Higher Education White Paper published
27 Jun 2011
The coalition government publishes its long-awaited strategic plans for universities today in a White Paper.
Pre-publication briefings confirm many of the long-expected, and widely trailed, measures. These are aimed at bringing down fee levels, encouraging a consumer-market, and allowing popular universities (and new providers, including the private sector) to expand at the expense of other universities.
The measures include:
- Better consumer-style information for prospective students via the so-called Key Information Sets (KIS). From 2012, all universities will have to publish statistics showing information such as their graduates’ subsequent earnings and employability, and university contact hours, satisfaction levels and tuition fees.
- A new ‘core and margin’ approach to funding, whereby an extra allocation of student places (perhaps 10%) can be bid for by universities on the basis of strength of demand and value for money.
- Universities or FE colleges that charge lower fees (probably below the Treasury’s calculation of average fee levels at £7,500) to be able to bid for extra places.
- Removal of limits on the number of top-scoring A level students (2 As and a B) any university can admit.
- Allowing easier and fuller access to government fee loans to students at private universities.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4 this morning, the Universities Minister, David Willetts, said the reforms would put students in the 'driving seat' and create 'a real incentive for universities to focus on the quality of the teaching experience'. He promised to 'dismantle the very detailed controls over the system'.
More opportunities for new providers
In his most radical statement, he said he wanted universities to be in the mindset that they are not in the public sector'. He added: 'if there are alternative providers they will have the same possibilities (as existing universities) and they will be regulated on the same basis'.
But the Shadow BIS Secretary, John Denham, said it was ‘another case of a Tory-led government making it up as they go along’. He added: ‘The White Paper will sacrifice quality in an attempt to tackle the fees crisis caused by government incompetence. Universities should be able to concentrate on working with business on the skills, growth and jobs needed to ensure we can pay our way in the future, not be distracted by the fallout of a policy that was unfair, unnecessary and unsustainable’.
The University & College Union General Secretary, Sally Hunt, said 'trying to force down the cost of a degree after the government got its sums wrong will not solve the funding crisis it created.. The only thing the government is likely to force down is quality'.
She added that these 'US-style reforms', aiming to inject market forces into the university system, were heading for 'an NHS-style crash'.