Quality, red tape and discipline

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The Department for Education has updated its Covid-19 guidance for higher education in light of the government’s lifting of Plan B measures this week. The guidance on working home has been lifted, and the guidance on face coverings in communal areas will be relaxed from 27 January, though universities can still opt to apply their own rules.

The Secretary of State for Education has again called for students to make group complaints to their university (and onwards to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator) if they are not offered the in-person teaching that they were expecting.

Finance and funding

UCU has re-balloted on strike action over USS pensions: 12 of the 42 universities re-balloted voted to join in with the industrial action. Universities UK has responded to the results, urging UCU to engage in discussions about the future of the scheme.


Universities UK has published a Framework for programme reviews designed to support English universities in identifying and acting upon courses which are of low value or poor quality. Core metrics include things like outcomes, graduate employment and student satisfaction but universities are being encouraged also to use contextual measures, such as support to the local economy.

The Office for Students (OfS) is consulting on plans to penalise universities which don’t meet the baseline of 60% of their full-time first degree students going into managerial or professional employment or further study. This is one of a whole suite of numerical thresholds for minimum acceptable student outcomes. The consultation also unveils proposals to make the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) a four-year exercise.

Regulatory and governance

Professor Adam Tickell’s interim report of an independent review of research bureaucracy has been published. The review starts out from the premise that unnecessary bureaucracy diverts and hampers research and diminishes returns from funding. It introduces the key principles of harmonisation, simplification, proportionality, flexibility, transparency and fairness: As Wonkhe says, it’s quite hard to disagree with at this stage. In an ironic postscript, an independent review by Technopolis Group found that more than 100 UK research projects on pandemic recovery faced lengthy delays because of delays in approving funding...

Student experience

The issue of spiking was aired in Parliament last week, with some discussion of what universities should be doing to tackle the issue. Wonkhe has some analysis of the extent of the problem.

Misconduct and discipline

The Universities Minister has urged universities to sign a pledge, backed by a group called Can’t Buy My Silence, not to use non-disclosure agreements when dealing with complaints of sexual misconduct, bullying and harassment: six universities have signed so far. THE has a long read about the particular problems faced within the sector in dealing with harassment effectively.

Meanwhile, Wonkhe has some interesting reflections on a recent High Court case in relation to the issue of natural justice as it applies to student disciplinary proceedings. The case may have an impact on the way universities view the issue of legal representation for students.

Useful briefings

The House of Commons Library has published a very useful briefing on the Turing scheme, which replaces Erasmus+. SUMS Consulting has a briefing on changes to employment law that will have an impact within the sector.

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