News round-up: House of Lords warns of the impact of tuition fee cuts

Augar’s recommendation of cuts to tuition fees could be devastating unless government makes up the shortfall, says a House of Lords committee – and the OfS could begin fining universities if they carry on making unconditional offers


Tuition fees cut could be devastating for universities, say peers

The Guardian, 08/09/2019, Sally Weale

Proposals to reduce tuition fees for students in England would have severe consequences for universities, which are already struggling in a challenging financial environment, a Lords committee has said.

The Augar review into post-18 education and funding, which reported this year, recommended that annual tuition fees should be cut to a maximum of £7,500 per year, from £9,250 at present. Ministers are considering the proposal.


Chemistry undergraduate becomes twelfth student in Bristol to take their own life

Daily Telegraph, 08/08/2019, Camilla Turner

A Chemistry student has become the twelfth student from a Bristol university to commit suicide in the last three years. The death of Maria Stancliffe-Cook, 20, an undergraduate at Bristol University, follows a spate of student fatalities in the city in recent years.

This includes nine from Bristol University and a further two from the neighbouring University of the West of England.


Plan to ring-fence junior scholars’ research time scrapped

Times Higher Education, 07/08/2019, Nick Mayo

Early career researchers have expressed disappointment after plans to recommend

that universities allow them to spend a fifth of their time on independent projects and personal development were scrapped.

A panel that reviewed the UK’s main sector guidelines for researcher development said that setting aside the time – which could be used for independent research, training, attending events and completing placements – would help junior scholars to build their skills and careers.


Women participate less in bigger science classes, study finds

Times Higher Education, 07/08/2019, Anna McKie

Universities have been urged to reconsider the use of large introductory courses in science degrees after research showed that they made female students much less likely to participate.

A study in Bioscience, which analysed data from four US universities and two overseas, found that an increase in class size from 50 to 150 students decreased the likelihood of a woman participating relative to a man by 50 per cent


Bank of Mum and Dad lending less to students

The Times, 07/08/2019, Rosemary Bennett

The Bank of Mum and Dad is reducing its financial contribution to its offspring despite undergraduates’ living costs soaring, a report shows.

Parents gave an average of £1,608 to children at university last year, down from £1,656 the previous year, despite a 5 per cent rise in annual living costs to £9,684, with rent the major component at an average of £5,172.


Call for universities to stop lobbying against admissions overhaul

The Guardian, 06/08/2019, Anna Fazackerley

Universities must not be allowed to squash moves towards a system in which sixth formers would apply for a degree course after A-level results, some vice-chancellors are warning. They are concerned that many of their colleagues will resist change for fear of disrupting the summer holidays or having to alter their campus calendar.

The admissions service, Ucas, reported last week that unconditional university offers rose again this year. This is likely to be met with serious disapproval in Westminster, and accelerate a change in the admissions system.


SOAS director to be first black Oxford college head

Times Higher Education, 05/08/2019, Chris Havergal

The director of SOAS University of London, Baroness Amos, will step down at the end of her five-year term to become master of University College, Oxford.

The Labour peer and former minister, who joined SOAS in 2015, will become the first black head of an Oxford college when she succeeds Sir Ivor Crewe in August 2020.


England’s £4 million learning gain investment ‘could go to waste’

Times Higher Education, 05/08/2019, Anna McKie

England’s investment of more than £4 million in studying learning gain could be wasted after much-heralded research projects drew to a close without a clear way forward.

The now-defunct Higher Education Funding Council for England launched 13 pilot projects at more than 70 institutions in 2015, with the aim of finding ways to measure the improvement in students’ skills and competencies over the course of their university study.


Bristol University warns parents of student suicide concerns

The Times, 05/08/2019, Rosemary Bennett

Bristol University used new powers to alert the parents of 36 students that there were serious concerns about their mental health in the first year of its pioneering suicide prevention scheme.

Other universities are understood to be considering introducing the scheme, under which 94 per cent of Bristol students gave explicit consent at the start of the academic year for the authorities to alert a named contact in a mental health or other emergency.


Universities make unconditional offers to two-fifths of pupils

The Sunday Times, 04/08/2019, Sian Griffiths and Hamzah Abbas

For two out of five teenagers, next week’s A-level results will be irrelevant — because they have already been given a free pass to university in the shape of an unconditional offer.

A record 38% of students were made such offers, which guarantee a place on a degree course regardless of A-level grades. The move comes as universities scramble to fill places in the face of a dip in the number of 18-year-olds, especially boys, applying for higher education.


Medical schools ease admission rules in name of diversity

The Sunday Times, 04/08/2019, Sian Griffiths and Julie Henry

Top universities are dropping some of the hardest A-levels from their entry requirements to attract more girls and poorer pupils on to courses dominated by male and middle-class students.

Physics is no longer an A-level prerequisite for some engineering degrees, or chemistry for some courses to study medicine.


UK universities enrol more European students offshore pre-Brexit

Times Higher Education, 02/08/2019, Nick Mayo

The number of European Union students studying for UK degrees overseas has soared as universities seek to combat the expected impact of Brexit.

There were 49,010 EU students enrolled offshore with British institutions in 2017-18, up 4,885 – 11.1 per cent – year-on-year, according to Higher Education Statistics Agency data released by Universities UK International.


Five big priorities for Jo Johnson on his return

Times Higher Education, 02/08/2019, John Morgan

The Augar Review

Jo Johnson’s appointment sounds the death knell for the Augar review’s plans to cut tuition fees in England to £7,500 and shift replacement direct funding towards subjects with higher costs or greater “social and economic value”, according to many policy experts.

In his previous spell as minister, Mr Johnson fought tooth and nail against Theresa May’s plan to set up the review. He was subsequently moved from the Department for Education, and then continued his fight against the review from the back benches, arguing that the Treasury would never replace the lost fee income and the plans would cut university funding.


Universities which fail to recruit poor students will have fees cut by the watchdog, under new powers

Daily Telegraph, 01/08/2019, Camilla Turner

Universities which fail to do enough to recruit poor students will have their fees cut by the watchdog, under new statutory powers.

Institutions which fail to get a grip on issues such as grade inflation and unconditional offers could now be subjected to financial penalties of up to £500,000 or two per cent of their income from fees and grants. The Office for Students (OfS), which was launched in 2018, gained its full legal powers on Thursday.

See also:

Universities could now face fines of £500,000 as regulator given more powers

Independent, 30/07/2019, Eleanor Busby


Police investigate alleged bribery at Swansea University

The Guardian, 31/07/2019, Sally Weale

Police have carried out searches at eight addresses in south Wales and Kent as part of a “complex” investigation into alleged bribery offences following a complaint by Swansea University.

Officers from the regional organised crime unit seized documents and electronic equipment during the raids, which police said related to a complaint to the Serious Fraud Office made by the university in late 2018.


Private higher education college goes into administration

The Guardian, 30/07/2019, Sally Weale

One of the biggest private providers of higher education in England has gone into administration, leaving students stranded on unfinished courses and looking for alternative places to study.

GSM London, which offered undergraduate and postgraduate business courses at its campuses in Greenwich and Greenford, told its 3,500 students that all tuition, classes and exams would stop at the end of September.


Unconditional university offers on the rise for 18-year-olds

The Guardian, 30/07/2019, Amy Walker

Nearly two fifths of 18-year-old applicants to university received an unconditional offer this year, according to the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service.

The Ucas figures show a rise from last year, with 97,045 (38%) of would-be undergraduates in England, Wales and Northern Ireland receiving an offer with an unconditional component in 2019, compared with 87,540, or 34%, in 2018.

Overseas students face ‘unacceptable’ visa costs after outsourcing

The Guardian, 29/07/2019, Richard Adams

International students and staff at British universities are facing “unacceptable” difficulties and costs in applying for visas, after parts of the application process were outsourced to a company charging up to £200 for appointments.

Universities say that the system, run by the French IT services company Sopra Steria, is already struggling to cope with the numbers renewing their student visas within the UK, and fear that it will be chaotic in September when more than 40,000 students are expected to use it.