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

Memorandum 55

Submission from the University of the Creative Arts



  The University of the Creative Arts (UCA) is a specialist art and design institution. In the following report to the Select Committee on Students and Universities, the UCA has identified a number of threats and opportunities for the sector:


    — the impact of the cessation of route B entry on recruitment to art and design courses;— the affect of restrictions on funding for student growth (particularly ASNs and ELQs) and the consequent implications for widening participation and learning and teaching initiatives;— the number of different agencies presenting Compact Agreements and consequent confusion in the market;

    — the need for more parity in recognition of the value of learning and teaching alongside research;

    — the affect of bibliometrics as a measure of success for research funding;


    — working with the community to increase participation in HE;— further development of activities to increase participation and enhance on-course support for students from non-traditional backgrounds;

    — anticipation of the benefits of peer review in RAE and audit;

    — HEAR providing greater transparency for stakeholders.


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

  1.1  UCA takes account of academic qualifications and portfolio submission in admissions. The UCAS tariff contributes to effective decision making. The welcomes further developments in the tariff.

1.2  The use of predicted grades continues to be helpful, although somewhat unpredictable. Portfolio submission aids in the selection process as quality of work can support predicted grades. A post qualification application process (PQA) would support realistic offers based on actual, rather than expected, achievement.

1.3  The introduction of the 14-19 Diplomas will benefit vocational routes into HEI's. As take up of these qualifications is still low, it is difficult to perceive their effectiveness within admissions. UCA continues to monitor the development of the Creative & Media Diploma and its potential to enhance progression routes onto undergraduate provision.

  1.4  The cessation of Route B has implications for the smooth operation of the 2009 admissions cycle within art and design. This is a significant change in admission practice and has implications for student choice. HEI's with art and design provision have yet to indicate whether their course closing dates will be in January or March. There is concern that the change could potentially lead to a fall in application rates as students studying on UCA's Foundation Diploma in Art & Design will be required to make decisions before March regarding future undergraduate choice, when they may not be fully prepared or know in which area they wish to specialise.

  1.5  The facility to provide feedback to applications via UCAS will provide a more effective process for the applicants themselves, along with the ability for HEI's to monitor and revise where necessary internal processes.

  1.6  Apprenticeships and entrance tests are not offered at UCA.

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

  2.1  Participation rates have remained around the low 40% mark for some years. Many have questioned whether the 50% target is achievable using existing policy drivers.

2.2  Government strategy for raising skills and employer related links may help to increase participation at some level but may run counter to its strategy to increase 10,000 apprenticeship places through the National Apprenticeship Service. A debate is required to set a realistic target, to focus strategy to equip the workforce with the necessary skills for the economy and to decide where those skills are best achieved.

  2.3  The recent Government announcement to restrict student number growth in 2009-10 by 5,000 ASNs and curtail growth in 2010-11 compounded by the recent announcement to withhold offers of grants for students from households earning up to £60,000 will hit widening participation (WP).

  2.4  The introduction of the Equivalent and Level Qualifications (ELQ) policy will also hit WP, particularly in the mature market and upskilling agenda.

  2.5  A 50% WP target remains a long term aspiration and will necessitate greater structural changes, embedded across communities, schools, FE and HE. New partnerships and initiatives will be needed at primary and junior level to raise the aspirations of children to enter HE. Institutions will need work closely with communities to develop strategies to encourage participation amongst young people (eg AimHigher).

  2.6  UCA is currently considering barriers to entry to HE, re-examining support for part-time students, encouraging mature learners to up skill and reviewing the impact of fees on participation rates.

  2.7  HEIs be flexible to the study patterns of under-represented groups and both the financial and study support needs.

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

  3.1  The UCA has for some years provided an "internal ring-fence" to a significant proportion of its widening participation funds to support activities for students from non-traditional backgrounds, particularly to increase the numbers of applicants and provide additional on course academic support. This good practice has enabled stable relationships to be developed between the University and local schools and colleges to support student progression into HE.

3.2  Funding for widening participation is currently based on student FTE numbers. For UCA, as a specialist arts institution, such a funding regime means that the University is not able to respond to a significant number of requests for WP activities from schools and colleges, as the current funding arrangements are geared to favour larger and general institutions of higher education and do not recognise the specific expertise brought to the HE sector by smaller, specialist institutions.

  3.3  Retention of students from non-traditional backgrounds is key to evaluating the success of activities to support widening access to HE. Institutional and national initiatives for student engagement and support should be successfully aligned to measures to widen access to HE.

  3.4  Individual institutional compacting arrangements with FE Colleges and schools have worked well, where such arrangements have been underpinned by activities to support progression through higher education. Other initiatives to support the development of Compacts have had mixed results, not least owing to the number and variety of Compacting arrangements developed by other agencies such as LLNS. For example, pupils in one school in one local authority may be able to access up to five separate Compacts with UCA. This diversity in administering Compacts is burdensome and confusing for both the sending and receiving institution.

  3.5  The UCA's Progression Agreement aligns the aims and objectives of LLN Progression Agreements with the commitment of the University to support students from non-traditional backgrounds progressing into and through HE. This Agreement is currently being tested by UCA and aims to offer pupils, schools and FE colleges clarity about the offer from the University, as well as identifying activities the University can offer to schools and FE colleges to support successful progression to UCA.

  3.6  Funding arrangements for delivering progression activities to support the diverse Compact arrangements are also complex—some progression activities are part-funded by Aimhigher, local authorities, LLNs, individual HEIs or a combination of partners. Compacts themselves are unlikely to support successful transition into higher education for young people from non-traditional backgrounds if they are not underpinned by activities which aim to support subsequent retention on course (subject-based, acquisition of relevant study skills, understanding the requirements of studying in HE).

  3.7  Direct funding to universities to deliver on progression activities and Compacting arrangements, accompanied by national guidance to universities on developing and extending Compacting arrangements, would offer better value for money than funding directed through third parties, such as LLNs. Direct funding would negate the need for a management fee "top slice" taken by lead institutions in LLNs, the need to employ significant numbers of additional staff via LLNs and would offer individual institutions "ownership" of and a commitment to the development and sustainability of Compacting arrangements.

  3.8  The University's experience of working with Aimhigher Kent & Medway has been an unqualified success. This has been partly due to the excellent model for partnership working and business plan, which was developed in the early years of the partnership and the continued commitment from all partners involved. There have been demonstrable and significant results from this initiative to increase attainment rates and increase the numbers of Aimhigher Kent & Medway students progressing into HE. The University is also a partner in Aimhigher Surrey, which has significantly less funding than some other Aimhigher partnerships. UCA would suggest continuation of the Aimhigher initiative, which is embedded in Access Agreements and outreach activities, beyond current funding to 2011.

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

  4.1  The University and many of its partners in the HE sector are already demonstrably committed to promoting fair access to HE and have, over a number of years, put in place policies and practices to ensure students are not disadvantaged by admissions processes.

4.2  However, there is still some way to go to ensure the sector as a whole is able to meet the challenges of ensuring fair access to higher education. UCA would welcome guidance from Government on developing and promoting fair access and admissions policies for HE, particularly in furthering compacting arrangements. A national review of policy and practice and subsequent national dissemination and recommendations for best practice on admissions policies and practice, including interview, would also be welcomed.

  4.3  The preparation and submission of a student portfolio of work offers specialist art institutions an additional method for the selection of students, over and above consideration of qualifications, application form and performance at interview. This allows institutions to consider a range of factors in their selection of students, such as "potential" and "talent" in students from non-traditional backgrounds, who may lack confidence and are not able to demonstrate the acquisition of "cultural capital" at interview, when compared to those students applying to HE arts courses via the traditional A' level/Foundation routes.


5.  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

  5.1  UCA has a continuing strategic commitment to research in the creative arts for a variety of purposes that include underpinning the quality of student learning. The concentration of the major portion of UK research funding in a reduced number of HEIs, and the moves in the funding of teaching away from enhancement towards targeted allocations for widening participation, are having the combined effect of reducing the capacity of a significant number of HEIs to support the development of innovative teaching methods that also integrate teaching and research.

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

6.1  The UK quality assurance framework consistently confirms the overall high quality of teaching in the UK. Following the removal of specialist premium funding, mechanisms must be found to ensure that specialist institutions receive sufficient funding to maintain and develop their teaching facilities. HEIs need a level of ring-fenced investment in their learning and teaching infrastructure that will enable them to equip graduates with the knowledge and skills needed to sustain the UK economy, and in UCA's case prepare the future leaders of the UK's Creative Industries. The highest quality learning facilities are vital to enable specialist HEIs to compete in the international HE market, to maintain quality and secure the reputation of UK HE.

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

7.1  We have absolute confidence in QAA's Institutional Audit process and since the RAE was introduced, research quality has risen significantly. A key ingredient in this success has been the strength of the peer review process which has provided confidence in the evaluation of research and teaching excellence.

7.2  In respect of research assessment, the peer review process for art and design has significantly increased our understanding of the subject, its contribution to the knowledge base, and our ability to articulate our research strengths to the wider community.

7.3  As a specialist HEI we believe that research is fundamental to academic excellence in order to remain at the leading edge of our subjects. A vibrant and active research community is also important in respect of our cultural and creative contribution to the region. For example 35,000 visitors attended exhibitions across our five campuses in 2007-8 and nearly 1,000 creative professionals attended one of our knowledge transfer initiative events.

  7.4  We are concerned that the use of bibliometrics to assess research quality has significant issues for a specialist creative arts university and will reduce the opportunity for emerging subjects to engage in research and contribute to the economy.

8.  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

  8.1  The UCA suggests that teaching experience and excellence should be recognised in criteria for promotion, on an equivalent basis with research and leadership skills. In particular, the role of teaching fellows should contribute to career progression opportunities.

9.  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

9.1  The Government and HEFCE are clearly responsible for assuring the threshold standard of learning opportunities in Higher Education at the highest level through QAA audit of institutions' own internal mechanisms for quality assurance.

9.2  The UCA would encourage a more positive focus in HE on ensuring a balance between teaching and research in terms of parity in funding and academic recognition.


10.  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

  10.1  UK HEI's, on the whole, have appropriate and robust academic regulations which quantitatively and qualitatively define the requirements for awards and degree classification within their respective institutions.

10.2  Differences between institutions exist in the requirements for awards and the application of regulations; however institutions operate, on the whole, to the same qualitative external benchmarks. The differences are such that it is arguable that a greater level of standardisation between institutions is not required.

10.3  Peer review of the curriculum and student achievement through institutional quality systems, including external examination, provides a wealth of evidence of the appropriate maintenance of institutional academic standards across the sector. In addition the use of externally published benchmark data allows UCA to monitor subject and institutional performance in student achievement.

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

  11.1  There is advantage in the current UK system of undergraduate degree classification, in that the inherent qualities and requirements of individual subjects are well established and understood by the sector and graduate training schemes provided by employers.

11.2  The disadvantage of the current classification system is that there is some variability in regulations for the determination of degree classifications between institutions.

  11.3  With the increased availability of data in student achievement available to institutions, prospective students and stakeholders, the variability between institutions in degree classification distribution is transparent and open to a greater level of scrutiny. This issue would benefit from greater inspection through audit, particularly if a marked trend of wide discrepancy with national norms exists.

  11.4  Information published by the QAA, in the form of institutional audit reports, provides evidence that the determination of academic standards of degrees and award classification is, on the whole, satisfactory across the sector.

  11.5  The introduction of the HEAR is welcomed, in that it provides a sector "standard" and is a holistic and portable record of individual student achievement. This also assists to provide a greater level of transparency and information for stakeholders, including employers.

12.  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

  12.1  Universities should publish information about institutional regulations and quality processes and their outcomes on an annual basis for stakeholders. Publication should include all policies in relation to the peer review of curricula and standards and institutional "whistle blowing" policy and procedures. For many HE institutions this would be a continuation of current practice.

12.2  The QAA system of audit is well established and periodically reviewed. Outcomes are published for stakeholders. Published recommendations indicate where action is required, at a national level, to further develop institutional quality systems and academic standards in the sector and this should continue.

  12.3  Careful application and review of the criteria for taught degree awarding powers and University Title should continue to promote confidence in degree awarding institutions. A greater level of public information in this area may promote a greater level of transparency and understanding for stakeholders.

13.  The relationship between degree classification and portability

  13.1  There is a level of portability in the current UK system of degree classification around the understanding of the attainment of "good degrees" for entry to taught postgraduate and research programmes and many company graduate training schemes.

13.2  The introduction of the HEAR will assist the portability of the record of achievement for students and graduates for transfer between institutions, courses, FE, training and employment both inside and outside the UK.

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

  14.1  The University has published effective regulations to define and penalise academic misconduct. In conjunction with these, the University is further developing its support for first year students, to enhance the development and understanding of "good" academic conduct and practice.

14.2  In common with other HEIs, the University has seen a recent increase in the numbers of cases of plagiarism. Although the sector now has considerable experience of addressing text-based plagiarism, less research has been undertaken into visual plagiarism in a creative arts context. In 2008, the University's Academic Board approved an Academic Integrity Policy that aims to adopt a proactive approach to issues of plagiarism. The Policy places emphases on valuing and fostering academic integrity via a 3-fold approach: informing, integrating and deterring. Turnitin is now used with students both as a formative tool to advise how to avoid plagiarism and as a detection tool. The action plan associated with the Policy involves staff development to ensure that policies are applied fairly and consistently, for example a staff workshop to address Visual Plagiarism.

Student Support and Engagement

15.  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

  15.1  The University College values formal and informal feedback from students and has published a Student Representation and Feedback Policy.

15.2  Students are involved in planning and decision-making. Officials of the Students Union and student representatives are members of the Board of Governors and chief academic committees. Union officials meet regularly with the Deputy Vice Chancellor. At campus level, students are members of Boards of Study. Campus Student Forums meet regularly and provide an extra channel of communication with senior academic managers, addressing issues normally outside the scope of individual courses. Students are offered training and briefings to support them in their roles and campus staff provide mechanisms to enable representatives to communicate more easily with fellow students. The University's recent institutional audit report commended briefings for student representatives by committee chairs that encourage and inform student participation.

16.  How the student experience differs in public and private universities

  16.1  The private university sector recognises that student satisfaction is critical to business success and therefore the student experience is prioritised as a key performance indicator and appropriately resourced.

16.2  Business processes are aligned to the student experience and there is a strong commitment to high quality customer service. Services are easy to access and are often organised as a one-stop-shop approach with extended opening times, trained staff, and follow up support. On-line services are supported through customer relationship portals and service manager portfolio responsibilities. Personal relationship building and sense of community is integral to student services and enhances the student experience.

  16.3  The private sector approach distinguishes the academic faculty and has high level expectations and contractual agreements in terms of research outputs and teaching delivery. This is balanced with income revenue targets, student recruitment and retention targets, student satisfaction threshold targets, and professional practice. Professional performance is managed and held to account.

  16.4  These factors impact upon the student perception of value for money.

  16.5  In the public sector the revenue streams and funding are limited and therefore resources are stretched. Institutions do not have the capacity to respond to rapidly changing student expectations and therefore services may not be readily available and accessible.

  16.6  The public sector tends to be more bureaucratic resulting in barriers which impact upon student experience. On the positive, academic staff have more freedom to manage their time which can result in students receiving personal tuition and guidance over and above scheduled class contact time.

  16.7  The public sector student community has a wider socio-economic representation and equal access to facilities. The challenge for the public sector is meeting the student experience expectations which might be unrealistic for a publically funded institution to deliver.

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

  17.1  The University experiences relatively low levels of non-completion in its programmes and this may be attributable to a number of factors associated with the structure of creative arts education generally and the size and ethos of the University in particular. However, the success of the University's widening access strategies has resulted in an on-going need to review the support mechanisms for students who may have limited awareness of the demands of HE at the outset of their studies. UCA has put in place various schemes, some funded from WP funding streams to address these issues (Study Advisory Services, Buddying and Mentoring Schemes). Nevertheless, our Counselling services are under evermore pressure from students anxious about their ability to cope with the demands of university study. Financial concerns are also recognised as key barriers to success in HE. UCA was one of the 17 "early adopter" institutions for the FSA funded Money Doctors programme which has been rolled out through the UCA Student Advice Centres.

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

18.1  Funding and student support packages are complex as may be evidenced by the plethora of student money advice websites. Whilst student debt is of considerable concern to students and their guardians it does not appear to have had an impact on recruitment. This will be tested in the more constrained financial environment we have now entered. The financial packages currently available to students may not be sufficiently flexible to accommodate the increasing diversity of course delivery patterns that are anticipated in the next 5-10 years. The financial support packages that are currently available for part-time study, for example, may not facilitate life-long learning and continuing professional development.

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

19.1  The following actions are suggested:

    — monitoring the effect of the removal of Route B entry on students progressing from a Diploma in Foundation Studies (Art & Design);

    — more alignment between widening participation activity and on-course support;

    — streamlining of funding for Compact Agreements more directly to Universities;

    — more detailed guidance on promoting fair access in admissions procedures.

December 2008

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