Hepi hits the buffer

November 14, 2013

Should the responsibility for regulation be separated from responsibility for funding, as the Higher Education Policy Institute suggests? (“Only a super-regulator can preserve truth, justice and the academic way”, News, 7 November.) It is true that although the Higher Education Funding Council for England and the Regulatory Partnership Group have done the best that can be done under present legislation, gaps in the protective fencing remain. But would it be wise to make Hepi’s radical change to deal with an essentially interim difficulty?

The role of the “Haldane buffer” between autonomous universities and government interference has been managed pretty well by Hefce (and before it the University Grants Committee). The Hepi proposal would leave higher education without this buffer. State control is state control, whether through government or Parliament.

The proposals for accreditation of “providers” need further thought, too. The great problem of the moment is that the sector now forms a mycelium of networked provision through innumerable collaborative and partnership arrangements that are not always visible above ground. This is probably keeping many institutions financially viable but it leaves the student with the bewildering difficulty in choosing a course of knowing whether he or she is picking a poisonous mushroom.

However, it would certainly be a good thing if it became possible to remove university title, which appears to be granted in perpetuity even through the Companies House route. The Office of Fair Trading may want to look at that in connection with its declared policy of actively “managing out” failing providers.

G. R. Evans
Oxford

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