News round-up: Ditch predicted grades for university admissions

A think tank attacks grade inflation, while a new study calls for an end to the UK admissions system based on predicted A-level grades


Too many firsts risk universities’ credibility, says think tank

BBC, 21/06/2018

Universities risk losing their credibility due to “rocketing” grade inflation, a think tank has said.

According to Reform, the proportion of firsts awarded almost doubled between 1997-2009 and rose by 26% since 2010.

Their report calls for national tests to set degree grade benchmarks meaning only the top 10% of students could be awarded firsts.


More on the same topic:

More students getting firsts as universities battle over degrees

The Times, 21/06/2018, Rosemary Bennett

Students getting a ‘First’ degree rise from 7% to 26% in 20 years

Daily Mail, 21/06/2018, Eleanor Harding

Students should sit national assessments for degrees to stop ‘rocketing’ grade inflation, report says

The Independent online, 21/06/2018, Eleanor Busby

Soaring number of degree firsts sparks concern over university grade inflation

Daily Telegraph, 21/06/2018, Camilla Turner



England’s new provider unit likened to free school movement

Times Higher Education, 21/06/2018, John Morgan

The creation of a team within the Department of Education to support those who want to set up new universities, may reflect government concerns that the hoped-for influx of ’challenger’ institutions is not arising, senior sector sources are suggesting. Universities minister Sam Gyimah unveiled the plan in a speech earlier this month.


‘Should I stay or should I go now?’

BBC News online, 21/06/2018, Sean Coughlan

Article about academics with European connections facing the decision about whether or not to continue working in the UK after Brext. There are about 36,000 academics from European Union countries working in UK universities – and there are others who have family links to European researchers and academics.

EU nationals are about 17% of the UK’s academics – and since the referendum there have been brain drain warnings from universities. Margaret Gardner, vice-chancellor of Monash University, in Australia, recently said Australian universities were already poaching academics from the UK. But so far the evidence doesn’t show an academic stampede. Instead, it suggests a picture of ‘wait and see’.


UK’s for-profit college bosses pocket more than V-Cs

Times Higher Education, 21/06/2018, Jack Grove

Bosses of small for-profit colleges in the UK are earning more than the country’s highest-paid vice-chancellors – with some pocketing payouts in excess of £500,000, Times Higher Education can reveal.

In an investigation of executive pay at alternative providers of higher education, which received £150 million in government-backed tuition fee loans in 2016-17, THE discovered how:

A small London business college paid a £500,000 bonus to its director

A second business college paid more than £2 million in dividends and directors’ salaries in just three years

A for-profit music school awarded stocks and shares to directors worth £2 million last year – while its owners paid £3 million to its top-paid director.


‘Ditch predicted grades’ from university admissions

BBC, 19/06/2018, Sean Coughlan

Universities in the UK should stop using predicted grades when people are applying for places, say lecturers and head teachers. A study from the University and College Union says no other developed country uses such a system of forecasts of results for university admissions. The lecturers say most predicted grades turn out to be incorrect.

Head teachers have backed calls for a change, saying the current approach is ‘no longer fit for purpose’.

The UCU also cites research from 2016 suggesting as few as 16% of predictions for three A-levels or equivalent had proved accurate.

Ucas, which operates the admissions system, says the most recent figures suggest predicted grades are usually higher than the actual results – with 73% of applicants performing less well than forecast by their teachers.

The report from lecturers calls for an ‘urgent overhaul’ of the application system, so that pupils would know their actual exam grades before making their final applications.


Vice-chancellors must justify big pay packets to Office for Students watchdog

The Times, 19/06/2018, Rosemary Bennett

Universities will have to provide a breakdown of performance criteria set for vice-chancellors and how the terms have been met, under a crackdown on excessive pay.

The Office for Students (OFS) watchdog has sent a 17-page guide to universities on what data they must provide each year to flush out those who do little for their money. It said that ‘out of kilter’ salaries were unacceptable and it could fine those unable to justify paying more than the prime minister’s £150,000 salary.

Universities must provide full details of the total package, including basic salary, performance-related pay, pension contributions and taxable and non-taxable benefits. This will be published in an annual report. The ratio of the full package and the average of all university staff is also required. Labour called the measures ‘watered down’ and said that it would impose caps on the ratio between the highest and lowest-paid staff.


More on this story:

University chiefs to be forced to justify pay

The Guardian, 19/06/2018, Sally Weale

University bosses to have salaries published and face fines for ‘excessive’ pay packets

i Newspaper, 19/06/2018, Richard Vaughan

Universities could face ‘significant’ fines over vice-chancellor pay packages, regulator warns

The Independent, 19/06/2018, Eleanor Busby

English regulator’s promise on v-c pay ‘doesn’t go far enough’

Times Higher Education online, 19/06/2018, John Morgan


Student visa snub is ‘kick in teeth’ for India

The Times, 19/06/2018, Sam Coates

Sajid Javid has caused a diplomatic rift by excluding Indians from a new fast-track visa system for students. The home secretary announced that he was reducing the level of documentation needed for applicants for student visas from 26 countries, including Australia, the United States, China, Argentina, Cambodia and Thailand.

Indian students have been left off because of fears of ‘non-compliance’, meaning they are judged at risk of disappearing after entering on student visas, although the Home Office does not publish statistics to support this claim. India has repeatedly raised the issue of visas for students and professionals and the change has caused outrage in the Indian media.


It’s harder for BME students to get a top degree at university. That has to change

i News, 19/06/2018, Valerie Amos

Comment: Baroness Amos, Director of SOAS, University of London, writes about the gap between white and ethnic minority students in university exams. While 78 per cent of white students who graduated last year qualified with a first or 2:1, just 53 per cent of black students achieved the same result. Data shows us that students from different ethnic backgrounds who achieved similar qualifications prior to university – a key indicator in degree outcomes – are not achieving similar degree results.


University students’ data to be shared with private companies

Daily Telegraph, 18/06/2018, Camilla Turner

Data belonging to thousands of students is to be shared with companies by the new universities regulator. Campaigners and MPs have criticised the move, saying students risk being ‘exploited’ for profit.

The legislation permits the Office for Students (OfS) to share data with entities such as Pearson, the education company, as well as the Student Loans Company, HMRC and the Competition and Markets Authority. The OfS holds data on declared mental and physical health conditions, academic progress, and graduate employment and earnings of all university students.


Teenagers ‘let down over degree choices’

BBC, 15/06/2018, Katherine Sellgren

Teenagers in England are having to make choices about university on the basis of too little information, a report by the Public Accounts Committee warns. The PAC report says this is due ‘in large part to insufficient and inconsistent careers advice’. It also says students have limited redress if they are unhappy with the quality of courses and that shorter and part-time courses have not emerged. The report says it’s ‘deeply concerning’ that most students in England don’t have the advice they need to make an informed decision.

The Department for Education maintains that studying for a degree is an investment and can boost earnings. It is currently carrying out a review into post-18 education, which, the department says, will make sure students are getting value for money and genuine choice between technical, vocational and academic routes.


Universities ‘failing to pull their weight’ on diversity 

Daily Telegraph, 15/06/2018, Camilla Turner

Universities are failing to ‘pull their weight’ on boosting diversity, a damning public accounts committee report has said. The Government’s spending watchdog criticized the Department for Education’s record on widening access to higher education, saying it ‘does not have enough of a grip’ on initiatives and was ‘over-reliant’ on measures taken by certain universities. According to the report, students from deprived backgrounds were still much less likely to enter higher education than those from wealthier families.


Minister renews call for universities to be ‘in loco parentis’

Times Higher Education, 14/06/2018, Sophie Inge

Higher education institutions must be able to inform parents if students are struggling with life-threatening mental health issues, the UK’s universities minister has said.

Speaking at the University of Buckingham’s Festival of Higher Education, Sam Gyimah reiterated his call for providers to see themselves as being in loco parentis for vulnerable young students who were living away from home for the first time.

Mr Gyimah faced a backlash when he first used the term in loco parentis at the launch conference of the Office for Students earlier this year, with critics accusing him of ‘infantilising students’. However, Mr Gyimah said at Buckingham that he was specifically referring to mental health problems that could be life-threatening.

The intervention came after the father of a University of Bristol student who took his own life called for data protection rules to be changed to allow universities to tell parents if students are struggling.


More on this story:

Let universities alert parents about students’ struggles, says father

The Guardian, 15/06/2018, Sally Weale

Use Clearing to protect vulnerable school leavers, father of dead Bristol student says 

i News, 15/06/2018, pRichard Vaughan


Students using identity politics to shut down free speech, university minister warns 

i News, 15/06/2018, Richard Vaughan

Ministers have warned of the threat posed to free speech on university campuses by students who use ‘identity politics’ to shut down the ‘free exchange of ideas’ in the lecture hall. Sam Gyimah, the universities minister, spoke of his fears that a ‘monoculture’ was developing within student bodies, which he said was leading to a ‘lack of diversity of thought’ in the sector.


Theresa May says new ‘start-up’ visa for entrepreneurs will make Britain a magnet for the ‘best talent’ as she holds talks with tech bosses at No10

Mail Online, 14/06/2018, Kate Ferguson

A new ‘start-up’ visa for entrepreneurs will ensure the ‘best talent’ comes to the UK, Theresa May today said at a Downing Street summit today. The Government today announced plans to expand a current scheme which allows up to 2,000 non-EU graduates to come to the UK if they are sponsored by universities. Under the roll-out, the scheme will be opened up to those without a degree and living outside the Brussels bloc, and sponsorship will be extended to businesses. MP Robert Halfon, chairman of the education select committee, welcomed the creation of the new route. He said: ‘This is really good news. Sajid Javid understands that we need to attract the best and brightest around the world rather than closing the door. Hopefully this will be the sign of more things to come.’


Universities’ league table obsession triggers mental health crisis fears

The Guardian, 12/06/2018, Anna Fazackerley

Academic researcher John Banks (not his real name) still has big personal regrets about bowing to pressure from his former university in the run-up to the government’s last high-stakes audit of research.

Universities obsess about the government’s Research Excellence Framework, known as the Ref, with good reason. The four-yearly exercise determines not only where around £2bn a year of public funding will go, but where universities and individual departments will rank in league tables.