News round-up: Another £12bn added to the deficit as ONS changes the way student loans are recorded

Student loans will now be reclassified as public spending – and the Office for Students issues universities with a warning about grade inflation


Philosophers urge Hull to think again over course cuts

Times Higher Education, 21/12/2018, Matthew Reisz

Leading academics have urged the University of Hull to commit to continuing to teach philosophy, as the discipline’s future at the institution remains under review.

Hull has said that it is reviewing the future of its undergraduate philosophy courses and plans to stop recruiting to programmes that it considers to be unsustainable.


Leading UK universities spend £49 million on pre-REF job cuts

Times Higher Education, 20/12/2018, Jack Grove

Leading UK universities spent almost £50 million on severance payments and early retirement inducements for staff last year, in a move seen by some as a sign of institutions shedding academics who they perceived to be underperforming ahead of the next research excellence framework.

Analysing newly published university financial statements, Times Higher Education found that institutions within the Russell Group of 24 large research-intensive universities spent an average of £2.4 million each on “loss of office” payments to employees in 2017-18.


Survey finds wide variation in UK university support for EU staff

Times Higher Education, 20/12/2018, Rachel Pells

UK universities are under growing pressure to improve their support for European Union staff ahead of Brexit, as a Times Higher Education survey reveals wide variation in institutional policies.

A government pilot scheme running through November and December has allowed EU university staff to apply for settled status in return for a fee of £65 per person. Their families will be able to apply when the scheme opens fully next year.


Universities watchdog threatens fines over grade inflation

The Guardian, 19/12/2018/Sally Weale and Pamela Duncan

The higher education watchdog has issued a stark warning to universities that they will be fined or even removed from the official register if they fail to tackle spiralling grade inflation at degree level.

Research by the Office for Students reveals for the first time the scale of the problem, which is virtually sector-wide with 84% of universities seeing significant unexplained increases in the number of first-class degrees awarded.

See also:

UK regulator warns on degree grade inflation

Financial Times, 19/12/2018


Oxford professor’s colonialism conference held in private for fear of disruption from activists

Daily Telegraph, 18/12/2018, Camilla Turner and Greg Ritchie

An Oxford University professor had to hold an academic conference in private for fear of disruption from activists, it has emerged.

Earlier this year, Professor Nigel Biggar hosted a summit of historians, economists and ethicists to discuss the legacy of colonialism, but the invitation-only event took place behind closed doors


Student loan ruling adds £12bn to government borrowing

BBC, 17/12/2018, Sean Coughlan

A change in how student loans are recorded in the public finances will add £12bn to the deficit, following an Office for National Statistics ruling.

The amount expected not to be repaid, which could be 45% of lending, will be reclassified as public spending.

Student loans will now significantly push up the UK’s deficit – providing an incentive to reduce tuition fees.


Pupils with fewer than 3 Ds ‘won’t get student loan’

Times Education Supplement, 16/12/2018, Will Hazell

Students that fail to achieve three Ds at A-level will not qualify for a student loan to go to university under plans being developed by an independent review of higher education, it has been reported.

The review chaired by Philip Augar, a former investment banker, is also expected to recommend cutting the £9,250 annual tuition fee to between £6,500 and £7,500 a year, The Sunday Times reports.


Oxford University students back ‘racist’ scholar Noah Carl’s appointment to Cambridge fellowship

The Times, 14/12/2018/Rosemary Bennett

A group of Oxford PhD students have backed the appointment of a scholar accused of racism to a Cambridge University fellowship. They said that academics campaigning against him were pandering to popular opinion.

Noah Carl was awarded the Toby Jackman Newton Trust research fellowship at St Edmund’s College. The college is investigating the appointment after more than 200 academics signed a letter accusing him of “racist pseudoscience”.


University still preferred to an apprenticeship

The Times, 11/12/2018, Greg Hurst

Young people remain unconvinced that apprenticeships are the best route to a good job despite huge investment to encourage work-based training.

Older people are more likely to regard an apprenticeship as the best chance for a school leaver to embark on a rewarding career. A poll by YouGov found that 30 per cent of people thought an apprenticeship was the most likely way for young people to get on, ahead of 26 per cent who said going to university was better. Among those aged 18 to 24, the position was reversed. Only 20 per cent said that an apprenticeship offered the best start, compared with 34 per cent for university.

The poll of 5,520 adults carried out for the government’s social mobility commission, raised more questions about the pledge to create three million apprenticeships by 2020 funded by a £2 billion a year levy on larger employers. The number of new apprenticeships fell to 369,700 in the year to July, down from 491,300 in the previous year.


The financial plumbing of university education

Financial Times, 11/12/2018, Thomas Hale

Article about student loans and the practice of selling the government’s rights to the debt repayments. By 2023, the government plans to raise a total of £15bn from selling loans made to students before 2012, including the two deals so far. Debate around the sale so far has focused on the question of value for money — is the taxpayer getting a good price for its assets — but there is a bigger question. The total student loan book is expected to soar to half a trillion pounds by the middle of this century, and the sales have laid the groundwork for private capital to flow in to the country’s education model. How big a role will financial markets play in another twenty years?