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Ensuring quality and value for money in higher education

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Damian Hinds, Education Standards, Higher Education, SEND, Universities

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Today our blog covers the vast coverage on higher education as well as the funding we are putting into high needs education.

Post-18 Review

Over the bank holiday weekend, there was widespread coverage on the review we are undertaking on post-18 education funding, and the cost of degree courses.

On Sunday the Telegraph, Sunday Times, Express and the Mirror reported on the call from Education Secretary Damian Hinds for universities to drop low-value courses.

Education Secretary Damian Hinds said:

Our university sector is world class and we are rightly proud of it. Its reputation is built on trust and when young people apply to go to university it is based on the assumption is that a degree will set them up for a bright future – but today’s analysis shows that isn’t always the case.

The opportunity to study at university should be open to anyone with the talent and potential to benefit from higher education. With students and taxpayers sharing the cost of higher education it’s right that we challenge those institutions which could appear to be more focused on ‘getting bums on seats’ than getting students into high quality courses worth paying for.

That’s why I want universities to be brave and ask themselves if they’re running courses that really help students gain the skills they need for the workforce of tomorrow – if they’re not they should improve them or end them. But if universities think other options like apprenticeships or technical education are a better fit for a student, they should give young people that advice rather than put them on a course that isn’t providing what they need for a bright future.

In addition to this, on ‎Sunday 26 May the Voice of the Sunday Mirror editorial claimed the Education Secretary’s calls for universities to end or change low value courses, were ‘aiming at the wrong target’, stating that many young people would be better suited to apprenticeships.

However, this misrepresented the Education Secretary’s message, which highlighted that some people would achieve better outcomes in technical education or on high-quality apprenticeships.

We agree that university is a great option, but we know it is not right for every young person. To support this we have reformed apprenticeships so they are higher quality and provide people with the skills they need for the future. We are reforming technical education including by introducing new T Levels from 2020 - high quality technical alternatives to A Levels. The new courses are being designed in partnership with over 200 leading firms so young people gain the skills I they need to get on the path to a great career and industry say they need for their workforce.

The post-18 review was also launched to look at ‎how post-18 education can ensure choice and value for money for students.

As the Education Secretary has made clear we want prospective students to use the vast amount of data available to choose the right path for them – whether that is university, technical education or new high-quality apprenticeship.

He also told universities that where they think other options like apprenticeships or technical education are a better fit for a student, they should give young people that advice rather than put them on a course that is not providing what they need for a bright future.

Finally on the topic of higher education, on Saturday, the BBC reported on the Education Secretary’s comments that the university sector is in good health. This was followed by coverage from the Financial Times on Tuesday, referring back to the words of the Education Secretary in a piece which said that tuition fees could be cut to £7,500 after the post-18 review is published.

Education Secretary Damian Hinds said:

The financial sustainability of our universities is clearly important to the staff and students of those institutions, as well as the local economies and communities they serve. But with the vast majority of universities in a good financial position, hyperbolic warnings from some on universities’ finances are distorting the overall picture.

Following the financial crash most sectors have had to tighten their belts whereas universities have enjoyed rising student numbers and increased tuition fee income. Since our reforms in 2012, resource per student is around an historic high.

It is not universally understood that, although we have tuition fee loans, the system is deliberately designed in a progressive way – students repay an affordable amount based on their income and the taxpayer picks up about 45% of the cost. On top of that, there is further taxpayer funding of higher education through government grants. Universities are independent institutions - rightly so - but there is legitimate public interest in both their financial health and their value delivery.

I do understand universities are facing some challenges, but reports of financial hardship across the entire sector is scaremongering. Most universities have healthy balance sheets. We’ve been seeing growth in international student admissions, with much further potential. And the number of 18-year olds in England is soon to enter a period of sustained growth.

I will do all I can to ensure the sector is financially stable now and in the future, but of course institutions need to act responsibly and develop sustainably.

SEND Funding

On Sunday, Sky News ran a full broadcast package on funding for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

High needs funding is a priority for this government and in December we provided an extra £250 million up to 2020 to help manage these costs. This takes our total high needs funding to £6.3 billion this year – up from £5 billion in 2013.

We have also launched a call for evidence to ensure that the funding system is getting money to the right places at the right time, and address any issues in the financial arrangements.

On top of this, funding worth £31.6 million has been committed by the department to train more Educational Psychologists, who are critical in identifying special educational needs and providing a statutorily specified contribution to education, health and care needs assessments.

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