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Local and national student issue round up

We base our campaigning and representation work on evidence we gather here at Sussex and by following national developments affecting students here.

Our staff team collate a report every two weeks of relevant information including statistics from our support & advocacy team to show which issues are having an impact on our members.

This report is circulated to staff and officers and now we’re sharing it so you can follow things here at Sussex and nationally.

Content note for this edition: Sexual assault

Contents

  1. Local developments and trends

1. Sussex University Freedom of Information (FoI) requests

2. Cases from our Support and Advocacy team

3. Changing University Cultures report

4. University of Sussex launches new Strategic Framework Sussex 2025

5. University of Sussex to sign up to Race Equality Charter

 

  1. National developments and trends

    1. 1/4 students in the south say they or someone they know is a survivor of sexual  assault

    2. Door kept open to EU students after Brexit

    3. Union calls for post-qualification admissions

    4. University entry 'should be background, not just exams'

    5. UCU to ballot members over 2% pay offer

    6. New research highlights the gap between parent and student perceptions regarding ‘The Leap’ to university

 

1.1. Sussex University Freedom of Information (FoI) requests

We track publicly submitted requests for information from the University as they may reveal information we want to respond to.

A FoI request was made surrounding the academic results of offer holders for the A100 Medicine course for 2018 entry, including GCSEs, A levels, BMAT scores and EPQ information. BSMS responded that all offer holders must have predicted AAA for A level, have received at least a B grade at Maths and English GCSE, and that EPQ qualifications are not considered when making an offer. A breakdown of BMAT scores for all offer holders was also provided.

A similar request was made for Biomedical Sciences, regarding ‘the success rate of applicants to Biomedical Sciences during the latest application cycle for which you have data available, in a list which states whether they got an offer or not as well as their predicted/achieved grades and what offer was made to them’. This request was rejected however, due to the high costs that would incur from staff time in order to compile the combination of predicted and achieved grades in line with their UCAS offer.

A request was also made for a list of all subcontractors, suppliers and consultants & telephone numbers involved in the demolitions of buildings and redevelopment to 'East Slope', however the University responded that they did not hold this information, and therefore were unable to meet the request.

1.2. Cases from our Support and Advocacy team

The following graph shows the case types over the past month (8th June to 12th July).

The largest section of Support and Advocacy cases this month was for academic conduct comprising of 52.5% of new logged cases, followed by 36.8% for academic appeals, and 5.3% for both non-academic complaints and student disciplinaries.

 

1.3 University of Sussex publishes Changing University Cultures report

Following a comprehensive study into Sussex’s institutional culture, on 4th July the University published a report which reveals the findings. The research was commissioned by Vice-Chancellor, Adam Tickell, in early 2017 and was undertaken by the Changing University Cultures (CHUCL) collective, led by Alison Phipps, Professor of Gender Studies at Sussex.

The report was commissioned by Adam Tickell to conduct research on Sussex’s institutional culture as a response to concerns on reports of bullying, awareness of long-standing institutional inequalities and the findings of the Westmarland report (2016).

Research took place between April 2017 and April 2018, involving 900 members of the University community, and was split into 3 phases: phase 1 consisted of a university-wide survey  where participants were asked to describe Sussex in 5 words , their thoughts on its strengths and weaknesses and how this can be enhanced; phase 2 consisted of in-depth interviews, four groups and an anonymous WordPress blog; phase 3 consisted of a Grounded Action Inquiry (GAI), where participants came together in groups to tackle particular issues that were revealed in initial data analysis.

The report is available in full and identified six key themes arising from the data:

  • ‘Can I just say that I love Sussex’ – reflecting the affection and attachment to the institution. Of the five words entered by survey participants to describe Sussex’s culture, the top six most commonly-used were positive: friendly, diverse, supportive, open, liberal and  ambitious.The interview, focus group and AI data presented a less positive picture -  Although diversity was one of the two most  popular words in our survey, some respondents noted the lack of actual diversity in the institution, suggesting that diversity may be a discourse or aspiration rather than a practice or reality.    

  • Recurring wounds and institutional history - This referred to the negative feelings some staff still hold towards previous University management

  • Performative radicalism and persistent inequalities – setting out Sussex’s political discourses. Here the report talks of the persistence of serious race, class and other inequalities at Sussex noted by some staff members, and highlights the lack of diversity in the staff population.

  • Them and Us – referring to the divisions which can occur in low-trust situations

  • Silos and gridlocks - referring to the segregated university structure and the persistence of the ‘Sussex Way’ as an inhibitor of progress.

  • Movement and change – how Sussex can build on the capacity, desire and energy of the campus community


Responding to the report’s findings and recommendations, on behalf of the University’s Executive Group (UEG), Adam Tickell said: “From when I first started at Sussex, I have been committed to looking at the opportunities and challenges of the institution in equal measure, so that we can truly understand and take action to become a better university.

“We welcome this report and the part it will play, along with a number of other insights, in helping to improve the experiences of our staff and students.

“There are many positives to take away from the report, but we must now look closely at those issues which need to be addressed if we are to enhance the culture of the institution, not just for the benefit of a few but right across our diverse campus community.

“The report has also identified gaps where some of our community do not feel supported in the way that that they should, and the Executive Group is now considering what interventions and recommendations we need to take forward.”

 

1.4 University of Sussex launches new Strategic Framework Sussex 2025

The University of Sussex has launched its new Strategic Framework, Sussex 2025.

The framework outlines a  seven-year transformation, and aims to set a vision for the kind of university Sussex wants to be, whilst sharing its core values. The strategy is based on 5 core values of kindness, integrity, inclusion, collaboration and courage which intend to shape all that the university says and does, whilst the strategic framework itself is based on 4 main areas:

  • Learn to transform - making students partners in the big decisions that shape our university’s future

  • Research with impact - by challenging conventional thinking and discourse, we will understand and help solve the grand issues of our time

  • Engage for change - connected, engaged, entrepreneurial, creative and citizens of the world

  • Build on strengths - a people-powered transformation for a kinder university

To support these University strategies, there will be a series of enabling strategies covering all of the schools and divisions as well as other areas such as the Student Experience; Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI); and Smart Sussex, the university’s new approach to digital innovation.

 

1.4 University of Sussex to sign up to Race Equality Charter

The University of Sussex will be signing up to the Equality Challenge Unit’s (ECU) Race Equality Charter (REC) this autumn.

The REC aims to improve the representation, progression and success of minority ethnic staff and students within higher education.

It provides a framework for institutions to identify and self-reflect on institutional and cultural barriers standing in the way of minority ethnic staff and students.

Member institutions develop initiatives and solutions for action, and can apply for an award to recognise their commitment.

The commitment to the REC is set out in the University’s new University’s equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) strategy, which is being launched this week. The strategy reflects feedback from key stakeholder groups, including the Students’ Union, who have asked for the University to sign up to the REC.

Vice-Chancellor Adam Tickell says: “In signing up to the charter, the University will be pledging to undertake a comprehensive self-assessment of race equality across the institution and develop solutions to the issues identified through the self-assessment.

“We are committed to improving the representation and experience of black and minority ethnic staff and closing the attainment and employment gap for black and minority ethnic students.”

Claire Annesley, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Diversity and Equality), says: “Applying for the Race Equality Charter and achieving an award will be a significant piece of work over a number of years. We need to make sure that the University is set up to succeed and that our self-assessment process is thorough and inclusive.

 

2.1 1 in 4 students in the south say they or someone they know is a survivor of sexual assault

#AssaultOnCampus is the result of a four-month investigation examining the extent of sexual assault at southern universities in England. The survey found that 1 in 4 students in the south say they, or someone they know, is a survivor of sexual assault. This is much higher than data obtained from over 100 Freedom of Information requests, which shows 281 cases of assault have been reported at 29 universities over the past three years.

This discrepancy is not surprising when 90% of survivors do not report their experiences to university authorities, according to the investigation, and 96% of sexual assaults on university property go unreported to the police. Therefore, the figure of 281 sexual assaults is likely to be much higher in reality. At Bournemouth University, for example, there have been no cases officially recorded, yet the survey uncovered 28 alleged incidents, 14 of which apparently occurred on premises owned by the university.

One respondent says that assaults went unreported because the universities “don’t care”, and another felt “it didn’t seem like their business” or “it didn’t seem important enough”. One survivor described how a university member of staff discouraged her from reporting an assault because ‘no one would believe her’.

The Equality Act 2010 says that organisations that serve the public (like universities) must consider the need to eliminate discrimination, harassment, victimization in the way it provides its services. This led Universities UK, to conclude that universities have a legal responsibility to protect students from sexual violence. However, some universities believe the law is not that clear-cut and suggest that duty of care is a grey area.

29 universities in the south of England were ranked against the following best practice criteria to assess how well each institution raises awareness of help available to survivors and encourages them to report. Other marks are given for campaigns and extra measures which show the university’s engagement with preventing and responding to sexual assault. Each received a mark out of 5, with the University of Sussex receiving a score of 5/5.


Here are some key statistics from the report:

  • 1 in 4 students in the south say they, or someone they know, is a survivor of sexual assault

  • Almost 90% of students do not report sexual assault

  • 96% of sexual assaults on university property go unreported to the police

  • 80% of students do not think their university provides adequate support

 

If you, or someone you know has been affected by any topics mentioned within this site, sources of support can be found here

 

2.2 Door kept open to EU students after Brexit

The British government has published a long-awaited white paper on its Brexit strategy.Whilst it is committed to ending the rights of EU nationals to live and work in Britain without visas, Theresa May’s government has proposed to allow tourists, students, and “talented people” from the EU to be able to travel freely in the UK after it leaves the bloc.

The paper makes clear that "free movement" will end, but the future arrangements will "facilitate mobility for students" so they can "benefit from world leading universities".


The document, published today, notes that any agreement between the UK and the EU on the movement of people must be consistent with the British government’s objective to impose stricter controls on its borders and reduce net migration. The blueprint contains five proposals on the rights of EU citizens in the UK, and vice versa, after Brexit:
 

  • Support business to carry out services and relocate “talented people”

  • Visa-free travel for EU citizens for tourism and “temporary” business activity

  • Make it easy for students and young people to study and travel within the UK

  • Ensure smooth passage for “legitimate travel,” while strengthening the UK’s borders

  • Guarantee that British citizens living in the EU continue to have access to pensions and healthcare

However, the BBC has criticised the paper for its ‘vagueness’ in defining who would be classified as a ‘student’, and what is meant by ‘facilitat[ing] mobility for students’ .

A spokesman for the Russell Group of leading universities said a "great deal of work will be needed to flesh out today's proposals", which it expected to see addressed in negotiations in October.

"Clarity on the precise shape and nature of the proposed accords is urgent," he added.

 

2.3 Union calls for post-qualification admissions


Universities in the UK should stop using predicted grades when people are applying for places, say lecturers and head teachers, as most predicted grades turn out to be incorrect. The UCU also cites research from 2016 suggesting as few as 16% of predictions for three A-levels or equivalent had proved accurate.


A study from the University and College Union says no other developed country uses such a system of forecasts of results for university admissions. Head teachers have backed calls for a change, saying the current approach is "no longer fit for purpose".

A study from the UCU lecturers' union has examined admissions systems from 30 major countries and found no others using the UK's approach of pupils applying on the basis of grades predicted by their teachers. The report from lecturers calls for an "urgent overhaul" of the application system, so that pupils would know their actual exam grades before making their final applications.

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: "We are alone in the world in using a system where students are offered university places based on highly inaccurate predicted grades. Unconditional offers have made a mockery of exams and led to inflated grade predictions, while putting students under enormous pressure to make a snap decision about their future. The simplest and fairest way to deal with these problems is for us to adopt a system of post-qualification admissions, where offers are based on actual achievement rather than estimated potential, as the rest of the world does. It's time for the Government to give the system the urgent overhaul it needs."


"Predicted grades should not be used for university offers, lecturers and head teachers say" - The Evening Standard
"Predicted grades should not be used for university offers" - Sky
"'Ditch predicted grades' from university admissions" - BBC

 

2.4 University entry 'should be background, not just exams'

The Fair Education Alliance (FEA) has published a new report based on research by the University of Exeter, arguing that - given the impact of factors such as parental income and school performance on attainment - we should no longer be debating whether highly-selective universities should be using contextualised admissions or not, but instead be focusing on making such (already widespread) practices more effective, consistent and fair.

The report points out that the plethora of measures of “disadvantage”, and the different ways to account for it in admissions, are limiting the sector’s overall ability to genuinely widen access. It calls on the Office for Students (OfS) to publicly endorse contextualised admissions, for better access to relevant contextual data for all institutions, and for institutional accountability for performance using appropriate data.

Chris Millward, the Office for Students’ (OFS) Director of Fair Access and Participation, urged universities to set "more ambitious" plans to increase their intake of poor students. Mr Milward added that A level grades “can only be considered to be a robust measure of potential if they are considered alongside the context in which they are achieved”.

Sarah Stevens, head of policy at the Russell Group, said that all their member universities take into account students’ backgrounds during the admissions process.  

“Qualifications and predicted grades are a key indicator of academic ability, but universities take a range of other factors into account to understand the applicant's achievements in context,” she said.

“This includes the school or college attended, where a student grew up, whether they are a care leaver, or whether they are the first in their family to enter higher education.”

“Universities forced to lower grades for poor students complain they will plummet down league tables” - The Telegraph
“University entry ‘should be background, not just exams’”- BBC

“Give more places to disadvantaged students, watchdog urges universities” - The Guardian
“Universities told to lower offers for poor” - The Times
 

2.5 UCU to ballot members over 2% pay offer

The UCU is to ballot its higher education members for industrial action as part of a row over pay, meaning there could be more strike action on the horizon

The dispute has arisen after the Universities and Colleges’ Employers Association (UCEA) made a final offer of 2% at the last joint negotiating meeting in May. UCU said the offer does nothing to address the falling value of higher education pay, which has declined in real terms by 21% since 2010.

UCU's initial consultation saw 82% vote to reject the offer, and 65% indicate a preparedness to take industrial action. The consultative ballot, which saw a turnout of 47.7%, will be followed by a second ballot which will likely lay out the logistics of strike action in more detail. The second ballot will close in October 2018.

Staff will vote to protest four issues: pay, casualisation, workload, and the gender pay gap.

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: ‘Staff working in our universities have had enough of seeing their wages held down while institutions prioritise capital spending and building reserves. The employers’ below-inflation pay offer does nothing to address years of decline in the value of higher education pay so we now have little option but to ballot for strike action.

“Universities would do well to listen to their students and make investment in staff a top priority. That means a decent pay offer and concrete commitments to tackle problems with gender pay and insecure employment.”

The union said universities could afford to pay more but were choosing to prioritise capital expenditure over staff. Spending on staff has fallen since 2009/10 to just 52.9% of income in 2016/17, while capital expenditure increased by 35% over the same period. This is despite students saying they would like to see spending on teaching staff prioritised.

 

UCU to ballot members over 2% pay offer - Union News

UK university staff to vote on strike action in pay dispute - Times Higher Education

University staff to vote on whether to strike for second time in one year - Varsity


2.6 New research highlights the gap between parent and student perceptions regarding ‘The Leap’ to university

Unite Students has launched a new campaign, The Leap, inspired by the findings of research into applicant expectations that was conducted last year in partnership with HEPI. 

The Leap focuses on the transition from home to university, and provides evidenced advice to both young people and to their parents or guardians to make that transition as smooth and positive as possible.

1000 parents and 1000 16-19 year olds were asked questions, covering topics from cooking to discussion topics between parents and children before making The Leap.

Results indicated that there is a gap between what parents expect their children to struggle with at university, and what prospective students actually believe will be difficult to work out for themselves. The results show that this leads to parents giving advice in areas that students already feel confident in and ready for, but the topics that worry them the most are being missed.

Parents and guardians believe their children will struggle with basic life skills, including cooking, cleaning, and looking after money far more than young people do. In fact, 72% of parents think they will have to lend their child money before the end of the student’s first term. Conversely, only 33% of 16-19 year olds expect to borrow money, with 80% being confident they can manage their money effectively.

Similarly, 78% of prospective students are confident they can cook a meal from scratch, where as their parents are far less confident in their culinary skills, with only 55% believing their child will be able to do this.

However, certain key topics are being missed out of pre-university prep talks. Only 23% of young adults say they have been given advice on sex or mental health, 28% on relationships, 34% on drugs and 42% on alcohol. 14% say they haven’t been given advice on any of these topics.

From the Reality Check research, conducted in partnership with HEPI, only 66% of prospective students with no current mental health conditions are confident they can find the correct support whilst at university. Even more worryingly, only 37% with a current mental health condition have or intend to disclose their condition to their university, so if these topics are being missed in discussions with parents, they could potentially never be addressed.

This raises the question as to whether a decline in mental health could potentially be averted. If these sensitive topics were addressed earlier, they would not be left up to students to reactively work out when a challenge presents itself.

You can read more about The Leap whitepaper here.

 

2.13. Comment and opinion pieces

On Student Mental health

On International Students

Miscellaneous

 

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