Admissions 2016: UCAS January deadline figures

This morning UCAS released their January deadline application figures, which historically have shown about 98% of young UK applicants. The main story is one of stability in the sector with overall applications from UK applicants decreasing very slightly. This is being driven by continuing strength in applications from 18 year olds, which are at their highest ever levels across all the nations. This is despite a decrease in in the 18 year old population, which will only return to 2015 levels in 2024. Mature applicants for full-time undergraduate study have fallen for the second year in a row, though last year a similar decrease did not lead to a drop in acceptances.

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Why registering to vote matters

I can clearly recall the first time I voted in an election. While the memory of whose name it was that I put a cross against has faded, I remember feeling that this was an important milestone in my life: I was student, I was an adult, I was living away from home, and I was having my say in the democratic process.

But according to figures released by Labour during National Voter Registration Drive week (1-7 February 2016), an estimated 800,000 people have dropped off the electoral register with students in university towns and cities, along with young people in general and renters, are at highest risk of being disenfranchised.

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Securing success in postgraduate support

This week, UUK hosted a timely round-table discussion to help inform and influence Government’s future postgraduate strategy around loans, access and support.

With the start of the Masters loans scheme only a matter of months away in England, we invited representatives from BIS, HEFCE, OFFA, SLC, NUS, and a host of sector practitioners, to consider two key questions:

  1. What action is needed to ensure the new Masters loans scheme is a success in 2016–17?
  2. What steps need to be considered in order to achieve wider success in postgraduate access and support?

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Universities are open and transparent – the FOI Act just needs updating

In recent discussions about the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, there have been suggestions that universities want to limit the amount of information they make available to the public.

The debate has been sparked by a recent review of the FOI Act. The Government announced a Freedom of Information Commission last year to look at how the Act impacts on government departments and public bodies. Universities were invited to feed in to this review.

Some of the media coverage has suggested that universities would like to limit the public’s right to know in order to hide “bumper cash deals for a number of university leaders”. The inference from the general commentary is that universities want to make less information about universities available to the public. This is far from the truth.

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A summary of UUK’s response to the Green Paper

Just before lunchtime on Friday I hit the send button for the Universities UK response to the consultation on the government’s higher education Green Paper.

The last few months have been a pretty busy time in terms of consultations and dialogue with our members. As part of this process, I have been struck by, not only the level of interest and engagement with the issues across the sector (both in England and the UK more widely), but with the consistency of the messages we received back. This is reflected in our response. Some of the headlines are set out below. Continue reading

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What role could universities play in the EU referendum debate?

With this week’s announcement in Parliament that ministers would be free to campaign for whichever outcome they personally favour, the Prime Minster fired the starting pistol for an EU referendum race that will dominate this year’s politics (and maybe some of next year’s too).

Unlike some of his ministers, universities have already decided their own preference – that they will campaign for a ‘Remain’ vote.

In that respect, they’re well ahead of most of the voting public. Analysis from non-partisan thinktank British Future, published this week in a new pamphlet How (not) to talk about Europe, finds that up to two-thirds of the public is yet to decide for certain which way (or indeed whether) they will vote in the big decision that faces Britain.

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Higher education in 2016

As we bid farewell to 2015, we look ahead to some of the big issues that will be affecting higher education in 2016.

The end of 2015 saw some significant announcements relating to higher education; in particular, the trilogy of the government’s green paper on higher education in England, the spending review announcement and the Nurse review of research councils. The implications of all three announcements will be felt and dealt with in 2016. Continue reading

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Social return from universities

It is all too tempting when trying to describe the impact of universities to resort to monetary measures – and these can be very powerful. In the recent CSR, the Chancellor had clearly been impressed by the arguments made by the Arts sector when he decided to protect their budgets.  He called the arts “one of the best investments we can make as a nation”, and took delight in explaining that £1bn a year in grants leads to “a quarter of a trillion pounds to the economy – not a bad return”.

We need to take the challenge of describing universities’ economic impact seriously – but in chasing economic return as the only credible measure of our value, we risk failing to acknowledge the many other ways in which universities contribute to society. The evidence is clear: economic return is only one part of the picture. The recent REF case studies were categorised by researchers at KCL and only 6% had economic impact as their main outcome.

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An evidence-based approach to tackling gender-based violence

Members of AMOSSHE (the Student Services Organisation) welcome the specific focus that the UUK Harassment and Hate Crime Taskforce have placed on gender-based violence.

As managers of student services within universities, we have been working together over the last year to develop best practice in responding to and preventing sexual harassment and sexual assault among students. We’ve been sharing current work in progress, but also providing training for our members by utilising external expertise from sexual assault referral centres, independent sexual violence advisers, Eversheds law firm, and the Intervention Initiative (the only evidence-based approach to preventing gender-based violence in university settings).

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Innovation funding and universities: beyond the CSR headlines

The comprehensive spending review (CSR) brought about significant announcements on innovation funding, including a commitment to maintain support for Innovate UK (IUK) in cash terms and under a separate funding stream over the next 5 years. Ongoing support for innovation – alongside a real terms protection of the science budget, which also covers knowledge exchange – has to be welcome. Yet, these announcements generate more questions than answers regarding the innovation funding landscape confronting universities in the future.

As noted in UUK’s post-CSR analysis blog, one of the key absences from the CSR document (and earlier, the Higher Education Green paper) was the Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF). HEIF provides essential support to university-led innovation and engagement with business, charities and the wider society, delivering £9.70 (for every £1 invested) in private investment and wider economic and societal benefits. While it’s a good sign that the science budget – which includes £113 million of the £160 million current annual HEIF pot – has come out unscathed from the CSR (bar any fine-print surprises), we don’t know whether this will continue to include an earmarked pot for HEIF, or what will become of the £47 million matching contribution provided by HEFCE from its teaching grant. University involvement in innovation is essential for delivering on the government’s plans for boosting productivity in our economy, so there needs to be a clear commitment to continue supporting HEIF as a separate, flexible funding stream in the future.

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