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


Memorandum 50

Submission from Million+

INTRODUCTION

Million+

  1.  Million+ is a university think-tank with 28 subscribing universities. Million+ welcomes the opportunity to submit evidence to this inquiry. These universities have their own diversity and specialisms and provide a network of institutions that promote aspiration, excellence and innovation, teaching the majority of the UK's higher education students, with centres of excellent research of international significance and strong profiles in excellent research of national significance and knowledge transfer.

SUMMARY

    — Universities which recruit the majority of the UK's higher education students have recruitment and admissions strategies which are not restricted to the September semester and which recognise more than 1000 pre-entry qualifications and Accredited Prior Experiential Learning.— Proposals to allow Sector Skills Councils to approve qualifications alongside a light touch qualifications framework remain a significant concern.— Increasing participation and widening participation in HE are key goals and should not be counter-posed against each other.

    — Policy drivers and funding regimes (teaching, research and student support) are not geared to enhance the reputation and resources of the all of universities.

    — Hefce proposals to transfer £30 million from retention to school-college-university partnerships redefine widening participation and are opposed by Universities which have successfully delivered WP.

    — The prospects of increasing and widening participation have been limited by the decision of DIUS to restrict Additional Student Numbers.

    — The omission of part-time students from the 2004 HE Act means that income streams incentivise full-time provision with a differential impact in terms of income and funding that favours institutions with full-time student profiles.

    — Fundamental differentials between public funding streams for teaching and research have arisen as a result of the skewed distribution of Quality-Related research funding since 2002.

    — In the same period teaching funding has had to accommodate continued growth in student numbers, and other strategic developments and there has not been the same stable investment in teaching funding and infrastructure.

    — Assessing excellence in teaching is complex and requires collection and triangulation of data from a number of sources.

    — The Academic Infrastructure and Quality Assurance system in the UK is unique and adds to the reputation of UK Universities internationally.

    — The development of the Higher Education Academic Record (HEAR) should be supported.

    — The student support package is complex, has been subject of piecemeal amendment and undermines widening participation. There remains an unanswerable case for a national bursary scheme.

    — Universities are not funded for students who do not complete and retention strategies are integral to the university's activities.

ADMISSIONS

  2.  Admissions for full-time undergraduate students are administered by a central body, the Universities & Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS). This is a structured system that dictates submission of material to a strict timetable and is not mirrored globally. In Australia and the USA, many universities operate common university application processes, though others manage their own admissions. The UK is one of the few countries which has no system of post-qualification admission (PQA).

3.  Part-time students and international students apply directly to UK institutions - a fact that is not always taken into account when UCAS figures for applications are announced.

  4.  Universities decide whether to make an offer to the applicant, usually conditional on achieving specified grades/UCAS points. If the offers made by universities are conditional, an applicant may accept two offers, of which one is their firm (or first) choice. The other, is their insurance choice. Applicants who receive no offers or who choose to decline all the offers they receive can elect to enter the UCAS EXTRA system from late February. Applicants who apply after 30 June, or who hold no offers after that date can enter the clearing system.

  5.  All Universities have highly selective courses for which there is great competition. However, Universities which have a tradition of widening participation have targeted and focused strategies and are involved in a complex and lengthy recruitment and admissions processes. Clearing is a crucial part of the admissions process because it provides an opportunity for students who may still be thinking about university to finalise their interest. It is not just a process to redistribute students to institutions which have capacity.

  6.  The common view that the admission process commences a year prior to admission and is largely complete by the end of June/by the end of clearing, leads to many misconceptions about the "standard" student, the process and its relationship with the business model in mixed economy universities. These universities recruit standard and widening participation students following different modes of study with funding from sources other than Hefce eg NHS, TTA.

ADMISSIONS AND QUALIFICATIONS

  7.  Universities which recruit the majority of the UK's higher education students:

    — Recognise more than 1000 pre-entry qualifications and Accredited Prior Experiential Learning (APEL).

    — Take into account professional body requirements over an extensive range of courses eg for teachers, social workers, nurses, midwives and professions allied to medicine, the law.

    — Encourage and support potential students who have expressed an interest in attending university to apply well before and well beyond the June "deadline".

    — Take into account the results of vocational qualifications which are published much later than the August A-level results.

    — Recruit students who are not in pre-education eg students who are registered as unemployed, mature students (post 25) who are in employment but wish to commence HE study on either a full time or a part-time basis and students on more than one semester in the year for some courses.

  8.  Universities which run flexible admission and qualifications strategies will have little difficulty in recognising Advanced Diplomas. While the Government has a stated commitment to progression to HE from apprenticeships, pathways of progression must be secured and advanced apprenticeships supported where required eg the newer creative industries.

  9.  Proposals to allow the Sector Skills Councils to approve qualifications alongside a light touch qualifications framework remain a concern. A proliferation of SSC qualifications with weak progression routes to HE is unlikely to be of advantage to learners. This approach stands in sharp contrast to the involvement of universities in the development of 14-19 Diplomas.

UNIVERSITY ENTRANCE TESTS

  10.  It is undoubtedly the case that university entrance tests can act as a further barrier in what is already a complex process, can be costly and are the subject of coaching. These tests differ in purpose from the other pre-entry conditions eg pre-interview, auditions/portfolios which would continue to apply in the event that Post Qualifications Admissions (PQA) was introduced.

PRE-ENTRY QUALIFICATIONS

  11.  Pre-entry qualifications are also bedeviled by a hierarchy of value that often goes unchallenged. It is difficult to see why universities should effectively call the shots on subject choice (years 8 and 10) and vocational qualifications on the basis that they are allegedly not as academically challenging as others. This rules out applicants and becomes part of a covert screening process which is not subject to any robust external analysis, leading to differential institutional values being ascribed to Universities. There is a risk that improved Information, Advice and Guidance simply endorses this hierarchy and fails to challenge the presumptions that lie behind the differential recognition pre-entry qualifications.

HE PARTICIPATION TARGETS

  12.  Government targets have ensured a welcome focus on HE participation of 18-30 year olds in the UK which remains 8-10% below that of some other OECD competitors and the OECD average. The targets have also provided a focus on differentials in participation by different groups of students.

13.  Increasing participation in HE has been confused with widening participation. Criticism of the former because it has not delivered the latter is misplaced: increasing participation and widening participation in HE are both key goals and should not be counter-posed against each other.

  14.  Social class differentials in HE participation rates are key to understanding under-representation. When analysed by institution, the most significant contribution to widening participation has been made by mixed economy institutions with a strategic focus to deliver both increased and widening participation and with the flexible admissions and targeted recruitment policies previously outlined.

  15.  Policy drivers and funding regimes (teaching, research and student support) have not been re-geared to enhance the reputation and resources of many universities. Funding policies continued to focus on "standard" students, full-time provision and research concentration, which are mirrored in the creation of league tables. There has been no attempt by DIUS or the Funding Councils to moderate the effects of league tables. Hefce's own research report[153] confirmed that league tables were at best opaque and triggered perverse institutional behaviour. Widening participation continues to pose institutional risks which are not ameliorated either by values or funding regimes.

FAIR ACCESS AND ADMISSIONS POLICIES: POST QUALIFICATION ADJUSTMENT PERIOD

  16.  DIUS has promoted amendments to the admission procedure to allow a Post Qualification Adjustment period (PQAP) with effect from 2009-10. This would allow students who achieve better A-level grades than predicted grades to hold their firm offer but explore opportunities for admission to other universities. This will delay and disadvantage the great majority of students and universities for whom clearing is an integral part of the admissions and recruitment process, add to complexity because the current system works on UCAS points (rather than better grades) and fail to take into account vocational qualifications where candidates are frequently awarded a pass or fail rather than a grade. PQAP is opposed by many universities.

17.  DIUS interest in university admission policies continues to focus on a widening access to Oxbridge and a small number of universities to a relatively small number of students. There is a danger of distracting attention from the changes needed to pursue successful widening participation strategies on a wider scale. This underestimates the far greater scale of social mobility achieved by other universities. When comparisons are made between socio-economic occupational backgrounds of students at the point of entry compared to three years after graduation, mixed economy universities achieve a far greater scale of social mobility.

COMPACT AND PASSPORT SCHEMES

  18.  DIUS/DCFS policy has recently sought to emphasise the value of school-university partnerships. There is nothing new about these partnerships or the Compact and Passport schemes which mixed economy Universities have integrated into their admissions and recruitment strategies eg the passport scheme at the University of Teesside has been running since 1999.

PROPOSED TRANSFER OF FUNDING FROM HE STUDENTS

  19.  Hefce proposals for a new formula for the allocation of funds for widening participation[154] severely disadvantages universities in London (eg Greenwich, Kingston) which have been at the forefront of opening up opportunities to students from non-traditional backgrounds. Some are set to lose over £500,000 pa. Hefce has also proposed a £30 million shift from retention (ie the teaching of HE students) to school-college-university partnerships. This has been opposed by Universities which have successfully delivered WP.

HE PARTICIPATION TARGETS AND RESTRICTION OF ADDITIONAL STUDENT NUMBERS (ASNS)

  20.  The prospects of increasing and widening participation have been further limited by the decision of DIUS to restrict ASNs in 2009/10. As a result that there has been no transparent decision-making strategy to allocate ASNs: universities which over-recruited in 08/09 are being allowed to recruit to the same numbers in 09/10; others which had not yet submitted a bid for ASNs for 09/10 (often those with longer admissions and recruitment cycles) are potentially not allowed any growth; HEI forward strategic plans have been stymied; investment in university/higher education centres has been committed although no ASNs may now be available. Universities that lost ELQ numbers and funding which planned to expand ASNs have not been prioritised.

BALANCE BETWEEN TEACHING AND RESEARCH

Differential funding

  21.  The UK Government has undoubtedly sought to address historic under-funding of universities which had arisen in the previous decade. However, the 1.07% of GDP spent on HE in the UK's still compares unfavourably with Canada (1.88%), the USA (1.41%) and Australia (1.19%).

22.  The omission of part-time students from the 2004 HE Act means income streams incentivise full-time provision with differential impact in terms of income and funding streams that favour institutions with full-time student profiles.[155]

23.  Fundamental differences between public funding streams for teaching and research have arisen as a result of the distribution of Quality-Related research funding since 2002. This has been compounded by the decision of the then Secretary of State[156] to ask Hefce to prioritise excellent research of international significance in the 5 year QR funding period (04/05-08/09).

  24.  In the same period teaching funding has had to accommodate continued growth in student numbers, and other strategic developments. This differential funding has been reflected in subsequent grant letters eg in 2006-07[157] Hefce recurrent grant for teaching rose by 5.3% but was required to fund 23,000 additional students and other initiatives whereas both research funding and capital investment increased by 8%. Similarly in 2007-08[158] recurrent grant for teaching rose by 4.4% and was required to fund an additional 25,000 students while research funding rose by 6.9%.

ROLE OF UNIVERSITIES

  25.  Financial support for the development of teaching has been initiative driven and infrastructure has not benefitted from the same stability and investment as research. £2.5 million, £7.5 and £15 million were allocated to support research-informed teaching from 04/05 - 07/08,[159] sums which were unlikely to make any significant difference. Their allocation reflects a misunderstanding of the role of universities as outlined in the Magna Carta Universitatum which underpins the Bologna Declaration, that teaching and research in universities must be inseparable if their tuition is not to lag behind changing needs, the demands of society and advances in scientific knowledge.

26.  The continued failure of current funding regimes to support research infrastructure and capability in all universities including those which have strong profiles in excellent research of national significance remains a critical issue. This failure limits the student experience since students attending universities in which QR funding has been concentrated inevitably benefit from improved facilities and infrastructure.

ASSESSING EXCELLENCE

  27.  Negative consequences of the RAE include; poaching of staff, department closure and separation between teaching and research as activities and a hierarchy of value. The application of the RAE as a tool to judge excellence and determine research funding remains in doubt. In spite of the pre-eminence of the USA in research, no similar exercise is deployed to research funding regimes.

28.  Assessing excellence in teaching is complex and requires collection and triangulation of data from a number of sources eg student achievement, progression, NSS, appraisal systems and staff PDPs and poses a number of challenges.

  29.  The extent to which teaching and learning is or should be exemplified in academic career paths has to be a matter for Universities. Academic roles vary between disciplines and within institutions. The work of the Higher Education Academy[160] is helpful. The Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) publishes themes designed to enhance strategies and promote best practice.

DEGREE CLASSIFICATION

Relationship with Quality Assurance

  30.  The UK Academic Infrastructure consists of 4 inter-related elements; the Code of Practice for the assurance of academic quality and standards, Frameworks for HE in the nations of the UK, subject Benchmark statements and programme specifications backed by QAA review (institutional audit). All universities subscribe to the Academic Infrastructure and QAA judges the extent to which institutions apply it in managing standards and course quality. The Academic Infrastructure in the UK is unique, envied in other countries and adds to the reputation of UK Universities internationally and should undoubtedly be retained.

ADVANTAGES TO DEVELOPING THE HIGHER EDUCATION ACADEMIC RECORD (HEAR)

  31.  The Burgess report (2007) rightly recognised that there were "highly compelling" factors to support a review of the UK's degree classification system. Employers use the current degree classification system and university attended as a shorthand way of screening applicants; this is unlikely to do justice to the full range of student experience and achievement or all UK universities.

32.  Burgess concluded that, HEAR based on the current academic transcript, and incorporating the European Diploma Supplement, should be developed to record all university-level undergraduate student achievement in all UK universities. HEAR could include information about academic credit and link to a national credit framework. The development of HEAR is helpful and is being trialled by 20 universities.

STUDENT SUPPORT AND ENGAGEMENT

Student Support Packages

  33.  43% of all HE students are part-time but under the 2004 HE Act these students in England are not entitled to access income-contingent loans for tuition fees unlike full-time students. The whole support package is complex, has been subject of piecemeal amendment and undermines widening participation[161] and retention because full-time students who want or need to switch into part-time study face a more hostile funding regime.

NATIONAL BURSARY SCHEME

  34.  Universities with the majority of widening participation students inevitably have more students who are eligible for bursaries (statutory and institutional). Students from exactly the same financial background currently receive different bursaries according to where they choose (or are able) to study and according to which course they choose to study. This student and institutional inequity cannot be justified. There is an unanswerable case for a national bursary scheme.

DEBT AND STUDENT NUMBERS

  35.  Whatever the costs to students and graduates of servicing individual debt, the cost to the DIUS and the Exchequer of servicing the loan and repayment system upon which the current support package for full-time students relies, is the primary reason why growth in student numbers is now stymied.

RETENTION

  36.  Retention rates in UK universities compare favourably with those in other OECD countries and media reporting of so-called "drop-out" is at best unhelpful. Students from under-represented groups are more likely to face financial problems, have less experience in study skills, balance study and part-time/full-time work have more caring responsibilities than other students, may need to study on a flexible basis and are more at risk of non-completion.

37.  HESA statistics which report non-continuation do not capture the fact that many students drop-out for a combination of life-style reasons. Universities are not funded for students who do not complete and retention strategies are integral to the university's activities.

RETHINKING WORKING CLASS "DROP-OUT" FROM HE.

  38.  There is also a need to redefine "failure". Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation[162] confirmed that most working class students who left early had gained skills, confidence and life experience from their time at university - and that the majority re-entered university later. Working class students who withdraw early to refocus and re-enter education are the real lifelong learners. The current system does not facilitate flexible lifelong learning. Funding regimes need to catch up with the institutional needs and costs of widening participation students whether they study on a full or flexible basis and whether they are younger or mature entrants.

December 2008







153   Counting what is measured or measuring what counts? Hefce (CHERI,OU and Hobsons) Hefce April 2008 Back

154   Future support for teaching enhancement and widening participation Hefce November 2008 Back

155   Part-time Study in Higher Education Prof Christine King, Staffordshire University, September 2008 Back

156   Grant letter to Hefce Rt Hon Charles Clarke 22 January 2003 Back

157   Grant letter to Hefce Rt Hon Ruth Kelly MP 31 January 2006 Back

158   Grant letter to Hefce Rt Hon Alan Johnson MP 11 January 2007 Back

159   Grant letter to Hefce Rt Hon Charles Clarke 22 January 2003 Back

160   Established in 2004 as an independent company owned by UUK and GuildHE Back

161   Reality Check: student finance regimes Million+/London Economics November 2007 Back

162   From life crisis to lifelong learning: rethinking working class "drop-out" from higher education, Joseph Rowntree, November 2005. Back


 
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