Higher education policy statement and reform - government consultation response

Today the Secretary of State for Education announced the publication of the Government’s Higher Education consultation response in a statement to the House of Commons.

The minister referred to ‘pockets of provision’ where the numbers not completing their courses or achieving high earning employment after graduation and a ‘determination to drive out low quality provision’. The response document sets out the intention of asking the Office for Students (OfS) to use recruitment limits to help drive out provision which is not delivering good student outcomes, and to reform university entry requirements to encourage more young people to register for apprenticeships and alternative qualifications.

The Government will ask the OfS to consider how they can take graduate earnings into account in their quality regime. They say:

‘We know many factors influence graduate earnings – but students have a right to expect that higher education will lead to improved employment opportunities and commensurate earnings.’

And, 'Our commitment to social justice is why we want to ensure that students are not recruited onto courses they are unlikely to benefit.'

It is unclear how those many factors will be measured. The Government response to the consultation is rooted in a transactional model in which education is an investment with a purely financial return. The Guild HE report of 2018 exposed the limitations of using LEO metrics to measure graduate earnings in the creative sector. NSEAD warned that these flawed metrics and limited definitions of value would have a disproportionate impact on creative arts courses and took issue with the implication that careers in the creative arts are not ‘rewarding’. NSEAD has repeatedly challenged the use of data and definitions of value that are both incomplete and narrow in their terms of reference.

NSEAD General Secretary Michele Gregson said:

“The Government response to the Higher Education consultation is yet another refusal to engage with the needs of our economy and to support young people to contribute to the economy and civic society. Whilst recognising that many factors influence graduate earnings, they continue to draw a false equivalence between quality provision and earnings after graduation. They make no attempt to understand or address the factors that lead students to drop out from their courses, nor consider the impact of the pandemic on these learners. This response reduces education - and people - to a commodity. The imposition of a more rigorous quality regime is a nonsense rhetoric, drawing on backwards looking, flawed data. This is a government with a woefully limited understanding of what constitutes quality educational provision. This is not social justice, it is an act of vandalism.”