Issue 115 | March 2021

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On 3 March, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, presented his spring budget to Parliament. Mr Sunak’s speech can be found here. No mention was made of college funding, nevertheless several measures were announced that could impact on colleges and providers. These include the following:

Financial incentives for employers to take on new apprentices increased

Firms in England already received £2,000 for each new apprentice aged 16 to 24 and £1,500 for new apprentices aged 25 and over, but these rates have been extended until this September and employers that take on new apprentices in the period from April to September 2021 will be paid £3,000 per apprentice regardless of age. The extra payment is in addition to the £1,000 payment provided for new apprentices aged 16 to 18 and those under 25 with an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP). Since January 2020, non-levy-paying businesses have been capped to 10 apprentices so were unable to claim the additional cash, but the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) has said that the cap will be ‘reset to zero’ in April, and that non-levy paying firms will be allowed to recruit up to ten more apprentices.

Maybe taking full advantage of the Barnett Formula, or perhaps just wanting to be seen to be different, the Scottish Government has announced that firms in Scotland will receive £5,000 for each new apprentice they employ aged 16-24, £5,000 for those aged up to 29 if they are disabled or from minority communities or are care leavers, and £3,500 for each apprentice over the age of 25. The Welsh Government says that firms in Wales will receive £4,000 for each new apprentice aged 16-24.

More cash for traineeships

An additional £126 million will be made available to employers to triple the number of traineeships for young people aged 16-24 and to provide them with work experience placements.

New ‘flexi-job’ apprenticeships to be introduced

£7 million will be made available from July 2021 for ‘flexi-job’ apprenticeships. These are for people who are unable to obtain a long enough placement with a single employer (e.g. those in the creative industries where most jobs are freelance and typically will only run for two or three months). Flexi-job apprenticeships are likely to require the development of new agencies that will employ apprentices for the minimum 12-months required and place them with multiple employers. The first flexi-apprenticeships are expected to start in January 2022.

New ‘Help to Grow’ scheme

This is a new three-year UK-wide programme intended to help up to 30,000 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) upskill their employees. The scheme has been developed in partnership with industry and will be delivered through business schools. Mentoring will be provided by experienced business professionals. Each programme will be run over a 12-week period, with 90% of the costs covered by the UK government. £60 million is available for scheme in 2021/22 and £75 million in 2022/23. See here.


Last October, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a new adult Level 3 offer as part of a wider ‘lifetime skills guarantee’. From this April until the end of July 2022, £100 million will be made available from the new National Skills Fund (NSF) to enable learners aged 19 and over who do not already have a first full Level 3 qualification to access around 400 short and long qualifications at Level 3 that are ‘valued by employers’ (see here) free of charge. More information on the Level 3 offer (including 2020/21 funding rates and uplifts) can be found here.


Since 8 March, most FE students in England have returned to face-to-face study. However, the ESFA has announced that EE, Lycamobile, Sky Mobile, Tesco Mobile, Virgin Mobile, BT Mobile, Vodaphone and iD Mobile have all agreed extend their offer of free data to disadvantaged students aged 16-19 and those aged 19-25 with an EHCP until the end of July. (See section 5 of the 3 March ESFA bulletin here). FE providers who have registered with the Get Help with Technology Service (see here) will be able to continue to request free data for those students who:

  • Do not have fixed broadband at home
  • Cannot afford additional data for their devices
  • Are experiencing disruption to face-to-face education.

Requests must be made through the Get Help with Technology Service. If increasing mobile data is not a suitable option for some young people, FE providers can continue to request free 4G wireless routers.


As schools and colleges in England fully re-open, concerns have been expressed by teachers’ unions and some politicians about the extra risk of infection teachers face. Data published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in December suggested that teachers are not at a higher risk of Covid-19 infection than other workers in their local communities (see here). But data collected by Imperial College London as part of its ‘REACT’ project (Real-time Assessment of Community Transmissions) published on 4 March, suggests that in January, teaching staff and other key workers (e.g. healthcare staff) had a 20% higher risk of infection compared to those who did not work in these professions, and that in February, this rose to 43%. However, researchers warn that the survey was specifically carried out to compare infection rates of staff working in organisations that were still open, with staff who were furloughed or working from home. A spokesperson for REACT said that teachers working in schools during the lockdown were bound to be more at risk of infection than those staying at home. When this was statistically adjusted for, said the spokesperson, teachers were still only at ‘slightly higher’ risk of infection than other comparable groups. See here for more information on the REACT survey findings.


Last summer, exam grades in all four UK nations were based on teacher predictions that were then standardised by a computer-based algorithm. These algorithms were abandoned country by country after the standardisation process resulted in many students being awarded grades lower than those predicted by their teachers. The fierce public backlash that followed resulted in the standardised grades produced by the algorithms being abandoned and the higher unstandardised teacher-assessed grades being used instead. The whole process was called a ‘debacle’ and led to demands for a public inquiry, which was carried out by the Office for Statistical Regulation (OSR), the regulatory arm of the UK Statistics Authority, the report of which can be found here. The report of the inquiry says that:

  • Qualification regulators and exam boards in all four UK countries ‘…worked with integrity to develop their algorithms within the time available to them’.
  • There were aspects of the model development that were done well, but regulators faced numerous challenges which meant it was going to be difficult for any algorithm to command public confidence.
  • Regulators undertook activities to communicate information about the models to those affected by them and published technical documentation on results day, but full details on the methodology used were not published for scrutiny in advance.
  • Rather than looking for scapegoats to deflect public dissatisfaction, education ministers should have provided regulators with better support. As a result of their failure to do so, it was likely that public bodies would be less willing to use statistical models to support decisions in the future for fear of a similar backlash. (This has since been borne out in that ministers have said that teacher predictions should be used for determining exam grades in 2021 without any algorithm-based standardisation).

Commenting on the OSR report, Ofqual welcomed the recognition given to ‘…the challenging task we and our counterparts in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, faced in awarding grades in the absence of exams’. Ofqual went on to say that ‘…lessons had been learned’ and that the approach to awarding grades in 2021 had only been agreed, ‘…after our largest-ever public consultation’.


In the absence of any standardisation, average A-Level grades in England in the summer of 2020 were 12% higher than in 2019, while GCSE grades were, on average, 9% higher. Regulators say that this is ‘statistically improbable’. (Mind you, this could probably said about the fact that in 2019, 30% of university students graduated with a first-class honours degree and 79% graduated with either a first or an upper-second. See here). However, Ofqual has said that in order to recognise the impact of the ongoing pandemic, grades awarded to students in 2021 should be at least as generous as they were in 2020. This led Barnaby Lenon, a member of Ofqual’s advisory group, to warn that this could result in ‘Weimar’ levels of grade inflation (see here).

At a meeting of the House of Commons Education Select Committee on 9 March, committee members also raised concerns that grade inflation could become an endemic feature of exams and assessments for years to come. In response, Simon Lebus, the new Ofqual Chief Regulator, told MPs that in the interests of fairness, there was a need to take account of the learning students had lost over the last two years and that the adaptations made to exams for 2021 would probably need to be carried over to 2022 and beyond that. His comments reflect those of his immediate predecessor Dame Glenys Stacey, who served as interim Ofqual Chief Regulator, and who, at a previous meeting, also warned committee members that reverting to pre-pandemic standards in 2022 would not be fair on students. You can watch Mr Lebus being questioned by Education Select Committee members on Parliament TV here.

A further warning about GCSE and A-Level grade inflation was also given by Ian Bauckham, (no relation to David the footballer) the new Chairman of Ofqual. Speaking earlier this month at the virtual annual conference of the Association of School and College Leaders ASCL), Mr Bauckham said that grade inflation was likely to occur again this year, even if teachers act with complete professional integrity. This, he said, was because given the pressure students are under, teachers’ judgements are likely to be influenced by their perception of student’s potential to achieve good grades, rather than their actual performance. Mr Baukham also added his concerns to those of school and college leaders that ‘…pushy parents with pointy elbows and lawyer friends’ will try to pressure teachers into boosting their children’s grades for university places (see here) and that teachers should not be ‘…subject to interference from those with a vested interest’.


Ofqual has announced that questions and other assessment materials for use in this summer’s exams will be published in advance on their website and that students will be allowed online access to them (see here). This has generated some surprise, but in response Ofqual says that the decision has been taken because it will be impossible to prevent questions from being leaked once they have been made available to teachers, and that this could give some pupils an unfair advantage. However, school and college leaders have criticised the move because, they say, it will actually benefit more privileged students. One said, ‘If you wanted to design a system that benefits those who already have advantages from birth, you’d start by cancelling exams and end by showing candidates the assessments they will take’. And another said, ‘Those students with most support at home will be provided with fully worked solutions to memorise’. Ofqual responded by saying that exam boards will be conducting multiple checks to ensure that the correct processes are being followed, and that although students will be able to access questions in advance, they will not know which ones, if any (because using exam questions is optional) their school or college will use. 


Ofqual has launched a two-week consultation on plans for organising the autumn 2021 series of exams (see here). The consultation, which ends on 9 April, is seeking views on the following proposals:

  • The autumn series should be open to any student who enters, or who had intended to enter exams this summer, or for students to attempt to improve the grades they obtained this summer or last autumn.
  • A-Level exams should be held in October and results announced before Christmas.
  • GCSE exams should be held in November and early December, with results announced in January.
  • Grades should be determined by a student’s exam performance only and not include non-exam assessments. Students should not be given advance notice of topics,

Although DfE guidance still says that routine, graded Ofsted inspections will resume in the summer term, in a speech she made at the virtual ASCL Annual Conference on 17 March, Ofsted Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman today confirmed that full inspections will not be returning this academic year. See here for a copy of Ms Spielman’s speech.


Colleges have been criticised by Ofsted and others for offering too many courses where there are few job prospects for students, while failing to deliver courses needed to meet local labour market needs (perhaps the same could be said about universities). To address this, the recent White Paper on FE reforms in England includes a proposal for new local Skills Improvement Plans. These will be produced by partnerships made up of key stake holders (including colleges and other providers) but will be led by local employers to help ensure that provision reflects local labour market needs. The White Paper (see here) also includes proposals for a new accountability structure that will formalise the role of employers in determining local vocational and technical provision offered. To enforce this, the White Paper proposes new legislation to empower the Secretary of State for Education to initiate intervention if a college or other provider consistently fails (or refuses) to deliver provision identified in the local Skills Improvement Plans, or if the provision delivered is not of a sufficiently high quality. Considerable emphasis is being placed on the 43 Chambers of Commerce in England to provide employer leadership in developing local skills improvement plans. However, some employers have suggested that Chambers of Commerce may not be sufficiently representative to understand the skills needs of all local firms. There are also concerns that employer apathy or even reluctance to get involved may distort judgements on which courses are needed.


On 23 March, the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), which is part of GCHQ, published an alert for colleges. The alert says that since late February 2021, there has been an increased number of ransomware attacks that have affected education establishments in the UK, including schools, colleges and universities (see here). Ransomware attacks occur where hackers use ‘backdoors; to install malware that locks users out of their IT systems and prevents access to the data stored on them. Hackers then send a ransom note demanding payment, usually in the form of bitcoin, in return for unlocking the systems. The hackers may also threaten to release sensitive data if the ransom is not paid. The NCSC says that education providers should not pay any ransom demanded since there is no guarantee that the hackers will restore access to services and doing so will encourage them to attack other colleges and education providers. (If the hackers understood how cash strapped most FE colleges are they might realise that they couldn’t pay even if they wanted to). Nevertheless, it will take colleges that have been hacked a considerable amount of time to recover and reinstate critical services. According to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s Cyber Security Breaches Survey 2020 (see here), 80% of further and higher education institutions were the victims a cyber-attack or security breach in the 12 months to the end of 2019.


One of the recommendations made in the Ney Review of Financial Oversight of Colleges (see here), was that there should be a ‘more pro-active relationship’ between government and colleges to help prevent future financial difficulties. This recommendation has been incorporated into the FE White Paper and as a result, managers, and governors of colleges in England will be required to attend regular meetings with representatives of the ESFA and the FE Commissioner. The meetings will be held either in colleges or virtually, depending upon Coronavirus restrictions, and the agenda will be led by the ESFA. As a minimum, the meeting must be attended by the college principal and chair of governors, although other governors and

senior college leaders can attend if required. The focus of the meetings will be the college’s strategic objectives and future plans, along with any challenges faced that may prevent the college from achieving them. The first meetings will start in April, with the intention being that first full cycle will be completed by May 2022. Some principals say they welcome the announcement and are actually looking forward to the meetings. See section 5 of the ESFA update dated 17 March, here.


Concerns about the continued rise in cases of fraud linked to subcontracting arrangements resulted in a consultation being held last year on restricting the amount of subcontracting a main provider can engage in. Following the consultation, on 4 March the ESFA published details of the maximum amount of provision a contractor will be allowed to subcontract in the future (see here). For 2022/23 this has been set at 25%. Providers will be allowed to submit a request to the ESFA to be exempted from the cap but no criteria for this has been published yet. However, the ESFA has scrapped its earlier proposal that the maximum should be further reduced to 17.5% in 2023/24 and then to 10% in 2024/5. Meanwhile, the ESFA has announced that the subcontracting of whole programmes funded through AEB allocations no longer requires the agency’s prior approval. This is because AEB funding devolved to the combined authorities will need to be subcontracted out to local providers to deliver programmes on their behalf.


From 1 April 2017 to 31 March 2021, the government set a target for all public sector bodies with 250 employees or more, that 2.3% of new employees should be apprentices. The target applies to government departments, local authorities, central government and ‘arms-length’ government bodies, including the NHS, the armed forces, and emergency services (see here for a full list). The latest DfE statistics on this shows that most public sector bodies have failed to meet the target (see here), achieving an overall average of just 1.7% between April 2017 and April 2020. Within this, the best performing were the armed forces at 7.9% and worst performing were the police at 0.7%. On 19 March, the DfE announced that for the period between 1 April 2021 to 31 March 2022, the target will remain at 2.3% (see here).

The extent to which FE colleges are subject to apprenticeship targets has been uncertain and is complicated by the fact that many colleges are also apprenticeship training providers. For reasons not entirely clear, public sector FE colleges were initially designated by the ONS as ‘private sector institutions run by statutory college corporations with a public purpose’. In 2010, FE colleges were reclassified as ‘general government organisations’, alongside maintained schools and academies (see here). Then, in 2012, the ONS put FE colleges back into the private sector. And now, the new FE White paper proposes that they should be placed back in the public sector. If it is the case that colleges are at present not subject to public sector apprenticeship recruitment targets, it is reasonable to assume that they soon will be.


Health Education England has announced that it is working with NHS employers, the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education, the Medical Schools Council and the General Medical Council on the development of a medical apprenticeship that will lead to general practitioner (GP) qualifications. The apprenticeship will be an alternative route to taking a medical degree for those wanting to become doctors (see here). The proposal is in the early stages of development, but those involved say that the overarching aim is to make the profession more accessible, more diverse and more representative of local communities, while retaining the same high standards of training. The apprenticeship will also be a route for people who have worked for some time in a health service related role (e.g. as a nurse) to train as a doctor. The apprenticeship will be funded via the apprenticeship levy, which requires the NHS, as an employer with a payroll of £3 million or more, to pay 0.5% of payroll costs into a national training fund. Apprenticeships have already been developed, and are being used by the NHS, to train nurses (see here), managers and administrators. As with all these apprenticeships, medical apprenticeships will allow people to earn while training, and to obtain qualifications at degree level free of student loan debt.


On 22 March, the ESFA announced that colleges that have delivered less than 90% of their 2020/21 AEB allocation will have their unspent funds clawed back (see here). The new threshold is much higher than the 68% threshold set in 2019/20. However, whilst acknowledging that colleges still face considerable challenges arising from the pandemic, the ESFA justified its decision by saying providers had demonstrated that they had been able to continue remote delivery successfully during lockdown.


Data published by the ONS on 4 March (see here) shows that the number of young people not in education, employment or training (NEET) has seen its biggest quarterly increase in almost a decade. In the final quarter of 2020, 797,000 (11.4%) of 16–24-year-olds were classified as NEET. This is an increase of 39,000 compared with previous quarter covering July to September 2020, and an 34,000 increase on the final quarter of 2019. The ONS said that the latest quarterly increase was ‘…almost entirely driven by economically inactive males’ and tallies with other recent data that suggests almost three-fifths of the fall in employees since the onset of the pandemic has been among the under-25s’.


Research commissioned by the Nuffield Foundation and carried out by the Education Policy Institute (EPI) was published earlier this month. The report says that the performance of disadvantaged students in England at A-Level is, on average, up to three grades behind that of more affluent students. This varies across geographical areas and in some areas (including Knowsley on Merseyside, North Somerset and Stockton-on-Tees), poorer students were up to five grades behind, while in many London areas (including Southwark, Redbridge, Ealing, Sutton and Merton) disadvantaged students have higher average attainment than their non-disadvantaged peers elsewhere. Disadvantaged students were defined as those eligible for free school meals, and attainment was based on the qualifications and grades they achieved between the age of 16 and 19. The report’s findings (which predate the pandemic and the lost learning and disruption to exams, and which is likely to have widened the gap) include the following:

  • There is a gap equivalent to an average of three A-Level grades between the attainment of disadvantaged students and their more affluent peers.
  • Disadvantaged students take fewer qualifications and are more likely to take vocational qualifications.
  • Disadvantage attainment gaps are largest within academic qualifications, such as A-Levels.
  • The lower prior attainment of disadvantaged students (e.g. lower GCSE grades) is the main factor behind the disadvantage attainment gap.
  • Disadvantage attainment gaps are most prominent for white British students.
  • 16-19 attainment varies by the type of institution attended. (The report says that FE colleges have ‘notably lower attainment levels than average’. This is probably because FE colleges have larger numbers of disadvantaged students, many of whom may have enrolled in an FE college after being in post-16 provision in a school or sixth form college, or who may have been NEET).
  • The disadvantage attainment gap varies considerably across local authorities.

The report recommends that additional funding is targeted at disadvantaged 16–19-year-olds, particularly following the severe disruption to learning caused by the pandemic, and that disadvantage weightings should be included within the 16-19 funding formula. Responding to the report, the DfE referred to the £102 million extension of the 16-19 Tuition Fund as part of the wider £1.3 billion catch-up package for England. A copy of the EPI report can be found here.


Education Secretary for England, Gavin Williamson is said to be considering permanent alterations to the school year in England to help pupils catch-up after the pandemic is over. The proposal that seems to be gaining most traction with ministers involves the school year being split into five terms and is believed to be part of Sir Kevan Collins proposals to help children recover the education they have lost. Teachers’ unions are opposed to the proposal, calling them a ‘distraction’ and saying that any change to term times or holidays needs to recognise that teachers already work more unpaid overtime than any other profession. Any changes to the school year could eventually impact on the college academic year.


The DfE has published its latest statistical data on Schools, Pupils and their Characteristics in 2019/20, a copy of which can be found here. The data relates to England only and in summary shows that:

  • There were 37 more schools of all types in 2019/20 (including independent schools) than in 2018/19. A non-DfE schools related statistic which may be of interest was published this month by Zurich Insurance, which analysed Home Office data from all 44 fire authorities in England, which revealed that over the last five years, fire crews were called to tackle 2,300 school blazes, which completely gutted 47 primary and secondary schools, and seriously damaged 230 others (see here).
  • The number of pupils in all schools increased by 71,100 to 8.89 million in 2019/20, continuing a trend of year-on-year increases. In 2019/20, in state schools there were:
    • 4.71 million primary school pupils
    • 3.41 million secondary school pupils
    • 128,100 special school pupils
  • Average class size in 2019/20 remained roughly the same as in 2018/19. At primary level this was 26.9 and at secondary level it was 27.9.
  • As in previous years, there were more boys in school than girls. The ratio in 2019/20 was approximately 51:49 and has showed no noticeable change over the past 5 years.
  • Pupils from minority ethnic backgrounds now make up around a third of the school population in England. This reflects ONS data showing the increase in net migration since the late 1990s (see sections 3 and 4 of the ONS report here) and higher birth rates amongst migrant women (see ONS data for 2019 here). The proportion of minority ethnic pupils in schools varies by geographical location, with a higher proportion in cities and more urban areas. Nationally, the proportion by school type was:
    • Primary schools: 33.9%
    • Secondary schools: 32.3%
    • Special schools: 30.2%.
  • The numbers of pupils recorded as having English as an additional language continues to increase, but also varies widely by geographical location. Nationally, the proportion by school type was:
      • Primary schools: 21.3%
      • Secondary schools: 17.1%
      • Special schools: 14.8%
  • The percentage of pupils eligible for free school meals increased across all state-funded schools to 17.3% and reflects the level of deprivation in each school’s location. By school type, the proportion was:
    • Primary schools: 17.7%
    • Secondary schools: 15.9%
    • Special schools: 40.1%.

Although the data relates to schools, the trends will, in time, have implications for post-16 provision in colleges. The DfE has yet to publish its final 2019/20 data for students and learners in FE and Skills.


Colleges and other providers are now able to apply for funding to send their students and apprentices to study or work abroad under the new Turing scheme (see here). The scheme is intended to replace the EU’s Erasmus+ scheme, which the UK withdrew from on 31 December. Of the £105 million being made available in 2020/21, £35 million will go to FE. The government has produced a guide on how to apply, a copy of which can be found here. Bids must be submitted by 29 April and funding allocation decisions are expected be made in July.

There are different opinions on whether replacing Erasmus+ with Turing is a good thing or not, which usually reflect the views on Brexit people hold. Supporters of Erasmus+ say the Turing scheme is a ‘pale imitation’ of Erasmus+, and that leaving the scheme was a mistake, because:

  • The EU is doubling the Erasmus+ budget over the next seven years to almost €30 billion.
  • Under Turing, new partnerships will need to be built from scratch, and there is no funding for international students to study in the UK. This will make Turing less appealing to international students. If the placement involves study at a college abroad, Turing will not cover any tuition fees charged.
  • Colleges could also apply for Erasmus+ funding to provide opportunities for staff to study and work abroad as well as students. However, the Turing scheme only provides funding for students.
  • £105 million has allocated for the Turing scheme in 2021/22, but if 35,000 students participate, this would provide average funding, including administration costs, of just £3,000 per student.

Erasmus+ funding rates for 2020/21 (see here) are as follows:

  • For students studying abroad:
  • €420 per month for group 1 countries – higher cost of living (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Sweden, Liechtenstein, Norway).
  • €370 per month for group 2 countries – medium cost of living (Austria, Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, Greece, Spain, Cyprus, Netherlands, Malta, Portugal) and for group 3 countries – lower cost of living (Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Turkey).
  • Plus additional €120 per month for disadvantaged students.
  • For students working abroad:
  • €520 per month for group 1 countries.
  • €470 per month for group 2countries and for group 3 countries.
  • Plus additional €20 per month for disadvantaged students.
  • For staff studying or teaching abroad:
  • €180 per day for group 1 countries.
  • €160 per day for group 2 countries.
  • €140 per day for group 3 countries.

Supporters of the Turing scheme claim that the original aim of Erasmus+ was, and still is, to further the ‘European Project’ (political unification of EU member states) by encouraging young people to think of themselves as Europeans first. They also say that around a third of Erasmus+ funding is spent on projects which are not really educational programmes, for example, the European Solidarity Corps, run by the European Commission, which offers young people from across Europe an opportunity to ‘…find each other through engagement in European civic and environmental projects’ (see here). They go on to say that:

  • Erasmus+ is not funded by the EU. Funding actually comes from member states that are net contributors to the EU central budget. The UK, which was the second largest net contributor, has in the past, subsidised students from EU countries that are net beneficiaries. According to Universities Minister for England, Michelle Donelan, if the UK had joined the next Erasmus programme, it would have required a further £2 billion more in contributions than would have been received in funding.
  • In 2020, 9,615 students (0.51% of the UK student population), the majority of whom were in HE, used Erasmus+ to study abroad, whereas 18,702 EU students used Erasmus+ to study in the UK (see here).
  • Turing will help provide placements for a wider range of students and will help many disadvantaged students to obtain their first experience of traveling abroad, rather than helping more privileged students to obtain their latest experience of traveling abroad.
  • Most FE placements are expected to last between two and 12 weeks, rather than for a whole year. If a student has special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND), placements can start from five days. Students can also use Turing funding to participate in international skills competitions (which typically last between one and 10 days).
  • The Turing scheme does not require an international partner. If the placement involves study at a college abroad, Turing will not cover any tuition fees charged. However, fees could be mutually waived via a reciprocation arrangement with a partner college abroad. Many colleges will already have long standing international partners, but if a college wished to find a first or a new partner abroad, Ecorys, the co-delivery partner with the British Council for the Turing scheme, will assist them with this.

Turing funding rates (see here) for 2021/22 are as follows:

  • £315 per participant will be provided for the first 100 participants to cover administrative costs. £180 per participant will be provided for numbers in excess of 100.
  • Grants to cover travel costs will range from £20 to £1,360 depending on the distance.
  • FE students from disadvantaged backgrounds, including those in care, on universal credit, or in receipt of free meals will receive the actual costs of travel, including costs of visas, passports, and health insurance.
  • Cost of living grants for FE students (including apprentices) depend on the area the placements are in:
  • Group 1 countries: £109 per day for the first 14 days and £76 per day after the 14th day
  • Group 2 countries: £94 per day for the first 14 days and £66 per day after the 14th day
  • Group 3 countries: £80 per day for the first 14 days and £56 per day after the 14th day.
  • Students with SEND will be funded up to 100% of all actual costs for support needed whilst on placement, directly related to their additional needs.
  • Staff grants will only be provided for staff who accompany students for safeguarding purposes. Grants are not provided for UK staff who wish to engage in staff development or teaching projects abroad.

Funding for the scheme is intended to cover the whole UK, however:

  • The Scottish Government has rejected Turing and is seeking to re-join Erasmus+. This will first require a modification to EU rules since, in international law, Scotland is still part of the UK.
  • Students in Northern Ireland (NI) can either participate in the Turing scheme or can continue to participate in Erasmus+, since the Republic of Ireland (RoI) has offered to register NI students with RoI institutions and use part of the RoI Erasmus+ allocation to pay for them.
  • The Welsh Government also preferred remaining in the Erasmus+ scheme and on 21 March announced that £65 million of its devolved education funding would be set aside for a new scheme called the ‘New International Learning Exchange’ to ‘fill the gap left by Turing’ (see here for a copy of the press release). The funding will be used over the four-year period from 2021/22 until 2025/26 to pay for up to 10,000 students and teachers from abroad to travel to Wales to study and work. Welsh Education Minister Kirsty Williams said that this would ‘…promote the message that Wales is an inviting destination for students and partners across the world’. Turing funding will be used to pay for up to 15,000 Welsh students to go abroad to study and work over the same four-year period.

In the wake of the Black Lives Matters protests the Welsh Government has legislated for black and other minority history to become a mandatory part of the school curriculum in Wales. Diversity, identity and equality is already compulsory, but the new curriculum will now include a requirement for Welsh schools to teach pupils about such things as slavery, the British Empire, colonisation and the contribution of minorities to British society. While welcoming the change, a spokesperson for Plaid Cymru said that making the teaching Welsh history optional rather than compulsory was a ‘major flaw’ in the legislation. See here.


In Northern Ireland, university tuition fees are around a third of those in England. Nevertheless, students will receive £500 each in compensation for the disruption to their studies caused by the pandemic. In Wales, where fees are also around a third of those in England, the Welsh government is considering a similar arrangement. There are no university tuition fees in Scotland. Meanwhile, in England, University Vice Chancellors, the University and Colleges Union (UCU) and National Union of Students (NUS) have called on the UK government to also provide financial compensation for students in England who have had their studies disrupted by the pandemic. They say that students have had to pay rent on accommodation

they haven’t been able use, have had to pay the full £9,250 in tuition fees while not having full access to campus facilities, and have no set date yet for when the majority can return to receiving face-to-face tuition. They also point out that students in their second and third year will have faced two successive years of disruption. The DfE has responded by pointing out that universities in England are autonomous and that any student claims for a fee refund would depend on the contract between the student and university.


There has already been an 8% increase in applications for university places this year. There is also a strong possibility that further grade inflation in exams this year will lead to an to increase in the numbers that will qualify for a place at university leading to even more applications. A combination of no restrictions on the numbers of students that universities can recruit and the extra income from student tuition fees paid up front by the government through the Student Loans Company potentially means that universities will be inclined to offer more places to meet this increased demand.

This has caused the Office for Students (OfS) to warn universities that they should not take advantage of the exceptional circumstances arising from the pandemic to ‘swamp’ their institutions with students. The OfS says that if universities do decide to compete for a larger share of an even larger undergraduate market, there is a serious risk that the quality of provision will be compromised. The OfS has also warned that the prospect of an increase in the numbers of applicants with the top A-Level grades this year should not lead to universities ‘…cherry picking high-flying applicants in a way that is socially exclusive’. ‘And good luck with that’, one cynical observer was reported to have said. Meanwhile, the OfS has said that if examples of unacceptable recruitment practices did emerge this year, it would use its legal powers to impose fines on those universities that were shown to have failed to recruit with integrity.

A spokesperson for the Higher Education Policy Institute took a more defensive line and said that, rather than beating up on universities, the government should just accept that there is an ‘unstoppable rising demand’ for university places and the government should instead expand HE capacity to meet this growing demand (see here). This caused another cynical observer to say that, looking on the bright side, at least there should be no shortage of highly qualified applicants for team member positions in the fast food sector.


In the not too distant past, FE and HE co-operated with each other to increase and widen participation in HE. However, a report published on 17 March by the Social Market Foundation (see here) says that this cooperation has now been replaced by aggressive competition. The report says that a combination of the lifting of caps on student numbers and higher fees, means that universities have been incentivised to maximise their income from fees and deliver courses themselves, rather than subcontract out some of the provision to FE colleges. Universities have also moved into areas traditionally considered to be the territory of FE colleges, including not only courses at Level 4 and 5, such as HNC/Ds and vocational foundation degrees, but also higher and advanced apprenticeships, and even some vocational courses at Level 3. The report concludes that colleges are the losers, saying ‘It is hard to envisage fair competition occurring between universities and FE colleges in their present form, given the scale and financial advantages universities currently enjoy, with higher per student funding, greater financial capacity to invest and more immediate rewards for expansion, while at the same time, colleges have been squeezed by significant year-on-year cuts in funding for their core activities’.


Last month the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) published its latest data on HE entry rates by broad ethnic groups expressed as a percentage all English 18 year-olds in state schools and colleges in that ethnic group (see here). The data for 2020 is given below, alongside that for 2006 (which is shown in parenthesis):

  • Asian: 53.1% (34.5%) – i.e. 53.1% of all Asians aged 18 obtained an HE place in 2020, compared with 34.5% in 2006 (the first year data of this particular type was collected).
  • Black: 47.6% (21.6%).
  • Chinese: 71.7% (53.6%).
  • Mixed ethnicity: 39% (22.9%).
  • White: 32.6% (21.8%).

Further analysis of the data shows that:

  • The percentage of 18-year-olds who obtained an HE place increased over the period from 2006 to 2020 in all broad ethnic groups.
  • At 71.7%, the Chinese group had the highest HE entry rate of all broad ethnic groups, while at 32.6% the white group had, the lowest HE entry rate.
  • The Chinese ethnic group also had the highest HE entry rate every year between 2006 and 2020, while the white group had the lowest entry rate over the same period.
  • The black group had the largest entry rate increase of all broad ethnic groups, from 21.6% in 2006 to 47.5% in 2020. The white group had the smallest increase, from 21.8% to 32.6%.

The government has announced a new graduate route for international students who want to remain in the UK after obtaining their degrees as part of its new points-based immigration system. To be eligible, international students must have completed a recognised course and obtained graduate qualifications at bachelor’s level or higher at an accredited UK HE provider. After completing their studies, they will be able to work, or look for work, anywhere in the UK for a maximum period of 2 years (or 3 years in the case of PhD students), after which they can make an application for a permanent right to remain. Applications for the new graduate route will open on 1 July 2021. A Home Office spokesperson said that the new graduate route reflects the government’s policy of allowing the UK ‘…to retain the brightest and the best international students so that they can continue to contribute to society and the economy, post-study’.


Face-to-face teaching at universities has only been allowed for critical courses (e.g. medicine, healthcare, dentistry, teacher training and veterinary science) since the start of the latest lockdown. From 8 March, university students on practical courses requiring specialist equipment and facilities have also been allowed to attend for face-to-face teaching. For those students who are on campus in England, updated DfE guidance (see here) published on 10 March says that a travel exemption has been introduced to allow them to travel to their family homes and back to their term-time accommodation once for the Easter break. International students will also be allowed to travel home during the holidays (which some think carries greater risks in terms of re-introducing or spreading Coronavirus). However, the guidance also strongly advises students to remain in their term-time accommodation where possible and that if students do return home they should get tested for Covid using community testing services, before they travel back.


A fashion lecturer decides to nip out for lunch with a colleague. Because it was almost Easter she decided to wear a prize Easter Bonnet designed by her students. She sat down in the restaurant, placed her hat carefully on a vacant chair next to her and ordered her food. Another diner had loosely tied his Rottweiler to his table leg but it broke free and suddenly ran up to the hat and chewed it to shreds. The lecturer shouted at the diner, ‘Hey look at what your dog has done to my hat’. The diner replied, ‘And what do you want me to do about it?’ The lecturer got angry and said, ‘I don’t like your attitude!’ The other diner replied, ‘It’s not my hat he chewed – it’s your hat he chewed!’

(My thanks for this one go to John Callaghan, Principal of Solihull College and University Centre).


A Happy Easter from all at Click.

Alan Birks – March 2021

As usual, the views and opinions expressed in this newsletter are not necessarily those held by Click.
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