A one-off email on the publication of the government's HE green paper.
Green Paper Briefing
Good morning. The government's long-awaited HE Green Paper: Fulfilling Our Potential: Teaching Excellence, Social Mobility and Student Choice has been published today. Weighing in at just under 35,000 words, it is an exhaustive document, broader in scope than anticipated, and if all its measures are enacted as planned, will represent the biggest changes to the HE sector since 1992. Download and read it here.
But the Green Paper kicks off a consultation period which starts today and runs to January 15th 2016 - all it's measures are now up for debate. Most of the questions it asks are very open and there is very little detail on the plans that it does spell out - apart from perhaps the shape of the TEF, which is a major feature of the document, and of the plans has spent the longest time under development.
The guts of the document will require sweeping changes to the legal framework underpinning English universities. And so the battle lines are today drawn - with the government formally opening what will be a long, and complicated debate, from here until new laws are passed - and probably far beyond.
Given the huge scope of the paper and its implications, it will take some time to fully digest. But today we offer the sector a start to this process. On the site you can follow the live blog which includes new analysis, commentary and reaction throughout the day. Also on the site you can read a selection of first analysis from our dream team of wonks including Andrew McGettigan, James Wilsdon, David Kernohan, with plenty more to follow, all under the #Green Paper tag. Several new articles will be published through the day, at the weekend and of course on Monday when the Monday Morning Briefing will return as per usual. In the mean time keep up to date with the site or follow us on Twitter.
The green paper - condensed A Teaching Excellence Framework is going to be introduced. The TEF will start with an early version next year which all providers who have met the current quality assurance threshold will automatically pass at 'Level 1'. This will entitle universities at Level 1 to raise fees along with inflation from 2017. Future versions of the TEF will get exponentially more complicated, with 4 levels in total and a modular system with multiple inputs - metrics, panel assessment, WP targets, and compliance with the CMA. The higher level achieved, the higher the "fee cap" universities will be allowed to charge. Last night on Newsnight, Jo Johnson refused to rule out raising the cap itself - i.e. not just in line with inflation - and the plans certainly look as if in the future, greater amounts will be needed to be added to the cap in order to create the true differentiation of prices that the government clearly desire.
HEFCE and OFFA are to be merged to create the Office for Students (OfS). This new body will have wide powers over access, teaching, quality, data, regulation, market gateway, as well as (possibly) the responsibility to hand out the rest of the teaching grant, and maybe even the power to validate degrees. Importantly, it's focus and duties will be to students rather than providers. The Director of Fair access will remain, as part of the new regulator. This body will funded by subscriptions from universities. And so, the future of HESA and QAA (and possibly HEA) are now in question - as the plans for data and quality need to be developed further to fit the new landscape and meet the requirements of the OfS and its broad new responsibilities, all with less money to do it. Responsibilities over data and quality in particular will be fought over, and it's hard to predict how this will all ultimately end up - but the government is clear that it wants fewer bodies. With the rise of the OfS, a new settlement will need to be reached with the sector about the shape of the rest of the architecture - key points which are likely to significantly outlive the short consultation period. However it won't be a complete quango bonfire - the Green Paper does state clearly that the OIA and UCAS should remain as they are.
Entrance to and exit from the market is to be sped up and clarified Fulfilling the promise of the 2011 White Paper, new entrants to the market will be given an accelerated route to degree awarding powers, quicker access to funding, no cap on student numbers. New provisions in case a provider was to "exit" the system (in an "orderly" way) will be put in place. Quite hard to summarise well, leading expert on the reforms of the past few years, Andrew McGettigan gets in the to the nitty gritty below.
Other points of interest - Research is not a major theme - the Green Paper defers to the coming Nurse Review but is interested in simplifying the research landscape in ways that are widely expected post Spending Review, and also in and lowering the burden of the REF. It does hint that there should be a "further use of metrics" in the next exercise. It seems likely that the government now intends to create a single research funding body, amalgamating the research councils, and it seems highly likely that this body will take on responsibility for the REF and QR funding - which will not fit in OfS. Thus splitting research and teaching policy for good.
- Students' Unions get a mention with a question asked about transparency and accountability of SUs, linked to the government's current reforms to trade union laws. No more detail is given, but this could spark an interesting debate about SUs and their role, functions and relationship to students and universities.
- Freedom of Information may be on its way out (so much for the transparency agenda). Because alternative providers are not subject to FOI, to create a level playing field, the government is asking if no providers at all being subject to FOI is appropriate.
- The Secretary of State is to be given new powers over HE including the power to set tuition fee caps. The current policy is for the cap only to rise with inflation, but it will be interesting to see if these powers will let the SoS one day raise the actual cap itself beyond inflation - something that at the moment is the responsibility of a vote in Parliament. Incidentally, although these have been votes in the Commons in the past, the Lords are able to veto a change to the fee cap. In light of the fights over the last few weeks on the benefits cap, it seems probable that Lords would be unwilling to surrender this particular power of theirs to the government. The proposal also gives the Secretary of State power over data in HE which the OfS would be compelled to serve. And critically, the power for BIS or another named body to "enter and inspect" institutions to safeguard the interests of students and the taxpayers.
- The government has a preferred model of making student loans compatible with Sharia law and will be finally be bringing proposals forward to enact these soon. It will require legislation to do.
- Despite widespread consensus that something needs to be done to reverse the decline of part time higher education, there is almost no mention of this in the Green Paper. It fees like a really big omission.
There's plenty of further interesting and important measures - we'll keep up the analysis of all of these on Wonkhe.