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A critical moment for the quality debate

With debates about the future of quality in UK higher education hotting up behind the scenes, Mark Leach looks at the forthcoming HEFCE consultation and the potential huge implications that it has for the sector and how it is regulated, as well as for the future quality assurance itself.

Sajid Javid’s NUS wars

Sajid Javid didn’t like students’ unions a great deal in the 1990s – Mark Leach takes a quick look at an interesting history of the new Secretary of State’s involvement in student politics.

Enjoy your REF, while you can

This week the results of the latest cycle of research audit in UK universities will be published. This will trigger a frenzy of analysis as the bones of REF 2014 are picked over with a view to identifying winners and losers, risers and fallers, and what if anything it might mean for the future. Martin McQuillan looks at how research funding has been treated by this Government and what future for the process is there in a time of increasing austerity.

The legacy of David Willetts

As longstanding higher education and science minister David Willetts steps down from his government post, and from politics in general, Andy Westwood looks back at his time with the brief – from 2005 when in opposition to today. What will be his legacy? Is it too soon to judge? With mixed feelings in the sector, the ultimate legacy of David Willetts may take quite some time to fully understand. In the mean time, there’s much to learn from the last nine years with David Willetts.

The future of Higher National Diplomas

Anyone interested in higher education funding and regulation should take some time out in the next few weeks to think about Higher National Diplomas. The plan recently announced by BIS to transfer HNDs and HNCs out of the higher education funding system represents an important moment in policy for both HE and FE. Julian Gravatt looks at the long history of higher nationals and the implications of BIS’ latest proposals for funding and regulation.

Making the cut

At the start of the week that we expect the HEFCE grant letter, Alistair Jarvis looks at the scale of the hole in BIS’ budget and assesses the options that the Government now faces as it decides where to cut and how far to go – decisions that could have drastic long-term consequences.

Change at the top

In the short lull between the buzz of graduation ceremonies in July and the (likely to be manic) clearing week in mid-August, speculation on university campuses has focussed on the runners and riders for arguably the two most influential jobs in UK Higher Education. Alistair Jarvis assesses the prospect of a new dynamic at the top of the sector as David Willetts faces the axe, and Madeline Atkins arrives at the helm of HEFCE.

Business as usual – a look at the Innovation & Research Strategy

Last week I predicted that today’s Innovation & Research Strategy would in no way be a radical document that questioned the underlying principles of research or research funding. Despite some optimistic thinking in some quarters of the sector, today we can see that the Government’s appetite for constant revolution is starting to wane. This strategy has instead provided them with an opportunity to reinforce what’s already working and look ahead – albeit only to the short or medium term.

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.

Globalisation: Where on earth does HE start?

Universities Minister, David Willetts, recently said that the HE sector is only at the beginning of globalisation.

Willetts, speaking at the launch of the book “Blue Skies”, assured that change will happen as the sector focuses more on globalisation. He suggested that previously small players may be growing massively, but the balance hasn’t yet set in. The UK and other players have yet to play their cards in a big way.

Does this mean that Willetts is banking on an easy — or, at least, steady — overtaking shot at an opportune time?

Freeing-up student numbers: the implications

The opprobrium from parts of the sector and the Westminster Village as a result of David Willetts (either intentionally or being forced to by a ‘leak) exploring the idea of off-quota places meant that the idea was quickly watered-down, to only include business and charity-sponsored off-quota places.

Nevertheless, the Government is clearly looking for more ways to open up the student numbers cap, but in a way that would result in evolutionary rather than revolutionary change. Cameron insider Benedict Brogan in his Telegraph Blog suggested that the White Paper will include ways to let universities recruit more AAB students outside of their cap, whilst also allowing cheaper charging courses to expand outside of student number controls.

What did we learn from the BIS Business Plan?

The answer is; not a great deal, but some useful morsels of information can be found with a bit of digging. One of the transparency initiatives of this Government has been to make Departmental business plans publicly accessible. They have all just been updated for May 2011 and the BIS plan is certainly worth a scan from an HE perspective, even though it’s not setting the world alight.

How do you solve a problem like Vince Cable?

Vince Cable’s journey from opposition darling to spent political force embodies the story of his party over the past two years. In the run-up to the election, and failing to predict ‘Cleggmania’, he was given equal footing with the party leader in the election campaign. He was seen to be an essential electoral asset – trusted, well-liked, credible (even witty as his devastating ‘Stalin to Mr Bean’ jibe showed). But as Secretary of State, he failed so completely to negotiate a settlement for higher education funding that wouldn’t enrage, divide and aliente everyone – not least his own conscience, better judgement and previous political promises.

A new threat from the right?

The Government’s friendless higher education policies may have another enemy that has been previously lying low; the Tory right. Yesterday the Government announced their Social Mobility Strategy which has been broadly welcomed by most. But right-wing Tory, and one-time leadership hopeful David Davis, used the opportunity to further his libertarian argument that would see the retreat of the state in almost every aspect of life, including laws designed to rebalance unfair socio-economic realities. Included in his complaint are measures to ensure that universities take state school applicants through what many view as the discredited and largely toothless OFFA regime which in any case allows institutions to set their own benchmarks for success, rather than complying with a Whitehall edict.

The winning move is not to play: Game Theory and the Willetts funding model

During a speech at the Universities UK Spring Conference, David Willetts (UK Secretary of State for Universities) reiterated his warnings about the high potential cost to the taxpayer of universities electing to charge fees reflecting the full range of that which is permitted to them. It is now an open secret that the new funding model for universities is certain to cost the taxpayer more within this parliament, and is very likely never to cost any less than the current model. Bearing this in mind, Willetts has warned senior university staff that money may be taken from other university income streams (for instance the research budget) in order to be able to fund the additional loans that would be required to meet these fees.