It is a great pity that once again a Universities UK working group has delivered a mouse.
The report Quality, Equity, Sustainability: the future of higher education regulation by the UUK Regulation Task and Finish Group recommends that, following legislation, the Higher Education Funding Council for England should evolve into the Council for Higher Education for England. The new body would “provide effective regulation and leadership for higher education regulation” alongside Hefce’s funding role. But – leaving aside the obvious risk of conflict between its regulatory and funding roles – there is no indication in the report as to whom the new body should report, or to whom it should be accountable. It must therefore be assumed that it will continue to report to ministers, as Hefce does now.
There is general agreement on the need for a new and more comprehensive regulatory framework for higher education and a number of reports have outlined proposals. The one thing on which the reports nearly all agree is that any future regulatory body should be independent both of the institutions being regulated and of the government.
It is therefore disappointing – although, in view of their past track record in resisting government interference, not very surprising – that vice-chancellors appear to have accepted that the principal regulator for higher education will be a government-controlled agency, with all the risks to institutional control of quality and standards that that entails. Will they never learn?
Former chief executive of the Higher Education Quality Council
Emeritus professor of higher education policy
Liverpool Hope University