19th June 2013
With mixed emotions, we would like to announce that Harriet Latham, our highly efficient and energetic Technical Director, has been appointed Tax Manager at The Open University from the beginning of September. Against the disappointment of losing Louise Wallace, this is excellent news for Miles Hedges and The OU, and for Harriet as she enters a new phase in her career. We would like to wish Louise well in her new ventures. Whilst we are also pleased to wish Harriet well in her new role, we are very disappointed to lose her as she is a core part of the BUFDG central team. We hope to make a further announcement in July on our plans for resourcing our activities into 2013/14.
Harriet is of course a mainstay of the Tax Group, supporting its Chair, Steve Carter (FD at Southampton Solent University) and Deputy Chair Kerry Sykes (Cambridge) and other tax specialists in the sector who give up their own time and the time of their institutions to work for the good of the sector. If there is one thing we could improve in BUFDG, it is trumpetting our work and our successes. I put this down to modesty rather than a failure to communicate, but there is probably an element of both. Take a look at Steve's introduction to the Tax Conference to see just what they have been doing.
Tax Conference rings the changes
The BUFDG Tax conference has come a long way since it was first held at Loughborough in 2004 when 50 colleagues came along to hear a variety of speakers, with a variety of styles of delivery, give their take on tax issues current at the time. Many of those features endure, but this year we rang some changes and held the conference at Warwick, welcoming over 120 delegates, guests and speakers to enjoy the most extensive programme yet. We are grateful to everyone who contributed in any way, to the Tax Group and most importantly to Harriet, who charmed, flattered and cajoled such an array of professional advisers and colleagues from the sector to share their knowledge, opinions and experience. The Tax Conference is 10 next year when we will celebrate as only tax specialists know how, so look out for the dates which will be announced soon. In case you missed last week's conference, or want to relive it, Harriet has written a post-conference round-up with links to all the presentations and extra information besides.
1994 Group tackle post-graduate funding
The 1994 Group is aiming to get their teeth into Post-graduate funding over the next few weeks, following the publication of their latest HE Briefing, which examines the historical and policy background to taught post-graduate education. The group will publish a number of annexes to the briefing that look at some of the options to improving the availability of funding, including government backed student loans for Masters students, more affordable commercial financing, relaxing restrictions on integrated ‘3+1 Masters courses’, more lending by HEIs for high-flying students, and closer collaboration with business.
The first annex has already been published and looks at the options for extending government loans to post-graduates, and compares these with private financing. In particular it looks at a proposal put forward by the CentreForum think-tank, in which the government would extend £10,000 loan to post-graduates, to be reclaimed later as income-contingent payments via the tax system; re-payable once the graduate earns more than £15,000. The annex finds that “a scheme along the lines proposed by CentreForum would appear to be financially viable. Whether this scheme could be strictly cost-neutral would depend on how successfully it could be targeted at the best and brightest students”. They make it clear however that under certain conditions the scheme “could be effected with no aggregate cost to the taxpayer”
There is a good summary in the 1994 Group’s weekly ‘HE Insight’ bulletin which, as well as post-graduate funding, includes an interview with Carl Gilleard, Chief Executive of the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR) on the graduate recruitment market.
Will BIS sell the student loan book?
The government is actively considering selling the student loan book, according to the BIS response to an FOI request from the Guardian this week. The response to the request revealed that the government had been considering a report by Rothschild Bank for BIS, first presented in 2011, that outlined possible conditions under which the government could take the student loan book to market.
One of the most contentious issues in the study was the suggestion that, as part of any deal, the government could lift the cap on the interest rates of historical loans, currently limited to the lowest option of RPI or bank base-rate +1%. The existence of the report has prompted strong responses from the NUS and Shadow Universities Minister Shabana Mahmood, with the latter calling the proposals “outrageous… a complete betrayal of the 3.6million affected students who thought they were taking out loans on completely different terms”. Other commentators have been equally unhappy about the bank’s report, with Angus Hanton in the Guardian saying the proposals in the feasibility study constitute “nothing less than intergenerational theft”, and Andrew McGettigan calling it “short-termist and contemptuous of [UK] citizens”.
BIS has responded to the press coverage, with the Secretary of State Dr Vince Cable stating that he had ruled out “categorically changing the terms of interest rates charged to graduates with existing student loans taken out before 2012”, however he added that “Work on the feasibility of selling the outstanding student debt continues.”
Welsh government looks to 2020
The Welsh Government published a draft Higher Education policy statement last week setting out their policy priorities for the sector heading towards 2020. It’s short on firm proposals, but recaps on the strengths of the sector and seeks to map out a broad direction of travel over the coming years. A key area highlighted by the report is for greater interaction with business to stimulate economic growth and to improve graduate employability, with the report saying that “Innovation-led growth is most likely to be achieved through an equal partnership between universities, the Welsh Government and business to develop successful innovation ecosystems. This partnership is at the heart of the Welsh Government’s strategy Innovation Wales.”
The statement also calls for “radical innovation” in navigating the unpredictable Higher Education environment, and suggests one option could be a “two-year condensed undergraduate degree programmes with a third year paid Masters degree funded through the statutory student support system”. The Times Higher has a brief round-up of some of the other key points.
Students focus on employment
More students are making early applications for graduate jobs according to a recent poll of 18,000 final year students. The annual UK Graduate Careers Survey found that 41% of finalists had made at least one application to a graduate employer over a year before the end of their course, an increase from 37% in 2011, 31% in 2009, and just 25% in 2001, the Times Higher reports.
The report also found that students who had obtained work experience during their studies were three times as likely to receive a definite job offer before leaving university than students with no work experience at all. In the press release, Martin Birchall, Managing Director of High Fliers, the company that undertook the survey said that, “Work experience is no longer an optional extra for university students, it’s an essential part of preparing for the graduate job market. Students who just focus on their degree studies without spending time in the workplace are unlikely to develop the skills and interests that graduate employers are looking for”.
Bits and Bobs
The IMF is the latest organisation trying its hand at MOOCs. The BBC reports that the international finance body has joined up with the edX online university platform, set up by Harvard and MIT, to run two courses in financial policy, which will open to the public next year. The move shows how MOOCs will enable HE provision by non-traditional organisations. According to the BBC, “Anant Agarwal, president of edX and previously a MIT professor of artificial intelligence, says the partnership with the IMF is another example of how online learning is breaking down barriers in learning, bringing in new types of organisation. He expects other institutions, corporations or NGOs to move into this educational sphere”.
NEST has launched a series of webinars aimed at employers, advisers, accountants and payroll professionals, to help people through the automatic enrolment process and signing up to NEST. You can find more information on the NEST website. In addition, NEST are willing to work to tailor or jointly-host seminars in order to meet members training needs. If you're interested in more specific training then contact Helga.
The government's Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission have published their report on widening participation in HE, called The Fair Access Challenge. The report found a mixed picture, and said that "while there has been much progress in widening participation (participation rates in the most disadvantaged geographical areas increased by 30% between 2004/05 and 2009/10) those in the most advantaged areas are still three times as likely to participate in higher education as those in the most disadvantaged areas". In responding to the report, Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of Universities UK said "We must continue to evaluate how effective different kinds of financial support have been in promoting participation. There must also be continued support for universities' work with schools and colleges to raise aspirations and attainment, as well as better advice and guidance in schools about higher education".
Finally, we have two 'Jobs of the Week' this week. The University of Bath is looking for a Contracts Officer whilst the University of Nottingham requires three Finance Managers. For all the other HE finance vacancies, visit the BUFDG jobs page.