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Sector reacts to HE Green Paper

The long-awaited government document announces a shake-up of the UK higher education system

Posted by Rebecca Paddick | November 06, 2015 | Research

The government's long-awaited HE Green Paper: Fulfilling Our Potential: Teaching Excellence, Social Mobility and Student Choice has been published today. 

Key points of the report include:

  • a Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF)
  • an Office for Students (OfS)
  • easier-to-open new universities
  • targets to recruit more disadvantaged and ethnic minority students
  • degrees with point scores as well as grades

Download and read the report here 

The Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) gets go-ahead

The TEF is set to allow most English universities to increase their tuition fees in line with inflation from 2017-18. The University and College Union (UCU) said the government needed to clearly set out how its plans would improve the student experience. 

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'Everybody agrees that teaching, alongside high quality research, should be at the heart of higher education. Our high standards are one of the reasons so many overseas students continue to choose to study here.  

“We have concerns about exactly what measures would be used in any TEF. Simply finding a few measures to rank teaching will do nothing to improve quality and we fear that manipulation of statistics may be the name of the game, rather than bolstering the student experience.

'Quality teaching is underpinned by decent working conditions for staff and a good place to start to improve teaching would be to tackle the widespread job insecurity that blights the university sector. Good teaching also needs to be properly recognised in academic career structures.

'The time has come to ensure that the staff voice is heard on the bodies that will shape how quality and the student experience is monitored and improved. One of the easiest ways the government could improve academic quality and standards is to restrict, rather than increase, the role of for-profit, private providers.” 

HEFCE and OFFA to merged

The Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) and the Office for Fair Access (Offa) would be no more under the proposals, instead merged to become a single regulator of universities called the Office for Students (OfS).

Universities Minister Jo Johnson said an Office for Students would "champion student interests." The minister wants to improve the quality of teaching and is proposing a target for more disadvantaged and ethnic minority students.

"We welcome the Government’s clear acknowledgement of the strength and success of England’s world-class higher education system, and we will continue to work on behalf of students and the public to promote excellence and innovation in the sector"

Professor Madeleine Atkins, HEFCE Chief Executive, said: "The higher education Green Paper proposes a reshaping of the higher education system which puts students at its heart. We look forward to contributing to the debates and developments it will foster. 

"We will continue to perform our current role and functions to our usual high standards throughout this period of deliberation and transition. We welcome the Government’s clear acknowledgement of the strength and success of England’s world-class higher education system, and we will continue to work on behalf of students and the public to promote excellence and innovation in the sector."

New Social Mobility Advisory Group to launch

A new Social Mobility Advisory Group will report to the Universities Minister with a plan to meet the Prime Minister’s ambitions to double the proportion of disadvantaged students entering higher education and increase the number of BME students by 20% by 2020.

The government will also strengthen guidance to the Director of Fair Access. Alongside efforts to recruit disadvantaged students, it will encourage greater emphasis on successful outcomes for under-represented groups, helping to tackle drop-out rates and help all students progress into employment or further study.

Universities to come and go with ease 

Proposals in the green paper would establish a level playing field in the regulation of new and established universities and a single gateway for those wishing to enter the market. The proposals would also speed up the process by which a new provider can gain powers to award their own degrees and call themselves a university.

Dr Wendy Piatt, Director General of the Russell Group, said: “The Government’s Green Paper rightly recognises that ‘higher education is a national success story.’ 

“Our universities make huge efforts to improve access for the most disadvantaged students and real progress has been made. But we must not lose sight of what the Green Paper refers to as ‘the root causes of inequality of access’ in higher education – such as under-achievement at school and poor advice on the best choices of A-level subjects and university degree course.”

"The autonomy of our universities is crucial to their success. It is vital that any regulation is risk-based and proportionate and does not add to the current burden or stifle innovation"

“The autonomy of our universities is crucial to their success. It is vital that any regulation is risk-based and proportionate and does not add to the current burden or stifle innovation.”

Dame Julia Goodfellow, President of Universities UK and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Kent, said: “The recognition of high quality teaching in our universities is a welcome step, but we must ensure that this exercise is not an additional burden for those teaching in our universities and that it provides useful information for students, parents, and employers. Universities are already improving the amount of information to students about courses to ensure that their experience matches their expectations.

“The diversity of providers and the range of courses offered is one of the strengths of the UK university sector, and we support competition and choice. It is important, however, that any new higher education provider entering the market is able to give robust reassurances to students, taxpayers and government on the quality and sustainability of their courses.

“Universities have made considerable progress in recent years to increase the numbers of students from disadvantaged backgrounds going to university and graduating with a good degree. We recognise there is more to do, and Universities UK looks forward to leading the Social Mobility Advisory Group announced in the green paper to build on progress and identify best practice."

Maddalaine Ansell, Chief Executive of University Alliance said: "We will only achieve the highly skilled workforce this country needs – and give everyone a stake in its success -  if universities are truly open to all who can benefit. We welcome the Government’s commitment to support more people from disadvantaged backgrounds to access, and succeed within, higher education.  But this does come at a cost. If this is not recognised in the forthcoming spending review, today’s commitment is just empty words.  

"As institutions that are above benchmark for both recruiting and retaining widening participation students, we are pleased this will be recognised in the TEF. Our success in achieving great outcomes for all our students comes in part from our strong links with industry and the professions.  We will continue to develop these – including by creating new Degree Apprenticeships. 

"While we recognise the value of reducing the cost of participating in the REF, any simplification must not introduce concentration by the back door"

"We also pride ourselves on using our world-leading research to enrich our teaching. We welcome the commitment to the dual support system. This makes our system dynamic and promotes innovation. While we recognise the value of reducing the cost of participating in the REF, any simplification must not introduce concentration by the back door.” 

A consultation on the proposals in the green paper opens today and will run for 10 weeks, closing on 15 January 2016.

Read a round-up of the Green Paper at timeshighereducation.com
Get industry reaction, opinion and further information on wonkhe.com 

Let us know what you think of the report. Email the editor at rebecca.paddick@wildfirecomms.co.uk  

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