The Government launches its Green Paper on the future of higher education: Fulfilling our potential: Teaching Excellence, Social Mobility and Student Choice. We’ll be following all the developments and sharing the latest analysis.
Live: Government launches higher education Green Paper
This morning on the site, regular Wonkhe columnist Martin McQuillan has turned his fire on the government’s TEF proposals:
This might have the appearance of a market to the casual observer but markets are not driven by an inspection framework run by central government. There is considerably more regulation here than you will find on any trading floor of the city of London. This is not a market; it is dianetics for universities.
It’s well worth a read and you can find it here.
The student response so far
On Policy Watch, Zaki Dogliani rounds up the response from students and students’ unions to the government’s HE Green Paper so far:
Meanwhile, some students’ unions have expressed concern about the implications of the Green Paper’s surprise focus on SUs on page 61 and link to trade union reforms requiring thresholds for industrial action.
Tom Phipps, union affairs officer at Bristol Students’ Union, told Wonkhe:
“We are worried that this could further weaken the influence of students’ unions which began under the Major government in the 1990s. Being packaged alongside the trade union bill we fear this could limit the work of students’ unions through imposed legislative quoracy thresholds and referendums.
Read the piece in full here.
The incredible machine? Visualising the TEF
Since the Green Paper was released under embargo yesterday, we at Wonkhe have found that one has to read it over and over again, with a set of multi-coloured post-it notes on hand, to really get to grips with the Teaching Excellence Framework proposals it contains. This is because the many different bits and pieces of TEF architecture it describes are scattered throughout the document without any logic, and means are jumbled with ends.
As the government hasn’t thought it beneficial to provide any visual plan of the overall design, we will make the first attempt.
Read the piece as well as the notes on the model here. And below is the fruit of our labour – a visualisation of how we think the TEF looks, as set out today in the Green Paper:
Other versions are available. For example, David Kernohan produced this very good effort:
The question is – can you improve on any of these? If you’d like to make your own version, we’ll give a prize to the best and most innovative version, and publish all the submissions. Email email@example.com.
Green Paper and Devolution
David Kernohan writes…
Though the Green Paper is a Westminster government consultation on English HE, the implications for the devolved administrations mount up rapidly. For the wonk based in Edinburgh, Cardiff or Belfast this is not a consultation to be treated as a foreign curiosity and many will be contemplating formal responses at an institutional or national level.
The shortest section, on research, presents the most issues. Research councils make awards UK wide, and the REF informs dual funding allocations across all four national funding councils. To radically change either or both these without agreement across them all is nearly impossible – and the paper makes it clear that this section is a UK-wide consultation.
The other sections are as specifically English as drinking a warm beer in the morning mist whilst cycling through old maids – but take care, because UK-wide implications abound. For instance, institutions will all want to increase fees by inflation – indeed, many have already queried why the fee cap has not already been increased by what amounts to a “cost of living” each year. Even in Osborne’s great slump, the fact that this hasn’t happened amounts to a real terms funding cut. So there will be huge pressure on other funding councils to match this increase – and the fact the that the first iteration of TEF is based on the (UK) Higher Education Review makes for a compelling argument to match the entire policy.
Beyond year one of TEF things start to break down. The massive bureaucratic load of the higher TEF levels may outweigh both reputational and financial benefits (the paper talks about “real terms” which doesn’t sound like a huge amount), so less institutions may want to make the case for their inclusion (even, perhaps, in England). But all will want to see fee increases in common with England, though the money may not be there in DELNI, SFC or the increasingly precarious-looking HEFCW. Devolved bodies may also be less committed to yet another doomed attempt to establish competition on price via a fees raise.
With HEFCE gone, at least in name, there may be an expectation for similar changes elsewhere. OFFA is England-only, but the quality assurance statutory functions are held by all four funding councils and vested in the QAA. Responses to this summer’s QA consultation are already in, but the green paper adds the expected steer that QA will use the same raw materials (in terms of metrics, at least) as TEF. Makes sense in England, but would Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland want a QA system based on whatever the TEF becomes – especially with the ink barely dry on the first (and possibly only) batch of QAA Higher Education Reviews.
Thinking regionally however, it is notable that the “northern powerhouse” and “midlands engine” do not yet extend to HE – there is no real regionality to teaching or research plans despite obvious differences in social mobility, enterprise and employment levels around the country.
We’ve just published two further pieces on the Green Paper for your lunchtime reading:
1. 10 things you may have missed about the Green Paper – from Andrew McGettigan.
2. Can the TEF survive the arguments made against it? – from Emran Mian.
Everything else can be found under the Green Paper tag.
Green Paper in the press
One of the things we’re always interested in on Wonkhe is how HE is treated in the mainstream media, as the way the sector is perceived in the public and with policymakers is extremely important to understand.
Here is a round up of how the papers covered the Green Paper today:
The Times was the only national to mention the government’s Green Paper on the front page of this morning’s newspapers. Greg Hurst’s piece, on what he called “the biggest reforms to higher education in decades”, was one of many to lead on the inflation-linked rise in fees for institutions demonstrating “excellent teaching”.
Headlined “Government plan to allow ‘better’ universities to raise fees”: The Guardian’s education editor Richard Adams writes about a shakeup that “will see universities that rank high on student satisfaction, teaching quality and employment outcomes permitted to charge more.” In its reaction piece, Higher Education Policy Institute director Nick Hillman calls the plans “surprisingly sketchy” and University of Worcester vice-chancellor David Green warns against allowing for-profit providers to enter the sector.
The Telegraph also headlines its coverage with the surprise move to allow universities to raise fees in line with inflation. “Jo Johnson has said universities will also be able to raise fees if they meet teaching quality”, writes education editor Javier Espinoza.
The Independent too makes fee differentiation a key theme, but also examines what we can learn from the Green Paper about the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) and says that lecturers’ unions “Believe it could be used for more performance related pay – rewarding those who are part of high ranking departments with extra incentives for their efforts”.
The BBC carries reaction from Shadow Universities Minister Gordon Marsden, who warns that plans for improving teaching could be a “Trojan Horse for raising fees”. The Labour MP also says the inflation-linked fee rise could create a “two-tier system” and “brand some universities as second class”.
The Daily Mail’s coverage talks about recommending institutions adopt a “US-style grade point average system”. It says this is “part of a sweeping package of proposals which could see institutions judged to provide high quality teaching allowed to hike fees in line with inflation”.
The Financial Times, meanwhile, is the only national paper to headline its coverage with news of the TEF’s controversial link to graduate employment via the use of the DLHE metric in the coming assessment.
And finally, Radio 4’s highly influential Today included a debate between Emran Mian and Dave Phoenix on the TEF – and is well worth a listen.
Send in the architects
Gordon McKenzie of GuildHE has a new piece on the site which assesses the changes in the Green Paper to the architecture of the HE system and its different bodies:
The Green Paper presents the new Office for Students as an evolution from HEFCE – “we recognise the strength and expertise in HEFCE, and envisage that the majority of HEFCE’s current functions would transfer to the new regulator.” But there are some big questions being asked here about precisely which functions and how, and by whom, they are carried out.
You can read the piece in full here.
Last night, in the good company of Nick Hillman, Maddaliane Ansell, Dave Phoenix and David Green, I gave my first take on the Green Paper to the Guardian HE team. I will return to some of these points in greater depth soon:
Mark Leach, editor in chief of Wonkhe and Guardian columnist
Despite the government’s rhetoric about freeing up the sector, there is a trend towards greater regulation.
The green paper contains lots of things that weren’t anticipated, for example, the proposal to give power to the secretary of state to increase fees in line with inflation. Although they would still need parliamentary approval for any dramatical increases, this sets a dangerous precedent.
Under the plan, universities would no longer have to respond to Freedom of Information requests. The point made is that private providers aren’t subject to FOI and the government wants to create a level playing field… so it is looking at removing FOI from everyone. While the government claims it’s trying to make the sector more accountable and transparent, taking away FOI will do exactly the opposite, lowering trust in the sector.
Expanding my point about the Secretary of State setting fees being a “dangerous precedent”, I was talking about the possibility, that depending on how it is drafted, this power could be extended to allow the SoS not only to increase fees with inflation, but actually lift the cap, or set new caps – and the Green Paper’s plan for TEF certainly seems to imply multiple levels of fee with very clear differentiation in price – i.e. something beyond just the inflationary rise. The fee cap is currently the duty of the Houses of Parliament – as I wrote in this morning’s briefing (see below) “although these have been votes in the Commons in the past, the Lords are able to veto a change to the fee cap. In light of the fights over the last few weeks on the benefits cap, it seems probable that Lords would be unwilling to surrender this particular power of theirs to the government.”
Giving the Secretary of State powers over fee caps could prove a highly controversial measure.
Green Paper Briefing
Earlier this morning I sent our email subscribers an email briefing with a summary of the Green Paper, as well as some early analysis.
You can read the email and briefing in full here.
Every Monday morning (whether there are Green Papers or not), I send a similar briefing about the week ahead with analysis of what’s coming up and the latest policy intelligence to keep you one step ahead of the curve. Subscribe here.
OfS brings new competition
With the new Office for Students being created, Registrarism points out that OfS has some competition in the world of acronyms. Wikipedia kindly helps us out explaining what a search for OfS might reveal:
- Object Frontier Software
- Ottawa Fire Service
- Oklahoma Office of State Finance
- A division of Operations Feedback (“Operations Feedback Systems”), developers of OEE, productivity and efficiency solutions.
- Amiga Old File System
- Office of Financial Stability
- Schlumberger Oilfield Services, a division of Schlumberger Limited
- Orange Free State, a province of South Africa
- Overseas Family School, a school in Singapore
- One Fell Swoop, a band in Toronto, Canada
- Orley Farm School, a North-London prep school
- OFS, formerly “Optical Fiber Solutions”, a division of Furukawa Electric (but formerly part of Lucent)
- Secular Franciscan Order or OFS (from Latin “Ordo Franciscanus Saecularis”)
- OFS (Only Finest Selection), in a wine context, usually in reference to only premium grapes being used for a particular wine production.
- OFS Studio (Old Fire Station), Oxford, England
- Offer for Sale
Nurse will see you now
New on the site, expert on research policy and politics Professor James Wilsdon looks at the relationship between the Green Paper and research:
Sir Paul Nurse looms large. While he’s no John Chilcot, slippage in the timetable for his review of the research councils (originally scheduled for the summer or early autumn) has prevented a neat sequential flow from Nurse to the green paper and then to the spending review. Once the decision had been made to abolish HEFCE and create the Office for Students (OfS), the green paper had no choice but to address the architecture of the research funding system, given HEFCE’s role in the REF and the allocation of quality-related funding. But a lot now hinges on Nurse’s conclusions, described as a “critical input” which the green paper doesn’t want to pre-empt.
Read the article in full here.
Last night, universities minister Jo Johnson set out his plans on Newsnight – here’s the interview which is well worth a watch:
[youtube id=”slsjyGoLJyQ” align=”center” mode=”normal” autoplay=”no” maxwidth=”650″]
The first cut
David Kernohan unpicks the Teaching Excellence Framework to show what the proposed model looks like – literally – as well as finding numerous problems with the plan as set out.
Andrew McGettigan has a first look at the proposals for regulation, private providers, entrance and exit to the market – put in context of the current system and looking ahead to what the changes might entail.
On Policy Watch we round up the different reactions to the Green Paper from across the sector – so far.
This live blog will start in earnest on Friday morning. In the mean-time you can read the Green Paper here.
And don’t miss our special email briefing going out on Friday morning – subscribe to the list here.