News round-up: New report doesn’t augur well for average-earning graduates

This week there’s only one news story that counts: the publication of the Augar report and its impact on graduate and university finances


Skidmore warns against over-reliance on graduate earnings data

Times Higher Education, 07/06/2019, Chris Havergal

England’s universities minister has warned against relying too heavily on graduate employment data to judge the value of degrees, after the Augar review suggested that they could be a key factor in determining subject-level funding.

While the post-18 review said that funding decisions should also take account of the social value of courses such as nursing and teaching, Chris Skidmore warned that it was difficult to measure this accurately and said that the arts and humanities must not be marginalised.


Ex-ministers warn Treasury will not make up funding if fees cut

Times Higher Education, 06/06/2019, John Morgan

The Augar review’s call for the Treasury to replace in full the university income lost through cutting tuition fees in England to £7,500 is “implausible”, meaning that there is a risk that the fee cut could happen independently and universities must fight to avert that, according to former minister Lord Willetts.

Jo Johnson, who fiercely opposed Theresa May’s plan to review sector funding in his time as universities minister, agreed that there would be “real doubt” that the Treasury would provide extra direct funding for universities. And if such resources were provided, they could end up as a politicised “slush fund for the ministerial project du jour” rather than a sustainable funding stream for universities, he warned.


Growing PhD funding shortfall ‘requires national debate’

Times Higher Education, 06/06/2019, Simon Baker

A vice-chancellor has called for a “national debate” on the future of PhD funding in the UK after new data suggested a growing financial shortfall in the training of doctoral students.

Figures published by the Office for Students show that universities in England and Northern Ireland recovered only 47 per cent of the full costs of training and supervising postgraduate research students in the last academic year


Oxford makes progress on diversity – but too slowly, says university head

The Guardian, 06/06/2019, Richard Adams

The vice-chancellor of Oxford University has said her institution’s progress in tackling inequality and disadvantage remains slow, despite figures that show record numbers of women, state-educated pupils and students from black and minority ethnic backgrounds were admitted last year.

The proportion of students from UK state schools rose above 60% for the first time, and more women than men were admitted for the second year in a row. A record number of undergraduates with disabilities also joined the university.


Record ethnic minority students at Oxford

BBC, 06/06/2019, Sean Coughlan

Oxford University’s latest admissions figures show the highest ever proportion of places for ethnic minority students – at 18%.

There were also rising numbers of state school pupils, up to about 61%.

But the figures, for undergraduate entry in autumn 2018, showed more places taken by students from Singapore than from the north-east of England.


Gender not children ‘holds women academics back’

BBC, 06/06/2019, Hannah Richardson

Women academics do not rise through the ranks as fast as men with the same credentials and personal circumstances, research indicates.

The study, of 2,270 academics at 24 top UK universities, found the men reached more senior levels than the women, even after parenthood was accounted for.

The Cardiff University researchers said one explanation for this may be discrimination against women.


Low-grade university offers attacked

The Times, 06/06/2019, Rosemary Bennett

Universities that offer poorer students a place with lower A level grades risk “promoting low expectations” in state education, according to a think-tank.

Virtually all universities make hundreds of “contextual offers” to applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds. Pioneered by Bristol University, they have become the favoured tool for widening access to university.


Universities to trawl through students’ social media to look for suicide risk, under new project

Daily Telegraph, 05/06/2019, Camilla Turner

Universities are to trawl through students’ social media to look for signs that they may be suicidal, as part of a new project funded by the higher education watchdog.

The new scheme, backed by the Office for Students (OfS), is aimed at reducing suicide rates and identifying students in crisis by harvesting data on individuals.

Northumbria University, which is leading the three year project, will design and pilot an “Early Alert Tool” which, if successful, could be rolled out at all British institutions.


£14.5 million for projects to improve student mental health

Times Higher Education, 05/06/2019, Nick Mayo

More than £14 million is being invested in projects designed to help address student mental health issues in England.

The projects, awarded funding by the Office for Students in an announcement on 5 June, include an early intervention scheme being developed by Northumbria University in partnership with James Murray, whose son Ben killed himself last year while studying at Bristol University.


Sector leaders fear arts ‘disaster’ if fee cut means funding cut

Times Higher Education, 04/06/2019, Rachael Pells

A university leader has warned of a “disaster” for the arts and humanities if tuition fees in England are cut to £7,500 and the government does not provide increased public funding to make up the difference.

Michael Arthur, president of UCL, told the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee that a number of expert predictions suggested that it was “unlikely” that the Treasury would top up average per-student funding to the current level of £9,250 if the fee cap recommended by the Augar review of post-18 education was implemented


More graduates could make financial claims after former student receives £61k over ‘Mickey Mouse’ degree

The Independent, 03/06/2019, Eleanor Busby

More graduates could be given payouts for courses they are dissatisfied with after a former university student received a £61,000 out-of-court settlement over a “Mickey Mouse” degree.

Pok Wong, who graduated from Anglia Ruskin University in 2013 with a first in international business strategy, claimed the university had “fraudulently misrepresented” the course and career prospects.


Inquiry demanded over governance of universities’ pension fund

Financial Times, 03/06/2019, Kate Beioley

More than 1,000 academics have called for an urgent inquiry into the governance of the university sector’s £60bn retirement fund after a whistleblower claimed she was blocked from probing the size of the scheme’s deficit. In a letter to the Financial Times, academics said parliament or a select committee should investigate estimates made by the University Superannuation Scheme (USS) — the UK’s largest private sector pension — of the size of its deficit and the conduct of its executive, trustees and the Pensions Regulator.


Highest earning graduates the big winners of proposed fee changes

The Times, 31/05/2019, Rosemary Bennett

The highest earning graduates will be the big winners under a proposed overhaul of university tuition fees, an analysis by The Times shows.

Under the proposals in a review of higher education funding tuition fees would be cut from £9,250 a year to £7,500 and the interest rate on loans, which is 6.3 per cent at present, reduced to the level of inflation while students are studying.


Give worse-off students £3,000 to stay in education, says report

The Guardian, 30/05/2019, Richard Adams

Disadvantaged students in England could receive grants worth £3,000 a year to encourage them to remain in education after leaving school, according to proposals from a government-commissioned report backed by Theresa May.

The report into post-age 18 education and funding would, if accepted by a future government, see a shift in funding from universities to further education (FE) and vocational training. Universities would lose income for “low value” courses while their graduates would be making higher student loan repayments until the brink of their retirement.


May urges Tories to cut tuition fees and revive student grants

The Guardian, 30/05/2019, Richard Adams

Theresa May has thrown down the gauntlet to the Tory leadership candidates to slash tuition fees and reinstate maintenance grants for the poorest students.

In a speech in London, the prime minister acknowledged she no longer had power to implement the policy as she was leaving office.


Universities hit back after report proposing funding cuts

The Guardian, 30/05/2019, Richard Adams

University leaders said their sector could be pushed into “survival mode” if the funding cuts proposed by a new report into student financing become government policy.

The Augar report on post-18 education in England, commissioned by Theresa May, recommended a shift in funding away from universities towards further education (FE) and vocational training, with the report sharply criticising universities for offering too many “low value” courses.


Graduates will pay back loans into their sixties

The Times, 30/05/2019, Rosemary Bennett

Millions of graduates will still be paying back student loans in their sixties under plans to reform university funding.

A report has concluded that too few graduates are meeting the full costs of their studies. They should be made to start repaying their loans sooner and continue to make payments for a full 40 years after leaving university, the review of higher education funding said. In return, fees should be cut from £9,250 a year to £7,500 and the interest rate on loans, which is now 6.3 per cent, should be reduced to the level of inflation while they are studying.


Graduates too poor to pay debt five years on

The Times, 29/05/2019, Rosemary Bennett

Two out of five graduates earn too little five years after finishing university to start repaying their student loans.

A study by the think tank Onward found that a decade after graduating a majority of those who took creative arts courses were still being paid too little to start repayments, which begin once the graduate earns £25,000. The same was true of those studying agriculture, whose median graduate salary after ten years was £24,300. The median salary for a creative arts graduate was £23,200.


Going to university pays off faster for women than for men, new analysis find

Daily Telegraph, 29/05/2019, Camilla Turner

Going to university pays off faster for women than it does for men, a new analysis has found.

Within five years of graduating, women on average earn more than they would have if they had not gone to university.


EU students will not face Brexit penalty next year

The Guardian, 28/05/2019, Richard Adams

EU students going to English universities next year will be eligible for domestic tuition fees and student loans for the duration of their course regardless of Brexit, the Department for Education (DfE) has announced.

Chris Skidmore, the universities minister, told a meeting of ministers in Brussels that EU students would continue to be funded on the same basis as students in England for undergraduate and postgraduate courses starting in the 2020-21 academic year.


Bank gives £30m to fund university in Milton Keynes

The Times, 25/05/2019, Rosemary Bennett

The home of concrete cows and the most famous grid system this side of Manhattan has been given £30 million for its new university.

Milton Keynes University or MK:U will open its doors in 2023, and will now benefit from the donation by Santander. The global bank recently set up its technology headquarters in Milton Keynes, where it employs 5,000 staff. It has provided the funds for both infrastructure and running costs of MK:U.