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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:

 

Contents

  1. Local developments and trends

1. Sussex University Freedom of Information (FoI) requests

2. Creation of new 3G pitch at Falmer Sports Complex

3. University of Sussex 41st in Sunday Times league table

 

  1. National developments and trends

1. Generation Z - who are the new Freshers on campus ?

2. University and College Union (UCU) publishes report on Race Equality Charter

3. Family means-testing for student loans fails those with fragile family relationships

4. Migration Advisory Committee’s Impact of international students in the UK “woefully disappointing”

5. Growing inequality in University applicants

6. New regulations for online learning accessibility

    

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 submitted, asking the University to provide the projected number of students expected to attend the institution for the next 5 years, split into undergraduate and postgraduate. However, this FoI was declined due to the university stating that they do not hold this information.

 

1.2 Creation of new 3G pitch at Falmer Sports Complex

 

Work begins this week to create a new third generation (3G) pitch at the Falmer Sports Complex, replacing the northernmost existing grass sports pitch. The project will see the installation of a full-size, all-weather, floodlit pitch that can be used for both daytime and evening training and matches. Once finished, the new pitch will offer a synthetic playing surface that meets FA standards and can be used for regulated football matches, and claims to be more robust than natural grass pitches, maintaining a good playing surface even during periods of poor weather.

 

Head of Sport, Simon Tunley, said: “We know that sport is important to many of our students and staff, and I am delighted that we are investing in our sports facilities at Sussex. The new full-size, floodlit 3G pitch will increase our capacity, allowing us to accommodate more training and matches that would otherwise be constrained by daylight and poor weather.”

 

The new pitch is said to be completed and available for use by around mid January, and the works to create the pitch are not expected to impact current facilities.

 

1.3. University of Sussex drops to 41st in Sunday Times league table

 

The University of Sussex has been ranked 41st in the UK in The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide 2019, published in full on Sunday 23 September. This is a fall of 14 places from 2018, where Sussex ranked 27th. The University has released a response to the rankings on the news page on its website, stating that ‘the University is already working hard to address the circumstances that led to this ranking position, which was anticipated.’

 

Vice-Chancellor Adam Tickell has released a statement on the results, saying: “This result is not unexpected and we have already taken swift and decisive action in response to the most recent NSS results. We have begun putting in place significant measures and improvements well in advance of the publication of this league table, including the appointment of senior officers whose work in partnership with the Students’ Union is already showing great promise.”

“We’ve listened to feedback from the NSS and we are already planning major initiatives to boost the student voice, foster a greater sense of belonging amongst our students and improve assessment and feedback.


“Our new Strategic Framework - Sussex 2025 - has been designed to put students at the heart of university life and our decision making for the future of our great institution.”

 

2.1 Generation Z - Who are the new Freshers on campus?

 

Pearson and Ipsos Mori have both published studies that focus on ‘Generation Z’, defined as those born from 1997-2010, who will be making up the majority of the freshers population at universities across the country.

 

Some of the headline findings include:

  • Just 25% of Generation Z students say they believe they can have a rewarding career without going to university.

  • There is not much evidence for the oft-repeated claim that the young distrust institutions, yet in personal relationships, they are nearly twice as trusting of other people than Millennials were.

  • They are much less likely to identify as solely heterosexual and have much greater contact with people who don’t identify as just one gender.

  • And they’re savvier (or arguably more cynical) when it comes to news – far fewer than ever believe most or all of what they see on news websites and apps.

 

In terms of learning styles, Gen Z rank YouTube second only to academics as a learning tool – ahead of lectures, collaboration with classmates, learning apps, and “books”, and 47% of them spend three hours or more a day on the video platform.

 





Perhaps there is a case here for widening the different types of teaching resources offered to students in HE to include more sources in a video format. On the other hand, millennials need more flexibility—they are more likely to prefer self-directed learning supported by online courses with video lectures. And while they are known for being the “plugged in” generation, it’s apparent that plenty of millennials still prefer a good old-fashioned book to learn.

Read more:

 

2.2 University and College Union (UCU) publishes report on Race Equality Charter

A report has been published by the University and College Union (UCU), titled "Investigating higher education institutions and their views on the Race Equality Charter".

 

The REC provides a framework which supports institutions to identify and self-reflect on institutional and cultural barriers that impede black staff and students. It covers: professional and support staff; academic staff; student progression and attainment; and diversity of the curriculum. Members of the REC work to develop initiatives and solutions to target these areas, and can apply for a Bronze or Silver REC award, according to the level of their progress.

 

The report, co-authored by Kalwant Bhopal and Clare Pitkin of the University of Birmingham,  - calls for AdvanceHE's Race Equality Charter (REC) status to be linked to research funding available from UKRI, so that institutions that achieve the award access a boost in research funding, and recommends annual audits of universities' efforts to address gaps in BME attainment.

 

Universities would need to put in place mandatory bias training for all senior management staff at higher education institutions, and that all HEIs designate a senior member of staff - separate from Equality and Diversity officers - whose responsibility it is to ensure that race policy is implemented. UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said that the union would be consulting with members on how to implement recommendations from the report.

 

The recommendations from the report are as follows:

  • Linking the REC to UKRI funding

  • Formalising and making unconscious bias training mandatory for all senior staff in HEIs
    (level 6 or equivalent)

  • All HEIs have a senior member of staff (such as a pro-vice chancellor) whose main
    responsibility it is to ensure that race equality policy is implemented

  • Annual reviews of how HEIs have addressed the BME attainment gap

  • Annual reviews of how HEIs have addressed the under representation of BME staff

  • Improving professional development for BME staff

  • Changes in REC award applications (in order to achieve the REC institutions must pass/address the requirements of one stage before passing on to the next.)

  • Encouraging and developing safe environments to discuss racism

 

2.3 Family means-testing for student loans ‘fails those with fragile family relationships’

 

Becca Bland, the Chief Executive at charity Stand Alone, has posted an interesting article to WonkHe about the shortcomings of family means-testing for student loans. Bland highlights that all single young adults aged 18-24 applying for finance are deemed dependent on the parental household for means-testing purposes, unless they can satisfy criteria for independence such as being a care leaver, or can “prove” they have no relationship with both of their parents.

 

However, the ways that divorced and estranged families are currently understood and processed is intensely problematic .For example, a new partner who joins the household just before or after the commencement of studies will have their income taken into consideration, despite the fact they might never have had any comprehensive relationship with that young adult.

Conversely, in a divorced family, if a student’s “dependent” biological parent dies, the step-parent is barred from being the student’s sponsor however strong and extensive the relationship may be. The student is expected to rely on the other biological parent (if alive) in the next academic year, even if there is only tentative contact and no comprehensive relationship.

 

Students who are financially “cut-off” as a result of family difficulties, for example, after coming out as LGBT+ or rejecting an arranged marriage, are expected to have no contact with both parents to be able to claim the additional loan as an independent student, which potentially could discourage any attempts at reconciliation as this could result in a cut of funding.

 

Such rules also bring into question the situation of children of LGBTQ+ parents and single mothers who have used artificial insemination and surrogacy paths. As Bland questions, must these young people rely on their biological fathers or surrogate mothers for means-testing if their parent dies?

 

Stand Alone affirms that: “It should be an individual’s choice as to which parental figure young adults are “dependent”, who they ask for income details, and who they look to for financial support – not the choice of the state. If planning policy and operations around families in the modern day is too difficult or too much of a political hot potato, the non means-tested maintenance loan must transform into a living loan, and become an amount that all students can really survive on.”

 

Family means-testing for student loans is not working - WonkHE

 

2.4 Migration Advisory Committee’s Impact of international students in the UK “woefully disappointing”

 

A major review of UK policy on overseas students released at the beginning of the month rejected calls for them to be removed from the net migration statistics and for the reintroduction of post-study work visas – but does question the government’s overall net migration target. The inclusion of students in the government’s target to reduce net migration to the “tens of thousands” is widely seen as creating an incentive for the government to tighten the student visa regime and decrease numbers.

 

Gordon Marsden, shadow higher education minister, said: “We are extremely disappointed that the Migration Advisory Committee have failed to recommend removing students from the government’s net migration targets despite overwhelming evidence in favour of this from the sector.

“Despite considerable evidence about the important role international students’ play in our universities and communities, the MAC [has] failed to produce recommendations to support them. There is no sense here of the government’s urgent need to do far more to support our HE sector and universities internationally, which we have consistently emphasised. This [is] despite the stiff competition and difficult circumstances post-Brexit, which the MAC report concedes will be substantial – whether on Erasmus+, Horizon 2020 or other support post-Brexit.”

 

In addition, the Guardian has published a joint letter from representatives of 13 organisations connected to the HE sector including NUS, the Higher Education Policy Institute, GuildHE, MillionPlus and University Alliance expressing regret that the Migration Advisory Committee did not recommend the removal of international students from net migration targets in its report, published earlier this week. HEPI labelled the report ‘woefully disappointing, and the NUS called it a ‘failure to act on evidence.’

 

Read more here:

 

2.5 Growing inequality in University applicants


UCAS has posted its ‘day 28’ data sets that give statistical analysis of university applicants this year. This data gives information about the country, age, subject, sex, region, POLAR3, POLAR4, SIMD 2016, ethnic group, and Tariff group of applicants.

 

When analysing the POLAR group of applicants, there are some worrying figures for applicant equality. POLAR classifies local areas into five groups, based on the proportion of 18 year olds who enter HE aged 18 or 19 years old. These groups range from quintile 1 areas, with the lowest young participation (most disadvantaged), up to quintile 5 areas with the highest rates (most advantaged).
 

Increases in the entry rate of the lowest entry rate group (Q1) since 2012 has been very strong – but this has changed in 2018. Typically, young people in these areas have been around 4% to 8% (proportionally) more likely to go to university every year. This year that growth in university entry chances has collapsed to almost zero.

 

There also remains existing inequality in HE entry levels based on gender. In 2018 the UK entry rate for 18-year-old men at day 28 was 27.8%, up just 0.1 percentage points. For women 38.1%, also up by not much (+0.4 percentage points), but still four times more than for men. Young women are now a startling 37% more likely to enter HE than men. The absolute percentage point gap between men and women has gone past 10 percentage points for the first time at 10.3 percentage points.

 

These differences equate to 38,000 men not starting at university this autumn compared to what we would see if men had equal entry rates with women. Measured this way, the men/women equality deficit is about 60% of the size of the rich/poor one, but seems to receive a somewhat lower share than that of attention.

 

2.6 New regulations for online learning accessibility

 

On 23 September, the government brought the EU Web Accessibility Directive into law with a statutory instrument. Policy Connect, a Think Tank that influences policy, has worked with the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Assistive Technology to report on what the rule change means for universities and disabled students.

 

Virtual learning environments (VLEs), online course documents, and video recordings of lectures are all counted as web content – and as such now has to meet an accessibility requirement. This is a technical standard for designing web content so that it is perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust – the four principles of accessible web design. What’s more, each VLE will need to include an accessibility statement, a public declaration of where the website stands on compliance and what students can do to notify the university of any inaccessible content.

 

The best accessibility statements will also direct students to tools to help them make best use of the VLE – for example browser plugins for reading text out loud or changing the font size. Meeting an accessibility standard, and publishing an accessibility statement, has long been recognised as good practice. Now this practice is to become a legal duty.

 

These new regulations fit perfectly into the inclusive practice framework of Universal Learning - an educational practice increasing in popularity that removes the barriers faced by disabled students and thereby benefits all students.

 

Digital accessibility is a particularly strong example of the universal benefits of inclusive practice. Students can take advantage of more usable and flexible learning resources by listening to course content read out to them as a podcast while traveling on the bus, using heading styles to go straight to the important part of the course handbook, or re-watching a lecture with subtitles to help concentrate. An inclusive approach allows all students to learn in the ways that suit them best.
 

2.13. Comment and opinion pieces

 

 

Contact us

Got a comment/criticism about anything discussed in this article? Let us know on our social media channels!

facebook.com/thestudentsunion

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