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Reps' HE Newsletter February 2020

What happened in the higher education sector in February 2020?

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Reps' Monthly Higher Education Update

February 2020

This is a monthly update for our Reps on what’s going on in the Higher Education sector. In this edition, we look back at what happened in February 2020.


Making the grade

Senior Course Reps will remember from their training last term that the Office for Students (OfS), the independent regulator for universities in the UK, would look into the application process for universities. We told you that there may be a change to when students send their applications: maybe students would make their applications after getting their actual grades, not their predicted ones.

This month the OfS announced a three-month review into the application system, proposing that students apply to study at university with the grades they get in August. 75% of school students do not receive the grades that their teachers predicted, says the OfS, so perhaps they should make their university applications when they know for sure what grades they have.

When we told Senior Course Reps about this last term, they were divided on the idea. Some students felt it would be fairer to apply for a place at university when they know their grades; others felt that it would lead to a month of rushed visits to university campuses and universities trying to process thousands of applications in a short space of time. Some international Senior Course Reps said that applying for a place at university after you receive your grades was normal in their countries.


A “final warning” on free speech

“If universities can’t defend free speech, the government will,” wrote the Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Willamson, in an article for The Times earlier this month.

In his article, Williamson argued that while universities in the UK are world-renowned and contribute greatly to public life, they are not doing enough to uphold free speech and free academic inquiry, which are threatened by a culture of intolerance. He pointed to protests and petitions that had led to events being cancelled or staff losing their jobs. Universities need to do more to let people voice unpopular opinions – and if they don’t, the government will have to step in.

Williamson was repeating his party’s 2019 manifesto promise to uphold the principle of free speech at universities, but the “crisis” of free speech on university campuses has been discussed and debated for several years. All three of Williamson’s Conservative predecessors have mentioned it and proposed fines or other punishments for universities failing to uphold free speech. But commentators disagree over the existence of a “crisis”. One academic wrote in the Guardian this month that the “crisis” is nothing more than a talking point for conservatives and has been for half a century.


News in brief

  • Sir Lindsay Hoyle MP, the Speaker for the House of Commons, will become the next Chancellor of the University of Gibraltar
  • the candidates for the senior positions in the National Union of Students have been announced; the NUS National Conference will be held in Liverpool at the end of March


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