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Higher Education and the ‘intelligent plumbers’ theory

A common tactic when found out is to divert attention elsewhere. The release of student data from 2018/19 by the Department for Education (DfE) yesterday, ‘Widening participation in higher education: 2020’ and ‘Statistics: further education and skills’ tells the same sorry tale of a wide gap in access to universities between the most and least advantaged students. To divert attention from these stark facts in advance, the government used a diversionary tactic by attacking the effectiveness of universities and thus pointing the blame for poor social mobility someplace else. Advocating improvements in further education, something cut back by the same regime for years, hides the real intention. It seems that class divisions will be further exacerbated and any concession to universities fuelling improved social mobility has been abandoned. But the flawed theory is that at least the elite rulers will get access to intelligent plumbers.


Three years ago, I heard a leading ‘Young Fabian’ suppo…

COVID-19, SAGE and the universities ‘document dump’

The recent release of several documents by SAGE all at once was described by one observer as a “dump of docs”. They relate to returning to education this autumn and are somewhat confusing as they illustrate the complexities of the challenges still to be tackled. But there is much not fully addressed. Outbreaks of COVID-19 at universities spilling into local communities might also trigger city-wide lock-downs and a bad reaction from the locals. The mass migration of students to their hometowns will spread the chaos wider afield as there seems to be little evidence of planning for this inevitability. Less advantaged students in poor accommodation or crowded homes will be at greater risk along with their vulnerable peers coping with health conditions. While students may be asked to ‘segment’ or form ‘bubbles’ staff might not have the same protection. Asking vulnerable lecturers and other staff with ongoing health conditions to move from classroom to classroom, contacting different groups…

'Skunkworks' at the heart of government

There is the slight whiff of a bad smell emanating from the centre of the government. Hiding in parliamentary papers this week was a simple short announcement by Boris Johnson that he is taking “Responsibility for government use of data” 'in house' at No10. This unit is termed a “Skunkworks” in the advert for the position of Head. However, it is in fact the next cog in the master plan of Dominic Cummings who proposed an “alpha data science unit in Downing Street” over a year ago. There is now a clear and present danger that data might inadvertently be sought to prop up a poorly constructed belief structure based on genetic testing and a misunderstanding of the science and how scientific method works. The result could be that profound mistakes are made in planning education, social services and health that impacts social mobility and ‘levelling up’. 


The first port of call for any lobby that seeks to campaign, inform, and influence the government is the ready source of objective…

Labour’s Shadow Universities Minister speaks: UPDATE “7 Key Tests for Higher Education”

UPDATE 23rd July 2020


Following hot on the heels of her presentation yesterday, Emma Hardy, the shadow Universities Minister with the Labour Party has released their ‘7 Key Tests for Higher Education’ earlier today.


Her letter to the Secretary of State for education further stresses the need for a better coordinated approach. It fills the main gaps in the government's thinking and addresses financial hardship with:
“No student should get into further debt because of Covid19. It should guarantee university hardship funds are sufficiently resourced and accessible to all who need them”. 
Missing is the hot issue of reduced or refunded fees for online learning and indeed the removal of fees entirely, that is official Labour policy. Also, the conundrum of post qualification admissions is unlikely to be the priority in an existential crisis for universities and students alike. After all, the whole system could meltdown under further campus lock-downs to safeguard staff and students. This …

Universities Minister retreats a bit on social mobility

Michelle Donelan spoke to the ‘Fifth Festival of Education’ hosted by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) at Buckingham University earlier today. In her evidence at the Commons Education committee, she caused outrage when she signalled a removal of targets with “it doesn’t matter” about which groups go to university. Today she retreated a bit with the insertion of “just” into "it is too simplistic to just look at the numbers”. But it seems that other changes, such as two year and part-time “modular provision”, are being planned with universities doing more to “raise standards in schools”. Donelan’s own life experience means that, when putting “students and their needs and career ambitions first”, she omits supporting the obvious time and resources that disadvantaged students need. This apparent blind spot is beginning to appear more like deliberately looking the other way.


The Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan, gave a belated online address to the participants of t…