.In our view, if the community college credit system model operating in the US were adopted in England, it would provide much greater flexibility in higher education in this country, which will be essential to widening participation. We consider that one route to the introduction of the model is to expand the provision of higher education in further education colleges. We conclude that the Government should accelerate the expansion of higher education provided in further education colleges. (Paragraph 83)
25.When the Government comes to set out its vision for higher education over the next 10-15 years it is essential that it explains how students with the required cognitive abilities but without matching learning skills will be supported and assisted. The Government needs to set out how it wishes to see the current foundation degree arrangements evolve—particularly, how many entrants to higher education it expects to commence with a foundation year and what financial support they can expect. We recommend that the Government take immediate steps to introduce a credit transfer system which will allow credit transfer and portability between tertiary education institutions in England—that is, between further and higher and within higher education institutions. (Paragraph 84)
26.In our view, a prerequisite for a system of credit transfer is a national system that validates quality assurance and the standards of credits earned by students. (Paragraph 85)
Completion of courses
27.We conclude that higher education institutions should both identify and promote good practice—for example, by systematically collecting and rigorously scrutinising their own non-completion data across years and across subjects, carrying out exit interviews and surveys and by developing further their student personal advice and support systems. We also recommend that the Government investigate the reasons why the non-completion rates of part-time students are higher than those for full-time students and bring forward proposals to reduce the rates. (Paragraph 88)
28.We recommend that the Government, when evaluating widening participation, examine student progression as well as numbers. (Paragraph 89)
29.We conclude that one of the main supports to securing wider participation is a comprehensive system of pastoral care and welfare, as well as academic, support for students by each higher education institution. We recommend that the Government place a duty of care on higher education institutions to support their students and require higher education institutions to provide a comprehensive system of pastoral and welfare support for students encompassing, for example, pre-admission courses, adjustment programmes, counselling and mentoring. (Paragraph 90)
Guidance and information
30.In our view, it is essential that the strategic needs of the country for STEM graduates are fully taken into account when the Government sets targets for the expansion of higher education. The Government must counteract any tendency within the system propelling young people to study non-STEM subjects which are perceived to make admission to university easier. As we noted in chapter 1, one step it should take is to ensure that any new places funded in higher education institutions meet the strategic needs of the country for STEM graduates. (Paragraph 95)
31.We conclude that currently careers guidance to those at many secondary schools is inadequate. We consider that careers guidance needs to start at key stage 3 to advise young people about their choice of GCSEs as this determines post-16 choice, including entry into higher education. While we are aware that, following the Government's acceptance of the recommendation of the Leitch Report changes are planned, we consider that the Government needs to overhaul, extend and improve the careers guidance system urgently and to ensure that young people have access to independent and also to specialist advice from industry and academia, including students. When the changes have been made, we recommend that the Government put in place clear procedures for monitoring the quality of careers guidance in schools and colleges to ensure that the improvement in quality and reach that is required has been achieved. (Paragraph 96)
32.We conclude that it would assist prospective students if higher education institutions presented in a consistent format, which facilitates cross-institutional comparisons, the time a typical undergraduate student could expect to spend in attending lectures and tutorials, in personal study and, for science courses, in laboratories during a week. In addition, universities should indicate the likely size of tutorial groups and the numbers at lectures and the extent to which students may be taught by graduate students. We conclude that the higher education sector should develop a code of practice on information for prospective students setting out the range, quality and level of information that higher education institutions should make available to prospective undergraduate students. (Paragraph 98)
National Student Survey
33.We commend the introduction of the National Student Survey and fully support the concept of seeking the views of students through such a survey. (Paragraph 100)
34.We accept that the National Student Survey is a good starting point but caution against an over-reliance on it. We conclude that it is essential to safeguard the independence of the National Student Survey and recommend that the Higher Education Funding Council for England, which has responsibility for the Survey, examine ways to bolster the independence of the survey, including bringing forward arrangements to provide the NUS with a role in promoting the integrity of the Survey. (Paragraph 101)
35.We conclude that league tables are a permanent fixture and recommend that the Government seek to ensure that as much information is available as possible from bodies such as HEFCE and HESA, to make the data they contain meaningful, accurate and comparable. (Paragraph 104)
36.To assist people applying to higher education we recommend that the Government seek to expand the National Student Survey to incorporate factors which play a significant part in prospective applicants' decisions—for example, the extent to which institutions encourage students to engage in non-curricula activities and work experience and offer careers advice. (Paragraph 104)
37.We recommend that the Government produce a metric to measure higher education institutions' contribution to widening participation, use the metric to measure the contribution made by institutions and publish the results in a form which could be incorporated into university league tables. (Paragraph 105)
Tuition fees and the review of fees
38.We have deliberately not set out to review the question of tuition fees and we make no recommendation as to the level at which variable tuition fees should be capped or whether they should be abolished. Tuition fees came up at several points during our inquiry and we set out below observations which we hope will inform the review of fees. (Paragraph 110)
39.Though we received anecdotal views that some people may have been discouraged from applying to university, we note that the students whom we met or took evidence from were not pressing concerns that fees set at £3,145 across almost all universities were deterring full-time students from applying to university. (Paragraph 111)
40.We detected no evidence that variable tuition fees at current levels were driving up quality on campus, which is not surprising given that the fees hardly vary across the higher education sector and so provide little incentive for students to look for value for money between institutions. We found some concerns that applicants might be deterred if the review of fees led to a steep increase in fees. (Paragraph 113)
41.We recommend that in its consultation on the review of fees the Government seeks to commission and publish independent research to provide for a detailed and informed debate and consultation on the matter, in particular into the impact of a higher cap on course quality and applications. We further recommend that any higher education institution seeking to increase its fees provide detailed evidence to support its proposals. (Paragraph 114)
42.We recommend the Government's review of fees look at the alternative methods of securing the funds needed to sustain a strong higher education sector and should not be concerned exclusively with the appropriate level of fees within the current structure. (Paragraph 116)
43.In our view the student and the level of debt he or she could reasonably be expected to incur has to be a central question for the forthcoming review of fees. (Paragraph 117)
44.We recommend that the Government commission independent research into the effects of the introduction of variable tuition fees introduced in 2006 and into further increases in fees on applications to higher education from those from lower socio-economic groups and disadvantaged backgrounds. We further recommend that this research be commissioned and published in time to inform the review of fees. As part of the review of fees the Government needs to indicate as part of its vision for higher education over the next 15 years at what level it wants to see tuition fees reach, if it is to persist with the current fee regime. If its objective is to raise the cap on fees significantly towards levels that the market will determine it needs to explain how it will ensure that the deleterious effects we saw in the USA are to be avoided. (Paragraph 120)
45.We conclude that the current bursary arrangements cannot be justified on the grounds of equitably matching student support with student needs. (Paragraph 125)
46.We conclude that the current bursary arrangements, which have led to large variations between higher education institutions in support for students with similar needs, cannot be justified on the grounds of widening participation in higher education. (Paragraph 127)
47.We conclude that the present bursary arrangements do not contribute to the national policies of widening participation or fair access. Nor are they an instrument to maximise the affordability of higher education for students from poor backgrounds, which, in our view, is what student support arrangements should be concerned with. (Paragraph 129)
48.If, following the review of fees, bursaries remain to be set by each institution, we conclude that all higher education institutions must ensure that prospective students are made aware of the bursaries available and can easily establish eligibility and calculate an indicative level of bursary and that at least basic information about a specific institution's approach is provided as part of its pre-admission documentation provided to applicants. (Paragraph 131)
National bursary system
49.The Russell and 1994 Groups put to us their strong belief that all the additional fee income "belongs to" their member institutions and can only be spent on "their" students. This is not, in our view, a principle that is either demonstrable or sustainable. (Paragraph 133)
50. We recommend that the Government include in the terms of reference of the forthcoming review of fees two key guiding principles. First, student need, rather than the characteristics of the university that the student attends, should determine the support that students receive. Second, any arrangements such as bursary arrangements recommended by the review must be shown to contribute to the national policies both of widening participation and fair access. (Paragraph 136)
51.We consider that a national bursary scheme should also enable students to calculate the total level of support they could expect when making applications to higher education institutions. We favour a national bursary scheme, which would set a realistic national minimum bursary for all students across England. We recommend that the Government draw up and publish as part of the review of fees, and invite comments on, a national bursary scheme. We recommend that the indicative scheme set national minimum amounts for bursaries calculated on the basis of need to which all students in higher education institutions in England would be eligible to apply. (Paragraph 137)
52.We acknowledge that a national bursary system that duplicated the existing student grant arrangements may not be the best way to proceed. We consider that, if the Government can show that the principles we have set out above can be effectively met by another route—for example, by a redistributive mechanism pooling a percentage of each higher education institution's fee income and redistributing it as additional grant—then that may be a more sensible way forward. (Paragraph 139)
53.If following the review, fees vary significantly, it is essential that students from poor backgrounds have no financial disincentive from attending high-fee institutions and we conclude that the review of fees should ensure that there are arrangements to provide these students with adequate financial support. Such arrangements could include an addition above the national minimum bursary or a top-up bursary provided by the institution charging the higher fees. (Paragraph 140)
Part-time and mature students
54.In our view, the case for improving the treatment of part-time and mature students is compelling. In equity all students must be treated in the same manner. Any system that does not achieve this will discriminate against groups—in this case part-time and mature students—and this is unacceptable. Nor does it make sense, given the scale of the improvement in education and skills that the Government wants to see by 2020, to deny support to part-time and mature students, who have a crucial part to play in achieving this objective. We recommend that the forthcoming review of fees examine all aspects of support for part-time and mature students, including both the direct financial support to part-time students and the nature of changes required which will enable the sector to develop greater flexibility to meet the needs of part-time students. We further recommend that this assessment set a deadline by which the treatment of, and support for, undergraduate students becomes broadly similar, irrespective of whether students study full-time or part-time. (Paragraph 152)
55.We recommend that the Government review the existing schemes to assist groups into higher education—such as those leaving the armed forces—to establish the lessons that could be applied to assist other groups. (Paragraph 153)
Relationship between teaching and research
56.We consider that the Research Excellence Framework (REF) should take into account the whole range of indicators of excellence, including the broader contribution which academics make. (Paragraph 158)
57.There is one issue that we should highlight and in responding to this Report we invite the Government to explain how the REF will take it into account. This is the treatment of multi-disciplinary collaborative teams between, and within, higher education institutions. We consider that the REF should ensure that sufficient weight is given to such collaborative teams and the effects of such teams are taken into account to ensure that they are encouraged and developed. This is a matter that our successor committee may wish to examine. (Paragraph 159)
58.We recommend that the Government require higher education institutions in receipt of funds from the taxpayer to have accounting systems in place that provide a clear audit trail of the use to which resources provided for teaching and research are put so that they can be separately and clearly identified. (Paragraph 160)
59.Most of the students who responded to our inquiry saw the connection between teaching and research as positive, finding the proximity to research stimulating and the quality of teachers' scholarship enhanced. They also identified some negative effects such as cancelled classes and unavailability of lecturers. We conclude that, where research impacts negatively on teaching, the university authorities should be expected to address the deficiencies. (Paragraph 170)
60.Having examined the material supplied by DIUS we cannot see that convincing evidence is currently available to prove the assertion that good-quality research is essential for good teaching of undergraduates. In our view, the evidence is at best mixed and there may be different relationships between research and teaching not just across disciplines within institutions and even within departments and that across the sector these relationships may range from mutually supportive to antagonistic. We recommend that the Government commission and publish independent research in this area to inform future policy decisions. (Paragraph 172)
61.We consider that the extent to which undergraduates across the higher education sector are expected to carry out research as part of their programme of study and the extent to which those teaching and supervising such students need to be actively engaged in research themselves are both matters that should be addressed in the research which we recommend that the Government commissions. The results of this research may require a significant reassessment of where and how resources are allocated between teaching and research. (Paragraph 173)
62.We invite the Government in responding to this Report to comment on the proposition that one of the indicators of excellence to be taken into account by the Research Excellence Framework will be the demonstrable effect that research and teaching have on each other in institutions, and also the broader contribution which academics submitting to the REF make to pedagogic research and by implication pedagogic practice. (Paragraph 174)
63.We recommend that the Research Excellence Framework explicitly recognises and gives credence to research into pedagogy and the teaching within, and across, disciplines. (Paragraph 176)
64.We consider that the higher education sector needs to be clearer about the circumstances in which promotion and progression can be achieved on the basis of pedagogical skills, scholarship and expertise. We recommend that the Government require higher education institutions in receipt of public funds to ensure that they have put in place clear and effective criteria for appointments and promotions based on teaching. (Paragraph 178)
Higher Education Academy
65.First, if the Higher Education Academy is operating effectively and meeting its strategic aims, we consider that, working with the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, it should be able to play a key role in promoting and enhancing academic standards and in driving forward the changes we suggest are needed in this Report. If, however, the Academy is not working effectively we conclude that it will not be able to play its full part in promoting and enhancing academic standards in higher education. (Paragraph 180)
66.We recommend that HEFCE carry out a further evaluation of the operation and effectiveness of the Higher Education Academy by the end of the year and publish the evaluation. The operation and effectiveness of the Academy is an issue that our successor committee with responsibility for scrutinising higher education may wish to examine. (Paragraph 181)
67.We recommend that, whilst taking account of the work of the National Student Forum, as a condition of continued support the Government require the Higher Education Academy to establish its own student forum for the purpose of accessing directly the views and experiences of students, particularly in relation to its own areas of focus. In addition, we recommend that the Government review the operation and use by higher education institutions of the Academy's Professional Standards Framework and we recommend that the Government require the Academy to produce "steering" statements in relation to academic staff development as a means for improving the student experience. (Paragraph 183)
68.We recommend that the Government require the Higher Education Academy as a condition for continued support through HEFCE to develop arrangements to encourage established academic staff to engage in professional development in relation to their teaching responsibilities and to set up systems to record their development. In return for this support from the taxpayer through the Academy we expect higher education institutions to press their staff to continue their professional development. (Paragraph 184)
Teaching qualification and training
69.We conclude that all staff—new entrants, current staff and graduate students—in higher education who teach should be encouraged to obtain a higher education teaching qualification, which, depending on an individual's role and level of experience, should be achieved through initial training or on the basis of continuing professional development. (Paragraph 186)
70.We also recommend that the Government, in consultation with the higher education sector, including student representatives, review the use of graduate students in teaching roles and examine whether additional means of support—such as the development of mentoring arrangements and contracts of appointment—are required. (Paragraph 186)
71.We recommend that the Government in consultation with the higher education sector, including student representatives, draw-up and agree a strategy to require all university staff engaged in regular and significant teaching to undertake appropriate training in pedagogical skills and also to encourage staff across higher education institutions in England to obtain a professional teaching qualification. We further recommend that the Government require higher education institutions as a condition of support from the taxpayer to have in place programmes to enhance the teaching effectiveness of all academic staff who have teaching responsibilities. We recommend that, within its review processes, the QAA monitor and report on the extent to which institutions are demonstrably meeting this requirement. (Paragraph 187)
72.We conclude that the Government and the higher education sector, in consultation with student representatives, should draw up and implement arrangements applicable across the sector which allow students to convey concerns about poor teaching and which ensure that universities take effective remedial action. We consider that such arrangements once established should be subject to review by the Quality Assurance Agency to ensure that they allow students to convey concerns and that remedial action is taken, where warranted. (Paragraph 190)
73.We consider that all academic staff in higher education engaged in regular and significant teaching should be able to demonstrate the incorporation of up-to-date scholarship, research and professional practice into their teaching. (Paragraph 193)
Quality of feedback given by teachers to students
74.Whilst individual institutions may have developed effective institutional or course-based guidance, we conclude that there is a need for a code of practice across the higher education sector, which builds on the QAA's "Code of practice for the assurance of academic quality and standards in higher education Section 6: Assessment of students". It is our view that, whether at the level of module, course, department or institution, students should be provided with more personalised information about the intended parameters of their own assessment experience. It is unacceptable and disheartening for any piece of work whether good, average or poor to be returned to a student with only a percentage mark and no comments or with feedback but after such a long time that the feedback is ineffective. We recommend that the Government require the Higher Education Academy to draw up, in consultation with the higher education sector, including representative students, a code of practice on (i) the timing, (ii) the quantity, and (iii) the format and content of feedback and require higher education institutions to demonstrate how they are following the Code when providing feedback to students in receipt of support from the taxpayer. (Paragraph 196)
75.We conclude that it is simplistic and unsatisfactory for higher education institutions to be seen to rely on the fact that international students continue to apply as evidence that standards are being maintained. It is absurd and disreputable to justify academic standards with a market mechanism. (paragraph 201)
76.The question of whether higher education offers graduates a suitable preparation both lifelong and lifewide in a changing world (see paragraph 7) is another matter, which our successor committee with responsibility for scrutinising higher education may wish to examine. (paragraph 203)
77.The public purse supports higher education to the tune of £15 billion and it is essential those studying at higher education institutions are awarded degrees that measure accurately and consistently the intellectual development and skills that students have achieved. We consider that it is essential that a body concerns itself with assuring the comparability of standards both between institutions and over time. (paragraph 208)
The Quality Assurance Agency
78.In our view, it is matter of some regret—and a symptom of complacency—that it was only after pressure from outside the higher education sector, that is, the media, ministers and us that it appears that the QAA used the "cause for concern" process to examine more generally institutions' capacity to assure the academic standards and quality of their higher education programmes and awards. We consider that the QAA needs to make up for lost time and develop its expertise in this area. In addition, we consider that the Government and higher education institutions must find the resources to support this endeavour. (paragraph 216)
79.In our view a body with responsibilities for standards which has as its primary function promoting UK higher education would be misconceived and likely to undermine faith in the quality of higher education. (paragraph 218)
80.We consider that in not judging "the standards themselves", the QAA is taking an unduly limited view of its potential role. (paragraph 219)
81.We have concluded that, on balance, the QAA, rather than be abolished, should be reformed and re-established as a Quality and Standards Agency—possibly by Royal Charter (which was the arrangement used to set up the former Council for National Academic Awards)—with the responsibility for maintaining consistent, national standards in higher education institutions in England and for monitoring and reporting on standards. We also recommend that the remit of the new body include—if necessary, on the basis of statute—a duty to safeguard, and report on, standards in higher education in England. It should also report annually on standards to Parliament. We further recommend that, to ensure its independence, the funding of the Agency's activities in England be provided through a mechanism requiring half its funding to be provided by the Higher Education Funding Council for England and half from levies on higher education institutions in England. In making these recommendations we are looking to see a fundamental change in the operation of the QAA and that, if this cannot be achieved within two years, the QAA/Quality and Standards Agency should be abolished and an entirely new organisation be established in its place. (paragraph 220)
Variations in demands made of students
82.We conclude that it appears that different levels of effort are required in different universities to obtain degrees in similar subjects, which may suggest that different standards may be being applied. Furthermore, the HEPI studies' consistent message is that more research is necessary in this vital area of student contact, and we conclude that those responsible for standards in higher education (both institutions and the sector level bodies) should ensure that such research is carried out. (paragraph 222)
83.We recommend that the Government investigate and establish whether students in England spend significantly less time studying, which includes lectures, contact time with academic staff and private study, than their counterparts overseas and that, if this proves to be the case, establish what effect this has on the standards of degrees awarded by the higher education sector in England. (paragraph 224)
Assessment of teaching quality
84.We conclude that the reformed QAA's new remit should include the review of, and reporting, on the quality of teaching in universities and, where shortcomings are identified, ensuring that they are reported publicly and addressed by the institution concerned. We also conclude that the QAA should develop its current policy of giving greater attention to institutions' policies and procedures in relation to improving quality and that the QAA should produce more guidance and feedback based on its institutional reviews. (paragraph 226)
Institutional accreditation
85.We recommend that all higher education institutions in England have their accreditation to award degrees reviewed no less often than every 10 years by the reformed QAA. Where the Agency concludes that all or some of an institution's powers should be withdrawn, we recommend that the Government draw up and put in place arrangements which would allow accreditation to award degrees to be withdrawn or curtailed by the Agency. (paragraph 229)
86.We recommend that the reformed QAA have powers to carry out reviews of the quality of, and standards applied in, the assessment arrangements for an institution's courses, including, if necessary, its degree awarding powers, in response to external examiners' or public concerns about the standards in an institution or at the direction of the Secretary of State. (paragraph 230)
87.We see grounds for concluding that the system for reviewing the concerns of academics about standards needs to be rebalanced to provide greater protection for those raising concerns alongside a clear move to independent and external review. Our initial view is that such a service which provides, for example, independent arbitration and adjudication might be the responsibility of a reformed QAA. We also recommend that Government bring forward legislation to strengthen the whistle-blowing procedures in the 1988 Education Reform Act to provide greater protection to academics. We are reluctant to go further and to reach firm conclusions without carrying out a more detailed inquiry into adequacy of the protection for whistle-blowers within higher education—and this is an issue that a successor committee with responsibility for scrutinising higher education may wish to return to—but on the basis of the evidence from individual academics and the UCU we consider that there could be a systematic problem here. (paragraph 235)
88.The case of Mr Cairns, the details of which we set out in chapter 6 of this Report, reinforces our uneasiness about the adequacy of the internal systems within higher education institutions to resolve disputes involving those who raise concerns about standards. In our view, the ability of an academic to appeal to an external, independent body would provide a safety-value for potentially explosive disputes. (paragraph 236)
The autonomy of higher education institutions
89.We recommend that the Government request HEFCE, the higher education sector and student bodies to draw up, and seek to agree, a concordat defining those areas over which universities have autonomy, including a definition of academic freedom and, on the other side, those areas where the Government, acting on behalf of the taxpayer, can reasonably and legitimately lay down requirements or intervene. (paragraph 242)
Degree classification
90.We recommend that the Higher Education Funding Council for England commission a study to examine the influences upon the classification of honours degrees since 1994 and that this be undertaken in a representative range of subject disciplines. (paragraph 251)
91.We consider that so long as there is a classification system it is essential that it should categorise all degrees against a consistent set of standards across all higher education institutions in England. (Paragraph 251)
92.We conclude that a key task of a reformed QAA, in consultation with higher education institutions and government, should be to define the characteristics of each class of honours degree and to ensure that the standards which each university draws up and applies are derived from these classification standards. (Paragraph 256)
Methods of assessment
93.We recommend that the government require those higher education institutions in receipt of support from the taxpayer to publish the details of the methodological assumptions underpinning assessments for all degrees. (paragraph 260)
94.We conclude that the QAA should review the methodological assumptions underpinning assessments for degrees to ensure that they meet acceptable statistical practice. (paragraph 260)
Record of achievement
95.We conclude that the HEAR and the current honours degree classification system should run in parallel for at least five years. (paragraph 264)
96.We conclude that the Higher Education Achievement Report (HEAR) should record academic achievement and reflect significant non-academic achievement. The record will, however, need to be carefully structured to enable a convenient reading of academic achievement separate from other activity. Furthermore, we consider that, as part of the review of the HEAR pilot, various good practice models incorporating the range of academic and non-academic elements, should be provided to enable those who will use the HEAR—for example, employers, those providing training and students themselves—to gain ready access to the information required. (paragraph 266)
External examiners
97.The starting point for the repair of the external examiner system is the recommendation made by the Dearing Report to the Quality Assurance Agency "to work with universities and other degree awarding institutions to create, within three years, a UK-wide pool of academic staff recognised by the Quality Assurance Agency, from which institutions must select external examiners". We conclude that the sector should now implement this recommendation. Drawing on the evidence we received we would add that the reformed QAA should be given the responsibility of ensuring that the system of external examiners works and that, to enable comparability, the QAA should ensure that standards are applied consistently across institutions. We strongly support the development of a national "remit" for external examiners, clarifying, for example, what documents external examiners should be able to access, the extent to which they can amend marks—in our view, they should have wide discretion—and the matters on which they can comment. This should be underpinned with an enhanced system of training, which would allow examiners to develop the generic skills necessary for multi-disciplinary courses. We conclude that higher education institutions should only employ external examiners from the national pool. The system should also be transparent and we conclude that, to assist current and prospective students, external examiners' reports should be published without redaction, other than to remove material which could be used to identify an individual's mark or performance. (paragraph 273)
98.We conclude that the growth in opportunities for plagiarism is such that the sector needs to be especially vigilant, establish the application of consistent approaches across the sector and ensure that it fully shares intelligence. We recognise that many students accused of plagiarism may be guilty of little more than failing to reference sources correctly and that the majority of students are conscientious and act in good faith. Given, however, the scale and potential for damage to the reputation of English universities it is vital that the problem is held in check and then progressively "educated" and "managed" out of the system. We recommend that the Government, in consultation with the higher education sector including students' representatives, put in place arrangements to establish standards, which set out what is and what is not plagiarism, ensure that comprehensive guidance is available across the sector, and co-ordinate action to combat plagiarism. One possible candidate for this work is the Higher Education Academy working with the reformed QAA. We also request that the Government, in responding to this Report, advise whether those providing or using so-called "writing services", to produce work which students can misrepresent as their own, are liable for criminal prosecution. (paragraph 279)
Manchester Metropolitan University
99.In this chapter we set out the circumstances of the case concerning Mr Cairns and Manchester Metropolitan University and our conclusions, which are for the House. (Paragraph 280)
100.The correct course for the University, if it had wished to challenge Mr Cairns' evidence, was to submit its own memorandum to the inquiry. (Paragraph 288)
101.In our view the action of the Vice-Chancellor and the Academic Board of Manchester Metropolitan University on 18 March 2009 in removing Mr Cairns from the Board could be regarded as interference with a witness and therefore a prima facie breach of privilege. If matters had remained there we would have consulted the Liaison Committee and requested the House to refer the matter to the Committee on Standards and Privileges. (Paragraph 291)
102.We found the decision whether to ask the House to refer the University's actions to the Committee on Standards and Privileges a very finely balanced one. In the end because the University has expressed regrets—albeit with reservations—and because Mr Cairns has rejoined the Academic Board, we have concluded that, while it is right to bring this serious matter to the attention of the House in this Report, in the circumstances we should not ask the House to refer the matter to the Committee on Standards and Privileges. We must, however, put on record that we deprecate the behaviour of the Vice-Chancellor and the members of the Academic Board of Manchester Metropolitan University not only for removing Mr Cairns from the Board on 18 March 2009, particularly as it appears without giving Mr Cairns the opportunity to respond, but also for the manner in which they have handled the matter since the events of 18 March. Having accepted that they made an error, the Vice-Chancellor and Academic Board should simply have accepted the consequence of their mistake, apologised and speedily restored Mr Cairns. (Paragraph 294)
103.We make it clear to Manchester Metropolitan University and to the higher education institutions in general that putting obstacles in the way of, or seeking to discourage through criticism, those who put evidence to Parliament or its committees are matters that we deprecate. We reiterate that the correct course for the University, if it had wished to challenge Ms Evans' evidence, was to submit its own memorandum to the inquiry. (Paragraph 297)
The higher education sector
104.We conclude that one of the challenges the higher education sector faces over the next decade is to develop greater openness and transparency in relation to, for example, academic standards, external examiners and the safeguarding of the student experience. (Paragraph 300)
Evidence for the formulation of policy
105.We are concerned that the higher education sector's lack of interest in research into parts of its own operation might be seen as a symptom of complacency and a reluctance to test and challenge assumptions, some of which in an increasingly global market for higher education may be outmoded. We see a role for Government here to identify, commission and publicise research on the operation of the higher education sector in England. (Paragraph 304)
106.It is unacceptable for the sector to be in receipt of departmental spending of £15 billion but be unable to answer a straightforward question about the relative standards of the degrees of the students, which the taxpayer has paid for. (Paragraph 305)
Quality and standards agency
107.We are clear that the sector needs to address the question of standards now. We have called for a new quality and standards agency, answerable jointly to higher education institutions and the Government, and reporting annually to Parliament. We envisage that such a body, expanding significantly from the work that the Quality Assurance Agency has done, will build and rejuvenate the limbs of the existing system that until relatively recently was working well—in particular, the system of external examiners—and to provide the best way to safeguard the integrity of standards in English higher education institutions. (Paragraph 307)
108.It will also naturally be part of such a development that the relationship between this new agency and the Higher Education Academy be reviewed, including clarification of the key responsibility for quality enhancement in regard to the student experience. Although we had reservations about the operation of the Academy, it could and, we believe, should have a key role in promoting and enhancing academic standards. (Paragraph 308)
109.  The key to the successful transformation of higher education in England in the next decade will be to move away from a culture fixated on the most prestigious research-intensive universities and the results of the Research Assessment Exercise (and its replacement) to one where other models of study and university can thrive and excellence is recognised and rewarded for teaching supported by scholarship. (Paragraph 309)

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