Alternative HE funding: one size won’t fit all

The new report from Policy Connect calls for reform in HE student funding to allow for a more flexible HE provision in the UK

The Higher Education and Research Act, brought in to realise the government’s ambitions of a diverse and competitive higher education sector, will impact on choices for students. Will these changes give students the education they need to ensure the UK – in the words of Jo Johnson – succeeds as a knowledge economy?

Last week in Parliament, think tank Policy Connect and the Higher Education Commission presented the findings of their fifth inquiry; an examination of alternative provision in HE.

The report from Policy Connect, titled One Size Won’t Fit All: The Challenges Facing the Office for Students, calls on the newly-founded Office for Students to recognise that the funding structures in higher education are fundamentally flawed. They force alternative providers to move towards standard campus-based, three-year degrees, therefore not providing better student choice or flexible courses. These factors reduce diversity in options for study and limit opportunity for social mobility for those who most need flexible higher education.

Keynote speaker at the launch, Conservative Peer Lord Norton, said: “Over the process of this inquiry the Commission heard from many providers delivering innovative and alternative models of higher education. With increasing global competition in the sector and changing social and business trends the question of how higher education is delivered will only become more poignant. The Government’s decision to task the OfS to promote choice for students and value for money showed great foresight in this regard but promoting innovation and balancing risk against the public interest will require careful handling.”

Paul Feldman, CEO of Jisc, the edtech provider to education and research, and member of the Commission noted: ‘There is an amazing vibrancy and diversity in UK higher education. This report highlights that there is more that can be done to make sure all students have access to learn anywhere, anytime and in a way that suits them. The Higher Education and Research Act also provides an opportunity for high quality alternatives to the traditional degree to prosper.

“While I expect the typical three-year university experience will continue to dominate, students should have confidence that they can use reputable alternative provision if it’s the best way to meet their career choices, whether they are training to be an engineer, lawyer, musician, artist, cook, or football management professional.’

Jon Wakeford, Director of Strategy at UPP and member of the HE Commission said: “In order to thrive, the HE sector must boost ways of learning to help respond to the different needs of students. Everyone with the potential and ambition to participate in HE should have the ability to do so, as well as benefit from the social capital and skills development integral to helping them become employable.

“We’re pleased to support the report’s call for diversity in HE so that students from all backgrounds can excel and engage in both meaningful education and employment.”

Policy Connect’s Chief Executive, Jonathan Shaw, said that the Commission’s findings highlighted the great potential laid out before the Office for Students: “The new regulator should examine funding and evaluation structures in HE to ensure that potential students have the opportunity to study as they need – this is especially important for those wanting to study specialist subjects or in a flexible way due to their circumstances – so that the British economy can benefit from a highly educated, diverse workforce contributing to the economy.” 

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