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

Memorandum 28

Submission from the University Alliance


  The University Alliance is a group of 24 Universities (20 in England, four in Wales) including pre- and post-1992 institutions who are not members of the Russell, 1994 or Million+ groups. English members of the Alliance are Bournemouth, Bradford, De Montfort, Gloucestershire, Hertfordshire, Huddersfield, Institute of Education, Kent, Lincoln, Liverpool John Moores, Manchester Metropolitan, Northumbria, Nottingham Trent, Open, Oxford Brookes, Plymouth, Portsmouth, Salford, Sheffield Hallam, West of England; our Welsh members are Aberystwyth, Glamorgan, UWIC, Newport.

Our evidence follows the structure given on the Committee website:


the effectiveness of the process for admission to Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), including A-levels, Advanced Diplomas, apprenticeships and university entrance tests

  1.  Our institutions have a mix of "selecting" and "recruiting" courses and believe that the current arrangements for undergraduate admissions through UCAS work well, and enable universities to optimise their positions each year with a considerable degree of certainty. We already accept a wide range of qualifications and will encourage applicants with Diplomas to apply to us. However, we are concerned that the system is becoming more complex, and that students are confused as there is a lack of clarity about the nature and purpose of newer qualifications. For example, Diploma names make them appear to be sector specific, yet they are being promoted as alternatives to more general A-level qualifications.

the UK's ability to meet government targets for Higher Education participation and the relevance of these targets

2.  The present constraints on funded numbers will prevent the achievement of the 50% target; our members expect a downturn in employer-based participation during the economic downturn.

the implementation and success of widening participation initiatives such as Compact agreements, and the impact of the current funding regime on these objectives

3.  Alliance members are successful in widening participation, and welcome continued funding of initiatives such as Aim Higher.

the role of the Government in developing and promoting fair access and admissions policies for the UK Higher Education sector

4.  Alliance members support fair access and admissions policies. We believe that the present student funding arrangements (both those run centrally and those of individual institutions) are unnecessarily complex and may limit the ability of students from under-represented groups to make a reasoned choice between institutions. The government will wish to monitor and incentivise fair access schemes, but their development should be the responsibility of autonomous institutions.


levels of funding for, and the balance between, teaching and research in UK HEIs, and the adequacy of financial support for the development of innovative teaching methods and teaching/research integration

  5.  Alliance members are all research active and benefit to varying extents from QR funding (as determined by the 2001 RAE). We oppose any further intensification of selectivity in research funding, and particularly any attempt to move away from the current policy of funding excellence wherever it is found. We are well placed to develop staff research profiles, recognizing that some will then move on to work at more research-intensive institutions. However, in areas of excellence we also attract staff from more research-intensive universities. We oppose the introduction of earmarked streams of funding for the development of innovative teaching methods and teaching/research integration, as our preference is to ensure that teaching is adequately funded to enable institutions to make these investments out of their block grants.

the quality of teaching provision and learning facilities in UK and the extent to which they vary between HEIs

6.  We believe that the quality of teaching provision and learning facilities in the UK is high as evidenced by the relatively small number of serious issues raised in institutional visits by QAA. However, the position is fragile as both infrastructure spending and staff-student ratios are threatened by the level of capital and recurrent funding. There will always be variability between institutions, depending on the investment history and estate condition of particular HEIs. Adequate and predictable capital funding (or recurrent funding sufficient to service capital needs) is always needed by every institution.

the suitability of methods of assessing excellence in teaching and research and the impact of research assessment on these activities

7.  We support the use of the national Student Survey to gain information on the quality of the student experience. QAA reviews tend to be too detailed, and not focused sufficiently on developmental issues. It is very important that the quality of teaching and of the student experience are measured in relation to the output. Simple measures of inputs, such as contact hours, can be very misleading where students are given support in a variety of ways, including through major investments in electronic resources. Alliance members support the use of a Research assessment process which includes a significant element of periodic peer review. We have many instances of innovative and selective investment in research, and a periodic RAE is helpful in gaining external input on the success of our investments. We will be concerned if the research assessment methodology focuses significantly in bibliometric indices because these are often flawed and open to manipulation through self citation or agreements to cite.

the availability and adequacy of training in teaching methods for UK academics and the importance of teaching excellence for the academic career path, including consideration of the role of teaching fellows

8.  Our members expect new teachers to receive training through a postgraduate certificate or equivalent. There are problems with gaining independent assessments of teaching contributions which are comparable with the relatively straightforward peer review of research. Alliance members strongly value the teaching contribution of staff and support the work of the HE Academy in advising on appropriate methodologies for rewarding for teaching excellence.

the responsibilities of the Government and HEFCE in assuring (a) the quality of teaching provision and learning opportunities in UK HEIs; and (b) the balance between teaching and research in HEIs

9.  The fundamental responsibility for both quality and the balance of activity lies with autonomous institutions, though external assurance is also necessary (QAA, NSS, RAE). Government and HEFCE control funding streams and therefore are bound to influence the priorities of institutions.


whether the methodologies used by UK HEIs to determine degree classifications and the distribution of degree classes awarded are appropriate, the potential methodologies for the standardisation of degree classifications within, and between, HEIs, and the effectiveness of the Quality Assurance Agency in monitoring degree standards

  10.  The most effective form of assurance of standards lies in the external examiner system, and the use of external assessors in the validation of programmes. Alliance members support the development of more detailed statements of student achievement (such as transcripts) but are concerned that many employers want a simple summary measure to make at least their first selection of potential graduate employees.

the advantages and disadvantages of the UK's system of degree classification and the introduction of the Higher Education Academic Record

11.  See above.

the actions that universities, Government and others have taken, or should take, to maintain confidence in the value of degrees awarded by universities in the UK

12.  See above.

the relationship between degree classification and portability

13.  Alliance members believe that it is very important to increase the portability of credit between institutions, particularly for students who are also in work and whose place of employment might change. Degree classification is not a major issue here: the questions lie in the acceptability of credit across institutions.

the extent to which student plagiarism is a problem in HE, and the availability and effectiveness of strategies to identify, penalise and combat plagiarism

14.  Alliance members have robust mechanisms for the detection of plagiarism, and do not believe that the issue compromises the overall quality of qualifications achieved. We believe that the longer term solution lies in ensuring that students are appropriately trained in the appropriate conventions to be used when quoting the work of another. This can be a cultural issue, particularly for some students from overseas.


the effectiveness of initiatives to support student engagement in the formulation of HE policy, and how the success or otherwise of these initiatives is being assessed

  15.  We do not see strong engagement of students in the formulation of HE policy at a national level. The introduction of the new rules relating to ELQs, and the more recent changes in the student finance regulations bear no evidence of student consultation.

how the student experience differs in public and private universities

16.  We have no evidence to offer.

examples of reasons for, and potential strategies to reduce, the non-completion of higher education programmes by students

17.  We believe that completion rates could be improved if there was parity of funding between full- and part-time routes and if there were more straightforward ways to transfer between full and part-time study without forfeiting financial support. The UK has very high completion rates in comparison with other countries and this is evidence of the high level of personal support given to students in our universities.

the adequacy of UK higher education (HE) funding and student support packages, and implications for current and future levels of student debt

18.  Alliance members are concerned to ensure that the current level of public funding for teaching, including the capital element is sustained or increased. As mentioned above, some aspects of our current excellent provision would be threatened by funding cuts. We are concerned at the level of student debt, and would not wish to see changes that materially increase that burden.

any further action required by the Government and/or HEFCE to ensure that UK HEIs offer students a world-class educational experience

19.  Continuing recognition of the importance of institutional autonomy and of the importance of all types of institution to the achievement of national priorities for skills development, research, innovation and economic progress.

We are concerned that new immigration rules, including the points based immigration system will restrict the ability of academic experts to work in the UK, and so reduce opportunities for UK students to have a fully international experience with exposure to the best academics from across the world.

January 2009

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