4 Jul, 2017

University applicants set for shock to the system

4 July, 2017|News|1 Comment

New report says more can be done to prepare young people for university.

The first major survey of its kind, Reality Check: A report on university applicants’ attitudes and perceptions, produced by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) and Unite Students, shows a significant gap between what university applicants think higher education is like and the realities of student life.

The research shows that applicants prepare for university in a state of mixed emotions. While 81% are excited about the prospect, 61% are anxious, with 58% having had trouble sleeping and 27% reporting panic attacks in the past year. The report highlights a number of specific areas where applicants’ expectations are out of step with the reality.

The key findings include:

60% of university applicants expect to spend more time in lectures than they do in school lessons, yet only 19% of students find this happens.
Only 37% of applicants with a mental health condition have declared, or intend to declare it, with their prospective university.
While most applicants (62%) believe they have a good grip on money matters, only 43% are confident about paying a bill and only 41% feel they understand student finances, with many under-estimating essential expenses.
Almost half (47%) of all applicants feel unprepared for living with people they have never met before, with gay, lesbian, bisexual and other sexuality applicants less confident about making friends (58%) than heterosexual applicants (74%).

While most applicants (67%) are confident they will find the right support for any mental health issues, friends emerged as the first line of support for most applicants (85%). Half (50%) anticipate turning to academic staff, ahead of university counselling services (47%) or their GP (43%).

The research, which surveyed over 2,000 applicants, also provides early insight into […]

22 Jun, 2017

Mary Curnock Cook: How to improve technical education to deliver higher skills and better productivity

22 June, 2017|News|2 Comments

In a new report for the Higher Education Policy Institute (, Mary Curnock Cook, the former Chief Executive of UCAS, says the Government must address six big gaps in technical education policy to raise skills and productivity.

Mary Curnock Cook, the author of Misunderstanding Technical and Professional Education: Six Category Mistakes (HEPI Policy Note 1), said:

‘The success of the British economy, particularly after Brexit, will depend in large part on the quality of technical and professional education. In the past, this has generally been ignored, underpowered and underfunded.

‘Before the recent general election, skills policy was – rightly – placed at the heart of a new industrial strategy. Technical education is now being reorganised into 15 routes matching the main industrial sectors and new technical qualifications, called T-Levels, are being introduced.

‘I’d love to see this new attempt succeed because students and employers would welcome it. But there are some fundamental design flaws that need to be ironed out up front.’

Nick Hillman, Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said:

‘The Conservative manifesto promised to make British technical education “as prestigious as our world- leading higher education system”. That challenge has proved a particularly big conundrum for British policymakers, bedevilling past administrations.

‘Recent changes provide hope that we can raise our game, but they will not succeed without further improvements. In particular, if the new T-Levels are to be respected by students and employers, they need to be clarified, tweaked and explained.’

Notes for Editors

HEPI Policy Note 1, Misunderstanding Technical and Professional Education: Six Category Mistakes, considers six areas:

Parity of esteem: The new T-Levels are supposed to give technical education the same status as academic education. But they have a different purpose and structure to A-Levels. So they will […]

7 Jun, 2017

The 2017 Student Academic Experience Results: Teaching is improving but students want better value for money

7 June, 2017|News|2 Comments

The 2017 Student Academic Experience Survey, published today by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) and the Higher Education Academy (HEA) reveals:

how hard students are working;
how satisfied they are with their lives; and
what they think of recent government policies.

Over 14,000 full-time undergraduates took part in the survey this year.

Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI and co-author of the report, said:

‘This is the biggest sector-wide survey on what students think throughout their time in higher education. It needs to be taken seriously by universities and whoever is in Government after the election. Much of the story is positive, but students are less happy and more anxious than non-students.

‘The survey proves beyond all doubt that the student experience differs depending on ethnicity, the type of accommodation and sexual orientation. Such factors have a direct impact on how engaged students are with their studies as well as on their overall quality of life. For a truly great academic experience, we need to think ever more deeply about how to respond to the individual characteristics of each student.

‘The election has seen a lively battle for student votes. The Survey shows students want universities to provide information on where fees go, taxpayers to cover more of the costs and policymakers to provide stronger arguments for future fee rises. Above all, the Survey confirms higher education transforms lives but also that it does not currently help all students equally.’

Principal author Jonathan Neves, HEA Head of Surveys, said:

‘The positive responses to our new questions about learning gain and on teaching quality are encouraging. But the feedback also shows that there is important work required to address the less positive academic experience of minority groups, and to realise the potential benefits from […]

22 May, 2017

Hey, big spenders!

22 May, 2017|By Nick Hillman|News|1 Comment

It was a busy weekend for higher education announcements. First, the Green Party announced a plan to pay off all outstanding student debt on graduates’ behalf. The details were sketchy but there is over £75 billion worth of outstanding debt in England alone. So it is a big policy whichever way you look at it.

The Green Party’s own calculations focus on the annual cost of servicing the debt on graduates’ behalf. They cost the policy at about £14 billion between now and 2022 but claim the long-term cost is ‘more difficult and uncertain to estimate.’

In electoral terms, the danger with such eye-catching announcements is that, while they may appeal to students, they may repel other voters. Non-students may raise questions about a party’s wider economic competence when they choose to spend so much on an area of policy that actually appears to be working rather well. Other voters may also wonder if they will have to pick up the tab.

The second announcement came this morning from the Labour Party. Just a few days ago, they published a manifesto that included the abolition of tuition fees and the reintroduction of maintenance grants. This was their biggest single spending commitment, and is costed by the Institute for Fiscal Studies at £8 billion a year. Now, Labour have apparently offered something even more generous or unaffordable (depending upon your view).

Their latest promise is to abolish fees from this autumn rather than 2018 as originally planned. The Tory Party have been accused of tweaking a manifesto commitment of their own today (on social care), but it is hard to find another similarly-sized spending commitment being made after a manifesto has been published in any past election. For most of the past seven years, the Labour Party has said […]

4 May, 2017

Students support Labour but don’t trust them on fees, according to HEPI / YouthSight poll

4 May, 2017|News

Last week, HEPI and YouthSight polled over 1,000 full-time undergraduate students entitled to vote. The results, which we are making available in full, show:

considerable support for the Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn;
a majority of students are registered to vote and expect to vote – but most expect to do so at home rather than at university;
the most important issues to students are the EU and the NHS, while very few give a high priority to personal indebtedness or defence;
a majority of those students who are planning to vote and whose vote could be affected by Brexit are willing to consider voting tactically;
students want more election information, with big support for a TV leaders’ debate;
students have not forgiven the Liberal Democrats for breaking their promise on tuition fees; and
students are distrustful of the Labour leadership’s support for abolishing tuition fees and bringing back maintenance grants.

Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI, said:

‘There are over a million undergraduates entitled to vote at this election and they are concentrated in certain constituencies. They are an important group of voters, but only if they choose to wield their power. This time, students have registered to vote in large numbers but they are less likely than the electorate as a whole to back the Conservatives.

‘An overall majority of students who have made up their mind support Jeremy Corbyn. But it is not a forgone conclusion that this will win Labour extra MPs on 8th June. This is partly because students want more information, partly because their vote could be more dispersed than usual and partly because many students are willing to vote tactically.

‘Labour, Coalition and Conservative Governments have all backed tuition fees in recent times. […]

27 Apr, 2017

Whither Teacher Education and Training?: new HEPI report calls for fresh thinking and practical action now to avoid a crisis in teacher recruitment and training

27 April, 2017|News|1 Comment

A new HEPI paper on the past, present and future of teacher training written by Dr John Cater, the Vice Chancellor of Edge Hill University, will be launched at a HEPI conference at King’s College London on Thursday, 27 April 2017. Among the various recommendations is a call to consider replacing bursaries for trainee teachers with a new system of forgivable fees.

John Cater, the author of HEPI Report (95) Whither Teacher Education and Training?, said:
There are worrying signs that the profession is failing to attract enough entrants and failing to retain existing teachers in sufficient numbers and with appropriate specialisms to deliver the revised curriculum to a rapidly increasing school-age population.

This is no longer the time for hackneyed debates about the merits of different types of provision of Initial Teacher Training, which should be judged solely on the quality of provision and the success in recruiting and retaining future teachers.

But it is the time for all stakeholders to work together to ensure that an emerging issue does not manifest itself into a crisis which affects the life chances of a generation.’
Nick Hillman, Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said:
Policymakers love to meddle in teacher training. In recent times, they have tried to shift the training out of universities and into schools. But the numbers speak for themselves: in every year between 2013 and 2016, teacher recruitment missed its targets. Large sums have been splurged on bursaries for trainee teachers to stem the flow, but without much effect.

We need to stop ignoring the facts. Trainee teachers typically do not want to be at the same chalkface all of the time. Learning how to teach in a university environment – and not just at a single […]

3 Apr, 2017

Why we must protect university autonomy

3 April, 2017|News

HEPI Director, Nick Hillman, will today deliver a major speech on university autonomy at the inaugural meeting of the G20 – a group of Presidents from independent (or independent-minded) colleges and universities around the world – taking place at the University of Buckingham.

In his speech, he will:

note the benefits that institutional autonomy provides UK universities in terms of their global standing;
claim universities are more autonomous than they are always willing to admit;
warn against crying wolf over university autonomy too readily;
argue that recent changes in England, including tripling tuition fees and removing student number controls, have increased institutional autonomy;
show official support for new providers stems less from a desire for fully-blown marketisation and more from a desire to shape the sector indirectly;
criticise the House of Lords’s amendment to the Higher Education and Research Bill (New Clause 1) defining what a university it and call on MPs to reverse it;
show the risks of pure autonomy, including uniformity and hierarchy, which the university sector must guard against;
defend external scrutiny of universities, despite their autonomy; and
call on Parliament to start debating the optimum categorisation of different sorts of higher education providers; and
predict further higher education legislation will prove necessary in the future.

Why we must protect university autonomy: Speech to the inaugural G20 meeting at the University of Buckingham

Embargo: 2.30pm, 3rd April 2017

Introduction: The University of Buckingham

Thank you inviting me. It is a great pleasure to be back here at Buckingham, particularly under its dynamic new leadership. Since it was founded 40 years ago, the University of Buckingham has occupied a unique place in British higher education. This is principally because of its exceptional level of independence, which was enshrined by the Royal Charter it secured in 1983.

This freedom has displayed itself in numerous ways, but […]

30 Mar, 2017

Getting bang-for-buck from university communications

30 March, 2017|News

On Thursday, 30th March, the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) publishes a new report by Richard Garner, the UK’s longest-serving education correspondent, entitled Return on investment? How universities communicate with the outside world (Occasional Paper 16).

Drawing on over 35 years’ experience at the Independent, the Mirror and the Times Educational Supplement, the author:

recounts initiatives that worked;
reveals how universities can receive more positive coverage; and
shows how the media have changed.

Richard Garner, the author of the report, said:
Higher education is getting more space in the media and there are more outlets of different types. But there is less understanding and knowledge of universities by those who write about them. This is the biggest challenge facing those who are paid to promote the image of the sector but, given the quality of British higher education, it is far from impossible.

While universities do not always help themselves in how they approach the media, I would advise journalists to listen to them. The essence of media relations with the higher education sector is dialogue, not press releases.
Commenting on the report, Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI said:
Media coverage of higher education has exploded while the number of education journalists has shrunk. Bigger university communication teams have taken up the slack, but they could be more responsive to how the media now operate.

Half-cooked stories that don’t resonate with journalists are counter-productive and waste time and money. Yet it is possible to get a fair hearing for our fantastic universities, even on trickier topics, when the stories are interesting, the lessons are clear and the academics are accessible. Above all, not all interesting news has to be bad news.
The report provides a conservative estimate of at least 600 people working in university public relations departments across […]

1 Mar, 2017

HEPI announces a senior new team member to expand our policy analysis

1 March, 2017|News

HEPI is delighted to announce a senior new member of staff, Dr Diana Beech, who joins the think tank from the Department for Education (DfE) in a new role as the Director of Policy and Advocacy.

Previously a Programme Manager at the DfE with responsibility for establishing the Office for Students, Diana holds a PhD from the University of Cambridge (on conservative-Lutheran resistance in the Third Reich). She has also held post-doc positions at the University of British Columbia and the Technical University of Berlin, and spent three years in Cambridge managing a research project on the values behind contemporary European science policy.

Diana Beech said:
I am absolutely thrilled to be joining HEPI at such a pivotal time for the UK higher education sector. As the realities of Brexit and the Higher Education and Research Bill emerge, I look forward to working closely with the sector to help navigate the many challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.
Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI, said:
At HEPI, we have doubled our published output and more than doubled our programme of events in recent times, and we now work directly with the overwhelming majority of UK universities. This activity reflects the enormous changes affecting higher education at the moment. Our new appointment marks the next phase in our development and will allow us to do even more to shape and lead the policy debate.
Notes for Editors

In addition to her recent experience in higher education policymaking in Whitehall, Diana Beech has extensive experience of both UK and European higher education. She previously worked as a Research Consultant on the ‘OAPEN-UK’ project, gathering evidence to help stakeholders make informed decisions on the future of open access monograph publishing in the humanities and social sciences. Diana was also […]

24 Feb, 2017

Comment from HEPI Director on the new HE and Research Bill Government amendments

24 February, 2017|News

Nick Hillman, Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said:

‘Today has proved yet again that Jo Johnson is on course to transform our higher education system. We have needed a new legal framework ever since £9,000 fees came in, but this hasn’t stopped some strong opposition against his plans. After the referendum and then again when the legislation reached the House of Lords, a cacophony of voices called for him to withdraw the Bill.

‘Today’s weighty amendments strengthen, clarify and improve the Bill in all sorts of ways. The House of Lords have done their job. But it would be wrong to see the latest changes as a u-turn because the Government’s main objectives, such as a new Office for Students and the Teaching Excellence Framework, were never really in doubt and are now even more secure.

‘Despite the progress being made, the process of reform does need to continue. The new incentives for offering two-year degrees may need to be matched by more new support for part-time study. We still need to legislate for a better regime for recouping student loans from those who move abroad. The red carpet that the Government should be rolling out for International students remains tightly rolled up.’