News round-up: Education secretary backs a review of university admissions

A mixed bag this week: Gavin Williamson supports the OfS review into university admissions, a record number of disadvantaged pupils are winning university places and universities are likely to face delays to funding when the UK leaves the EU


Ethicist warns universities against using AI in admissions

Times Higher Education, 20/09/2019, David Matthews

Using artificial intelligence to decide which students to admit or researchers to hire risks creating “self-fulfilling prophecies” that could simply reinforce which kind of people win opportunities, an expert in digital ethics has warned universities.

AI in admissions has recently emerged on universities’ agenda: the president of Imperial College London, Alice Gast, said last year that she expected AI would “augment” the process, while several Hong Kong universities have said that they are using the technology to find the student characteristics that predicted future success.


Record number of disadvantaged pupils get university places

The Guardian, 19/09/2019, Sally Weale

Record numbers of young people from the most disadvantaged backgrounds in the UK have won places to go to university this year, according to the admissions agency Ucas.

More than a fifth of 18-year-olds (20.4%) from areas of the country with the lowest rate of participation in higher education have confirmed places at universities across the country, up from 19.4% last year.


UK may face ‘major delays’ in EU funding even if Brexit deal struck

Times Higher Education, 19/09/2019, Ellie Bothwell

UK academics are likely to encounter major delays in receiving Horizon 2020 funding even if a Brexit deal is struck, while UK coordinators of such projects may be required to step down immediately in the event of a no-deal scenario, claims a scholar who has spoken with officials at the European Commission.

Peter Coveney, chair in physical chemistry at UCL, told Times Higher Education that he had a phone conversation with two officers at the European Commission on 10 September to discuss the UK’s participation in Horizon 2020, the bloc’s current research programme.


Racial inequality in ‘danger of being accepted as fact’, think tank warns

Independent, 19/09/2019, Eleanor Busby

Racial inequality is in “danger of being accepted as fact” in higher education, a think tank warns as report suggests research funding could be held back from institutions that fail to take action.

A paper from the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), which features a series of essays, warns that it is currently too easy for sector leaders to “treat it like someone else’s problem”.


Universities fear ‘more funding cuts and borrowing’

BBC, 19/09/2019, Jamie McIvor

Scotland’s universities say they need more government money to help put them on a surer financial footing.

They made the call after a report from the public spending watchdog said the value of central funding had fallen significantly.


Cambridge neuroscientist claims world’s richest award for education research

Times Higher Education, 19/09/2019, John Ross

Usha Goswami, a cognitive developmental neuroscientist at the University of Cambridge, has won this year’s Yidan Prize for Education Research, considered an educational equivalent of the Nobel prizes.

Professor Goswami has claimed the HK$30 million (£3.1 million) award for her research into the neurology of language acquisition.


English universities may have shifted towards low-cost subjects under £9K fee regime, ‘exacerbating’ inefficiency in the system, say economists

Times Higher Education, 19/09/2019, Simon Baker

English universities have been accepting a greater share of applicants to cheaper-to-provide courses than their Scottish counterparts since tuition fees tripled to £9,000 in England, according to an analysis.

Such a move would be “consistent” with institutions wanting to take advantage of the extra income available from classroom-based courses that are cheaper to teach, says an annual report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies on education spending in England.


Job applications ‘filtered by university ranking’

BBC, 18/09/2019, Hannah Richardson

Graduates of 24 top UK universities are more likely to find work soon after graduating than those from other universities, research says.

Four-fifths of Russell Group graduates entered full-time work within weeks of leaving compared with two-thirds of those from other institutions, a survey for graduate recruiter Milkround found.


Treatment of innocent students in cheating scandal ‘staggering’, say MPs

Times Higher Education, 18/09/2019, Simon Ross

A committee of MPs says that it is “staggered” that the Home Office had “so little regard” for the plight of innocent students caught up in the crackdown that followed an English language test cheating scandal.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) says that the department relied too much on “imperfect evidence” that led to about 50,000 students being implicated in widespread fraud at test centres conducting exams for the Education Testing Service (ETS).


Oxford alumni attack college over ‘bitter campaign’ against dean

Daily Telegraph, 17/09/2019, Camilla Turner

Oxford alumni have attacked Christ Church college for waging a “bitter campaign” against the Dean.

The college has been accused of a “catastrophic misjudgement” over its failed attempts to oust The Very Rev Professor Martyn Percy, who presides over both Christ Church college and Cathedral.


Education secretary backs review of university admissions

The Guardian, 16/09/2019, Richard Adams

The education secretary, Gavin Williamson, has backed a review into university admissions, including a fresh look at whether school leavers should only apply for places after receiving their A-level results.

Williamson said recent developments, such as the steep rise in unconditional offers to sixth-formers, reopened questions over the admissions system and its calendar, as part of a review being carried out by the Office for Students (OfS), the higher education regulator for England.


Lib Dems ‘moving towards’ graduate tax policy for England

Times Higher Education, 16/09/2019, John Morgan

The Liberal Democrats are “moving towards” a graduate tax in their English higher education funding policy, according to their education spokeswoman, who criticised Labour’s plan to fund universities solely via public spending along with the fees status quo.

If the next general election results in a hung Parliament, the Lib Dems could have a crucial say on the future of sector funding if they enter any kind of accord with the Conservatives or Labour.


Only half of UK universities ready for no-deal Brexit – study

The Guardian, 16/09/2019, Richard Adams

Four out of five British universities are worried about the impact of crashing out of the EU without a deal, as vice-chancellors look to stockpile essential supplies ranging from chemicals to toilet paper.

A survey of members by Universities UK, which represents more than 130 higher education institutions, found that 80% of those responding said they were either “very” or “extremely” concerned about the impact no-deal Brexit will have.


Birmingham University stops unconditional offers after pressure from ministers

The Times, 13/09/2019, Rosemary Bennett

The university that pioneered the most controversial type of unconditional offers for students has quietly dropped them under pressure from the government and other institutions are likely to follow suit.

Birmingham University has stopped making the offers, which require no A-level grades but lock in students by demanding that they turn down all other approaches.


Gavin Williamson: universities must end grade inflation

The Guardian, 12/09/2019, Richard Adams

The education secretary, Gavin Williamson, has told vice-chancellors the government expects a “deal” on academic standards and admissions in return for extending visas for international students.

Addressing the Universities UK annual conference in Birmingham, Williamson linked the restoration of the two-year post-study work visas for international students, announced earlier this week, with the government’s key concerns, including grade inflation and undergraduate admissions in England.


Share research funding more evenly across UK, urge MPs

Times Higher Education, 12/09/2019, Chris Havergal

MPs have called on the UK’s research councils to share funding more evenly, challenging the concentration of resources in the “golden triangle” and the biomedical sciences, and suggesting that additional support should be provided for small, specialist institutions.

The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee’s report, Balance and Effectiveness of Research and Innovation Spending, published on 12 September, expresses concern about an analysis that showed that around 41 per cent of government-supported research was concentrated in London, Oxford and Cambridge


Judging degrees by earnings is ‘wrong’

The Times, 12/09/19, Rosemary Bennett

University vice-chancellors say that the government has “got it wrong” in focusing on graduate earnings when judging the value of a degree.

They say that the most common reason young people cite for going to university is that they “find their subject interesting”, followed by enjoying studying and “having new experiences”.


UK universities welcome U-turn on student visas

The Guardian, 11/09/2019, Richard Adams

The UK government’s announcement of its plans to offer extended post-study work visas for international graduates of UK universities has received an unusual response –unalloyed praise from the higher education sector.

The decision reverses one of the most contentious policies from Theresa May’s time in charge of immigration policy, which shrank the time available for overseas students to stay and work after graduating from two years to as little as four months in most cases.


Oxford professor claims he should not be forced to retire because his research is ‘blossoming’

Daily Telegraph, 11/09/2019, Camilla Turner

An Oxford professor has claimed that his university should not have forced him to retire because his research is only just “blossoming”.

Prof Paul Ewart, the former head of atomic and laser physics at Oxford’s Clarendon Laboratory, claims that he was unfairly pushed out before his 70th birthday.


UK work visas for foreign graduates to be extended to two years

The Guardian, 10/09/2019, Richard Adams

International students are to be offered a two-year work visa after graduating from a British university, the government will announce, overturning a key plank of Theresa May’s restrictive immigration policies.

Currently, graduates with bachelors or master’s degrees are allowed to look for work for only four months. From next year all international graduates could qualify for a two-year period to work in the UK, increasing their chances of finding long-term employment after studying.

The measure goes further than the Home Office’s latest immigration white paper, which proposed extending the four-month limit to six months and the limit for those with doctorates to a year.


English university offers student accommodation in Wales after running out of space

Daily Telegraph, 10/09/2019, Camilla Turner

An English university offered student accommodation across the border in Wales after it ran out of room, it has emerged.

Bristol University wrote to over 100 prospective first year students to inform them that there is no space for them in university owned accommodation in the city.