In a report released today, Universities UK (UUK) call for reform to higher education regulation proposing a new lead regulator, ‘the Council for Higher Education England’ (CHEE).
The report titled “Quality, equity, sustainability: the future of higher education regulation” states that the current system of regulation is becoming outdated and warns that “If the challenge of regulatory reform in higher education is not addressed there is a danger that confidence in the quality, sustainability and value of higher education will be eroded. Though it is mentioned that UUK are not looking to fix a broken system or address systematic failures.
It comes from a UUK regulation task group chaired by Simon Gaskell, president and principal of Queen Mary University London and says that “Regulation of the sector needs to keep pace with these changing expectations if confidence is to be maintained. The current system, is increasingly out of step and therefore gaps are emerging. Important short-term measures have been taken to address this, but a more strategic response is now required.”
There are several recommendations set out in the report intended as ‘building blocks’ for reform. The first of which is for the establishment of a register to act as the ‘gateway into the sector’ for all higher education providers. This will set out “clear and robust entry requirements” and “provide greater clarity for students and other constituencies on the assurances they can expect.”
Any provider to be on the proposed register must meet outlined requirements such as quality assurance, provision of data and student protection. To access student support funding and/or direct public teaching funding providers must also meet additional conditions on access (if charging above £6000), maximum fees and appropriate accountability required for use of public funds, and audit. It is also stated that “Any institutions or organisations providing higher education in England not on the register would not be able to claim to be an approved provider.”
The report calls for the establishment of the Council for Higher Education for England (CHEE) which would “lead and coordinate mechanisms to provide assurance of quality, equity and sustainability”. UUK suggest that the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) should ‘evolve’ to take on these responsibilities “alongside its important and complementary roles for funding teaching, research and knowledge transfer.”
“HEFCE should take on a wider role” it says proposing that the Office for Fair Access should be combined with CHEE and, recognising this wider role, HEFCE should be renamed CHEE. “We see no valid reason why roles for regulation and strategic funding for teaching and research cannot sit side by side.”
CHEE’s role would comprise of the following:
• Funding teaching, research and knowledge transfer
• Maintaining the register of higher education providers
• Applying and monitoring conditions attached to registration (including continuation of responsibilities for ensuring provision is made for assessment of quality) and applying appropriate sanctions where appropriate and necessary
• Leading the coordination of higher education regulation
• Working in partnership with the sector to develop mechanisms for student protection
The report also calls on more protection for student interest in the case of course closure recognising the need for greater transparency and accountability. CHEE would take on a role to “facilitate continuity of provision and to protect the public and student interest, alongside requirements for institutions to develop their own plans for how they would manage the student interest in such instances.”
Finally there is a recommendation for changes to primary legislation in order to implement the proposals in the report, notably the new role for HEFCE and the proposed register. “It is essential that fundamental protections enshrined in the current higher education legislation are retained, notably those that maintain academic freedom and institutional autonomy through an arms-length relationship with government.”
Pam Tatlow, chief executive of Million+, said: “There are serious doubts about whether any party will consider a higher education bill to be a high priority early in the life of the next Parliament and much more likely that improvements in regulation or changes to the fee cap will be delivered by statutory instruments rather than primary legislation. However, there are risks in arguing that the regulatory role of Hefce should be expanded.
“Hefce remains a significant funder in terms of research as well as providing some direct grant for teaching and its funding role could be increased if fees were reduced and direct grant restored. It would be highly unusual for a regulator to have a major role as a funder.”
“It is also difficult to understand the rationale for subsuming the Office of Fair Access into HEFCE bearing in mind the primary legislation that underpins OFFA. An independent access regulator has been supported by all of the main parties and it is unlikely that any proposal to change this will find political favour after the election.”
Find the report in full here.