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A new approach to
regulating access and
participation in English
higher education
By Professor Mike Larkin. Total Equality For Students
See: http://studentequality.tefs.info/ for weekly reports, articles and
Contact: tefsinfo@gmail.com

Total Equality For Students
12th October 2018

Page 1 of 14

A new approach to regulating access and
participation in English higher education
By Professor Mike Larkin. Total Equality For Students
See: http://studentequality.tefs.info/ for weekly reports, articles and updates.
Contact: tefsinfo@gmail.com
The purpose of this short report is to provide context to the online responses to the
consultation completed by TEFS.

Background to TEFS and concern for the individual.
Total Equality For Students (TEFS) 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 no student is
left behind or struggling because of lack of time and resources.
The overriding principle is that the individual is paramount:
“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
This submission is made to highlight the need to ensure that regulation considers the
plight the individual student that may be 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 awardwinning Questor Centre [1] he retained a substantial teaching role at all levels
throughout. This included coordinating first year General Microbiology and practical
laboratory training for over 300 students.

Page 2 of 14

Professor Larkin also served on the governing body, the Senate of Queen’s
University of Belfast and was former member of its most influential ‘Planning
and Finance Committee’ during a difficult period of financial constraints.
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.

The OfS consultation.
1a. To what extent do you agree or disagree with the proposal that plans should normally remain in place
for a period of at least three years, rather than being submitted annually as at present?

This is a sensible approach. Indeed plans could extend or be extended beyond three
years to nearly five years. The challenge for the OfS is in ensuring that plans are robust
enough to succeed and that they can be managed and monitored effectively.
2a. How effective, if at all, would the proposed approach of annual impact reports and action plans be
Assessing a provider's progress compared to the sector as a whole
Assessing a provider’s progress compared to other provider
Improving a provider’s strategy to improve access and participation?
Engaging students in the monitoring of access and participation?
Capturing good practice, and findings from evaluation?

To this end, it seems that the approach is likely for be largely effective to very effective
overall. It would focus the University to look at other institutions and practices.
However one caveat is that it tends to lead to a ‘market’ in disadvantaged students.
Whilst this may be the overall philosophy of the scheme, it could have unintended
consequences as individual students are labelled as ‘very valuable’ to ‘not at all
valuable’. The principle that students are treated equally could be lost. For example a
disadvantaged student form a POLAR4 Quintile 3 neighbourhood might lose out as an
individual when targets are compared across institutions.
2b. To what extent do you agree or disagree that the submission of an action plan would make providers
more accountable to their students, the OfS, and the public for their performance in access and

A clear policy on supporting every student the same way should be made at the start
by every institution. A student charter is part of this. However a minimum standard
should be set by the OfS as the regulator, who acts on behalf of the students paying
fees, and it should apply equally across all institutions.

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2c. To what extent do you agree or disagree that the approach of a longer-cycle plan with annual impact
reporting, and ongoing OfS monitoring, will reduce the level of burden for providers not at increased risk
and apply greater scrutiny for providers at increased risk of a future breach of one or more conditions?

A longer planning period is necessary to maintain stability in the planning process of
a university (I speak as a former member of the governing body Senate of a Russell
Group University and active member of the planning and finance committee). The
OfS should set clearly the standards expected and guideline targets. The institution
will always comply with data as required and the OfS should react accordingly with
three levels of warning that end with sanctions. Fines may be ineffective as any
institution will prepare a contingency. Sanctions must be considered that are more
worrisome for some institutions.
3a. To what extent do you agree or disagree, that....
… the OfS specified aims (see paragraph 102) are the national priority areas for access and
… the OfS should specify measures that we encourage providers to use when setting targets related to
OfS-specified aims
... providers should also be able to set additional targets relative to their context?
... the proposal allows for comparability of performance in access and participation across the sector?
... the proposal allows for progress to improve access and participation to be measured?

These ‘aims’, whilst fine and noble in themselves, are no more than aspirations without
a clear strategy. The burden of defining a strategy should lean more toward
government and the OfS and not onto the institutions taking the strain in competitive
isolation. They need to work in a clearer context of government policy.
4a. To what extent do you agree or disagree with the proposal to collect and publish, in a transparent
way, access investment?

The proposal in itself is reasonable and will be necessary to ensure that access is
transparent. It is particularly important that spend and resources are clearly defined
and openly declared.
4b.To what extent do you agree or disagree with the proposal to disaggregate access spend by post-16,
pre-16 and work with adults and communities?

On the face of it, this seems a sensible idea. However TEFS has not scrutinised the
existing data to see if there are any potential pitfalls in doing this.
4c.To what extent do you agree or disagree that a strong focus on targets and outcomes alone, creates
enough pressure to secure sufficient funding in access and participation to achieve change, without an
expectation of spend?

If real change is to be made, then resources have to be found. There will be a quantum
of resource attached to each disadvantaged student. This can be budgeted for across
the UK from data that exists. It could be costed and assessed using the ‘Green Book’
model associated with assessing government investment. Simply hiding the costs
beneath the veil of each autonomous institution will also hide the burden put upon fee
payers who can afford university paces. The money must come from somewhere and
students will inevitably start following the money to ascertain how it is spent. It will not
remain hidden and ‘following the money’ will be a strategy used by outside observers
such as TEFS.

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4d. To what extent do you agree or disagree that these principles should underpin our approach to
funding and investment in access and participation?

Of course it should inform spending. But this can only be in the context of defining the
whole financial strategy across all institutions and across the UK. Robbing Peter to
pay Paul is not a sensible strategy. It hides the overall cost burdens for people in the
country; particularly graduates that payed full fees and have repayments of loans
5a. To what extent do you agree or disagree that an evaluation self-assessment tool will contribute to
improvements in evaluation practice?

Evaluation should be made on robust requirements by an independent body. Various
alternatives used by institutions will become ‘fudge factories’.
Tracking services are used for evaluation to track participants who have taken part in access and
participation activity.
5b. What support do you think the OfS could provide to enable the more effective use of tracking

Any tracking has to be by agreement with individuals and include all students equally.
It should be administered within institutions but subject to strict regulatory control.
6a. To what extent do you agree or disagree that OfS should undertake further work to explore whether
data split by age could be included within the transparency information condition?

In an advancing digital age, this should be easily possible. A pilot should be set up as
soon as practicable.
6b. To what extent do you agree or disagree that OfS should undertake further work to explore whether
data split by disability status should be included within the transparency information condition?

In an advancing digital age, this should be easily possible. A pilot shoule be set up as
soon as practicable.
7a. To what extent do you agree or disagree that OfS should create and maintain an access and
participation dataset as proposed in paragraphs 158 - 169?

This is a sensible approach. However, the data will be gathered by HESA that is not
independent of the universities and not the subject of freedom of information controls
and strictures. See ‘Data underpinning policy’ proposals below. This situation should
be addressed as a matter of urgency as it taints the whole process. HESA should not
be contracted by OfS and certainly should not be owned by Universities as a company.
It must become a wing of the independent ONS to provide credibility. With the OfS
also likely to come under increasing ministerial direction, it is essential that data
gathering is not just independent but is seen clearly as independent. A caveat is that
this may become increasingly important if there is a change of government.
7b. To what extent do you agree or disagree that the proposed datasets would hold providers to account
on their performance against targets?

This would be the case. However it would commit many institutions to spending more
that they can sustain. Others may plan to avoid spend and take the consequences.

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7c. Are there any measures you feel are missing from the dataset? (max 300 words).

The gathering of data on the study time available for any student is essential to
ensuring a fairer higher education system.
Do you have any further comments?

These are listed below under.
1. Priorities for a fairer Higher Education system
2. Who finances Higher education? The role of students through part-time
employment and a ‘stealth tax’.
3. How students fund themselves: the extent that part-time employment amongst
students is financing Higher Education.
4. Student financial burdens, part-time jobs and attainment: the evidence and
need for change.
5. The time deficit affecting many students.
6. The data underpinning policy and its regulation.
7. Data gathering decisions should be independent of the institutions.
8. Debt aversion and the ‘Safety Net’ hypothesis.
9. Conclusion and recommendations.
1. Priorities for a fairer Higher Education system.
The current Office for Students addresses regulation relating to policy in England since
education is devolved in the other UK jurisdictions. However, the underlying
philosophy, priorities and case presented here apply equally to Scotland, Wales and
Northern Ireland.
There are TWO priorities highlighted below. They are proposed as the foundation upon
which any regulation and scrutiny and their effectiveness is assessed. They are related
to ensuring the fairness of Higher Education provision, regulation and the
independence of the data that underpins the assessment of fairness and any costbenefit analysis arising. Regulation of one aspect of provision must be in the context
of the whole regulatory framework. In regulating the provision 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. There would be a minimum base line set for all institutions. With this
principle at the base, all other factors can be adjusted accordingly.
2. That the data gathering that underpins regulation, 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

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ensuring effectiveness of policies and associated cost-benefit analysis. It
should be conducted completely independently of the institutions concerned.
2. Who finances Higher education? The role of students through part-time
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. Now institutions will bear the burden of support for some
students and this will be a cross subsidy from the better off.
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 [2]. This policy
also resulted in an inevitable degree of ‘debt aversion’ that influenced the behaviour
of students from lower income families as discussed further below.
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 in government. This caused many
families to miscalculate what was needed and many advisory organisations changed
their advice several times in this period.
The proposal of OfS is to ask universities to counter this effect on an institution level
through piecemeal subsidies and enforce this via OfS as a regulator. This in effect
becomes a stealth tax on graduates without affecting general taxation.
3. 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
[3] 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 termtime jobs in 2014 and 57% in 2013. Furthermore, the families that could afford it were

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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’ [4]. 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 degrees.
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
4. Student financial burdens, part-time jobs and attainment; the evidence
and need for change.
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 parttime 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 most
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 of 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” [5]. By 2008, Callender et al [6] 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
inequalities in higher education”. This study reinforced an earlier report from one post92 University [7] 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”.

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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 time-tabled 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” [8]. This is further evidenced by McGregor (2015)
[9] 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 [10] and the USA in 2016 [11]. A study in 2011 showed that the
influence of parental education and success is felt across eleven EU countries
including the UK [12].
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 [13]. 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. [11] 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. This should be monitored as a key data entry in any return
from universities as part of the OfS regulatory framework.
5. 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. Without these baselines clearly defined, no regulatory framework is likely
to be effective.
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

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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 two year timetables
would only favour those with better funding and exacerbate the inequality situation too
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.
6. The data underpinning policy and its regulation.
The need for relevant data that underpins the policy, assessing outcomes and a costbenefit analysis is clear.
In terms of access and widening participation, the data on the socio economic
background of students is crucial. These 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 [14] 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.
7. 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

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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
Most people know about and trust the Office for National Statistics (ONS) [15] 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 nonministerial 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 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) [16]. 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 [17], 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 admitted.
“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 [16] is a ‘notfor-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

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(see TEFS: Flying over the UK on a POLAR expedition. The distant cracks in university
access are widening. April 2018 [14]).
An ongoing ‘initiative’ of HESA noted the Bell Review worth highlighting is the ‘Data
Futures Programme’ [18]. 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 [19]. 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.
8. 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 [20].
Higher Education Institutions will have to grapple with these issues in delivering
support for students and widening access. Some will be outside of their control and
might expect government to provide a better lead. 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 [21] 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, middle-class 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 ‘lowerclass, 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

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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’.
9. Conclusion and recommendations.
Before designing and regulating any system it must start with consideration of the
individual student and work from that point. If there is a solid foundation of principles
of fairness, then regulation can more easily measure all initiatives and outcomes
against these benchmark principles.
Three principles in seeking a fair and equal education of high quality should 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
at a level above that of the institution. This releases institutions from the
considerable administration of ad hoc arrangements and makes regulation an order
of magnitude simpler. 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 disadvantaged students not paying fees. In effect these
would be partly subsidised by the tax payer in a progressive system.
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. The data on individual students would be
gathered at this level as part of a contract with the institution.
This would move closer to the ideals of Robbins in 1963 who noted that:

Page 13 of 14

“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.”

[1] The Queen’s University Environmental Science and Technology (QUESTOR) Centre.
http://www.questor.qub.ac.uk/ The Queens’ Anniversary Prize For Higher and Further
Education http://www.royalanniversarytrust.org.uk/the-prizes/previous-prize-winners
[2] Andrew McGettigan 2013. The Great University Gamble. Pluto Press and
[3] Endsleigh NUS Insight 2015 Student Survey. https://www.endsleigh.co.uk/pressreleases/10-august-2015/
[4] Student income and expenditure survey 2014 to 2015. Department of Education March
[5] Christie, H., M. Munro, and H. Rettig. 2001. “Making Ends Meet: Student Incomes and
Debt.” Studies in Higher Education 26(3):363–83.
[6] Callender, C. 2008. “The Impact of Term-Time Employment on Higher Education
Students’ Academic Attainment and Achievement.” Journal of Education Policy 23(4):359–
[7] 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.
[8] Robotham, David. 2012. “Student Part-Time Employment: Characteristics and
Consequences.” Education + Training 54(1):65–75.
[9] 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.
[10] Triventi, Moris. 2014. “Does Working during Higher Education Affect Students’
Academic Progression?” Economics of Education Review. 57(6): 681-702.
[11] 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.
[12] Triventi, M. 2011. “Stratification in Higher Education and Its Relationship with Social
Inequality: A Comparative Study of 11 European Countries.” European Sociological Review
[13] Geel, Regula and Uschi Backes-Gellner. 2012. “Earning While Learning: When and
How Student Employment Is Beneficial.” Labour 26(3):313–40.
[14] 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

Page 14 of 14

[15] Office for National Statistics.https://www.ons.gov.uk/
[16] HESA. https://www.hesa.ac.uk/
[17] Bell Review 2016. http://www.universitiesuk.ac.uk/policy-andanalysis/reports/Pages/report-of-the-review-group-on-uk-higher-education-sectoragencies.aspx
[18] HESA data Futures. https://www.hesa.ac.uk/innovation/data-futures
[19] Civica. https://www.civica.com/en-gb/civica-digital/
[20] TEFS Scum of the Earth Maybe – but Educated Scum Nevertheless! April 2018
[21] Claire Callender and Geoff Mason. 2017. Does student loan debt deter Higher
Education participation? New evidence from England .LLAKES Research Paper 58.

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