Welcome to Higher Education Spotlight – a quarterly newsletter designed to support colleagues working within the Higher Education Sector. In each edition we will place the spotlight on particular issues impacting Higher Education, with an article from one of our specialist Higher Education lawyers.

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Government announce new university admissions system

On 9 November UCAS announced that in the coming weeks it would be publishing full details on two new admissions models which would reform the university admissions system, along with how they will collect and review feedback on each. Clare Marchant, UCAS’ Chief Executive, said: ‘Now is the time to take a serious look at reforming the admissions timetable, which we have been doing over the last few months with universities, colleges, students, and schools. There are two options for reform that could work practically and aim to improve fairness for students, as well as eradicate problems for applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds that have become ingrained into the current admissions process’. An outline of the models are as follows:

The Post- Qualification Offers Model (PQO)

Under the PQO model, students would apply before receiving their results however students would not receive offers from their chosen universities and colleges until after their final results are awarded in the late summer. This means students would not need to give up a potential place until grades were known, retaining the long selection window in prior months which allows time to support students with disabilities and from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The Post Qualification Application Model (PQA)

Under the PQA students would not apply until after they receive their results. UCAS have also proposed a change to the university terms which would see a new start date in to January.

This was followed, on 13 November 2020, by the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson announcing major plans for a review of the university admissions system and the potential to move to a post qualification admissions model. The news has sparked major discussions regarding the fairness of university admission. In our current system students aiming to start university straight out of school or college must submit their UCAS applications before they receive their exam results. Therefore, universities must rely on predicted grades when deciding whether to make a conditional offer onto courses. This year, UCAS published data which showed that in 2019, 79% of the 18-year-olds in the UK who were accepted to university had at least 3 A levels grades over-predicted versus 8% under-predicted. This has raised questions surrounding the fairness of predicted grading particularly because disadvantaged students are more likely to have their grades under-predicted. The Department for Education noted that Research from UCL’s Institute of Education showed almost a quarter of high-ability applicants from lower income households had their results under-predicted between 2013 and 2015, Gavin Williamson stated ‘by using predicted grades it is limiting the aspirations of students before they know what they can achieve’.

This November also saw Universities UK (“UUK”) publish their Fair Admissions Review which set out recommendations aiming to build greater transparency, trust and public understanding in admissions practices. The review was launched in July 2019 and took 18 months of analysis, consultation and polling. The main recommendation was the switch to the PQA from 2023 subject to full consultation. UUK stated that an update was required to the existing 2004 Schwartz principles on fair admissions to ensure that fairness remains truly central in admissions for today’s applicants. A poll of 1,500 recent applicants to higher education, conducted by Savanta ComRes and commissioned by the UUK group, found that fewer than two-thirds said the system works well, with black and minority ethnic applicants the most likely to support a radical overhaul such as a shift to applications after A-level grades are published.

The PQA isn’t a new idea in fact as far back as 1997, The National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education recommended in the Dearing Report, the establishment of a post qualification system, stating, ‘A frequently discussed alternative to the existing system is that admission to an institution should be based on actual achievement, rather than predicted results. This would assist students since they know more about their abilities (and possibly their interests) having received their examination results and having studied for longer.’

UCAS has warned of potential risks including that the overhaul of the current admissions system could open up a devolution divide without the agreement between the devolved nations. However, following the Government U-turn in August of this year which saw Gavin Williamson ditch the controversial algorithm devised by Ofqual in favour of grades based on teacher assessments, there has been a fresh focus in assuring that the system is based on fairness and with the best interests of students as the main priority. This and the new guidance published by the UUK means that we expect to see more communications from the Department for Education and UCAS before the end of this year.

If you require further help or guidance on these issues please contact Virginia Cooper or Laura Toland

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The Resource Library

Full HE resource library


Employment Eye: Focus on Higher Education – November 2020

How is the ICO approaching fines under GDPR?-Key Takeaways

Procurement: Department for Education updated guidance on PPNs 02/20 & 04/20 for Higher Education

Procurement: Amendments to public procurement Regulations published


WEBINAR - Employment Update December 2020
Thursday 10 December: 10.00 - 11.15

WEBINAR - A landscape of change: Reimagining cities post-Covid
Friday 11 December 2020: 09.00 - 10.00

WEBINAR - Copyright licensing and the Motion Picture Licensing Company
Monday 14 December 2020: 11.00 - 11.30

WEBINAR - A landscape of change: Planning for the Future
Wednesday 13 January 2021: 09.00 - 10.00

WEBINAR - New year, new immigration system…an overview of the UK’s point based immigration system
Wednesday 20 January: 11.00 - 11.45

Legal Review Series
In this series we will be looking back at legal developments and challenges which businesses have faced over the last 12 months, before considering lessons learned for the year ahead:


ON DEMAND Copyright licensing and the Motion Picture Licensing Company

ON DEMAND A landscape of change: Reimagining cities post-Covid

ON DEMAND Employment Update December 2020

ON DEMAND – New year, new immigration system

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The news that matters


Higher education: reopening buildings and campuses
Guidance | Last updated November 24, 2020
How higher education (HE) providers can minimise risk, and information about NHS test and trace channels.

Package of support for students who have to defer their studies
Policy paper | Last updated November 19, 2020
Details on a range of opportunities to gain new skills, undertake work placements, additional learning and career development support.

Christmas guidance set out for university students 
Press release | November 11, 2020
The Government has published guidance for students to travel home at the end of the term while controlling COVID-19 transmission risk.

Higher education grants and loans 2021 to 2022: equality analysis
Impact assessment | November 5, 2020
Analysis of how changes made to student support for the 2021 to 2022 academic year will affect specific protected groups.

Guidance for higher education providers during the transition period and after 1 January 2021
Collection | October 15, 2020
Information to help higher education providers prepare for the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020.


Support for university research and innovation during coronavirus (COVID-19)
Notice | November 6, 2020
The UK’s research work plays a vital role in our economic prosperity but is at risk from a range of income losses as a result of coronavirus.  The government has announced two new packages of support.


Higher and further education: back to campus 2020/21
Research Briefing | November 25, 2020
What is the guidance for students moving back on to campuses at the start of in 2020-21 and on returning home for the Christmas break? What concerns were raised about the return to campus? How have universities changed the way they organise teaching and how does this affect potential fee refunds? How many students and staff have tested positive for Covid-19? Has the peak among students passed?

The reviews of university admissions
Research Briefing | November 17, 2020
This paper discusses the university admissions system and the various review of university admissions. The paper focuses on the use of predicted grades for university admissions, the increase in unconditional offers by universities, contextual admissions and issues around a post qualification admissions system.

That this House has considered e-petitions 300528, 302855, 306494, 324762, and 552911, relating to tuition fees
Debate Pack | November 12, 2020
This pack was compiled ahead of a Westminster Hall debate on petitions relating to Tuition Fees, which took place on 16th November.  The debate itself is recorded in Hansard.

Higher education student numbers
Research Briefing | October 21, 2020
Headline student numbers have increased to new records following a short dip after to the 2012 reforms. There are however ongoing concerns about numbers outside this group where trends have not been so positive, including part-time undergraduates, some postgraduates students, overseas students from some countries, mature students and some disadvantaged groups. There is also considerable concern about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and student numbers, particularly those from overseas and uncertainty about the impact of Brexit on EU student numbers.

Higher education funding in England
Research Briefing | October 9, 2020
Higher education underwent fundamental changes to how it was financed in England 2012. There have been ongoing smaller changes since then and prospects for much larger changes following the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding. How has this affected the balance between the broad sources of funding -the taxpayer and graduate and how has the total funding from all sources for universities changed?


Grade inflation ‘remains a significant and pressing issue’ – new OfS analysis
November 19, 2020
The rapid increase in students receiving first class honours degrees that cannot be explained by factors which may affect attainment has slowed, new data from the OfS shows.

Regulator plans tougher minimum standards in higher education
November 17, 2020
A consultation launched by the OfS sets out initial proposals to raise the bar on quality and standards in higher education.

Universities must keep students informed on teaching plans
November 4, 2020
The OfS has written to universities and colleges to highlight the importance of communicating changes to how courses are taught during the lockdown amid concerns of inadequate information for students where tougher pandemic restrictions have been introduced.

Interim evaluation of access and participation reforms
October 23, 2020
This report provides a qualitative analysis of access and participation plans submitted by universities and colleges to the OfS. Access and participation plans set out how higher education providers will improve equality of opportunity for students from disadvantaged backgrounds to access, succeed in and progress from higher education. The OfS’s regulatory reforms challenge providers to be more ambitious in delivering positive change to help achieve this aim.

Principles-based regulation: OfS publishes new Insight brief
October 5, 2020
A new Insight brief published by the OfS explores the concept of principles-based regulation and what this means in practice, and how it helps the OfS to regulate in the interests of students.


OIA publishes case summaries of complaints arising from the impact of Covid-19
The OIA has published its first set of case summaries of complaints arising from the impact of coronavirus.  Cases include examples where the student has not first raised their complaint through their higher education provider’s internal processes, and cases where the provider has not considered their concerns.  In cases where the provider has considered the student’s concerns, the OIA has considered whether the provider did enough to make sure that the student was not academically disadvantaged by the disruption and could meet their learning outcomes, and whether the provider delivered what was promised, and what was broadly equivalent to its usual arrangements.

OIA publishes briefing note on course, campus or provider closure and reflections on complaints arising from the closure of GSM London
November 19, 2020
The briefing note sets out some of the OIA’s learning from the complaints it has seen over the years that have arisen from the closure of a course, department, campus or a whole provider. The purpose of the note is to identify some issues that might arise in these sorts of circumstances. The OIA hopes it will help providers to anticipate and address students’ concerns and reduce the likelihood of complaints arising, and be useful to student representative bodies and others who support students through these situations.

Consultation on new OIA scheme rules for large group complaints
November 5, 2020
In recent years there have been events affecting the higher education sector that have had the potential to lead to large numbers of complaints to the adjudicator, including the impact of Covid-19 and the unprecedented disruption it is causing. The OIA developed its approach in response to the industrial action in 2018-19 and to the closure of GSM London, streamlining processes to enable effective and efficient complaint management. The OIA now proposes to build on this and on its existing approach to group complaints by developing a bespoke approach to handling complaints from large groups of students.

OIA statement in response to the impact of the coronavirus situation on the new academic year
October 5, 2020
The OIS has drawn together some points from its guidance that are particularly pertinent at the moment, and gives an update on what it has seen so far in complaints arising from the coronavirus situation.


Universities UK calls for urgent action on racial harassment in higher education
November 24, 2020
UUK has published a new set of recommendations designed to tackle racial harassment as part of efforts to address racial inequality in UK higher education.  The recommendations are the product of an advisory group convened by UUK in October 2019 and come just over a year after the Equality and Human Rights Commission uncovered widespread evidence of racial harassment on university campuses.

Higher education and UK trade policy
November 4, 2020
This report asks what treatment of UK higher education will be most appropriate and beneficial to the sector in the UK’s forthcoming discussions on free trade agreements (FTAs).

Preparing for the end of the transition period – a guide for universities
November 4, 2020
UUK has published a briefing for universities on how to prepare for the end of the transition period in the event that there is no UK-EU agreement on a future relationship by that point.

New guidance can ensure universities protect and develop international partnerships
October 15, 2020
New guidance, published by UUK, will support institutional leaders to better safeguard themselves against security-related risks that can result from international collaborations. It will also assist them to protect the values of UK higher education while better understanding and managing risks associated with international partnerships.

Government must act now or risk losing European students for years to come
October 5, 2020
The introduction of a new points-based immigration system from 1 January 2021 is expected to result in a significant decline in the number of students from European countries learning in the UK.


Quality Evaluation and Enhancement of UK TNE
Consultation | October 12, 2020
QAA published a proposed new method for the evaluation and enhancement of the quality of UK transnational education (TNE). Commissioned by Universities UK (UUK) and GuildHE in July 2020 to develop the approach, the new proposals by QAA will be open to consultation until 12 November 2020. The consultation will seek views on how the method can operate to meet the needs of the sector.


Students aim high with university applications for next year
October 29, 2020
Students are being aspirational with their university choices for next autumn, with more applying for some of the most competitive courses.

More students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds across the UK are set to start degrees this autumn
September 24, 2020
More students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds across the UK are set to start degrees this autumn, as the global pandemic has not dampened progress on widening participation in universities and colleges.


UCU and NUS issue joint statement calling on universities  to move online where possible for new English lockdown
November 6, 2020
UCU and the National Union of Students (NUS) have issued a joint statement calling on the government to revise their guidance for universities, and issue a clear call for working to be immediately moved online wherever possible during the current lockdown in England. This follows an earlier joint statement issued on 1st October.

UCU issues legal challenge over Westminster government's decision to ignore SAGE advice
October 24, 2020
UCU has launched a legal challenge against the government over its decision to ignore advice from its Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE). UCU sent a pre-action protocol letter to the Secretary of State for Education on Friday 23 October. The union argues the decision to not direct and support English universities and colleges to move to online teaching from September 2020 was unlawful because of its irrationality, and procedural unfairness.


Demand for Higher Education to 2035
October 22, 2020
HEPI has published a new report looking at future demand for higher education places in the UK over the next fifteen years. The report reveals over 350,000 more higher education places will be needed in England by 2035 to keep up with demand, while Scotland will see a decline in demand for places over the same period, despite increased participation in higher education.


Elusive quality: how should we evaluate higher education?
Social Market Foundation | November 19, 2020
This briefing paper provides an overview of the current system of quality assessment in higher education, exploring how well it functions and the main criticisms levied at it. The report also identifies four tasks for the Government should it want to design a better system of quality assessment.

Student legal claim for COVID-19 tuition fees
Unifresher | November 13, 2020
A legal bid to force universities to pay tuition fee refunds because of Covid-19 restrictions has been launched. The campaign is crowdfunding to instruct lawyers to see if students have a valid case in law and to mount a group action lawsuit.

Experiences during the COVID-19 Pandemic – Student Survey
Unite Students | November 12, 2020
The survey asked 1,000 UK students how they have adjusted to university life, and whether they intend to continue their university courses in January 2021.  It found that 93% of students intend to remain at university on their current courses for the rest of this academic year, and 85% said it was likely they would stay in their current accommodation to do this.

Doctoral students advised to adjust projects for COVID-19
UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) | November 11, 2020
UKRI is strongly advising all funded students to speak to their supervisor about adjusting projects to complete a doctoral-level qualification within their funded period.

Universities spend millions on ‘Covid-secure’ campuses
Research Professional News | November 4, 2020
Universities are spending millions of pounds each on making their campuses ‘Covid-secure’, with one London institution estimating it will spend more than £14 million on ensuring a safe campus this academic year, an analysis by Research Professional News has revealed.

Can students get a discount on their fees this year?
Wonkhe | October 20, 2020
Article discussing whether students are entitled to a refund of tuition fees in consumer rights and contract law.

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