About Nick Hillman

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So far Nick Hillman has created 318 entries.
10 12, 2017

Three into two WILL go? Two-year degrees welcome, but no game changer…

10 December, 2017|News|1 Comment|

In response to the Government’s latest announcement on encouraging two-year degrees, Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI, said:
Making two-year degrees more attractive makes sense as the current rules aren’t great and more diversity is generally good in higher education – so long as quality is maintained. So the overall idea of altering the financial rules for two-year degrees is sound or even overdue.

Lower fees for two-year degrees might increase demand, probably from older students as many school leavers are remarkably price insensitive and like the idea of staying at university for three (or more) years. It also might increase the supply of two-year degrees, although getting £11,100 to educate students for 40 weeks a year (£280 a week) rather than £9,250 for 30 weeks a year (£310 a week) is unlikely to make a major difference.

But it remains an open question whether there is sufficient support in Parliament for a higher tuition fee cap for a minority of courses. Overall, today’s announcement may not be a game changer.
Notes for Editors

Nearly all the announced saving (£19k of the £25k) for students from taking a two-year degree in preference to a three-year degree comes from entering the labour market a year early – it is not to do with fees and loans (and two-year degrees already exist in some places for those who really want them so, arguably, the £19,000 is not an entirely new saving).
The new fee cap for 2-year degrees (£11,100) is lower than the expected figure of c.£13.5k a year. In February 2017, Jo Johnson said: ‘The tuition fees for a student taking an accelerated degree will never be more, in total, than those for the same degree over a longer time […]

8 12, 2017

Response to the National Audit Office report

8 December, 2017|News|0 Comments|

In response to the National Audit Office’s new report on The higher education market, Nick Hillman, Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said:
It is true that the higher education market is still evolving and that there are areas where further improvements can be made – such as improved information for applicants. It is also good that the NAO have highlighted the sharp decline in part-time students, which is an urgent problem that needs tackling.

But it is wrong to think higher education will ever resemble other markets very closely. For example, there are fee caps, nearly everyone is entitled to an income-contingent loan and you only know the full value of your degree long after you have graduated. It is not meant to be a perfect market – nor should it become one.

There is a world of difference between buying a tin of beans and making the right decision about higher education. Of course, mis-selling can happen when people apply for degrees. But it is an inherently difficult thing to assess because no one knows how they will change as a person as a result of their education. Straight comparisons between regular markets and educational markets don’t actually make much sense.

8 12, 2017

HEPI 14th Annual Lecture: A perspective from Asia

8 December, 2017|Blog|0 Comments|

Last night, HEPI was honoured to host Professor TAN Chorh Chuan, President of the National University of Singapore, who delivered the 14th HEPI Annual Lecture.

It was striking how many people said afterwards that the Lecture made elements of the UK’s current higher education debate seem rather too parochial.

So we are publishing a précis of the Lecture here. We plan to publish the full Lecture, as usual, in due course


For academic institutions to make good decisions on their strategic positioning and goals, they need to understand the major trends and shifts in the global and local higher education landscape, appreciate what they mean generally, and assess which the most relevant specific implications are for themselves.
Over the past decade or so, higher education in Asia has experienced several notable shifts, including:

a focus on ‘liberal arts education’ at several leading universities;
a powerful impetus to build world-class research;
active participation in technology-enhanced learning;
strong and continuing broad-based interest in internationalisation; and
changes in university governance.


In relation to massification, developed economies like Korea and Japan have maintained high post-secondary enrolment rates for many years. So the main story in the past decade has been the unprecedented speed and scale of massification in China, and to a lesser degree, India.
The extent and rate of massification has been associated with several challenges, including graduate unemployment, underemployment and un-employability, as well as concerns with big mismatches between the skills that graduates leave university with, and the needs of industry and employers.
Notwithstanding this, for small nations like Singapore (and smaller countries), the sheer scale of massification raises an important question for local educators: what is, or will be, the talent edge which National University of Singapore […]

6 12, 2017

Parents: Your student children need your ££££

6 December, 2017|Blog|1 Comment|

Martin Lewis, the Money Saving Expert, has been on the warpath in recent months regarding parental contributions towards students’ living costs.

He has, quite rightly, pointed out that – for all but the poorest students – the maintenance loan system rests upon an assumption that parents will contribute to living costs.

The numbers can be big. Martin Lewis recommends that the Government should write to parents to tell them how much they are expected to pay.

One of his examples of what such a letter might say runs as follows: ‘Students — your maintenance loan is £5,479 a year. This is less than the full loan and we expect your parents to make up at least the £5,523 difference.’

These are real numbers, although they are also at the top end for they represent both the minimum loan and the maximum assumed parental contribution for a student living away from home and studying in London, where the costs of living are assumed to be greater.

It is hard to quibble with the basic points here.

Many students don’t have enough money to live on.
Many are not even receiving the minimum income suggested by the Government.
This is because their parents are not paying what is assumed of them.
The Government is reluctant to tell the parents clearly about the numbers involved.

The final point is perhaps understandable in political terms. If the Government suddenly demands the parent(s) of a student pay(s) £5,000 over, this would reduce their spending power considerably even though their children would benefit from having more cash in their pockets.

I agree with Martin on the importance of this issue. About the only place where this problem may be worse than he states is in how old it […]

1 12, 2017

Why the OBR’s forecasts on students must improve

1 December, 2017|Publications|0 Comments|

In this Policy Briefing Note, Why the OBR’s forecasts on students must improve, we question the Office for Budget Responsibility’s predictions of future student numbers.

1 12, 2017

Official forecasts for future student numbers cut by 125,000 – or more than 10%

1 December, 2017|News|0 Comments|

HEPI is today launching a short paper, Why the OBR’s forecasts on students must improve, that questions the Office for Budget Responsibility’s predictions of future student numbers. These have led to the removal of over 100,000 students from the official forecasts for the next few years.

Nick Hillman, Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said:
Since March 2016, the Office for Budget Responsibility have removed tens of thousands of students from their forecasts. At last week’s Budget, they produced new numbers suggesting the UK is going to have over 100,000 fewer highly-skilled people over the next few years than they previously predicted.

The OBR’s forecasts for students have bounced around like a yo-yo for years. Their numbers manage the rare feat of being both deeply unsophisticated and incredibly sensitive at the same time.

No one should plan for the future on the basis of the OBR’s projections. They are radically different from the projections of organisations that have considered the issue in more depth. Yet the Treasury is duty bound to listen because the OBR’s data feeds into the estimates of the country’s future borrowing.

If our leading independent economic forecaster needs to predict the future size of our higher education sector, it should talk to universities, young people and employers about likely future demand and then do some proper economic modelling. Their current strategy, which looks at population size and whatever the latest statement from UCAS says, is little better than a scrawl on the back of a fag packet.

30 11, 2017

On average, graduates have few reasons to regret obtaining a degree and more reasons to be cheerful

30 November, 2017|News|0 Comments|

Responding to HEFCE’s finding that graduates have higher levels of wellbeing than non-graduates, Nick Hillman, Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said:

‘We have conducted the biggest survey of student wellbeing annually since 2014. We have consistently found students to be less happy and more anxious, on average, than both the rest of the population and young people overall. They are living away from home for the first time, confronting new ways of learning and worried about their future prospects.

‘So this new research is important in confirming that higher education works out for most people most of the time. Degrees have non-financial benefits alongside the boost in earnings from graduate-level jobs. People who go to higher education are, typically, more resilient. They generally have few reasons to regret obtaining a degree and more reasons to be cheerful.

‘In all the current upheavals caused by changes like HEFCE’s closure and the opening of the new Office for Students, it is vital that we remain focused on listening to students and graduates. But we must not forget the 50% of people who do not go to higher education, for this data confirms they need better options too.’

Notes to Editors

The HEPI / HEA 2017 Student Academic Experience Survey report and data are available at

HEPI’s two recent reports on student mental health are at:

The Positive and Mindful University

Many universities need to triple their spending on mental health support: urgent call for action in new HEPI paper



28 11, 2017

Four reasons why the Higher Education and Research Act (2017) needs supplementing

28 November, 2017|News|0 Comments|

This is an extract from a speech Nick Hillman, the Director of HEPI, will deliver today to the Independent HE Annual Conference.

One oddity of the debates during the passage of the new Higher Education and Research Act (2017) was a lack of discussion about the types of higher education institution that we are now to have in the UK.

There are officially three types:

Registered providers, which will be formally recognised but receive no preferential treatment.
Approved providers, which will have uncapped fees but no entitlement to direct public funding for teaching or research, while their students will have restricted access to student finance.
Approved (fee cap) providers, which will have their fees (and loans) capped at £9,000 per annum (plus inflation where applicable) and which may receive public funding for teaching and research.

This raises four issues that need further discussion than they have had to date.

The new system replicates most of the features of the current system (which helps explain why it has received too little focus). For example, as now, you have to be in the most tightly-regulated category to receive Quality-Related research funding. That is strange given this funding is meant to be distributed according to quality, as the name suggests – not the precise institutional form.
The Government predicts 57 alternative providers will be in the Approved fee cap category. Perhaps they would argue that this shows there is a clear path for them to resemble traditional providers. But, if they are in the Approved fee cap providers, in what sense are they ‘alternative’? They will be regulated in the same way as Oxbridge, the red bricks, the plate-glass universities, the former polytechnics and the newer universities created after 1992.

23 11, 2017

Review of David Willetts’s ‘A University Education’ by Professor Andy Westwood

23 November, 2017|Blog|0 Comments|

Last night, HEPI – kindly supported by the UPP Foundation and Oxford University Press, as well as Warwick Business School – hosted an event to mark the launch of David Willetts’s new book, A University Education.

After Lord Willetts had run through some of the key arguments in the book, Sir Michael Barber provided a response and Branwen Jeffreys (Education Editor at the BBC) chaired a lively discussion.

Today, on the day of publication, we are pleased to be able to host a review of the book the Professor Andy Westwood, a Vice Dean in the Faculty of Humanities and Professor of Government Practice at the University of Manchester (and a former Special Adviser to John Denham during this time as the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills). 

‘I love universities’ says David Willetts in the first line of A University Education. Few would challenge him on that. This is at its heart a labour of that love. He is keen to point out that this is not a traditional political memoir, though in places – such as his account of the Browne Review’s proposals and the reform events leading up to £9k fees – it does feel like one. However, it is still striking that Willetts looks back with more interest on the brief and on universities themselves than on the politics that surrounded them. Ministers ‘going native’ in their brief is often seen as a cardinal political sin, but for David Willetts it has always been something to embrace.

His history of universities is meticulously researched and incredibly detailed. Doubtless there are passages here that were edited out of his HE white paper in 2011 and others from the draft legislation that never followed. So here in all its extended glory is the […]

21 11, 2017

Another referendum?

21 November, 2017|Blog|0 Comments|

Yesterday, the Guardian HE Network ran an article of mine under the headline ‘University vice-chancellors, start calling for a second EU referendum’.

Many interpreted this as a call for a straight re-run of the 2016 referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU. They were wrong to do so, as this version (which is exactly as it was submitted to the Guardian) shows. I make no complaints about the editing that was made, even though half my words disappeared.

Yet, hopefully, the argument will be clearer in this full version. A second referendum would take place in different circumstances at a different time with different options – though could well have a similar result.

The higher education sector controversially followed one strategy in the 2016 referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU and a completely different strategy in the 2014 referendum on independence for Scotland. On Scotland, vice-chancellors (with the odd rare exception) stayed out of the fray; on the EU, they jumped in with both feet.

The most obvious manifestation was the pro-Remain Universities for Europe organisation. Some, like the journalist Michael Crick at the group’s launch, complained about university leaders getting their hands dirty – he suggested the event was ‘bogus’, ‘unhealthy’ and ‘un-academic’.

But it is the core function of all vice-chancellors to fight for what they perceive to be in the best interests of their institutions. Moreover, it is possible to believe students should be exposed to a range of views and that vice-chancellors were right to express their (one-sided) concerns publicly.

One reason why this is poorly understood is that the vice-chancellors’ club has a name – Universities UK – that sounds like it is a mouthpiece for all staff and students. For the first 82 […]