Higher education quangos: where are they now?

In recent months we’ve seen an epic battle of the quangos as the agencies have struggled to assert their position in the new landscape. HEFCE, protected by Coalition inactivity after threats emerged with the 2010 government’s spending plans, it is now to be split down the research/teaching divide with the former merging with Research Councils and the latter evolving into the Office for Students (OfS).

“By creating the Office for Students, we will put student choice, teaching quality and social mobility at the top of the agenda in higher education. With UK Research and Innovation we’re creating a strong voice for our world-class knowledge base and ensuring the UK is ready to lead the world in multi-disciplinary research where some of the most exciting breakthroughs are taking place.” Jo Johnson

He’s a run down of the winners and losers.

Adjudication please

There will be a new register of higher education providers, and signing-up to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) will be a requirement. This should strengthen the role and level the playing field for student complaints from alternative providers.

Quality street

The Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) will survive, albeit a little bruised, from HEFCE’s recent threats on quality assessment. It should be bolstered by designation from the Secretary of State as the “Quality Body” working under contract to the OfS. The QAA even gets a pat on the back in the White Paper: “The QAA has been at the heart of [international quality recognition], in developing many of the methods, approaches and techniques which have since been adopted across the world.”

R is for reorganisation

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) will integrate Innovate UK as well as the seven Research Councils. David Sweeney’s research team at HEFCE is also to join the party with a new organisation – Research England – that will manage QR and the REF. The Haldane principle, that researchers and not politicians should make decisions about research funding, will be protected. The White Paper states that, for the first time, the dual-support principle will be enshrined in legislation.

Below is a diagram of the new system from the White Paper:

Screenshot 2016-05-16 11.46.37Statistical significance

There’s no planned change for the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), and this is presumed to be the ‘Data publication body’ referenced in the paper.

T time

The non-research HEFCE rump will re-open its doors at the Office for Students on 1 April 2018 and Wonkhe will be ready a sweepstake on the best ‘fools’ joke for the opening day. Staff will be TUPE’d over in what could be an even more unsettling process for the Bristol-based team. It is understood that Tim Melville-Ross will continue to be chair to manage the transition.

OfS will have new powers including some currently held by the Privy Council: granting degree-awarding powers (DAPs) and university title.

The OfS will be funded by subscriptions from providers. In addition to the HEFCE teams, OfS will include the work of the Office for Fair Access (OFFA). The remit will include taking action against wayward providers and operating the Teaching Excellence Framework.

One response to “Higher education quangos: where are they now?

  1. The White Paper is as myopic as the Green when it comes to things international. Seen through a prism of international meaning the export business and the inward mobility of students and staff misses the point. International is about partnership, about working together, about opportunity and about choice. Opportunity for our students to experience more while at University, opportunity for increased learning through different contexts and learning in different environments. But it’s also about competition. The White Paper wants to make it easier for competitors to enter the UK and to help increase the recruitment of international students to the UK. But what about the huge competition on our door steps in Europe and beyond? We see a small but ever increasing number of UK students choosing to undertake their degree studies overseas. They do this for a variety of reasons: the quality of provision, the challenge and experience but also because of cost. Tuition and living expenses together make for an expensive package in England – expensive for the student as well as the taxpayer. The costs of studying overseas can be fraction of those in England but at the moment the opportunity to take a degree overseas is limited to those who already have the income to meet the upfront and direct costs of tuition and living expenses. If we were really serious about international as well as competition we would allow our students to take their financial aid packages (tuition and living cost loans) to an institution of their choice in a country of their choice. This would save money upfront for both students and the taxpayer as well as longer term for the Exchequer as graduates would have borrowed less and be better placed to compete for jobs in increasingly globalised employment markets and hence pay back those loans in full. Of course this would be a real challenge for England’s traditional universities and create a truly competitive market in which some would thrive but in which others might die.

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