Covid, pensions and the Budget

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There are some big issues for the higher education sector to grapple with in the news this week.


You won’t have missed this week’s budget statement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, with its associated plan for economic growth. Of particular relevance to the higher education sector, the government has published a consultation on reforming tax relief for research and development; there is an expansion in the eligibility criteria for the Global Talent Visa, which could include a fast track for those with research, innovation and technology skills; and there is confirmation of a scheme for SMEs to access training from business schools.



USS published a report on 3 March which estimated the deficit of the scheme to stand between £14.9 and £17.9 billion and said that this would necessitate a rise in employer and staff contributions from 30.7% of salaries to between 42.1% and 56.2%. At a national level, UCU has accused USS of taking an overly pessimistic view of the sector: THE reports on potential industrial unrest. There is widespread coverage of this issue in the national media (see the BBC for one example).



The Home Office has laid immigration rules under which the deadline by which this year’s international students have to be in the country to qualify for the new graduate immigration route has been pushed back to 21 June 2021. For students starting their studies after Christmas, the deadline is now 27 September 2021.

Wonkhe has some useful analysis of the implications of the government’s road map out of the latest lockdown for higher education. It also unpacks the implications for universities of the decision to award A-levels by teacher assessment this year. Meanwhile, THE has an article highlighting concerns from admissions officers about grade inflation in relation to the decision on A-levels (spoiler alert: the article features comments from the Director of Admissions at Bath, Mike Nicholson).

The Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIA) has published a new set of case summaries on student complaints related to Covid-19. These are intended to be illustrative of the approach OIA will take to determining a reasonable outcome in such cases.

THE has a long read on the impact of Covid-19 on student mobility.



Thursday 4 March was University Mental Health Day and OfS marked it with a blog about the work it is doing to promote effective practice on student mental health support. On Wonkhe there is a reflective piece about the impact of courses with a competitive element on mental health.



Controversy surrounding the government’s plans to introduce a Free Speech Tsar at OfS rumbles on. THE has an article arguing that a “top down” approach is not the right one. If you want to cut through the debate, the House of Commons Library has a very useful research briefing on the subject.



An Education Policy Institute study suggests A-level candidates from disadvantaged areas are at a three-grade disadvantage compared to peers from more advantaged areas and that the gap has increased as a result of the pandemic.

The Higher Education Policy Institute has published proposals from the VC at London South Bank University to introduce a social mobility index for English universities. It has also published a blog post from the Commissioner for Fair Access Scotland, outlining his criticism of the proposals.

Advance HE has launched a new podcast on tackling structural race inequality in higher education, which you can access from their website. Meanwhile, London Metropolitan University has published a race equity strategy plan for the next four years, which commits £15 million in investments.

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