Policy Update – March 2022

Sharon Witherspoon MBE FAcSS, Head of Policy, Academy of Social Sciences 

Government response to Augar recommendations

The government has now given its response to the Augar recommendations in the form of two consultations. One, which has been widely covered, affects the financial terms of students loans.  This has distributional consequences for students, as analysis by the Institute of Fiscal Studies shows, and reduces the budget deficit in the short-term.

The second consultation potentially has more direct implications for university social sciences. It covers issues such as potential student number caps for particular subjects (in addition to the Office for Students proposals to use employment metrics of courses at individual HEIs in its regulation of HEIs), minimum entry requirements, changes to Foundation Years funding and provision, as well as a discussion of vocational education.

It is unclear whether the announcement of an additional £900m for strategic priorities and teaching infrastructure will include social science infrastructure, such as data labs and support for survey infrastructure. AcSS Fellows should ensure their universities consider the implications for the social sciences in their responses. AcSS will of course be responding.

Government White Paper on Levelling up

The White Paper on Levelling Up sets out 12 ‘missions’, with some metrics, which will serve as government aspirations. A general view is that the ‘missions’ look sensible and the contextual discussion is interesting. The White Paper uses much social science evidence and provides opportunities for universities to use social science in their levelling up work. Much will depend on how much real political devolution happens to encourage local policy-makers and businesses to work with local universities. So there are opportunities to welcome in the White Paper, and issues – especially of implementation – to question.

Office for Students (OfS) proposals

The Office for Students (OfS) has issued its policy proposals for addressing quality and value for university courses and given various talks about what they would mean. Our response will focus on the employment outcome measures and what they may mean for different subjects in different areas of the country. Social science leaders in universities in England and Wales should be looking at the potential impact of these measures closely. The employment metrics will also interact with the government’s announcement on student funding rules.

Other policy developments

Research Professional reports that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has now announced that no further grants will be made under the Global Challenges Research Fund, the Newton Fund or the Fund for International Collaboration, worth £2 billion to date. Existing projects will continue to be funded but no new grants will be offered. Instead, BEIS says that a new model of international science collaboration will be developed that will combine Official Development Assistance funds with non-ODA funding. There is likely to be a hiatus in funding international collaborations or global development projects.

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