Government to ‘open higher education market’ to new providers

Changes to degree-awarding powers that will step up competition for universities heralded in Productivity Plan

July 10, 2015

The government plans to let new providers offer degrees independently of universities before they gain their own degree powers, as part of plans to “open the market” in higher education.

The government’s Productivity Plan, launched today by business secretary Sajid Javid and containing a section on higher education, also says that there will be a “faster” route to degree-awarding powers for new providers and that student number controls will be ended for the “best” private providers.

The moves would create extra competition for universities. The Conservatives have a long-standing aim to introduce new providers to drive down fees at universities.

The Productivity Plan, titled “Fixing the Foundations: Creating a More Prosperous Nation”, also says the government “will consult later this year on how a Teaching Excellence Framework can be developed, including outcome-focused criteria and metrics.

“The Teaching Excellence Framework will inform student decision-making, continue to support a high average wage premium for graduates and ensure that students’ hard-won qualifications keep their value over time,” it adds.

In a passage titled “Opening the market to new and alternative providers”, the plan says that “widening the range of high quality higher education providers can stimulate competition and innovation, increase choice for students, and deliver better value for money”.

It continues that “to enable the best new providers to compete on a level playing field with established universities, the government will introduce a clearer and faster route to degree awarding powers for those assessed to offer the best quality education”.

And the plan adds: “As part of the review of validation arrangements, the government will explore options to allow the best providers to offer degrees independently of existing institutions before they obtain degree awarding powers.”

Times Higher Education reported last month that the government is considering creating a new body to award vocational degrees for further education and private colleges, which would have echoes of the polytechnic awarding system.

The government will “free up student number controls for the best alternative providers by introducing a performance pool of places from 2016-17, which will allocate additional student places to the best providers”.

The government’s moves to encourage private provision in the last Parliament ran into trouble, with MPs on the Public Accounts Committee criticising the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills for failing to control a huge increase in public funding at private colleges. The expansion took place mainly via for-profit colleges increasing the number of publicly funded students on Higher National courses awarded by Pearson.

On postgraduate loan plans announced previously, the plan says the government “will set out details of how these loans will be delivered later this year”.

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