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 hasn’t exactly set the world alight.
This all comes from chapter 5 Support universities, science and research in building a strong, innovative economy.
So we can now be fairly confident that the delayed HE white paper will finally arrive sometime in early-mid June – probably before the third week. And the business plan makes it clear that it is already overdue. Though it states in 5.1 that the introduction of legislation will take place by May 2012 – the previous assumption had been closer to January 2012. This is no doubt due to the delay in publishing the white paper and the need for the long consultation period. It does cut things tight though if there’s a legislation required for changes for the start of the 2012/13 academic year. However it could mean that the legislation needs to have reached Royal Ascent by May which would mean that its introduction would stick to the previously assumed timetable.
5.2 reads ‘Review options to monetise the Student Loan Book’ – ending in June 2011. This has been looked at before – Labour had the idea, but then the recession hit and there was no one with available funds. As the global economy improves however, it could be that the Government feels they are now more likely to find a buyer. Something like a pension fund most likely. What will be interesting to see if whether they are considering monetising the existing loan book or perhaps looking to future borrowings too – a tantalising prospect for the Treasury no doubt, but a likely headache for David Willetts as student groups across the land will no doubt protest at having to borrow money from a potentially more controversial source than the UK Government.
5.4 sheds a little bit more clarity on dates for the REF submissions system. ‘Prepare and run a pilot of the REF submissions system’ is scheduled to be between January – December 2012. Develop system + open it to responses will be Jan 2012 – Nov 2013 and then assessment of REF submissions Jan 2014-December 2014.
Most of the rest of it we knew already – e.g. improving public information, allocation of HEIF etc. So, no great revelations, but a nifty mechanism for Government accountability. Of course those writing the plans can ultimately be selective about what is included and what isn’t. But it doesn’t hurt.