Live: Policy Exchange – What does the new government mean for HE & FE?



  • Thanks for reading

    That concludes today’s conference, and we will now be moving to the Wonkhe Power List drinks reception. It’s been a fascinating day, with some great speakers, and been very enjoyable.

    6 years ago
  • Neil Carmichael MP

    Carmichael explains some of thinking behind the TEF. Parents and politicians are hearing too much about poor value and complaints about contact time and teaching quality. Role of select committee is to aid in identifying the right interventions.

    Neil was a robust Remain campaigner, and he is concerned about ‘savage’ effects for universities: on research, on student recruitment, on opportunities for student exchange, on staff recruitment.

    So the select committee will be doing a vast amount of extra work now HE and FE are under its wings. Three new inquiries will be announced soon.

    6 years ago
  • Final keynote: Neil Carmichael MP

    We finish up today with Neil Carmichael, Conservative MP for Stroud and chair of the Education Select Committee.


    Neil highlights two overriding theme for modern education policy, both of which have been made more urgent by the EU referendum: social mobility, and productivity. The referendum exposed the challenge and our current failings in enabling social mobility, and Brexit itself makes improving productivity all the more urgent. The select committee’s work reflects these issues: careers information, advice and guidance; post-16 area reviews of colleges; the purpose and quality of education in England; and the effectiveness of multi-academy trusts.

    A common theme across Neil’s comments is the disjuncture between education and the needs of the economy, and the lack of information about the world of work and economic realities. He compares us to Germany, where there is a much clearer relationship between business and education, particularly due to the statutory existence of chambers of commerce. Businesses are far more aware about where their labour comes from.

    6 years ago
  • Widening participation, fair access and retention: universities and social mobility

    Next up is Simon Gaskell of Queen Mary, University of London – the Russell Group institution with the best record on widening access. QMUL accepts far higher numbers of state school students, ethnic minority students, and low-income students than most Russell Group institutions. However, it is finding that the real challenge it faces is ensuring that its students, many of whom have less social and cultural capital than their counterparts in other Russell Group universities, can compete in the graduate job market and for the ‘top’ graduate jobs. Gaskell states he believes it is a core part of universities’ mission to address this deficit, and so QMUL is introducing modules that address matters of social and cultural capital to enable students to compete. Just widening participation is not enough, and merely focusing on ’employability’ is minimalistic.

    Finally, Sonia Sodha argues that universities are both well relatively well resourced and yet not held particularly accountable for their record on access. Government cuts have affected other areas of education, such as schools, colleges, social services and children’s services, that ultimately affect university access, and yet it is universities that appear to make the biggest fuss about the lack of funding. There is also desperate lack of evidence on the effectiveness of many activities that are funded by Access Agreements, particularly on differing forms of outreach. She is sceptical about forcing universities to sponsor schools, and also about the willingness of the Director of Fair Access to refuse universities the right to charge over £6000 fees. There is a strong argument for directing a lot of widening participation funding directly into schools on teacher development, ‘reading recovery’ for struggling pupils, and other measures that can improve attainment.


    6 years ago
  • Widening participation, fair access and retention: universities and social mobility

    We move onto our final panel of the day, on social mobility and the role of universities, chaired by our very own Mark Leach.

    We open with Richard Brabner of the UPP Foundation, who have recently been working on the importance of retention, student wellbeing and mental health. They have foundation that there is simply not enough evidence about this area and about the precise interventions that can improve retention rates.

    Ndidi Okezie of Teach First echoes Richard’s comments on the importance of focusing on retention and success, particularly now an ever-increasing number of students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds are entering higher education. For Ndidi, this means we need to focus our efforts far more precisely. There is still a huge deficit of disadvantaged students entering the ‘top’ universities, and vast inequalities in the most senior and most powerful professions, which are typically dominated by Oxbridge graduates. Disadvantage still determines destiny. She advocates greater investment in pre-entry access work, which has been shown to be the most effective activity, particularly when begun at an earlier age. Only 1 in 8 students from low-income backgrounds begin planning their university application during GCSEs, half as many as students from higher income backgrounds.



    6 years ago
  • Every likes lifelong learning, so why are we so bad at enabling it?

    Great question from today’s host Jonathan Simons: everyone is supposedly in favour of lifelong learning, from the CBI to the TUC, so why doesn’t our public policy machine enable it?

    Jenny suggests that those who benefit most from lifelong learning, and also further education more generally, are not typically politically powerful constituencies in our country. Those who design public policy are typically privileged and went through the three-year degree at age 18. Lifelong learning is a good idea for ‘other people’.

    Peter argues that it’s a question of political salience, but also our narratives concerning ‘aspiration’ and ‘achievement’ – success is only success if its immediate, and we are not very tolerant of second chances.

    A follow-up point focuses on the lack of funding available for smaller businesses and organisations to enable lifelong learning and professional development, whereas those organisations most involved in the public policy of lifelong learning, such as the public sector and big businesses, do have the resources to fund it. How do we circumvent that? It is linked to a lack of interest as well – the classic ‘market failure’ of training policy that prevents investment in staff you might lose. Lifelong learning accounts, which include funding for maintenance, are suggested by Ian as a possible solution.

    6 years ago
  • Panel: Education and training – a framework that lasts for life

    Next up is Jenny North from the Impetus Private Equity Foundation, whose organisation focuses on those young people who ‘fall behind’ in the education system, particularly if they do not attain 5 A*-Cs at GCSE at 16 years old. Our system is woeful at giving these students a ‘second chance’ and these students only fall further behind by 19. These students are overwhelmingly likely to be from free-school meal backgrounds. The evidence suggests that the ‘jump’ at level 2 and level 3 is vital to closing educational inequalities, and so the focus is on FSM children up to levels 2 and 3 by 19 years old. It’s encouraging to see that more attention is being given to poor results in GCSE retakes.

    One of the most important proposals in the Skills White Paper is to have a ‘transition’ year for those who fail their GCSEs first time around. This is vitally important for the most disadvantaged students, and there will be more demand for it as the new GCSE maths syllabus is more difficult. However, there are significant logistical challenges: FE colleges are facing a dire shortage of maths teachers and a shortage of funding to deliver courses to students who have been failed by schools. We can only hope these issues receive enough attention amid the coming row about selection and grammar schools.


    Finally, we have Ian Ashman of the AoC. He remarks that Brexit and plans to reduce immigration will only make investment in education even more essential, particularly in lifelong learning and skills. The domestic labour force will need to be up-skilled to plug gaps that previously might have been filled by EU migrants. Again, accessibility to learning is vital, and there are still limited options for maintenance support for those wishing to go back into full-time education. Information, advice and guidance is not only lacking in schools – we have a shortfall across the entire lifespan. It is welcome to see that the new DfE ministers will be publishing a full review. Big data can help us give much more accurate and reliable information, but this is not enough – there needs to be professional support for people of all ages.

    6 years ago
  • Panel: Education and training – a framework that lasts for life

    Our next panel will discuss lifelong learning. We open with Peter Horrocks of the Open University, who reflects on the political imperatives that have influenced last week’s announcement by the Prime Minister. The domestic agenda of the new administration is focusing on both social mobility and industrial strategy, and lifelong learning will be vital to both of these agendas.

    Horrocks calls the OU “the great corrector” to the inequalities of our compulsory education system. Not only that, it is vital for workforce productivity and capacity. Yet sadly, part-time entry to higher education is down 58% over the past five years. Horrocks believes that demand-side correctives are required to make part-time learning more accessible and appealing, including the introduction of credit-transfer arrangements.

    Next up is Martin Anderson of KPMG Learning. He states that the critical factor in improving take-up to KPMG apprenticeship schemes has been through enabling digital access. Lifelong learning will soon be dependent and linked to ‘the internet of things’ – this is a massive opportunity. Learning can be ‘linked in’ to everyday digital life, rather than being remote and difficult to access.


    6 years ago
  • The future of apprenticeships

    We’re witnessing a very interesting discussion about the real levers and incentives that can transform our skills sector. Maddalaine reflects on her experience in skills policy in government, arguing that the key lever is finding ways to encourage employers to invest in training and to recognise their role in this. Education cannot provide the ‘off-the-shelf work ready’ employees that employers want. The apprenticeship levy could address this – it is a form of compulsory investment in training and skills from employers.

    Moving onto the levy, there are mixed views on whether the levy will work. David Hughes argues that levies in other countries are not magic bullets, and most employers view it as an annoyance and a tax. Nonetheless, he is still optimistic it can come together, but time is tight.

    The panel agree that there is a profound problem in apprenticeship policy with a lack of progression post-apprenticeship. Not enough apprentices can progress onto degrees or new sectors and jobs. If one has trained in too specialised an area, this can leave you with real problems if for some reason you have to leave your job. In the ever more insecure and flexible economy, this is increasingly risky. Apprenticeship trailblazer standards are currently far too specialised and are exacerbating the problem, particularly because they primarily serve large companies who want specialist staff rather than small companies who want more generalists.

    Our panel concludes and we will now break for lunch.

    6 years ago
  • Panel discussion: the future for post-16 skills after the Sainsbury Review

    We now move onto Lowell Williams of Dudley College. Lowell is more cynical about how revolutionary the Sainsbury proposals will be. We’ve been here before, why should this time be different? Top-down structural reforms have come and gone and we’ve made very little progress in skills policy over the years. So the overall assessment is: “mostly harmless”. There is too little work being done to create a culture and environment around colleges that will enable them to deliver. This is related to funding, but not just funding.

    Finally, Jane Baker of Pearson and a veteran of the FE sector. She, like Lowell before her, emphasises how employers already know what they want – they just want the system to deliver it. The Sainsbury proposals must not close down pathways and options, which it risks doing whilst attempting to make the system simpler and easier to navigate. There must be smooth transition options between technical and academic pathways all the way through the system, and could perhaps learn from Singapore, where this is done very well. Flexibility is vital, and attainable.


    6 years ago
  • Panel discussion: the future for post-16 skills after the Sainsbury Review

    It’s panel time now, featuring David Hughes of the Association of Colleges; Maddalaine Ansell of University Alliance; Lowell Williams of Dudley College; and Jane Baker of Pearson.

    We begin with David Hughes of the AoC. Remarks that it is too rare for HE and FE to be in the same room together, and it’s good that we have that today to discuss the Sainsbury Review. This is a welcome development, though the pre-referendum government’s commitment only went so far as being cost neutral. To do it properly, funds will be needed. David makes the important point that the context for Sainsbury’s parallel post-16 plan has changed now the government is proposing reintroducing selection at an earlier age – real risk of two-tier education from 11 to 18.

    The Sainsbury reforms will take ten years and will need persistent commitment from the current government (and successive governments), and hopefully not end up like the now deceased 14-19 diplomas. It will also take substantial work from an organisation that doesn’t exist yet – the Institute for Apprenticeships.


    We now move to Maddalaine Ansell. Maddalaine explains that too often the ‘social mobility’ and technical education debates are held separately, and that the former focuses too much on ensuring access to ‘elite’ universities, and neglects the rest. The grammar schools issue has doubled down on that problem: politicians play to parents’ belief that their children will go to the ‘best’ universities and that technical education is for ‘other people’s children’. This week’s DfE paper is concerning for saying nothing about technical and professional education and a reaffirmed commitment to the Sainsbury Review proposals would be reassuring.

    6 years ago
  • Crawford: the case for more contextual admissions

    Claire now presents some particularly interesting data: “Pupils from low performing schools with the same attainment as those from high performing schools have, on average, higher ‘potential'”, in terms of attainment and graduate outcomes. Universities should consider the quality of schools when selecting students from disadvantaged backgrounds, as those who have attained the required grades in spite of attending a poor quality school are likely to be good and successful students.

    She also touches on what happens beyond university: the recruitment policies of graduate recruiters are obscure and need to be looked at. A recent report found that the Civil Service Fast Stream programme is more selective than Oxbridge…

    In sum, higher education is simply not ‘levelling the playing field’ for those from the most disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds. The sector simply is not ‘an engine of social mobility’. In some ways, it’s not even close.

    6 years ago
  • Claire Crawford: HE outcomes and social disadvantage

    Claire’s research shows that there are substantial gaps between the poorest and wealthiest students once attending university, particularly in terms of retention and degree attainment. Even when controlling for prior-attainment, institution attended, and school backgrounds, the wealthiest 20% are still 5.3 percentage points more likely to complete their degree than the poorest 20%, and 3.7 percentage points more likely to attain a first or 2:1. There is a ‘wealth attainment gap’ in UK higher education, and universities still have work to do supporting students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds in university.

    After university, graduates from private schools are more likely to obtain a professional job than those who came from state schools. Social background is also a significant predictor of graduate earnings, across the distribution of salary levels. These differences persist amongst those with similar achievement at degree level. Those from state schools and the lowest socio-economic group do not benefit as much from higher education as the wealthiest and the privately educated.

    6 years ago
  • Keynote 2: Dr Claire Crawford

    We now move onto Claire Crawford, lecturer in economics at Warwick and also of the IFS, who has conducted a great deal of research into education and social mobility.


    Crawford’s research shows that prior attainment explains socio-economic status gaps in HE participation likelihood in early-years and early-secondary education, but not by age 16 and age 18, where people of similar attainment are equally likely to attend higher education. However, there is still a gap for ‘high status institutions’, where students with equal attainment from lower socio-economic backgrounds are still less likely to attend. Therefore, school attainment explains the continued gap in participation across the sector as a whole, but not in the ‘top’ universities, where something else is still going on…


    6 years ago
  • Q&A with Wes Streeting: more VCs should be on Question Time

    Wes has been asked questions about evidence-based skills policy, supporting retention, the HE Bill, and TEF.

    He refers to the Public Bill Committee as a “supreme waste of time” if the government will not accept constructive and sensible opposition amendments, and also makes a joke-reference to the next Labour government “in 2050″ being unable to reverse marketisation and consumerism in higher education.

    Wes praises the role that vice chancellors and universities played during the EU referendum, stating that playing a more active role in public life and articulating a vision for Britain’s place in the world is something that universities and their leaders should do more often.”Universities could show a lot more social leadership, values leadership. I would like to see more VCs on Question Time. In the world of post-truth politics, universities have a more vital role than ever”.

    6 years ago
  • Opening keynote: Wes Streeting MP

    We open today’s conference with a keynote from Wes Streeting, Labour MP for Ilford North. Wes begins with some kind words for Wonkhe in the hope he might further ascend up our Power List…


    Onto more serious matters, Wes is reflecting on the challenges for education and social mobility in the ‘fourth industrial revolution’ as technology, robotics and the internet revolutionise the world of work and the social fabric of industrialised countries. Our challenge is to educate people to thrive in this environment, in particular one that accounts for an ageing population and the need to acquire skills in adult life. The UK lags behind in this area, and highly skilled people are still the most likely to receive further training and development opportunities, and not the lowest skilled.

    The EU referendum debate has revealed how opportunities, particularly through education, have become increasingly unequal. This, much more than immigration, is to blame for communities, many in old Labour areas, being left behind. Unfortunately, government policy has exacerbated this problem. Wes highlights cuts to further and adult education, post-16 area reviews, and the focus on quantity over quality of apprenticeships. “Pity the school leaver not attending university trying to understand their options, compared to the wealth of information available to their counterparts who do enter university”. In particular, there needs to be a sustained effort to widen participation in skilled and higher-level apprenticeships to women, disabled people, and BME people.

    Wes now turns to HE. The government is a long way off achieving its stated targets for widening participation, but there are two particular challenges he thinks need to be confronted. Firstly, the lack of widened access to Russell Group and ‘elite’ institutions. Wes, a Sutton Trust summer school alumni, quotes the Trust’s research in this area: “2,800 missing students” from the most disadvantaged backgrounds at these institutions. Secondly, universities that claim to be successful at widening access are often the worst for ensuring equal attainment and retention. It is simply unfair to take in students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds and plunge them into debt, only to see them drop out after 18 months.

    Wes has been very active on the Public Bill Committee for the Higher Education and Research Bill, and has suggested many amendments related to students’ rights and widening access.

    Wes states that, if Labour were to “tax the rich into poverty”, he wouldn’t spend it on free tuition fees, but on schools instead, quoting the West Wing: “to make schools like palaces, and pay teachers as well as bankers”. He puts Labour’s current predicament on education policy has been long in the making, since 2010, when it was on the “second tier” of Labour priorities. Labour needs a new debate on its hopes for education, and Policy Exchange is a great place to have that debate.

    6 years ago