The Higher Education White Paper was published yesterday (June 28). There is a link at www.bis.gov.uk/hereform for members of staff who want to look at the detail in the proposals.
There are a number of key elements:
- The Funding System in terms of the conditions and process for accessing a student loan is as predicted; no first time undergraduate will have to pay up-front. Repayments to start from earnings of £21,000 with a tailored repayment schedule and early-repayment mechanisms to be open to consultation.
- The student experience is at the heart of the new system. It will be the financial power of students that will drive the quality and sustainability of universities with ‘well informed students driving teaching excellence’. To do this we will be required to provide very detailed information to students in advance of their choosing which university/course to apply to.These key information sets will include information on overall satisfaction, feedback, resources, assessment methods, contact time, total costs, employment in graduate level jobs and role of students’ unions.
- Student number control will change significantly over time as the sector moves to a market-driven position. Student choice will ultimately drive the expansion or contraction of universities. At present HEFCE limits the size or expansion plans of individual universities. As a first stage, in 2012-13, some 85,000 student places will become ‘contestable’ between institutions taking them outside of any number control. Thus universities will be able to recruit any number of students achieving AAB or equivalent at A level (around 65,000 students each year) and there will be a further 20,000 student places open to competition for those ‘quality’ institutions who are charging a fee of £7,500 or less. I would expect this pattern of number control to change on an annual basis so that more and more places are ‘contestable’. The White Paper does not indicate whether or how this might happen.
- There is some rhetoric about the importance of increasing social mobility and plans to expand and deepen the work of the Office for Fair Access are outlined which is a positive.
- The opening up of opportunities for private providers and for the growth in the provision of HE in FE, is inherent in government discussions around the expansion of Universities. Again it is clear that student choice and the power of the student pocket will be central to determining the shape of the sector.
- The role of HEFCE is discussed and it is likely to take on a much stronger role as an advocate for the student experience
- There is discussion of the importance of research but no clear direction on how public funding for research is likely to evolve.
The White Paper does not contain any major surprises but is a clear statement of intent which makes the direction of travel clear. The student experience will be the key driver, and the change in funding from public funding through HEFCE, to funding through the student loan system is set in stone here. I cannot see any change in that direction of travel over the next five years.
Our focus here on the Bradford Offer and the student experience has to be at the heart of our strategy and needs to inform our policies, our performance and the work that all our staff do. That is a direction of travel that has been central to us for a number of years.
Progress is being made but the White Paper sets out starkly what the consequences of a failure to deliver a strong, collaborative and successful student experience will be. The student will be the judge of that!