That thing about the High Potential Individuals Visa University list (updated)

Back in June, when the high potential individual visa scheme had opened, there was more attention to the list of universities that the individuals need to have graduated from in order to get the visa, with its many advantages. I wondered as how sensible this was. Now that we have an update to the list of universities, I remain concerned about the arbitrary nature of the eligibility based on this scheme. This is an update to that blog, and I highlight new issues here.

Using a scheme whereby a university is on the list if it is in the top 50 on two or three global university lists, it’s clear that this prioritizes graduates from a handful of research-intensive universities which are all based in North America, Europe, East Asia and Australia. The Home Office has subscribed to the notion that the people with the highest potential must have been to these universities, an argument that doesn’t hold up even in those favoured areas. Sticking with the notion that the people with the highest potential go to the ‘best’ places, in the US, for example, it is clear that highly selective liberal arts colleges are held in similar esteem or that admissions criteria may have included special considerations for children of alumni or donors. Again, it may be that the people with the highest potential in France may not be attending the only university that makes the top 50 (the grande écoles are not on the list).

I’ve held that the Home Office, in particular, is caught with a problem of drawing exact lines through higher education, not allowing for fuzziness, generating sorities paradoxes. There’s another problem with the Home Office’s list of universities, in that it’s not one list but six. In their logic that the league tables of the ‘best’ 50 global universities, they have to accept that these rankings change. Last week QS offered us their latest one, and there are movements up and down. This is necessary as data changes, but through the years we’ve seen methodology changes too – changes ‘sell’ the rankings – Cambridge was higher than Oxford, it generates a headline.

So the Home Office offers us seven lists: one each for the years in scope for graduates, going back from 2021 to 2016. The Universities on the lists change each year. Maybe not a large amount of change, there are 32 universities are on all seven lists, but there is some; there are 47 universities on the lists in total. Some are new: the University of Queensland and Zhejiang University are only on the 2022 list. Some come and go, PSL is not on the lists for 2019, 2017 and 2016.

2022202120202019201820172016
Australian National UniversityAustralian National University (ANU)Australian National University (ANU)Australian National University (ANU)
California Institute of Technology (Caltech)California Institute of Technology (Caltech)California Institute of Technology (Caltech)California Institute of Technology (Caltech)California Institute of Technology (Caltech)California Institute of Technology (Caltech)California Institute of Technology (Caltech)
Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK)Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK)
Carnegie Mellon UniversityCarnegie Mellon UniversityCarnegie Mellon University
Columbia UniversityColumbia UniversityColumbia UniversityColumbia UniversityColumbia UniversityColumbia UniversityColumbia University
Cornell UniversityCornell UniversityCornell UniversityCornell UniversityCornell UniversityCornell UniversityCornell University
Duke UniversityDuke UniversityDuke UniversityDuke UniversityDuke UniversityDuke UniversityDuke University
Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL Switzerland)Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL Switzerland)Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de LausanneEcole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL Switzerland)Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL Switzerland)Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL Switzerland)Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL Switzerland)
ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology)ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology)ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology)ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology)ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology)ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology)ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology)
Harvard UniversityHarvard UniversityHarvard UniversityHarvard UniversityHarvard UniversityHarvard UniversityHarvard University
Heidelberg UniversityHeidelberg UniversityHeidelberg UniversityHeidelberg University
Hong Kong University of Science and TechnologyHong Kong University of Science and TechnologyHong Kong University of Science and TechnologyHong Kong University of Science and Technology
Johns Hopkins UniversityJohns Hopkins UniversityJohns Hopkins UniversityJohns Hopkins UniversityJohns Hopkins UniversityJohns Hopkins UniversityJohns Hopkins University
Karolinska InstituteKarolinska InstituteKarolinska InstituteKarolinska InstituteKarolinska InstituteKarolinska InstituteKarolinska Institute
Kyoto UniversityKyoto UniversityKyoto UniversityKyoto UniversityKyoto UniversityKyoto UniversityKyoto University
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
McGill UniversityMcGill UniversityMcGill UniversityMcGill UniversityMcGill UniversityMcGill UniversityMcGill University
Nanyang Technological University (NTU)Nanyang Technological University (NTU)Nanyang Technological University (NTU)Nanyang Technological University (NTU)
National University of SingaporeNational University of SingaporeNational University of SingaporeNational University of SingaporeNational University of SingaporeNational University of Singapore (NUS)National University of Singapore (NUS)
New York University (NYU)New York University (NYU)New York University (NYU)New York UniversityNew York UniversityNew York UniversityNew York University
Northwestern UniversityNorthwestern UniversityNorthwestern UniversityNorthwestern UniversityNorthwestern UniversityNorthwestern UniversityNorthwestern University
Paris Sciences et Lettres – PSL Research UniversityParis Sciences et Lettres – PSL Research UniversityParis Sciences et Lettres – PSL Research UniversityPSL Université Paris (Paris Sciences & Lettres)
Peking UniversityPeking UniversityPeking UniversityPeking UniversityPeking UniversityPeking universityPeking University
Princeton UniversityPrinceton UniversityPrinceton UniversityPrinceton UniversityPrinceton UniversityPrinceton UniversityPrinceton University
Stanford UniversityStanford UniversityStanford UniversityStanford UniversityStanford UniversityStanford UniversityStanford University
Technical University of Munich (Technische Universität München)Technical University of Munich (Technische Universität München)Technical University of MunichTechnical University of MunichTechnical University of Munich
Tsinghua UniversityTsinghua UniversityTsinghua UniversityTsinghua UniversityTsinghua UniversityTsinghua UniversityTsinghua University
University of British ColumbiaUniversity of British ColumbiaUniversity of British ColumbiaUniversity of British ColumbiaUniversity of British ColumbiaUniversity of British ColumbiaUniversity of British Columbia
University of California, BerkeleyUniversity of California, BerkeleyUniversity of California, BerkeleyUniversity of California, BerkeleyUniversity of California, BerkeleyUniversity of California, BerkeleyUniversity of California, Berkeley
University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)University of California, Los AngelesUniversity of California, Los AngelesUniversity of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
University of California, San DiegoUniversity of California, San DiegoUniversity of California, San DiegoUniversity of California, San Diego (UCSD)University of California, San DiegoUniversity of California, San DiegoUniversity of California, San Diego
University of California, Santa Barbara
University of ChicagoUniversity of Chicago USUniversity of ChicagoUniversity of Chicago USUniversity of Chicago USUniversity of ChicagoUniversity of Chicago
University of Hong KongUniversity of Hong KongUniversity of Hong KongUniversity of Hong KongUniversity of Hong KongUniversity of Hong Kong (HKU)University of Hong Kong (HKU)
University of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
University of MelbourneUniversity of MelbourneUniversity of MelbourneUniversity of MelbourneUniversity of MelbourneUniversity of MelbourneUniversity of Melbourne
University of Michigan-Ann ArborUniversity of Michigan-Ann ArborUniversity of Michigan-Ann ArborUniversity of Michigan-Ann ArborUniversity of Michigan-Ann ArborUniversity of Michigan-Ann ArborUniversity of Michigan-Ann Arbor
University of Munich (LMU Munich)
University of PennsylvaniaUniversity of PennsylvaniaUniversity of PennsylvaniaUniversity of PennsylvaniaUniversity of PennsylvaniaUniversity of PennsylvaniaUniversity of Pennsylvania
University of Queensland
University of Texas at AustinUniversity of Texas at AustinUniversity of Texas at AustinUniversity of Texas at AustinUniversity of Texas at AustinUniversity of Texas at Austin
University of TokyoUniversity of TokyoUniversity of TokyoUniversity of TokyoUniversity of TokyoUniversity of TokyoUniversity of Tokyo
University of TorontoUniversity of TorontoUniversity of TorontoUniversity of TorontoUniversity of TorontoUniversity of TorontoUniversity of Toronto
University of WashingtonUniversity of WashingtonUniversity of WashingtonUniversity of WashingtonUniversity of WashingtonUniversity of WashingtonUniversity of Washington
University of Wisconsin-MadisonUniversity of Wisconsin-MadisonUniversity of Wisconsin-MadisonUniversity of Wisconsin-Madison
Washington University in St LouisWashington University in St. Louis
Yale UniversityYale UniversityYale UniversityYale UniversityYale UniversityYale UniversityYale University
Zhejiang University

The problem the Home office generates with its sorities solution is that the year list has to apply to the graduates. For the 37 universities on the 2021 list, individuals are eligible for the visa if (and only if) their qualifications are awarded between 1 November 2021 and 31 October 2022. If your degree from Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München was awarded in October 2021 you are not eligible. UW-Madison graduates from 1 November 2016 to 31 October 2019 and 1 November 2020 to 31 October 2021 can get a visa, others not. It’s particularly bad news for Illinois grads from 2020 to 2021 – that’s the only cohort not eligible. These are arbitrary dates, paying no attention to academic year structures or potentially getting down to the detail on an awarding date. Technische Universität München pops in and out of the list, was it definitely better from 1 November 2020 until 31 October 2021 such that its graduates in those 365 days have higher potential that those in the years either side?

This doesn’t seem sensible. The whole scheme is problematic, prioritizing the places that rich kids go in rich countries, but it’s also weird. Graduates of Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg are only worthy of consideration as high potential individuals if they had their degrees awarded between 1 November 2016 and 31 October 2020.

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Are Students’ Unions very reliant on funding from overseas?

The Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill has clauses that would require the OFS to monitor overseas funding. These were considered in the House of Lords committee stage, with amendments proposed to probe how this would work. This included a surprise justification from the minster that Students’ Unions were very reliant on donations and legacies and should be included in this monitoring.

In the Commons, new clauses were proposed by the Government accepting the argument (but not the drafting) of MPs concerned that universities were reliant on funding from overseas that might interfere with freedom of speech or academic freedom. China (for that’s the country they are concerned about) might affect the conduct of university life because so many students come from there that a provider might limit the academic freedom of staff for fear of the communist party pulling the plug. This is the plan:

(1) The OfS must monitor the overseas funding of registered higher education providers and their constituent institutions with a view to assessing the extent to which the funding presents a risk to the matters
in subsection (2).
(2) The matters are—
(a) freedom of speech within the law, and
(b) the academic freedom of academic staff of registered higher education providers and their constituent institutions,
in the provision of higher education by registered higher education
providers and their constituent institutions.

There is a separate clause in the bill for students’ unions (where there isn’t a provision for academic freedom).

(1) The OfS must monitor the overseas funding of students’ unions at registered higher education providers that are eligible for financial support with a view to assessing the extent to which the funding presents a risk to the matter in subsection (2).

(2) The matter is freedom of speech within the law for—
(a) members of the students’ unions,
(b) students of the providers,
(c) staff of the students’ unions,
(d) staff and members of the providers and of their constituent institutions, and
(e) visiting speakers.

There was an amendment proposed to probe whether the direct regulation by OfS of students unions was appropriate at all, but this was not discussed in Grand Committee. There was a brief discussion of an amendment to remove the clause about overseas funding by Lord Wallace, which was intended to ‘probe what evidence there is of significant overseas funding of, or influence over, student unions’. The DfE minister, Baroness Barran, addressed this issue:

In order for these measures to have the maximum intended effect on countering the threat of foreign interference in higher education and to increase public confidence in the sector, we considered it vital that the overseas funding duties extend to students’ unions, as other measures in the Bill do. Students’ unions across England are in receipt of a variety of overseas income every year and there is diversity across students’ unions in the ways in which they are funded. Information published by the Charity Commission demonstrates that a large number of students’ unions are very reliant on the annual donations and legacies that they receive. Therefore, it would be remiss not to include students’ unions in Clause 9.

This was something of a surprise. DfE thinks that it’s vital that the measures extend to SUs. Their evidence is that there’s some overseas income to SUs, but the weight is placed on the Charity Commission’s information that SU’s are very reliant on donations and legacies. I’ve expressed a concern that DfE might not be very well briefed on the activities of universities outside the golden triangle, and this seems a particular case. I’ve not come across a students’ union that was very reliant on what we’d normally think of as donations. So, where does this come from?

In the discussion that the Lords didn’t have about adding OfS regulation to SUs would have been the part on the current role of the Charity Commission in their regulation. The Charity Commission regulate SUs alongside a variety of charities (including Oxbridge Colleges) and in that regulatory mode it collects standard financial information from them. The minister is right that there’s a diversity of funding models, but SUs report that according to the Commission’s rules, consistent across all charities. Here’s how the University of Sheffield Union of Students income and expenditure is represented on the Commission’s website.

Now, SSU are not typical of SUs across the country. If the Lords had debated OfS regulation of SUs they might have discussed how the majority of the SUs in the providers who will fall under the new duty are tiny, but SSU claim to be the ‘best’ SU in the country and one of those that still generate significant funds from other activities. Their proportion of ‘donations and legacies’ is lower than the majority of SUs. The Charity Commission provide links through to the actual accounts (OfS might consider such a facility in their register) so it only takes a minute to find these donations and legacies unpacked.

It’s very clear that the donation that SSU is very reliant upon is the block grant from the University (but just look at the crash of activities income caused by the pandemic). In the Charity Commission financial reporting scheme, the payment made by the University to a SU is reported as a donation. Of course – SUs are reliant on that grant. Now, there’s a very well-established set of processes to handle the complexities of the University being the major funder of the SU and how influence works. Talking to a group of sabbatical officers recently, I was able to assure them that all the universities I knew valued the long-term relationship and that it would survive a burst of campaigning against the university on this or that issue. Surely OfS isn’t being called in to protect the freedom of speech of people in the SUs against university management? If so, then the government has taken quite an interesting step.

I would be interested in the DfE briefing to ministers on SUs’ income. If they’ve found significant overseas donations, then I’m sure Development Offices will be interested in this. It’s just possible that DfE got no further than the Charity Commission overviews and assumed that SUs are being funded by annual donations. I’m disappointed that the Lords didn’t press the government more on how the OfS will regulate SUs and hope that they will return to this at report stage, otherwise this looks like a poor justification for a particularly bad bit of law.

Registration time at the OfS

At the heart of the way that the Office for Students regulates the HE sector in England is its register.

Gaining entry to the register requires providers to demonstrate certain qualities and to adhere to certain behaviors. The system of conditions is predicated on the register and the ultimate sanctions are linked to it.

The 2017 Higher Education and Research Act (HERA) means that you can’t be a university or award degrees in England without being on the register (the exception being branches of universities from other countries). So it is great to see new operational data from OfS about the registration process.

Who’s on, who’s off?

I’ve been tracking the register right from the start. I was interested that the way the register was presented was in a spreadsheet, together with a counter on the website. It’s not always been easy to spot when the register changes, so I started a thread on twitter. On the 14 November 2018 OfS confirmed 12 new providers had joined the register which brought the total to 194. Today the number stands at 409.

As initial registration was clearly an important part of what OfS was doing, the CEO presented data in her report to each board meeting. As these are published (with redactions for any individual provider data) you could keep a track of the number of applications and start to see a gap opening up between the fast track initial registrations of providers that had previously been funded by HEFCE and/or who had a report of QAA audits and new providers.

As the student visa route was linked to the OfS register, providers who were sponsoring students but weren’t publicly funded were told to apply. However they were given a completely unrealistic timescale – such that the UKVI had to maintain a provisional status for those waiting registration. After a while it was decided that the OfS Board didn’t need the ongoing registration data, and it was dropped from the CEO’s report.

We still don’t always know

However, concerns about the registration process have continued. New providers that have gone through it have complained about the process and particularly the time it takes. In the business case for a new provider the set-up phase is a risk – if that gets longer because of the OfS registration process then only those providers with deep pockets can achieve it. We’ve not seen the burst of new providers that clearly motivated ministers in 2016.

So, the publication of operational data by OfS on registrations is really welcome. We have a full longitudinal picture of the number of applications received and resolved each quarter alongside the number that remain open. The picture in the graph tells the story we know – a huge burst of applications at the start of the process, followed two quarters later by resolutions (mostly registrations).

However, it also confirms the story of the length of time it is taking. OfS stopped taking new registrations in the pandemic. At that quarter (Q2 2020) it had 114 open cases. In the subsequent quarters 72 have been resolved – so 42 must still be open that were received over two years earlier. OfS say:

At the end of the second quarter of 2022, we held 86 unresolved registration applications. In a significant number of these cases, providers have submitted incomplete applications and have not responded quickly to our follow-up requests for information. Registration applications have also been delayed while we await assessments from the designated quality body about the quality and standards of courses at individual providers.

Through the mist

It’s absolutely the case that the process must be rigorous but this is clearly an issue. Unlike the notifications measure, we are not given a resolution time. OfS resolved 45 registration applications in 2021 and the first half of 2022. By my reckoning, there have been 15 new registrations announced since the start of 2021. This number contains five new registrations for the constituent parts of the Conservatoire of Dance and Drama which traded in its one registration. I can only see one refusal to register recorded since 2021 (not all the published cases have dates) which means the majority of the resolutions neither ended in registration or refusal – presumably either the potential provider withdrew from the process or they are appealing against a refusal.

We are seeing the impact of a wave of mergers in the FEC section feeding through to the register. At one stage the merged Peterborough/Stamford FEC had three separate entries on the register. OfS record the de-registrations – but these are now equalling the new registrations. The counter now stands at 409, the same as it did on 23 October 2020 when three new providers joined the register.

It may be that post-legislative scrutiny of HERA looks into whether the registration process has helped or hindered bringing in new providers. It may be that the length of time it takes means that more new providers are taking a route through franchising or validation first – with further concerns about how regulation reaches that part of the sector. Clearly OfS are keeping an eye on this, and I certainly welcome this new data.

This blog first appeared on Wonkhe on 24 October.

Stamford: is this the place that English Higher Education likes to shun?

What should the sector do about higher education cold spots? The question was raised by Lord Lucas at a CDBU meeting on 8 September with regard to Eastbourne (where Brighton is withdrawing from its long-term campus – which had been a teacher training college before). But if Eastbourne feels hard done-by, then it’s nothing compared to the disdain that the sector appears to have for Stamford in Lincolnshire. Two days earlier in September two further providers ‘withdrew’ from the OfS register, both of which were linked to Stamford. This now sits alongside the medieval suppression of a university there and the failure of the UGC to choose the town as a site for a new university in the 1960s.

You will not read lectures, or hear them read, at Stamford

Most European Countries grew their higher education provision in the middle ages through migration. Something would happen to discourage the scholars in one place, or encourage them to go to another place, and all, or some, of them would get up and go. Disruption between town and gown in Oxford led to a migration to Cambridge. It also led to a migration to Northampton, which was suppressed. A dispute between the scholars from the North and South caused a migration to Stamford in 1333. There are good accounts of the fledgling university and its demise – for example William Whyte on the long term effect of creating a duopoly. Oxford MAs continued to swear not to be involved in a university at Stamford until 1827.

Stamford persisted for only a few years, but managed to spin out two good myths. Just as Oxford and Cambridge got outlandish founding myths, so did Stamford. It was reckoned that Stamford had been founded by Bladud, an ancient British king and descendent of the Trojans (who had founded Oxford). He had been educated in Athens and returned with four philosophers and set up a university which then survived until suppressed by St Augustine.

The other myth was that in the 1333 migration a particular group of scholars had come from Brasenose, Oxford, and had founded their own hall in Stamford. There was a Brasenose farm in Stamford with an ancient door knocker. This was helpful proof of the antiquity of Brasenose College and the fellows bought the farm and brought the knocker back and installed it, with great ceremony, in their Hall.

Driving for a new university

It was remembered that Stamford was a good location for a university when the UGC was looking for new locations in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Key to getting ahead in the competition that followed was strong local support. The local MP, Kenneth Lewis, raised Stamford as a possibility, noting the opportunity created by the new bypass. Curiously the driving force behind Stamford’s bid to have a university was a businessman, Donald Thomas, who thought it was in an excellent location as he drove through it regularly.

UGC 7/245 University of Stamford

Thomas became chair of the supporting committee and took on the correspondence with the UGC, even submitting a list of potential titles for chairs. As ever, there were local complications. As Stamford’s bid advanced, people in Grantham noticed and the UGC had to diplomatically negotiate tensions within Lincolnshire

However, Stamford had not made it far enough up the early ‘batting order’ in time and the UGC sub-committee on new universities paused its work as the Robbins Committee started its. There were no extra funds beyond the first group and then the new Labour government made it clear it would have no new universities.

Registration and De-registration

There’s more to higher education provision than medieval collegiate foundations or well-funded research universities off the bypass. Higher education exists in different forms, in England the OfS Register is the single authoritative reference point. It was alarming then when two de-registrations were recorded, for New College Stamford and Inspire Education Group, one of whose trading names is Stamford College.

Rather than some new assault on the provision of higher education in Stamford, it’s possible that this is just a reflection of the complexity of merged provision.

New College Stamford was registered in 2018 and ran HE courses as ‘University Centre Stamford’ until August 2020 when, after a merger with Peterborough Regional College to form the Inspire Education Group, it’s higher education provision traded as ‘University Centre Peterborough’. In OfS terms, the registration of New College has stopped because it has merged into Inspire, but that has also voluntarily de-registered. It turns out that there’s a seperate OfS registration for University Centre Peterborough. In the complex world that is HE provision in Peterborough, the old joint venture between Peterborough Regional College and Anglia Ruskin University had its own registration. It was this provider that lost the market testing exercise run by the combined authority which has vested the contract for new HE provision in ARU Peterborough. ARU Peterborough does not yet have its own OfS registration.

So, we’re left that University Centre Peterborough offers HNC/D FdA and BA top-up provision in Stamford. The same provider offers a wider range of provision not far away in Peterborough, and now there’s the new ARU Peterborough. However, once again, a Stamford specific provider, trading as a University Centre (but who knows whether officially allowed to), has stopped. It got further than in 1961, and lasted longer than in 1333. There’s even a record of its graduation ceremonies.

Left behind in a corner of the East Midlands?

Stamford highlights some of the geographical issues we face about planning HE provision. Although close enough to Peterborough to share the name of its University Centre, it’s in a different local authority (South Kesteven), county (Lincolnshire) and region (East Midlands). Stamford highlights some of the quirks of how it is in a particular corner, such that Burghley House, just across the river from the town, is in Peterborough. There’s also the difference in structures as Peterborough is a strong unitary combined authority with its extra responsibilities and funding mechanisms. The name of Stamford’s University Centre has changed, that doesn’t signify that it will get left behind by Peterborough, but if HE provision gets a local element, then we need to ensure that towns like Stamford (or Eastbourne) don’t get left out.

Crown Assets

British universities have had a long relationship with royalty. It has been mixed: sometimes very close, sometimes in direct antagonism. Now, with the Crown’s role so limited, the relationship might appear limited —although, as the Levelling Up white paper suggested, not irrelevant.

The English universities emerged without the aid of the Crown, but they latched onto it pretty quickly. Kings confirmed universities’ privileges, took their side against the locals, and suppressed their rivals.

Scottish universities were close to their kings, too, with James II asking for papal approval for a university in Glasgow. Religion cemented these ties: Henry VIII looked to the universities for an authoritative view on his marriage; James I and VI for an authoritative view on the translation of the Bible; Elizabeth I hoped that the new University of Dublin would play a part in increasing the civility of the people of Ireland; Charles I made his headquarters in Oxford university and Charles II brought parliament back there for safety. James II and VII got the relationship wrong, imposing fellows on colleges; the defiance of Magdalen College was arguably the beginning of the end of his reign.

Technical education

Universities grew closer to the monarchy as they became part of the establishment. Members of the royal family were involved in higher education becoming established in London, the radical Duke of Sussex supporting what is now UCL and the king supporting, well, King’s. Prince Albert got actively involved with Cambridge as its Chancellor, but also with technical education.

The formal role of the Crown continued as royal charters were used to incorporate colleges and then universities, while some universities were directly linked to the Crown: the federal Queen’s University became the Royal University of Ireland, the new federal structure in the north of England became the Victoria University.

In the 20th century, the achievement of a royal charter at an aspirant university was greeted by cheering crowds. The new reign of the Queen coincided with the upgrading of the pre-war University Colleges to meet the expansion of higher education. This required new charters, and a visit from the Queen to celebrate that charter linked her to this new university status.

There have been many tributes from universities for the many visits and expressions of support from the Queen (a nice summary can be found on Wonkhe).

Royal Chancellors

As the active political role of university chancellors declined, members of the royal family took on these roles, helped by the fact that there were nearly enough royals to go around the chartered universities. With unlimited terms of office, royals served for a long time: the Duchess of Kent for 33 years at Leeds, Princess Alexandra for 40 years at Lancaster, and the Duke of Kent is in his 43rd year at Surrey. Adding the years of his three chancellorships at Salford, Edinburgh and Cambridge together, the Duke of Edinburgh served universities for 114 years, combining that with—like Albert, his prince-consort predecessor—an interest in technology.

Duke of Kent, Chancellor of Surrey University (Paul Fitzgerald)

There are still many royal chancellors, but terms of office ended for the Duke of York and his former wife, Sarah Ferguson (Huddersfield and Salford respectively).

Levelling up

The Levelling Up white paper clearly still sees royal charters—in this case, for Institutes of Technology—as a marker of esteem. It said:

“To embed our ongoing support for IoTs as the preeminent organisations for technical Stem education, successful IoTs may apply to receive a royal charter, securing their long-term position as anchor institutions within their region and placing them on the same level as our world-leading historic universities. DfE will set out the criteria and application process for royal charter status this spring.”

I’m not sure how much practical difference having a royal charter makes; does an instrument of governance smell sweeter as a royal charter? The key difference for institutions is that when they need to make changes to their charter, the documents actually go before the queen. For example, in December the Privy Council approved a series of changes to the University of Cambridge’s statutes relating to the press and assessment department. While the Queen approving your rule changes seems glamorous, the item being considered at Cambridge concerned changes involving the Chartered Institute of Loss Adjusters.

It will be interesting to eventually see the process that the DfE comes up with following the Levelling Up white paper (it was not published in the spring) —not least because the universities that gained their titles through the powers of the 1992 Act were denied royal charters themselves (some asked). Especially interesting will be the prospect of some IoTs getting charters when their sponsoring university doesn’t have one.

Meanwhile, royal patronage remains important to universities. January saw the Duchess of Cornwall visit Oxford, with a trip to the Bodleian and the opening of a new building at the Botnar Institute for Musculoskeletal Sciences—one of thousands of buildings that have been opened by members of the royal family.

Rowdy students

Normally this goes splendidly, even if crowds have declined in recent years. But it was a visit to a university that was probably the rowdiest of the Queen’s long reign: a disturbance at the University of Stirling in 1972 that included allegedly drunk students heckling and booing the Queen while she was touring the relatively new university site.

The high point of universities’ links with the crown are the Queen’s Anniversary Prizes; the 14th round of these was announced in December. Running since 1994, they have rewarded a vast range of activities, bestowing 296 prizes across 54 further education colleges and 83 universities. The most recent awards recognise the vital work of universities in areas including climate change and Covid-19. Recipients get a trip to the palace and a medal presented by a senior member of the royal family. While there are many other prizes in higher education, this one is properly prestigious. After all, gowns are worn.

With fewer royals and more universities, the links between the two have been diluted. But they remain important. The supportive activism of the prince-consorts, Albert and Philip, might have gone, but continued warm appreciation from the monarchy of higher education is particularly welcome at a time when, in other quarters, it can be less clear. The last few days have seen the reciprocation of that appreciation from universities.

This is an edited version of a blog published by Research Professional News in February 2022

Cathedrals and Universities

Does every cathedral city have a university, or some form of recognised higher education provision? Prompted by the good news that there’s new investment in Salisbury’s HE provision, offered by the Wiltshire College and University Centre, this raised the question about the links.

In England, the two universities (and the two that were started and then stopped by the king) were not in cathedral cities. They were under diocesan control, their chancellors evolved from the bishops’ chancellors, but neither Oxford or Cambridge were in the cathedral city. Ely was close by, but Oxford was at the furthest end of the large Lincoln diocese. When Henry VIII reorganised the bishops Oxford gained a cathedral, first as Osney Abbey but quickly relocated into a College. Scottish universities were closely linked to the cathedrals, an established place of learning, and the first attempt to have a university in Ireland was linked to St Patrick’s cathedral

There have been several reorganisations of the dioceses since Henry VIII and a continuous development of universities. This list will focus on England and on Anglian cathedrals, which is arbitrary but that’s the established church for you. There will also be a bit of a judgment call on whether a provider is actually in the city. So, for example, to complete the picture that many of the new universities that were founded in the 1950s and 1960s, Warwick is in Coventry. In some cases, say Ripon and Southwell, the cathedral is not in the main city of the diocese (Leeds and Nottingham respectively).

As you’d expect, there’s a clear picture: most cathedral cities have higher education provision. But Blackburn, Bury St Edmonds, Ely, Lichfield, Salisbury, St Albans, Ripon, Wakefield and Wells don’t have a university.

There’s a university centre in Blackburn, it used to have two OfS-registered providers with university centres, but St Mary’s recently closed. We’ve already noted a university centre in Salisbury. St Albans ought to have a a university; Chelsea College of Technology was in negotiation to move there in the 1960s but it remain in London (later closing). St Albans has HE through Oaklands College. Bury St Edmonds has West Suffolk College. Wakefield College has recently merged, so is no longer on the OfS register itself, but is part of one. There is HE in Lichfield through Staffordshire University courses offered at South Staffordshire College – the college is not OfS registered but Staffordshire itself is listed in the OfS Geography data. Ripon used to have a higher education provider, but now the offering from Craven College in the town appears to offer no HE courses. There appears to be no HE or FE provision actually in Ely or Wells (although Strode College is in nearby Street).

There’s a complexity to mapping the location of providers in England. As a result, the list for each city may not be exhaustive. I’m also arbitrarily excluding branches of universities such as BPP although I have noted Law is in Chester. The OfS register can’t be searched by location and not all trading names are listed, so I may have missed providers entirely. The register doesn’t show franchised-in provision, which is in the geography of HE data. I’ve noted this issue before; I think it should be easier to see the officially registered provision.

Cathedral CityUniversities and OfS registered higher education providers
BirminghamAston, Birmingham, Birmingham City, University College Birmingham
BristolBristol, UWE, Bristol Baptist College, City of Bristol College, Trinity College Bristol
CanterburyKent, Canterbury Christchurch, Creative Arts, Canterbury College (EKC)
ChelmsfordAnglia Ruskin
ChichesterChichester, Chichester College
CoventryCoventry, Warwick, Coventry College
DerbyDerby
Ely
ExeterExeter, Exeter College
GloucesterGloucestershire, Gloucestershire College
GuildfordSurrey, ACM Guildford, Guildford College (Activate Learning)
HerefordHereford College of Arts, Herefordshire, Ludlow and North Shropshire College, NMITE
LeicesterLeicester, De Montford, Leicester College
LichfieldSouth Staffordshire/Staffordshire
LincolnBishop Grossteste, Lincoln, Lincoln College
NorwichUEA, City College Norwich, Norwich University of the Arts
OxfordOxford, Oxford Brookes, City of Oxford College (Activate Learning), Ruskin (UWL) SAE Institute
PeterboroughPeterborough Regional College, University Centre Peterborough 
PortsmouthPortsmouth, City of Portsmouth College
RochesterCanterbury Christchurch, Creative Arts
St AlbansOaklands
St EdmundsburyWest Suffolk College
St PaulsThere are providers in London
SalisburyWiltshire College and University Centre
SouthwarkThere are providers in London
TruroTruro and Penwith College
Wells
WinchesterWinchester, Southampton, Peter Symonds, Sparsholt
WorcesterWorcester, Heart of Worcestershire College
BlackburnBlackburn College
BradfordBradford, Bradford College
CarlisleCumbria, Carlisle College (NCG)
ChesterChester, Law
DurhamDurham, New College Durham
LiverpoolLiverpool, Liverpool John Moores, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, City of Liverpool College, Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts   
ManchesterManchester, Manchester Metropolitan, Royal Northern College of Music, LTE Group (Manchester College & UCEN), Missio Dei, Nazarene Theological College
NewcastleNewcastle, Northumbria, Newcastle College (NCG)
Ripon
SheffieldSheffield, Sheffield Hallam, Sheffield College
SouthwellNottingham Trent University
WakefieldWakefield College (Heart of Yorkshire College)
YorkYork, York St John, York College, Northern College of Acupuncture,  

If we get back to planning for a higher education sector that will need to grow, then ensuring that there’s provision that people can access is going to be important. Ely might be well enough connected to HE provision, but some of the other cathedral cities might not. And just as the Church of England has taken a considered view of the spatial planning of where its cathedrals are in relation to the population (given that task was started by St Augustine), perhaps someone could have a considered view of whether we have the geography of HE provision right.

Gaining University Title – when does the magic happen?

July 2022 has brought two new universities in England. Over the last 25 years since the Dearing Committee confirmed that there should be a processes for approving new university titles under the powers in the 1992 Act, the actual process has changed, as has the criteria that government has specified. In England, the key criterion is that the provider has ‘full taught degree awarding powers’ – which can only be awarded after an evaluative process run by the QAA (as designated quality body) and if the name chosen by the provider is not confusing.

This month has seen the first title awarded through a process run through the OfS. The title of ‘Northeastern University – London’ has been awarded to NCH – Northeastern, a provider that we first knew as the New College of the Humanities when its founder, A C Grayling, made a big splash in 2011 launching it. It’s come a long way from the days when it was going to charge £18,000 for an ‘Oxbridge’ style humanities degree, now it’s using the regulated £9259. It’s the first provider to get university title through a process run by the OfS, so there’s a press release and a regulatory case report. The OfS has made their process commendably clear, they had an open consultation on the proposed name and published the outcome.

Also gaining university title this month is BIMM. They seem to have been through the old process run by DfE, but the outcome is the same. The new name of the provider is ‘BIMM University Limited’ – the BIMM part having stood for Brighton Institute of Modern Music and more recently British & Irish Modern Music but known as ‘BIMM’. The DfE process is not so open; if they consult on the proposed name, they do so in private and don’t release any information.

It’s very welcome to see new universities; we need more HE provision and it’s clear that England is never going to get over what Tony Crosland called our ‘snobbish caste-ridden hierarchical obsession with university status’. However, one aspect of that obsession remains; there is still an attempt to create a hierarchy around the way that a university is made. That’s not helped by the rather mundane process that making a university now takes.

Where the magic happens.

Under the ‘companies house route’ for university title, the act of becoming a university is run through Companies House. A company can use ‘university’ in its title if it gains the agreement of Companies House to them changing their name. The company makes a resolution that it wants to make a change and then completes a form, attaching the non-objection letter from DfE (or OfS from now on). Companies House then approves this and issues a certificate of incorporation of change of name. You get this certificate for any change of name, there’s nothing special about gaining university title.

It was pleasing that OfS chose to put out a press release about a new university, but at the same time that highlights that DfE made no attempt to acknowledge it’s non-objection of BIMM’s title, who completed their name change on 4 July, a week before Northeastern. As a moment of prestige, the non-objection followed by the issuing of a certification of incorporation of a name change lacks something.

The way that we used to make universities had a bit more glamour. The Privy Council regulates the issuing of royal charters which, before 1992, was the way that universities were made. The process was just as interminable; the UGC provided the quality check and once they were happy a charter was drawn up. The correspondence about this could be considerable and drawn out, but after several drafts the Privy Council office would be happy and then the charter would be approved by the monarch in council. Although 20th Century charters are less beautiful than those from earlier centuries, there’s a majesty to the actual thing, particularly with the seal attached.

The University of Kent’s charter

A university is a university whether it has a charter in a box in the archive or not. What’s interesting is that DfE has become interested again in getting royal charters for the Institutes of Technology which it has been establishing. Clearly they see charters as adding prestige, although it presents a challenge in that the IoTs are not currently separate corporations from the further education corporation that houses them and in many cases the university that is partnering with them won’t have a charter either.

The important thing is we protect university title and then we celebrate when it is awarded. So congratulations to Northeastern University – London and BIMM University. Also, credit to OfS for making something of the award of the title.

University or university centre?

University title matters. Protecting it is an important part of what David Watson called managing the “controlled reputational range”.  

We’ve had various systems to consider who it might be awarded to, at first through royal charters and since 1992 through simpler processes, at first run by the Privy Council and now, in England, through the OfS.    

As has already been established, 1992 is the only truly memorable date in the history of English Higher Education policy.  The granting of university title to polytechnics (and two colleges) still rankles some people.  In the legislation, the process was simple; the Privy Council was given the power to grant the title and off the sector went.  Looking back 30 years, you might think this was a “big bang”, but actually the process of the confirmation of titles proceeded cautiously over several months as new names were weighed and consulted on.  

What didn’t exist was a process for colleges who hadn’t met the original criteria intended in the White Paper. It was unclear what the rules were. One of the recommendations of the Dearing Report (from 25 years ago) was there should be criteria and then a process of application – which would be run by a sector owned body, the new QAA, and be a peer review process.  The criteria were set by government and they have continued to be refined since.  The wave after the 1992 act came within a year, the new wave, using these criteria, has continued ever since. These “new new” universities (let’s call them the Dearing universities) outnumber the other tranches.

While the colleges were waiting for Dearing, there was a certain amount of experimentation with forms of words in tag lines – colleges said that they were in the “university sector” or even added “university college” to their name.  So there were explicit criteria added for university colleges, and rules announced for the use of the word “university”.  These were repeated when the Companies House route to university title was added.  The sector has noted some odd usages, some of which had had explicit government approval, so it was really welcome when in January 2021 the DfE updated their guidelines, making this all clear.

The guidelines acknowledge the routes to University and University College title, but also set out rules for overseas universities to use their home title when operating in England and for a group of institutions that were using “university centre” or “university campus” in their company or trading name.  

University Centres are great – I’m mystified that they are not an explicit part of government strategies. The 2021 guidelines set out explicit guidelines; there’s now a set of things a college would normally have to do to get the title confirmed by DfE. These are:

18. For the use of university campus or university centre applications would normally be expected to be from a:

* constituent campus or centre which forms part of an existing, and OfS registered university

* registered higher education provider as part of a venture by an OfS registered university or universities to deliver higher education in a separate campus or centre rather than at the universities themselves – this would normally be aimed at making the universities’ programmes available to students in the students’ local area

19. For the use of university centre only, you will be expected to be a registered higher education provider delivering higher education course including some provision being awarded through partnership with a university or universities, with support for the use of the term from the universities concerned.

One of the issues that has puzzled me is that OfS don’t really capture “university centres” on the register, sometimes not recording the trading name, and infrequently noting that approval has been given for ‘university’ to be used as part of a trading name. I wrote about this last year after I tried to get some information from DfE.

As there’s a bit of a gap in the formal acknowledgement of the granting of the use of ‘university’ in a title by DfE, I asked again, this time for a list of all the approvals they’ve made since January 2021. They have issued 43 letters of non-objection to the use of the word university in a company or brand name since 1 January 2021. 17 of these were to university centres – with a selection of other parts of universities, schools linked to universities and 6 student unions. Excitingly, DfE confirms that it has declined to issue a non-objection letter to 29 individuals since 1 January 2021.

Here are the centres that DfE has given approval since publishing the new rules.  Many of these were operating as university centres before 2021, but must have taken the opportunity to get confirmation.  There are more university centres operating – I counted 52 last year – but they may already have had a ‘non-objection’ letter.  16 of the centres that DfE have approved are on the register. 

University Centre Oldham 
New College Durham University Centre
University Centre WISE
University Centre Truro and Penwith
University Centre Isle of Wight
University Campus Doncaster
Warwickshire College and University Centre
University Studies at West Suffolk College
University Centre Middlesbrough
Preston College University Centre 
University Centre Basingstoke
University Centre Farnborough
The Bedford College Group University Centre, Bedford College University Centre, Tresham College University Centre and Shuttleworth College University Centre
City of Oxford College and University Centre; Reading College and University Centre; Merrist Wood College and University Centre
University Centre Leeds
Leeds College of Building University Centre
Cornwall College University Centre 

The web version of the OfS register is still in beta mode, but I’ve spotted a problem with trading names, particularly with further education colleges.  For example,  Activate Learning has no trading names listed, so the City of Oxford, Reading and Merrist Wood colleges do not appear in the register’s search function.  This is accentuated further here as only 2 of the colleges, New College Durham University Centre and University Centre Leeds, have their approved university centre name on the OfS register.  All of the 16 colleges on the register who have been given a non-objection letter by DfE since 2021 are listed as “The provider does not have the right to use ‘university’ in its name” on the register. 

The register’s rubric says:

The OfS Register shows if a registered higher education provider’s use of a specific name or names, including the word ‘university’, has been approved by Companies House under the provisions of the Companies Act 2006. If this was granted by obtaining a non-objection letter from the Department for Education the Register makes this clear.

At present, the OfS Register does not make this clear.   

I think we should celebrate university centres more. In many places they are just the things that government is looking for for levelling up, and in many places they are getting capital grants to support that.  Often, however, policy makers can be caught calling for universities in places like Doncaster or Oldham but nobody knows that DfE have given their official stamp of non-objection to university centres in these very towns. Sadly, it looks like OfS doesn’t know that DfE has given their official stamp of non-objection either. Surely there should be a list published somewhere (rather than having to submit FOIs to get the names).

Once we’ve celebrated the university centres, I will get back to worrying about three things: how did the Isle of Wight College get to have a University Centre when it’s not on the OfS register; who were the 29 places that were refused a non-objection letter; and is either DfE or OfS triangulating those places apparently without permission who are using university in their titles?   

This blog was first published on WonkHE and has been slightly edited to link to other pieces on More Means Better.

Another thing about the High Potential Individuals Visa University list

Now that the high potential individual visa scheme has opened, there’s been more attention to the list of universities that the individuals need to have graduated from in order to get the visa, with its many advantages. Using a scheme whereby a university is on the list if it is in the top 50 on two or three global university lists, it’s clear that this prioritizes graduates from a handful of research-intensive universities which are all based in North America, Europe, East Asia and Australia. The Home Office has subscribed to the notion that the people with the highest potential must have been to these universities, an argument that doesn’t hold up even in those favoured areas. Sticking with the notion that the people with the highest potential go to the ‘best’ places, in the US, for example, it is clear that highly selective liberal arts colleges are held in similar esteem or that admissions criteria may have included special considerations for children of alumni or donors. Again, it many be that the people with the highest potential in France may not be attending the only university that makes the top 50.

I’ve held that the Home Office, in particular, is caught with a problem of drawing exact lines through higher education, not allowing for fuzziness, generating sorities paradoxes. There’s another problem with the Home Office’s list of universities, in that it’s not one list but six. In their logic that the league tables of the ‘best’ 50 global universities, they have to accept that these rankings change. Last week QS offered us their latest one, and there are movements up and down. This is necessary as data changes, but through the years we’ve seen methodology changes too – changes ‘sell’ the rankings – Cambridge was higher than Oxford, it generates a headline.

So the Home Office offers us six lists: one each for the years in scope for graduates, going back from 2021 to 2016. The Universities on the lists change each year. Maybe not a large amount of change, there are 32 universities are on all six lists, but there is some; there are 45 universities on the lists in total. Some are new: CUHK and LMU Munich are only on the 2021 list. Some come and go, PSL is not on the lists for 2019, 2017 and 2016.

202120202019201820172016
Australian National UniversityAustralian National University (ANU)Australian National University (ANU)Australian National University (ANU)
California Institute of Technology (Caltech)California Institute of Technology (Caltech)California Institute of Technology (Caltech)California Institute of Technology (Caltech)California Institute of Technology (Caltech)California Institute of Technology (Caltech)
Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK)
Carnegie Mellon UniversityCarnegie Mellon UniversityCarnegie Mellon University
Columbia UniversityColumbia UniversityColumbia UniversityColumbia UniversityColumbia UniversityColumbia University
Cornell UniversityCornell UniversityCornell UniversityCornell UniversityCornell UniversityCornell University
Duke UniversityDuke UniversityDuke UniversityDuke UniversityDuke UniversityDuke University
Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL Switzerland)Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de LausanneEcole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL Switzerland)Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL Switzerland)Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL Switzerland)Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL Switzerland)
ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology)ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology)ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology)ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology)ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology)ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology)
Harvard UniversityHarvard UniversityHarvard UniversityHarvard UniversityHarvard UniversityHarvard University
Heidelberg UniversityHeidelberg UniversityHeidelberg UniversityHeidelberg University
Hong Kong University of Science and TechnologyHong Kong University of Science and TechnologyHong Kong University of Science and TechnologyHong Kong University of Science and Technology
Johns Hopkins UniversityJohns Hopkins UniversityJohns Hopkins UniversityJohns Hopkins UniversityJohns Hopkins UniversityJohns Hopkins University
Karolinska InstituteKarolinska InstituteKarolinska InstituteKarolinska InstituteKarolinska InstituteKarolinska Institute
Kyoto UniversityKyoto UniversityKyoto UniversityKyoto UniversityKyoto UniversityKyoto University
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
McGill UniversityMcGill UniversityMcGill UniversityMcGill UniversityMcGill UniversityMcGill University
Nanyang Technological University (NTU)Nanyang Technological University (NTU)Nanyang Technological University (NTU)
National University of SingaporeNational University of SingaporeNational University of SingaporeNational University of SingaporeNational University of Singapore (NUS)National University of Singapore (NUS)
New York University (NYU)New York University (NYU)New York UniversityNew York UniversityNew York UniversityNew York University
Northwestern UniversityNorthwestern UniversityNorthwestern UniversityNorthwestern UniversityNorthwestern UniversityNorthwestern University
Paris Sciences et Lettres – PSL Research UniversityParis Sciences et Lettres – PSL Research UniversityPSL Université Paris (Paris Sciences & Lettres)
Peking UniversityPeking UniversityPeking UniversityPeking UniversityPeking universityPeking University
Princeton UniversityPrinceton UniversityPrinceton UniversityPrinceton UniversityPrinceton UniversityPrinceton University
Stanford UniversityStanford UniversityStanford UniversityStanford UniversityStanford UniversityStanford University
Technical University of Munich (Technische Universität München)Technical University of MunichTechnical University of MunichTechnical University of Munich
Tsinghua UniversityTsinghua UniversityTsinghua UniversityTsinghua UniversityTsinghua UniversityTsinghua University
University of British ColumbiaUniversity of British ColumbiaUniversity of British ColumbiaUniversity of British ColumbiaUniversity of British ColumbiaUniversity of British Columbia
University of California, BerkeleyUniversity of California, BerkeleyUniversity of California, BerkeleyUniversity of California, BerkeleyUniversity of California, BerkeleyUniversity of California, Berkeley
University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)University of California, Los AngelesUniversity of California, Los AngelesUniversity of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
University of California, San DiegoUniversity of California, San DiegoUniversity of California, San Diego (UCSD)University of California, San DiegoUniversity of California, San DiegoUniversity of California, San Diego
University of California, Santa Barbara
University of Chicago USUniversity of ChicagoUniversity of Chicago USUniversity of Chicago USUniversity of ChicagoUniversity of Chicago
University of Hong KongUniversity of Hong KongUniversity of Hong KongUniversity of Hong KongUniversity of Hong Kong (HKU)University of Hong Kong (HKU)
University of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
University of MelbourneUniversity of MelbourneUniversity of MelbourneUniversity of MelbourneUniversity of MelbourneUniversity of Melbourne
University of Michigan-Ann ArborUniversity of Michigan-Ann ArborUniversity of Michigan-Ann ArborUniversity of Michigan-Ann ArborUniversity of Michigan-Ann ArborUniversity of Michigan-Ann Arbor
University of Munich (LMU Munich)
University of PennsylvaniaUniversity of PennsylvaniaUniversity of PennsylvaniaUniversity of PennsylvaniaUniversity of PennsylvaniaUniversity of Pennsylvania
University of Texas at AustinUniversity of Texas at AustinUniversity of Texas at AustinUniversity of Texas at AustinUniversity of Texas at Austin
University of TokyoUniversity of TokyoUniversity of TokyoUniversity of TokyoUniversity of TokyoUniversity of Tokyo
University of TorontoUniversity of TorontoUniversity of TorontoUniversity of TorontoUniversity of TorontoUniversity of Toronto
University of WashingtonUniversity of WashingtonUniversity of WashingtonUniversity of WashingtonUniversity of WashingtonUniversity of Washington
University of Wisconsin-MadisonUniversity of Wisconsin-MadisonUniversity of Wisconsin-MadisonUniversity of Wisconsin-Madison
Washington University in St LouisWashington University in St. Louis
Yale UniversityYale UniversityYale UniversityYale UniversityYale UniversityYale University

The problem the Home office generates with its sorities solution is that the year list has to apply to the graduates. For the 37 universities on the 2021 list, individuals are eligible for the visa if (and only if) their qualifications are awarded between 1 November 2021 and 31 October 2022. If your degree from Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München was awarded in October 2021 you are not eligible. UW-Madison graduates from 1 November 2016 to 31 October 2019 and 1 November 2020 to 31 October 2021 can get a visa, others not. These are arbitrary dates, paying no attention to academic year structures or potentially getting down to the detail on an awarding date. Was Technische Universität München definitely better from 1 November 2020 until 31 October 2021 such that its graduates in those 365 days have higher potential that those in the years either side?

This doesn’t seem sensible. The whole scheme is problematic, prioritizing the places that rich kids go in rich countries, but it’s also weird. Graduates of Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg are only worthy of consideration as high potential individuals if they had their degrees awarded between 1 November 2016 and 31 October 2020.

LLE – what about the reductio ad absurdum consequences it might allow?

The Lifelong Loan Entitlement (LLE) is a positive step to move our student funding system from its focus on FT bachelors degree mode. It’s probably going to be good. But, at the back of my mind through has been a worry; that I can see a set of unintended consequences that will drive the government crazy. It relies on a seemingly absurd conclusion of students behaving in a way that’s contrary to the government’s intention – not badly, but in a way that regulations and structures will be built up to stop something that might be good, because it could have consequences that they won’t like.

Modules, through the LLE, are going to meet local and national skills gaps. If you look at the courses funded in the OfS pilot, there are excellent programmes put together with employers to meet their needs. They are single offerings – say 60 credits at L4/5 which could easily fit with HTQs or form a route to a degree. A version of the future is that there’s a fixed set of LLE courses – approved in this way, validated with separate learning outcomes and notified to the SLC and students apply months in advance.

But what of the other LLE future, that it can be used for any L4/5/6 module? A student can peruse the module catalogue of any English OfS-registered provider and get a tuition fee loan to take it. It’s lifelong learning in action.

But here come our issues. There’s discussion of ELQs, but will the LLE have a notion of progression? If I have four years’ entitlement, can I take my 480 credits all at L4? Can I repeat learning? Can I take the same area of learning (say similar modules on introduction to data analysis) at different providers? Can I do that sequentially, or simultaneously? Can I take 2 30 credit modules at two different providers at the same time? What are the limits DfE imagine working on that borrowing? Let’s say I don’t fancy data analysis, but I’m into postmodernism or critical race theory. Can I borrow from the government to take 480 credits of introduction to critical race theory modules at 20 different universities? When will the SLC stop me? Will a university refuse me entry because I’ve already taken 10 similar modules? What if I arrange it so I take 150 postmodernism credits in one academic (or calendar) year? Does the accelerated degree fee loan cap still apply?

While this all seems absurd, it is worth noting there’s evidence that some people are happy to return to similar courses in adult education. Should I be able to get a loan to keep taking similar courses for years?

And then, because it’s government’s job to worry about these things, what if these return learners aren’t actually learning? The DfE are rightly worried about student outcomes, how’s it going to know that taking 480 credits of postmodernism hasn’t made me any more employable?

One thing it can make itself safe on though, and save itself repeating history from the LLA mess, is to keep courses within the OfS registration system. There are people out there selling ‘L4’ courses in all sorts of things – let’s not expand the scope further. I really would recommend DfE read chapter 9 of King & Crewe’s book on blunders regarding the ‘great training robbery’.