DD2423 Higher Education Research

Type of decision: 
Director's decision
Date signed: 
27 November 2019
Decision by: 
Debbie Jackson, Interim Assistant Director for Built Environment

Executive summary

The GLA has commissioned research under DD2294 Evidence base for higher-level skills progression in London. The work authorised related to higher level skills (non-degree) provision in London with a budget of £145,000 (2018/19-2020/21). The research already commissioned under this budget will be completed in 2020/21 and has a value of up to £85,000. This aligns with the objectives set out in DD2294.

This decision form seeks approval to reprofile and repurpose the remaining budget for 2019/20 and 20/21 of £55,000 to support activity relating to broader higher education policies, which were not set out in DD2294. This reflects emerging policy priorities relating to access and outcomes in degree level study for Londoners, and a changing national policy context around higher level skills. This new activity will complement existing GLA research and help to develop the GLA's wider higher level skills evidence base.

This will support commitments made in the Skills for Londoners Strategy, and will bolster the case for devolution made in the Mayor’s Skills for Londoners: A Call for Action.


That the Interim Executive Director of Development, Enterprise and Environment approves:

To reprofile £55,000 of remaining unspent budget from DD2294 to fund research consultancy services to identify good practice:

• in widening access and participation of Londoners, including through contextual admissions;
• in gaining labour market experience and skills to strengthen the future employability of London higher education students, including those from lower socio-economic and Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) groups; and
• of related areas to support student outcomes for Londoners in higher education, including those from lower socio-economic and BAME groups.

Part 1: Non-confidential facts and advice

Introduction and background

In November 2018, the Interim Executive Director, Development, Enterprise and Environment (DEE) signed DD2294 authorising expenditure of £145,000 to develop an evidence base for higher level skills progression in London over 2018/19 – 2020/21. The DD approved the procurement of research to deliver on the Mayor’s manifesto to promote Advanced Learner Loans (ALL) in London and establish a stronger evidence-base on current Level 4+ provision to ensure that London’s need for a higher skilled economy is met.

The objectives and expected outcomes listed in DD2294 relate to level 4-5 qualifications and higher skilled occupations. Level 6 (equivalent to degree level) is included as part of producing a series of higher level progression pathways, but the focus of the listed objectives is on levels 4-5.

£5,000 allocated in 2018/19 was not spent as a result of slippage in the commissioning timetable, and was returned to corporate budgets as part of the year end process, leaving £140,000 covering 2019/20 and 2020/21.

In July 2019, following consultation with the Higher Level Skills Advisory Group (a subordinate body of the Mayor's Skills for Londoners Board), a specification was developed for this work set out in DD2294. A decision was taken not to cover all of the objectives listed in DD2294 at this time, including a review of the ALL catalogue and developing a skills ecosystem. This was due to reviews of the national framework for higher level qualifications and funding. These include the Post-18 Education and Funding review which reported in May 2019 and the ongoing Department for Education assessment of 'Higher Technical Education', which includes technical qualifications at levels 4 and 5. This consultation proposes that the Office for Students (the official university regulator since April 2018) would become the regulator of Level 4+ qualifications, except higher level apprenticeships. It is also considering the different packages of financial support available to students at this level (informed by the Post-18 Review of Education and Funding). If adopted, these proposals would significantly restrict the use of ALL at higher levels.

As a result of this and following the advice of the Higher Level Skills Advisory Group, in September 2019 the GLA appointed researchers to undertake a broader study of provision, participation and demand for education and skills at Levels 4 and 5 in London to meet the remaining objectives. This research will include an analysis of five Mayoral priority sectors identified in the Economic Development Strategy (technology and digital, culture and creative industries, Advanced Urban Services, low-carbon and environmental goods and services and health and social care). It will also assess the role and future demand for non-accredited courses.

The GLA awarded a contract of up to £85,000 for this work under DD2294 – this included the option to pay for a set of learner case studies (around £14,000) which will be decided on once interim findings have been received and reviewed.

The remaining budget of up to £55,000 is uncommitted. Officers recommend this budget is reprofiled and repurposed to further the Mayor's higher level progression work in higher education (Level 6+), relating to widening access and participation and student outcomes, including graduate employment. The Skills & Employment Unit will steer this work with input from GLA Economics and the GLA Intelligence team.

GLA officers will liaise with TfL Procurement to procure from multiple suppliers the following services, in line with the Contracts and Funding Code:

• Qualitative analysis of the use of contextual admissions by London’s higher education institutions (HEIs) to support widening participation of Londoners accessing higher education. The research would provide evidence on best practice around the use of different criteria used in admissions.

• Qualitative analysis of the provision of work experience and employability support across London's HEIs. This research would help to identify good practice, particularly how learners of all backgrounds are encouraged to make use of the many work experience opportunities across the capital. This piece of work will also provide an assessment on the extent to which London HEIs are currently utilising their access to industry and work experience opportunities across the capital.

The GLA will obtain value for money by combining the two areas into a single specification as it expects some overlap in the institutions and learners interviewed. However, the GLA will expect potential suppliers to demonstrate how they will ensure good practice is identified in each part of the research.

Objectives and expected outcomes

The research will inform the Mayor’s work to increase the opportunities for Londoners to access and benefit from higher education. It will also inform dialogue with the Office for Students, the Department for Education and other stakeholders to influence national policy.

This will build on GLA-commissioned analysis published in April 2019, Building on Success: Increasing higher education retention in London. This research identified students who had taken non-A level qualifications and lived at home as being more at risk of non-continuation of their studies at lower tariff Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). Ethnicity is significant in that BAME students , in particular Black students, are more likely to have these characteristics in lower tariff HEIs compared with White students. At medium and higher tariff HEIs in London, it found that socio-economic status was relevant in predicting the likelihood of non-continuation. However, ethnicity was not significant.

In addition, the GLA Intelligence Unit has commissioned a separate quantitative research piece to understand the relative importance of student demographics, their entry qualifications, institution and subject of study, work experience to degree and initial labour market outcomes. The areas of further research identified in 2.4 will complement this quantitative analysis.

The proposed research will include qualitative techniques to identify:

• evidence of good practice in widening access and participation of Londoners, including through contextual admissions, to be shared amongst London's HEIs;

• evidence of good practice in the provision of work experience and employability support across London's HEIs. Particularly ways in which HEIs strengthen the future employability of their students, including those from lower socio-economic and BAME groups; and

• evidence of related areas to support student outcomes for Londoners in higher education, including those from lower socio-economic and BAME groups.

Equality comments

Section 149(1) of the Equality Act 2010 provides that, in the exercise of their functions, public authorities – of whom the Mayor is one – must have due regard to the need to:

• eliminate discrimination, harassment, victimisation and any other conduct that is prohibited by or under the Equality Act 2010;

• advance equality of opportunity between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it; and

• foster good relations between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it.
Relevant protected characteristics are age, disability, gender re-assignment, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.

Officers confirm that the procurement and commissioning of the activities described above will conform with requirements made under the public sector equality duty at every stage, including when planning the contract, during the tender process and throughout the life of the contract, with particular attention being given at any decision making moments. Any increased knowledge of skills and employability needs of particular learner groups will be used to inform future specifications for work.

Other considerations

Links to Mayoral Priorities and Strategies

The proposed research will support the Mayor’s Skills for Londoners: A Call for Action in developing priorities for widening access and participation in higher education, including good practice in admissions. It will also advance a commitment made in the Skills for Londoners Strategy, to improve destination outcomes for Londoners in higher education, including degree and graduate employment. The work will build on City Hall’s research published in April 2019 which identified reasons for the higher drop-out rate in London.

Key risks and issues

Access to participants including current and former students is likely to be challenging within this budget. This could cause some gaps in the evidence. Officers will assess bids and determine which will deliver the most comprehensive approach within the budget.

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest to note for any of the officers involved in the drafting or clearance of this decision.

Financial comments

There are no new financial implications of this proposal as this decision seeks approval to reprofile the remaining budget allocated to the Higher Level Skills Research project.


Of the original budget of £145,000 which was agreed in DD2294, £5,000 remains as unspent from 2018-19 and £85,000 has already been committed. Therefore, this decision proposes to utilise the remaining £55,000 on consultancy services to deliver the Higher Education research. The £55,000 will be allocated during the 2019-20 and 2020-21 financial years.


The new reprofile for the remaining years of the £140,000 will be as follows:



Financial Year 2019/20

Financial Year 2020/21


 Higher Education Programme





The funding source for this Higher Education Research will remain the same (Development, Enterprise and Environment Minor Programme budget).

Activity table



Procurement of contract

January 2020

Delivery Start Date

January 2020

Delivery End Date

June 2020

Project Closure


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