On Monday, the Universities Minister wrote to universities and students confirming that remaining restrictions on in-person teaching would be lifted from 17 May. Students returning to campus will be encouraged to take a Covid test before traveling and three supervised lateral flow tests, at intervals, once they have arrived. In light of this, there is revised government guidance and OfS has updated its FAQs for students.
It has been reported that a third of Russell Group universities plan to continue with blended learning in the 2021/22 academic year.
FINANCE AND FUNDING
The House of Commons Library has a useful briefing on the impact of the reduction in the UK international aid budget on organisations here and abroad.
The University of Bristol has been in the news for writing to students engaged in a rent strike to tell them that their details could be passed to a debt collection agency.
ACCESS AND PARTICIPATION
The Sutton Trust has published a new report entitled “Measuring Disadvantage”, which – amongst other things – suggests that OfS should include free school meals as a measure in the data for the next set of Access and Participation Plans (APPs). It also cautions against using POLAR and TUNDRA measures in making decisions on individual admissions – instead proposing a collection of more targeted area-based measures. THE has a piece on how universities will have to redouble their efforts to support disadvantaged students post-pandemic. As ever, there is a useful quick-start tour of the issues on Wonkhe.
REGULATORY AND GOVERNANCE
The Queen’s speech contained provisions for a Higher Education (Free Speech) Bill, which has deepened the controversy surrounding this subject. The bill requires providers to maintain a Code of Practice on Freedom of Speech and prevents Students’ Unions from denying affiliation to societies on the grounds of its policies, objectives, or the ideas, beliefs or views of any of its members. It makes provision for people to bring civil claims against universities and SUs for breach of duty in relation to freedom of speech, and introduces a new set of regulatory duties for the OfS. (For those of you who find legislative text a little dry, the Explanatory Notes are an easier read, or you could read the commentary on Wonkhe.)
The Universities minister earned herself a rebuke from No. 10 and stirred up debate in Parliament when she suggested that the bill would allow Holocaust deniers to speak on campus. Meanwhile, the new Chair of the OfS, Lord Wharton, himself a controversial appointment, said that he would continue to urge universities to sign up to the IHRA definition of antisemitism. UCU has said that the government is exaggerating the threat to freedom of speech at universities.
OfS will look into whether or not, by seeking to cut red tape, it has actually increased the regulatory burden faced by universities. And finally in this section, to decide for yourself what you make of the new OfS Chair, you can read his first speech here.