Denying loans to students with poor grades would only disadvantage the less well-off, argues David Willetts

In this week’s news round-up, the former universities minister attacks funding proposals that would lead to a two-tier system, while universities are becoming increasingly reliant on non-disclosure agreements


Research must solve social problems, says top EU policymaker

Times Higher Education, 12/04/2019, David Matthews

One of the European Union’s top policymakers has warned universities that the bloc’s research priority is now tackling current-day economic and environmental challenges rather than funding curiosity-driven enquiry.

Jean-Eric Paquet, director general of the European Commission’s Research and Innovation Directorate, told university leaders in Paris: “This is not business as usual.”


Willetts: grade threshold for loans risks ‘two-tier’ system

Times Higher Education, 11/04/2019, Chris Havergal

Restricting access to student loans in England by prior attainment or graduate outcomes risks creating a “two-tier” higher education system in which the rich can “buy” places but the poor miss out, a former universities minister has warned.

Writing in Times Higher Education, David Willetts, who was universities minister between 2010 and 2014, says that, if students with low grades were barred from accessing student finance, “the children of wealthier parents could still go to university even if their grades were very low”.


UK universities issue 11K non-disclosure agreements in five years

Times Higher Education, 11/04/2019, Chris Stokel-Walker

UK universities are becoming increasingly reliant on non-disclosure agreements in negotiations with staff, issuing nearly 11,000 in the past five years, according to data gathered by Times Higher Education.

Responses to freedom of information requests by 98 higher education institutions show that they issued 2,600 non-disclosure agreements in 2017-18 alone, up from 2,020 in 2014-15. These institutions have issued 1,355 non-disclosure agreements so far in this academic year.


Universities accuse the Treasury of levying a ‘stealth tax’ to fund teacher pensions

Daily Telegraph, 11/04/2019, Camilla Turner

Universities have accused the Treasury of levying a “stealth” tax to fund teacher pensions.

The Department for Education (DfE) has revealed that employers’ contribution to the Teachers’ Pension Scheme (TPS) will rise from 16.48 per cent of their salaries to 23.6 per cent.

See also:

Government refuses to cover extra pension costs for universities

Financial Times, 10/04/2019, Andrew Jack


Oxford University Ruskin College row over tutor’s suspension

BBC, 11/04/2019, Anon

An Oxford University college campus is in upheaval after a tutor was suspended under mysterious circumstances.

Dr Lee Humber was told to stay away from Ruskin College shortly after he helped to organise a vote of no confidence against its principal.


NUS approves measures to plug £3.6m deficit

The Guardian, 10/04/2019, Sally Weale

Delegates at the annual conference of the National Union of Students (NUS) have approved a set of changes intended to transform the 100-year-old organisation and save it from financial collapse.


US essay mill firm targets new students through WhatsApp

The Guardian, 08/04/2019, Iftikhaar Aziz and Sarah Marsh

A US firm is targeting first-year university students by infiltrating their private WhatsApp groups and offering to write essays for £7 a page, the Guardian can reveal.

The firm and a series of anonymous individuals are offering made-to-order essays and have been hijacking new students’ group chats at at least five universities, including four prestigious Russell Group institutions.


Master’s degrees on rise as graduates seek to stand out

The Times, 08/04/2019, Rosemary Bennett and Chris Matthews

More than a quarter of a million master’s degrees were awarded last year, the highest figure on record, as young people seek extra qualifications to stand out in the job market.

Many fear that the increase in first and upper second degrees being awarded means that having a BA or BSc is no longer enough for employers. More than one in four students achieves a first, compared with 8 per cent in the 1990s. At some universities the rate is closer to 50 per cent.


Universities shamed for snaring students with ‘unethical’ unconditional offers

The Times, 05/04/2019, Rosemary Bennett

The government has put pressure on two dozen universities by naming and shaming them over the worst form of unconditional offer, a practice condemned as unethical and unacceptable.

Under the arrangements, known as conditional unconditionals, students are guaranteed a place regardless of their A-level grades — provided they reject all other offers.


‘Over-optimistic’ forecasts putting universities at risk

The Times, 04/04/2019, Rosemary Bennett

Universities are making over-optimistic forecasts of student numbers and should stop spending or borrowing on the back of them, the sector’s watchdog has warned.

In its first financial assessment, the Office for Students said that universities collectively were expecting a 10 per cent growth in student numbers over the next four years, or 171,000 full-time students. This includes an increase of 78,000 UK undergraduates, despite a decline of 5 per cent in the UK population of 18-year-olds in the same period.

See also:

Universities are overestimating on student recruitment, watchdog warns as bankruptcy fears loom

Daily Telegraph, 04/04/2019, Camilla Turner



University diversity drive has led to more students feeling under pressure to cheat, watchdog chair says

Daily Telegraph, 30/03/2019, Camilla Turner

Universities’ efforts to boost their intake of disadvantaged students has led to more feeling under “psychological pressure” to cheat due to financial woes, the new chair of higher education quality watchdog has said.

Prof Simon Gaskell, chair of the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA), said that the temptation to “cut corners” is linked to how stressed students feel and this is now “significantly higher” than it used to be.