In the White Paper, Success as a Knowledge Economy, the UK government is pushing ahead with proposals to make it easier for ‘challenger institutions’ to award their own degrees.
The plans are also intended to ensure students get ‘better value for money’, with a new Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) to encourage universities to raise standards and focus on helping students from all backgrounds into employment or further study.
The white paper follows a consultation launched in November 2015.
Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson commented: “Our universities are engines of economic growth and social mobility, but if we are to remain competitive and ensure that a high-quality education remains open to all, we cannot stand still.
“Making it easier for high-quality challenger institutions to start offering their own degrees will help drive up teaching quality, boost the economy and extend aspiration and life chances for students from all backgrounds.”
The reforms outlined in the white paper include:
New rules to make it easier for the very best institutions to achieve their own degree awarding powers, and streamline the process so that they can get up and running as quickly as possible.
Launching a call for evidence, looking at whether students should be able to switch university courses more easily, if they are unhappy with the provision they are receiving or their circumstances change.
Plans to deliver the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF); to assess different aspects of teaching, including student experience and the job prospects. Institutions which meet the high standards set by the TEF can raise fees in line with inflation. The TEFstructure will be introduced over the next four years, with the first institutions able to raise their fees in autumn 2017.
New requirements for all universities to publish detailed information about applications, offer and progression rates, broken down by ethnicity, gender and socio-economic background.
Delivering on Sir Paul Nurse’s recommendations to establish a single, strategic funding body that enables the UK to lead the world in multi-disciplinary research and innovation. The body - UK Research & Innovation, will bring together the seven Research Councils, Innovate UK and HEFCE’s research and knowledge exchange functions.
The sector has reacted in force to the White Paper. Martin Doel, Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges (AoC) said: “Choice, access and quality are the welcome watchwords of the government’s long-awaited plans to open up higher education and to allow more colleges to award HE qualifications.
“This step change away from the country’s traditional university system will empower more people than ever before to access HE in their local area through a college. It will also provide a wider choice of courses that are linked to employment.”
University Alliance Chief Executive Maddalaine Ansell added: "It is sensible to implement the Teaching Excellence Framework steadily and over time and to keep checking that it is flexible enough to recognise the strength and diversity of the higher education sector. It must offer the right incentives for universities to strive to offer excellent teaching and to achieve positive outcomes for all students.
"We are delighted by the decision to protect the dual support system for research through legislation. The dual support system is the best way to ensure UK research remains dynamic and globally competitive.
"The recognition that Innovate UK should be a business-facing organisation with its own protected budget, but integrated within UK Research and Innovation, is also very welcome."
It is important also that any new higher education providers awarding their own degrees or calling themselves ‘university’ meet these same, high standards – Dame Julia Goodfellow
Dame Julia Goodfellow, President of Universities UK and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Kent, also commented: “The university sector is an international success story in terms of the quality of teaching and research. It is important that any reforms recognise this and build on that strength.
“Established universities are not standing still and are always seeking to improve what they offer to students. Providing a high-quality, world-leading experience for all students is central to what our universities do.
“It is important also that any new higher education providers awarding their own degrees or calling themselves ‘university’ meet these same, high standards.”