4 Jan, 2018

New guide explains the mysteries of university rankings

4 January, 2018|News

The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) and the Higher Education Strategic Planners Association (HESPA) are jointly publishing A Guide to UK League Tables in Higher Education by Sally Turnbull.

The paper looks at what goes in to making up the three main UK university rankings, which are published by The Times and Sunday Times, the Guardian and the Complete University Guide. It considers the similarities and differences between them and urges prospective students, policymakers and higher education providers to use them with caution.

Nick Hillman, Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), said:
Universities are judged by their position in the league tables. Rankings determine reputation, prestige and student numbers. That is why university governing bodies hold their vice-chancellors to account for their league table positions.

But users of the league tables tend to know little about how the rankings are put together. In other words, they do not know, precisely, what it is they are holding people to account for.

The main league tables are not going to disappear any time soon because they provide comparative information and people find them useful. But they are easily and often misunderstood. My hope is that everyone who holds our universities to account will set themselves a new year’s resolution to look under the bonnet of the league tables before using them.
Sally Turnbull, the author of the report and Head of Planning and Insight at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), said:
Our new guide is aimed at building a deeper understanding of what the different UK league tables measure and what they ignore. It also points out that many valuable things done by institutions cannot be easily measured or incorporated into the rankings.

Having spent more time than is probably healthy […]

18 Dec, 2017

Over two-thirds (68%) of students now back Labour, but most of them think Labour (55%) and Jeremy Corbyn (58%) back Remain

18 December, 2017|News

The Higher Education Policy Institute and Youthsight have polled students for their current political views, voting intentions and opinions about Brexit. The results are being published in A Brexit Youthquake (HEPI Policy Note 4) by Jane Mackey, Research Manager at Youthsight, and Nick Hillman, Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI).

Nick Hillman said:
Students are often regarded as having a fixed place somewhere on the left of the political spectrum. But no political party can take them for granted.

Jeremy Corbyn did incredibly well among students and in university cities at this year’s general election. However, this strong support could turn out to be as soft as past student support for the Liberal Democrats. It all depends on Labour’s position in relation to Brexit for nearly all students oppose the UK leaving the EU.

While two-thirds of students back Labour, over half of them think Labour is a pro-Remain party. If their perceptions changed, then a high proportion would be less likely to support the party or to abstain from politics.
Ben Marks, Managing Director of YouthSight, said:
Our data show that students’ understanding of Labour’s position on Brexit is based more on hope and projection than understanding and reality.

Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party need to make their position on Brexit crystal clear if they want to retain the support of students. If they don’t, then the party could find their much-vaunted youth vote simply melts away.

Given Labour’s standing in the national polls currently, the party’s position on Brexit could be the crucial factor determining whether or not they taste victory at the next election.
Notes for Editors

This poll builds on work undertaken by both HEPI and Youthsight on students’ political impact. For example, HEPI has previously published […]

10 Dec, 2017

Three into two WILL go? Two-year degrees welcome, but no game changer…

10 December, 2017|By Nick Hillman|News|1 Comment

In response to the Government’s latest announcement on encouraging two-year degrees, Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI, said:
Making two-year degrees more attractive makes sense as the current rules aren’t great and more diversity is generally good in higher education – so long as quality is maintained. So the overall idea of altering the financial rules for two-year degrees is sound or even overdue.

Lower fees for two-year degrees might increase demand, probably from older students as many school leavers are remarkably price insensitive and like the idea of staying at university for three (or more) years. It also might increase the supply of two-year degrees, although getting £11,100 to educate students for 40 weeks a year (£280 a week) rather than £9,250 for 30 weeks a year (£310 a week) is unlikely to make a major difference.

But it remains an open question whether there is sufficient support in Parliament for a higher tuition fee cap for a minority of courses. Overall, today’s announcement may not be a game changer.
Notes for Editors

Nearly all the announced saving (£19k of the £25k) for students from taking a two-year degree in preference to a three-year degree comes from entering the labour market a year early – it is not to do with fees and loans (and two-year degrees already exist in some places for those who really want them so, arguably, the £19,000 is not an entirely new saving).
The new fee cap for 2-year degrees (£11,100) is lower than the expected figure of c.£13.5k a year. In February 2017, Jo Johnson said: ‘The tuition fees for a student taking an accelerated degree will never be more, in total, than those for the same degree over a longer time […]

8 Dec, 2017

Response to the National Audit Office report

8 December, 2017|News

In response to the National Audit Office’s new report on The higher education market, Nick Hillman, Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said:
It is true that the higher education market is still evolving and that there are areas where further improvements can be made – such as improved information for applicants. It is also good that the NAO have highlighted the sharp decline in part-time students, which is an urgent problem that needs tackling.

But it is wrong to think higher education will ever resemble other markets very closely. For example, there are fee caps, nearly everyone is entitled to an income-contingent loan and you only know the full value of your degree long after you have graduated. It is not meant to be a perfect market – nor should it become one.

There is a world of difference between buying a tin of beans and making the right decision about higher education. Of course, mis-selling can happen when people apply for degrees. But it is an inherently difficult thing to assess because no one knows how they will change as a person as a result of their education. Straight comparisons between regular markets and educational markets don’t actually make much sense.

1 Dec, 2017

Official forecasts for future student numbers cut by 125,000 – or more than 10%

1 December, 2017|By Nick Hillman|News

HEPI is today launching a short paper, Why the OBR’s forecasts on students must improve, that questions the Office for Budget Responsibility’s predictions of future student numbers. These have led to the removal of over 100,000 students from the official forecasts for the next few years.

Nick Hillman, Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said:
Since March 2016, the Office for Budget Responsibility have removed tens of thousands of students from their forecasts. At last week’s Budget, they produced new numbers suggesting the UK is going to have over 100,000 fewer highly-skilled people over the next few years than they previously predicted.

The OBR’s forecasts for students have bounced around like a yo-yo for years. Their numbers manage the rare feat of being both deeply unsophisticated and incredibly sensitive at the same time.

No one should plan for the future on the basis of the OBR’s projections. They are radically different from the projections of organisations that have considered the issue in more depth. Yet the Treasury is duty bound to listen because the OBR’s data feeds into the estimates of the country’s future borrowing.

If our leading independent economic forecaster needs to predict the future size of our higher education sector, it should talk to universities, young people and employers about likely future demand and then do some proper economic modelling. Their current strategy, which looks at population size and whatever the latest statement from UCAS says, is little better than a scrawl on the back of a fag packet.

30 Nov, 2017

On average, graduates have few reasons to regret obtaining a degree and more reasons to be cheerful

30 November, 2017|News

Responding to HEFCE’s finding that graduates have higher levels of wellbeing than non-graduates, Nick Hillman, Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said:

‘We have conducted the biggest survey of student wellbeing annually since 2014. We have consistently found students to be less happy and more anxious, on average, than both the rest of the population and young people overall. They are living away from home for the first time, confronting new ways of learning and worried about their future prospects.

‘So this new research is important in confirming that higher education works out for most people most of the time. Degrees have non-financial benefits alongside the boost in earnings from graduate-level jobs. People who go to higher education are, typically, more resilient. They generally have few reasons to regret obtaining a degree and more reasons to be cheerful.

‘In all the current upheavals caused by changes like HEFCE’s closure and the opening of the new Office for Students, it is vital that we remain focused on listening to students and graduates. But we must not forget the 50% of people who do not go to higher education, for this data confirms they need better options too.’

Notes to Editors

The HEPI / HEA 2017 Student Academic Experience Survey report and data are available at

HEPI’s two recent reports on student mental health are at:

The Positive and Mindful University

Many universities need to triple their spending on mental health support: urgent call for action in new HEPI paper



28 Nov, 2017

Four reasons why the Higher Education and Research Act (2017) needs supplementing

28 November, 2017|News

This is an extract from a speech Nick Hillman, the Director of HEPI, will deliver today to the Independent HE Annual Conference.

One oddity of the debates during the passage of the new Higher Education and Research Act (2017) was a lack of discussion about the types of higher education institution that we are now to have in the UK.

There are officially three types:

Registered providers, which will be formally recognised but receive no preferential treatment.
Approved providers, which will have uncapped fees but no entitlement to direct public funding for teaching or research, while their students will have restricted access to student finance.
Approved (fee cap) providers, which will have their fees (and loans) capped at £9,000 per annum (plus inflation where applicable) and which may receive public funding for teaching and research.

This raises four issues that need further discussion than they have had to date.

The new system replicates most of the features of the current system (which helps explain why it has received too little focus). For example, as now, you have to be in the most tightly-regulated category to receive Quality-Related research funding. That is strange given this funding is meant to be distributed according to quality, as the name suggests – not the precise institutional form.
The Government predicts 57 alternative providers will be in the Approved fee cap category. Perhaps they would argue that this shows there is a clear path for them to resemble traditional providers. But, if they are in the Approved fee cap providers, in what sense are they ‘alternative’? They will be regulated in the same way as Oxbridge, the red bricks, the plate-glass universities, the former polytechnics and the newer universities created after 1992.

16 Nov, 2017

It is time to tackle the part-time crisis

16 November, 2017|News

HEPI is pleased to host this important contribution to the debate about the collapse in part-time higher education – and what to do about it – by the Vice-Chancellor of the UK’s largest university.

Fixing the broken market in part-time study: Open University says part-time students ‘learning while earning’ need direct funding

A new report, Fixing the Broken Market in Part-Time Study, by The Open University, published on the website of the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), says the collapse in part-time higher education is a symptom of a broken market.
It says part-time higher education can support the Government’s objectives on social mobility, the economy and public finances.
The OU says the best way of tackling the crisis is to reduce the substantial financial barriers caused by the impact of the 2012 reforms on tuition costs.

Separate and direct funding for part-time higher education students and providers to reduce the cost of study in England is essential if the UK Government is serious about developing the skills the country needs, argues Peter Horrocks, Vice-Chancellor of The Open University, in a report published on the website of the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI).

The report calls on the Government to put the crisis in part-time learning at the heart of its review of university funding announced by the Prime Minister, and the forthcoming Industrial Strategy. It argues that direct funding could be in the form of a part-time ‘premium’ or specific learning-and-earning incentives, such as tax credits, learn-and-earn vouchers or increased flexibility in the apprenticeship levy.

Funding reforms devastated part-time market

Peter Horrocks says that the sharp rise in tuition fees prompted by the 2012 education funding reforms devastated the market for part-time higher education in England, which has seen a 61% […]

9 Nov, 2017

New report shows each international student pays £8,000 towards filling gaps in UK R&D spending and calls on Philip Hammond to invest a further £1 billion in the Budget

9 November, 2017|News

A new HEPI report How much is too much? Cross-subsidies from teaching to research in British universities (HEPI Report 100) by Vicky Olive considers the scale and sustainability of university cross-subsidies and calls on Philip Hammond to boost research and development funding in the Budget.

The report finds:

a research deficit of £3.3 billion – 37% of research income
a surplus from fees of £1.3 billion (28% of non-publicly-funded teaching income)
the surplus from teaching funds 13% of UK university research (around £1 in £7)
each international student contributes (on average) £8,000 to British research
unless research funding increases, the UK’s regional capacity will suffer badly
the Conservatives’ target of spending 3% of GDP on R&D needs £24.8 billion more

The paper ends with three policy recommendations:

an increase of £1 billion in research spending in this year’s Budget
setting aside some of the extra public support for university / charity collaborations
new roadmap for meeting the Government’s commitments on R&D spending

Vicky Olive, the author of the report and an Economics postgraduate student at the University of Oxford, said:
The cross-subsidies from teaching to research are a float keeping UK universities world-class, but they are under threat like never before. The Government has frozen fees for home students, students are demanding to know more about where their money goes and international student numbers are perpetually under threat.

There is nothing morally wrong with cross-subsidising research from teaching, particularly if students see the benefits in their lectures and seminars. But it is right to investigate the scale of the subsidies and where they go, so that we can debate whether they are defensible, sustainable and valuable.

I started this project with no hidden agenda. I have ended it with a firm […]

19 Oct, 2017

New HEPI report cracks the code for TEF success – press release

19 October, 2017|By Diana Beech|News

A new HEPI report Going for Gold: Lessons from the TEF provider submissions by Diana Beech, HEPI Director of Policy & Advocacy, provides the first detailed analysis of the information submitted by universities for the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF).

The TEF ranks universities on teaching quality using data and 15-page ‘provider submissions’. In 2017, 46 leading higher education institutions achieved a Gold award, 67 secured Silver and 25 only managed Bronze. One-quarter moved up or down according to the evidence they submitted.

HEPI Director, Nick Hillman, said:
‘When the Teaching Excellence Framework was announced, the Government promised it would not be “big, bossy or bureaucratic”. It has become all three because universities don’t want to be measured on data alone.

‘Most institutions submitted a wealth of information, although a handful did not engage properly, with one submitting just four sentences out of a maximum 15 pages. It was worth engaging properly because many institutions jumped a category and one leapt from Bronze to Gold during the process. The best prepared submissions delivered success comparable with the famous “incremental gains” of the British Olympic Cycling team.

‘Jo Johnson, the Universities Minister, wants the TEF to be his legacy and it is not going to disappear any time soon. So this analysis is essential reading for any university seeking to move up our world-class higher education sector.’
Diana Beech, HEPI’s Director of Policy and Advocacy and the author of the report, said:
‘The TEF was especially challenging this year – its first full year – because institutions were not able to learn from earlier rounds. Although it is a constantly moving beast, the provider submissions are set to remain constant. So it is vital higher education institutions understand what worked this year if they […]