SFC publishes this year’s guidance on outcome agreements

The Scottish Funding Council (SFC) has published its guidance on outcome agreements for 2022-23, and so I’ve had a look to see what’s changed since last year.

Jim is an Associate Editor at Wonkhe

As a reminder, every year both universities and colleges in Scotland reach an agreement with the funding council which is supposed to capture (at a pretty high level) the contributions, impact and outcomes of the funding they’ve been getting from government – and provides some assurance on the use of allocated funding in the coming academic year.

We took a deepish dive into this “something for something” approach back in 2019 – but of course since then we’ve had a global pandemic and now a major economic crunch to contend with.

To enable universities and colleges to cope, the regime was effectively suspended for 2020-21, and then pared back significantly for 2021-22 pending implementation of revised (and longer-term/more strategic) arrangements arising from the SFC’s Review of Coherent Provision and Sustainability, which DK took a look at on the site last year.

I’m always amused by the way in which a close comparison between annual documents of this sort reveals. For example, last year the SFC said the framework represented:

…a commitment to align priorities with what will be needed to support economic recovery…”

Whereas this year, it represents:

…a commitment to align priorities with what will be needed to remain flexible given the cost crisis…”

Luckily, it turns out the things the government is keen to see are delivered by the sector in pursuit of economic recovery just happen to broadly be the same things it expects to see when coping with a costs crisis! What a coincidence.

What hasn’t changed are the big priorities:

  • Fair access and transitions
  • Quality learning and teaching.
  • Learning with impact – students equipped and ready to take up appropriate employment in the future.
  • Student participation and engagement in their educational experience.
  • Equalities and inclusion.
  • High-quality research and innovation

And nor have the main measures/metrics:

  • Total number of Scottish domiciled undergraduate entrants.
  • The number and proportion of Scotland-domiciled learners articulating from college to degree level courses with advanced standing.
  • The number and proportion of Scotland-domiciled full-time first degree entrants from the 20% most deprived postcodes (i.e. the COWA target measure)
  • The number and proportion of Scotland-domiciled undergraduate entrants that are care-experienced.
  • The number and proportion of full-time first year Scotland-domiciled undergraduate entrants returning to study in year two.
  • The difference (+/-) from the individual institution benchmark figure for students satisfied with the overall quality of their course of study in the National Student Survey.
  • The number and proportion of Scotland-domiciled undergraduate qualifiers entering positive destinations.
  • The number and proportion of Scotland-domiciled full-time first degree graduates entering professional occupations.
  • The number of Scotland-domiciled qualifiers at undergraduate level.

There is one new section in the summary introduction – in 2019 the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and the SFC entered into a strategic partnership, agreed a Joint Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), and published an action plan.

We’ll shortly get an interesting output from that action plan in the form of a report on “national persistent inequalities in the tertiary system” which will ask institutions to contribute to a set of National Equality Outcomes to address them. Another outcomes agreement, if you will.

Elsewhere the contribution to the delivery of the Commission on Widening Access (COWA) 2026 and 2030 sector targets, and engagement with the SFC funded National Schools Programme both appear a few times, and there’s a new requirement to explain how the university is using data and intelligence and engaging with stakeholders to adapt, develop and align provision to meet the needs of business, industry and stakeholders – so called “Coherent Learning Provision”.

There are also new expectations on outlining what a university is doing in practice to deliver “Fair Work” for employees (noting this is a condition of funding for colleges and universities) and a beefed up section on research that asks universities to outline strategies for, and investment in the support of research activity and capacity, and research training, focussed on any adjustments being made following the outcome of REF 2021 and the associated allocations of Research Excellence Grant for 2022-23 – as well as a short high-level statement describing how positive research cultures are being developed, supported and embedded.

And there’s a more extensive section than previously on the climate crisis – institutions have to demonstrate innovative approaches in their response to the climate emergency with evidence of both transformative leadership and capacity building within institutions, including organisation-wide net zero and sustainability plans. That has to include referencing progress in institution wide carbon reduction targets, net zero strategies, and actions as civic anchors, in line with the Scottish Government interim statutory guidance, and statutory targets and measures under the Scottish Government climate change plan and adaptation programme.

What’s that you say? What’s been removed for this year? Oh don’t be daft.

One thing I’d add is that I happen to have had conversations with four different SUs in Scotland this week, and mentioned outcome agreements – and while sections on “effective partnership arrangements between institutional leadership teams and student bodies” have been retained, and an expectation that partnership with students is valued across the institution and “plays a key role in enhancing the student experience” is still there, they all said they don’t even get consulted on the outcome agreement before the draft is submitted!

If I was SFC, I’d be asking about student engagement in the development of the agreement as a demonstration of those things, and I might even ask students’ associations for some independent evaluation of the plans from time to time. Just a thought.

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