This week on the podcast we look at the proposal from Universities UK and MillionPlus on attracting government funds to the sector to support current and future key workers.
We also reflect on the OIA annual report, interrogate new evidence on the intentions of international applicants, and think about mental health in the context of the pandemic.
Hosted by Wonkhe CEO Mark Leach; with Steve Smith, Vice Chancellor at Exeter University and Hillary Gyebi-Ababio, Undergraduate Education Officer at Bristol SU.
Items this week:
- Covid-19 coverage continues on the site here.
To get involved in The Wonkhe Show, email email@example.com
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[00:00:01] It’s the Wonkhe show, we talk bailouts again, student complaints. International students and mental health. It’s all coming up .
[00:00:08] You feel very much that like you come into the role when you get involved in the Day-To-Day of the university. And it feels across the satchel from all the different officers I’ve spoken to with this crisis. A lot of officers have just stepped into the element of crisis management almost and and really listening closely to students so they can be lay on the ground, what’s going on and what students are thinking and feeling. And we found that that’s been really valuable. And as you’ve said to senior management, what, that.
[00:00:42] Welcome to the show. You’ve got to weigh into this week’s higher education news, policy and analysis. Our editor in chief, Mark Leach, reporting from my house in lockdown, London. And while the weather may have turned grim, you can always curl up by the fire of informed policy discussion and to stoke the coals with me this week.
[00:00:57] We have two fantastic guests. In Bristol, we have Hillary Gyebi-Ababio, vice president, higher education elect of the National Union students. Hilary, tell us something that she drew up this week.
[00:01:07] What’s really set me up this week is that my whole flat house have decided that baking is what they want to do constantly. I’ve been having a lot of lemon cake and biscuits in general, so it’s been great.
[00:01:18] And in Exeter, we have Steve Smith, of course, the vice chancellor of USC of Exeter. And Steve, some good news from your end this week, please.
[00:01:26] Well, from my end, one of our postgraduate researchers, Minkow Phoo, has donated 3000 items of PPE to hospice care. She’s sourced it from China and had it sent over. And it’s just a wonderful example of how people are coming together in the middle of this crisis.
[00:01:41] So we start this week with the joint bailout proposal from Universities UK and Million Plus, which is highlighting how universities can support public sector workers better and puts a bit more meat on the bones of the sector’s bailout proposal. Steve, you’ve been involved in the bailout discussions, I think, since since day one. Can you talk us through this?
[00:02:01] Yes, certainly. I mean, you’ve got to understand that it’s an incredible achievement that that you UK and Alistair Jarvis in particular, deserves a lot of credit for this. UK has been able to get all parts of the sector to agree on an overall bailout package. It’s trying to do two big things. Firstly, it’s trying to replace lost international fee income, which, as you know, is around the six point nine billion at risk because clearly a large number of institutions rely on that income to cross subsidise research. And at the other side of things, it’s trying to look at stopping too much turmoil and too much volatility in the admissions round if international students don’t come. The temptation will be for student institutions to take large numbers of home students, thereby introducing a lot of volatility and putting pressure on students to change programs right in the middle of clearing. So for that reason, the that the bailout project is to try and get a balance between research on one on the one hand and making sure there’s not too much turbulence for institutions that would be financially threatened, I guess, if large numbers of the students went elsewhere. And we’re waiting to see the government’s response. We’re told it’s imminent and we hope that it’s favourable in return.
[00:03:18] Is there something else that you’d like to see in the in the sectors bailout proposal? I know the U.S. has has put forward some ideas over the last week. Is there anything that you would like to see universities specifically lobbying more for when it perfectly when it comes to kind of the package for students?
[00:03:35] Yes, I think there’s a few things on my mind when I think about the bailout. I’m really, really acutely conscious of students who have recently graduated and seen it all graduated now and the job market they they’re entering and which is going to be extremely, extremely difficult to navigate. So I’m hoping to see some submission which says in investment in that area. And I’m also very conscious of international student and whether or not we’re going to adjust to making sure that whatever situation they can still benefit from, the UK higher education system and institutions are being flexible and fabara about how they’re doing that. And then the last thing that I would really be keen to see is an investment in greater accessibility measures. I spoke about a while ago how now that universities are having to pay all of these measures in live online teaching and give provision out that is accessible to students. That is nonphysical. And right now, the sector cannot go back from that sound. Very keen to be seeing investment in that area to make sure that students that need accessibility measures for their education are provided for permanently from now on.
[00:04:41] Steve, how do you how do you think these ideas going down in in Whitehall?
[00:04:44] I think different government departments are looking at them differently. I think for the Department for Education. They solve a very major problem because, as you know, the turmoil that could be introduced to the missions round could force a large number of institutions into some quite difficult financial situations. There are some institutions that are financially not very strong at the moment, and it’s clearly not good in the middle of this crisis to have them push towards to the wall. So the Department for Education, I think, is very keen certainly on the stabilisation mechanism that we’ve we’ve proposed. They also want a transformation fund which will allow them to support institutions to move to different kinds of provision. I think the blockages has been well reported. Is is really in the financing of this at the Treasury level. It’s not I don’t think so much. They don’t want to support the university sector, but they as you know as well as anyone, Mark, they want to make sure that they can see where the money’s being used. So. We are in a lot of discussions across the board with different government departments.
[00:05:45] But this deal requires the Home Office base and public education, Treasury, No.10 and others to sign up to it. We’re waiting to hear and we we think it’s going to be okay. We think there’s going to be an announcement whether or not it’s exactly in time. Is the issue because you’ll remember the moratorium on unconditional offers ends the end of this week and the minister doesn’t want to re re announce yet another delay in conditionals. So there’s some urgency in getting the deal sorted out.
[00:06:16] I mean, you mentioned conditional support. What else do you think might be as come a kind of quid pro quo? Because, I mean, you know, there’s never going to be there’s never gonna be a kind of free, free money or, you know, policy levers without strings.
[00:06:28] Yeah. And I think I think we’re all waiting to see what the strings are going to be. I mean, in a way, the deal itself imposes significant strings.
[00:06:37] On the one hand, it’s saying to institutions that could readily expand and they could replace international student numbers with very, very large numbers of highly qualified U.K. students. They could do that. And therefore, not to do that is actually restraint on their part. I think there’ll be something about making sure that students are absolutely protected through this round. I imagine if I was in department for Education, I’d be really worried about the pressure that might be put by by a turbulent admissions round, the pressure on students who were trying to work out what they should do. Should they go where they said they were going to go, should they go somewhere else. So I think there’ll be some measures to kind of calm the process down this year, which will be discussed with UCAS and other bodies. But the aim has got to be to come up with an integrated package that works for both bits of the sector. And again, those of us who’ve been in the sector for a long while know this is a very rare show of unity amongst the sector because it’s very difficult to get the sector to agree on all of these things. So the the package is a package.
[00:07:38] The nightmare, Mark, is if one bit of the package gets accepted, but another bit doesn’t actually help me out on the market stuff because, I mean, all the analysis that I’ve seen on the face of out of the sheer numbers cap proposal out of UK would allow universities that can recruit large amounts undergraduates that you hinted at to do so, which means that those intrusions that have struggled to recruit in the past or just generally have a smaller market share could, you know, could find themselves even further squeezed by by the big and famous names.
[00:08:10] Well, the there was a lot of discussion went on about. About what numbers people have put in. I mean, the thing is, you know, the measure says you can recruit five percent more than you said you were going to recruit this year. Those estimates of what you’re going to recruit tend to be quite close to last year’s estimates sorry, last year actuals. Therefore, the five percent was a compromise. It was a compromise between some institutions that wanted no increase over last year and other institutions that wanted to take a lot more students than they took last year. So there is a political compromise. It allows some flexibility. You’ve also got to remember, of course, that this year, because a levels are going to be assessed in a slightly different way and there is the worry that we will have more students achieving the grades than in a normal year. And therefore, you might have the awkward legal situation where that you get the grades to come to an institution. But because of a cap on last year’s numbers and that student can’t come, and you’re then into a legal dispute with the student. So it was a political compromise. And although you’re absolutely right, it will begin, in a way, the turbulence of recent years. And it does increase a little bit compared to what it would be, what what’s termed the Wild West solution.
[00:09:21] It’s much preferable an unconditional bankruptcy, part of the quid pro quo. Hilary, I mean, I go back and forth about this issue a lot, and I are really keen to know what you think about that, because on the one end of the spectrum, the argument you said people say, well, that’s pressure selling. It’s not fair on students, which I do have I do have some sympathy with. And I think at the worst end of it does it does look a bit better. But on the on the other end, it seems to me that with a level exams cancelled, the data that universities are working on, working on now in terms of the of individual applicants, that the data is actually kind of better. The data about their success and their achievements actually better now than it will be potentially in August. So it seems to me kind of it would be more rational to to make an offer based on make an offer now rather than later on. But I can I can sort of see that I can see the auctions both ways. I’m just very keen on it. What what you think?
[00:10:18] Yeah. And I am acutely aware of of of the effects that condition on an unconditional office can have one student. And I think it’s really important that we find ways of giving more confident assurances to students that have historically been disadvantaged, like BAME students, for example, in a level grades, especially predicted grades and and and give ourselves time to really look at. Whether these whether the way we’re assessing students had given them their grades would be correctly mitigated against. If they are giving out offers, the office of Fair and Considerate to all of that going on, Steve.
[00:10:55] I mean, obviously, the moratorium is in place, but what was Exeter’s policy about? I’m going to shuls even going before before Cobbett.
[00:11:03] We didn’t use conditional on conditionals at all. And we don’t we don’t use them. So I think the complication comes, as I said earlier, if the if the deal breaks down, if there’s no money forthcoming on the research side, then I think we’re going to have to look very carefully at what we do.
[00:11:22] And we’ve looked at a number of options. Do we do we actually go ahead and try and secure the students that have said they want to come to us? We’ve got 17 and a half thousand students under offer to come to Exeter at the moment. We’re going to have to think about that, which is why I think the deal, you know, it’s a clever deal. It it does give something to all parts of the sector. If that if it breaks down, then I think I think that is a difficult situation. And I’m certain that for the secretary of state, the one outcome he doesn’t want is a kind of anarchic situation this summer, which frankly isn’t going to be, as Hillary says, it’s not going to be good for students and it’s not going to be good for the sector in the middle of a of a major crisis.
[00:12:03] Yeah. Just to add on to that, I think a crucial a crucial thought piece that all institutions should be looking at. And I would hope that on a not on a government level, thinking about that, however they go forward with this deal. The students that you are accepting and it’s that you are either given office to or not given office to. How are you thinking about how they’re going to be supported going forward from that? So what is claimer going to look like and how are they going to be supported through that? And the students that do get their offers, how are they going to be supported once they join these institutions and in a very acute way? So not just the general package of support that institutions are used to giving. How are you going to support students that may not have had the teaching, their content or their their environment to be able to transition into higher education like they’d normally wet?
[00:12:49] It’s interesting, Hilary, that one of the things that this crisis has taught us is we have to provide very different resources for students from different backgrounds who don’t. You know, it’s one thing being at home in a middle class household with a good Wi-Fi and good broadband, lots of books, you know. And another one another being in a very different situation. So we’ve got, for example, and I’m sure lots of universities have got. We’re now learning out laptops. We’re learning our equipment. We’re sending out dongles so people can get Internet connection because movement teaching remotely and assessing remotely sounds straightforward, but it doesn’t half show up the differences in the resources available to students from different backgrounds.
[00:13:28] And that’s going to be an issue, I think, in the coming academic year.
[00:13:31] I agree completely. I think it’s important that right now we we don’t stick to take you to what’s been tried and tested, because the nature of this situation means that students are going to need things from you that they might not have necessarily needed as explicitly before. And it’s really important that we be innovative. But consider it. I mean, it’s encouraging to see institutions that are really going that show how to make sure that that that’s done well and then all of that.
[00:13:56] The absolutely key relationship for us has been with the two student unions. We’ve got Exeter, the Students Guild on the campuses and the students union down in our Falmouth campus. I mean, we’re working with them incredibly closely and they’ve been central in helping us identify the needs of various groups of students. And it’s a great example of how really, really good cooperation, whatever differences we have over other issues. Really good cooperation between students, unions and university senior management can actually get the resources to people who need them and I’m sure around the country. There’s been really a a burgeoning of good, good working practices between universities and students unions because they ultimately share the same goals on those issues.
[00:14:34] It’s been interesting as an officer navigating this this pandemic, just because often you feel very much that, like you come into the role and you get involved in the Day-To-Day of the university and it feels across the sector from all the different offices I’ve spoken to with this crisis. A lot of offices have just stepped into the element of crisis management almost and and really listening closely to students so they can be lay on the ground, what’s going on and what students are thinking and feeling. And we’ve done that. That’s been really valuable. And as you said to senior management, when they’re making their decisions and if we continue to have that human aspect where we’re really on the ground listening and, you know, moving away from trying to do it in a metrics based way. But we really connect to people as people. I think that’s really got to be what gets us through this and what really enables us to support students like they want us to.
[00:15:23] It’s interesting. Just finish on this book for me. I thought before the crisis or as the crisis unfolded, I thought I think we tended to think that the resourcing we needed to provide the students was the same. And I think what it’s really, really shown me graphically is that. When you move to online, actually, it accentuates differences between the resourcing levels of students, you know, the social capital, the physical facilities they have to work in.
[00:15:51] And, you know, in a way you think online is the same for everyone, but it absolutely isn’t. And that’s where we need our students unions to be able to talk to us and with us, frankly. And we’ve learned an enormous lot through this process and we haven’t got everything right.
[00:16:06] I think that’s going to be a big job of like doing lessons learned after this, after we’ve moved on from the worst of this this crisis. And I think it’s going to be a massive job when we start to look at what we really mean by looking at disadvantaged students. What does WP actually mean and who falls into it and how do we support the different groups within that heading appropriately and in and in not a catch or type way, but really be targeted so we can give them that close support that they need.
[00:16:34] And listening to the dialogues, interviews. It’s fascinating. And I think, um, I think, you know, we’ve got the incoming U.S. vice president, higher education, and we’ve got the senior vice chancellor, senior sector figure. And, you know, you’re both agreeing down the line. And and you also both agree about the merits of of working together. And I think that’s something positive that could come out of this. Is it, Steve, you said better, even closer working relationship between student unions and universities, possibly even on the national level as well, Gene? You know, NEA and U.S. and the rest of the sector. So I really enjoyed this dialogue because I think that points us to a different and possibly really positive place for everyone.
[00:17:17] Yeah, I agree. I agree with Hillary. I mean, because because the point is we’re required to think differently because we’ve never none of us, not Hillary, not me, not the US, not the university, but in this situation before.
[00:17:30] And actually, the thing that I’ve always known about student unions is whatever issues we have about anything, ultimately they’re there to try and support the student members. And in this situation, I’m sure this has happened to you, Hillary. Our president’s coming to us saying we’ve been asked to do this by our students. They’re getting more engagement because students have real needs. They go to the guild or the union and the guild or the union comes to us before it was kind of just offered. I suspect that it’s been a real learning process for student unions and managements, university managements across the country.
[00:18:05] Well, I’m feeling a lot at the moment. Is that the way student unions work is really going to be be highlighted through this process? I think university management, for my experience, have really seen the value of what we do at Students Union’s past, what which traditionally would be seen as one SEIU or Guild would do, which would be campaigning for or often, you know, it’s reported that we do lots of like big flashy stuff when we go on marches and we we we do demonstrations. But day to day work is what’s really impactful, because that’s where students are emailing gussin and coming to speak to us and giving us phone calls, telling us about their own experiences and that what really influences what we bring to the university. And I think now that’s becoming more exposed. And so I really think student unions are going to have a useful but a really big job in restructuring how their relationship with universities look and how they could be that critical friend in a way that students can can know that the pipeline from engaging with your student union representatives and the issues gets them brought up to university management flows in a really transparent and coherent way.
[00:19:05] All right. Let’s see who’s been looking for us this week.
[00:19:07] And this is Claire Martian’s chief executive. You cast my piece in Warnke. This week has focused on the Kofod cohort.
[00:19:15] So those students and applicants are looking to come into you at UK higher education in 2020. And what is driving them and what they feel at the moment? We do know that three quarters will be positive affected by rotavirus. And certainly that’s important for to remember across the sector as we start thinking not just how we support them in missing them in the UK, how each patient but transitioning in in the autumn or later during the course of 2020.
[00:19:40] We also know that the majority of them are sticking with the university choices. But a third of them are thinking about changes.
[00:19:46] And that makes it really important that we think about how confirmation and clearing this year balances the normal with the difference and how we are more flexible and more encouraging than ever before. We know that social media platforms are more and more important for those students to get the right information. Vice and I focused on that as it worked really well in recently.
[00:20:09] So the office of the Independent Adjudicator has released its annual report about the official complaints it dealt with over the past year. Henry, what jumped out at you looking at it?
[00:20:16] So the report had a lot of very interesting highlights. It was interesting to see that the overall complaints were up by 21 percent, bringing it to the highest seven figures that L.A. has gotten. And what I found really interesting as well was that a lot of the nature of the complaints were academic appeals based. And so it spanned from fitness to practice to sexual harassment and misconduct. And that was quite a bit of focus on consumer rights. I think it will be really interesting seeing how the sector interprets this, given the credit crisis. And I also think that that the data that came out with fitness to practice and looking at sexual harassment and misconduct, the two things that I found that really overlapped with that is that a lot of students felt that it was the lack of information, the lack of communication that was really stunting them in those two areas. And I think universities and institutions have a big lesson to learn in making sure that they’re transparent and clear when they go through these processes. And the last thing that really stood out and I mentioned just before was consumer rights. And I think right now and we’re seeing that value for money matters now more than ever, especially in assessing what the impact of Kovar it is going to be on students alongside the industrial action that many students will have faced this year or and as they saw in 2019.
[00:21:31] Steve. Steve, do you think that I mean, here mentioned the industrial action, which obviously looms so large over last year. Do you think that during that response to that. Does kind of give us a template for how we deal with the corporate crisis, always this kind of completely unique?
[00:21:44] I mean, I think the IAEA report as every year shows a number of things. But in a sense, what we’re seeing is nothing new. It’s a continuation of trends. And the strike action has brought to the fore a very, very, very serious issue, which is the extent to which students see themselves as consumers and are treated as consumers. And if they’re treated as consumers, you would expect them to react as consumers. So in that way, I think we’re all on a learning curve. We spend an enormous amount of time here and I’m sure every university does on trying to make sure that whether there’s strike action or not, neither the people on strike nor we as the university management want students to be damaged in any way. So there’s a lot of work goes on by my colleagues here. After strikes are over to mitigate the effects so that the students don’t lose. But clearly, we are moving and have been moving into a much more Market-Based higher education system. And what the IAEA does and and what universities are dealing with a lot more are these kind of complaints. They’ve grown enormously. Do my 18 years as a vice chancellor when I started, students didn’t see themselves as consumers as, quote, paying quote for their education. And I think that’s altered everything. So this crisis, I think, is we’re going to be judged as universities by how will we support our student communities. And I think every university around the country is trying hard to make sure that students don’t lose out because of this really rather unique situation.
[00:23:16] And I mean, the array itself said this morning that it’s going to needs a joined up approach by the sector when it comes to dealing with the kind of corporate crisis, particularly if, you know, we’re starting to look at what’s on to talk about, you know, institutions coming close to collapse or some kind of market access. I mean, they say they’re especially worried about disorderly exits, as you as you might imagine. I mean, that’s that’s gonna be a worry for everyone. Hilary, what would you like to see the sector do to help protect students and I guess give student confidence that if if we we are heading towards those kind of things, you know, it’s you know, that that they’re they’re going to be looked after. I think the complaints regime is I see an important passes, but it’s kind of too late in some ways. You know, if a provider collapses, it’s going to be too late. So then, you know, kind of remedy that with a complaint if if if you fall through the cracks.
[00:24:09] Yeah, I think the sector has a really tough situation to navigate. I think what students are really needing are a few things. I think right now what’s really big is their financial security. And it’s not a surprise that tuition fees and came up in this report as it usually would do. I think students want to know that they have that financial security and that what they what they’ve essentially put in, they’re going to get back. So they will get that teaching there, the value and their degrees that they signed up for. So I really think that she did want assurances that they would still get the degree that they signed up for once. They’ll be able to, you know, have something to go back into the job sector or or if they want to go into further rackety, not have somewhere to leave that there that kind of education and experience with that would be of value to them. I think it’s also important that students are really calling for just close support and transparency. I think right now the sector, there’s a lot of things going on in the background and students want clarity on what’s going on. What their future would look like. And given that everything is so precarious and we don’t know what’s happening day by day, I think students just want to feel in the loop. And what’s going on? I think the U.S. safety net campaign reflects a lot of that from the feedback that they’ve got in their survey.
[00:25:22] Let’s see who else has been blogging for us this week.
[00:25:25] Hi there. I’m Judy Sanders, deputy vice chancellor at Newcastle University. My piece was aiming to reflect on the upcoming academic year, really trying to he’s learning from my own discipline, which is lecturer in drama, to invite us not not just to respond to the table 19 context and challenge with talk of remote or online delivery as somehow the new normal, but rather to embrace it as a temporary hybrid state and to invite us all to think creatively and with compassion and with empathy about how to rebuild as quickly as possible next year. Accepting certainly imperfection, but hoping that with some passion and heart, we can do things in the best interest of our wonderful students. So for me, it was about valuing the importance of physical encounter and exploration and community, really, and about throwing a few things of hope and an opportunity amid all the challenges.
[00:26:25] Like Kiraz has released a survey of prospective international students, and it’s found, probably unsurprisingly, that many are changing their plans in light of the pandemic crisis Steve. Does that back up what you’re saying at Exeter?
[00:26:40] Well, no, it doesn’t. And nor does it. I mean, I chair you UK International and talking yesterday to Vivian Stern. I mean, we we see a lot of confirmation of places, a lot of deposit’s being paid on all these measures. The indications contradict the absolutely clear findings from QSA and other sources. Another one coming out soon, I believe, saying very much the same thing. So there’s a bit of a nervousness, I guess, about what the real situation is. I think a lot’s going to depend on the progress of being able to find a vaccine or or how the crisis is there a second wave here in the autumn. So what we’ve picked up is that students very much want to continue to come to the UK. They prefer face to face learning to remote learning. But the big issue for universities is that I think we don’t quite know what the autumn is going to bring in terms of numbers. But clearly the indications from the US survey and others is that there’s a lot of concern about prospective students over whether or not they are going to come and study in the UK. And that, of course, goes back to the big issue of the effect of that loss on the financial sustainability of the university sector in the UK.
[00:27:59] It seems to me that there’s a lot of this is outside out of the hands of universities, and that if their travel restrictions simply, you know, it isn’t impossible for politicians to come here to meet them. They won’t.
[00:28:09] Yeah. And I mean, you know, literally, we do not know, do we? Whether you’ll be able to travel from the major countries that send international students to the UK, you don’t know whether they’ll be able to arrive here and will they have to be quarantined? What will the FSB will there be flights? So there’s so much up in the air. And I think that’s that’s I mean, I think the big point to make, though, is, is my clear view is that the long term trend is that students will want to travel still to around the world to leading institutions, that education is still an incredibly important goal of many families around the world. So I think for me, Mark, the question is, this is a one year problem. Is it a two year problem? And my view is actually that the education sector in the UK remains one of the great strengths of the UK economy and society. And I expect things to pick up, you know, quickly after that. The difficulty is bluntly, we don’t know how far down we’re going to go before we come back up.
[00:29:11] Yeah, well, one of the things that always, always pay attention is kind of the signals that different governments send and the small, little different things that that can be done that can really affects how people view a country and whether they want to go and study it. And I have a theory that the early part of the UK governments response to the pandemic got a very bad reputation, not just in the UK, but around the world. Nowhere close to as bad as that, you know, visibly bad as the Trump administration’s response. But I wonder I kind of hypothesize that a lot of international students will kind of put that sort of health and safety at the top of the top of list of concerns when it comes to comes to deciding what to do. And I wonder whether we’ve consciously in a foot.
[00:30:00] Well, on the other hand, I mean, I agree with you. The signals matter enormously, the governments. Policy previously to this administration’s policy on visas, as you know, was extraordinarily damaging to the sector. The one thing I would say is I think British universities have looked after international students. Well, I mean, here we’ve had extraordinary measures working to make sure international students feel safe and secure. And we’ve sent messages to them. We’ve provided food for them. We’ve given them free accommodation. I think, you know, kindness and the message I’d like the sector to to to focus on is come to the U.K. We will look after you. You know, we will not throw you out on the streets. I mean, we will not charge you large sums of money and not allow you to to move around. So I think there’s a lot we can do. And I think for the U.K., the kind of duty of care and the kind of pastoral side of how we look after our students is going to be a big plus, because I think our universities do provide a very good experience to students.
[00:31:02] Yeah, I think what would be really interesting and looking at whether international students will find incentive to come back to the UK higher education system is what is going to be looked at in terms of their value for money, for what they pay into institutions. A lot of international students, I find, have come this year to talk about how their tuition fees that they’ve paid and has not matched up to the experience that they expected. And given that we’ve had strikes and now the pandemic and have a big impact on that learning experience. And it’ll be really interesting to see what the sector does to make sure that they feel confident that they’re not being used as cash cows and B, they’re getting the support that they need to really thrive and coming to the UK education system. And so it’ll be really interesting to see how the sector picks up on that and responds to that.
[00:31:49] Yeah, I think my my own view, Hilary, is that the sector is acutely aware. I mean, yeah, it concentrates the mind to think of losing six point nine billion pounds. And that’s not to make the simple point about the money. But I think we talked about it earlier. I think one of the effects of the crisis has been to focus on the stated an actual needs of students. And I think that’s a good thing. And I think for international students, I think we’ve learnt very, very, very quickly that some very simple housekeeping things about are they safe? Have do they have food? Are they looked after? Can they communicate? Do they have the facilities? Can they have the access? You know, we’ve got 500 students still on campus here and they get a phone call every week from someone to make sure they’re okay. These things have focused us on how we treat students. And in a way, it’s, I think, a helpful corrective to to the kind of business as usual. Oh, you know, they’ll come will they’ll study. We’ll get they’ll get degrees. They’ll get good jobs when they go back. And I think it’s reminded us that we really, really do have to look after students and not assume they all have the same levels of needs or the same levels of problems and difficulties.
[00:32:58] I think now as we start to move towards a new normal, whatever that would look like, it will be interesting to see that. It’ll be interesting to see what students are feeling about how universities have responded to all of this. And I would be really interested to see if if value for money in the sense that I’ve had it from international students, will come up to to institutions in the sector and how they would respond to that. And because I appreciate that the sector has done a lot to to stretch itself to make sure that international students are supported, especially if they stayed in the UK. But I think international students are still looking for greater assurances that they’re they’re going to be valued more given going forward. Sorry. Yeah. So it’ll be really interesting to see what happens. But I know that, you know, there’s things that are still like heavily on their Mycenae with visas and to do with even the post study work visa. There’s a lot of international students are unsure about how that comes into effect. If, for example, it’s their graduation and they’ve had to move back home because of the crisis, then they’re not sure on that.
[00:33:57] The fact that with the post study work visa was extended, I think we should push for it to be extended further. I think actually there’s a lot we’ve got to do. You’re absolutely right. What happens if you graduate then? Do you come back? How does that work?
[00:34:09] I have to say, I think the visa regime is the people dealing with visas in government have been actually very flexible and tried to be genuinely attentive to those needs. But there’s a lot we’ve got to do. There’s no God given. Right. Why the UK should be able to take in international students in the numbers we have. I mean, there’s a lot of competition out there. We’ve got to make certain that the that we provide the very best education and increasingly Hillary the support that students need. I mean, that’s the key word. It’s and I think that what the crisis has done has meant that a student isn’t just a student. Students come in different shapes and sizes and needs and packages. And we’ve got to be attentive to the very, very different needs that different groups of students have.
[00:34:50] David Kernahan is an associate so caught up with Wendy Thompson, vice chancellor of the University of London.
[00:34:56] Wendy. Thanks for taking the opportunity to chat to Wonky. Obviously, the University of London is an institution with a distinct mission and. History that we’ll be adapting to the Korkut 19 pandemic and the global lockdown in a very different way. So lots of other UK providers?
[00:35:17] Well, I mean, it is a big change for all of us. And that’s also the case for the University of London. I guess the difference we have is that we started doing distance education in 1858. So we haven’t had to do it on a weekend. I mean, as I understand from some of my colleagues, it has been necessary. So that’s been an advantage for us. Nevertheless, we’ve had the challenge of face a fresh start with our online education and just learning. We have one difference. We don’t have much coursework on. Our programs are all exam based assessments. So we haven’t been able to use coursework the way other Zahav for finalizing a grade. So that’s meant we’ve had to look at some way of getting our what’s about thirty seven thousand students doing some form of assessment that will be different.
[00:36:05] Add to that that we’ve got 23 time zones and you can never underestimate the resourcefulness of students when it comes to collaboration. Let’s call it politely across time boundaries. We’ve got to think of some way of getting a, you know, a secure, credible form of assessment across those time zones. And in many cases, we got a lot a lot lot of students and others of that kind. They’ve got to meet the sort of professional standards of integrity for the for the for the qualification. So, you know, that’s been our big challenge. Add to it that a lot of the countries we’re operating in.
[00:36:40] Their infrastructure is, you know, far from secure in terms of Internet and and even electricity really in some cases. And although we may complain about working in small apartments in London, you know, you’re looking at multigenerational households where students are working alongside, you know, parents, grandparents, children and perhaps also some domestic animals.
[00:37:01] So, you know, is that that was the big challenge for us. And I think really, you know, we have probably gone beyond what anyone else has ever thought about doing. We haven’t quite pulled it off, but we’ve got it planned. It will happen over the next couple of months. And, you know, it’s a combination of, you know, varying the court that very the exams a little bit from location to location, using encouraging people to use different forms of assessment. More open book or online kind of essays. And I guess also something called proctoring, which was a new term to me I hadn’t heard before, which is kind of an online investigation, if you want to call it that, which adds another dimension of security. Anyway, I’ve just told it to you in a minute and a half, and it sounds probably pretty straightforward, but I think it’s required some of the deepest creativity’s amongst people who’ve been at this for a while to come up with a way of doing it. While our students, of course, have been running their own campaigns, as you can imagine, and advocating for what they’d like to see us doing. So it’s that’s been a pretty.
[00:38:02] I was actually asked about that because a lots of the other UK providers, there’s been calls for a no detriment.
[00:38:07] There’s been calls for assessment based on work before the pandemic started rather than afterwards. I was kind of naively thinking that for distance learning students, there would be perhaps less about whether I mean, you’re suggesting that’s not the case.
[00:38:22] No, I mean, most of our most of our work is actually as an exam based.
[00:38:27] And that’s partly, you know, to keep the credibility and integrity of of the qualifications that media, I think, has served our students and the University of London reputation well. So there’s very little coursework in most of our programmes. And a lot of our courses, particularly undergraduate programs, are not exclusively online. You know, they’re combined with an array of over 100 teaching centres around the world, which I think has allowed our students to get better outcomes, if you like, by combining the distance with you, with the face to face support, also still delivering, you know, the academic quality and reputation of that comes on the on the achievements of our member institutions. So King’s UCR, LSC, Queen Mary City, you know, these are the institutions that are branded on these qualifications and with whom I’m working. So it’s a it’s quite an undertaking.
[00:39:23] Finally, student mental health remains a top issue for the sector to tackle at the moment of this crisis. And there’s been lots of work and thinking going on and to how to do that. Hilary, Kate, talk us through some of that.
[00:39:35] So over the past few weeks, we’ve heard that the professor has given greater clarity to what student premiums can be useful and disabled student premiums, and in ensuring that mental health supports and support services are bolstered during this time.
[00:39:49] We’ve also seen us and launched a big campaign to student safety net campaign, talking a lot about how mental health remains a key issue and giving recommendations on how the sector can support students with mental health support services. And finally, there was a blog uploaded by student mind. Talking all about addressing mental health and what was really interesting in is that they talked a lot about listening and making sure that they’re listening to students and and responding to students based on what they’re hearing. So it was really interesting to see that mental health is being taken as a key priority. And it’ll be interesting to see how we navigate that with students being at home and different spaces at the moment.
[00:40:27] Steve, how are you thinking about this problem that some locally mental health issues have shot up the agenda?
[00:40:35] I think probably the biggest shock of the last decade has been the rise of mental health issues. I mean, what I mean by that is not the rise as such, but the ability of students to talk about the problem. I mean, I think there’s a good side to that, that that students can now there’s there’s less stigma than there used to be about. About admitting to having mental health needs. I mean, we worry about physical health, but we’ve never really looked at mental health. But in the last 10 years, it’s really come along as a major issue. The scary thing for us is that whatever we do, we feel we need to do more. If you have a very bad issue with a student, with a mental health crisis, whatever you’ve done, you never feel you’ve done enough. And I think the way we’re now moving through remote working is going to make that really difficult.
[00:41:23] I think we are very worried is, you know, at Exeter, we are we kind of pioneered the safety net policy of no detriment, and that’s been adopted by a lot of institutions. But we are worrisome and we we actually think that we’ve got a lot of work to do to try and make sure that students do not suffer because of the way in which the form of work and we’re undertaking puts them under even greater stress. And that, by the way, that applies to staff as well. I think for all of us, these are difficult times in dealing with mental health challenges.
[00:41:57] But as a vice chancellor, I have to say it’s probably the one thing that has kept me awake at night more than anything else over the last few years because of the extent to which people are arriving. I mean, we had to 2600 students access mental health facilities at the University of Exeter last year, and 25 percent of those came with pre-existing diagnoses. And that’s something which is very different to what, you know, I had when I started out being a v.c. So it’s massively Cygnet.
[00:42:29] So that’s about it for this week. Remember to delve deeper into anything we discussed today, you’ll find links in the show notes. Don’t forget, you can subscribe to the podcast automatically. Just search for the Monkey Show by Choose your favorite Android podcast Structuring or find a feature neat on Monkey Dot com set podcast. And if you fancy appearing as a guest on the Monkey Show, drop us an e-mail, a team of what you took home. I’ll be in touch. Thanks. Hilary, Steve and everyone at Team Ocky for making it happen. Pinus scenes until next week. Stay safe.