The Higher Education Commission's latest report, 'Regulating Higher Education', was formally launched in Parliament on October 9th 2013.
REPORT CALLS FOR URGENT LEGISLATION TO IMPROVE REGULATION OF HE IN ENGLAND
- Independent commission warns current HE regulatory system ‘outmoded and unfit for purpose’
- Reforms needed to protect students in new diversified HE landscape
- UK global reputation at risk as ‘piecemeal’ reform to regulation stifles investment
The Higher Education Commission's newest report today warns that lack of government legislation to improve the regulation of higher education in England is putting students at risk from failing universities and threatening the UK’s global reputation for HE excellence.
The report, entitled 'Regulating Higher Education', calls on the Coalition Government to bring forth urgent legislation before the next election to create a new regulatory framework designed to provide students with greater financial protection, encourage investment in the sector and help enhance innovation in HE provision.
The report is the product of an eight-month inquiry chaired by leading academics Professor the Lord Norton of Louth, Professor of Government at the University of Hull and Professor Roger King, former Vice Chancellor of the University of Lincoln.
The report makes more than a dozen recommendations, including:
- Urging the Government to commit to higher education legislation. If time does not allow for a Bill in this Parliament, the Commission recommends that a commitment to new legislation should appear in all three major parties’ manifestos.
- The creation of a new, overarching regulator, building on HEFCE’s remit (renamed the Council for Higher Education – CHE. The CHE should incorporate OFFA, OSL (formerly SLC) and a new body, OCID (Office for Competition and Institutional Diversity). Responsible for ensuring complementarity of bodies across a pluralist system, the CHE should have contractual relationships with QAA, UCAS, and HESA.
- The development, by the new lead regulator (CHE), of a Common Regulatory Framework that can be applied to a range of providers to varying degrees, dependent on their provision and funding arrangements. The Common Regulatory Framework would create a kite mark to be awarded by the CHE, which institutions would receive once they had undergone a successful QAA review and subscribe to the OIA.
- Greater protection for students through the formation of a ‘protection’ or ‘insurance’ scheme, coordinated by the lead regulator, paid into by all providers, to insulate institutions against possible future financial difficulties or failure.
The report acknowledges the ‘long and largely successful self-regulatory history’ of the HE sector as a whole, with academic norms, peer review and sector-wide representatives remaining ‘bulwarks’ against poor performance. It further argues that the principle of regulatory pluralism that currently defines higher education should be continued, with a new over-arching regulatory body providing effective sectoral coordination, rather than centralist control.
However, the report stresses that in England’s increasingly open and market-driven HE sector, new alternative providers of higher education are not being picked up by the regulatory regime, putting students and the sector as a whole at risk. The report argues that effective regulation also has an important ‘positive focus’ and would have ‘strong developmental effects’ for the sector by increasing investor confidence and encouraging innovation across institutions.
Speaking ahead of the launch, inquiry co-chair Lord Norton of Louth said:
“Regulation is fundamental to the health and success of our HE sector and will make or break the effectiveness of the institutions that have made the UK a world leader in higher education. In the context of current reforms, the absence of legislation to provide a coherent regulatory architecture for the rapidly changing and increasingly dynamic sector is creating major headaches for its players. It is a situation crying out for urgent rectification by government, a refrain that was a constant throughout the course of the inquiry from those who gave evidence.”
Fellow inquiry co-chair Professor Roger King added:
“Our proposals seek to build upon the existing regulatory strengths displayed by the sector and to ensure that more external and formalised external regulatory arrangements work with these. The continuation of pluralism rather than centralisation features in our recommendations although we recognise the need for some element of consolidation in these fiscally-challenged times. Above all, however, we need to urgently address the outstanding requirement for a more systematic and less piecemeal approach to the external regulation of the sector. This can only be achieved by early legislation by Government.”