A Comprehensive University system? Why is the selection debate only focused on schools?

 

Professor Tim Blackman ,Vice-Chancellor of Middlesex University , a Professor of Sociology and Social Policy , argued for a truly radical and democratic reform of the HE sector, last year, in a HEPI booklet The Comprehensive University.

We should ,he says , require all universities to have more diverse intakes – socially, ethnically and by ability. Comprehensive reform of higher education is long overdue, with its likely social and educational benefits from a ‘diversity bonus’ in all our institutions. The advocacy of selection in education he claims is driven by an impulse to separate people into deserving and undeserving, ‘us’ and ‘other’ As things stand, students at the ‘not high status’ institutions know that they are, in effect, in a low-status university and, by association, are ‘low status’ people who possibly should not be at university. These low-status students are more likely to be working class and black. They are advised to head for ‘high status’ universities if they are ‘talented’. The higher education sector currently both extends opportunity and entrenches class privilege, with the latter effect far outweighing the former. This, argues Blackman ,is a pretty shocking state of affairs that needs to be addressed on equality grounds alone, but ,he points out, there are likely to be significant educational and productivity dividends from ending it too. All students would benefit from replacing a stratified higher education system with mixed-tariff institutions where the diversity of cognitive abilities and identities would be a resource for everyone’s learning. This could be achieved through open access or basic matriculation quotas. Blackman says that a variety of admission mechanisms could be used to desegregate universities and move to all but a few being comprehensive. The simplest would be to require a fixed proportion of entry to be open access along the lines of the school academies that are allowed to use selection but only for a fixed proportion of their intake. Alternatively, there could be a minimum matriculation requirement, based on minimum threshold standards across the sector, but low enough to make a significant impact on the barrier to access created by high-entry requirements. Excess demand could then be managed using a lottery. This system could be combined with a levy, creating more diverse and more successful learning communities in all our universities.

It is interesting that debate on selection is currently almost entirely focused on the schools system and the expansion, or not, of grammar schools. . Blackman has opened up another front. About time too

HEPI Occasional Paper

See also Blog

http://www.hepi.ac.uk/2018/04/17/comprehensive-free-university/

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ITS NOT JUST ABOUT OXBRIDGE

Its not Just About Oxbridge

The High Master of St Pauls has mentioned the elephant in the room in the Times this week. Many more of our best students are heading off  across the pond towards tertiary education in the States. He writes’The globalisation of tertiary education and, in particular, increased knowledge of and access to North American universities led to 34 pupils from St Paul’s studying there in 2016. The pull factors towards the US include the liberal arts degree, which enables students to pursue wider academic study, and generous scholarships. The push factors from Oxbridge are the cost of student loans and a perception that they have become too focused on access and research.’ One Wellington College student a few years ago, who chose Harvard ,over Oxford,  in explaining his choice said that  in the interview Harvard asked “what can we do for you..Oxford asked what can you do  for us? ”. Twenty one  Wellington students went  to the States (and three to Canada)   last year ,Among the beneficiaries Brown, Stanford, Columbia and the University of Southern California . On the other hand,  eighteen  went  to Oxbridge.

The media here (and the Sutton Trust) seem obsessed with  Oxbridge ,paying little attention to our other world class universities.   University College London and Imperial College, to name just two.  Although Oxbridge is investing heavily in outreach it  is not to everyone’s tastes , and, of course, often doesn’t offer the range of  courses, including in the  liberal arts , that many students  here are  now looking for. Interestingly, Julian Thomas, the Master of Wellington College, is trying to get his students to take an even  broader view of what options are available to   them when they leave , including  taking Degree Apprenticeships.  Interesting times. It would help, of course,  if there were more high quality Degree Apprenticeships available.

HIGHER EDUCATION – TRENDS IN 2018

Looking Ahead- HE and 2018

Vice Chancellors remuneration has shed light on the quality of leadership, governance, and lax regulation in HE .The sector hasn’t reacted intelligently to the changing dynamic between producer and consumer. Too little transparency and accountability have been in evidence. The Office for Students, which is now  in place,  will be firing on all cylinders from April and Professor Barber has made it clear that he wants to see changes over pay, accountability and Freedom of Speech, with more to come  . OfS  aims  to  ensure that the sector is more consumer focused. How the sector is funded, and student debt, will very much remain on the agenda,  Lord Adonis will see to that. The combination of increased concerns over the value of degrees, with more information available for students on  employment destinations, will pressure universities to  improve their offers and focus more  on the  quality both of  their teaching and pastoral support.

Research has always trumped teaching in the sector .The TEF, with its clunky metrics, is work in progress, but expect some significant   rebalancing in favour of teaching.   Universities can learn more from schools about teaching and pastoral support.  So expect more co-operation between HE and secondary sectors and not just in outreach.

Technological breakthroughs in AI , robotics, the internet of things, autonomous vehicles, 3D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage and quantum computing,  will   offer immense scope for new courses, research  and  innovative  partnerships between institutions and business. So watch this space. Though some claims about AI may be overblown, it really will change the way we do things, not least in education, and, longer term, impact significantly on the employment market.

Three year degrees haven’t  had there day, but expect increased disruption in the market,  and more  students choosing non-traditional routes into employment.  More accelerated degrees will be developed  , and  possibly even four year degrees in niche areas. The Higher and Degree Apprenticeships offers will gradually improve in quality and scope , with more student choice, and better matches with employers demands but  expect incremental change here, rather than  a stampede. Delivery lags behind the up beat narrative.

As demand for education outstrips supply, globally, internationalisation of education and transnational education will grow. Structures and means of delivery are changing. Abroad, look at what Michael Crow is doing at the University of Arizona- re-engineering courses , technological delivery  platforms and pedagogy, greater use of AI,  matching excellence and improved  access in the same institution , something of a holy grail in the sector. As for Brexit,   it will have limited impact both on staff and research this  year. And , on a positive note,  there is a big incentive for universities to be more  outward looking,  to form partnerships and to co-operate with institutions  abroad  whether its in research, teaching or innovation or,  indeed, in investigating the setting up of satellite campuses.     And  lets try to be nicer to international students. We need them. In this respect it will be worth watching the passage of the Immigration Bill. Although the sector remains highly competitive internationally it is perhaps significant that students in both China and India are increasingly making Australia their second choice after the USA, and not the UK. We have few areas where we have a comparative advantage in international markets but education is one.  But we have to work harder just to maintain our competitive position,  a message that has not got through to some in government and the sector

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO CRITICAL THINKING AMONG STUDENTS?

There has been much debate in education about the need to develop in students critical thinking. Critical thinking  means having the ability  to see both sides of an argument clearly, while deducing or confirming conclusions from both the facts and arguments.  To think critically,  it is  thought  you need domain specific knowledge ,as well as certain  generic  skills. You  need to learn how to handle and order  facts,  as well as to learn the facts themselves.
The “critical” part of the term “critical thinking”  doesn’t refer to the  act of criticizing, or finding fault, but rather to the ability to be objective and dispassionate. So, “Critical,” in this context, means essentially  “open-minded,” seeking out, evaluating and weighing all the available evidence, affording a value to that evidence and reaching a rational,  objective , conclusion  .  Being Objective,  or rational,  though  is not as easy  as it might seem. Our  in built biases can interfere in our thinking process’s.  These are  sometimes known as cognitive biases.  And we can let our  emotions  get the better of us, so rational thought and objectivity goes  out the window.

According to Professor Dan Willingham,  looking at the issue  from the cognitive scientist’s point of view, the mental activities that are typically called critical thinking are actually a subset of three types of thinking: reasoning, making judgments and decisions, and problem solving.One likes to think that students who have studied A levels have developed, to a significant extent good critical thinking skills . Certainly those with the best grades.  And that at University they develop these skills further,  and advance to a different level of critical thinking. But do they?  There does appear to be a cultural shift underway .  Subjective emotional responses  have an elevated status.  Sometimes it seems the only valid response to any idea  argument or situation is the individual’s own—how he or she “feels” about it, subjectively. Are they offended by it? Has it hurt their feelings? This is when and where emotion and feelings trump rationality and it would seem critical thinking.  So  Could all the banning, no platforming, safe spaces and trigger warnings simply be symptomatic of the fact that subjectivity has replaced objectivity as the default position.  Is it the case that students, much more than in the past, are  increasingly incapable of processing conflicting viewpoints intellectually; they can only respond to them emotionally? Is this what is meant by the snowflake generation? Food for thought

FORCING UNIVERSITIES TO SET UP, OR SPONSOR SCHOOLS, IN RETURN FOR FEE RISES IS NONSENSE ON STILTS

The Government said  in its recent  Green Paper that it   wants  all universities  either to   sponsor existing schools or set up new schools in exchange for the ability to charge   higher fees.

In addition to, but not instead of, the above requirements,  the government said  that  universities could consider:

  • supporting schools through being a member of the governing body or academy trust board;
  • assisting with curriculum design, mentoring of school pupils, and other educational support; and
  • provision of human resources, teaching capacity (for example in A-level STEM subjects), and finance support.

‘In addition to driving attainment, we could ask universities to consider taking into account geography, the number of good school places or higher education participation rates when deciding where to focus their energies’.

This proposal doesn’t even look good on paper.

It is not the business of universities to run schools . Besides, there is no evidence that they are  any good at it.   Why would they be?  Even specialist organisations that run schools as their core business find setting up,  or sponsoring,   a new school,   a challenging business. A number of Universities have tried, and to say that their record is patchy is an understatement.

If a University wants  to set up a new school then it needs to make a compelling  business   case for it, with a rigorous  risk assessment attached. Otherwise we will have more failed  ventures  on our hands,   that are wasteful , damaging to the institutions involved ,  and , most importantly, hugely damaging to pupils.

As one insider  put it to to me ‘  In what other sector could you imagine being required to do something you have no experience of in order to be able to ,or allowed to,  develop and market your core business?’

Good leadership ,and above all high  quality  teachers and teaching, are at the heart of  every  good school . But , who with their hand on their heart, can honestly  say that these  are currently the perceived   strengths of our  Higher Education Sector ?Indeed one of  the major motivating factors behind the Higher Education and Research Bill was the poor quality of teaching in too many universities . So, the government  is now actively incentivising   institutions , many with poor quality teachers and teaching,  to set up or sponsor schools… really?

Of course, the HE Sector could , and should, support schools and pupils  and add value in various  ways. There are many partnership programmes up and running already. This engagement between the HE sector and schools though   should be informed by  hard evidence of what works and is most effective.  Some Access programmes could be  better structured and evaluated, for example  but there is plenty of sound practice to be built on too.   Student progression,  transition  (and  careers guidance),  to higher education is an area where universities can do much  more. Curriculum and  professional development are two other  areas , as well as those  mentioned above in the Green paper.

But  forcing a university to set  up or sponsor a school in order  for it to raise its  fees makes no sense.  It could also do a lot of harm.

A much more flexible, evidential  approach is required from the government and  one should  pray that this will  be reflected in the eventual proposals that come out of the consultation process.

GRADUATE DEBT-A GROWING CHALLENGE FOR THE HE SECTOR

GRADUATE DEBT – A DEVELOPING NARRATIVE
The Higher Education sector should be wary. There is a narrative developing, articulated with increasing regularity in the media, that students are not getting value for money from their university education.

The graduate premium is not as big as Ministers claim, and in any case is narrowing significantly.  There are now   serious alternatives to a university education, including high quality apprenticeships and company and on the job  training programmes .Employers, fed up with the quality of graduates who apply  for their jobs, who signally lack   the kind of soft skills they are looking for,   are now   looking elsewhere. Thats the narrative. Students are being miss-sold  a university education.  Why saddle yourself with debt when you can be paid while you train for a guaranteed job?. Earlier this year the Higher Education Statistics Agency published figures showing that one in four graduates was not in a graduate job six months after receiving a degree

The Intergenerational Fund think tank, says that student debt payments wipe out the benefit of higher salaries for most graduates. Indeed, MP Frank Field found out from the Office for National Statistics  that more than a quarter of graduates were paid less than the £11.10  an hour average for those on work-based training schemes (Apprenticeships) in 2013 . With a  government focus on  incentivising the provision of   more high quality Apprenticeships the balance is likely to have tipped further in favour of those on work based training schemes, over the last three years.

Alice Thomson in the Times, this week ,wrote ‘The 500,000 students settling into campuses this autumn will be incurring average debts of £44,000. For those inspired by their courses and for the intellectually gifted, this is probably still worth every penny, but for many of the 49 per cent of the population who take up places at university it will be close to a waste of time. The higher education ombudsman has received more than 2,000 complaints from students in the past academic year over issues such as too little time with tutors, overcrowded lecture theatres and poor teaching. Apprenticeships are in many ways far better value for money. The National Grid’s engineering training programme for school leavers pays £23,500 a year.’ Thomson’s views are shared by a number of other commentators.

There is not much evidence that the sector is fighting back. Its  looking complacent, unaware of the avalanche that is about to hit it.

A report out this week from The Money Charity reinforces the idea that students are overburdened with debt.  The figures reveal that the latest group of students from England to begin to pay off their loans owe more than ever before.
The average debt for the graduates who entered repayment this year was £24,640, up from £21,170 in 2015. Due to incremental rises to tuition fees and maintenance loans, the sum owed by students has risen steadily for the past decade, tripling since 2003. Much of this is driven by the introduction, and gradual rise of tuition fees.

The other, often overlooked, driver of rising student debt is the runaway cost of accommodation, which requires ever larger maintenance loans just to keep up. Original research from The Money Charity last year found median rents growing by £277 between 2014 and 2015.

To make matters worse, this is the last group of students to pay a maximum of £3,465 in tuition fees before the rise to £9,000. So the 2017 group will immediately owe £16,605 more than their predecessors, even before we take into account the rising maintenance loans.
This year’s graduates, who will begin to repay next year will face average debt levels of well in excess of £41,000 – 35% of the average outstanding mortgage (£117,162)!
Michelle Highman, Chief Executive of The Money Charity says:
“For nearly half the young people in the UK, becoming a student will be the first step into adult life, with all the financial responsibilities that brings. We worry that these early, formative experiences of debt will leave a lasting legacy.”
“Normalising large quantities of debt right at the start of people’s financial independence risks setting them up to fail. The size of these sums may also affect later borrowing such as loans and mortgages.”
Universities are not just about preparing young people for the job market. Far from it. But students are now  paying for their Higher Education and incurring substantial debts before they even begin their working lives. This means that increasingly they will think about future earnings and the size of the so-called graduate premium and the likelihood of getting a graduate level job after their studies. They will take a keener  look at destination measures. In other words, how successful graduates  are, from particular institutions and courses, at getting good jobs after graduation. That is the new reality. And the sector will have to respond.

On a positive note for the sector, most young people aged 11-16 want to go to university, according to the latest survey(Sutton Trust). But more engagement with employers ,from 16 onwards   and better information on the options available to them,  could  mean that by 18   less   of this cohort  will opt  for Higher Education.

See Graduate Employment and Earnings Outcomes of Higher Education Graduates: Experimental data from the Longitudinal Education

Outcomes (LEO) datase
The median earnings five years post graduation for those graduating in 2003/04 was £26,000 compared to £25,500 for those who graduated in 2008/09
https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/543794/SFR36-2016_main_text_LEO.pdf

SELDON WANTS A DRAMATIC IMPROVEMENT IN TEACHING QUALITY IN HIGHER EDUCATION

Sir Anthony Seldon ,the Vice Chancellor of the University of Buckingham ,in a new pamphlet for the Social Market Foundation think tank, lays out  his vision on how to enhance, professionalise and make more consistent the quality of teaching at British universities for undergraduates and postgraduates, without burdening universities with a heavy,  costly bureaucracy ,which runs  the risk of  delivering  drab, formulaic teaching.

Much can be learnt ,he says, from the Secondary sector. Sir Anthony  draws on his experience as a successful  teacher and Head , who transformed two schools in the private sector.(Brighton College and Wellington College)

There is a perception that Universities spend too much time focused on building up their reputation for research ,and too little in ensuring that their students benefit from, and are inspired by, good teaching.

Sir Anthony says:

” “Universities should be every bit as much about the interests of the student as the academics. Yet it is abundantly clear in too many universities today that the leadership and the academics care far more about their research than about the quality of the learning experience of their students”

Sir Anthony  identifies  the ‘Big Ten’ characteristics that all good teaching exhibits:

Engagement of all students. In the digital age, it is more vital than ever that teachers learn how to actively engage the attention of their students.

Deep teacher subject knowledge, informed by the latest research / scholarship. Digitalisation means that students more than ever before can have access to information in real-time. Teachers need, as never before, to be on top of their fields, and to have a depth of understanding, in order to set the ubiquitous information into context.

Clarity of teacher exposition / organisation, and understanding of course requirements. Far too often, teachers can be unclear in their communication, or can fail to spread the material to be studied out over the time available in a balanced way. Students need to feel complete confidence that their teacher understands what they need to learn, and the pace at which learning is to take place.

Forging of positive relations, and a genuine and felt desire to see students make progress. Students learn better when they have a good relationship with their teacher. Students have a right to feel that their teachers have a positive interest in their academic development.

Willingness and skill at engaging in discussion and debate, and asking challenging questions. The best teachers know how to pose the questions that make the students think. Great teachers let the students work out the answers, rather than tell them the answers themselves.

Highest expectations, which stretch all students. The best teachers know exactly how high each student can aspire, and helps them to achieve at that level.

Setting and assessment of purposeful and relevant assignments. Assignments are vital as a way of testing understanding, and consolidated learning. Assessment by the teacher needs to show the student what they need to do to improve.

Ability to communicate in a differentiated way appropriate to the capabilities and potential of students. Classes are made up of students of vastly different capabilities and needs. The great teacher understands each individual student and addresses them appropriately. Learning is the end, and the best teachers help the student to become autonomous learners.

Promotion and achievement of independent learning, recognising that most learning will take place away from the academic.

Technical mastery, e.g. a voice that projects well and is audible, and mastery of technology. There is no point in having teachers, however brilliant and empathetic, if they cannot be heard clearly, or if they can’t use technology appropriately.

Solving the Conundrum-Social Market Foundation -May 2016

http://www.smf.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Social-Market-Foundation-Teaching-and-learning-at-British-universities-Embargoed-0001-030516.pdf

Note- The most recent University Guide places the University of Buckingham top for  ‘student satisfaction’, ahead of Oxford and Cambridge and other elite universities in the Russell Group.