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Education in the media: 18 August 2016

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Exams and qualifications, Universities

Profile of an African American Teenager with copy space.

Today’s news review looks at A level results day, university fees, and custom essay writing services.

A level results

Today, 18 August 2016, students across the country received their A level results with huge numbers of students taking the subjects that will give them the greatest choice of university choices.

Exam success has dominated the media, with widespread coverage in print and broadcast.

Universities Minister Jo Johnson’s opinion piece ran on the front page of the Telegraph this morning. He writes that we want universities to wipe out mediocre teaching and drive up student engagement.

Results, and entry levels, remain stable and mathematics continues to be the most popular subject. We have also seen an uptake in students sitting A level computing.

This year, a record 420,000 applicants have already secured a place at one of our  world-class universities. The number of disadvantaged pupils gaining a place has also risen.

University fees

Yesterday, 17 August, it was reported that Exeter University would be the first university to raise its fees to £9,250. This change will apply to new and current students.

This was covered on the BBC Online, in the Times, the Financial Times and in regional media.

It is for universities to decide whether they will seek to raise their fees in line with inflation. However we are clear that they must meet the expected standards within the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). This ensures students are being offered the highest quality teaching and that graduates are securing strong outcomes from their courses.

Universities that subsequently fail to maintain standards will not be allowed to maintain their fees in line with inflation and could also have them lowered back to £9,000.

Universities wishing to make the change must be in line with consumer law, which states they have to tell pupils present and prospective of the inflationary fee raise before it happens. Fees would only rise for courses starting in autumn 2017.

On consumer law:

  • Students must be aware of a fee increase before signing their course agreement. Any potential fee rise must be included in said agreement.
  • Providers must give prospective students enough information to make informed decisions. This includes whether fees will increase again in future years.
  • Universities which raise fees without informing students could be in breach of consumer protection legislation.

On raising fees in line with inflation:

  • Universities have been able to raise fees in line with inflation since 2004.
  • The Teaching Excellence Framework will allow universities to do this only if they meet a quality bar.
  • Those which fail to maintain standards will not be able to keep their fees in line with inflation and could also have them lowered back to £9,000.
  • Any changes to fees will be laid before parliament as part of secondary legislation this autumn, with the opportunity to debate them, and those changes would not affect students until 2017/18.
  • The inflationary fee rise will allow universities to ensure their funding remains sustainable.

Essay mills

Today, 18 August, the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) published a report into custom essay writing services, known as essay mills.

This has been covered by Sky News, in the Times and the i newspaper today.

A number of recommendations have been included in the report. One of these is the QAA working with the government to consider the introduction of powers to regulate or ban custom essay services.

We are clear that plagiarism is not acceptable and that we will be addressing the problem of fraudulent writing services. We are incentivising universities to focus on the quality of teaching, and we expect them to have robust systems in place to deal with cheating.

Universities Minister Jo Johnson said:

Plagiarism is not acceptable and on this industrial scale represents a clear threat to standards in our universities. Individual institutions are responsible for spotting whether students are fraudulently passing off work as their own and we expect them to have strong policies and sanctions in place to detect and deal with it.


Our reforms, including the new Teaching Excellence Framework, will address this problem by Incentivising all institutions to focus on the quality of teaching and to drive up meaningful student engagement, but we are looking closely at the recommendations in this report to see what further steps can be taken to tackle this scourge in our system.

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