UCAS 2014 Data Release

UCAS have now released their analysis of the 2014 entry and acceptance cycle. A detailed report is available at the UCAS website.

The key points that come out are:

  • For the first time over half a million people placed in higher education through UCAS
  • More acceptances from both within and outside the UK
  • Acceptance increase for all age groups, 25 and over by 9 per cent to a new high of 52,300
  • Largest increases in 2014 are for English acceptances and to English providers
  • 18 year olds living in England and Wales more likely than ever to enter Higher Education
  • 18 year olds more likely than ever to enter higher education holding BTEC qualifications
  • Over 40 per cent of young people in England enter higher education by age 19
  • Entry rates increase for all ethnic groups in 2014 but large differences remain between groups
  • Young women a third more likely to enter higher education than young men
  • Entry rates for disadvantaged jump by over 10 per cent to highest ever levels across the UK
  • Differences in entry rates between advantaged and disadvantaged fall to a new low
  • Recruitment to 2014-15 increases to all provider types, higher tariff providers at record levels

Although the picture overall seems one of good news, within the overall statistics are some significant variances.

When looking at the “winners and losers” in terms of acceptances, then there is quite an amount of movement in the market. Providers other than universities have seen some hinge rises in acceptances and equally other non-university providers have seen huge falls. Within the more traditional university sector there are also gains and losses – the chart below shows the percentage change in acceptances from 2013-14 to 2014-15. It is difficult to discern a clear trend here, but factors that have already had an effect was the impact of unlimited recruitment to ABB+ applicants – some high tariff universities have chosen to grow their undergraduate numbers. The forthcoming year will be more interesting again – removal of any student number controls will mean a variety of different behaviours. Some universities may choose to grow no further, and to maintain their position of enrolling high tariff students who will benefit them in league tables. Further down the pecking order though, competition may become tougher as middle ranking universities seek to grow through student numbers.

ucas2014 2


In addition, UCAS have published two analysis notes.

The first of these indicates the rise in applicants and students accepted onto places who hold Btec qualifications.The second shows the gender difference between subject disciplines.

Firstly on entry qualification – if on a given course or module, there is an increased number, or indeed majority, of students holding Btec qualifications, are we ensuring that our learning and teaching strategies, and in particular types of assessment, are designed to ensure that these students can succeed. The educational experiences of a Btec entrant will be different from those of an A-level entrant, and so the question must be asked – have our courses been designed with their experiences in mind? In addition, is the institution able to provide detail (ideally at module level) to teaching staff in advance of beginning of teaching, on the typical previous educational experience and success of new entrants There is a possible role in the future for using data analytics for predictive purposes, but in the first instance, some simple information about the cohort would suffice.

Secondly, on gender difference, it appears that there is still a polarisation between certain subjects and despite the need for more engineers in the county, and all the work though Athena Swan and other initiatives, that certain disciplines are still male dominated. Equally Education appears to be female dominated, which again has long terms implications for the diversity of teaching in our schools.

UCAS 2014 1

(From https://www.ucas.com/sites/default/files/analysis_note_2015_01.pdf)

The rationale for equality and diversity

A new publication out this week, from the Equality Challenge Unit is “The rationale for equality and diversity: How vice-chancellors and principals are leading change”.

As someone who has blogged in the past on BME student success issues, and has done a small amount of work in my own institution on this, I though it would be useful to see how leadership might influence how universities are tackling the various diversity and equality agenda.

In his blog, David Ruebain, chief executive of ECU, writes:

“Achieving equality and diversity through changing your institution’s culture and practices takes time. Meaningful change requires strong leadership and an understanding that equality is an integral part of a university’s mission.”


“..we wanted to look at why some universities and some senior leaders are more successful in advancing equality and diversity than others. Our summit partners were keen to explore what made these institutions stand out from the crowd: what drives these leaders to become proactive and public champions of equality and diversity?”

The report then covers the research aims and methodology; the institutional drivers for equality and diversity; personal drivers for vice-chancellors and principals, and evidence of benefits and impact including overall performance, globalisation, modernising learning, minority ethnic staff and students, widening participation and women in senior academic roles. case studies from 12 universities are presented to back up the research findings.”

Looking at the institutional drivers: ecu1

It is perhaps telling that that respondents considered that creating an inclusive environment for students was the most important, and seeking external recognition was the least important.

Interestingly, the personal drivers of VCs were considered and “this translated into a concern to increase attainment levels and reduce any gaps between different types of students (for instance, those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, or from minority ethnic backgrounds).”

Certainly my own passionate belief that in this institution we need to work more to understand why students with a BME background do not achieve in the same way as their white counterparts is driven by my own views of social justice and family history. Even this week I have been shocked by comments about how or why different groups perform and how important or unimportant this might be as an issue.

A number of universities had revisited their teaching and learning strategies, to ensure that they were inclusive, and had seen benefits that were experienced by all students. When Winston Morgan spoke to our Learning and Teaching Conference earlier this year, he highlighted that many of the action we may take to reduce the attainment gap between white and BME students will often improve the quality of education for all, and actually maintain the gap.

The recommendations from the report are primarily for VCs and leaders – how to use personal leadership, how to involve governing bodies and how to hold leaders to account against progress, recommending the need to “walk the talk”.

Looking at the individual case studies, then a few highlights for me on BME student attainment are as follows:

Wolverhampton University: a student-related objective is to increase the proportion  of BME students awarded 2:1 degrees. Attainment champions have been appointed in a number of schools. There are also objectives to close employability gaps for BME and  disabled students.

Kingston University: To send a strong message about commitment to equality, Bonnie Greer was appointed as Chancellor. With BME students accounting for more than half of the undergraduate population, their higher attrition rate and  attainment gap is a significant challenge that the 2012-2016  strategy seeks to address. An objective has been set to increase the proportion of BME undergraduate students achieving a first or 2:1 degree to 54.9%. Other measures include an increase in retention and progression rates for BME students. Energy is also being put into improving employability by setting
up an employability advisory panel and developing strong relationships with major employers.

Oxford Brookes: the university is taking a data-driven approach and has
undertaken in-house research into BME student attainment in order to drive the work on enhancing the student experience.

In conclusion – a useful addition to the canon of material on how to tackle equality and diversity issues, with a strong message that leadership can make a significant difference.

In terms of BME student attainment, then linking the importance of leadership and the need for data driven approaches, to the very clear recommendations from the research of Winston Morgan (around entry tariffs, assessment types, how well the academic staff and leadership reflect the demographic of the student population etc) would mean that a university would be able to identify the steps it needs to take to work towards reducing the attainment gap.


The Zombies are Back

Previously on this blog, I wrote about the work of Mike Boxall of PA Consulting, and his work which suggested that universities could be split into broad groups of Oligarchs, Innovators and Zombies. In fact, Mike came to our Leadership Conference this year to talk about this very topic.


Last week on this blog I wrote about the idea of marginal gains, and this prompted discussion online and face to face with various people. One of the comments on  my blog was a reference to the work of Miles and Snow, who created a typology of the various strategic approaches that organisations can take. This prompted me to go away and read  a little about this, but also to have  a conversation where we could start to build a  linkage between ideas of Mile and Snow, and of Oligarchs, Innovators and Zombies.

With that in mind, and recognising that the UK HE system or market is in a state of flux, it might be worth revisiting what Mike Boxall has been saying recently, and also to look at what is happening with a couple of universities who maybe don’t qualify as innovators or oligarchs.

Mike has revisited the PA report from the summer, which was the annual survey of VC’s attitudes and opinions:

“The responses showed most vice-chancellors to be deeply pessimistic about the outlook for student recruitment and research funding, and predicting widespread institutional failures and mergers. Yet they were almost universally bullish about the prospects for their own institutions’ ability to secure growth and profits from those same problematic sources”

“We have in effect moved from a closed, stable and largely harmonious HE ecosystem to a new open and disrupted market in which the relationships and interdependencies between the internal and external life of universities are being redrawn in real time. This is putting vice-chancellors under new pressures. Wearing their representational hats, they find themselves fighting rear-guard actions against government policies that actively damage the interests of their institutions, such as visa restrictions on overseas students. Meanwhile, wearing their managerial hats, they must persuade their academic communities to recognise that the market genie will not be put back in the bottle, and that they need to reinvent their business.

It is not surprising therefore that surveys such as PA’s reflect apparently contradictory messages from vice-chancellors. On the one hand, they are telling government ministers, who “seem not to be bothered”, that their policies are jeopardising the HE system as we have known it. At the same time, they are telling their institutional stakeholders that there is a bright future beyond Student Number Controls and Resource Allocation Budget charges, if only they can overcome their deep-seated aversion to change”

With this is mind, it’s salutatory to look at two universities in the news in the last week or so.

Firstly, Glyndwr. This week the Times Higher ran a piece suggesting that there were possible merger talks between Glyndwr and Bangor. No evidence was provided, but it was an opportunity for the press to reiterate the problems at that institution – the vote of no confidence in the VC, the poor financial situation and the loss of Highly Trusted Status from UKVI. A zombie maybe?

Contrast this with London Metropolitan. Rarely out of the news last year, London Met has a new VC, formerly of Oxford Brookes, who has taken on the job that some have described as the toughest in HE. Alternatively, it could be viewed as one of the most exciting. As a welcome gift, UKVI reinstated Highly Trusted Status. As reported in the Times Higher, John Raftery has identified a clear strategy for the institution that includes: improving student experience so that a rise in NSS will have a positive effect in league tables; paying st dent mentors to support those in the year below them; embedding work placements in all awards, and also questioning if the entry tariff should be raised (something else that would improve elague table position. Not rocket science, but clear and focused.

So we can see that futures aren’t fixed – zombies might not necessarily always be zombies, and a clearly focused strategy can help with that.

In terms of Miles and Snow, with their typology of defenders, analysers, prospectors and reactors, then London Met seems to be moving firmly into the position of analyser (work, which in truth was already happening with their previous portfolio review work).

In terms of comparison with Mike Boxall’s work, then the place that no-one wants to be is that of reactor (or zombie). An interesting challenge in the last year was the change in SNC announced in the Autumn Statement – no-one forecast it, no-one had a strategy readily in place to deal with it, and so all universities had to react to a significant change in the external environment. What will be interesting in a year’s time when this change has had an impact, is to see who just reacted, and who carried out the analysis to develop a strategy to respond successfully. (My thoughts on this were on my blog).

As always, we need to be in position where we are at least analysers, and ideally developing into either a prospector or innovator.No-one wants to be a reactor or zombie.

Blog supplemental

My colleague, Peter Jones (Head of Psychology Sport and Exercise) has also blogged today about strategy inc Miles and Snow.

National Student Survey 2014

Well if the second week of August wasn’t  busy enough already, with A-level results and the onset of clearing, then just to give something else for HE wonks and award leaders to think about, along comes this year’s National Student Survey results.

NSS-results-2014-letterbox (1)

As HEFCE announce, student satisfaction has risen nationally once again, with 86% of students saying they are satisfied and “satisfaction has either improved since 2013 or stayed the same in each of the seven categories covered by the survey”.

Professor Madeleine Atkins, HEFCE Chief Executive, said:

‘I’m delighted to see record levels of student satisfaction this year, as well as marked improvements in satisfaction with assessment and feedback over the last decade.

‘The NSS is the largest survey of its kind in the UK. Over the last 10 years it has helped over 2 million students to make their voices heard about the things that matter to them, and has been fundamental to driving change in our universities and colleges.

‘In a period of technological advance, internationalisation and funding reforms, the NSS will continue to enable students’ views to be heard and to stimulate innovation and excellence in teaching and learning in our universities and colleges.’

HEFCE also provide links to recent review of the NSS which considers how effective the current survey is and makes recommendations for changes, primarily around adding questions on “student engagement”.  The report also talks about methodological issues related to the use of the survey, stating:

The NSS results can be used responsibly in the following ways with proper caution:

  • To track the development of responses over time
  • To report absolute scores at local and national levels
  • To compare results with agreed internal benchmarks
  • To compare the responses of different student groups, including equity target groups
  • To make comparisons, with appropriate vigilance and knowledge of statistical variance, between programmes in the same subject area at different institutions
  • To help stimulate change and enhance dialogue about teaching and learning.

However, they cannot be used responsibly in these ways:

  • To compare subject areas, e.g. Art & Design vs. Engineering, within an institution unless adjustments are made for typical subject area differences nationally
  • To compare scores on different aspects of the student experience (between different scales, e.g. assessment vs. teaching) in an unsophisticated way
  • To compare whole institutions without taking account of sources of variation such as subject mix and student characteristics
  • To construct league tables of programmes or institutions that do not allow for the fact that the majority of results are not materially different.

Academics and other commentators  have long been critical of the usefulness of the NSS, and on publication, HEFCE asked via Twitter whether it was fit for purpose….


The Times Higher ran an article on views from the sector on the usefulness of the NSS, which claimed that one lecturer at a university in the West of England described the NSS as “about as scientifically useful as TripAdvisor is for travellers”.

Nonetheless, it is the instrument we currently have, and so for the coming year as an institution we will be looking at our results and how to use them effectively.

At institutional level we have seen another improvement – just like the sector overall, we improve on a yearly basis.


While acknowledging the difficulties of comparing dissimilar subjects, it’s relatively easy for us to benchmark subject groups against other institutions using the full data-set from HEFCE.

We will also look at those individual awards that appear as outliers in our results – those awards that gained 100% overall satisfaction (I can’t name them all as not all the data can be used publicly) should be a source of ideas to those whose results were outliers at the other end of the scale.

Graduate Employability -ideas from Kaplan

A recent White Paper from Kaplan looks at the results of a survey of 198 employers who were asked about graduate recruitment and considers the implications and offers
practical advice and opinion around three key areas: recruitment, competency and learning and development.

Considering recruitment, 76% of employers continue to look for graduates and: “Employers also look to their graduate intake to provide future leaders,  and 60% of those surveyed believe that one in every two graduates  will go on to become just that.” Also, the report notes that: ” The Kaplan survey identified that 75% of employers found it  either moderately or very difficult to find the right graduates”.

The report also indicates an increasing level of interest in apprenticeships, noting that ” the reason employers are exploring non-graduate recruitment  is diversity. Employers want to ensure they recruit a wide range of  individuals and not just graduates. A diverse workforce provides some  degree of flexibility and can help with customer/client relationships.”

Apprenticeships are also seen as being a way of solving the problem of competence.

Employers were surveyed on the competences they expect from graduates, and the results make interesting reading.


Numeracy is second! I’ve highlighted this – numeracy is the second most important competence that employers want.

The bottom 5 competences were: Decisive, Leadership, Assertiveness, Critical Thinker and Technical Expertise.

The core skills that are valued at recruitment, an 2 years later are summarised below;


Once again analytical skills are reported highly.

The report goes on to talk about employability, and how universities might support development of employability skills, noting that ” a recent YouGov survey (2013) of 613 employers (including 419 directly responsible for recruiting graduates) found
that just under one in five businesses believes graduates are ready for work. It also revealed that more than half of employers said all or almost all graduate recruits started work without vital attributes, such as team-work, communication, punctuality and the ability to cope under pressure.”

Recognising that employability is key for employers (and it should be key for those universities that focus on such things) then Kaplan suggest: “Perhaps the answer is an employability qualification. Students enrol on a separate course that offers, on completion, a formally recognised qualification. But who should offer this? Whether it’s the employer,
universities or schools is a question requiring wider debate.”


A useful addition to the plethora of information available about graduate employability.

I think 2 things really stand out, and are areas that universities have in their power to address.

Firstly, numeracy and analytical skills : how many universities have developed statements on graduate attributes or on graduate skills which do not include this? I would guess most of them! In previous blog posts I’ve referred to the need for students to be numerate in their degrees, and the need for people to be able to understand and manipulate data. This could be an opportunity for an institution to really differentiate itself.

Secondly, a stand-alone qualification is potentially desirable, provided that it is actually meaningful, and not just a tick box exercise. Students would need to understand why a separate qualification was necessary. Alternatively, providers would need to create much clearer signposting for all students on how transferable employability skills are being developed throughout the degree course (the use of Mozilla open badges might be useful here).


Employment of Graduates

In last week’s Times Higher, we had one of our rare mentions. However, it wasn’t to publish good news. The most recent data on employment of graduates from the 2012-13 cohort have been published by HESA and these showed:

“According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency, 92.1 per cent of university leavers were in employment or further study six months after graduating in 2012-13, up from 90.8 per cent in the previous year.”


“Universities with the lowest employment and further study rates are London Metropolitan University (81.4 per cent), the University of Bolton (82.4 per cent) and Staffordshire University (84 per cent).”

This doesn’t look great as a headline statistic, particularly with all the work that colleagues have done on promoting the Staffordshire Graduate attributes, in particular the employability programme on a number of champion awards.

I decided to have a look at some of the numbers for the last few years (recognising that we are starting to see an improvement in graduate outcomes and employment as described in league tables) so there seems to be an anomaly, and consult with those who know more than me.

In league tables, the career prospects score relates to percentage in graduate level work and higher level PG while employment indicator in HESA data relates to percentage in (any) work or further study.  So it is possible for us to have a comparatively low employment indicator with an improving career prospects score.

So that starts to explain why scores in league tables are different.

Another really important factor, and one which is ignored in the Times Higher article, is that because institutions are not directly comparable, then results cannot be compared directly. The benchmarks for institutions also need to be taken into account, which allow for subject mix etc.

“if the benchmarks were ignored such comparisons would not take account of the effects of different subject profiles or the different entry qualifications of the students. In general, indicators from two institutions should only be compared if the institutions are similar. If the benchmarks are not similar, then this suggests that the subject / entry qualification profiles of the institutions are not the same, and so differences between the indicators could be due to these different profiles rather than to different performances by the two institutions.”

So what we could do is to look at our own performance is consider how our scores differ from our benchmark score. The table below shows this.

Employment indicator (including further study)
year Base
or studying
+/- total UK indicator missed benchmark? (%)
09-10 1310 1150 87.8 88.2 0.81   90.4 -0.4
10-11 1365 1145 83.8 88.1 0.84 90.3 -4.3
11-12 1455 1230 84.4 88.5 0.80 90.8 -4.1
12-13 1625 1365 84.0 90.0 0.75 92.1 -6.0

Continue reading

Hobsons Choice – International Student Decision Making

A recent publication by Hobsons EMEA “Beyond the Data: Influencing international student decision making” provides a ten point plan which provides an insight into how international students make decisions about overseas study. The report contain useful information on who a typical international student might be, the motivations for selecting a particular institution, information gathering, decision making and application, and ends with questions about “what is teaching quality”.

In addition the report shows that ‘student experience’ and contact time are much less important to applicants than institutional and course-specific league table rankings.

The ten point plan is summarised as:

  1. Course, then country, then institution: that is the order of an international student’s decision-making process. Students select a course to study first, then they evaluate the country and only after doing that will they select the institution
  2. Fees are the second most important consideration for international students and are the number one reason for declining offers
  3. Subject/course rankings are more important in student decision-making than institution rankings or other factors including fees
  4. Perception of student satisfaction does not drive choice of institution
  5. Graduate outcomes are a key factor in international students’ decision-making
  6. Each institution has a role to play in marketing their country as a desirable destination
  7. Country level messaging reinforcing welcome and safety of international students will support institutional marketing
  8. Institutions must be clear on their brand value proposition for each course
  9. Students want to engage with institutions and their content through visual social media sites (YouTube and Instagram) during the research phase of selecting an institution
  10. It is not just about giving out information or an offer: students need to be nurtured from the information gathering phase through to enquiry and then application.

As someoen who works with league tables and portfolio performance, I was interested in teh survey results on how international student perceive teaching quality:

When students are asked to rate the importance of factors related to teaching quality respondents said that academic reputation (76 per cent), subject or course ranking (76 per cent), student satisfaction with the institution (74 per cent), tuition fees (72 per cent) and use of technology in teaching (72 per cent) were their most important determinates for teaching quality. It was interesting to us that graduate employment rates (64 per cent) and teaching hours per week (57 per cent) were less important. The two least important factors were the age of the institution (33 per cent) and high entry requirements (39 per cent).

When studnets were asked to comapre the variosu factors, and trade themm off against each pther, then fees can be seen to be the ost important, with subject ranking just behind. Studnet satisfaciiotn seems to be of little importance!


Overall, a document worth reading, especially for anyone involved in international student recruitment – it may reinforce the things we already know, but, for example,  I didn’t know that student satisfaction was seen of being as such little importance when used in deciding where to study, That doesn’t mean it’s unimportant, as it’s of massive importance once a student is with us.


The Importance of Maths

A new publication from the Higher Education Academy this week looks at the
needs of students for an understanding of mathematics and statistics when undertaking undergraduate studies in various disciplines.

The discipline areas studied were: Business and Management, Chemistry, Computing, Economics, Geography, Sociology and Psychology. The  suggestion in the report is that many of the discipline specific recommendations are transferable to other disciplines. Notably physics and engineering are not included, as we expect students in these areas to be highly numerate.

One of the key findings is that:

“Many students arrive at university with unrealistic expectations of the
mathematical and statistical demands of their subjects. Lack of confidence and
anxiety about Mathematics/Statistics are problems for many students.”

This is worrying if students are not aware of the importance of number in their studies. As a nation we are always happy to belittle the more numerate as “geeks” whereas an ability to write in (supposedly) perfect English is seen as a strength. This is dangerous thinking – being able to make proper inferences from numbers and data is a critical skill in so many roles.

The key recommendations are:

1. There should be clear signalling to the pre-university sector about the nature  and extent of mathematical and statistical knowledge and skills needed in undergraduate degree programmes.
2. As part of this signalling university tutors should consider recommending the  benefits of continuing with mathematical/statistical study beyond the age of 16.
They should be aware of the full range of post-16 Mathematics qualifications, in  particular the new “Core Maths” qualification.
3. Guidance documentation should be commissioned to provide university staff with a description of the range of knowledge and skills that students with
GCSE Mathematics at different grades can be expected to demonstrate when they start their undergraduate studies.
4. Key stakeholders within the disciplines should actively engage with current and future developments of discipline A-levels as well as those in post-16 Mathematics qualifications, (e.g. “Core Maths”).
5. University staff should consider the benefits of diagnostic testing of students’  mathematical and statistical knowledge and skills at the start of degree
programmes, and of using the results to inform feedback and other follow-up
6. Teaching staff should be made aware of the additional support in Mathematics  and Statistics that is available to students. Students should be actively  encouraged to make use of these resources and opportunities.


It’s important that we get to understand better how students transition into HE. For instance, according to the report only 13% of entrants to Psychology for example had an A-level in maths prior to entry in 2013. This will have an inevitable effect on those students’ ability to engage with any statistical tools or numerate analysis.

As well as considering the transition into HE, we should also consider how students with limited maths ability might struggle throughout their awards across a range of subjects and modules – one of the reasons that might explain low numbers of students gaining good degrees in some subjects may be their inability to engage fully with numerate modules or topics.


(from http://www.math.hope.edu/newsletter/2006-07/05-09.html)

The lack of numeracy does go further than students engaged in undergraduate study. This is a bit of a hobby horse of mine, but in years gone by, we created lists and mappings of skills that we expected to be attained by students. Communication was always included, maths never was. In our latest iteration of graduate attributes, again we recognise professionalism, team working and global citizenship, but still don’t give prominence to mathematical ability.

Long term this is concerning both for the individual and for employers – we (and other universities) might produce graduates who enter the workplace with only the flimsiest ideas of how to use number, and sometimes a too-trusting reliance on what Excel and other spreadsheets can produce.

For example, when I read a report that shows a log scale graph which the authors then claim demonstrates a linear relationship,  I worry about the kind of decision-making that will be made when the base data is presented in such a skewed way.

Maybe we could look to ensure that one ways in which we differentiate Staffordshire graduates is that in future they are more numerate and data literate.

Cuts to Disabled Student Allowance

Last month a written ministerial statement from David Willetts (not widely reported) outlined changes to the Disabled Student Allowance. A brief reference to this was reported to our Learning Teaching and Assessment Committee. In future I anticipate we will be considering the wide-ranging impact this will have, on recruitment, on student satisfaction and on budgets.

This change potentially has serious impact on the individual educational experience of many students, has a potential legal impact on universities, and at a more local level, a possible impact on university and faculty or school budgets.

From the ministerial statement:

We will look to HEIs to play their role in supporting students with mild difficulties, as part of their duties to provide reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act. These are partly anticipatory duties and we expect HEIs to introduce changes which can further reduce reliance on DSAs and help mainstream support. However, we believe that HEIs are better placed to consider how to respond in many cases, including giving greater consideration to the delivery of their courses and how to provide support. The need for some individual non-medical help (NMH) may be removed through different ways of delivering courses and information. It is for HEIs to consider how they make both anticipatory reasonable adjustments and also reasonable adjustments at an individual level.The key changes are set out below:We will pay for higher specification or higher cost computers where a student needs one solely by virtue of their disability. We will no longer pay for standard specification computers or the warranties and insurance associated with them. We will no longer pay for higher specification and/or higher cost computers simply because of the way in which a course is delivered. We are changing our approach to the funding of a number of computer equipment, software and consumable items through DSAs that have become funded as ‘standard’ to most students.Students with Specific Learning Difficulties will continue to receive support through DSAs where their support needs are considered to be more complex.We will fund the most specialist Non-Medical Help. HEIs are expected to consider how they deliver information to students and whether strategies can be put in place to reduce the need for support workers and encourage greater independence and autonomy for their students.The additional costs of specialist accommodation will no longer be met byDSAs, other than in exceptional circumstances.

In the Guardian, Sarah Lewthwaite writes:

Willetts stresses universities’ role in bridging the gap in DSA support. However, universities will receive no monies to cover the financial gap at a time of economic stringencies and pay freezes.Willetts emphasises the importance of new technologies for anticipatory inclusive teaching and learning within the established frame of “reasonable adjustment” required by the Equality Act (2010). However, technological solutions are limited. University eLearning environments cannot ensure universally accessible educational opportunities without (DSA funded) assistive technologies deployed by students, among a raft of other measures and costs. In the short term, at least, prospects for disabled students experiencing cuts to DSAs are bleak.Concerns do not end here. Proposed changes to DSA funding may fundamentally redefine disability in higher education. Students with Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLDs), such as dyslexia, dyspraxia and ADD/ADHD, have been singled out for the largest cuts, and there is a real danger that their needs become invisible.Willetts has chosen to restrict focus to more “complex” SpLDs and those requiring “most specialist” support. This betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the relationship between a medical diagnosis and the support requirements that students may have. Indeed, it is ironic that the one group singled out for cuts to academic support are those whose disability explicitly affects learning.

So for students with some of the more common learning disabilities – and we have subject areas where this affects large numbers of students – there might be no more support from the DSA, and universities will be expected to make up the gap.


It might be argued that some of the technologies currently provided (eg computers) are those that we expect all students to already own when they arrive at university. This unfortunately ignores the fact that some disabled students will be those who are also from the most disadvantaged backgrounds, and so are least likely to be able to buy such equipment.To me these proposals are to provide support for  “those who deserve it”. Not unlike our changing benefits system that is moving from being one of universal benefit when needed, but one that is only for the deserving poor.


There are different responsibilities for universities here too – the use of the Equality Act and how this could be interpreted to make changes to delivery of courses is an interesting proposition. Smita Jamdar of Martineaus has provided an excellent blog piece on this very subject. She identifies:

Clearly, once the changes take effect there will be less support via the DSA and there are obvious risks to participation levels among students with disabilities, but it is also likely that HEIs will be asked to fund a greater amount and diversity of adjustments once this support stops.

She identifies 2 significant aspects of the ministerial statement:

  1. HEIs are expected not to think reactively about how a particular student’s needs can be accommodated in a particular course, but rather proactively about how their entire portfolio of courses might be made accessible to students with a wide range of disabilities thus obviating or substantially reducing the need for further specific support.
  2. From 2015 it is intended to instead adopt the Equality Act definition of “a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long term adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out normal day to day activities”.  HEIs may find themselves in debate more often with students as to whether or not their condition meets the definition of a disability, if only to give students support to apply for DSA

Smita identifies that disability discrimination represents the greatest number of student discrimination cases that her law firm deals with, and that “the changes to DSA are likely to increase the pressure from students and campaign groups alike for greater focus on this area from HEIs.”

So in conclusion, we have a change to policy which will save a tiny fraction of the overall benefits bill. For universities though we need to consider the following:

  • how do we proactively change our courses to make anticipatory adjustments?
  • how do we learn to use the Equality Act to determine what support might be needed?
  • how do we minimise the opportunities for legal cases?
  • how do we manage our internal budgets to cover the increased costs that might be coming our way?






HEPI/HEA Student Experience Survey

This year’s HEPI/HEA Student experience Survey has been published, and can be downloaded from here.

The key outcomes highlighted are:

  • Full-time undergraduate students in UK universities express high  levels of satisfaction with their courses: 86% are fairly or very satis?ed with their course
  • While 50% of students experiencing classes of between 1 and 5 other students
    ?nd them ‘a lot’ bene?cial, the ?gure is only 10% for those  with classes of more than 100 students. On average ?rst  years have 3.0 of their weekly contact hours in classes of  over 100.
  • Undergraduate students in their ?rst and second years  have an average of 14.2 contact hours per week during term time and complete another 14.3 hours of private study on top
  • Those with between 0 and 9 contact hours  are notably less satis?ed than those with between 20 and 29 contact hours
  • More than four out of ten full-time undergraduate students (44%) think they are receiving very good or good value for money, compared with one-quarter (25%) who consider they are receiving very poor or poor value for money
  • When asked about their top three priorities for  institutional expenditure, 48% of undergraduates chose ‘reducing fee levels’
  • However, four further clear priorities emerge, each chosen by over one-third of students:
    • more teaching hours (35%);
    • smaller class sizes (35%);
    • better training for lecturers (34%); and
    • better learning facilities (34%)

Digging further into the report, then differences appear based on which mission group universities are aligned to, and also by subject discipline.

I was particularly interested in some of the information presented around contact hours, and specifically why students chose not to attend sessions (bearing in mind the current narrative of students as customers who are paying up to £9000  a year where one might expect 100% attendance).

Students wanted more contact hours, yet many times don’t attend for the following reasons:


Looking at the top two reasons for failure to attend raises questions –

  • How do we make the classes more relevant and unmissable?
  • Does putting notes online reduce the need to attend a lecture?

With regard to having notes or slides online – this can only be a good thing for those students who genuinely miss a class, or who want to read in advance of attending class. Online learning materials should be more than just the lecture handouts.

On student workload, it’s notable that many students appear to be engaging with fewer learning hours than is expected by QAA. As a possible way to remedy this, do we really think enough about what self directed study entails? Are we, certainly for level 4 students, providing enough guidance on what they should be studying, reading, engaging with, outside of the scheduled time in class? Can we make a very simple change of spelling this out in module handbooks and guides to ensure our students learn in the way that we would like them to and that we manage their expectations of how much work they should be doing?

Not surprisingly, under expectations of value for money, students are less satisfied with what they feel they are receiving.


When asked what their spending priorities would be, students replied as:


As identified in the report, after fees the priorities are: “increasing teaching hours: decreasing  class sizes; better training for lecturers; and better learning facilities (as
distinct from better buildings, which is not ranked so highly). It is notable that the higher ranked areas relate to improving the quality of teaching and learning and the lower ranked areas relate more to extra-curricular and environmental issues such as sports facilities and better security on campus. Giving academics more time for research was not ranked highly despite the promotion of ‘research-led teaching’ in many institutions.”

I think there are some interesting areas for further discussion here, with implications for different constituencies:

For the university:

  •  How do we make sure we deliver the right kind of learning in small groups?
  • Can we manage expectations of workload better?
  • How do we provide a focus on student experience?
  • How do we explore the reason students don’t attend ?(do we know if they are not attending?)
  • What could we do to make class sessions unmissable?
  • Can we square the circle of providing more smaller classes, with greater contact hours with better qualified lecturers?
  • How do we improve our online materials?

For senior staff:

  • how do we respond to the challenges on spending priorities?
  • How do we lobby the next government on student and university financing?