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Higher education and the year ahead

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Rt Hon Gavin Williamson - Education Secretary

Today’s Education in the Media blog focuses on higher education.

Office for Students

Today, Monday 16 September, the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson sent a letter to the Office for Students (OfS), outlining what he sees as key collaborative priorities for the coming years. This has been covered by the Independent, Times, Guardian, Mail and I News.

In his letter, the Education Secretary emphasised his support for the OfS’ review into university admissions, and asked them to focus on prioritising the best outcomes for students.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said:

Higher education has the power to change lives and is vital to producing the skills our country needs. But this is only the case when students receive a high quality education and we can be confident of the value of the collective investment from students and taxpayers. 

We have to fight to keep the public trust and respect in our world-leading universities and to me that means a relentless focus on quality. That’s why I want the OfS to go even further on this, developing more rigorous and demanding quality requirements, and I give my full backing to boldly use its powers to ensure value for money. 

I’m also concerned about how some universities are recruiting students, in particular a worrying rise in unconditional offers. So I welcome the OfS’ focus on whether ‘conditional unconditional’ offers are harming students’ interests and whether they breach their consumer rights.

I recognise that we need to review if the current system is working as well as it can, so I am glad the OfS is looking at whether it would be in students’ interests to apply for their university place after they have their A level results.


Today, Universities UK (UUK) issued a press release based on a survey that found the majority of universities are well-prepared for a no-deal Brexit, but most still have concerns about the exact impact. This was picked up by the Independent and Guardian.

The UUK survey finds that 100 per cent of universities are prepared for no-deal to some extent, with 52 per cent being fully or very prepared, and the remaining 48 per cent being slightly prepared.

Attracting international students remains a goal for us, and the latest 2019 application cycle data shows more than 37,000 EU students have applied for full-time undergraduate courses in England – an increase of 1.9 per cent on the previous year.

A Government spokesperson said:

This Government is committed to making sure Britain is prepared for any circumstances related to Brexit, and we are pleased to see that universities are being diligent in their preparation for leaving the EU.

We have confirmed that EU nationals and EEA Swiss Nationals will continue to be eligible for home status tuition fees and student finance for higher education courses starting in 2020/21 - for the duration of their courses.

In addition, we have committed to raise the investment in research and development and maintain the UK’s position as a science superpower in a post-Brexit world. We have also confirmed that we will underwrite Horizon 2020 funding for eligible, competitive bids to provide clarity and assurance to businesses and universities.

The department has published further guidance on how to register to claim Erasmus+ and ESC funding from the government guarantee.

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