White Paper: What we know so far

Later this morning, the government will publish its HE White Paper: Success as a Knowledge Economy: Teaching Excellence, Social Mobility & Student Choice. At time of writing, it is still being laid before Parliament. But there’s already much we know about its content. We’ll be analysing the document in full when it’s published – follow our White Paper live blog here which we’ll be updating all through the day.

From what we can tell, the White Paper does not radically depart from the Green Paper – the thrust of the proposals remain largely unchanged. But today’s document offers much more detail and a solid plan to roll out the proposed changes. We’ll have to wait for the final document to confirm any measures, but this is what we understand so far:

The TEF

The Teaching Excellence Framework is going ahead as widely expected. The controversial link between TEF awards and fees has been nuanced a little bit: the fees increase will only apply to early levels of TEF award. The higher awards will only deliver reputational uplift. The link to variable caps is also being gradually phased in: it will be introduced in year 3 of the scheme and be based on RPI rather than CPI which looks like a shrewd compromise as it all but guarantees that universities will enter the TEF as the prospect of financial reward is real. Year 2 of the TEF will be run as a voluntary pilot and will allow those successful in it to raise their fees along with inflation. A technical consultation on TEF2 is also being published today.

Quality

The biggest news for quality is that the Secretary of State will designate a quality body (certain to be QAA). OfS will hold the quality contracts, but this ensures that there can be no more quality wars in the future and also gives QAA a clearer operating framework and more accountability to government. OfS will also have the statutory responsibility for standards and a new quality regime will come into being for 2018.

Student Mobility

Fitting a missing piece into the market reforms puzzle, the White Paper will call for evidence on whether students should more easily be able to switch provider or programme after starting a course of study. This presents a subtle but significant change to the nature of UK degree awards as this could signal an abandonment of elements of the existing Framework for Higher Education Qualifications reviving ideas for degree awards for credit accumulated across a number of providers. It’s a concept that’s been mooted several times before and always resisted by the sector.

Agencies

HEFCE is closing to be replaced by an Office for Students which starts work on 1st April 2018. It will only be partly funded by subscriptions from the sector (the Green Paper proposed it would be fully funded that way). The Office for Fair Access will be subsumed into OfS. HEFCE and OFFA staff will transfer across to OfS which will also have a fresh board. It is believed that HEFCE’s Chair Tim Melville-Ross and CEO Madeleine Atkins will both stay on to oversee the transition.

New universities

As expected, market entry is to be streamlined with provision to create several new universities. Language has clearly developed as everything we’ve seen so far emphasises that the expansion of private providers must be “high-quality” – but as ever, the devil will be in the detail. New providers will be allowed to offer their own degrees from the day they open and they can charge up to the full £9,000 (they are currently capped at £6,000).

Research

A new body – UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) will replace Research Councils UK and following the Nurse recommendations, will merge the research councils and Innovate UK into this “single, strategic research funding body”, although the research councils will keep some of their own identity. A brand new body called Research England be created under UKRI and take responsibility for managing the REF and delivering QR although it will maintain its own governance structure to ensure that the dual support system is maintained.

Widening Participation

A “transparency revolution” is now upon us – the White Paper will call for UCAS and institutions to publish details of application, offer and progression and – one would hope – success data by ethnicity, gender and socio-economic background. This could provide a long-overdue kick to addressing inequity for students once they have arrived at university.

Next steps

There is no consultation on the White Paper – the document represents official government policy on HE from now on. Some elements of it do need primary legislation and we believe the Queen will announce an HE Bill on Wednesday. The government will then seek to introduce this to Parliament, perhaps very soon indeed. We’ll be covering every step in detail.

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