More on government plans for modular funding

We've been waiting for government amendments on the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill. We just got a handful.

David Kernohan is an Associate Editor of Wonkhe

Three to be exact.

The first one really is a very minor change to one of the schedules to the Higher Education and Research Act (2017). Currently, in order to charge the maximum basic fees (currently £6,165 for full time provision) a provider needs to hold a TEF award on 1 January of the year before the course in question starts. The amendment means that a provider needs to hold that TEF on 1 January the calendar year that the course starts.

As TEF appears to be furloughed for the foreseeable future, this feels like a very long route to allow a registered provider to charge an extra £165 a year (£6,000 is the non-TEF fee cap).

Transparency returns

The main amendment interests me greatly, because it is about data collection – specifically the OfS’ transparency return. Currently, the OfS is required (HERA2017, s9) to collect data on applications, offers, acceptances, completion, and attainment with respect to courses, and is allowed to ask that these are split by gender, ethnicity, and socio-economic background.

The amendment limits these powers with respect to courses that are “modules” under the definition that will eventually be prescribed in regulations laid under s22 (2za) of HERA. For modules, the OfS would only be allowed to ask for transparency data the same number of times as it asks for data on courses, and data would be published once a year as currently. Furthermore, OfS would only be able to publish lists of fee limit conditions as regards to courses.

This is another amendment that limits the powers of the OfS – and does rather run against the long standing HEDIIP/Data Futures aspiration for real-time data collection, and the occasional fascination policy makers have with providing information to prospective students.

Modules

What’s a “course” and what’s a “module”? These are the two categories of higher education course that will be introduced, and nobody seems to be sure.

An amendment appears to correct a strange anomaly in the original drafting of the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill that allowed for a module to be regulated as a module whether or not it was taken as part of a course. We seem to be moving towards a position where a “full course” is anything over a year that is not part of another course, and the explanatory statement suggests that a “module” is not taken as part of a course – but the actual text added to the bill is far less clear.

Dates

The final one of the three provides for the change to basic fee cap eligibility to happen two months after the day that the Bill is passed.

Is that it?

Yes, it appears so – for now. As a reminder we are still waiting for a lot of information on the way that the Lifelong Learning Entitlement will work – who will be entitled to funding, what for, how much, and on what basis. Kind of a big thing not to have on the face of the bill.

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