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Good morning. As we mark the first birthday of the Monday Morning HE Briefing, we reflect on an important week: the government has begun a journey to the next substantial iteration of English HE in what will likely be the biggest reform to the sector since 1992. We are working hard to understand what the landscape looks like post-reform. How we are going to get there is a question still up for debate. To the many new subscribers that have joined us over the last week: a very warm welcome from Team Wonkhe. Now strap in. 

You can read all of our coverage of the HE White Paper and Bill so far at the #HEWhitePaper tag.
Or download Repainting higher education - an edited collection of the best analysis and commentary here [pdf].

Welcome to the HE sector 6.0*

The government has over the last week proposed reforms that will herald a transition to the next substantial version of the higher education sector. The freeing-up of the market to new providers, course structures and forms will create a new conceptualisation of what it means to be a university. This might be the next step on from developments in the 1960s, with the new plate-glass institutions and the Open University, or the 1990s when polytechnics were granted university status. All ultimately came to be accepted in the mainstream. And perhaps the new ‘challenger’ universities will be as well, but this will be the first time that a significant number of universities will not do research. It will be the first time that significant numbers of universities can be profit-making companies. There will be a far greater diversity of work-based provision, flexible course structures, tiny-sized providers, and open-ended entry requirements. New universities will be created from those already in the system, such as further education colleges, small and specialist providers and newer private entrants. And it's likely that new breeds of university will emerge as well, with the barriers to starting one up now much lower, and the ability for newcomers to offer degrees from their first day of operation.

With institutional change will come the apotheosis of a new discourse about universities that has been creeping up on the sector for a long time. This has not been without criticism already, debates about the market and everyone’s role in it have been running for years. Sweeping that all aside, we are now asked to embrace a much more diverse, complex, and inclusive idea of the university with multiple aspirations and objectives. It's difficult to assess exactly how this will disrupt the established order - different parts of the sector will be challenged in different ways. But the prospect of a radical shakeup of the HE market should cause already-established universities to give some real thought as to how they might thrive in a more open and diverse system. 

The Higher Education and Research Bill is now before Parliament, and it needs to progress quickly to allow all the pieces to come together in time for version 6.0 of the sector to come online in 2018.

1.0 Pre 1828, 2.0 1828-1900 (UCL opens), 3.0 1900-1963 (Birmingham gets charter), 4.0 1963 (Robbins), 4.1 1965 (Woolwich & binary system), 5.0 1988/1992 (incorporation & end of binary), 5.1 1998 (Dearing & fees), 5.2 2012 (£9k fees), 6.0 2016 (Johnson)

More reading:

The challengers (and challenges) in higher education reform - Andrew McGettigan's verdict on the coming reforms to the market. 

The White Paper proposals will bring order to the independent university sector - Joy Elliot-Bowman of Study UK argues why the new system will provide the right framework for alternative providers.

Let’s Get Down to Fundamentals - Team Wonkhe discuss the fundamental questions that the White Paper will make universities ask about themselves. 

Credit Worthy - how a system of credit transfer and accumulation could be put to work. 

Private lives of British universities - Ant Bagshaw and Benedict Wilkinson on the prospect for some universities to 'go private'.

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Power on the new landscape

The old sector saw a system that was focussed on the needs of established providers of HE who ran and ruled the roost. The new order brings us a powerful new government regulator whose powers go further than anyone anticipated. And it will operate almost entirely in the interest of consumers, rather providers. The providers - old and new - will move around the system, through gateways and across systems of assessment, ceding many traditional powers to the Office for Students. The OfS will be able to grant Degree Awarding Powers and University Title, and take them away (including from established providers). They will take responsibility for standards, something previously the responsibility of universities themselves. They will have the power to enter the premises of a provider suspected of being in breach of its rules. They will hand out teaching funding. OfS will even have the ability to validate courses itself.

The OfS will be guided by the Secretary of State who may issue guidance about “particular courses of study” - something the 1992 Act explicitly prevented. While independent of government de jure, it is not hard to see how the OfS will be - in practice - far more subject than HEFCE to the whims of ministers, the media and pressure groups with opinions about different aspects of higher education.

It must also be noted that, despite the title, there is very little at present that demonstrates what actual link (if any) the Office for Students will have to students themselves. Indeed, the White Paper states that the OfS’s responsibilities will be to “students, employers and taxpayers”. The opinions of the latter two are certainly higher up the list of ‘groups that governments will listen to’. How the OfS balances the assumed interests of these three groups will define the relationship between universities and government going forward.

The OfS will split HEFCE’s responsibility for overseeing institutions in the round with UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the new single agency responsible for research policy. BIS has instantly chopped eight of its partner bodies, nominally in order to break down barriers to interdisciplinary study, but really in order to hit its own targets to streamline delivery. Nonetheless, the research councils will maintain their outward identity and branding, and UKRI will be responsible for overseeing the balance of funding between disciplines. A new body, Research England, will join the UKRI family to run the REF and hand out QR funding.

Perhaps one of the biggest questions about where power lies in the sector will be about ‘standards’ - that ever present and ill defined aspect of public debates about all forms of education. The Bill says that “’standards’ means the standards used by
 an institution to ascertain the level of achievement attained by a student undertaking a higher education course provided by it.” Previously the purview of providers, the Bill also grants the OfS responsibility for standards. If the government believes it has just cause for concern about sector standards, and in particular about ensuring the comparability of standards between institutions, then bold moves to address them could represent a significant challenge to the autonomy of universities.

More reading:

The market is free, but everywhere it is in chains - education lawyer Smita Jamdar reviews the new legislation and the powers it gives to the new Office for Students. 
Standing up for standards - Ant Bagshaw explains why this question is of such importance. 
UKRI if you want to. How to read the new research landscape - James Wilsdon gives his verdict on the new research landscape. 
A university no more ever? - Mike Ratcliffe on the controversial proposals that could allow the government to take away Degree Awarding Powers and University Title even from the ancient universities. 
10 things you may have missed about the White Paper - from Andrew McGettigan. 
Gaps in the White Paper that will undermine students - from Jim Dickinson. 

The good, the bad and the problematic

What is to be made of all this? It’s a great deal to digest. The debate will be intense, with critique and praise from across the political spectrum beginning to emanate in the public sphere, and of course on Wonkhe itself. The Higher Education and Research Bill is now before Parliament and so many of these proposals will receive further public scrutiny. The consensus within Team Wonkhe so far is that there is some good, some not so good, and some downright problematic in the proposed reforms:

Some Good:

  • As wonks we can’t help but admire the detailed and exhaustive policy work that’s gone into developing the White Paper, the Bill and the associated documents. It’s a vast amount of complicated work, overturning and amending a whole host of old legislation and practice, and deserves credit for its thoroughness.

  • There will finally be a degree of coherence brought to sector regulation and market entry, something that has been at least five years overdue.

  • The reduction in the number of quangos should be seen as a major benefit alongside the streamlining of the overall regulatory framework.

  • The ‘transparency revolution’ has enormous potential for making important strides forward in understanding and tackling issues within widening participation.

  • Greater protection for students in the case of institution failure should be welcomed by everyone, even if we are uneasy about the relish with which provider failure is anticipated by some.

  • Sharia-compliant loans - removing barriers to participation in education - something that's also overdue.

  • Continuing to keep universities within the scope of the Freedom of Information Act has to be welcomed by those in favour of an open, free debate about higher education.

Some Bad:

  • There might be trouble ahead for the TEF. Institution-level assessments simply won’t be a fair reflection of quality, whilst the ONS has suggested that the discipline-level assessments will not be possible with the available metrics.

  • Also about the TEF, BIS’s own research published this week (along with pre-existing research by HEFCE and others) appears to suggest that a TEF will add little value to student choices and decision making. If this is the case, the aims and objectives of the TEF need to be clarified substantially.

  • Yet again, commitments to fixing the UK’s part-time and mature study decline seem shallow at best. A move towards credit transfer and accumulation is welcome, but otherwise, the White Paper contained no new announcements in this area.

  • Despite the implicit goal of market competition being to improve the likelihood of ‘provider exit’, BIS’s Impact Analysis of the White Paper predicts that no established HEIs will fail between now and 2027-28. Furthermore, the numbers forecast a consistent number of FE colleges remaining in the sector despite BIS trying to force through a reduction in FECs through area reviews. We wonder if this reveals the extent to which the impact of these reforms has really been thought through. 

Some Problematic:

  • BIS has been guilty of some gross misrepresentation of statistics in their documentation this week, including the suggestion that “60% of students felt their course was worse than expected”. The actual figure (taken from a HEPI-HEA survey) is 12%, whilst 49% of students felt their course was better in some ways and worse in others.

  • That said, the opposition might also fall into a trap of numerical misrepresentation. The inflationary increases in tuition fees are actually just real-term maintenance of the current level. This might still stand criticism if cash-freezes in government spending are not viewed as cuts, but we suspect that is not the view of many of the present government's’ opponents, including the leader of the Labour Party. We fear that the upcoming public debate on fees could be of very low quality indeed.

  • It appears that several sector leaders are gearing up for a fight about the OfS’s - and by extension the government’s - control over standards. It could get messy.

More reading

We break down the notoriously archaic procedures of Parliament and try to anticipate where the hotspots for a HE Bill might be.

A brief history of higher education legislation - Graeme Wise on the HE Bills we've known and loved. 

Emran Mian argues that the left is offering no constructive alternative to the government’s market-led agenda in HE, and thus have very little of use to add to the debate.

Looking for somewhere to start? Download our edited collection Repainting higher education. [pdf]

TEF: The Incredible Machine

The White Paper provided more detail about the TEF and how it's going to work, softening some of the harder edges that had come under fire since its unveiling last year. While the controversial link to fees has been maintained, this won’t come into play until year three (2019/20); metrics will be phased in over time, and contextual evidence will remain a core part. Any concerns about whether a voluntary scheme would work have also largely been quashed. Inflationary increases will be linked to the more generous RPI measure, and institutions that have a positive QAA outcomes (the majority of established providers) will be guaranteed the full inflationary uplift in the first two years and a 50 percent uplift in future. However, there remain a number of fundamental risks to the TEF’s success including whether it will be used, potential risks to innovation and cost. Fears about burden and complexity will not be alleviated by the stipulation that: “… we propose setting a 15-page maximum on the length of the provider submission. Technical guidance will set out font size, margin widths and other details to ensure the limit is applied fairly [!]”.

More reading:

The Even More Incredible Machine - our visual guide to the TEF updated following this week's developments.

The TEF: Take Two - Louisa Darian looks at what's changed since the Green Paper and sets out the timetable for the TEF's rollout. 

Five risks to the success of the TEF - Louisa Darian sets out some of the challenges ahead for the new framework. 

Key dates

A new higher education system cannot be built without numerous consultations, meetings and events. These are the first ones we know about - no doubt many more will follow:

  • Accelerated courses and switching consultation deadline - 19th July
  • Lord Sainsbury review into technical education - Summer 2016
  • Consultation on postgraduate loans - later in 2016
  • House of Lords Science/Technology Committee Inquiry into Innovate UK, oral evidence - June 2016

Longitudinal Education Outcomes 

  • Headline results for consultation - Summer 2016
  • Release, and consultation, on data by subject and institution - Autumn 2016
  • Publication of data - Spring 2017
  • Research on measures of value add commissioned - Summer 2017
  • Regular cycle of publications and data for Unistats - beyond Summer 2017
Teaching Excellence Framework
  • TEF consultation events: 3 June, Sheffield and 6th June, London 
  • TEF consultation events: Scotland, Wales, NI - later in June
  • Closing date for applications for TEF Chair - 6th June
  • TEF technical consultation deadline - 12th July
  • Providers submit expression of interest in applying - July 2016
  • Response to technical consultation - September 2016
  • Technical guidance for providers - mid-October 2016
  • Providers’ core metrics made available for preview - mid-October 2016
  • Applications window opens - mid-October 2016
  • Deadline for completing amendments to providers’ core metrics - late November 2016
  • Application window closes - December 2016
  • Assessment takes place - January - March 2017
  • TEF ratings announced - April 2017
  • Lessons-learned exercise - May-June 2017

Consultation topics pending dates:

  • Consultation on DAPs and UT process
  • Consultation on risk-based regulation
  • Consultation on designated quality and data bodies
  • Consultation on OfS registration fee

The Monday Morning Briefing will return to its usual format next time.

Mark Leach, Editor

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The rest of the week's higher education agenda

Monday 23rd May

EVENT: LFHE East and Southeast leading change in HE, Canterbury
EVENT: LFHE Strategic Finance Programme, Birmingham
EVENT: QAA Employer Engagement, Employability and Higher Apprenticeships, Coventry
EVENT: JISC Information security management special interest group, Swansea
EVENT: Common Vision debate How does the EU affect our skills and education? Confirmed speakers include David Willetts and Vivienne Stern, London

Tuesday 24th May

PARLIAMENTARY: House of Commons Science and technology committee session on robotics and AI
PARLIAMENTARY: Welsh assembly plenary
STATS RELEASE: ONS UK public sector finance for April 2016
REPORT: University Alliance Supporting thriving communities, the role of universities in reducing inequality
EVENT: HEFCE National collaborative outreach programme, Leeds
EVENT: LFHE workshop Preparing for Senior Strategic Leadership, London
EVENT: Jisc webinar Develop your digital capability to support learners’ digital experience
EVENT: The Royal Society of Chemistry Science and the Assembly
STATS RELEASE: ONS UK public sector finance for April 2016

Wednesday 25th May

PARLIAMENTARY: Scottish Affairs select committee on the impact of the EU referendum on Scotland, 2.15pm
PARLIAMENTARY: Queen's Speech debate on 'education, skills and training'
NEWS: UCU Strike Action (until Thursday)
EVENT: HEFCE forum: Localism and Higher Skills, opportunities for HE and FE in the North, Leeds
EVENT: HEFCE National collaborative outreach programme regional meeting, Manchester
EVENT: UCU Organising for health, safety and welfare in the workplace, London
EVENT: Worcester Student Union affiliation referendum ends
PARLIAMENTARY: NUS involved in NHS bursaries lobby of parliament
EVENT: ECU webinar equality charters: the basics
EVENT: UCEA workshop Supporting and rewarding shifting academic pathways, London
EVENT: QAA Employer Engagement, Employability and Higher Apprenticeships, Manchester
EVENT: HEA Engaging stakeholders in of graduate employability skills in healthcare, London
EVENT: Jisc NHS - HE forum, London

Thursday 26th May

NEWS: UCU Strike Action
EVENT: LFHE, Implementing the prevent duty, a training symposium, London
STATS RELEASE: UCAS Summary analysis by country group of applicant
EVENT: HEA Strategic Excellence Initiative for Vice-Chancellors or Principals, London

Friday 27th May

EVENT: Loughborough Student Union affiliation referendum ends


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