TEFS submission 2nd May 2018 .pdf
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Review of Post-18 Education and Funding: Two priorities for a fairer
system for all.
By Professor Mike Larkin. Total Equality For Students
See: http://studentequality.tefs.info/ for weekly reports, articles and updates.
Total Equality For Students is about promoting equality of opportunity and equal access to
time and resources for all students regardless of disability, gender, ethnicity or a low income
background. This should be the overarching aim of all education that unlocks the full potential
in our citizens. The plea is that, in striving for a better post-18 education, no student is left
behind or struggling because of lack of time and resources.
The overriding principle is simple: “one casualty is one too many”
A perspective based upon experience in Higher Education.
Total Equality For Students was founded by Professor Mike Larkin in October 2017 as an
initiative to promote the case for equal access to resources and equality of opportunities for
students in Higher Education. It was a necessary response to his experience in teaching and
advising students from low income backgrounds in Higher Education.
This submission is made to highlight the plight of many students that are burdened with
financial worries and low paid part-time jobs whilst studying at University. This perspective
comes from extensive experience in supporting students whilst lecturing at a leading Russell
Group University, Queen’s University Belfast, over 36 years. Whilst leading a substantial
research group and coordinating academics and projects across the EU in the award-winning
Questor Centre  he retained a substantial teaching role at all levels throughout. This
included coordinating first year General Microbiology and practical laboratory training for over
With the introduction of fees, from the outset it became clear that many students were seeking
more help in coping with their studies. Many were compromising their attainment at University
through diverting too much of their time to part-time jobs. This was a delicately balanced
compromise intended to offset future debt burden and reduce the immediate financial
pressures on them and their hard pressed families. As the burden of fees increased and the
provision of maintenance grants was eroded, the situation became steadily worse for many
students from lower income families. This scenario is likely to have spread across the UK to
varying degrees depending upon the policies of the various jurisdictions.
TEFs is currently addressing the specific issue of ensuring equal access to resources and,
very importantly, time for all students across the UK. This includes a detailed review of the
formal evidence that examines the effect that part-time jobs has on attainment in course marks
and degree grades that students achieve.
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Priorities for a fairer system.
The current Department of Education review appears to address policy relating to England
only since education is devolved in the other UK jurisdictions. However the priorities and case
presented here applies equally to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
There are TWO priorities highlighted in this submission. They are proposed as the foundation
upon which any policy change is made and how its effectiveness is assessed. They are related
to the fairness of the post-18 education provision and the independence of the data that
underpins the assessment of fairness and any cost-benefit analysis arising. In making change
it is also essential that the policies are planned in the longer-term so that students and their
families can plan effectively well into the future.
1. That equality of opportunity for all students in their studies is always ensured and that
this principle is the foundation for ALL decisions made regarding access, financing and
delivery of courses. This impacts fair access, support whilst a student is studying and
equitable value for money related to any financial burden and/or debt incurred. One
suggestion is that the resource of study time is placed top of the list of resources that
should be equalised for all students. With this principle at the base all other factors can
be adjusted accordingly.
2. That the data gathering that underpins policy decisions and associated cost- benefit
analysis is designed to effectively assess equality of opportunity for students. This
should be reviewed as part of a process of ensuring effectiveness of policies and
associated cost-benefit analysis. It should be conducted completely independently of
the institutions concerned.
Who finances Higher education? The role of students through part-time employment.
This has become a very confused scenario across the UK; but it can be broken down into two
basic demands from the post-18 education system.
1) That the institution is funded to support the costs of teaching and
2) That the student is adequately resourced for their living expenses.
In general there are a variety of funding routes feeding the two demands above. In simple
terms, these are the tax payer (including borrowing and write-down of debts), the students
themselves (including their personal debt) and their families supporting students. The
increasing extent to which charities, including food banks, support students is largely ignored.
In introducing loans that now cover the full costs of fees, the government essentially shifted
the burden, either onto the families of students or onto the students themselves through loans
and projected debt. This resulted in government financing the universities ‘up front’ and betting
on repayments returning in time. The implications of this policy were first described fully by
Andrew McGettigan in ‘The Great University Gamble’ in 2013 and in subsequent detailed
commentary and analyses . This policy also resulted in an inevitable degree of ‘debt
aversion’ that influenced the behaviour of students from lower income families as discussed
Maintenance grants for students that have no or little family support is crucial to ensuring
fairness. In England, the abolition of maintenance grants in 1998, their reintroduction in 2004
and abolition again in 2016, altered the balance of funding from the taxpayer onto the students
then back to the tax payer and then back again to students. This chaotic approach fuelled a
sense of caution in many families and sowed the seeds of confusion and lack of confidence
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in government. This caused many families to miscalculate what was needed and many
advisory organisations changed their advice several times in this period.
How students fund themselves: the extent that part-time employment amongst
students is financing Higher Education.
A survey by the Royal bank of Scotland in 2006 reported that almost half of the UK's students
worked part-time during the term and earned a staggering £2.3bn a year. Those that did,
worked an average of 16 hours a week, with 20% doing more than 20 hours per week.
Subsequent surveys by Endsleigh with the National Union of Students  reached similar
conclusions. By 2015, 77% of the 4,642 surveyed had jobs; 63% worked part-time and,
amazingly, 14% worked full time. By comparison 59% had term-time jobs in 2014 and 57% in
2013. Furthermore, the families that could afford it were contributing increasingly more funds
to help out. These figures appeared to be driven by the decision to increase fees further in
2012 after the Browne review of 2010. In March 2018 the Department of Education released
more detailed data of England in its ‘Student income and expenditure survey 2014 to 2015’
. The data emphasised further the extent of the part-time work that was carried out by
students at that time. This varied greatly across different degree subjects that reflected the
time demands of different degree pathways and the needs of students choosing those
The link between increased financial burdens and part-time work seems clear enough.
However, such surveys often present overall averages that hide the extent of the time
pressures on the lowest income students. There are many individuals that show extraordinary
determination in the face of the challenge, but suffer a consequent loss of attainment. Data
such as this should be updated as a matter of urgency as government policy shifts and the
mode of gathering data should be reviewed. This should be linked to study time available and
attainment as argued below
Student financial burdens, part-time jobs and attainment – the evidence:
This appears to be the biggest ‘elephant in the room’ for institutions. Many universities do not
gather formal data that might link the burden of part-time jobs to student attainment. One
reason for this might be to hide the evidence that the number of contact hours with students
has declined since fees were introduced. This enables scope for more part-time working and
thus lets poorer students complete their studies. Academic attainment is ascribed to the
individual and their ability and not to other factors. Nevertheless, many universities survey
students regarding the extent of part-time jobs but have somewhat patchy data. Students are
often reluctant to divulge how much work they are doing. Thus the problem remains largely a
hidden one and academic staff are not fully aware of the extent of the time pressures amongst
the students that they teach.
There are only a limited number studies that have sought to define the link between the time
spent in part-time employment and attainment. In 2001 it was concluded that, “There is found
to be a financially vulnerable group of students whose fragile financial position largely results
from their parents being unable to offer much financial support; this group in particular finds
their time at university characterised by considerable amounts of paid work and increasing
debt” . By 2008, Callender et al  reported on a study of 1000 students in six UK
universities. This may still be the most rigorous study to date and it opened up some alarming
observations of the situation then. It showed clearly that part-time work during term had a
detrimental effect on both final year marks and degree results. Indeed, going further, it
reported a greater negative effect with the greater the number of hours students worked.
Consequently, it was concluded that, “students working the average number of hours a week
were a third less likely to get a good degree than an identical non-working student. Some of
the least qualified and poorest students are most adversely affected perpetuating existing
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inequalities in higher education”. This study reinforced an earlier report from one post-92
University  that observed that those in employment in the term were disproportionately from
less well-off backgrounds. It concluded that we might become “concerned about the efficiency
(loss of attainment) as well as the equity/fairness consequences of the arrangements”.
By 2012, a web based study in another university showed that the majority of students worked
in the term. Indeed, some students were spending longer in such employment than in timetabled classes but saw positive aspects of work experience. It was concluded that there was
a “need for institutions to consider offering more support mechanisms for individual students”
. This is further evidenced by McGregor (2015)  whose studies concluded that almost
two thirds of students worked in term-time with an average of 16 hours per week calculated.
Whilst most felt this affected their studies, over half also declared that their physical health
was affected. Fewer noted mental health problems but it was also a concerning issue.
The extent of part-time jobs amongst students is not confined to the UK. There are numerous
examples world-wide. For example, similar conclusions have been reported in Italy in 2014
 and the USA in 2016 . A study in 2011 showed that the influence of parental education
and success is felt across eleven EU countries including the UK .
A general conclusion is that some term-time working may be beneficial to studies, particularly
if it is related to the degree subject and objectives . However, although suggested in some
cases, there is no good evidence that there is a generally applicable or an ideal threshold
number of hours beyond which working is detrimental to studies. Nevertheless the study of
Logan et al.  concluded that exceeding 20 hours a week was to be discouraged.
These conclusions emphasise that need to limit the time students spend away from their
studies on paid work.
The time deficit affecting many students.
The first thing to clarify is what the social and political objectives are with regard to students
in Higher Education. Secondly, to define a basis for fairness and equality of opportunity.
One critical resource that is not addressed in the data, but which logically must affect the
attainment of students, is the availability of time.
If, for example, a university was to offer their students an extra hour in an examination if they
could pay a fee for it, everyone would be outraged. However, it seems that assessing a
substantial course assignment or project that counts greatly towards the degree outcome is
not constrained by such a notion of fairness. A student with the time available may spend, for
example, 20 or so hours on their assignment whereas a student with part-time work perhaps
exceeding 20 hours per week may have to forgo sleep to compete effectively. This is not equal
or fair by any measure.
The emphasis should change from how much part-time work is being done to how much time
and resources each and every student has available to complete their studies.
The universities should not feel the need compromise the contact time and the support
available to accommodate the part-time jobs of students or to allow significant numbers of
staff to concentrate on research whilst low paid assistants bear the increased teaching burden.
Instead they should consider the role that part-time degree courses might play in mitigating
the time deficit that many students struggle to make up. However, this should not lead to
further divergence of the advantaged better off students from the disadvantaged students who
are stretching their degree over much longer periods. The proposal to condense degrees into
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two year timetables would only favour those with better funding and exacerbate the inequality
situation too much.
Time availability is also affected greatly by commuting time. It is common for students from
lower income backgrounds to attend local universities that are closer to their home and their
established part-time jobs. This can often incur travel costs that are offset by the lower cost of
living at home; whereby families absorb what are essentially hidden costs. However, there has
been little attention given to the time implications of longer travel times.
The data underpinning the policy.
The need for relevant data that underpins the policy, assessing outcomes and a cost-benefit
analysis is clear.
In terms of Social Mobility, the data on the socio economic background of students is crucial.
This data are gathered from Higher Education Institutions by HESA and UCAS and has
recently moved from considering the individual student and their socio economic group to
considering the level of deprivation in the various geographical areas that they come from.
These are known as Participation of Local Areas or POLAR areas that match the various
council wards and populations of over 5,000 souls each. The case to reconsider this approach
has been made by TEFS  in much more detail than here. The POLAR methodology tends
to set arbitrary boundaries and ignores the individual and their projected needs. Also it creates
a rift of continuity from the existing historical data.
This is exacerbated further by a move to the latest version of POLAR4 that has realigned the
boundaries from earlier versions to such an extent that comparisons year on year will be hard
to make. By contrast, Scotland has instead assessed its data on smaller geographical areas
of a few hundred people in relation to the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD). It
would be better still if more reliable data on the circumstances of individual students could be
gathered. The point of contact with every student is the tutor and lecturer. Institutions will
need to assess each to their students’ individual circumstances and not their POLAR origin
information alone. Therefore the data should match the individual if meaningful conclusions
about their success are to be made.
Data gathering decisions should be independent of the institutions.
The gathering of data about universities and students would be expected by many observers
to be entirely independent of the institutions. This is in the sense that an independent body
might be expected to independently determine which data is to be acquired, how it is analysed
and how it is presented. Also that it would match data closely to the need for assessing
effectiveness of government policies over longer time spans.
Most people know about and trust the Office for National Statistics (ONS)  since it updates
the general population and government, on inflation, population demographics and the state
of our nation. It is the central plank upon which government makes decisions on our behalf.
Its independence and trustworthiness is vital. Formed in 1996 by merging various statistical
agencies, by 2006 it was a non-ministerial body that had become entirely independent of
government. By this account it can be assumed that any data feeding into any measure of
'Social Mobility' would be their concern. Indeed, this is the case for much of the key data.
However, it is also tacitly understood by most people that the progress of students through
Higher and Further education is a key component of ‘Social Mobility’.
The data on universities should match closely the needs of the policy decisions of government.
Missing information concerning how much time students spend working part-time linked to
their attainment could be used to further improvements for disadvantaged students. Targets
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could be set regarding the backgrounds of individual students and their progress could be
tracked more fully.
However, the data on universities is instead gathered by a body called the Higher Education
Statistics Agency (HESA) . Unlike ONS, it is not subject to Freedom of Information and is
not exposed to public scrutiny.
A review of all of the Higher education sectors in 2016 laid the foundations for the merger of
several bodies including HESA. Known as the Bell review , after Sir David Bell, Vice
Chancellor of Reading University, it is worth considering in detail with regard to how
universities operate together. One recommendation (recommendation 3 below) is that all
bodies that gather information on students should merge, is still in the pipeline. Along with
HESA, these bodies handle support data on careers (HESCU), data support (JISC) and
admissions (UCAS). The latter is essential for assessing the qualifications of the students
“Recommendation 3: HECSU, HESA, Jisc and UCAS should form a strategic delivery
partnership with a focus on improving the efficiency and effectiveness of data-related functions
and services. The partnership should aim to better coordinate data- and innovation-led
activities, with a focus on reducing the administrative burden on institutions and enhancing the
overall impact and effectiveness of the system. The HESA Data Futures project may form an
important part of the partnership’s future programme of work.”
Cost-cutting by the universities seems to be the main objective. HESA  is a ‘not-for-profit’
private limited company owned by its members. Its members are Universities UK and GuildHE
and it is funded by subscriptions from higher education providers throughout the UK. Therefore
the collection of key data and performance indicators is carried out by a limited company
whose future is determined by the very sector under surveillance. Changes in how data is
collected have included the way social inclusion is recorded via the use of POLAR
geographical data and not that of individual students (see TEFS: Flying over the UK on a
POLAR expedition. The distant cracks in university access are widening. April 2018 ).
An ongoing ‘initiative’ of HESA noted the Bell Review worth highlighting is the ‘Data Futures
Programme’ . Data Futures:
“will deliver the vision for a modernised and more efficient approach to collecting data”.
This is being carried out in partnership with a private sector ‘for profit’ company called Civica
that provides data services for many government agencies and the private sector . At the
moment HESA relies upon single annual returns from universities but this is “under transition”
at present; with a plan to gather data for a single return for academic year 2019/20 before
moving to a so called “in-year” mode of collection from August 2020. This is a significant
change that will be a major challenge. Included in this is centralising the ‘Graduate Outcomes’
data gathering. This shifts the burden of acquiring this data from the universities themselves
onto HESA, who will conduct their own survey of graduates from December this year. This will
effectively control and standardise the mechanism and outputs and no doubt please the OfS,
who will no doubt generate a league table as a result.
These changes should be subject to a major consideration of the data collected to ensure that
it is consistent with the policy aims of government. Data on the fate of low income students
should be readily accessible to feed into assessing how effective policy changes are.
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Debt aversion and the ‘Safety Net’ hypothesis.
The various factors likely to influence whether students from low income backgrounds risk
embarking on a higher or further education is discussed recently in TEFS . This includes
access to funding during the crucial ‘black hole’ period between the ages of 16 to 19. A second
factor is the likelihood of students having considerable so called ‘debt version’. In a detailed
study of students’ attitude to debt, and its likelihood to deter them from attending university,
Callender et al 2017  concluded that loan debt was viewed more favourably in 2015 than
in 2002. Nonetheless, a sizeable minority of students are debt averse; with lower-class
students exhibiting more debt aversion than upper-class students in 2015. However, middleclass students in 2015 were generally not more debt averse than lower-class students. No
explanation for this apparent anomaly is proposed. The report persists with the somewhat
patronising and archaic descriptors ‘lower middle and upper class’ based upon self-declaration
in the questionnaire used. However, there is one factor not discussed that distinguishes the
so called ‘lower-class, middle-class and upper-class’ students. This is an increase in the
capital assets accumulated by their respective families as the pyramid of social classes is
scaled. This can be considered as the ‘Safety Net’. ‘Upper-class’ students can take risks in
climbing higher and aspire to more in their career as they have long-term backup assured in
family assets that they will inherit. They have wider choice in their options. The so called’
lower-classes’ have little or no safety net. If they run out of money then they starve. In the long
run the debt is their individual responsibility with no projected inheritance to fall back upon.
The other ‘classes’ can be reassured by increasing levels of capital, often tied up in property,
to inherit. They have a visible ‘safety net’.
Conclusion and recommendations.
Before designing any funding system it must start with consideration of the individual student
and work from that point.
Three principles in seeking a fair and equal education of high quality might be:
1. Every university provides defined, rigorous and testing degree programmes that offer
access to the full expertise of the most experienced staff. This would to some extent reverse
the expansion of short-term contract staff that have supported the expansion in student
numbers in favour expanding of long-term experienced staff.
2. Every student has the same access to time and resources to carry out their studies
regardless of background. In making policy, the particular emphasis should be on ensuring
that every student has the same time available for their studies. This would be the basis for
assessing value for the money invested by the student, their families and the tax payer.
3. The data that supports the policies should relate to the individual student. That data should
be gathered by a body that is free from commercial influences and also entirely independent
of the institutions it is observing.
To achieve these goals, it will be necessary to create a means tested funding system. This
would be composed of two elements that ensure an equitable balance between contributions
from the tax payer and from the students and families.
1) Universities would receive from fees and government a flat rate of funding per
student related to the amount of resource they devote to teaching in each area. This
may vary according to the cost of the subject and the projected need for students in
areas of shortage. Fees and loans would be means tested with the most
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disadvantaged students not paying fees. In effect these would be partly subsidised
by the tax payer.
2) All students would be expected to devote the same amount of time to their degree
studies. Each individual student would generate a study plan that demonstrated this
was possible and the expectation would be that more rigorous standards were
imposed by the institutions in return. A mixture of grants that were means tested and
loans would be available to ensure that this was possible in all cases.
This would move closer to the ideals of Robins 1963 who noted that:
“Courses of higher education should be available for all those who are qualified by ability
and attainment to pursue them and who wish to do so.”
 The Queen’s University Environmental Science and Technology (QUESTOR) Centre.
http://www.questor.qub.ac.uk/ The Queens’ Anniversary Prize For Higher and Further
 Andrew McGettigan 2013. The Great University Gamble. Pluto Press and
 Endsleigh NUS Insight 2015 Student Survey. https://www.endsleigh.co.uk/pressreleases/10-august-2015/
 Student income and expenditure survey 2014 to 2015. Department of Education March
 Christie, H., M. Munro, and H. Rettig. 2001. “Making Ends Meet: Student Incomes and
Debt.” Studies in Higher Education 26(3):363–83.
 Callender, C. 2008. “The Impact of Term-Time Employment on Higher Education
Students’ Academic Attainment and Achievement.” Journal of Education Policy 23(4):359–
 Hunt, Andrew, Ian Lincoln, and Arthur Walker. 2004. “Term-Time Employment and
Academic Attainment: Evidence from a Large-Scale Survey of Undergraduates at
Northumbria University.” Journal of Further and Higher Education 28(1):3–18.
 Robotham, David. 2012. “Student Part-Time Employment: Characteristics and
Consequences.” Education + Training 54(1):65–75.
 McGregor, Iain. 2015. “How Does Term-Time Paid Work Affect Higher Education
Students’ Studies, and What Can Be Done to Minimise Any Negative Effects?” Journal of
Perspectives in Applied Academic Practice 3(2):3–14.
 Triventi, Moris. 2014. “Does Working during Higher Education Affect Students’
Academic Progression?” Economics of Education Review. 57(6): 681-702.
 Logan, Jennifer, Traci Hughes, and Brian Logan. 2016. “Overworked? An Observation
of the Relationship Between Student Employment and Academic Performance.” Journal of
College Student Retention: Research, Theory & Practice 18(3):250–62.
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 Triventi, M. 2011. “Stratification in Higher Education and Its Relationship with Social
Inequality: A Comparative Study of 11 European Countries.” European Sociological Review
 Geel, Regula and Uschi Backes-Gellner. 2012. “Earning While Learning: When and
How Student Employment Is Beneficial.” Labour 26(3):313–40.
 TEFS. Flying over the UK on a POLAR expedition. The distant cracks in university
access are widening. http://studentequality.tefs.info/2018/04/flying-over-uk-on-polarexpedition.html
 Office for National Statistics.https://www.ons.gov.uk/
 HESA. https://www.hesa.ac.uk/
 Bell Review 2016. http://www.universitiesuk.ac.uk/policy-andanalysis/reports/Pages/report-of-the-review-group-on-uk-higher-education-sectoragencies.aspx
 HESA data Futures. https://www.hesa.ac.uk/innovation/data-futures
 Civica. https://www.civica.com/en-gb/civica-digital/
 TEFS Scum of the Earth Maybe – but Educated Scum Nevertheless! April 2018
 Claire Callender and Geoff Mason. 2017. Does student loan debt deter Higher
Education participation? New evidence from England .LLAKES Research Paper 58.