The terms of the post-18 education and funding review digested

The terms of reference [pdf] for the review of post-18 education and funding were published as the prime minister spoke at Derby College. Bemused by their need to travel to Derby to sit in a room with Theresa May, the assembled journalists and sector dignitaries enjoyed an anodyne speech which conveyed precisely the content from the pre-released remarks but not a lot else.

Of much more importance than the kick off speech is the actual terms of reference for the review itself. These define the scope of the exercise and give some crucial detail on what the review’s focus areas will be. The four primary areas of enquiry are:

Choice: identifying ways to help people make more effective choices between the different options available after 18, so they can make more informed decisions about their futures. This could include more information about the earning potential of different jobs and what different qualifications are needed to get them, as well as ensuring they have access to a genuine range of high quality academic, technical or vocational routes.

Value for money: looking at how students and graduates contribute to the cost of their studies, to ensure funding arrangements across post-18 education in the future are transparent and do not stop people from accessing higher education or training.

Access: enabling people from all backgrounds to progress and succeed in post-18 education, while also examining how disadvantaged students receive additional financial support from the government, universities and colleges.

Skills provision: future-proofing the economy by making sure we have a post-18 education system that is providing the skills that employers need. This is crucial in boosting the UK economy and delivering on the government’s Industrial Strategy.

These are presented not in isolation but in the context of other initiatives already underway including the creation of the Office for Students, the establishment of the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF) and new Institutes of Technology. The post-18 review will receive input from a separate review of levels 4 and 5 education (a foundation degree, the first two years of a bachelor’s degree, or higher national certificates/diplomas). The terms rule out any prospect of free tuition, the return of student number controls, or a system which costs any more than at the present. There can be no graduate tax, and no revision of the pre-2012 fee system.

What’s the problem?

There are warm words for the “world-class higher education system” but also a strong thread of accountability expectations.

“This review will look further at how we can ensure our post-18 education system is joined up and supported by a funding system that works for students and taxpayers. For example, in recent years the system has encouraged growth in three-year degrees for 18 year-olds, but does not offer a comprehensive range of high quality alternative routes for the many young people who pursue a technical or vocational path at this age. The majority of universities charge the maximum possible fees for at least some of their courses and three-year courses remain the norm. Average levels of graduate debt have increased, but this has not always led to higher wage returns for all graduates. And the system does not comprehensively deliver the advanced technical skills that our economy needs.”

The focus on “wage returns” is likely to be a dominant narrative in the review process and the Longitudinal Education Outcomes dataset will be a major source of information for the panel.

Who is undertaking the review?

The review is led by the Department for Education, supported by an expert advisory panel chaired by Philip Augar. As this is not an independent review the role of the panel will be (hopefully) to add credibility and impartiality to the deliberations that lead to publication, rather than steer the course of the work as in Dearing or Browne.

Augar is best known as a former equities trader – though he has maintained a parallel career as an academic historian, researching primarily the history of banking reform with particular interests in the “big bang” City of London deregulation of 1986. He has links to Cranfield, Manchester and the Institute of Historical Research, and holds a doctorate in history. He was also briefly Bursar of St Catharine’s College Cambridge in the late 80s.

Latterly, Augar has written a number of popular books on banking reform (with another, on Barclays, due this year), and a business book on being a “player manager”. He’s been a non-executive member of the DfE and Home Office boards, and was briefly chair of the UK Borders Agency.

Who is joining Augar to make up the panel?

  • Bev Robinson – principal of Blackpool and The Fylde College. She has over 20 years’ experience in further and higher education colleges in England and has been Awarded an OBE for her services to FE.
  • Edward Peck – vice chancellor of Nottingham Trent University since August 2014. Previously, Peck worked at the University of Birmingham as director of the Health Services Management Centre and subsequently became head of the School of Public Policy in 2006.
  • Alison Wolf – (Baroness Wolf of Dulwich, number 11 on the Wonkhe Power List 2017) a cross-bench peer in the House of Lords, and author of the influential Wolf Review of Vocational Education, published in 2011. She has advised the House of Commons select committee on education and skills as well as the OECD, the Ministries of Education of New Zealand, France and South Africa, and the European Commission among others.
  • Ivor Crewe – master of University College, Oxford and president of the Academy of Social Sciences. He is the former chair of the 1994 Group (remember them?) and president of Universities UK. Co-author of the policy wonk’s bedtime reading The Blunders of Our Governments.
  • Jacqueline De Rojas – president of techUK and the chair of the Digital Leaders board. She also serves on the government’s Digital Economy Council and was awarded a CBE for Services to International Trade in Technology in the Queen’s New Year Honours list 2018.

The DfE will service the panel, which will provide input to the review process and engage with students and recent graduates concerning their experience of post-18 education. But the review itself is led by Department for Education – and the report will be made to the Prime Minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer and Secretary of State for Education. The final report will be out in spring 2019 – with an interim report from the panel expected along the way. Watch this space.

4 responses to “The terms of the post-18 education and funding review digested

  1. On Levels 4 and 5, the text reads: ” A separate review has been launched to determine how best to extend technical education reforms to level 4 and 5, the findings of which will feed into this review”.

    I’m not sure this rules out level 4 and 5 consideration entirely? Level 4 and 5 study can be academic as well as technical. Frankly, they seem to have set so many red lines already concerning student number controls, revenue neutral, and keeping ICRs, that I find it hard to see how some consideration of levels 4 and 5 could be avoided.

    That said, the contortions the PM has got herself in over this don’t cease to amaze me, so we’ll see.

  2. David is right. Levels 4 and 5 are absolutely in scope and an important part of the picture, but there is a DfE 4&5 review already underway on a shorter timescale which will feed into this overarching review. There are no good solutions to the problems this review articulates which ignore 4&5.

  3. Completely agree, and Wolf will surely push it as a member of the panel. Be interesting to see how/if they can make lv 4 and 5 more attractive options for both providers and students.

  4. I’ve made a tweak to the text; it’ll be interesting to see when/how the separate L4/5 review feeds in, agree it’s not possible to see the full post-18 picture without this. Thanks both

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