• The Office for Students’ new proposals offer an opportunity to improve access to further education for all, let’s not miss it

    The Office for Students’ (OfS) decision to launch a consultation on proposals to raise the bar on quality and standards in higher education is good news. According to the OfS, in 2018-19 around 3% of students were on courses that did not meet its standards across all subjects, cohorts and year groups. This clearly must be addressed.

    While we welcome the proposed definitions of quality and standards, further careful consideration of these definitions is needed. For example, is progression to a managerial or professional level job the fairest way to measure the quality of a course? Student progression to such roles is affected by so many factors and we fear that such a metric may unintentionally reduce access to certain courses.

    Assessing the success of a course by progression to managerial and professional jobs will limit access to higher education, unless the definition of a “professional job” is made clearer. For example, someone graduating from a prestigious performing arts course would not take the same route into employment as an economics graduate, who has a clear route to a graduate scheme, but may be no less successful in their chosen field. That individual’s employment could be part-time, precarious, or reliant on voluntary work until more permanent employment is gained. At a time when we should be broadening the reach of higher education by making it accessible to everyone, this proposal could restrict it.

    We are also concerned by the OfS’ assumption that the average student has a defined path of three to four years study. We know that this is increasingly not the case as students look to tailor their studies around their lives, rather than the other way around. These assumptions would be particularly damaging to the carer who is working the degree around their other responsibilities or the parent retraining while raising a family. Such a definition would be at odds with recent government moves to encourage more of us to become lifelong learners, as set out in the Skills of Jobs White Paper.

    The OfS’ ambition to tackle low-quality courses is the right one, but if they are to improve quality and standards, they must keep in mind that not everyone approaches higher education in the same way. While well-meaning, ill-thought through changes have the potential to close the door on an opportunity to truly make education accessible to all.

    By Gary Gates, SVP Higher Education


    Read more
  • Reflections during LGBTQ+ Month

    As a gay man in his mid-40s, I can just about remember my primary years.

    While others might recall the school dinners or tiny chairs, it’s the select few words of a teacher that still stick with me to this day. 

    On the whole, looking back, there was a lot I didn’t understand about myself at school - about why I was ‘different’.

    Read more
  • Future of qualifications and assessment: have your say

    Debate in the national media about the future of exams has intensified in recent weeks, prompted by the impact of lockdown on exams and on the well-being of our young people.

    We’ve seen a growing number of pithy and thought-provoking ideas about what should be done, but one thing is striking – there is a wide array of views, but much less system wide thinking in a system where one change inevitably leads to another. And we have heard from experts and opinion-leaders, but much less from parents, employers, teachers and learners themselves.

    Their views matter because how learning is recognised is a high stakes endeavour that exists to serve the public good. This is why the consultation we are launching today is important. We will be reaching out everyone with a stake in the UK’s education system to get their views.

    COVID-19 has been a catalyst in the debate, but growing learner and parental demand for an education that delivers lifelong benefits and an accelerating shift to a digital economy, are making more people ask, how can our qualifications system encourage and recognise the knowledge and skills that matter most, and how can we define its success in more inclusive terms?

    Our national consultation will focus on three broad areas:

    • Conditions and Environment: exploring and how wider economic, technological, and societal trends are changing what people need to know and be able to do. With AI positioned to take on a more operational role in the workplace of the future, how do we assess both human and technical skills?
    • Purpose and Value: considering the role that education within the 14-19 phase should play in helping develop confident and well-rounded learners and supporting their life aspirations.
    • Trust and Equity: exploring issues around fairness and coherence in the system to maintain public confidence in qualifications and assessment, and to ensure that the system serves diversity, equity and inclusion.

    Clearly, this is an ambitious and challenging project. We recognise that while we work across a broad landscape in education, we do not have all the answers. For this reason, we are thankful for the contributions of our expert panel of esteemed voices to help guide the project, provide independent validation and to test and challenge us (see below).

    The UK's education system is amongst the best in the world.  Our curriculum, qualifications and assessment are widely recognised, valued and adopted by countries around the world.  That is the starting point for this work, and we hope this project will provide a valuable contribution to the debate.

    The next step will see us publish the findings of the consultation in an interim report in late spring, and I’m looking forward to providing a further update then. And in the meantime, do please take the time to participate. We want to hear your views on these important questions.

    Read more