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.

7 Jun, 2018

Turning the corner on value for money – 2018 HEPI / Advance HE Student Academic Experience Survey highlights students’ belief that value for money in higher education is improving

7 June, 2018|By Nick Hillman|News

In a marked reversal of a five-year downward trend, students in the United Kingdom are reporting statistically significant improvements in perceptions of value for money from their higher education experience. This is the headline finding from the 2018 Student Academic Experience Survey (SAES) published today by Advance HE and the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI).

More than 14,000 students took part in the SAES, an annual survey that began in 2006 and has been recording the views of students about their academic experience and their attitudes towards policy issues that impact upon them. The SAES offers insights and commentary and is widely quoted and used to inform policy and practice in higher education in the UK.

Among the highlights, this year’s survey reveals:

38% of students in the UK perceive ‘good or very good’ value from their course. This is a three percentage point improvement over last year’s survey and reverses a five-year downward trend.
Fewer students studying in the UK, 32%, perceive ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’ value when compared with 34% in 2017.
In particular, there is a clear, statistically significant, improvement among students from England, representing the largest number of students, where 35% report ‘good’ or ‘very good’ value.
There has been an improvement (though not statistically significant) among students domiciled in Scotland, where 60% of students surveyed perceive ‘good’ or ‘very good’ value, while students from Wales and EU students studying in the UK report similar perceptions of value as last year, 48% and 47% respectively. Perceptions of value in Northern Ireland remain in decline – albeit not statistically significant.
Students at institutions which secured a Gold award in the Teaching Excellence Framework are more likely to have received good value; but there […]

6 Jun, 2018

Response to the release of TEF 3 results

6 June, 2018|By Diana Beech|News

Dr Diana Beech, Director of Policy and Advocacy at the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), responds to this morning’s release of the TEF 3 results:

‘Today’s TEF results appear good news all round. Of those providers which reapplied for an award under TEF 3, many managed to upgrade their previous awards. This shows there is much to be learnt with the benefit of hindsight and reflection on what worked in the 2017 exercise (as featured in HEPI report 99, Going for Gold: Lessons from the TEF provider submissions).

‘As the TEF evolves, so too will institutional ability to handle and interpret the TEF assessment criteria effectively. What we should now start to see is institutions from across the sector being rightly recognised for the pockets of teaching excellence they provide, not hampered by doubt about how best to formulate the required provider submissions.

‘I was particularly pleased to see two Welsh universities – Aberystwyth and Swansea – gain a Gold award this year. This shows the TEF is much more than a registration requirement for providers in England under the new Office for Students (OfS), but a policy initiative that is raising teaching quality and improving student outcomes right across Great Britain.’

24 May, 2018

Oxbridge students work harder, are more satisfied and get better value for money than other students but have less creative and original teaching

24 May, 2018|News

The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) is publishing a report on the student experience at the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge. The study shows how this differs from the experience at other Russell Group universities and all UK universities.

How different is Oxbridge?, by Charlotte Freitag and Nick Hillman, includes a Foreword written by David Palfreyman, Fellow of New College, Oxford, and a member of the Board of the Office for Students.

The report is based on data from the annual HEPI / HEA Student Academic Experience Survey collected between 2012 and 2017. The responses of 1,625 Oxbridge students are set against the responses of 18,354 students at other Russell Group universities and then compared to the responses of 60,221 undergraduates across all UK universities.

The key findings include:

59% of Oxbridge undergraduates are ‘very satisfied’ with their course compared with 31% of students at other Russell Group institutions;
77% of Oxbridge students but only 46% of other Russell Group students perceive their course to provide either ‘good’ or ‘very good’ value for money;
Oxbridge students work 43 hours per week during term-time on average, 12 hours more than other Russell Group students or all students;
96% of Oxbridge students but only 36% of other Russell Group students have at least one hour per week in classes with 0 to 5 other students;
59% of students at other Russell Group institutions have at least one class per week with more than 100 other students, compared to 42% at Oxbridge and overall;
82% of Oxbridge students but only 13% of other Russell Group students receive feedback within one week; and
52% of all UK students say their teachers use original or creative teaching methods ‘a […]

10 May, 2018

New report calls on universities to take radical steps to make higher education accessible for all

10 May, 2018|By Diana Beech|News|1 Comment

The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) and Brightside have today released a collection of action points for the new Office for Students on unlocking access to higher education.

Reaching the parts of society universities have missed: A manifesto for the new Director of Fair Access and Participation contains the views of 35 leading thinkers from academia, university administration, Parliament, think tanks and the media. Contributors include the President of the National Union of Students, Shakira Martin, the Chair of the Education Select Committee, Rob Halfon MP, and the Sutton Trust’s Director of Research, Conor Ryan.

Their proposals include:

experimenting with post-qualification admissions;
appointing a Commissioner for Student Mental Health;
requiring targets for students from care;
delivering mandatory unconscious bias training for staff;
granting fee waivers to asylum-seekers;
guaranteeing mentoring for every pupil who wants it;
curbing the use of unconditional offers;
mandating statistical returns on sexual orientation; and
founding new Oxbridge colleges to widen access.

Nick Hillman, Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute and a contributor to the publication, said:
Real progress has been made in extending access to higher education. But we are only at the first furlong on a long journey. People from rich households are more likely to reach the most prestigious institutions, white working-class boys rarely make it to higher education and there is a big black attainment gap. Groups like disabled students, LGBT+ students and refugees all face barriers in meeting their potential.

The time for woolly ideas is over. We hope our specific recommendations for action are considered, tried and then evaluated for their effectiveness. My own recommendation is the foundation of some new Oxbridge colleges to open our most selective institutions up to a wider clientele.
Anand Shukla, Chief Executive of Brightside […]