Donelan's speech at #THELive this am proclaimed a "revolution" in DfE's approach to #HEaccess.
It certainly will mean radical changes, many of which won't achieve her stated aims (nor even the aims she should have).
Yes, it's a thread of concerns in no particular order.
1. Access & Participation Plans all need to rewritten.

Outgoing DFAP @Millward_Ch had sensibly extended the time-frame of APPs to enable longer term strategies, because impact often takes time when it comes to access.
To demand that unis produce new APPs just 2 years into those 5-year strategies is like sowing carrot seeds and digging them up a month later and wondering why your soup doesn't taste much of carrot.
That said, it's not crazy to revisit APPs in the context of Covid and the proposal to make them simpler and more transparent would be good.
It's no access game-changer though – anyone who thinks they'll inform prospective students' choices has never met one.
2. Universities should partner with schools and colleges to raise attainment in schools.

Well, yes, but they have no specialist experience at doing so. Higher education institutions' educational specialism is in, erm, higher education.
Why should uni lecturers be better at tutoring secondary (or primary!) pupils than teachers who have trained in that level of education explicitly? If they were, why would we bother training people to be any other kind of teacher?
Also who exactly is going to do this tutoring? Even if we focus on just the lowest performing quintile, that's 100,000s per cohort and we'd want to work with, say 5 cohorts at a time.
Uni academics aren't exactly lazing around & if they're redirected to schools, then HE teaching will suffer.
So maybe students can do this tutoring?
Apart from time, cost & travel issues, again, why do we think they can achieve attainment outcomes that trained teachers can't?
Unis partnerships with schools are indeed very valuable, but difficult to establish and maintain. The difficulties are on all sides – and persist not for lack of will. (Unis often need the support of 3rd sector organisations.)
3. The focus on attainment is good, but it's just one part of the equation.
There's a wider need for careers education, info, advice & guidance as well as raising pupils’ confidence and building wider skills in order to support their progress into HE and the workplace.
Unis can contribute to this, but it's really not their bag nor should it be. Trying to unload it onto them is an abrogation of the responsibilities of the DfE by the DfE.
4. It's all very well to ask unis to raise the attainment of hundreds of thousands of disadvantaged pupils.

Where's the funding? In real terms, HE funding has been falling for 10 years.
You can't ask unis to improve their own supposed "low quality courses" (always ill-defined) & fix deficiencies in other parts of the education sector and do so with ever lower resources.
In fact, if they're so low quality, why is DfE so keen for them to tutor schools pupils?
5. DfE wants a big focus on drop-out.

The causes of drop-out are many & varied, and rarely entirely within the control of HE providers. Research is clear: it is always harder for 1st-in-family students compared to those with safety nets of finance and background.
Focusing on drop-out is also inconsistent with the highly laudable, more hop-on-hop-off, flexible approach to learning that the government is proposing in the #SkillsForJobs White Paper and which Michelle Donelan also spoke about this morning.
6. Donelan insisted "good outcomes" means graduate jobs not necessarily higher pay.

However, defining a grad job without reference to salary is well nigh impossible. Whenever salary becomes a proxy metric for HEIs' performance, it incentivises unintended consequences.
Quite apart from salaries not being the only goal of HE, what people earn is more to do with variations in region, social capital, gender, etc, than anything universities can control.
A focus on outcomes without regard for inputs will always encourage unis not to admit students with a propensity to earn lower wages (such as those from disadvantaged backgrounds, mature, women, ethnic minorities, etc).

This defies the whole purpose of this "revolution".
7. The question of regional pay is critical. By definition, using higher pay as a metric of success undermines efforts to level up by draining areas with low salaries of their brightest and best.

Social mobility should not necessitate geographic mobility. #LevellingUp
8. Donelan spoke about “cutting out complexity and bureaucracy” in access activities.

I agree there is too much box-ticking, but individuals’ circumstances are complex and the ways to support their success are rarely simple.
Removing complexity may mean removing effectiveness and some of the bureaucracy exists to create evaluative frameworks that will help us understand better what works.
9. Donelan wants "tough, ambitious targets" for degree apprenticeships, HTQs & part-time courses.

Great, but the unis best able to deliver these are those that will be hardest hit by impossible expectations to achieve better-than-average outcomes for all students.
Also, yet again, the number of degree apprenticeships is another thing that unis cannot do much about.
App'ships are "employer-centred": employers recruit, not unis. Unis provide the learning component, but can't fund app'ships and levy funding is currently at capacity.
10. We all hoped degree apprenticeships would be a new pathway for access and social mobility.

Sadly that has not proved to be the case. Degree apprentices tend to be less disadvantaged on average than the wider student body.
Those that are largely delivering good earning outcomes are often in sectors where learners have been enrolled on degree apprenticeship programmes in place of other in-work career development they might have had anyway (eg. business courses). This skews the data.
11. Promoting HTQs (higher technical qualifications) is all very well, but, erm, they don’t really exist yet (unless she means foundation degrees, HNDs, HNCs).

The DfE’s plans for HTQs are modelled on T levels which are themselves an unproven model with many challenges.
It seems unfair to ask HEIs to submit APPs in support of qualifications that don’t exist and about which the government has not yet published details.
12. I didn't catch it in the speech, but in an accompanying letter to unis, Donelan said that they should get brownie points for outreach that encourages students to go to other unis (or degree apprenticeships) than the one that did the outreach.
A mechanism for this would indeed be brilliant. But it ain't easy and, so far, I have seen no details how it will be achieved. I can't run a 3-minute mile merely by saying it should happen.
And, by the way, ideally outreach would encourage young people not just to go to uni or degree apprenticeships but pursue whatever path is right for them. Donelan said as much and I agree.
The thing is, that's not really outreach we're talking about any more. It's careers IAG. And it looks suspiciously like something the government should ensure that schools can provide rather than getting unis to plug a gap they're not best equipped to plug.
In summary, this "revolution" is made up of a toolbox of spanners when what we need is a set of screwdrivers.
Donelan also announced the appointment of the new DFAP @johndavidblake who will need to make sense of it all. That's a very welcome appointment. I wish him well and look forward to offering support to make the revolution revolve in the right direction somehow.
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More from @JohnnySRich

25 Nov
#THElive session on “reputation”: right from the start some of the circular arguments around the notion of reputation are being uncritically pursued. Reputation drives rankings, ranking drive reputation. Brand drives rep, rep drives brand. Etc...
We’ve also heard (I’m paraphrasing) that reputation doesn’t necessarily reflect quality and quality doesn’t necessarily reflect reputation.

Are these kinds of statement not evidence that reputation is a fairly vacuous concept?
Reputation seems to be basically the same as brand and, like brand, it’s superficial and irrelevant unless it's authentic.

And if authenticity is key, surely the aim is to chase quality not reputation?
Read 7 tweets
24 Nov
#THELIVE kicking off with @michelledonelan announcing “historic” reforms of #HEaccess. They are indeed big, but those of us who work in the field will have deep and well founded concerns.
Donelan sets scene for reform: skills shortages, levelling up, fairness, inclusion. The slogan gets its first outing: “it’s not just about getting in, but getting on”.
Donelan is comparing #LifelongLoanEntitlement to the founding of the NHS and saying it will revolutionise attitude to upskilling and reskilling. < Looking forward to the funding that will make this possible. Also to reskill people must be allowed to step down quals as well as up.
Read 14 tweets
23 Nov
An excellent session. Many thanks to the experts who shared their insights. Among the many great takeaways, I’ll highlight one from Simon Field who drew from pactice in other countries…

@res_publica @CSkidmoreUK #LifelongEducation
@res_publica @CSkidmoreUK To recognise workplace experience of older learners, design a qualification with no course structure, just an assessment. Courses can be self-designed to plug individuals' knowledge/skills gaps. An interesting approach to reskilling challenge.
An issue which keeps coming up at every evidence session is the desperate need for better careers information, advice and guidance in schools, colleges and communities.
Read 4 tweets
29 Apr
@ucu and @NEONHE have today published report supporting the proposals to move to a #PQA system for #UniAdmissions.

But are they right?…
I almost never disagree with Graeme Atherton on supporting disadvantaged students and @DrJoGrady is fantastic on so many things, but, on this, I think they're wrong...

...unless any shift to PQA is accompanied by a raft of changes & assurances that aren't currently planned.
I have two key issues with the report:
▶️what they think the problem is
▶️what they think the solution is

The problem to solve is NOT the use of predicted grades.
And, as a solution, PQA would only make the real problem worse.
Read 37 tweets
27 Apr
@michelledonelan appearing before @CommonsEd this morning.

@halfon4harlowMP starts by asking about compensation for students for lost learning under Covid.

Minister confirms no blanket arrangements and pays tribute to unis and their staff who pulled out all the stops.
@michelledonelan @CommonsEd @halfon4harlowMP The next question's about antisemitic speaker David Miller being allowed a platform at Bristol Uni – a blind alley for Donelan. She can't condemn the uni and speaker, while maintaining her departmental line about freedom of speech. Her way out is basically to buck-pass to OfS.
@michelledonelan @CommonsEd @halfon4harlowMP Follow-up questions on antisemitism & adopting the IHRA definition and whether she should be intervening at Bristol & elsewhere.

She just can't win here because of govt’s agenda about freedom of speech in unis. This discussion is exposing the inherent illogic and inconsistency.
Read 11 tweets
20 Mar 20
Under the circumstances, the Government has adopted what looks like a reasonable approach.

But it does raise a number of questions for higher education institutions.
Predicted #ALevel grades tend to be inaccurate and have proven to be lower than actual grades for students from socially disadvantaged backgrounds and higher than actual for socially advantaged students.
While the approach proposed is not the same as predictions, it is similar and so the biases are likely to persist (although it will be impossible to know the extent of the bias).
Read 13 tweets

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