The Higher Education Green Paper, released last week, proposes several significant and some controversial changes to Higher Education in the UK.
The propositions cover a broad spectrum of issues including; tuition fees, the freedom of information act, funding and grants, disadvantaged groups and the general higher education market.
Importantly the proposition sees the Teaching Excellence Framework able to allow a majority of English universities to raise their tuition fees in 2017-18.
Institutions will have the opportunity to apply for awards from the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA), giving them the ability to raise their fees and introduce variable fees across the country in 2018-19.
Universities may also be exempt from the Freedom of Information act. The paper suggests this is in order to level the competition universities are faced with from private providers who are exempt from the FOI.
The paper suggests that universities who have achieved a certain standard of teaching reviewed by the QAA will be awarded a ‘Level 1 Teaching Excellence Award’.
Institutions will then be able to increase their fees in accordance to inflation up to a cap which will be decided by ministers over the course of the next three years. It is probable that the majority of universities will qualify for the award and subsequent fee raise.
The HE Green Paper develops the proposition for the introduction of Teaching Excellence Awards further; universities would be able to qualify for higher levels of TEF awards in following years for up to three levels. This would allow institutions to increase fees even further in 2018-19 towards another range of fees. To achieve these higher levels of the TEF Awards institutions will be assessed according to results from a range of surveys collated by various pre-existing agencies. The suggested sources include the National Student Survey, the Destinations of Leavers of Higher Education and the Higher Education Statistics Agency. Universities may also gain the higher TEF awards in accordance with the ways in which they help students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Changes in regard to fee caps are also under consideration. Fee caps currently only increase after a combination of secondary legislation and vote in Parliament. Under the new propositions the power to set tuition fee caps will be passed to the secretary of state for Business, Innovation and Skills, which is currently Rt Hon Sajid Javid.
Further changes include a merge between the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and the Office for Fair Access (OFS). These will no longer be separate entities, but will become the new Office for Students. This has several knock-on effects in the Higher Education market.
Higher Education receive some of their funding from the HEFCE. Quality-Related (QR) funding for research in universities is currently distributed by HEFCE. Though the government proposes a continuation of QR funding it is unclear who will take over QR funding from HEFCE once it becomes the OFS. Teaching grants are also allocated by the HEFCE. As the HEFCE will no longer exist under the new proposition, this leaves the responsibility open to several possibilities. One suggestion is via formulaic allocation calculated by BIS officials.
The Higher Education Green Paper, also touches on research in regards to the Research Excellence Framework. Currently, the framework is involved in the allocation of research funding. The paper proposes to begin ‘making greater use of metrics and other measures to ‘refresh’ the REF results and capture emerging pockets of research excellence in-between peer review’.
New providers of higher education will see the market increasingly open under the new proposals. The HE paper plans on scrapping the caps on student numbers, speeding up access to funding and making it easier to gain degree-awarding powers. It also suggests removing the requirement for a certain amount of students to belong to the institution before it can label itself a university.
All of which makes it easier for new universities to be founded. For the Universities that are considered failing the Green Paper has dedicated a chapter on the ‘exit’ of institutions from the market. It contains guidance for student protection should their course or institution fail.