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 […]

14 Aug, 2018

UK slips behind the US, which takes the number one slot, for educating the world’s leaders

14 August, 2018|By Nick Hillman|News

The United States has become the country that has educated more serving world leaders than any other, just displacing the UK from the top spot.

Among serving monarchs, presidents and prime ministers who undertook higher education abroad, 58 were educated in the US while 57 were educated in the UK, reversing last year’s positions.

The two English-speaking countries remain some way ahead of other nations. However, France, which remains in third place, has performed more strongly this year: in 2018, 40 world leaders were educated in France, six more than in 2017.
Top countries for educating the world’s leaders


Number of leaders educated, 2018

1. US


2. UK


3. France


4. Russia


5. Australia


6.= Switzerland


6.= Canada


8. Portugal


9. Austria


10.= Egypt, Germany, Lebanon, South Africa, Spain, India, Belgium, Netherlands, Senegal



Nick Hillman, Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), said:
You build up incredible soft power if you educate the leading lights of other countries. In the past, we have been more successful than any other country in attracting the world’s future leaders. But these new figures suggest our position could be slipping.

To ensure this does not become a long-term trend, we need to adopt a bold educational exports strategy, remove students from the main migration target and roll out the red carpet when people come to study here.

One practical way to make all that happen would be to end the Home Office having complete control over student migration and to share it across government departments instead, as they do in other countries.
Tom Huxley, an independent researcher who completed the study for HEPI, said:
These results show that, while Britain’s higher education system remains among the best in the world, it faces unprecedented competition for ambitious students from other countries.

The government must take student numbers out of […]

26 Jul, 2018

Mary Curnock Cook: Is it time for a gentlefolks’ agreement among Vice-Chancellors to abandon unconditional offers?

26 July, 2018|By Mary Curnock Cook|News|2 Comments

Today’s report from UCAS highlights the stratospheric rise of unconditional (U) offers on the university admissions scene.  Since 2013, when the University of Birmingham made the first controversial move, the practice of confirming places for students before they get their exam results has grown exponentially.  According to UCAS, 2018 saw some 68,000 unconditional offers being made, up from less than 3,000 in 2013.  Nearly a quarter of applicants now get at least one U offer.

An earlier report by UCAS in 2016 showed that students with U offers had a small but measurable drop in expected performance at A-Level.  No doubt the promised UCAS report later this year will provide further evidence.

Undoubtedly, schools and parents thoroughly dislike the practice because it skews students’ decisions and takes the pressure off students to study hard up to the line to get the best grades possible. As Laura McInerney points out, it also undermines the concept of preparing and qualifying for higher education.

In the context of rising worry about young people’s mental health, universities defend the practice as a way to relieve exam stress.  They point out that the performance of pupils at A-Level is squarely the responsibility of schools, not universities, and some put in place scholarships to incentivise their applicants to deliver on their predicted grades in spite of the U offer. Importantly, they also point to the legally enshrined autonomy of universities to set their own admissions criteria.

Some refer to the practices of an earlier era when two E grades at A-Level was a standard offer for many universities, including for Oxford and Cambridge (albeit when there was an additional Oxbridge entrance exam). But replacing U offers with very low grade offers would send a much worse […]

19 Jul, 2018

Free speech on campus: new HEPI research shows universities can do more to protect it

19 July, 2018|By Diana Beech|News|1 Comment

The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) has today published a new report on free speech with a Foreword by human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell. The report serves as a practical guide to help higher education institutions secure freedom of speech on campus.

As debates roll on about whether free speech is being unduly restricted on university premises throughout the UK, attention is turning to the mechanisms higher education institutions have in place to safeguard external speakers and events. For universities and colleges in England and Wales, these include mandatory codes of practice to protect freedom of speech. Yet, with no set guidelines for these codes of practice, some policies have recently been dubbed overly bureaucratic, too complex and off-putting.

Based on a close examination of existing codes, Cracking the code: A practical guide for university free speech policies provides advice to higher education institutions on what works, as well as what does not.

The report finds some worrying loopholes in existing codes of practice, including:

overlooking new types of meetings afforded by social media and digital technologies;
failing to publish updated policies following internal reviews;
neglecting to provide codes in a wide range of accessible formats such as braille or audio;
not hosting codes in the public domain; and
not linking to necessary supplementary materials such as room booking forms and risk assessment protocols.

This new guide is intended to assist university boards and committees when formulating or updating codes of practice on freedom of speech to ensure policies are as efficient and user-friendly as possible.

Dr Diana Beech, HEPI Director of Policy and Advocacy and author of the guide, says:
Free speech has long been at the heart of higher education. The duty to protect it is about much more than […]

12 Jun, 2018

Most students think taking illegal drugs causes problems for users as well as society and want their universities to take a tougher stance

12 June, 2018|News|4 Comments

The Higher Education Policy Institute and the University of Buckingham have worked with YouthSight on a survey of attitudes towards drugs among full-time undergraduate students.

The research shows a majority of students think illegal drugs cause problems for individuals and society – 88% think drug usage causes problems ‘for the mental health of the user’ and 68% think it causes problems ‘for society in terms of contributing to criminality’.

A majority of students want their university to take a tougher stance on ‘students who repeatedly use drugs’ (62%) and on ‘drug dealers’ (also 62%).

Nearly three-quarters (71%) of students have not taken illegal drugs during their time in higher education.

The findings contrast with a report from the National Union of Students (NUS) and Release, published in April 2018, that suggested most students (56%) had taken drugs and nearly two-thirds (62%) ‘showed relaxed attitudes towards student drug use’. The two studies have different methodologies: while the NUS survey was targeted at specific groups (such as ‘Students for Sensible Drug Policy UK channels’), the new survey used YouthSight’s large Student Panel, with the results being weighted to reflect the body of full-time undergraduate students.

Nick Hillman, Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said:
This survey provides an important corrective to some of the wilder ideas about today’s students. They are more hardworking and less hedonistic than is often supposed. A majority recognise the dangers of taking illegal substances.

Some people blame universities when they become involved in students’ personal lives. Others blame them for not doing enough. Our survey shows most students support their institutions taking a tougher, rather than a more relaxed, line on the use of illegal substances by fellow students.
Anthony Seldon, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Buckingham, who […]

7 Jun, 2018

Keynote speeches from the HEPI Annual Conference, 7th June 2018

7 June, 2018|News

The Opening Keynote by Sam Gyimah MP, Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research & Innovation is available here.

Lord Mandelson’s Afternoon Keynote is available here.