This week on the Wonkhe Show we start to try to make sense of the fall out from the Covid-19 crisis. We discuss admissions and student recruitment, the cancellation of the REF and the prospects for PGR students, the character of regulation required for the coming period and the major issues around student accommodation for both next term and beyond.
Hosted by Mark Leach, CEO of Wonkhe, with Mary Curnock Cook, independent higher education expert; Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI, and Jim Dickinson, Associate Editor at Wonkhe.
Items this week:
- Our Covid-19 coverage continues on the site here.
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[00:00:01] It’s the Wonkhe show. It’s pandemic, pandemic, pandemic, as the sector starts to get to grips with life in lockdown and an utterly transformed world. It’s all coming up.
[00:00:38] Welcome to the Wonkhe show. Your direct way into this week’s higher education news, policy and analysis. I’m Mark Leach. Yes, it’s a lock down special and probably the first of many. We plan to continue to bring information on the situation for universities amid the global pandemic.
[00:00:54] For as long as you listen, as long as we have something to discuss, remember, you are not alone. And we’re here to help any way we can to help me untangle all the latest developments this week. We have three amazing guests in his bedroom. I think we have Nick Hillman, director of HEPI Nick. Tell us one thing that’s given you some cause of optimism in the last week.
[00:01:11] Oh, good morning, Mark. Gosh, that’s a difficult question. I mean, one cause for optimism has been the weather and another has actually been spending a bit more time with my children, which has had its challenges. But it’s also been a delight.
[00:01:23] And in her kitchen, we have Mary Curnock Cook. Mary, tell us one thing has given you some optimism over last few days?
[00:01:30] Oh, I’ve had a wonderful time homeschooling my two daughters, aged 27 and 30, who are sheltering here in the Oxfordshire countryside. But like Nick, the wonderful weather and the dogs are loving their walks and the bright sunshine certainly cheers us all up.
[00:01:48] And in his assets, we have his own Jim Dickinson. Jim, tell us something that changed you.
[00:01:53] So so I packed up yesterday morning, but it appears that the in-laws had a spat. So when we dropped their shopping off on the patio, we were able to pick up an old cattle, which has chaired the house up now.
[00:02:06] Right. So as panic about the pandemic has settled inside the sector, about next year, some universities decided to shore publications with a new wave of unconditioned offers only for the universities. Minister professing UK alter slammed down hard on the practice this week. Mary, tell us what’s going on here.
[00:02:21] Well, exams are being cancelled and a process has been set up for students to get their exam results, results. And so these will be awarded rather than assessed grades. It’s actually a process that awarding bodies have used for for years. They use it to deal with people who’ve perhaps, you know, got sick in the middle of their exams and so on. But now they’ve got to deliver this process at massive scale for hundreds of thousands of students taking multiple subjects and using, you know, it’s a it’s a non-standard process and it’s never been tested at that scale. So it’ll be a huge test for them to stand up something that’s fair and they’ll be using multiple non automated data feeds from schools. So that in itself is a huge challenge. But assuming that they do do this successfully, the exam grades awarded should be broadly fair and in aggregate at least. But of course, we could expect many more than the usual kind of individual unfairnesses to creep in. So the theory that confirmation and clearing can proceed on a reasonably normal basis using the awarded grades is not proven. And in my view, confirmation clearing has always been a micro market that the sector understands quite well.
[00:03:35] Now I think there are just too many unknown unknowns. It’s fairly clear that international equipment is going to take a massive hit in the short and probably the longer term too, as global recession digs in. And I think this will have a big impact on behaviours in the domestic market with competition to recruit home students just increasing really sharply. As you said, Mark, some universities, mostly at the lower tariff end of things, have started converting conditional offers to unconditional. But I expect they’ve stopped pretty quickly now that the professors issued stern guidance and I think a two week moratorium and at the higher tariff end of things. And these are the universities who are most likely to be hit by international recruitment. So it’s quite likely that they could be have a higher appetite for recruiting domestic students at slightly lower grade levels. And that, of course, is going to create real problems for universities lower down the pecking order. I must admit, I’ve wondered whether the OFW might need to impose some kind of soft no control on recruitment just to level things out a bit. But nobody said anything about that yet. And then the biggest unknown is how students are going to behave.
[00:04:52] Will they decide to wait a year till things settle down? Will those who’ve concentrated on really upping their game in these last few months before the exams, they thought they were going to sit? Will they want to actually wait and have a chance to show what they’ve done by taking their exams when they happen in September or whenever? And then the whole kind of releasing and switching dance that goes on in clearing? Is that going to increase or reduce, given that people will be, you know, looking for surety and perhaps be less likely to take a chance on things? And, of course, will universities even be able to open at the start of the autumn term? So I think this is a really worrying time for students, but also for universities who are going to. Have you know all the financial uncertainties created by the crisis exacerbated by such an unpredictable admissions round? It’s just see one potential upside, which could be an uptick in post-graduate recruitment if graduates are thinking that getting a job when they graduate this summer is going to be very difficult. But I don’t know what others think about all of this. It looks pretty grim to me.
[00:06:02] I agree with a lot of the things that Mary has said. I also think, though, that the incentives for graduates to stay on and do postgraduate study might apply to an 18 year old who was thinking they were going to join the labor market. It might make them a bit more likely to go to H.E. instead. And I worry a bit about a new provision for delivering grades. I don’t want to caricature young men too much, but when I taught at an all boys school, there was a particular tendency among the boys compared to the girls at Naugle School. I taught her as well to leave everything to the last minute the exam, and I worry if I do worry a little bit, whether boys in particular could lose out by the new way of awarding grades.
[00:06:47] Yeah, that’s a that’s a really good point, Nick. And I think we you know, one of the things that the awarding bodies will use in order to get some sort of awarded grades up for everybody is they will use statistical information as well as what teachers and predicted grades and other bits of evidence are produced.
[00:07:06] So I would have thought that they will they will manage that because they will they will know that from. From the data.
[00:07:14] Is there a way in which it could help disadvantaged students because they’ll have to were on the side of generosity when when there’s question marks, surely. And just as universities use contextual offers, because we know some people from disadvantaged backgrounds underperform against their true ability. I just wonder if there’s some elements in which it could actually help some of the most disadvantaged applicants and I didn’t marry. You will know whether there’s any any life in that. But if you were on the side of caution, I just wonder if it could help some people while hindering.
[00:07:43] Yeah, I mean, that’s some that’s an optimistic view. I think my worry is, is just how much standardised data the awarding process can handle, given that it’s having to stand up a completely new, untested process. So, you know, would they be able to see that much detail about individual students who come from more disadvantaged backgrounds?
[00:08:10] And again, I think they will be using statistical analysis, not just at a national level, but as a school level as well. And that perhaps will help kind of scoop up those who’ve, you know, come from schools, whether with a high level of deprivation in their cohorts. But it’s you know, we won’t be able to scrutinise the process until afterwards when we see what the results look like.
[00:08:32] It’s fascinating. I mean, assuming we do get awards into the system somehow and as you say, it will take us some time to work out a guess how fair that process will was when it’s all said and done. It’s a kind of a critical element on getting September up and running, but we still don’t yet know the trajectory of this pandemic and the social distancing measures and other things that might impact on applicant behaviour. In all this kind of awards or no awards, I mean, Jim, what do you think? If you’re a student thinking of that going in September to university, what would you be thinking of this month?
[00:09:08] Well, I think, look, if you keep your eye on Twitter with the right searches, you don’t after sort of gas, you can tell. So the morning after the A-level stuff was announced, by about early lunchtime, there were students jumping up and down with glee because their university had somehow managed to determine all of the complexities and all of the difficulties and all of the factors in offer making and converted their offer from conditional to unconditional. And I’ve been pretty scathing on social about that because there were then thousands of students who weren’t in that position feeling really reassured. And crucially, it looked like market share grab when the one thing you want at this point is for civil servants and the regulator. And and the sector to be making a united case for what potentially needs to be bailout funding in the next few months, rather than various people having to run round and scrabble to stop people grabbing market share. Now, I don’t know whether that was anyone’s intention, even if it wasn’t. I just think, you know, that has been the impact on that and that’s been regrettable.
[00:10:12] But if you look at what students have been saying over the past few days on the assumption that we will still be in and out of social distancing, and if you look at the mass that we’ve got now around student accommodation, we may well end up talking about that later. I don’t know why any student would sign on the line and enroll in September if they could possibly avoid it. They don’t know where they’ll be. They don’t know what they’re going to get. They don’t know what the experience. Going to be like and certainly if it’s all online, I am not in any way denigrating the incredible efforts that the sector put in over the past week to start delivering stuff online. But the idea that that will be in any way good enough by September, I think is for the birds. And so if it’s possible, I don’t understand why a student wouldn’t want to defer for a year. And that goes for international students and home students, as well as both new students and continuing students.
[00:11:06] But but, Jim, can they afford to do that? You know, a lot of know a lot a lot of the people who take the so-called gap year are people who can afford to take a gap year. And for for many students, it’s just not an affordable option, particularly when who knows what will be happening to the job market. In between, you know, how are they at least if they’re at university, whether online or in person, they’re having some living costs paid?
[00:11:30] Well, I think that’s true. But if you think about the way in which a family will suddenly have to weigh this up, lots and lots of families will to some extent expect the boomerang effect. And that regardless of when the three years happens after the three years, they may well be back in the family home in very similar circumstances. So in some ways, that doesn’t change. What what does change is signing on the line for a huge amount of money for purpose-built student accommodation moving house. I mean, is it a good idea from a public health point of view to be undertaking that mass migration of people in that couple of weeks in September? We may well decide as a country that’s a terrible idea. And the more you add all of these things up, the more you say to yourself, why would a student, if if they can avoid it, do it now. Now, I have no doubt maybe that you’re right that some people will want to go in regardless of the disruption. And some people will regard the student finance package, albeit in the form of a loan as better than the alternatives, depending on their financial situation where they live. But if you can avoid it, I have no idea why a student would want to go into the chaos in September. It would be different. I think just to say if if somehow there was a pause and, you know, something happened where the whole sector kind of, you know, went into cryogenic freezing and reemerged in January.
[00:12:51] I mean, whether or not as a mass deferral, like you say, Jim, or even a pause or pushing back the academic year, you mentioned the word bailouts, Nick. I mean, we’d be talking about such a large financial hole in the fence act as violence is that it is hard to see how many universities would survive this. I wonder is the is the kind of push the commission offers kind of in some ways kind of putting the cart before the horse because, you know, without the promise of a of some kind of bail out, universities are going to try and trying to shore up their position. Come, come what may.
[00:13:22] I’ve never believed the government’s line on bailouts, even in less worrying times. You know that when they’ve said we will never help a university in dire financial circumstances, I’ve never believed that because universities are too important to let them tumble over. And of course, it’s doubly true in a crisis like this, if if small companies and charities and other organizations are falling over the end of this crisis, our universities will be even more important at the end than they were at the beginning. So, I mean, I’ve had a bit of an argument with Jim this week on Twitter about some of this stuff. I see the world very differently to Jim on some of the things he was talking about. So, for example, if my children are 18 and if they listen to me, I wouldn’t be encouraging them to defer because if everybody defers until the following year, yes, that’s bad for institutions. It’s also bad to students, I think, because you’ll be trying to enter in a very competitive environment. So this cohort of students have been told by people like me that they’re a part of a lucky generation they’ll find going to university. Easy, because that’s part of a small cohort. And if, of course, the opposite turned out to be true. They’re part of an unlucky cohort. There might be some unfairnesses in the grades they get. If they all hold over entry until 2020 one, then they’ll be double entry period and it’ll be even harder to get in. And I also I mean, I think the fust to be completely honest, I think the fuss about unconditional offers this week is a bit of pleasing the crowds.
[00:14:56] I think it’s a bit of a fuss about nothing because we know that later in the system, if universities have given someone a conditional offer and that the person doesn’t quite get the conditional offer, they can let them in anyway. I think, you know, there’s a lot of threats being made to universities if they go on turning conditional offers into unconditional offers. But if you go back and look at the Higher Education and Research Act, as I did this morning, and look at what it says about autonomy, it’s not actually clear that the office of Students has many powers when it comes to admissions, because autonomy in the legislation is defined as being around admissions. So I think there’s much. I think it’s much more important issues around the sector and create a virus than them, whether some young people have had their office converted to unconditional office.
[00:15:45] There needs to be a quid pro quo if there is going to be a big bail out of universities. You know, it won’t be a blank check and it won’t be for nothing. And I think universities are going to suddenly have to sacrifice some autonomy. I mean, Mary mentioned there is no controls. That seems like an obvious way of helping smooth out the volatility. That’s about to hit. I wonder if if that question about autonomy starts to look a bit old fashioned in that context. I mean, we’re nationalizing most of the economy kind of before our eyes. And I wonder if I wonder if universities are going to have to give something away.
[00:16:18] And that’s, you know, in that in that bargain. Well, there’s a lot between government handouts and letting a university fall over. You know, there’s loan guarantees, there’s lending money, all sorts of things. And for me, what matters? Yes, the health of the institution matters. But me were also matters is that this cohort of young people expecting 20 university this year are not punished as a result of things that are no fault of their own. So so if universities are struggling, I’d like to see the support put in at an institutional level rather than by forcing changes to student behavior and putting sort of punishing the students. You’re absolutely right that the universities will the government will run out of money if it just gives everybody money willy nilly. And one thing that I’ve said is that, look, I don’t think universities should have special treatment. But I think the sort of help that is given to other big parts of our economy should also be on offer for universities on an equal basis. Because as I said before, universities will be even more important to our country at the end of this than they were at the beginning.
[00:17:26] I mean, just just to say, the thing that really strikes me is that it clearly, to some extent, the two week moratorium thing, we’re expecting something to him more to emerge, you know, from a on a coordinated basis at the end of those two weeks that we either can imagine or can’t imagine at this point. But but, you know, if at the end of the two weeks we go back to business as usual with everybody, competing overstatements are, my God, will they be competing if they start into, you know, get cancellations from international students and they start to do projections, assuming that international mobility will be in freefall? If we languor in a fortnight’s time the sort of cutthroat competition that we usually get, you know, around that kind of clearing an adjustment period, one, I think that looks terrible. But to I don’t know how a student would be able to make the sort of informed, accurate judgment that OFW says is absolutely vital for a start, because they won’t even know what’s on offer from their university and they certainly know won’t know whether they’re even gonna be allowed to attend that university. So this whole you know, I have some sympathy with an exposition around, you know, how tight or how loose the market is in terms of a generation of students trying to get into uni.
[00:18:41] But the idea that in less than a fortnight’s time, that kind of guillotine will be lifted and everyone will be, you know, doing their normal things that they do during clearing is, I think, terrifying.
[00:18:51] And I, you know, just just to kind of add into the conversation with, you know, large swathes of the population worrying about their family income. You know, there’s a there is an affordability question as well for for families who typically subsidise their children quite sometimes quite significantly through three years at university. So I you know, I just you know, as I said, I think there are a lot of unknown unknowns about how people are going to behave and react. And I’m inclined to agree with Jim that if this if the sector looks as if it’s trying to kind of muscle into Hoover up students, that will be very unedifying. And at a time when I think the sector has got a real opportunity to put some reputational credit back in the bank through this crisis, I think that that would be very unwise.
[00:19:44] All right. Let’s see who’s being blogging for us this week.
[00:19:47] My name is Ward and I’m a senior lecturer in drinking events. Then it’s really an opportunity to step outside the busyness. Nice of the moment. And frantic preparations to switch from being a face to face contestant on Nightline. It reflects one piece of research about this citizenship, my clinical Uinta. In my experience, since perceptions of how thesurface university courses use security to prepare them for collaboration in the islands. And we were kind of puzzled that in the experiences students said there was less emphasis than we would have expected on a completely ngoni going to an online community and generally reaching out to make professional and engaged connections. So the blog is really a celebration of some really good examples. We’ve witnessed recently in the higher education sector. And it’s a list of hope that the collaboration and civic engagement we submit and, you know, face to face when is something we will recreate for our students in the digital environment.
[00:20:52] In a widely praised move from Research England. It’s been announced that this year’s WEAF is now on hold.
[00:20:57] Nick, tell us what’s going on. So if there’s one thing the current crisis shows, it’s the importance of university research. I mean, if you think of the epidemiologists, for example, who are all over our airwaves telling us what’s happening, you know, really does show that a lot of our good quality research lies in our universities and we’re relying on them more than ever. And of course, the way that the quality of our research is judged one way anyway is through the research excellence framework that happens every few years. And Research England have now announced that will be delayed until further notice. They’ve said that part of the reason for that is that staff need the time to focus on other issues. So the crucial thing is the submission deadline of late November no longer applies. There’ll be a later date told to us at some other point. One or two things survive, say the staff. Census state, which is the end of July, stays the same, which is important, I think, because it will discourage certain wanted behaviors, perhaps. And I think, as as you said in your introduction, the research, England’s showing admirable flexibility here, as indeed other regulators have been doing. And it also reflects the pause in research not linked to the crisis that many universities have have got underway. I mean, it’s not all good. You know, it adds to the list of uncertainties that we as a sector are facing. We still don’t know what the government response to Auger is. We still don’t know what the Shirley Pierce review of the Teff says. We still don’t know if the national student survey results this year will have much validity given the strikes and now the crisis. Indeed, we called this week for league tables to be paused because of the level of uncertainty around. But I think I think in general, what recent England have done will be welcomed by people up and down the UK. And it’s a UK wide decision, of course, not just an England decision.
[00:22:52] I think you’re right next to contextualizes in in kind of the power of research and science that that is kind of right front and centre in everyone’s kind of in everyone’s eyes over the last few weeks. And I think that’s you know, I think it’s a still it has moved by research England. But I wonder if, you know, I wonder if we could have newfound respect for for research in science and society as a result of all this. There is an unprecedented mobilisation going on right now amongst the research community to fight carbon 19 from from the hard core of epidemiology to the social aspects to all sorts of all sorts of things. And I mean, it’s it’s clearly right that, you know, there’s not an additional regulatory burden slowing down that kind of work. But I wonder if coming out of this, one of the one of the small upsides, you know, might be a kind of hard shift in public opinion and an understanding about the importance of of of these disciplines and the places they exist, which is that a lot of it happens inside universities, Mary.
[00:23:53] And I think I think this is really interesting, Mark. And, you know, the sector has a bit of a love-hate relationship with the RAF, doesn’t it? But one of the things I’ve noticed over the last couple of weeks is that, you know, what I’ve always felt is a bit of an echo chamber for researchers, you know, in other words, they do their research and talk to each other about it and review each other’s papers and read each other’s papers. Suddenly seems to have been opened up and quite a few papers being being published without being peer reviewed and the peer review taking place on on social media. And I think I’ve got a hope that, you know, one of the positive outcomes from this crisis is that research will become much more visible and and widely shared with the public and less of a kind of internal echo chamber for the sector.
[00:24:45] You know, from from a kind of macro political point of view, we are two or three months.
[00:24:51] What we’ve got a couple of years now of experts being a problem, you know, public servants being a problem, the BBC being a problem. So many things suddenly look like they’ve been turned on their head. And this really is their, you know, the kind of time for university research to shine. The thing I’m worried about in all of this is the position of PGR students, particularly that the PGR students for whom funding is less secure and where they haven’t got guarantees at the moment because so many of them can’t continue their research and are kind of trapped and aren’t sure about what is happening. And I do bear in mind that so many of them were getting through their experience by, you know, doing sessional teaching, some of which has now disappeared or some of which is being. You know, slashed fairly rapidly as a result of, you know, people having to shore up their finances. So, you know, I do think that for all of everyone’s efforts around the kind of student experience of the past couple of weeks, I’m very worried about, you know, research students and the opposition.
[00:25:54] I mean, I agree. And of course, many of them will have visa worries as well, because many of them will be international. And I think there could be a strange gap, which is life becomes much harder for PGR students. I actually think that we could see a big increase in p.g T students to Masters courses because who wants to enter the labor market now and of course, as Masters loans available for them. But you’re right. Yeah. If you’re if you’re a p._h._d student or a post-doc or indeed if you’re an academic on a precarious contract, now is an especially tough time.
[00:26:27] A professor has a new look and feel this week. Jim, tell us all about it.
[00:26:31] The first kind of OFAC intervention was to write to everyone to say, how many cases have you got on campus? And then, you know, all of those institutions that are franchise partners were scratching their head, you know, in the phones. The second intervention was more of a broad brush to say, look, this is the sort of approach we’re going to take. And it signaled a kind of relaxation of some regulation to focus on the crisis. I think that was broadly welcomed. And we’ve got the first output of that kind of pivot in approach now, which is that the relaxation of a bunch of regulatory requirements, lots of which are around data, but crucially, the creation of a new reportable event, which is absolutely focused on the sense that there might be financial impacts to all of this crisis. And it centers on liquidity over 30 days, within a three month period. We’ve got Manteca for peace upon the sites about it. Now, the thing that’s fascinating about it is it starts to raise all sorts of questions in in a really kind of intense way that we have been asking for some time. So if you think about a year ago, 18 months ago, I think a couple of years ago, actually, when Michael Barber turned up to fast and was talking about, you know, some institutions will need to get their financial house in order. And, you know, there was talk of. That’s right, no bailouts. There was talk of some institutions, you know, being on the edge and having to get, you know, bridging loans with the old hefty powers and so on.
[00:27:56] Think back to then. That one of the things that a number of us were saying was that there’s a fine line between being public about this sort of stuff with the public conditions of registration, because, you know, you want a regulator to behave in public and you know that that would provide good warning for students and parents making choices. But there’s also obviously a pressure to be private about this stuff because you don’t wanna create a run on the bank. Now, it was bad enough then, but imagine the moral quandary now if OFAC gets a number of these new reportable events which would signal urgent cashflow problems. And remember, we’re not just talking about mainstream universities. They think about the long tail of the l_s_f_s register and the idea that exposure to treat them at least equitably or the providers equitably. On the one hand, if if if it’s if the nature of its regulation over this new reportable event is quite confidential on the basis that would give providers an opportunity to, you know, survive, recruit, whatever. Then if that provider falls over what parents and employees and students will be saying will be, you know, it was close to the edge as a regulator and you didn’t tell us. Whereas. And so you see the problem. Yeah.
[00:29:08] This this this deep moral quandary involved in whether your public and you provide information to the people that are making choices, which is really important to duty or whether you’re private and you put in place a series of measures that allows an institution to take action to survive without causing a run on the bank. And, you know, I really I really wouldn’t want to be, you know, the kind of officials or the committee or whatever that has asked to make some of those choices in the next few months.
[00:29:38] I agree 100 percent with Jim. But I just want to stand back a little bit. Just as we said, research England have acted in a very mature, constructive, responsible way on the research Exxons framework. I think the change in tone that we’ve seen from the office for students, for example, in terms of their correspondence with institutions since the crisis began, has been incredibly welcome. I mean, it does, of course, show that universities are calling for a more constructive relationship with the efforts before the crisis. Probably had a very good case. But it does seem to me, you know, a crisis really tests people’s mettle. Some people come out of a crisis proving their worth and others don’t. And this is really the first really, really big crisis the FSR to deal with. And I think so far it’s it’s doing all the right things. I really, really regret the. Fesses never had, for example, a regional presence that he had. When I asked vice chancellors, what do you most miss? About half. They very often say the regional presence, the regional understanding, the sense of it of the country is different to other bits of the country. The ability to test ideas out informally. And I suspect they themselves and now regretting not having that regional presence to not that things aren’t perfect, but you know, if the FSD kept up its old approach in the current crisis, I think people would be questioning its its very existence and they’re not doing that and we need them to take the approach they are taking. DKA and Jim’s piece on on the website of one key site today, you know, goes into all the detail. But I think the overall approach is what’s really important.
[00:31:20] And there’s something about the OFW not having a relationship credit in the bank. Isn’t that which is which is what you’re saying, neke, that that that regional you know, the regional presence really, really did that. And I’d be interested in what others think about you u.k.’s role in all of this, because it feels to me as if you UK has come to the fore a bit more as genuinely as a kind of a sector sector negotiator, because the regulator has always kept rather at arm’s length from from individual universities.
[00:31:57] I think I think it is a I think this shows a particularly given the lack of Heskey and its role, often as a kind of it often talked about itself as a bridging kind of act between governments and universities. That’s clearly not what our professors, editor offices that regulate universities and in a very different approach for a number of different reasons. Nick, you’ve pointed out some of them that does and I’ve long maintained since super abolition of hapkido that should give UK a kind of stronger central role in filling that bridging, you know, that can take on different things. So it’s kind of the convening of the policy conversation that Heskey used to do very substantially that kind of vanished along with them in that kind of consensus building around our own big issues. And then there, of course, there is the fact that, you know, in Whitehall there is very limited bandwidth and particularly in a crisis like this. So DFA is going to be taking measures that affect universities through your common 19 crises, as they already haven’t and are likely to do plenty more of than you know, UK is obviously the first port of call to test our ideas and kind of kind of do some of the backfill of the thinking about the implications. And I understand a lot of that is is going on kind of going on behind the scenes. But I mean, whether or not, you know, whether or not, you know, as Anthony Seldon has pointed out on next blog, UK can can kind of be sustainable. Is that as just a voice of vice chancellors is, I think, a kind of much sharper question in this context, given the huge now pressing, pressing uncertainties and difficulties that institutions are going to face.
[00:33:40] And Mark, can I can I just say in terms of contrasts. I think that that point is really, really important. So, you know, when you’re sat on a train and the advice is, even if you’ve got nothing to say, if you’re the train, you know, person keep communicating with people because otherwise they get frustrated. And I think if you compare what AOC has been doing in recent days as opposed to Gig UK, no doubt UK is doing amazing work behind the scenes, but it has been awfully quiet back to the sector. And I think that reflects the you know, the kind of position is usually in the nature of its governance and so on. But I think it would really help if the UK was doing some was being a bit more public. The other contrast I think that is really interesting is the contrast between obviously to some extent that the funding counselling Scotland and the regulator in England, you know, the change in tone and I think lots of people have welcomed but without solid promises from DFA or HFS of financial support to universities, we are still in a position where all of the communications that are come out of our face are. If you think you are close to the edge financially, you will have to tell us and we will take action. You compare that to the tone that is coming out of SABC and its you know, if you want to talk to us, if you’re worried, you know, we will support you. You know, I know that reflects the legislation and the difference in role. But, you know, with our aid with as I say, with that promise, our financial support. Right now, lots of people are thinking all they’ve heard from our family is we’ve got to tell them when we’re in trouble and then, you know, they might throw us off the register. And I’m not sure I’m not sure that can hold.
[00:35:10] I’d like to just put an additional spanner into this, which is governance. We talk about this a lot on the show and on the site. And we’ve talked about governance being one of the deficit areas in the sector and there’s been lots of efforts to try and improve it. But we’re talking about, you know, really, really big decisions the universities have to take and we’re talking about where responsibility sets. And it seems like the question of our governance now will be even more front and center. I mean, Mary, you think. Boards of governors are, you know, as they stand, kind of equipped to deal with these kind of things.
[00:35:41] Well, I mean, look, I’m pretty good on the tack.
[00:35:45] And I’ve found, you know, using seven different video conferencing systems over the past few weeks and, you know, trying to help either me or often participants through that difficult enough. So the idea that governing bodies, sometimes of which about 30, 35 people on them are meeting as regularly as, for instance, the charity commission is advising charities to meet, which is that at least once a week at the moment.
[00:36:07] I just think this is very, very difficult. And I don’t know whether there are subcommittees. I don’t know whether there is regular stuff going out to governors in lieu of meetings. But, you know, the idea that governance is operating in the way the you know, the terms of reference suggests at the moment, I think he’s probably for the best.
[00:36:26] And just to add to that, Jim, you know, the governance machine in universities has got quite a time lag built into it. So, you know, so I think universities that kind of send all their council papers and committee papers, you know, up through a series of checks and balances and and sign offs and so on. They’re going to have to get used to doing much more immediate communications with their with their governing bodies. And that, you know, that it doesn’t come naturally to to universities. And, of course, those of us who are on governing bodies, you know, we we want today’s information. We dont want something which was written three weeks ago and is frankly completely out of date.
[00:37:10] Good governance is often quite slow. It’s deliberative. It’s it’s it’s, you know, building an evidence base. It’s learning slowly and in a crisis. Slow doesn’t work. So I actually think we might see some delegations of powers from governing bodies to senior management teams and then sort of fixing it after the event. In other words, explaining, you know, delegating some more responsibility to senior management teams with a feedback loop to governing bodies, because if you look at the advice coming out the office for students, it’s you know, you’ve got to make decisions with the best interests of students and institutions and in mind. And I think sometimes that needs quick decisions. And governing bodies are not always good at making quick decisions.
[00:37:53] And the other thing I’d say is I am on a trustee board of a student. Geniune. And on Monday night, I was in a meeting and I wasn’t really concentrating because I was thinking about all of the other things I had to do in my job. And I suspect that’s true for members of university governing bodies, many of whom are running businesses or charities or, you know, I mean, there’s lots and lots of things going on here. But one of the things that did strike me, though, halfway through the meeting, I thought, no. Right. Come on, Jim, you’ve got concentrate. This is quite serious for this student. Geniune. Well, I think it did strike me that he’s. I have seen from a charity point of view plenty of stuff from and CBO from some of the third sector bodies and from the charity commission directly aimed at me specifically around reminding me of my governance responsibilities during this crisis. And I do think that right now one of the things that all of this does show up is just how little there is for members of governing bodies, reminding them of their responsibilities, how they might have to change in a scenario like this, how a delegation of powers might have to work in the middle of a crisis Sosnik refers to and so on and so on. We have a real hole, I think, in that kind of governance performance space.
[00:38:58] I think we shouldn’t forget how much experience there is on many of our governing bodies. I know in the past we’ve worried, for example, that there aren’t enough young people on our governing bodies. And I accept all of those things. But the fact that we have a lot of quite experienced people on our governing bodies does mean they have often at their own organizations been through crises and they may actually have some very good advice for the management teams of their institutions while not crossing the line between government bodies role in and day-To-Day management. But I do think, you know, I’ve long thought to see you see the committee of university chairs needs beefing up. I think they did very good work. We’ve we’ve running a blog on the happy website this week from Chris. Say it’s the head of it, that he’s very, very good work. And they did it over senior management pay, for example, recently. But by golly, does a crisis shine a spotlight on governance? And, you know, I think the committee of university chairs should be a much bigger organization. I think the sector should fund it appropriately.
[00:39:55] One of one of the thorniest issues to emerge in in all this is about student accommodation and what happens to students. There have been isolated in halls and campus closures around them and then particularly the issue of rent. Who pays when, when and how? Mary took us through what’s going on.
[00:40:14] Yeah, I’m afraid as with a lot we’ve spoken about this morning, there’s quite a lot to get anxious about here. I think it’s about half a million students in student accommodation. So that covers university halls, private sector purpose-built, student accommodation, CBSA and private rented. And so I think, first of all, student welfare and safety is an issue, particularly those who have to stay in. Student accommodation that people who can’t go home, can’t get home for various reasons or those who’ve got nowhere to go because they’re estranged or even those who are already self isolating for one reason or another. And as far as I can see, I think the sector has moved quite quickly to make sure that these students are looked after. Then there’s a whole load of stuff about rents and contracts and students who have to stay on beyond their rent contracts, students who’ve signed contracts starting this summer for their accommodation next year. Those who can’t afford their rents and those who, perhaps not surprisingly, don’t want to pay for accommodation that they are prevented from living in by the by the virus emergency. And then not to mention all the students who’ve had to leave their digs in a big hurry and have left their stuff behind. So, I mean, obviously, universities have got control over their own rental accommodation and presumably will be able to make suitable arrangements fairly easily. And then on the private sector bit, it was good to see Unite announcing fairer arrangements for its tenants. But there’ll be many PSB aides who are not in a position to be quite so generous. But I think the real the real difficult area is the private rented sector, which has a bit of a wild west and of course, has got little or no central coordination. So I think this is a really difficult area. And I imagine that universities will need to stand up some teams specifically to deal with accommodation issues and do their best to support students in this in this difficult area.
[00:42:12] Yeah. I mean, look at lots of universities moved relatively quickly to say we won’t charge you for the third term. Some universities have really dug their heels. And I suspect that’s because of finances. And that’s you know, that’s got to be a worry from all sorts of perspectives if you think about it. But I imagine that most universities where they own the accommodation or at least control it will follow suit pretty rapidly. There’s a little wrinkle in there, by the way, about requiring students there who’ve left all their stuff in their rooms to come back and, you know, travel across the country and know what that looks like from a public health point of view. The PDVSA, of course, it’s split into two kind of chunks here that the stuff that’s owned is relatively easy. So Unites, which now, of course, also owns Liberty Living, issued a warning to the stock exchange to the FTSE 100 and set low from a reputation point of view. We’re going to have to do this. But remember, lots of PDVSA brands don’t own the buildings. What they what they are actually doing is management companies for little investment units. And, you know, I did a article on this on the site a few months back, and that’s pretty head on that issue. But my God, does it expose it when suddenly you want to exert some level of control over it, either from a public health point of view or from this kind of point of view in terms of, you know, easing people’s budgets? I’ve seen some terrible assumptions from all sorts of people that because the third term loan is coming in, everyone will be able to afford it.
[00:43:29] And I’m just not sure it’s that simple for lots and lots of families. But the main thing I’ve been reflecting on as I’ve watched this kind of unfold across the course of the week, he’s a bit like where we are in terms of student fees going into September or even to some extent. Now, where is the risk? Where who bears the risk? Yeah. And at the moment, a lot much of the risk, despite the fact that we’ve got a risk based regulator and we’ve got some regulation around accommodation and so on. Almost all of the risk in lots of this stuff is with the student and the Traci’s. What you would probably want if you were to encourage students to sign up for university this September is a way of pooling the risk. So if an institutional course fell over, you weren’t depending on student protection plans. You had something more collective in financial in terms of insurance or something. And the same, I think is true of accommodation where you don’t want all of the risk to be on a student who happens to have signed a contract, many of whom, by the way, have signed a contract for next academic year already and are told they can’t wriggle out of it. You don’t want all the risk to be on the student who may well by September be told they can’t ever move in.
[00:44:34] And that kind of throws up the whole area, doesn’t it? That accommodation, as you know, a cost an income stream for various different parties and so on. Nobody has really focused on that as an area that probably needs a lot more organization and possibly regulation as well.
[00:44:52] And of course, many of the issues raised by the current crisis are exactly the same in every country across the world. And countries are learning from one another. But so much of our higher education system is shaped by the fact that our residential model is so much more prevalent than it is in other countries. So this is an issue where there’s less to learn from other countries. And we may you know, that’s why I think we’re finding it a bit more challenging than some of the other issues raised by the current crisis. There are all sorts of advantages about so many students living away from home. You know, in terms of independence and, you know, meeting people in different parts of the country, in the world, et cetera, et cetera. Well well, you know, the crisis, the crises shine a spotlight on different things and. I hope the world will revert to Norm at some point, but, um, but at the moment these these issues are very, very challenging indeed, including, as you say, Jim, for people who are looking at accommodation for the next academic year.
[00:45:49] So that’s about it for this week. Remember to delve deeper into anything we discuss today. The findings in the show notes. Don’t forget, you can subscribe to the podcast automatically. Just search for the one key show via iTunes or your favorite Android cost directory or find Regeni on Waukee dot com sackful. And if you fancy appearing the guest on a show, please drop us an e-mail on team dot com and we’ll be in touch. Thanks to Nick, Mary and Jim and everyone at team in making it happen behind the scenes. And until next week, look after yourselves.