"Equitable playing field" needed in HE regulation

27 November 2014 

Alternative providers of higher education in England should come under the same regulatory framework as public institutions, a new report from CentreForum argues.

The think tank's research indicates that alternative providers (APs) play an increasingly important role in widening access to higher education, promoting innovation in programme design and delivery, and significantly enhancing student choice as a consequence.

Yet it points to a continuing perception among APs that they suffer from the lack of an "equitable playing field" in the way public and private institutions are regulated, inhibiting their capacity to operate effectively in the higher education market.

Whereas public institutions are set to benefit from the removal of the student numbers cap from 2015/16, restrictions on the number of students APs can recruit have been retained at 2012/13 levels or below. This places them at a competitive disadvantage, the report says.

Other barriers to AP growth cited in the report include retention of the tuition fees cap at £6,000,* and the continuing imposition of a traditional university model of academic governance and quality assurance which "often lacks applicability, economic viability and effectiveness" in the context of a diverse AP sector.

The report 'Access and equity: positioning alternative providers in higher education provision' calls on government to implement a common regulatory framework for all higher education institutions in England.

The proposed framework of regulation would include a commitment to parity of treatment in regulation and institutional review. There would also be a stronger focus on quality assurance and effective collaboration through accreditation and validation across different institutions.

The report highlights Regents University, New College of the Humanities, the British and Irish Modern Music (BIMM) Institute, University of Law and GSM London as examples of APs bringing greater choice, innovation and cost effectiveness to the higher education market.

Professor Stephen Lee, Chief Executive of CentreForum and author of the report, said:

"A range of new providers in higher education are delivering greater choice and access to students who might otherwise not benefit benefit from higher education. Their central focus on teaching - blending academic knowledge with technical and vocational expertise - offers an important additional option to an increasing number of students. Too often however, it would appear that they are confronted by a regulatory framework that hinders rather than promotes these endeavours."

Create a less hostile environment for asylum seekers, think tank urges government

6 November 2014

Government should rethink the way it handles asylum cases to make the system fairer and more efficient, according to CentreForum.

In a new report, the think tank maintains that the most “draconian elements” of the current system were a response to the large influx of asylum seekers to Britain in the years either side of 2000. It points out that numbers of asylum cases have dropped sharply since then – falling by 72% between 2002 and 2013 – and that public hostility to this type of migrant has mellowed.

It says that now is an opportune time to reform the asylum process without undermining public confidence.

The report ‘A place of sanctuary? Creating a fair and efficient asylum system’ makes 21 recommendations in the areas of institutional reform; detention; destitution; and women and children.

Proposals include shifting responsibility for asylum cases from the Home Office to the Ministry of Justice to free up Home Office time to clamp down on genuine abuse, and the introduction of a maximum detention limit of 18 months. As it stands, there is no limit on how long failed asylum seekers can be kept under lock and key with a limited right to appeal.

The report warns that use of detention is not only widespread in Britain but is also counterproductive in ensuring individuals go back to their home country. It finds that Britain has one of the lowest rates of assisted return in Europe at just 16%. In Sweden, where migrants are provided with welfare support and legal advice on the limited options available to them, over 80% of failed asylum seekers return independently.

The report further recommends that government re-introduces the right to work for asylum seekers after six months, which is the target timeframe for processing applications.

It also urges more humane treatment of women and children migrants, calling for an independent review and better support for pregnant asylum seekers among other proposals.

Alasdair Murray, the report’s author, said:

“While the wider immigration debate is becoming increasingly fractious, there is still strong political consensus around Britain providing a place of sanctuary for refugees. With asylum numbers relatively low and stable, there is now an opportunity to build on the small steps taken to improve the system by the current government by addressing measures, such as an excessive use of detention, which were introduced during a period of political panic that has now passed. The next government should reform the asylum system so that it can meet the complex challenges of globalisation and treats asylum seekers in an efficient, fair and humane manner.”

Maurice Wren, Chief Executive, Refugee Council, said:

“This measured analysis of what’s gone wrong with our asylum system and what we need to do to put it right, is as timely as it is insightful. With the world in the grip of a refugee crisis the scale and severity of which has not been seen since the end of World War 2, the time is right for a bold rethinking of how we provide protection to those in need.”

“Despite, or perhaps because, the prevailing public and political discourse on refugee protection is characterised by fear and hostility, the structural failings of our asylum system can no longer be ignored if we are to meet the challenges of a fractious, conflicted, but increasingly mobile, world. This report provides a blueprint for an asylum system that is genuinely sensitive to the experience and needs of those seeking refugee protection, and yet sufficiently robust to command public confidence. It will be of immense value to those of us who advocate for change, not only for its detailed prescription of the kind of reforms we need, but also because it asks the fundamental question: is the Home Office reformable?”

Jerome Phelps, Director, Detention Action, said:

“This report highlights the urgent need for reform of the asylum and detention systems.  It sets out a pragmatic programme of change that would benefit government, migrants and taxpayers alike. Limiting the maximum period of detention would be a crucial step towards making our immigration systems more humane and less wasteful.”

Kamena Dorling, Policy and Programmes Manager, Migrant Children’s Project, said:

"As this report recognises, the majority of asylum seekers come from countries with a clear record of human rights violations and conflict. Yet, many still face a widespread ‘culture of disbelief’ in the Home Office and forced destitution is frequently used as a form of immigration control. In particular, it is imperative that children with protection needs have their cases properly considered and that decisions are made in their best interests. The provision of a legal advocate for all unaccompanied children seeking asylum is a key step towards ensuring this. We hope this report will assist policymakers in taking steps to ensure that those fleeing persecution are treated fairly in the UK and receive the support and protection they desperately need."

Catherine Gladwell, Director, Refugee Support Network, said:

“This report reminds us of the unique challenges that children in the asylum system face, and draws attention to the important issue of the safety and wellbeing of young people who are then returned to their country of origin at the age of 18. Monitoring their long term outcomes will help us better understand how the best interests of this particularly vulnerable group of UK care leavers can be safeguarded.”

NOTES TO EDITORS

The CentreForum report ‘A place of sanctuary? Creating a fair and efficient asylum system’ can be accessed here.

The report is the final publication of a three part series aimed at setting a liberal agenda in UK immigration policy. CentreForum previously published 'Migration: a liberal challenge' (January 2014) and 'The business case for immigration reform' (December 2013). It is grateful to the Barrow Cadbury Fund and Unbound Philanthropy for supporting this research.

Independent Mental Health Commission welcomes Chief Medical Officer’s annual report

9 September 2014

The CentreForum Mental Health Commission has welcomed the recommendations of the Chief Medical Officer on the state of mental health care in England.

In her annual report, Professor Dame Sally Davies draws closely on CentreForum’s earlier analysis, published in July, which stressed the need to establish parity of funding between physical and mental health in the NHS.

CentreForum also welcomes the CMO’s focus on childhood intervention in tackling mental illness and her call to make Britain’s workplaces more mental health friendly. These were major themes of the CentreForum report ‘The pursuit of happiness’.

Paul Burstow MP, former minister for mental health and chair of the CentreForum Mental Health Commission, said:

“There is a mounting tide of evidence on the critical importance of doing more to protect and improve our mental health. As Professor Davies’ report highlights, these issues have been neglected for far too long. We can’t afford to wait any longer. We need to promote good mental health from the earliest opportunity, and make sure that schools, workplaces and the communities that we all live in are supporting good mental health. The cost of doing nothing or simply settling for gradual change runs to billions of pounds, but the real cost is measured in human misery, misery for want of determination to act on the evidence.”

NOTES

The final report of the CentreForum Mental Health Commission along with supporting documents can be accessed here.

The Commission members were Rt Hon Paul Burstow MP, Chair and former Liberal Democrat Minister of State for Care and Support 2010-12; Lord Victor Adebowale CBE, Chief Executive, Turning Point; Professor Dame Sue Bailey, Chair, Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition; Paul Farmer, Chief Executive, Mind; Angela Greatley OBE, Chair, Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust; Paul Jenkins OBE, Chief Executive, Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust; Dr Alison Rose-Quirie, Chair, Independent Mental Health Services Alliance.

Launch of ‘Early years: valuable means and effective ends’

16 July 2014

Speakers

  • James Kempton, Associate Director, CentreForum (Chair)
  • Janet Grauberg, Policy and Strategy Consultant, Editor of ‘Early years’ report 
  • Baroness Claire Tyler, Vice-Chair of APPG on Social Mobility, President of National Children’s Bureau (NCB)

Attendees

The roundtable was attended by the six contributors to the report, policymakers, academics and early years and care deliverer organisations. 

Janet Grauberg said over the past 20 years the case for government having a role in the early years of a child’s life had been well established. In contrast, it was apparent that there was no such settled purpose for this involvement in early childhood education and care. The question this new report addressed was whether the government’s role was primarily to support: maternal employment, or universal child development, or narrowing the gap between children from disadvantaged backgrounds and others. It then went on to consider which interventions should be promoted by government and society as a whole to achieve those objectives. 

Janet stressed that the pursuit of a variety of policy objectives has led to both inconsistent outcomes and inefficiency, making for a system that is difficult for parents, providers, policy-makers and reformers to navigate. The report concluded firstly that government should be more explicit about which outcomes it is trying to achieve and which trade-offs it is making between them, and secondly that ‘narrowing the gap’ of outcomes should be the priority for government early intervention. Janet closed by emphasising that making progress will require four things:

1.more clarity on the definition of the ‘gap’ in outcomes; 

2.investment in a higher quality workforce, starting with stronger requirements for staff working with disadvantaged children; 

3.policies that support family income in the early years; 

4.policies that promote an understanding of the importance of the home learning environment and that allow staff to support parents in the development of this. 

Baroness Tyler opened by saying that the ‘Early years’ report was an important publication that merits serious consideration. As a member of the new Lords Select Committee on Affordable Childcare, Baroness Tyler has recommended the report to the clerk to the committee and was sure it would be influential to their deliberations. She concurred with Janet Grauberg in saying that early childhood education and care is riddled with complexity, noting also the conflicting policy objectives over the past few years.

Baroness Tyler welcomed the report’s recommendation that government should clearly state the intended outcomes of early intervention. She offered support for many of the report’s proposals, including that for a forum to manage trade-offs during policy formulation, as well as for the Family and Childcare Trust’s recommendation that there should be an independent review of childcare funding. 

A discussion between attendees followed.  People acknowledged the importance of the home learning environment, while recognising that the research base was not well developed compared to our understanding of interventions delivered though formal early years settings. There was interest in the model of “pedagogical conversations” between staff and parents sharing learning about skills developed during childcare sessions and how this learning can be continued at home.

People recognised the constant to-and-fro between emphasis on the targeted and the universal provision and there was support for the Government being more explicit about defining what “narrowing the gap in outcomes” means, and how progress would be measured.  This might aim to improve outcomes for the most disadvantaged (as with the criteria for allocating the early years pupil premium), though there was support for government aiming more broadly to flatten the gradient in outcomes for all children. 

There would always be a need for investment in targeted support, drop-in provision and universal family support and early years services.  But the point was made that children’s centres are increasingly being asked to focus much more on more targeted provision at the expense of universal provision. What was important was establishing the right balance between where government should invest, as well as ensuring these services were joined up and made sense to parents.

Finally the point was made over what had happened to the notion of employers being expected to make a financial contribution to the costs of childcare which seemed no longer to be part of core of public policy in this area. 

Report by Imogen Buxton