The government’s HE White Paper Success as a Knowledge Economy: Teaching Excellence, Social Mobility and Student Choice is being published today. We’ll be rounding up all the best analysis and commentary as details emerge throughout the day.
Former Tory MP and now executive editor of Conservative Home Paul Goodman has been tracking Jo Johnson’s time in office and has produced one of the more interesting analyses of the White Paper so far this morning.
Goodman summarises the working principles upon which Johnson has based his reforms:
- Opening up the market and busting restrictive practices that lead to sector complacency.
- A ‘Steve Hilton-type accountability and transparency revolution’ based on tougher regulation and greater quantities of information for applicants.
- Pressuring the sector to widen its entry gates to the most disadvantaged through the publication of UCAS data.
However, Goodman suggests that far from being a means to even further sector expansion, the minister wishes to put greater pressure on the sector to only provide courses of perceived real value, and “that if more would-be students had better information about future earnings they might not go to University at all”. Conservative Home have previously argued that higher education is too large and that resources would be better spent on vocational education and training, and have also suggested directly linking university income to graduate earnings. Whilst the government has not been bold enough to go that far (yet…), the overarching philosophy appears to be shared by the minister: ramping up market pressures will weed out ‘unnecessary degrees’ and force universities to be more focused in the quality and quantity of what they deliver.
Obviously these initiatives will be accompanied by cries of horror from many across the sector, and there will be a lot of criticism of the White Paper from broadly leftist and liberal perspectives. Goodman, on the other hand, suggests that many conservatives will be uneasy about the “lumbering and unwieldy” TEF carried out on the basis of “bureaucratic inspection”. There appears to be a degree of disappointment that the market reforms introduced under David Willetts were not enough to drive up quality, and that the introduction of a TEF is a ‘second-best’ means to raising standards that conflict with the wider principal of freeing up the market.
Nonetheless, Goodman and many other Tories are clearly in admiration of Johnson’s ministerial activism to “see a wind of change gust through a secretive system”, and this might play very well for the minister’s career.
In all of the noise this week, we shouldn’t forget the big development at the end of last week – that HEFCE was to award the lion’s share of its quality work back to QAA. After nearly two years of agency infighting in what became known as the Second Quality Wars (the first being in the 1990s), peace unexpectedly broke out.
But that’s far from the end of the story. The White Paper is expected to give the Secretary of State power to designate a quality body (obviously QAA) and transition to a new quality regime in 2018. Far from the wars over the last couple of years – this is a moment that all agencies will have to pull together exceptionally well.
Read our analysis in full here.
The White Paper, as well as rearranging agency deckchairs in the M4 corridor, hits at some of the core underlying principles of how UK degrees are developed and delivered. Behind these headlines, Wonkhe has been thinking about some of the key nudges which could have a significant impact on the way institutions think about some of the basic building blocks of the university.
Read the piece in full here.
Some readers may feel like the title of today’s White Paper rings a bell. In fact, it gives us quite a clue into the present minister’s intellectual influences.
Peter Drucker, the prolific management guru and required reading for all business school students, wrote in his 1999 work, Managing Oneself:
“Success in the knowledge economy comes to those who know themselves – their strengths, their values, and how they best perform.”
Drucker was a pioneering thinker of the idea of the ‘knowledge worker’ and predicted the death of the ‘blue collar worker’. His ideas were particularly in vogue in the 1990s with the development of New Public Management and government outsourcing, both of which he was an important advocate. Indeed, the very term ‘knowledge economy’ has a very late-1990s/early-2000s feel to it, evoking memories of New Labour’s 1998 Green Paper ‘The Learning Age: a renaissance for a new Britain’.
Managing Oneself is effectively a self-help book for ambitious ‘knowledge workers’ looking to get ahead in the new world of flexible careers. Drucker argued that is up to every individual to ‘be their own chief executive officer’. This clearly has appeal to traditional Tory values of self-reliance, but also more modern conservative beliefs in the value of getting ahead and defining oneself in a competitive environment. From what we know so far, these are just the lessons that the minister believes the sector needs to learn. Vice-Chancellors might find themselves re-reaching for their copies of Drucker not touched since their MBA studies.
What’s curious to Wonkhe is that the language of the ‘knowledge economy’ appeared to have taken a back seat in public policy discussions the past few years. The link between education and economic growth has been criticised, most prominently by educationalists Alison Wolf and Sally Tomlinson, and also by economist Ha-Joon Chang. Nonetheless, today will see the knowledge economy return to the centre of educational discourse.
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 on TEF, Quality, student mobility, agencies, research, alternative providers, WP and the next steps – read it all here.
The HE White Paper hasn’t yet been published, but the press has been briefed.
The BBC have a broad overview of the two leading stories in the White Paper – the opening up of the market and the increase in maximum fee levels.
The Financial Times have university reforms at the top of their Politics and Policy section, and focus on the link between teaching quality and higher fees, quoting Gordon Marsden’s criticism of a “trojan horse”.
The Guardian have led with the freedoms being afforded ‘startup universities’ and the efforts to introduce competition into the sector.
The Times have led on the ultimatum being given to universities to improve their teaching in order to charge higher fees. Anthony Seldon has also written a column full of praise for the White Paper and the minister responsible.
The Daily Telegraph have a unique angle, leading with Lord Patten’s criticism of universities’ “lower their standards in order to make up for some inadequacies in our secondary education system”.
The i have highlighted the drive for higher quality teaching and say that the new proposals will squeeze out ‘Mickey Mouse degrees’.
Fees are front and centre for the Huff Post, who focus on student opposition to the coming rising cost of tuition.
TES focus on the benefits of opening up the market for FE colleges, who will now be enabled to compete with universities.
Paul Goodman has analysed the proposals for Conservative Home, suggesting that a contradiction exists between the aim to free up the market whilst also introducing a stronger regulatory and bureaucratic framework for measuring quality.
In addition, the FT also sets out details of the PM’s social justice legislative agenda and explains that BIS will have two Bills: one on skills, which will make 16-year-olds to choose between either technical courses or academia, and one on higher education.
If you’re wondering why you can’t read the HE White Paper yet, well that’s thanks to Parliamentary rules that mean it needs to be laid before Parliament before being publicly released. We hope it will appear online sometime later this morning.
This is going out shortly and contains a briefing about what we know so far about what’s in the White Paper. Don’t miss out:
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As the minutes count down to the White Paper release and then to the Bill that is expected in the Queen’s Speech, what are the issues to look for? The Green Paper presaged the biggest reforms since 1992 on the HE side, so will the government deliver on that ambition or rein back in response to the Green Paper consultation?
No longer are we looking at the relatively homogeneous and stable sector we have had since 1992. Recent government rhetoric has been about competition, deregulation, market entry and indeed market exit. We have to recognise that the White Paper addresses all providers, not just those who have a substantial track record.
So what would should we look for?
Read the piece in full here.
The live blog will get underway at around 8am on Monday