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The challengers (and challenges) in higher education market reform

The government’s new White Paper on higher education heralds a shakeup to the HE market with new ‘challenger institutions’ set to proliferate. Andrew McGettigan reviews the paper, it’s new measures for reform and all the problems with its approach.

New providers, new analogy

With the Green Paper indicating that the Government is seeking to further break down barriers to entry for private providers, Mike Ratcliffe tries to compare apples and oranges. Or Byron and McDonalds. Or chalk and cheese. Pick your own analogy, wonks.

Who gains from the grumbles?

Steven Jones, lecturer and researcher into higher education responds to an anonymous academic who claims that “My students have paid £9,000 and now they think they own me”.

Report: Are we ready for the end of student number controls?

Based on new research, Wonkhe has published a report with Capita that assess the sector’s preparedness for the removal of student number controls and the coming changes to universities and the market that are expected to follow.

The Budget: what it means for the longer-term

A few days on from the 2015 Budget, Julian Gravatt maps out the longer-term economic landscape for universities, science and the rest of the BIS budget which now faces further pressure and challenges.

TTIP and higher education policy

Udi Datta examines the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership Agreement (TTIP) and considers what it’s implications may be for universities and the higher education market.

The downfall of foundation degrees?

What ever happened to foundation degrees? Ben Verinder dusts down the current policy and communications context for the oft-forgotten qualification.

Time to rebalance funding, regulation and autonomy

Building on new research from Claire Callender and Paul Temple, Jim Dickinson sets his sights on higher education’s autonomy and a redrawing of the compact that has enabled a failed market.

Universities need a lecture in consumer law

Following a review of universities’ terms and conditions, Which? is calling on the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to examine evidence that suggests students are being left open to unfair changes to courses, and that some providers are failing to ensure that their terms are complying with the law.

Universities castigated for breaking the law

Which? has sent an FOI to every publicly funded institution to find out the extent of the terms that universities have provided for themselves to make changes to courses. Their research has shone a very bright light on the current state of HE terms and conditions. Mark Leach looks at the implications for the sector.

Closing the complaints gap in higher education

Following the second report from Which? on students’ experiences of higher education, Louisa Darian, Policy Adviser at Which? talks about students as consumers alongside the complaints at higher education institutions and explores the ways in which the system could improve.

CMA compliance advice for HEIs

The Competition and Markets Authority has published draft compliance advice for higher education providers in relation to consumer protection legislation. It covers the whole of the UK, the whole of the sector and the whole gamut of provision, and sets up a range of potentially important legal battles for the future. Mark Leach takes a look at its highlights.

A degree of value?

Jim Dickinson reviews a new report published by Which? – the consumer rights organisation which offers a fresh insight in to students’ views of their experience of higher education and their relationship with universities, further moving the debate around consumerism and the market.

The promise to students

The Consumer Rights Bill currently working its way around the Houses of Parliament promises to give the sector one of the biggest shake-ups it has had in recent years. Yet with universities remaining oddly quiet about this potentially landmark piece of legislation, quieter still is the debate about what this Bill means for students’ place in the academy and the ongoing ‘consumer’ versus ‘partner’ debates that have raged for years – not least on Wonkhe. With fresh legislation now looming, Jim Dickinson takes a look at its implications and considers the power of the promises that universities make to students.

The strange death of student number controls

In December 2013 in his Annual Autumn Statement the UK Chancellor George Osbourne announced the end of the Student Number Control (SNC) regime for English higher education institutions, thereby removing the cap on places that had been in place since 2009. But how and why did we get here? Was this the Government’s plan all along? Colin McCaig builds on his recent research to take us on a journey of paradoxical adventures in higher education market making.

Balancing power in the market

With the arrival of the Competition and Markets Authority to the higher education sector, debates about consumerism, regulation and the role of students and their institutions have intensified. In this piece, Jim Dickinson looks at power and the balance set between students, academics and institutions. Jim asks if this question of power is being left out of the debate and offers a different way to look at the work of the CMA and the debates around their intervention.

The high cost of higher education

Reviewing the recent HEPI/HEA Student Experience Survey, Carl Lygo looks at what students want from their university experience contrasted with the high price that the sector and politicians assume that universities need. Carl questions why fellow vice chancellors have allowed their salaries to rise faster than their staff and questions why a university education really needs to cost so much.

The rising tide

Last night The Guardian kicked off a major new investigation in to how some private HE colleges are abusing student loans. These revelations, along with those that are planned to follow it over the coming days, are damaging to the whole sector. With the Queens Speech just days away, the Government has one final chance to provide the legal underpinning to allow respectable institutions to thrive, and crack down on those that are exploiting the system.

Planning for an uncapped future

In December 2013 the Chancellor of the Exchequer blindsided sector pundits with the announcement that the cap on student numbers would be lifted from 2015. Aside from the flurry of press releases and formal responses, analysis of the implications of his announcement for the future shape and size of the sector has only begun to take shape. In this piece, Debbie McVitty maps out the possible scenarios that may emerge as institutions respond to the new policy and plan for their uncapped future.

It’s like rain on your wedding day

Behind the army of wonkery that this blog serves is a body of academic understanding about policy and political goals that helps us understand and influence those around us. Some the academics involved would have us believe that there are only really four policy goals that get invoked, invariably coming at us in multiple disguises – equality, security, liberty, and efficiency. All of them are undeniably desirable until we consider them from multiple angles, or worse still, set one up against another. Jim Dickinson attempts to slay some sacred cows.

A glass of Sangria, my cake and some time to eat it please

Jim Dickinson takes a look at the all-too predictable debate about students as customers, lofty ideals of co-production, partnership and collaboration in the post-A level results lull. Does this debate present a false dichotomy, forcing a choice between concepts that make little sense? And in this context, what future is there for student as ‘citizen’?

We’re under fifteen feet of pure white snow

An avalanche is coming. An avalanche of nonsense. David Kernohan reviews the new publication ‘An Avalanche is Coming’ by Pearson’s Michael Barber and finds serious problems with the disease he outlines and even worse problems with his ideas for a cure.

London Met – outsourcing? or something else?

I carry with me at all times a 2009 report for Universities UK prepared by the legal firm Eversheds. Why? On page 7 of ‘Developing future university structures’, you will find a diagram entitled ‘A model for university buyouts’. I suggest you look at that diagram and then read the stories about London Metropolitan University’s intentions to ‘outsource’ all staff besides teaching staff and vice-chancellor. What they are doing is something new; they aim to create a vehicle to run universities across the UK.

Why ‘students as customers’ is bad for policymaking

Are students becoming more like customers? Do they consider themselves consumers? In the abstract, it is a philosophical question, except that it is so emotive in the higher education context that it is rarely approached with philosophical objectivity. To answer the question we would need to have a clear and distinct idea of what we mean by ‘consumer’, for starters. Buried in the concept of the ‘consumer’ of higher education are implicit ideas about passivity, greed, unreasonable demands and lack of intellectual rigour (‘the customer is always right’ – but students need to learn how often they are wrong). But where did these ideas come from and are they appropriate to this context?

Not for profit

Should the embryonic for-profit sector of British Higher Education be given the same access to public funds as other universities, and what would happen if they were?

There is plenty of competition between publicly funded universities, and a very wide range of student choice by programme of study, type of institution, geographical location and reputation. Whatever one thinks of the White Paper and the new system of student funding, it is very evidently introducing student choice by price of qualification as well; from 2012, students will be able to choose programmes of study that will range in price from below £6,000 to £9,000 per year. There is no inherent need for a large for-profit sector to provide future students with a “genuine alternative”.

Between Public and Private

Yesterday saw BPP University College announced their 2012 fees are set at £5,000. This could be a game changer. It is the first announcement from the David Willetts-endorsed ‘new wave’ of private providers, putting BPP under a considerable amount of scrutiny.

Interesting questions raised by OU’s 5k fees

Yesterday, The Open University announced plans to charge £5000 fees. A THE story claims that it puts OU in ‘pole position’ to snap up the 20,000 places that are being made contestably available for institutions charging less than £7,500. But these 20,000 places are for full time undergraduate students – currently all of OU’s students are counted as part-time, even if they are studying at a rate of 1FTE.

Where things get complicated are with OU-validated degrees in further education colleges. By putting these 20,000 places aside for low-cost courses, it is the intention of BIS to expand provision in FECs – either validated through a body like OU, or even funded directly. What no one knows for sure is the true extent of the demand for these courses. It must be remembered that these 20,000 places are just theoretical lines on a spreadsheet – they will not necessarily become students unless there is sufficient demand for the low-cost courses in the mix.