Bringing the HE policy community closer together

Together with the UPP Foundation, we believe that there needs to be many more opportunities for the HE policy community to come together and discuss major themes, learn from each other and have fun.

On the one hand, the HE policy community is thriving, with more wonkish roles created every year.

Yet, too much of the policy scene finds wonks either focusing on the detail (the natural habit of the wonk), and sometimes pulling in different directions as the varied parts of the sector compete with each other, no more so than the constant jostle for influence in policymaking.

To begin trying to tackle this issue, Wonkhe and the UPP Foundation held the first of three policy forums in King’s College London to open up a space for discussion and networking in the policy community. It’s more than just a debate though – we think the HE wonks are well placed to tackle problems in the sector and add valuable new ways of thinking about old thorny issues.

The overall series is looking at the student journey. We started with widening participation and on 23rd March, our forum will look at the second part, and too often the forgotten aspect, of the student journey – retention.

While there is often significant focus given to the recruitment part of widening participation such as bias in admissions, equality measures and access agreements, the story for these students goes beyond application. We will posing a challenging question: “Does UK HE have a retention problem?” This panel is deliberately made up of members with diverse perspectives on this issue, from private providers to students’ unions.

A timely intervention

There has been significant attention given to retention over the years, not least the What Works project led by Professor Liz Thomas (who will join the forum panel). There’s still work to do, not least with institutions under significant financial pressure to ensure that as many students as possible continue studying; there are pressures of ‘value’ for students to complete their programmes, and universities don’t want to lose the fee income.

While the debate is long-running, it’s particularly timely to consider academic retention as non-continuation rates feature as a key part of the ‘Learning Environment’ section of the TEF measures, for which institutions will receive their ratings in May. And Offa’s recently published guidance on access agreements for 2018-19 includes an explicit mention of retention rates as a way in which institutions can quantify the impact of their policies to support students from WP backgrounds. With HESA’s publication of the UK Performance Indications, including retention figures for 2015-16 on 9 March, we anticipate healthy debate about the scale of the issue in UK HE.

Join us on 23 March 2017 at King’s College London. More details here

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