Reflecting on the UK Governments recent green paper on the future of higher education in England
Mike Entwisle, partner at BuroHappold Engineering reflects on the UK Government’s recent green paper on the future of Higher Education in England.
The UK Government’s recent green paper on the future of Higher Education in England makes for interesting reading and continues its overhaul – some would call it an upheaval – of the last decade or so, aimed at upskilling UK PLC and widening access to higher education. This consultation paper includes some significant moves, including the creation of a Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) and the Office for Students (OfS), and moving to an environment where institutions can be established more simply – and notably poorly performing universities will be allowed to fail.
The paper raises a number of questions;
Is the (rather weak) linking of tuition fees to the TEF the next step to a deregulated market? How will standardised fees enable the books to be balanced if there is increased uptake of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects, which are more expensive to teach than humanities? How long can the expensive collegiate teaching model at Oxford and Cambridge survive without additional funding?Additionally:
The paper doesn’t appear to address the need to encourage part-time students (where student numbers have collapsed in recent years),
Will the expertise and knowledge in the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and the Office for Fair Access (OFFA) be retained as they transfer into the OfS? When the Office of National Statistics moved a few years ago, its performance suffered as many skilled and experienced staff chose not to move with it; will the same happen to HEFCE or OFFA or will they be able to retain their skills and knowledge?
How will failing institutions be dealt with?
Will the TEF become as open to suspicion of manipulation as the Research Excellence Framework is often reported to be?
What effect will the TEF and the provision of improved teaching have on university estates?
The speed at which change is taking place in the sector in the UK is greater than in any developed economy. We are all hopeful that this will maintain the teaching and research profiles of UK universities, particularly at a time when the government seems to be unsympathetic in granting visas for overseas students. Add into the mix that China is investing vast resources to get their elite C9 universities into the top levels of the international rankings attracting staff from across the globe, and the scale of the challenges faced by countries with established higher education systems start to become clear..
The response of universities and other interested parties to the green paper will be interesting to see – as will how this impacts Government thinking – as the policies emerge over the coming months.