Value for money in higher education Contents

Conclusions and recommendations


1.We encourage the post-18 education and funding review to be brave in its approach, to design a holistic funding model which supports a wider range of pathways and prioritises support for disadvantaged students. The Government must take this opportunity to signal a move away from the traditional linear approach which currently dominates. The future of higher education should be more inclusive, more skills-based and more focused on value for money for students. (Paragraph 16)

Value for money for students and the taxpayer

2.Every higher education institution should publish a breakdown of how tuition fees are spent on their websites. This should take place by the end of 2018, and we recommend that the Office for Students intervenes if this deadline is not met. (Paragraph 20)

3.Unjustifiably high pay for senior management in higher education has become the norm rather than the exception and does not represent value for money for students or the taxpayer. (Paragraph 27)

4.The current system of self-regulation for senior management pay is totally unacceptable. We call for the Office for Students to publish strict criteria for universities on acceptable levels of pay that could be linked to average staff pay, performance and other measures that the Office for Students sees fit. The Office for Students should take swift action if this is not the case. (Paragraph 28)

5.Institutions must routinely publish the total remuneration packages of their Vice-Chancellors in a visible place on their website. Vice-Chancellors must never sit on their remuneration boards and this should be enforced by the Office for Students. (Paragraph 29)

The quality of higher education

6.The TEF is still in its infancy and requires further improvement and embedding to become the broad measure of quality that we want it to be. We look forward to the independent review of TEF and recommend that it focuses on how the exercise is used by students to inform and improve choice. The review must include an assessment of how TEF is used in post-16 careers advice. For the TEF to improve value for money for students it must play a more significant role in the decision-making process of applicants. (Paragraph 37)

7.Institutions should move away from a linear approach to degrees, and enable more part-time, mature and disadvantaged students to study in higher education. We recommend that the Government’s current post-18 review develop a funding model which allows a range of flexible options including credit transfer and ‘hopping on and off’ learning. (Paragraph 42)

8.More flexible approaches to higher education should be supplemented by the option for undergraduates of studying for two-year accelerated degrees alongside the traditional three-year model. The post-18 review should investigate potential funding models to clarify the benefits and costs of accelerated degrees, taking into account fees, living costs and post-study earnings. (Paragraph 48)

9.The introduction of two-year degrees must not create a two-tier system where students from disadvantaged backgrounds are encouraged to take them on the basis of cost. The Government’s review of higher education should include an impact assessment of how accelerated degrees will affect disadvantaged students. (Paragraph 49)


10.We are extremely disappointed by the response from the Institute for Apprenticeships to widespread concerns from the higher education sector on the future of degree apprenticeships. (Paragraph 66)

11.We urge the Institute to make the growth of degree apprenticeships a strategic priority. Degree qualifications must be retained in apprenticeship standards, and the Institute must remove the bureaucratic hurdles which universities are facing. The Institute and the Education and Skills Funding Agency must engage much more actively with the higher education sector and take better account of their expertise. (Paragraph 67)

12.Degree apprenticeships are crucial to boosting the productivity of this country, providing another legitimate route to higher education qualifications and bringing more students from disadvantaged backgrounds into higher education. We believe some of the money which is currently allocated by the Office for Students for widening access could be better spent on the development and promotion of degree apprenticeships and support for degree apprentices to climb the ladder of opportunity. (Paragraph 71)

13.All higher education institutions should offer degree apprenticeships, and we encourage students from all backgrounds to undertake them. We recommend that the Office for Students demonstrates its support for them by allocating a significant portion of its widening access funding to the expansion of degree apprenticeships specifically for disadvantaged students. (Paragraph 72)

14.The implementation of T-Level qualifications from 2020 could offer improved access to university for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. The Government should engage with universities and UCAS in order to determine an appropriate tariff weighting prior to the introduction of T-levels. We also encourage universities to continue to accept BTECs and put in place additional academic and pastoral support to these students throughout their studies. (Paragraph 77)

15.We recommend that universities look to include significant periods of work experience within undergraduate degree courses. This could be a year in industry, or shorter placements with local employers. We believe that practical experience of the workplace must become the norm in degrees and an integral part of making students ‘work ready’. There should also be a greater focus on the extent to which universities prepare their students for work in the TEF criteria. (Paragraph 79)

Social justice

16.Higher education institutions spend a vast amount of public money on access and participation. The results of this expenditure are not always clear to see. There must be transparency on what they are investing in, a greater focus on outcomes for students and a rigorous evaluation process. In response to the Director of Fair Access’s new proposals we expect to see institutions focusing their efforts on value for money for the most disadvantaged students and facing penalties if sufficient progress is not made. (Paragraph 87)

17.We recommend a move away from the simple use of entry tariffs as a league table measure towards contextual admissions, foundation courses and other routes to entry. (Paragraph 92)

18.The Office for Students must clamp down on the rise in unconditional offers. Their steep increase is detrimental to the interests of students and undermines the higher education system as a whole. (Paragraph 94)

19.The gap in entry rates between the most and least disadvantaged students remains too wide when it should be closing fast. We support the use of contextualised admissions to bring more students from lower socio-economic backgrounds into higher education. We recognise that this practice should not be used in isolation, and that more effective outreach should be followed by support for disadvantaged students throughout their degree. (Paragraph 95)

20.Institutions should state their contextualisation policies in their application information. By doing so disadvantaged students and schools in areas with lower rates of participation in higher education will have a better understanding of the entry requirements to different institutions. (Paragraph 96)

21.We are deeply concerned by the fall in both part-time and mature learners, and the impact this has had on those from lower socio-economic groups going into higher education. We recognise that although the number of disadvantaged school leavers going into higher education has increased, the total number of English undergraduate entrants from low participation areas decreased by 15% between 2011/12 and 2015/16. (Paragraph 101)

22.The recent decline in part-time and mature learners should be a major focus of the Government’s post-18 education and funding review. We support calls for the review to redesign the funding system for these learners. The review should develop a tailored approach which moves away from the one size fits all approach which has driven the dramatic decline in numbers since 2012. (Paragraph 102)

23.Based on the overwhelming evidence we have heard during the inquiry, we recommend that the Government return to the pre-2016 system and reinstate the means-tested system of loans and maintenance grants. (Paragraph 106)

Graduate employability

24.We are encouraged by the increase in graduate outcomes information and believe this can both support more informed choices for students and make institutions more accountable for the destinations of their graduates. However, there is still a long way to go before students have access to robust data on graduate employment which will inform their choices. (Paragraph 117)

25.Better information on graduate outcomes must lead to a greater focus in higher education on outputs and outcomes. Higher education institutions must be more transparent about the labour market returns of their courses. This is not simply a measure of graduate earnings but of appropriate professional graduate-level and skilled employment destinations. We recommend that the Office for Students instructs all providers to be transparent about levels of graduate employment and secure this through funding agreements. (Paragraph 118)

26.The reforms introduced by successive governments to higher education have caused a growing tension between the perceived value of study to a student, the funding and the wider economic value of higher education. This has been caused in part by the way that the system has changed incrementally and is widely misunderstood. The current system of tuition fees and repayments is more akin to a graduate tax. Promoting better public understanding of this should form part of the HE funding review. (Paragraph 125)

27.Students lack sufficient high-quality information to make informed choices about higher education and the career paths which might subsequently be open to them. Decisions to take on a financial burden lasting most of a working lifetime are often made by students without adequate information or advice. The long-term implications of an adverse choice can leave students in a vulnerable position. (Paragraph 126)

28.Student choice is central to the debate over value for money in higher education. Our inquiry found a woeful lack of pre-application and career information, advice and guidance, particularly awareness of degree apprenticeships. The Government’s current post-18 review must look at routes into higher education, and the quality of careers advice which students receive. (Paragraph 127)

Published: 5 November 2018