Westminster Higher Education Forum

We are continuing to organise full-scale virtual conferences which retain all the features of physical seminars, including full programmes, presentations with slides, panel discussions and live delegate questions and comments sessions, person-to-person and group networking, and a permanent record provided to all delegates afterwards. New events are coming on to our conference programme all the time, so there are plenty of opportunities to join us if you haven’t already, from wherever you are.
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Delivering higher education during the pandemic - learning and value, student rights and expectations, and managing the pressure on higher education providers

March 2021

Price: £95 PLUS VAT

***Full-scale policy conference taking place online***
This conference focuses on how universities and regulators can resolve tensions between the needs and expectations of students and protecting the interests and financial viability of HEIs themselves.

The issues have become particularly significant in the context of disruption to HE provision stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Areas for discussion include:

  • latest evidence on student expectations - drawing on insights from the makeup of student complaints in the wake of the pandemic
  • key issues and how they are being tackled - blended learning and the university experience, communication and complaints processes, assessment, and calls for redress and the legal position
  • securing the future of higher education providers - the pathway to financial recovery and long-term sustainability, and the future consumer relationship between HEIs and students
  • the post-COVID-19 labour market and providing value for students moving forward - HE-acquired skills, career mentorship, and improving co-operation between universities and employers

The conference is bringing together stakeholders with key policy officials who are due to attend, including from DfE; the CMA; DCMS; DIT; 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 on the finances and reputations of some institutions of the pandemic, workforce issues, international and domestic student recruitment pressures, and assertion of student consumer rights with requests for financial compensation from HEIs, as well as on 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 how 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
  • Pathways to securing the future of higher education providers
    • Financial recovery and sustainability
    • Changing the consumer relationship between HEIs and students
  • ‘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 - the recently closed consultation 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
  • Rules for Large Group Complaints - the recently revised draft OIA rules on large group complaints, whereby multiple similar complaints against an institution would be considered as a collective, with the OIA inviting stakeholders to comment on their proposals
  • 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 - including for the reduction of fees to £3,000 and signed by over 500,000 people but rejected by government
    • Coronavirus and higher education students - statistics from a pilot of the ONS Student Covid Insights Survey finding that 21% of students were dissatisfied with their academic provision, with teaching delivery and quality being the primary causes
    • third national lockdown - with online learning continuing for the initial weeks of the spring term, limited numbers of students returning over 5 weeks and mass asymptomatic testing taking place as students return
  • concern over the financial sustainability of HEIs 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 sector’s finances, along with reducing bureaucratic burden in research, innovation and HE
  • Regulator bans controversial ‘conditional unconditional’ offers during pandemic - the OfS ban, set to be in place until September 2021
  • Russell Group statement on ensuring fair assessment and protecting the integrity of degrees - that its members will not implement safety net policies designed to protect student’s grades
  • 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
  • Latest lockdown should not lead to lost learning, says regulator - the recent letter by the OfS calling for universities to be clear with students on teaching and assessment arrangements, assess if current plans can deliver what was promised to students, and consider redress where this falls short
  • 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 devices and connectivity to properly engage
  • Digital delivery drives up student engagement and success - the recent QAA review of best practice in blended learning finding clear communication, interactive student work groups and live mini-lectures to be key drivers of student engagement 
  • tuition fee freeze - on the maximum tuition fee cap for one year, announced in the Government’s response to the Augar report, on controlling costs and delivering value for money for students

Policy officials attending:

Places have been reserved by officials from the Competition and Markets Authority; DCMS; Department for Education; Department for International Trade; and the Welsh Government. Also due to attend are representatives from BPP University; Capital Law; Caramel Rock; Copyright Licensing Agency; Erasmus Student Network UK; London School of Economics and Political Science; Mills & Reeve; Norwich University of the Arts; QA Higher Education; Stirling Careers Consultancy; Student Loans Company; University of Exeter and University of Strathclyde.

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

This pack includes

  • Dropbox video recording of the conference
  • PDF transcript of the discussion, including all speaker remarks and Q&A
  • PDFs of speakers' slide material (subject to permission)
  • PDFs of the delegate pack, including speaker biographies and attendee list
  • PDFs of delegate articles