23 Feb, 2017

Higher education institutions could do more to help BTEC students, says new HEPI report

23 February, 2017|News

In a new HEPI paper, Reforming BTECs: Applied General qualifications as a route to higher education (HEPI report 94), Dr Scott Kelly considers the rise in the number of university students holding BTECs.

Students arriving at university with BTECs account for much of the growth in students from the lowest participation neighbourhoods and other under-represented groups over the past decade. But those with BTECs face a ‘glass ceiling’ – for example:

only 15 BTEC students were accepted at the four most selective higher education institutions in 2015; and
under 60 per cent of students with BTECs at Russell Group universities complete their course.

Although BTEC students can fall behind other students, any reform to BTECs must recognise that, if this ‘middle option’ were lost, then much of the progress made to widening participation to higher education in recent years could be lost too.

Dr Scott Kelly, the author of the report, said:
BTECs engage students that other qualifications do not reach. But, when Sports Science has been growing faster than all other STEM subjects, their rapid growth raises important some questions. Young people need better information on the options they are choosing and universities need to ensure they are giving BTEC students the support they need.

Reform of BTECs is necessary, but it mustn’t come at the cost of reversing our progress in widening participation. Instead, we should tackle the problems, including rapid grade inflation, while maintaining the distinctiveness of BTECs. Above all, we must avoid the temptation of converting BTECs in to academic-lite qualifications.
Nick Hillman, Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said:
The future belongs to countries with more highly-skilled people. The growth in BTECs has unlocked access to higher education in unprecedented ways, and this progress must be maintained.

But there is evidence that not all […]

7 Feb, 2017

Michael Barber’s appointment as Chair of the Office for Students

7 February, 2017|News|2 Comments

Responding to the announcement that Michael Barber is the Government’s preferred candidate to be the Chair at the new Office for Students, Nick Hillman, Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said:

‘This is an interesting appointment. He is clearly a great expert on the delivery of public services, cares about students and will be open to having a diverse higher education sector. The first Chair will help to set the tone, direction and success of the new body, so it is a critically important role.

‘But, given that he is not a former vice chancellor and the chief executive role is being advertised at a salary below the level of most vice chancellors, some people in the sector will be worried there could be no former vice chancellor at the top of the new body. That could make the future regulation of higher education very different to the past.’

6 Feb, 2017

Godot arrives: The Government WILL sell off income-contingent student loans

6 February, 2017|News

Today’s announcement on the sale of income-contingent student loans has been a long time coming. In fact it has been a decade since the Labour government passed the Sale of Student Loans Act 2008 and there have been numerous delays in the years since.

We can expect acres of newsprint and lots of protests. Other countries, notably Australia, have looked at selling off their loans but have shied away from it afterwards. The student movement have opposed any sale, as have some vice chancellors (though others have looked keen to buy their own loan book). But, as on so much else, his detractors and his fans must admit that Jo Johnson has managed to make significant progress. Despite, the rocky road the Higher Education and Research Bill is experiencing in the House of Lords, the Minister is ploughing on with other big changes alongside.

What the Government is doing may make some sense. Why should it keep the loans forever on its books? Why shouldn’t the demand of pension funds for long-term income streams be satisfied if there are no clear losers? Why shouldn’t we look for imaginative ways to reduce the national debt?

Debates about the sale of student loans have been plagued by misinformation. One particular issue is the idea that someone could buy the loans and then change the terms and conditions so graduates end up paying more. In fact, the terms and conditions have to be nailed down at the point of sale because otherwise the buyer has no idea what it is they are buying and will not part with their money. The Government have told me that the terms of the sale mean ‘investors would have no right to change any of the current loan […]

2 Feb, 2017

Time to act: UK Universities will be overtaken unless they embrace new technology

2 February, 2017|By Nick Hillman|News

In a new report, Rebooting Learning for the Digital Age, published by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), Paul Feldman, Sarah Davies and Joel Mullan call on university leaders to embrace new technology to meet the challenges faced by the higher education sector.

The report reviews best practice around the world to show how technology is benefiting universities and students through better teaching and learning, improved retention rates and lower costs:

in the US, curriculum redesign using technology-enhanced learning produced better student outcomes in 72 per cent of projects and average savings of 31 per cent;
the University of New England in Australia reduced student drop-out rates from 18 per cent to 12 per cent via learning analytics; and
at Nottingham Trent University, 81 per cent of first-year students increased their study time after seeing their own engagement data.

Paul Feldman, Chief Executive of Jisc said:
The Teaching Excellence Framework puts universities under pressure to improve student satisfaction, retention and employability while managing costs. Digital developments show this can be done, but only where there is strong leadership and suitably-skilled staff.

Results from the USA and Australia prove students become more engaged in their learning where technology is used well. In the UK, there are some good examples of transformational technology, but these need to become much more mainstream if we are to compete.
Sarah Davies, co-author of the report and head of higher education and student experience at Jisc, said:
The examples we reviewed for the report show how technology has become an essential component of an effective and engaging higher education experience.

Universities and course teams need to identify the approaches that work in their context and embed them into their teaching approaches. Whether this is using learning analytics to […]

23 Jan, 2017

Recreating the American Dream: Wealth Creation for the 21st Century

23 January, 2017|News|5 Comments

On the first day of the first full working week for President Trump (Monday, 23 January), the Higher Education Policy Institute is publishing a lecture by Martha Kanter, who was President Obama’s Under Secretary of Education throughout his first term in office. Dr Kanter delivered the HEPI Annual Lecture on 8 December 2016, but it has not been published in any form before and is now appearing in an updated version.

Nick Hillman, Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said:
We were honoured to host Dr Kanter, whose lecture is a tour de force. She shows the power of the American dream but also the obstacles in the way of delivering it. From her perspective, the election of Donald Trump looks more fearful than Brexit but she also paints a positive picture of the power of education to change hearts, minds and economies.

‘Most importantly, she explains how to deliver her goal through co-payment in which business, philanthropists and government work together to help people realise their true potential. She lays down some important challenges to higher education institutions too, urging them to be ever more transparent on what they do in return for the investment they receive.
Extracts from the speech follow.

Speech extracts 

Brexit and Trump

‘After the US presidential election, it seems there are some things far more alarming than Brexit. … I am confident that our collective genius will get us through these uncertain times, as it has since the birth of our nations. I am confident that the building of bridges will ultimately dominate the building of walls. … The true measure of a society’s prosperity is not the buildings it constructs, the technological accomplishments it achieves or the number of awards its elite members earn. It […]

12 Jan, 2017

Universities could lose students while gaining financially from Brexit, but any new restrictions on international students could cost the UK economy an additional £2 billion a year

12 January, 2017|News|2 Comments

Today (12 January), the Higher Education Policy Institute and Kaplan International publish the first detailed modelling on what Brexit and other global changes could mean for demand at UK universities from international students.

The research, published as The determinants of international demand for UK higher education and undertaken by London Economics, reveals a mixed picture. Some changes (e.g. higher fees for EU students) would reduce demand. Others (e.g. depreciation of sterling) would increase demand by reducing the price of studying in the UK for those from other countries.

Taken together, the changes could reduce the total number of students from overseas in the UK, thereby harming universities and their communities. At the same time, they could increase tuition fee income by £187 million (net) in the first year alone, as fees for students from EU members rise:

A 10% depreciation of sterling could increase enrolments from all other countries by around 20,000 students – an increase of 9% – in the first year, worth £227 million in fee income.
Conversely, harmonising the rules for EU and non-EU students could reduce enrolments from other EU countries by over 31,000 students (a 57% decline in EU students) – amounting to a net loss of £40 million in the first year (after accounting for higher fees from those who still study in the UK).
The oldest universities will gain the most financially, with Oxford and Cambridge standing to receive over £10 million more in fee income each year on average, while less prestigious universities stand to lose modest amounts of income (around £100,000 on average).

The modelling additionally shows that:

the removal of post-study work visas may have led to a reduction of around 20% in undergraduate enrolments by overseas […]

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 […]