13 Dec, 2018

More support needed for ‘commuter students’, says new report

13 December, 2018|News

The Government and higher education institutions should do more to support students who live away from campus – often in the parental home – and who commute long distances to study, according to a new report by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI).

Homeward Bound: Defining, understanding and aiding ‘commuter students’ (HEPI Report 114) has been written by Professor David Maguire, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Greenwich, and David Morris, the Vice-Chancellor’s Policy Officer at the University of Greenwich.

The report has been sponsored by University Partnerships Programme (UPP), the UK’s leading provider of on-campus student accommodation infrastructure and support services.

The paper considers the experiences of students who live in the parental home during university. They have poorer outcomes than those who move away from home and are less engaged and satisfied with their academic experiences.

Almost one-in-ten (9 per cent) commuter students would not have entered higher education if they could make their decision again, which is higher than for any other group.

The report also finds:

commuter students are more likely to be first-in-family students, to come from a lower-income household, to be mature students and to have an ethnic minority background;
at 10 universities, over half the students live in the parental or guardian home, including City University London, the University of Wolverhampton and the University of Bradford; and
institutions with a lower proportion of commuter students are more likely to achieve higher student satisfaction scores.

The report includes five case studies – including the University of Manchester, Staffordshire University and Anglia Ruskin University – which explain how they support their commuter students.

The report ends with recommendations for policymakers and universities:

the Post-18 Education and Funding Review should ensure concerns about the cost of living are […]

5 Dec, 2018

HEPI Comment on the new Universities Minister

5 December, 2018|By Nick Hillman|News

Responding to the news that Chris Skidmore is to the new Minister for Universities, Nick Hillman, Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), said:
This is an interesting appointment. No one predicted it, but it’s not a radical departure. Chris’s impressive bibliography as an author of Tudor history, his past experiences elsewhere in Whitehall and his firm loyalty to his party – when such loyalty is seemingly in short supply – must make him a pretty good fit for the post.

He will need all his many talents in the role. The number one challenge he faces is getting to grips with his brief before the Augar review of post-18 education and funding lands on his desk early next year.

He’ll also need to become an expert in accounting over the next fortnight, given the forthcoming ONS review of student loans.

And, if he wants the confidence of the sector, he’ll need to steel himself for renewed battles with the Home Office over staff and student mobility.

29 Nov, 2018

Employer contributions should replace fees to relieve student debt, argues Johnny Rich in a HEPI paper

29 November, 2018|News

On Thursday, 29thNovember 2018, the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) publishes Fairer Funding: The case for a graduate levy (Policy Note 10) by Johnny Rich, which outlines a radical new approach to funding higher education.

In order to balance the cost more fairly between students, taxpayers and employers, the paper proposes that, instead of students borrowing money to pay for tuition, businesses should pay a levy for each graduate they employ. The amounts would be equivalent to the student loan repayments made under the current funding system in England.

Revenue from graduate levies would be paid directly to the higher education institution where each graduate studied. Institutions would be financially sustainable because they would share an investment in the future employability of their students, rather than because they maximise their student intake.

The paper comes in advance of the Augar Review’s report in the new year on the future funding of Post-18 Education and Funding. It also comes as the Office for National Statistics prepares to announce possible changes to student loan accounting rules that could create a black hole in the Government’s budget deficit plans.

The paper has been written in a personal capacity by Johnny Rich, a higher education specialist who is also Chief Executive of Push, a not-for-profit outreach organisation, and the Engineering Professors’ Council.

Rich also argues for a redistribution of funds between higher education institutions based on their ability to attract and support students from poorer backgrounds. This would give institutions an incentive to support social mobility and ensure access money is spent more effectively.

Johnny Rich said:
For too long, higher education funding has been a battleground of competing interests between taxpayers, students, employers and universities. Over three decades, students have come off worst. A graduate […]

22 Nov, 2018

New report calls on universities to tell students where their fees go, as new figures reveal under half of fee income goes on teaching but most of the rest also benefits students

22 November, 2018|News

A new paper published by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) calls for greater transparency on the use of students’ tuition fees.

Where do student fees really go? Following the pound (HEPI Report 113) by Nick Hillman, Jim Dickinson, Alice Rubbra and Zach Klamann shows around 45% of tuition fee income is spent on teaching. Most of the rest goes on areas that also directly benefit students, like maintaining buildings, information technology and student support services, such as counselling.

The report also shows:

74% of students want more information on where their fees go;
past commitments to deliver more information have not generally been met; and
few students want their fees spent on recruitment, advertising or community work.

The report includes case studies from across the higher education sector to show the sort of information on fees that is currently provided to students.

It ends with 10 recommendations for universities, regulators and policymakers designed to improve transparency and public understanding. These include:

relabelling ‘tuition fees’ as student fees’;
publishing cash figures on where fees go that relate to the actual fees paid;
developing new income streams for the costs of valuable work that is difficult to justify funding from student fees.

Nick Hillman, The Director of HEPI and a co-author of the report, said:
Tuition fees were introduced 20 years ago and they’ve been tripled twice. Ministers and regulators have repeatedly demanded information on where the fees go. Yet there is still little information available and three-quarters of students want to know more.

The arguments for telling students what they want to know are overwhelming. Where this has already occurred, it has tended to show less than half of the fees go on the direct costs of teaching but most of the […]

18 Oct, 2018

How London Met was turned around

18 October, 2018|News

Outgoing Vice-Chancellor says improving the prospects of thousands of students from deprived backgrounds is one of his proudest achievements
Professor John Raftery said: ‘The turnaround since 2014 at London Metropolitan University is an example of what is possible when a university “gets a grip”, taking both ownership of its past and responsibility for its future.’
As Professor John Raftery steps down as Vice-Chancellor of London Metropolitan University, he reflects in a new HEPI Policy Note – A University Turnaround: Adaptive Leadership at London Metropolitan University, 2014 to 2018 – on the measures he took during his time as Vice-Chancellor (2014-2018), which helped to transform the University from a struggling institution to one with improving scores in all key performance areas.

One of Raftery’s proudest achievements is the University’s social mobility mission, which has helped to change the lives of tens of thousands of students from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, often from deprived areas. This has largely been down to the University’s success in improving employment outcomes: the most recent figures show that the proportion of graduates from London Met finding highly-skilled ‘graduate’ jobs has increased by 56%, while 96.7% of graduates are in work or further study within six months. London Metropolitan University is now ranked second in the country for social inclusion, with 96.5% of students coming from state schools, according to a recent ranking by The Times.

Raftery credits an adaptive leadership approach that included:

a programme for improving student outcomes;
a programme of financial discipline and investment; and
an intensive interactive communication effort with the University community.

This was underlined by a requirement for all new staff to show they were prepared for the heavy lifting work of turning around the organisation.

Raftery helped the University […]

20 Sep, 2018

Targeted Tuition Fees: Is means-testing the answer?

20 September, 2018|News

The UK’s Higher Education Policy Institute and Canada’s Higher Education Strategy Associates are jointly publishing a new research paper on charging people from poorer backgrounds less for higher education. Targeted Tuition Fees: Is means-testing the answer? by Alex Usher and Robert Burroughs is being simultaneously published in the UK and Canada.

The report considers the spread of means-tested tuition fees across five continents. It compares the different Targeted Free Tuition programmes in place and analyses the policy decisions behind them. The case studies include Canada, Chile, Italy, Japan, South Africa and the United States, as well as the original UK scheme in place from 1998/99 to 2005/06.

Alex Usher, the President of Higher Education Strategy Associates and the co-author of the report, said:
This is arguably the most important new idea in international higher education finance and it is spreading across the globe.

Free or lower-cost education for those from poorer backgrounds balances the need for well-funded universities against the fact that some people are more debt averse.

Targeted free tuition has some big advantages over both systems with no fees and systems with high fees for all. That is why so many different jurisdictions are independently converging upon it. It is time for a more systematic look at the concept.
The Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, Nick Hillman, contributed a Foreword to the report. He said:
This idea is very timely for the UK, particularly England, for three reasons. First, the Government is reviewing the funding of all post-18 education while the Opposition wants to row back on the spread of tuition fees. Secondly, everyone wants to see more students from poorer backgrounds. Thirdly, the Office for National Statistics may start counting the part of student loans that are […]

6 Sep, 2018

David versus Goliath: The past, present and future of students’ unions in the UK

6 September, 2018|News|1 Comment

The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) is publishing a report on the past, present and future of students’ unions in the UK. Released just before the new academic year begins, the report traces the history of student representation in higher education to show its role in higher education debates.

David versus Goliath: The past, present and future of students’ unions in the UK by Mike Day and Jim Dickinson, includes a Foreword written by Douglas Blackstock, Chief Executive of the Quality Assurance Agency.

The report digs into the origins of students’ unions and summarises their role and history through the major higher education debates of the past century. It covers student rights, in loco parentis, massification, marketisation, freedom of speech and the co-production of educational outcomes. It also reflects on emerging practice in students’ unions in relation to innovation in student-led activity.

The report reveals:

Debates over campus freedom of speech have a long history – in a 1986 letter to Phil Woolas (the NUS President and future Labour MP), Keith Joseph (the Secretary of State for Education and Science) accused the student movement of barbarianism and fascism: ‘So these new barbarians set up their own fascist policies: they ban that which they disapproved by adopting “no platform” policies.’
Student representation has a much longer history in Scotland than in England – students have had a voice in Scottish universities since the fifteenth century, the antecedents of today’s students’ unions were founded in Scotland from 1737 and the UK’s first Student Representative Council was founded in Edinburgh in 1884, whereas universities in England were not legally obliged to have a student association until 1965.
The nature of the relationship between students and their universities has long been […]

30 Aug, 2018

New funding package means less cash and higher debts for Welsh students

30 August, 2018|News

A study by the Higher Education Policy Institute (, published on Thursday, 30 August 2018, looks at the new student finance regime being introduced by Labour and the Liberal Democrats in Wales, which remains poorly understood across most of the UK.

From this autumn, undergraduates from Wales will no longer get a tuition fee grant. As a result, tuition fee loans will more than double (to £9,000 for those studying in Wales), embedding high tuition fees and loans across more of the UK. Maintenance support is changing too. Although there is to be a new universal maintenance grant, many will be expected to take on larger maintenance loans.

The new report shows the effects of the changes include:

higher student debts, which will rise by 20% to 85% depending on a student’s background;
a £500 cut to cash-in-hand support for the poorest students; and
a boost for parents, who are no longer expected to contribute towards maintenance support, contrary to concerns about inter-generational fairness.

Nick Hillman, the Director of HEPI and the author of Is ‘progressive universalism’ the answer? The new student funding arrangements in Wales, said:
The UK benefits enormously from having a single higher education system. There has been mutual respect between the different parts of the UK, collaboration between different institutions and a UK-wide research infrastructure. University staff often move from one part of the UK to another. This has helped us punch above our weight globally. Yet, in recent years, deepening devolution has meant the concept of a single higher education system has been stretched close to breaking point.

Nowhere is this clearer than on student finance. The UK now has very different student funding arrangements in Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh and London. In many respects, it […]

23 Aug, 2018

Fixing our biggest skills gap: New report calls on universities to reverse the collapse in technical education

23 August, 2018|News

The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) is today publishing a new paper, Filling in the biggest skills gap: Increasing learning at Levels 4 and 5, on reviving the layers of education that lie between school-leaving exams and full honours degrees, where employers say they face the biggest skills gaps.

Only 10% of UK adults hold stand-alone qualifications at this level as their highest award, which is lower than in many other countries. More provision of this type would:

Enable employees to raise their skills;
tackle the needs of employers; and
offer a better path for mature students.

In the report, Professor Dave Phoenix, Vice-Chancellor of London South Bank University (LSBU), calls on universities in England to champion so-called Level 4 and 5 qualifications – including well-known brands like HNCs, HNDs and Foundation Degrees. He additionally calls on the Government to change the current student funding rules to promote this level of education.

Professor David Phoenix, author of the report said:
Too often, these qualifications are seen as exit awards for those that fail to complete their degree; but universities should be promoting them as reputable awards in their own right.

Weaknesses in secondary education have resulted in a poor supply of learners able to progress to these levels and the funding system discourages universities from offering them.

There is a common misconception that school leavers must jump straight to degree level if they are to continue learning. Highlighting and improving other options would make progression more achievable for many learners. We need a policy shift to make that happen.
Nick Hillman, the Director of HEPI and the author of the Foreword to the report, said:
Qualifications between school-leaving exams and honours degrees have collapsed in recent years. If there had been such a […]

18 Aug, 2018

Some new perspectives on the 2018 A level results: STEM gap remains but decline in foreign languages exaggerated

18 August, 2018|By Mary Curnock Cook|News

This blog has been Kindly provided to HEPI by Mary Curnock Cook, Senior Advisor, Cairneagle Associates, as well as a HEPI Advisory Board member and a former CEO of UCAS.


Aggregate data on A level results are released by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ), the umbrella body for the main exam boards in the UK.  In a 49-page pdf file (with no available csv version), results are broken down by subject and by UK country as well as by gender. But like other data sources, such as the excellent data explorer from Education DataLab,, the JCQ data gives us numbers of entries which, without the underlying population data, make it difficult to ascertain the trends in subject preferences.

The JCQ press release mentions a 3.5% fall in the population which is probably an over-estimate.  More carefully curated data to match exactly the school year and month of birth (which is pertinent to the school year of the student) estimate the population drop to be closer to 2.5%.  In this note, we use proportion of total entries to look at trends.  While this won’t account for any increase in the participation rate in A levels, it starts to provide a more useful measure of trends and preferences than simply plotting changes in the numbers of candidates.

Without having the data at individual candidate level, it’s impossible to ascertain the trends in subject combinations which would make interesting reading, especially following the move from AS/A2 to linear structures for many subjects.  The JCQ could and should do much more to analyse the data it hosts from the exam boards – the gruesome pdfs, which have been released in the same prehistoric format for years, are a big frustration for anyone […]