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Our most controversial, popular and radical reports of 2018

  • 3 January 2019

HEPI had its busiest ever year in 2018 with, for example, a record number of hits on this website – double the number we received just a couple of years ago.

So it seems a good moment to take stock of some of our output over the past year. The following list is nothing other than my personal opinion, but this is how some of our 2018 output looks to me.

The most important HEPI report:

This provided detailed modelling to show the financial benefits of international students are ten times the costs, and exist in every parliamentary constituency in the UK. It received more hits than any other HEPI report and, while the evidence base was not used in the deep way we had hoped by the Migration Advisory Committee, the report’s relevance to policy debates will continue in 2019 as the debate on the recent migration green paper plays out.

The most controversial HEPI report:

Against our prior expectations, our look at the new student funding system in Wales, which increases student debt and removes the automatic assumption that parents should contribute to their student offspring’s living costs, unsettled people more than our other output in 2018. As the Welsh media reported over the Christmas period, the whole area is likely to come under the spotlight again in 2019 and the new system may be found wanting, thanks in part to UK-wide changes, like the reclassification of student loans, and in part on the knock-on impact of changes in England on the back of the Augar review. For example, if fees are reduced in England, will the Labour / Lib Dem administration in Wales really be happy to stick with what would then be much the highest tuition fees in the whole UK?

Another 2018 HEPI report that stoked controversy was one which ranked universities by the degree to which they reflect the make-up of wider society. A small minority of people felt the data used for the study were unfair to institutions in Scotland and also to the Open University but, as a short Policy Note, it did at least get people talking about a vitally important issue.

The most useful HEPI report for vice-chancellors to read:

This short 2018 paper by an outgoing vice-chancellor, which discusses his time at an institution known for facing deep challenges, suggests ways to surf the wave of change successfully. This is important because the coming year is likely to be at least as turbulent as any other recent one for UK universities, not least because the fog around Brexit should finally clear. The number of school leavers will also continue to fall, bringing additional competitive pressures, which was covered in another HEPI paper in 2018.

The most relevant report for students:

Our annual Student Academic Experience Survey, with Advance HE, continues to lead the pack in delivering time-series data on major issues, such as: value for money perceptions; workload (including contact hours); and student wellbeing. We plan to publish another wave of data in mid-2019, 14 years after the survey first started.

The report on an issue that won’t go away:

Our assessment of the use to which student fees are put and what students are told about this, which two of our 2018 student interns worked on, helps convey the breadth of what institutions aim to do. When students request refunds for lost teaching time due to industrial action, they tend to assume their fees just go on paying for academics to teach them, but they also go on the all-round student experience – on welfare, on libraries, on IT, on sports facilities, on students’ unions (the theme of another 2018 report) and so on. If universities end up with less money to teach each student as a result of changes announced in 2019, policymakers will need to make it clear which of these roles they think universities should no longer being undertaking in such depth.

The most radical report:

 Since at least the days of the Dearing report, more than a generation ago, people have wondered how to encourage employers to contribute to the costs of higher education alongside students and taxpayers. Johnny Rich’s paper is a serious, though top-level, attempt to explain how it might be done. It is highly topical, not least because of the way apprentices are now funded, via a levy on employers.

The one with the most ideas:

As the new Director of Fair Access and Participation, Chris Millward, started his job, we published a wide-ranging manifesto of ideas for him and his team to consider, with short contributions from more authors (35) than any previous HEPI publication.

This is nothing like a complete list. We also produced work on:

  1. differential fees;
  2. means-tested fees;
  3. Level 4 and 5 provision;
  4. the challenges faced by commuter students;
  5. league tables;
  6. the rise of Asian universities; and
  7. what affects how students learn.

What’s next?

We have just as busy a year planned for 2019, starting with a major new report on academic selection next week – the first in our Occasional Paper series of polemical pieces since autumn 2017.

Our 2019 events programme kicks off later this month too – see the Events part of our website at

And finally, look out for a new HEPI website, which will be arriving in the next few weeks and which will mark the next stage in HEPI’s development.

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