The Spring Statement, industrial action and student experience

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The war in Ukraine

THE examines the impact the war in Ukraine may have on globalisation and how it may reshape university internationalisation.

The Russian government has barred its researchers from participating in international conferences and will stop indexing Russian scientists’ publications in international databases, according to its Ministry of Science and Higher Education. THE reports more on the story.

THE reports on a group of prominent Western academics that has entreated Russian scholars to oppose their country’s war on Ukraine. Signatories of the letter urging peace include dozens of top academics and a Nobel prize winner.

Universities minister, Michelle Donelan answered written questions this week on DfE guidance to universities on providing support and advice for Ukrainian students.

Legal migration minister, Kevin Foster answered written questions on visas for international students that have had to leave the Ukraine due to the ongoing conflict.

HE and Parliament

On Monday, the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee held a wide-ranging evidence session as part of its inquiry into the financial sustainability of HE. Discussions included the recent National Audit Office report, DfE policy intentions for student numbers, an upcoming review of the OfS key performance measures alongside a new OfS strategy and a systematic survey of provider perspectives on the OfS. A recording of the meeting is available to watch.

On Tuesday, The UK government’s chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance faced questions from the House of Lords’ Science and Technology Committee as a part of its ongoing inquiry into delivering a UK science and technology strategy, alongside science minister George Freeman and director of science at BEIS Alexandra Jones. A recording of the session is available to watch.

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Students hosted an event focused on student accommodation, with Victoria Tolmie-Loverseed of Unipol and Teleola Cartwright of Halpin addressing attendees. The event recapped recent survey findings on the affordability of student accommodation and the experiences of Black students in university accommodation. A twitter thread summarises key points from the meeting.

HE and governance

Following on from universities minister, Michelle Donelan’s press release back in January of this year pledging to end the use of Non-Disclosure Agreements within universities for cases concerning sexual harassment, Mark McCormack (University of Bedfordshire SU chief executive) and Jim Dickinson (Wonkhe associate editor) present a case for banning NDAs across the full range of HE complaints and beyond.

With this week being the second anniversary of the first Covid lockdown, Independent Adjudicator, Felicity Mitchell, reflects on what the OIA have seen regarding complaints over this time.

Senior Lecturer in Law and Halpin Senior Advisor, Nick Cartwright queries the ethnicity data on student disciplinary action in HE.


On Wednesday, Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak provided his Spring Statement in the House of Commons focusing on the cost of living crisis, the war in Ukraine, and ambitions to lower tax. Alongside the speech, there are documents from the Treasury on policy detail, and a fiscal outlook summary from the Office of Budgetary Responsibility. The Institute for Fiscal Studies published its initial view of the statement and Wonkhe reflects on what the statement could mean for HE.

The DfE has confirmed that the current interest rate for pre-2012 income contingent (ICR) student loans will remain at 1.50%.

Workforce and pensions

A third wave of UK wide university industrial action started earlier this week as UCU members at 67 universities walk out over pensions and pay and working conditions. UCU chief executive, Jo Grady called on union members to share content on social media to widen awareness of the dispute. The House of Commons Library produced a briefing this week to provide background to the action over the USS pensions.

Staff at Staffordshire University are set to take industrial action from next week over threat of a ‘two-tier workforce’ with calls for management to drop plans to employ new staff via a wholly owned subsidiary company, as reported by UCU.

The University of Bristol announced Professor Evelyn Welch as its 14th Vice-Chancellor and first woman to lead the historic institution. Professor Welch moves to the university from her role as Senior Vice President (Service, People and Planning) at King's College London.

A UCU report finds two thirds of university staff are considering leaving the sector within five years over cuts to pensions and pay and working conditions. UCU summarises the survey results.

Research funding

The Guardian reports on the campaign group, Fossil Free Research’s letter signed by more than 500 academics, urging universities to institute a ban on accepting fossil fuel industry funding for climate change, environmental, and energy policy research.

The ESRC announced a new funding opportunity for UK-based organisations to conduct research to improve UK economic productivity. The council has £10m for interdisciplinary projects which will each receive between £1m - £2m for 3 years starting in April 2022.

UUK raised concerns around the UK government bridging the funding gap while it sets up its replacement for European Union funding for local skills and training partnerships. The new UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF) is set to provide £2.6 billion for local investment by March 2025, but up to 164 projects may come to a temporary halt or stop entirely because of the gap, including projects at several UK universities. A letter from UUK has been sent to levelling up secretary Michael Gove to outline the concerns about the fund.

The Arts and Humanities Research Council has announced 12 new research projects which will explore how nature and culture can be used to improve health and wellbeing in the UK.

Office for Students (OfS)

After a year since the consultation on publishing information on providers ended, Wonkhe’s Mike Ratcliffe reflects on the OfS approach to regulation, the digital register and next steps.

On Wednesday, OfS published its 2022-2025 strategy committing the regulator to focus on two areas; quality and standards and equality and access, with promises to consult with students, HE providers and other regulators.

The Secretary of State for Education has reappointed Martin Coleman, Kate Lander and Katja Hall to the board of the OfS as non-executive directors.

Admissions, access and participation

The DfE published answers on its Educations Hub blog to questions relating to its recent consultations on minimum HE entry requirements and student number controls. The DfE insist that the new proposals – if implemented – would not limit the number of students able to access HE.

Universities minister, Michelle Donelan answered written questions this week on encouraging girls to study STEM subjects in schools.

The OfS reports that the gap between the proportion of black undergraduate qualifiers and the proportion of white qualifiers in England achieving a first class degree has almost doubled in a decade, widening to almost 20 percentage points in 2020-21, according to new Key Performance Measure (KPM) analysis. Its headline measure on “good honours” attainment, which combines first class and upper second class honours, saw further improvement as a continuation of a long term trend - but masks the significant differential when only considering firsts. Meanwhile for disabled students, while the gap in the proportion of firsts and 2:1s combined has reduced in recent years, the gap for firsts alone has changed little - and in 2020-21 the gap was the same size as it was in 2011-12. The OfS has updated its Access and Participation Dashboard with the 2020-21 figures.

Shortly after the 25 March deadline, UUK will publish a list of signatories to their ‘fair admissions code of practice’.  Signing the Code is seen as an opportunity to demonstrate a commitment to maintaining fair admissions processes and systems that are in the applicants’ interests and has gained strong support from universities, UCAS, the OfS and government.

Student experience and wellbeing

Jan McArthur (senior lecturer in education and social justice in the Department of Educational Research at Lancaster University) argues that plagiarism detection software is no substitute for teaching students how to engage critically with academic literature.

The ONS published their Student Covid-19 Insights Survey for the period 25 February to 7 March with 68 percent of students in England reporting high or very high levels of anxiety and over a quarter of students within the sample reporting zero hours of in-person teaching over the previous seven days in late February.

NUS Survey results reveal more than 3 in 4 students are worried about managing financially, and over half of students who get a student loan or a bursary do not believe it covers the costs of living. The survey of almost 4,000 students, carried out in January 2022 amongst college and university students across the UK, also found that one in four students have less than £50 a month to live off after rent and energy bills, and 5 percent of students are visiting food banks.

Equality, diversity and inclusion

Advance HE has published an invitation to tender for a new project on developing a case for race equity in HE. The work – which has been commissioned following recommendations made after two independent reviews of the Race Equality Charter – will support HE institutions in identifying the “drivers and benefits for advancing race equity” and assist in the transitioning to a culture focused on diversity and inclusion.

This week on AdvanceHE’s blog, Rachel Nowicki, Disability Support Advisor at the Dyson Institute of Engineering and Technology, argues for a proactive approach to neurodiversity in HE.

International students

The DfE has updated its guidance on studying in the UK for EU students, studying in the European Union, and UK students continuing their studies in the EU to reflect changes to travel guidance and the removal of the government’s red list.


In the first of two research insights released based on its experimental “design and nature” of work graduate destination measure, HESA has examined the link between graduates' assessment of the design and nature of their own work and the Standard Occupational Code (SOC2020) group into which their job falls. This research was based on data points from graduates qualifying in 2017-18 and 2018-19.

Covid-19 pandemic

The UK Covid-19 Inquiry has launched a short public consultation on its terms of reference and members are invited to submit their views. The inquiry will be chaired by the Rt Hon Baroness Hallett DBE and will examine the UK’s pandemic response and ensure that the right lessons are learnt for the future. Organisations/individuals can submit their views online before the consultation closes on 7 April 2022.

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