5 Jan, 2017

Nearly three-quarters of alternative providers will remain unregulated after the Higher Education and Research Bill becomes law

5 January, 2017|News

HEPI is today (5th January 2017) publishing a new report, Alternative providers of higher education: issues for policymakers (HEPI Report 90) by John Fielden and Robin Middlehurst.

The paper discusses the present state of higher education providers that do not receive direct public funding, summarises the strong opinions for and against them and examines experience in the USA and Australia, before drawing policy lessons for the UK.

The authors suggest the Higher Education and Research Bill currently before Parliament risks missing the Government’s own declared objective of encouraging a vibrant and high-quality range of alternative providers. Notably, over two-thirds of alternative providers (553) are expected to remain outside of the new regulatory system, with just 207 coming within it.

John Fielden said:
Alternative providers are numerous and diverse, with over 700 institutions operating in England alone. Designing a regulatory system for both the traditional sector and the newcomers is a bed of nails.

The Higher Education and Research Bill before Parliament is designed to give the Office for Students oversight of all English higher education but many providers will remain outside.

Moreover, while it removes some barriers to market entry, the new high-speed approval system for degree-awarding powers is a risk too far.
Robin Middlehurst said:
Better protection of the public purse is overdue, especially given the growth in the number of for-profit providers.

Experience in the USA and Australia shows overly generous rules for alternative providers are a magnet for questionable business practices.

The end results can include stranded students, a bill for taxpayers and regulatory intervention.
Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI, said:
A new legal framework for higher education has been necessary ever since tuition fees were tripled five years ago. It is good that the Higher Education and Research Bill before Parliament clarifies the position […]

15 Dec, 2016

New HEPI analysis reveals major flaws in university league tables and urges Governments and institutions to ignore them

15 December, 2016|News

Today (15 December 2016), HEPI publishes International university rankings: For good or ill? by Bahram Bekhradnia.

Rankings of global universities, such as the THE World University Rankings, the QS World University Rankings and the Academic Ranking of World Universities claim to identify the ‘best’ universities in the world and then list them in rank order. They are enormously influential, as universities and even governments alter their policies to improve their position.

The new research shows the league tables are based almost exclusively on research-related criteria and the data they use are unreliable and sometimes worse. As a result, it is unwise and undesirable to give the league tables so much weight.

The author of the report and HEPI President, Bahram Bekhradnia, said:
We have followed the evidence to its conclusion and show that international rankings are one-dimensional, measuring research activity to the exclusion of almost everything else. They do not match the claims made for them. They fail to identify the “best” universities in the world, given the numerous functions universities fulfil that do not feature in the ranking. Indeed, what is arguably their most important activity – educating students – is omitted.
Universities, their governing bodies and governments should heed our unavoidable conclusion: they should focus on their core functions because it is the right thing to do, not because it may improve their position in any rankings.
Nick Hillman, HEPI Director, said:
This study is overdue. Many people working in higher education enjoy looking at the league tables to see which universities are up and which are down. But what should be a fun talking point is taken ever more seriously with each passing year.

Governments are now making funding decisions according to league table positioning and university managers are being […]

30 Nov, 2016

Dear Peer: An open letter to members of the House of Lords on the HE and Research Bill

30 November, 2016|News

(Parliamentary copyright reproduced with permission)
Dear Members of the House of Lords,

The Higher Education and Research Bill has its Second Reading in the Lords on Tuesday, 6th December 2016. It is an opportunity to discuss the overarching themes in the proposed legislation and any potential improvements. There is an expectation among universities that the Bill could be amended in significant ways in the Lords, and not only because the Government lacks a majority there. Several peers have expressed concerns about parts of the Bill and Ministers made only limited changes in the Commons, leaving room for manoeuvre.

There is a strong case for a new legal framework for higher education to reflect the funding changes of recent years, but as the Bill proceeds the university sector’s representative bodies will propose amendments on specific issues, as they did when the Bill was before the Commons. In addition, our recent work at the Higher Education Policy Institute (, the UK’s only independent think tank devoted exclusively to higher education, has identified some broader areas where the legislation could be improved.

We hope you might feel able to raise some or all of the following issues during the Second Reading debate. (The embedded links provide further information on each issue.)

The student loan repayment conditions, particularly for those who leave the UK: There is considerable leakage in the student loan system among graduates who choose to work abroad. Recent legislative changes in New Zealand show this can be solved in cost-effective ways.
Including mental health improvement plans in Access and Participation Agreements: Students have lower wellbeing than the population as a whole. Sharing and spreading good practice would be one effective way to boost retention and attainment.
Informing students how […]

9 Nov, 2016

Speech to the HMC / GSA University Admissions Conference

9 November, 2016|News

Earlier today, I delivered the speech below to the Headmasters and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC) / Girls’ School Association (GSA) annual University Admissions Conference at the University of Leicester.

The speech:

argues that independent schools often pick the wrong battles and could instead focus on the strengths they have in common with UK universities;
supports the Government’s focus on improving incentives for good university teaching but notes the flaws in the proxies that will be used;
cautions independent schools against making simplistic comparisons between teaching in private schools and universities, given the fee differentials;
welcomes the Government’s commitment to a diverse higher education sector, but warns against adopting too low a bar for new entrants;
predicts that the Higher Education and Research Bill will have a difficult time in the House of Lords;
advises against taking such a pessimistic position on Brexit that students are inadvertently discouraged from coming to the UK; and
notes that universities are likely to respond to Brexit by seeking to build more bridges with the communities in which they reside.

The landscape for universities


Thank you for inviting me. I come from your sector. Not only did I attend an HMC school as a pupil, but I also grew up on the other side of the green baize door, for my father was a housemaster at an HMC school while my mother taught down the road at a GSA school. After graduating, I trained as a History teacher and worked briefly in two GSA schools before teaching for three years in an HMC school, where one of my tasks was to run a pre-university course. So, in one sense, I have sat where you sit.

Schools that work for everyone

I feel I must start by love bombing you in this […]

13 Oct, 2016

Former HE Minister calls for changes to the Higher Education and Research Bill for the public interest

13 October, 2016|News

HEPI has published a new policy paper, Protecting the public interest in higher education, by Bill Rammell, Vice Chancellor of the University of Bedfordshire and the Minister for Further and Higher Education (2005-08) in the last Labour Government.

The proposals in the paper include:

changes to the new Office for Students to take greater account of the public interest;
tighter restrictions on obtaining degree-awarding powers and university title; and
broader recognition of the civic benefits of higher education.

Bill Rammell said:

‘The Government’s focus on market competition in higher education is too narrow and restrictive. It ignores the fundamental role of universities in serving the public interest and contributing to a vibrant civil society.

‘The Higher Education and Research Bill does not do enough to protect the quality of students’ education, the sustainability of the system and the international reputation of the sector.

‘Universities engage with the public by spreading knowledge, supporting public debate and building the civic capabilities of students. There is going to be too much emphasis on competition and not enough on these real public benefits.’

Nick Hillman, Director of the HEPI, said:

‘Everyone accepts our university system is genuinely world class. That is down to the quality of research, the breadth of the student experience and the depth of engagement with local communities. But such strengths cannot be taken for granted.

‘Some of the changes on the horizon may make it harder for universities to justify their public roles. Yet the divisions in society highlighted by the Brexit vote mean we need them to engage with wider society more than ever before.

‘Major pieces of higher education legislation tend to arrive less than once a decade. So it is vital that we do not miss the opportunity offered by the current Higher Education and […]

22 Sep, 2016

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

22 September, 2016|News

A new HEPI report, The invisible problem? Improving students’ mental health, shows a majority of students experience low wellbeing, that depression and loneliness affect one-in-three students and that the number of student suicides has risen. The report calls for extra support from universities and the NHS.

Nick Hillman, Director of the HEPI, said:

‘Mental disorders are most common in young adults, just at the age when many people become students. Going to university can be stressful, especially for first-in-family students. Typically, you lose your established support networks, move to a new part of the country and take on large debts. Occasionally, it even ends in tragedy.

’So it is vital that people entering university for the first time know that support is available, that any problems can be shared and that asking for help is normal. University support services, academic tutors, student unions, other students and the NHS can all help.

‘But we must do more if we are to meet demand. Students should be able to register with one doctor at home and one doctor at university to ensure continuity of care. Universities should adopt mental health Action Plans, provide mental health training for staff and boost spending on counselling – currently, a single star academic can cost more than a university’s entire counselling service. Freshers can help themselves too, by talking to older students about university life, finding out what support services are on offer early and becoming involved in clubs and societies.’

The report’s author, Poppy Brown, is a third-year Psychology and Philosophy undergraduate student at the University of Oxford. She said:

‘A majority of students experience low wellbeing and over one-in-ten have a diagnosable mental illness. The scale of the problem is bigger than ever before.

‘Yet support is hard to access, universities often underfund […]

28 Jul, 2016

Should student loan defaulters be treated like tax evaders and benefit fraudsters?: New HEPI study of higher education in New Zealand and its lessons for the UK

28 July, 2016|By Sam Cannicott|News

HEPI is today publishing a major comparative study entitled Higher Education in New Zealand: What might the UK learn? It has been written by Sam Cannicott, an education expert who until recently worked at Regent’s University London and who now works for Statistics New Zealand.

The New Zealand higher education sector is small compared to the UK’s, but it performs well in international league tables and New Zealanders have given deep thought to issues from which the UK must learn. These include:

ensuring graduates who move overseas pay their student loans back;
providing a red carpet to international students; and
protecting quality when liberalising student number controls.

Commenting on his report, Sam Cannicott said:

‘New Zealand’s no-nonsense approach to collecting student loan repayments from graduates overseas highlights the timidity of the steps taken in the UK. Former students who fail to make repayments face arrest at the New Zealand border, which is proving to be a strong deterrent.

‘Breaking the link between income and loan repayments for graduates who head overseas, as New Zealand has done, removes bureaucratic barriers that make it difficult to chase repayments. Brexit presents an opportunity for the UK to learn from New Zealand because there is less need to ensure the repayment terms of EU students are the same as those for domestic students.

‘The UK is missing a trick by concentrating international student recruitment at the tertiary level. By following the New Zealand model and opening up the school system to international pupils, the UK could develop a useful pipeline for higher education institutions.

‘New Zealand’s experiment with abolishing student number controls was short-lived. It blew the tertiary education budget and serves to highlight the risks of the approach being pursued in England. At the […]

9 Jun, 2016

Students demand better value for money: Nine-out-of-10 students do not want higher fees

9 June, 2016|News|3 Comments

The 2016 Student Academic Experience Survey published by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) and the Higher Education Academy (HEA) on Thursday, 9th June 2016 reveals that, while 85% of full-time undergraduates at UK institutions are satisfied with their course, just 37% of them perceive they get good value for money.

The overwhelming majority (86%) do not want to see their fees increased even where there is shown to be excellent teaching.

The annual HEPI-HEA Survey of over 15,000 full-time undergraduates has a big impact on policy, as reflected in the 2015 higher education green paper and the 2016 higher education white paper. This year, the main findings reveal:

The majority of students are satisfied with their course (85%). For the first time, the Survey correlates students’ satisfaction levels with other features of the student experience. The strongest correlation is with prior expectations being met, followed by having teaching staff who are helpful and supportive. Students who live in university accommodation and first-year students show higher levels of satisfaction. Students from Black and Minority Ethnic backgrounds show lower levels of satisfaction, which may be explained partly by their higher propensity to live at home while studying.

Perceptions of ‘good value for money’ are falling in all four parts of the UK from 53% in 2012 to 37% today, but are lowest in England. There is strong evidence that students equate contact hours with good value: 58% of students taking Medicine or Dentistry think they are getting good value for money compared to only 30% of students taking Technology, Social Sciences, Mass Communications and Documentation or European Languages. The overwhelming majority of students (75%) want more information about how their tuition fees are spent, which may be one way of improving perceptions […]

22 May, 2016

Closing down debate?: New HEPI / YouthSight poll shows strong support for trigger warnings, safe spaces and No Platform

22 May, 2016|News

The Higher Education Policy Institute has released the only recent and detailed study on what UK students really think about free speech on campus, Keeping Schtum?: What students think of free speech Wave 2 of the HEPI / YouthSight Monitor.

The survey of over 1,000 full-time undergraduate students at UK higher education institutions covers: free speech; No Platform; gender segregation; safe spaces; trigger warnings; and even whether it is appropriate for student unions to ban the sale of tabloid newspapers.

The findings find some support for free speech:

83% of students feel able to express their opinions and political views openly
79% of students feel they have satisfactory protection against discrimination and emotional harm
60% of students think universities should never limit free speech
58% of students disagree that debating sexism and racism make them acceptable
57% of students express support for the idea that the best way to fight prejudice is to debate it rather than to ban it

However, the survey also shows large numbers of students believe there should be strict limits to free speech on campus:

76% of students express some support for the National Union of Students’ No Platform policy (and 27% think UKIP should be banned from speaking at universities)
68% of students support trigger warnings, in which lecturers warn students in advance of teaching difficult issues in case they wish to leave
52% of students think it is reasonable for universities to work with the police and the security services to identify students at risk of succumbing to terrorism
51% of students think universities should sometimes or always get rid of memorials to controversial historical figures
48% of students (55% of women and 39% of men) think universities should be safe spaces where debate takes place within specific guidelines
38% of students […]

12 May, 2016

New HEPI report reveals the underachievement of young men in higher education – and calls on the sector to do more to tackle the problem

12 May, 2016|News|1 Comment

The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) has published a new report looking at the underachievement of young men in higher education.

Written by Nick Hillman (HEPI’s Director) and Nicholas Robinson, Boys to Men: The underachievement of young men in higher education – and how to start tackling it includes new data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) and the Office for Fair Access (Offa) and has a Foreword by Mary Curnock Cook, the Chief Executive of UCAS.

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

‘Nearly everyone seems to have a vague sense that our education system is letting young men down, but there are few detailed studies of the problem and almost no clear policy recommendations on what to do about it.

‘Young men are much less likely to enter higher education, are more likely to drop out and are less likely to secure a top degree than women. Yet, aside from initial teacher training, only two higher education institutions currently have a specific target to recruit more male students. That is a serious problem that we need to tackle.

‘Of course women face substantial challenges too. Female graduates earn lower salaries than male graduates. Female academics face too many obstacles in being promoted. Lad culture can make life uncomfortable for female students. But policymaking is not a zero-sum game in which you have to choose between caring for one group or the other. Indeed, we can only tackle the socio-economic gap in higher education participation by focusing on the underachievement of young men, and particularly disadvantaged young white men.

‘We recommend more widening participation spending should be focused on boys, a new Take Our Sons to University Day, the involvement of male role models in […]