News round-up: Tuition fees don’t all go on tuition – shock

A new study finds that the larger part of tuition fees is spent on support, admin and buildings rather than tuition – and the two-year degree makes one of its periodic reappearances


Scrap REF and allocate QR funding by headcount, says professor

Times Higher Education, 23/11/2018, Anna McKie

Quality-related research funding should be distributed in England on the basis of the size of a university’s research workforce, not its performance in the research excellence framework, according to a leading academic.

Dorothy Bishop, professor of developmental neuropsychology at the University of Oxford, said that it was “time for a rethink” on the way QR funding is allocated and, in particular, on the role of the REF, which “wastes time and generates bad incentives”.


Half of university tuition fees spent on teaching

BBC, 22/11/2018, Sean Coughlan

Less than half of the tuition fee paid by students in England can be spent on the cost of teaching, says research from a university think tank. The Higher Education Policy Institute says the rest is spent on buildings, IT and libraries, administration, or welfare such as mental health support. It comes as a review is scrutinising the cost of student fees and loans.

A separate public spending watchdog report warns that the sale of student loans is providing poor value. The Public Accounts Committee says that student loans with a face value of £3.5bn were sold last year to private investors for £1.7bn – with MPs unconvinced this was a good deal for taxpayers.

The review of post-18 education funding, commissioned by the prime minister, is examining how to redesign university fees and student loans.

More on this story:

Universities ‘spend less than half of tuition fees on teaching provision’

The Guardian, 22/11/2018, p.20, Richard Adams

Less than half tuition fee is for teaching

The Times, 22/11/2018, Rosemary Bennett

Less than half of tuition fees income spent on teaching students, report suggests

The Independent, 22/11/2018, Eleanor Busby

Students want unis to tell them where their fees go

Metro, 22/11/2018, Nina Massey

More transparency still needed on how fees are spent, says report

Times Higher Education, 22/11/2018, Simon Baker


UK government sold student loans ‘for too little return’

Times Higher Education online, 22/11/2018, John Morgan

The UK government’s sale of student loans “is an example of selling off assets for short-term capital gain” without showing how the deal is in the “long-term interests of taxpayers”, according to MPs on the Public Accounts Committee.

The PAC report, on the sale of pre-2012 student loans to private investors for a £1.7 billion lump sum in December 2017, says that the government’s own analysis showed that the same amount would have been recouped via repayments in only eight years – and that a further £1.6 billion would have come in over the next 25 years.

More on this story:

Taxpayer was ripped off by student loan book sale, Public Accounts Committee report finds

Daily Telegraph, 22/11/2018, Camilla Turner


Cutting tuition fees would penalise poor students by reducing access grants

Sky News, 22/11/2018

A reduction in tuition fees would make it harder for disadvantaged students to go to university, according to a group of funding charities.

A post-18 education commission, set up by Theresa May, is reported to be considering recommending fees be cut to £6,500 from the current £9,250. At the moment universities are required to set aside part of their income to help students from poor or disadvantaged backgrounds enter higher education. That works out at about £860m for this year. But six charities that help with university funding say that money would be reduced if fees are cut.

In a joint statement The Access Project, Brightside, Causeway Education, Impetus-PEF, IntoUniversity, and upReach said: ‘Higher education should be a route open to all young people, irrespective of background. But we have a big and persistent social mobility problem in the UK – young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are half as likely to progress to HE as their peers.

‘Widening participation funding exists to help close this gap and is vital to the work that we do to support young people from under-represented groups to progress and succeed in HE.’


Black academics ‘paid thousands of pounds less’ than white peers

Times Higher Education, 22/11/2018, Jack Grove

The UK’s black and ethnic minority academics earn thousands of pounds a year less on average than white scholars with the same levels of education and experience, new analysis has revealed. In a groundbreaking study of pay inequality in UK academia, researchers from the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (Ucea) found that black male academics are paid 13.3 per cent less on average than white male academics of a similar age, experience and institutional background. Black female academics are paid 11.9 per cent less on average than their equivalent white male peers.

The finding by Ucea, which represents universities in national pay negotiations, breaks from previous studies that have largely attributed the ‘ethnicity pay gap’ to a lack of senior ethnic minority staff at the upper end of the pay scale.

However, the latest study, which examines salaries of about 346,000 full-time staff, suggests that minority staff suffer what the report calls a ‘pay penalty’ when doing the same jobs as equally qualified white peers. At professorial level, that pay deficit would be about £11,011 and £9,855 for black male and female staff respectively on average.


Grade inflation: how certain subjects fuel rise in firsts

Times Higher Education, 21/11/2018, Simon Baker

The leap in the share of students gaining first-class degrees in the UK in recent years has drawn increasing scrutiny as the questions over whether grade inflation is behind the rise mount up.

It is an issue that was brought back to the fore last week by the revelation that one university department discussed its low share of “good honours” and its league table position just weeks before dozens of student marks in the faculty were increased in a moderation exercise.


University chiefs want overhaul of unconditional offers system

The Times, 20/11/201, Rosemary Bennett

Unconditional offers are “reducing the motivation and quality” of sixth-form education and lead too many students to the wrong university or degree, according to several college leaders.

In a letter to The Times they call for sweeping changes to the widespread practice of making unconditional offers on the proviso that a student makes the university their firm choice.


Bath Spa University to ignore grades and offer £750 bonus to new students

Daily Telegraph, 20/11/2018, Camilla Turner

Bath Spa University has become the first in the country to ignore grades and move to unconditional offers only.

Every single student applying to the university this year will be offered a face-to-face interview or audition, and they may be asked to submit a portfolio of their work if applying for a course in art or design. If they impress tutors, they will be offered a place regardless of their A-level results.


Dame Shirley Pearce to lead teaching excellence framework review

Times Higher Education, 18/11/2018, Ellie Bothwell

Dame Shirley Pearce, chair of the London School of Economics, has been appointed to lead an independent review of the UK’s teaching excellence framework.

Dame Shirley, who was vice-chancellor of the University of Loughborough from 2006 to 2012, has been tasked with reviewing whether the process by which TEF ratings are determined, including the sources of statistical information used, are “fit for use”.


Changing university entry requirements to boost diversity is wrong, says Lord Winston

Daily Telegraph, 19/11/2018, Camilla Turner

Universities should not be penalised for failing to admit enough black and poor students as they are having to pick up the pieces of bad schooling,  Lord Robert Winston has said.

The scientist and television presenter said that universities should not have to “modify” entry requirements in order to admit more disadvantaged students, adding that this will lead to universities being “downgraded”.



Two-year degree plan to cut cost of tuition fees

BBC, 18/11/2018, Sean Coughlan

Students in England are being promised the option of “accelerated” two-year degree courses, saving 20% on tuition fees compared with a three-year course.

Universities Minister Sam Gyimah has confirmed plans for universities to be able to charge higher fees for shorter, more intensive courses.


Times Higher Education, 16/11/2018, John Morgan

The marketisation of English higher education is causing a “crisis” in university finances that may force the government into radically shifting its policy focus towards “the well-being of the system overall” and universities’ responsibilities to their local communities, according to an influential researcher.

John Goddard, emeritus professor of regional development studies at Newcastle University, spoke after co-authoring a report for the Welsh government titled Maximising universities’ civic contribution, which recommends that this role be assessed as a “formal aspect of universities’ performance” and tied to institutional funding.


UK government urged to halt academic brain drain to tech firms

The Guardian, 16/11/2018, Rachel Hall

The UK government should regulate the salaries that tech companies can offer researchers to keep important scientific knowledge in the public domain, according to a professor of artificial intelligence at Imperial College London.

Maja Pantić told a Guardian event that in emerging fields such as machine learning, artificial intelligence, data science, new materials and bioengineering, tech companies such as Google and Facebook are offering “crazy” salaries which universities cannot compete with. She estimated that 10% of academics in these areas are being lost to the private sector.


Tuition fee cut will ‘hurt poor students’

The Times, 13/11/2018, Rosemary Bennett

A proposed across-the-board cut in tuition fees to £6,500 in England would benefit wealthy graduates most and could close opportunities for students from the poorest backgrounds, university chiefs have argued. Dame Janet Beer, president of Universities UK, which represents vice-chancellors, said that less money at universities would result in fewer grants for poorer students.

Graduates who went on to well paid jobs would be the big winners, she said. Students do not start repaying their loans until they earn £25,000, and well over half will not earn enough in their lifetime to pay off the loans.

Dame Janet, vice-chancellor of Liverpool University, said: ‘We would have less resource to support the students who we need to attract into university.’

More on this story:

Uni Fees Cut Hits Poorest

The Sun, 13/11/2018, Lynn Davidson

Students from poor backgrounds hardest hit by fees 

Mail Online, 13/11/2018, via Press Association

Greening: Cutting tuition fees would hit poorer students

Evening Standard, 12/11/2018

Untangling the tuition fee knot

BBC, 12/11/2018, Branwen Jeffries

The public debate about whether students are taking on too much debt has led to a big review of how to pay for your education beyond the age of 18. Tuition fees in England have become a knotty political problem, and there’s more than one group of people trying to untangle it at the moment. Article looks at who pays for tuition loans, how they are accounted for in government finances, and whether this is likely to change.


Universities are booming, but watch out for the bust

Daily Telegraph, 12/11/2018, Matthew Lynn

Business article looking at university finances. After a massive round of expansion, there is now speculation that a university, or perhaps two or three, will soon be in financial difficulties. Indeed, Sir Michael Barber, chairman of the Office for Students, warned recently that they should not be bailed out if they do fail, and the Government appears to agree. The article argues that the UK has built up a potentially world-beating position in education in the last decade, and that can be a huge source of lucrative exports. But it needs to get itself in better financial shape.


Leaving the EU with no deal would lay waste to British universities

The Times, 13/11/2018, Alastair Jarvis

Comment: Alastair Jarvis, chief executive of Universities UK, writes about the possible impact of a no-deal Brexit on British universities.