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Date Name

A national licence would set back the Open Access cause

Responding to the recent HEPI paper on Open Access by David Price and Sarah Chaytor, Adam Tickell and Michael Jubb argue that the proposed national licence for UK research is unworkable and unaffordable and could substantially set back the Open Access cause.

The changing student experience

When the present English tuition fee regime was being planned, there were plenty of voices from inside universities warning that it would change the nature of the relationship between students and their universities for the worse. Students would, it was feared, become customers rather than partners in an academic enterprise – has this happened? Claire Callender and Paul Temple discuss their new research on the changing student experience.

Theresa May’s war against higher education continues

On Sunday Theresa May informed the press of her intention for the Conservative Party’s next manifesto to include a pledge to kick out foreign students as soon as they graduate and introduce a shift to a ‘zero net student migration’ level. Rather than being able to apply for other visas while still in the UK, foreign graduates would have to go home and apply to return. Universities would have to enforce this, risking fines or losing their sponsorship licence if they failed to take sufficient steps to enforce it. Tom Bailey takes a closer look at this idea and where it came from.

The REF: fascinating, flawed and essential

As the 2014 REF results are published, Mark Leach looks at where they sit in the wider effort to fund and support research. With so much on the table in spending review negotiations in the next few years, the next steps will prove critical in shaping the future of the REF exercise and the research base it supports.

UKIP and the University

The week after a second UKIP MP has been returned to parliament in Rochester and Strood, Martin McQuillan takes the long view about this force in British politics and reflects on the significant dangers that the populist right now pose to UK higher education.

Students and higher education beyond 2015

Based on her comments last night at GuildHE’s Annual Conference, NUS President Toni Pearce recasts the role of students, universities and society in the big debates the sector are having about markets, competition and engagement. Through challenging policy pressures today, and an uncertain period heading towards a General Election, Toni calls on the sector to – without waiting for politicians – start playing a greater leadership role in society based on a deeper connection with the values and expectations of students now and in the future.

Give change a chance

Geoff Layer, Vice Chancellor of the University of Wolverhampton reviews Alan Milburn’s latest report in to the social mobility ‘state of the nation’, published last week. Depressed at the rhetoric inside the report and how the sector has received it, Geoff calls for a more realistic view about what higher education already does to drive social mobility, and an honest appraisal of what really works drive better outcomes.

The promise to students

The Consumer Rights Bill currently working its way around the Houses of Parliament promises to give the sector one of the biggest shake-ups it has had in recent years. Yet with universities remaining oddly quiet about this potentially landmark piece of legislation, quieter still is the debate about what this Bill means for students’ place in the academy and the ongoing ‘consumer’ versus ‘partner’ debates that have raged for years – not least on Wonkhe. With fresh legislation now looming, Jim Dickinson takes a look at its implications and considers the power of the promises that universities make to students.

Clearing up the information landscape

Information is dangerous territory for HEFCE. There’s a lot riding on getting the balance right between what students and the taxpayer have a right to expect, and the burden on universities in providing it. The 2011 White Paper argued that in order to be ‘at the heart of the system’, students would need a diverse ecosystem of information. A landscape that would foster free market choices and a relentless competitive drive towards quality. However the diversity has instead created a jungle of data. Johnny Rich sets out the issues and 7 principles for clearing up the data landscape.

Beyond the broken funding system

As the BIS Select Committee adds its weight to the growing consensus about the (un)sustainability of the Coalition’s higher education funding policies, Sam Jones looks at the difficult political and economic climate both before and after next year’s General Election. With the policy case now hard to refute, he calls for another Browne-style review to create political consensus and lasting change.

The legacy of David Willetts

As longstanding higher education and science minister David Willetts steps down from his government post, and from politics in general, Andy Westwood looks back at his time with the brief – from 2005 when in opposition to today. What will be his legacy? Is it too soon to judge? With mixed feelings in the sector, the ultimate legacy of David Willetts may take quite some time to fully understand. In the mean time, there’s much to learn from the last nine years with David Willetts.

Balancing power in the market

With the arrival of the Competition and Markets Authority to the higher education sector, debates about consumerism, regulation and the role of students and their institutions have intensified. In this piece, Jim Dickinson looks at power and the balance set between students, academics and institutions. Jim asks if this question of power is being left out of the debate and offers a different way to look at the work of the CMA and the debates around their intervention.

The rising tide

Last night The Guardian kicked off a major new investigation in to how some private HE colleges are abusing student loans. These revelations, along with those that are planned to follow it over the coming days, are damaging to the whole sector. With the Queens Speech just days away, the Government has one final chance to provide the legal underpinning to allow respectable institutions to thrive, and crack down on those that are exploiting the system.

Willetts’ long march

Ahead of a likely Government reshuffle, Jim Dickinson looks back a key speech made by David Willetts in 2007. An important moment, he used the opportunity to heal the Conservative Party’s fractured relationship with students’ unions and set out some big ambitions for the sector, particularly around teaching. Jim reflects on the progress made since 2007 and looks ahead to what might be needed now, as we head in to the final days of this Parliament.

Who’s afraid of student loans?

A new study by the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) on student loan costs published today will kick off a new round of suggestions on what to do next for higher education funding. Emran Mian maintains that we should be much more sanguine about student loan costs and writes that we need to tackle some even bigger problems. This piece attempts to explain why.

Apprenticeships or university – a false choice

As we mark the end of Apprenticeships Week, Andy Westwood looks at how politicians and the media talk about apprenticeships and the false choice they continually present between them and higher education. There are good reasons to expand higher level apprenticeships, but this needs to happen in a better way – in collaboration with universities and learning from examples abroad.

Time to end the messy status quo

In his first report as Director of HEPI, Nick Hillman calls for an end to the messy status quo that has led to fragmentation across UK higher education and it’s regulatory regime. He calls for policymakers to set out where they stand and bring the debate forward despite difficult politics to settle the many outstanding questions that lay before us.

Winners and losers in the current system

There is no doubt that, as with most changes, the £9,000 fee system introduced in England in 2012-13 created winners and losers. We know that applications are back up for full-time undergraduates – and we know this includes students from non-traditional backgrounds, which is great. But that is not the whole story. On the day the Public Accounts Committee confirm the rising costs of writing off loans, Libby Hackett looks at the winners and losers in the current system, and calls for a fundamental rethink.

The narcissism of minor differences

They finally arrived yesterday. BIS published both the HEFCE grant letter and the SFA’s Skills Funding Statement. One was 6 pages and the other 60 but they both delivered roughly the same amount of cash to the FE and HE sectors. They also delivered more or less what had been set out in the Autumn Statement – i.e. some quite significant cuts to both sectors but not too much more on top of what George Osborne delivered in December. Andy Westwood gives some early thoughts on the letters and the scramble over funding that will come.

Expanding the debate

Cheered on by the right-wing press, it is a widely-held belief that there are “too many graduates”. So what does HE expansion look like in that context and what form should it take? Not pulling the ladder up, but moving and positioning it, ensuring that the expansion of the future offers transformation and returns appropriate to the age, not build on outdated ideas and prejudices. Jim Dickinson reflects on the wider debate and the ideologies and politics that drive it.

Learning to love the student loan book

There are two ways to argue for more student places in higher education. The first is easy, just remove the word ‘higher’. So the question is: shall we have some more education? The second is harder – we have to explain why the cost-benefit ratio for more public spending on higher education is greater than competing spending pressures. While higher education detractors from both pick over the government’s recent move to expand higher education, Emran Mian attempts to reframe the debate.

Placing Borrowing at the Heart of the System

A few days after the Autumn Statement, Martin McQuillan considers the Osborne plan to expand student numbers based on questionable finances that the IFS have labelled ‘economic nonsense’ and have slowly started to unravel. This short-termist policy may have big implications in years to come as BIS will have to make up any further shortfall in the HE budget – a budget already under extreme pressure. With so many risks ahead, the HE sector needs to take a long and detailed look at this scheme.

Debating the future of research

The REF submission deadline has finally arrived. But it’s only the beginning for researchers, departments and universities that have gambled big and need a good result. The results will make or break many universities’ ambitions and long-term strategic plans. The REF’s importance to the sector, or the impact on it cannot be overstated. But it’s not just the REF looming large on policymaker’s minds. With severe pressure on the whole of the BIS budget and many outstanding issues to resolve, will the next Parliament afford the opportunity for a far-reaching debate to help shape the next long term settlement for research and science in the UK?

Remembering Robbins

This week sees the 50th anniversary of the Robbins Report. Appointed by the Government in February 1961, a committee led by Lord Robbins was instructed to review higher education and, “in the light of national needs and resources”, to advise “on what principles its long-term development should be based”. Peter Scott once described the resulting report as “the constitution of modern British higher education.” How and why do we remember Robbins? Tom Bailey takes the long view.

Protecting students through regulation

On the blog last week, Jim Dickinson criticised the Higher Education Commission’s recent report in to HE regulation for not including enough protection for students. Now Jess Bridgman, a researcher to the Commission, responds to the charge that the report failed students and shows why its recommendations are underpinned by a need to provide good regulation for the benefit of students.

Regulation for all (apart from students)

Another week, another report is published on the gaps in regulation left by the Government’s interesting new take on consumer-focused reforms; triple fees, publish a white paper offering protections, fail miserably to implement them – in that order. Jim Dickinson takes a look at the HE Commission’s report on regulation and finds little new protection for students.

Economic vs social conservatism?

On the face of it, the Conservatives should be looking forward to discussing higher education at their party conference in Manchester next week. As we will no doubt hear, the numbers of full time students starting this year look to have bounced back to somewhere close to 2010 levels. The controversial reforms to tuition fees look a lot less problematic today – and unlike other areas of public sector reform (Universal Credit, the NHS) the political narrative appears (for the conservatives at least) to have a happy ending. But ideological tensions in the Conservative Party over these issues are becoming ever-more exposed. Andy Westwood attempts to pick them apart as the party begins to gather in Manchester, in the final instalment of his series on this year’s party conferences.

(It’s) Hard Labour?

Labour’s 2015 position on higher education policy – of all the three main political parties – is still probably the hardest to predict. But this is not necessarily because of the affordability of a £6k or even a £5k fee (the IPPR costed it at nearly £2billion up front – even more for a graduate tax – an awful lot to spend in a cash constrained election). Andy Westwood continues his series marking party conference season and takes a look at the state of Labour’s HE policy.

Whither (or wither) the Lib Dems?

The Liberal Democrats kick off the party conference season in Glasgow next week. Will they develop a firm (and different?) position on higher education as the 2015 General Election approaches? Even after a policy review headed up by Baroness Brinton and a business department led by Vince Cable, their position is still very hard to predict. In a first of a series covering each main party’s annual conference, Andy Westwood looks at the state of the Lib Dems through an HE lens.

It’s like rain on your wedding day

Behind the army of wonkery that this blog serves is a body of academic understanding about policy and political goals that helps us understand and influence those around us. Some the academics involved would have us believe that there are only really four policy goals that get invoked, invariably coming at us in multiple disguises – equality, security, liberty, and efficiency. All of them are undeniably desirable until we consider them from multiple angles, or worse still, set one up against another. Jim Dickinson attempts to slay some sacred cows.