In her letter on the Higher Education Funding Council for England making higher education policy by blog, Gill Evans quotes Susan Lapworth as saying that, for Hefce, “it’s not particularly helpful to trade legal interpretations” (“Stop digging”, Letters, 21 April). I agree, because the legislation to which she refers – the Further and Higher Education Act 1992 – makes it quite clear, in Section 82, that “the arrangements made by each institution...for maintaining academic standards in the institution” are to be quite separate from Hefce’s duty, under Section 70, to “assess the quality of education provided in institutions for whose activities they provide...financial support”. The former function – assessing institutions’ academic standards – could only be discharged by the funding councils collectively if the necessary secondary legislation were made, and to date it never has been (so far as I know).
The real mystery here is not why Lapworth and Hefce are seeking to extend their remit beyond the express intentions of the legislation, but why the representative bodies – Universities UK, GuildHE – have not sought to challenge this on legal grounds alone. Historically, the institutions collectively always tried to resist interference in their academic standards by the government and its agencies. Now they appear to be content to act as Hefce’s agents. Could we please be told what it is that has changed?
Emeritus professor of higher education policy
Liverpool Hope University