Westminster Higher Education Forum

Since lockdown, we have been organising our full programme of conferences online. We will continue online until further notice, to ensure we play our part in helping our employees and delegates to remain safe during this time. We are pleased that so many key stakeholders, policymakers and other interested parties - both old friends and new delegates - are taking up the opportunity to discuss public policy issues and network at our impartial seminars. New events are coming on to our conference programme all the time. So there are plenty of opportunities for you to join us if you haven’t already, from wherever you are. For booking-related queries, or information on speaking, please email us at info@forumsupport.co.uk or contact us using one of the following numbers: +44 (0)7538736244 / +44 (0)7503591880 / +44 (0)7951044809.
For delegates already booked on, we will send you the online joining instructions (including links, event numbers and passwords) five working days before your conference. If you cannot find these in your inbox please email delegate.relations@forumsupport.co.uk

Delivering higher education during the pandemic - learning and value, student rights and expectations, and managing the pressure on higher education providers

Morning, Friday, 26th February 2021

***Full-scale policy conference taking place online***

This conference focuses on key issues for balancing the needs and expectations of students with protecting the interests and financial viability of higher education providers - particularly in the context of disruption to HE provision stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The conference is bringing together stakeholders with key policy officials who are due to attend, including from DCMS; HMRC; and the Welsh Government.

Areas for discussion:

COVID-19 - balancing the needs of both students and their institutions in the context of the pressures of the pandemic

  • how HEIs have adapted:
    • adjustments to teaching, learning and assessment provision as well as the wider in-person student experience in light of the pandemic
    • examples of best practice in ensuring high standards of provision during the pandemic
  • complaints against universities:
    • their changing nature during the pandemic, including:
      • remote learning - concerns about its quality and that it has not offered value for money or matched expectations of university learning
      • accommodation - continuing to pay rent for accommodation that is not used or not needed during the pandemic
      • lockdowns - the encouragement to students to attend university in person and then being subject to restrictions putting pressure on learning, student achievement and wellbeing
    • the response - what can be learned from issues experienced and how they have been addressed, assessing timeliness and processes in university action, and latest thinking on best practice
  • the future - how the experience can inform next steps for regulation, legislation and university practice post-pandemic.

Financial sustainability

  • the challenges - the impact of the pandemic, workforce issues, international and domestic student recruitment pressures, and assertion of student consumer rights with requests for financial compensation from HEIs, on the finances and reputations of some institutions and the sector as a whole
  • the response - assessing how the sector and individual institutions have dealt with student concerns, the way forward for policy and best practice, how demands for compensation can be addressed, and the practicalities of determining eligibility
  • the Petitions Committee intervention - examining the suggestions put forward for addressing the situation, such as:
    • redress - establishing a system for enabling students to easily seek a full or partial refund of tuition fees or put in place alternative arrangements such as repeating a part of their course
    • advice - ensuring university students understand their consumer rights and ways to seek redress should they feel the quality of education they have received to have been inadequate
    • support - providing additional funding to HEIs to aid them to carry out the suggested tuition fee refunds, or alternative arrangements such as reductions of student loans
  • the capacity for redress - discussing the ability of HEIs to ensure student satisfaction and provide adequate, high-quality provision when under financial strain

Student recruitment

  • fair and transparent student recruitment - the future direction of policy and practice, with the OfS ban on conditional unconditional offers made to avoid destabilising the system
  • tackling misleading advertising - as well as the impact of this on student expectations, experience and perceptions of the value for money received from their degrees

Preparing graduates for the post-COVID-19 labour market

  • skills for future employment - latest thinking on options, strategies and best practice for HEIs in ensuring that courses provide students with the necessary grounding for entering the world of work
  • support - how can careers guidance and mentorship be improved to prepare students and graduates when entering the labour market, particularly in the wake of the pandemic
  • government measures - assessing the likely effectiveness for university students of major policy initiatives from Government such as the Plan for Jobs, as well as and the Kickstart Scheme which will provide work placements for unemployed young people aged 16-24
  • best practice and collaboration with employers - how universities have succeeded in equipping students with skills and support networks for gaining employment after graduation and strategies for increasing collaboration and growing partnerships with businesses and other organisations can play an increased role

The agenda:

  • Current student expectations - insights from the makeup of student complaints in the wake of the pandemic
  • Key issues and how they are being tackled - the university experience, blended learning, communication, complaints processes, assessment, re-takes and deferrals, and calls for refunds
  • HEI finances, options for support, and providing student satisfaction in exceptional circumstances
  • Are we ALL guilty of overpromising and underdelivering?
  • Graduates in the post-COVID-19 labour market - HE-acquired skills, career guidance and mentorship, and fostering effective co-operation between universities and employers
  • Value for students moving forward - tackling key issues for universities in the wake of the pandemic

A scan of relevant developments:

  • Consultation on regulating quality and standards in higher education - examining OfS proposals including:
    • minimum baselines for student outcomes
    • more clearly defining course quality guidelines, along with minimum requirements
  • Guidance for providers about student and consumer protection during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic - from the OfS
  • Developing an understanding of projected rates of progression from entry to professional employment - the recent OfS report:
    • using new measures to examine and compare student outcomes
    • finding that only 52.8% of sociology, social policy and anthropology students progress from entry into employment
  • The impact of COVID-19 on university students - the Petitions Committee demanding clarity on students’ consumer rights
    • a series of online petitions asking HEIs to provide tuition fee refunds - the latest of which calls for the reduction of fees to £3,000 and has been signed by over 500,000 people
    • Coronavirus and higher education students - the recent ONS survey of higher education finding that 29% of student were dissatisfied with their academic provision
    • third national lockdown - with online learning continuing for the initial weeks of the spring term, students returning over 5 weeks and mass asymptomatic testing taking place as students return
  • Concern over the financial sustainability of higher education institutions in light of the pandemic - which has led to Government interventions, such as:
    • Government support package for universities and students - including business loan support and bringing forward £2.6bn worth of tuition fee repayments
    • Higher education restructuring regime - policy aiming to improve efficiency and support the finances of the sector, along with Reducing bureaucratic burden in research, innovation and higher education
  • Regulator bans controversial ‘conditional unconditional’ offers during pandemic - the OfS ban, set to be in place until September 2021
  • Government plans for post-qualification university admissions - consultation on options aimed at improving social mobility and the student experience of the admissions process
  • Fair Admissions Review - by Universities UK which includes recommendations to end conditional unconditional offers, increase the level of advice and support for applicants and the introduction of post-qualification admissions
  • QAA publishes evaluation of blended learning - finding that:

    • while providers have developed rapid approval plans for modified delivery and have used strategic steering groups to ensure quality in the transition, students should be further engaged in planning remote learning
    • increased support should be provided so that students understand how to undertake remote learning and have the necessary devise and connectivity to properly engage

Policy officials attending:

Our forums are known for attracting strong interest from policymakers and stakeholders. Places have been reserved by officials from the DCMS; HMRC; and the Welsh Government.

Overall, we expect speakers and attendees to be a senior and informed group including Members of both Houses of Parliament, senior government and regulatory officials involved in this area of policy, as well as from university and college leaders; academics and other higher education professionals; representatives from students’ unions, student support services, university admissions teams and careers centers; EdTech providers; legal and financial experts; think tanks and research institutes; local authorities; businesses and their advisors; and commentators, advocacy groups and charities; together with reporters from the national and specialist media. 

This is a full-scale conference taking place online***

  • full, four-hour programme including comfort breaks - you’ll also get a full recording and transcript to refer back to
  • information-rich discussion involving key policymakers and stakeholders
  • conference materials provided in advance, including speaker biographies
  • speakers presenting via webcam, accompanied by slides if they wish, using the Cisco WebEx professional online conference platform (easy for delegates - we’ll provide full details)
  • opportunities for live delegate questions and comments with all speakers
  • a recording of the addresses, all slides cleared by speakers, and further materials, is made available to all delegates afterwards as a permanent record of the proceedings
  • delegates are able to add their own written comments and articles following the conference, to be distributed to all attendees and more widely
  • networking too - there will be opportunities for delegates to e-meet and interact - we’ll tell you how!

Full information and guidance on how to take part will be sent to delegates before the conference

Keynote Speakers

Gordon McKenzie

CEO, Guild HE

Vanessa Wilson

CEO, University Alliance

Tracey Allen

Acting Head, Adjudication Team, Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education

Charles Heymann

Communications and Reputation Advisor


Fleur Anderson MP

Member, Education Committee


Lauren Mistry

Director, Communications and Operations, Youth Employment UK

Rami Labib

Senior Associate, Pinsent Masons LLP

Dr Michelle Morgan

Independent HE Consultant and Elected Council Member, UKCGE

Richard Stagg

Publishing Director, Pearson

Katie Shoesmith

Deputy CEO, Recruitment & Employment Confederation

Dr Eric Lybeck

Presidential Fellow, Institute of Education, University of Manchester

Sam Sanders

Consulting Lead, Education, KPMG

Rachel Hewitt

Director of Policy and Advocacy, Higher Education Policy Institute

Ruth Day

Student Living Officer, University of Bristol

Professor Andy Salmon

Pro-Vice-Chancellor, External, Bath Spa University

Ross Renton

Senior Pro Vice Chancellor, Students, University of Worcester

Salman Haqqi

Senior Personal Finance Writer, money.co.uk