Good morning. The decks have been largely cleared for a Green Paper which is likely to land either this week or next. No one's taking any chances though, and to avoid clashes of policy and timing, the sector is keeping channels almost completely clear whilst the Downing Street comms grid prepares to push out the next major piece of government policy and direction on the future of HE.
Green Paper - what we know so far
On Friday, Paul Goodman wrote on Conservative Home about the government's plans for higher education, and it appears as if Goodman was officially briefed or has seen a draft of the Green Paper. A source close to the Green Paper's development confirmed to me that Goodman is largely accurate about the plans that he reported on, and the piece certainly backs up much of what we've writing about over the past weeks and months. To recap then, the 'headlines' from what we already know about the plans as they will be set out in the Green Paper, and possibly in the Spending Review as well:
HEFCE will be closed and infrastructure of the sector is to be radically altered
HEFCE, QAA and OFFA are likely to be replaced with one teaching, quality and access focussed super-regulator. Residual teaching funding currently handed out by HEFCE will be instead be given out directly by BIS. QR research funding and the REF are likely to be moved to a new mega research council which might also amalgamate existing research councils. The exact scope of these two new bodies (HE regulator and research funder) and their wide powers will be highly contentious and it may take some time to transition to the new arrangements, particularly as they will require primary legislation to underpin their work and remit. The new super-regulator will also be responsible for market entrance and be given powers to regulate alternative providers to create the 'level playing field' desired by government since 2010, but not fully realised. Plans for research funding are not expected to feature heavily in the coming Green Paper, the Nurse Review of research councils (also imminent) and spending review will likely kick-start the changes on that side of the fence.
A teaching excellence framework will be introduced
The much-discussed TEF will be a major feature of the plans. This is being created primarily to drive improvements in teaching in universities, but it will also include measures of widening participation in order to drive the government's WP policy and plans to increase the proportion of disadvantaged students in HE. There will be a consultation and a pilot version will probably be run early next year that will be largely based on metrics and aspects of the existing quality system that are familiar. However there will be an intention to develop future iterations further, probably in close conjunction with the creation and development of the new super-regulator and its future ability to do things like conduct external reviews and handle data, which will all need to be in place to run the TEF. The Chancellor is allowing universities to raise fees in line with inflation, linked to teaching excellence, but the sector may have ensured that this will be tied to the outcomes of institutional review, rather than the TEF, which was the initial idea. But with negative inflation right now, it will be a few years before the rise will be become a real incentive.
Transparency, simplification, excellence, accountability will be the watch-words
The government's meta narrative for the changes will be about radically simplifying the HE system by cutting quangos and making it clearer who has responsible for what in the landscape. And with the student-focussed super-regulator having direct responsibility for teaching, quality, excellence policy, including the TEF etc. the system will be made more transparent and accessible for students and parents who will in turn be able be able to use the TEF to hold universities accountable for the quality of teaching. Barriers to entry in the HE system will be lowered, opening up the system further, and allowing for innovation and greater competition on a regulatory level-playing field.
Towards a higher education bill?
Much of the above will require primary legislation to achieve and Jo Johnson is hoping that he will be able to secure a space for an HE Bill in the Queen's Speech in May. This will give the Green Paper enough time to gestate and for a consultation exercise to run, so that details can be further pinned down. Without legislation, it would be difficult to make substantial changes to the regulatory landscape in particular - HEFCE and OFFA both exist in statute for example. Given their scale and profile, it would be extraordinary if these plans were not followed through in some form, and there are fewer obstacles to achieving their ambitions then the government faced in 2011, when Coalition politics made policymaking much harder. But given the scope and complexity of the plans and ideas, and their interaction with the spending review, variations of policy across nations, and many other factors besides, there will doubtlessly be a long and winding road towards any implementation date.
Unknowns and other things to watch for
There's plenty of unknowns and the Green Paper is likely to be long enough to ensure that there will be some surprises in direction. Things to watch out for include:
- Devolution. With the government devolving powers in other areas of policy along regional lines, could some aspects of the new HE system or funding be delivered on a regional basis?
- Could the fee cap rise further than £9,000 in the future and not just along with inflation? With inflation currently at -0.1%, the government may consider raising the cap to create more differentiation in the market and sharper incentives to drive change.
- Creating new universities - to emphasise a renewed focus on creating a 'level playing field', alongside the Green Paper, the government may announce the granting of degree awarding powers and/or university title to a number of alternative providers that have been waiting in line.
New on the site today
Learning from the Australian quality experience, and in light of the coming TEF, QAA’s Ian Kimber argues for the need for a contextualised and nuanced approach to the use of metrics, both in terms of identifying potential quality risk and of assessing student outcomes and their link to teaching quality: Metrics and quality: do the numbers add up?
With the future of OFFA in doubt as the government moves to reshape the landscape in HE, new CEO of Brightside Anand Shukla makes the case for keeping the access regulator in place, so that the government can achieve the ambitious targets on widening participation set by the Prime Minister.
You might have missed on Wonkhe
On Tuesday, Richard Holmes of the University Rankings Watch blog wrote a piece for us comparing the results from all the major rankings this year, which asked 'Are global university rankings losing their credibility?' To coincide with the launch of HEPI's pamphlet on part time HE, Open University VC Peter Horrocks wrote that it's time to realise the potential of part time higher education. David Kernohan sat down with Pof. Sally Brown to talk about her career and the history of teaching excellence initiatives in light of the coming TEF. With the South African government's HE policy in turmoil, Policy Watch looked at what's going on and why students have taken to the streets in such large numbers. Martin Eve wrote a strong open letter to Jo Johnson: your proposals for HE will not yield the competitiveness you seek. And Registrarism revisited the world of honorary degrees: Revoked, Rescinded, Withdrawn.
Let me know what I missed or what else you'd like to see in the Monday morning briefing. Have a great week.
The rest of the week's HE agenda
Monday November 2nd
EVENT: Cambridge Assessment Politics in Education Summit, London
PARLIAMENTARY: Welsh Assembly returns from recess
Living wage week (until 7th November)
Tuesday November 3rd
EVENT: Westminster Forum Building better research relationships between industry and academia conference, London
EVENT: Universities' Council for the Education of Teachers Annual Conference, Birmingham
Wednesday November 4th
PARLIAMENTARY: Westminster Hall Debate on Role of the Treasury in supporting UK Science - by Angela Smith MP
EVENT: National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts - demonstration in London
EVENT: Inside Government Enhancing the Quality of the Student Experience, London
EVENT: LFHE Aurora London
EVENT: OCN Annual Access to HE Conference
Thursday November 5th
EVENT: ARMA Research Integrity and Ethics workshop, London
EVENT: Conference on Quality Assurance of cross-border higher education
Friday November 6th
MEETING: Universities UK Board
MEETING: HEFCW Council Meeting
EVENT: ARMA Research Projects: Managing Post Award workshop, London
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