HE White Paper: the higher education sector responds

Key figures from the university world respond to the higher education White Paper, Success as a Knowledge Economy

May 13, 2016
PhD viva/man speaking through megaphone

The UK government has today set out its proposals for the higher education sector in a White Paper. 

For the latest on the document, which includes plans to make it easier to establish new universities and implement the teaching excellence framework, visit our HE White Paper page

Here is how the HE sector has responded to the government's plans. We will update this page as more responses come in.

Alex Neill, director of policy and campaigns at Which?

“Our research has shown that students struggle to obtain the information they need to make informed decisions about university choices. We welcome measures to give students more insight into student experience, teaching standards and value for money. These proposals could not only drive up standards, but could also empower students ahead of one of the biggest financial decisions of their lives.” 

Philip Nelson, chair of Research Councils UK

"We are pleased to see the publication of the government's policy intent on reform and more clarity about proposed changes to the research councils. All of the research council chief executives and our staff will continue to work together collectively and in partnership with government to deliver effective reform as plans develop.

Throughout this period of change we will work with our research communities, stakeholders and staff to ensure continuing support for UK research."

Martin Doel, chief executive of the Association of Colleges (AoC)

“Choice, access and quality are the welcome watchwords of the Government’s long-awaited plans to open up higher education and to allow more colleges to award HE qualifications. This step change away from the country’s traditional university system will empower more people than ever before to access HE in their local area through a college. It will also provide a wider choice of courses that are linked to employment.

“Students, colleges and employers will welcome these plans, which mean more opportunities for people to access the most suitable and best value higher education courses.  This is a particular benefit for those who are employed and want to study part-time. We will be interested to see how the recommendations relate to findings of the review into technical and professional education carried out by a panel led by Lord David Sainsbury.”  

Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group

“We share the government’s desire to strengthen the UK’s world-class higher education system. Russell Group universities deliver outstanding research hand in hand with excellent teaching – this is central to the student experience they provide. A huge amount of time, effort and resources have been devoted to improving the education and student experience at our universities. And this is reflected in feedback from employers and our students who year on year express above average levels of overall satisfaction with the quality of their course. There is always room for improvement but this is best delivered through a risk-based approach to regulation that protects the institutional autonomy, diversity and competitiveness that our system thrives on.

“We support the government’s commitment to maintain and build on the world-class research and innovation taking place at our leading universities. Not only are we world-leaders in research but we also punch well above our weight so the government should be careful about making any substantial changes to a successful system. Allowing the research councils and Innovate UK to retain their identities and budgets is a step in the right direction but we urge them to proceed with caution."

Mary Curnock Cook, Ucas’ chief executive

“We welcome these measures which will help ensure students can be confident about courses that offer a high quality education, will challenge them intellectually, and equip them to succeed in the graduate employment market.  

"Transparency about access should mean that all applicants can be sure that they will be treated fairly in the admissions process, regardless of their ethnic or social background. To help meet the new transparency duty Ucas will be publishing the first transparency reports for universities on 9 June.”

Read more: White Paper is only the beginning 

Sally Hunt, University and College Union (UCU) general secretary 

Despite repeated warnings from UCU about the danger of opening up UK higher education to private, for-profit providers, the government is setting out on a clear course to privatise higher education. We have already seen too many scandals involving alternative providers in the UK and the USA, so if we are to protect the global reputation enjoyed by our universities, lessons must be learnt and rigorous quality measures applied before any new provider is allowed to access either degree awarding powers or state funding. 

Everyone knows the importance of teaching, but it is hard to see how many of the measures which have been proposed for the teaching excellence framework (TEF) will either measure quality or improve it. UCU believes a critical weakness of our current system is the precarious employment of university teachers, 49 per cent of whom are on insecure contracts. The best way to raise teaching quality is to ensure that academic careers in the UK are attractive to the brightest talent at home and abroad, but this needs an investment in the workforce that has been lacking for many years.  

We remain deeply concerned by any proposed link between quality as defined in the TEF and additional income, and will oppose any move to further increase the lifetime cost of higher education, which already sits at over £50,000 for the poorest undergraduates. On access, while increased reporting requirements on universities are to be welcomed, the government must do more to address the persistent barriers to higher education for those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds. We need tougher action on universities who are missing access targets, better support for part-time and mature study, and a national inquiry on our broken admissions system to ensure fair access for all.

Maddalaine Ansell, chief executive of the University Alliance

“The right regime for higher education and research is essential for building the knowledge economy of the future. These plans strike a healthy balance between protecting the quality and global reputation of our country’s universities, whilst also encouraging innovation. Implementing the Teaching Excellence Framework in a steady way over time is the best way to ensure it is flexible enough to recognise the strength and diversity of the higher education sector.

“The government is right to emphasise supporting social mobility and progression, encouraging universities to focus on getting students into employment and increasing transparency for potential students. The decision to protect the dual support funding system for research in legislation is very welcome as is the recognition of the importance of innovation in the new institutional architecture.” 

David Hughes, chief executive at Learning and Work Institute 

“There is now some urgency in addressing widening participation for all ages. Last week the the Office for Fair Access reported that the number of students in part time higher education has plummeted by 60 per cent since 2006. That means hundreds of thousands of adults without opportunities to improve their skills and life chances. I hope that the changes announced today will begin to repair what is currently a major flaw in our further and higher education system.

“I am pleased to see that White Paper recognises the need for more diversity in how people can access higher education, but there is much more work to be done for degree apprenticeships, for example, to be viewed on a level footing with full-time, residential provision. It will remain to be seen whether opening the market and improving outcome information for students will lead to more opportunities for flexible learning at higher levels. I have no doubt that the economy needs more people to learn flexibly and many adults aspire to achieve at higher levels; these reforms might help unlock that potential.”

More reaction: HE White Paper could bring ‘Ofsted tyranny’ to universities

Douglas Blackstock, chief executive of the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA)

 “The government has struck a balance between encouraging competition and rigorous protection of UK higher education’s world class reputation, including independent quality assurance and the requirement of new providers to meet the expectations of the UK Quality Code. QAA supports measures to protect student interests and the new flexible routes to achieve degree awarding powers at Bachelors and subject level, which will allow new providers to develop their capacity over time.”

 Stephen Isherwood, chief executive of the Association of Graduate Recruiters

“The combination of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) and Longitudinal Education Outcomes (LEO) will make a significant difference to perspective students. The more informed students are of career outcomes the better they will link education choices to employment ambitions.

“We recognise that measuring teaching excellence and correlating performance to development in a student’s abilities and employment outcomes presents significant challenges – not least because the number of variables makes it difficult to establish cause and effect. However it’s disappointing that it is going to take four years for students to be able to access information at course level.

“A TEF structure needs to be implemented at a granular level. If students cannot access data at a department or subject level, performance measures run the risk of being meaningless or misleading. Data should be made available as soon as possible.”

Dame Julia Goodfellow, president of Universities UK and vice-chancellor of the University of Kent

“We support the government's aim to protect the interests of students, increase fairness and demonstrate the value of a university education. The university sector is an international success story in terms of the quality of teaching and research. It is important that any reforms recognise this and build on that strength.

“Established universities are not standing still and are always seeking to improve what they offer to students. Providing a high-quality, world-leading experience for all students is central to what our universities do. It is important also that any new higher education providers awarding their own degrees or calling themselves ‘university’ meet these same, high standards.

“We are pleased that government has listened to the views of universities on their plans for a Teaching Excellence Framework. Universities will work with the government to see how this can best add value to all students, whatever their choice of subject or university. 

“The focus on improving access to higher education is to be welcomed. Universities have made considerable progress in recent years to increase the numbers of students from disadvantaged backgrounds going to university. This is ongoing work, and we recognise there is still more to do.” 

Sorana Vieru, NUS vice-president (higher education)

“Students will understandably be outraged at any suggestion universities could be allowed to put fees up even higher in order to improve teaching quality. It was only four years ago tuition fees were trebled and students now face debts up to £53,000 when they graduate.

 “Universities, students and staff have all been very clear the proposed teaching excellence framework should not be linked to any rise in fees and the influential BIS Select Committee urged the government to do some serious rethinking before taking this forward. The government should urgently reflect on this and drop this muddled proposal.”

Peter Horrocks, vice-chancellor, The Open University

The Open University...is committed to the success of the UK as a knowledge economy.  We share the government’s ambition for teaching excellence, social mobility and student choice. We welcomes the White Paper’s express commitment to flexible, innovative and lifetime learning.  We are actively working with the government on this agenda. Switching courses and universities (credit transfer) can give huge opportunities to maximise success for many more students - studying the right course, at the right university, at the right time.  

The government will not meet its ambitious targets for much greater social mobility, better life chances and a more productive British economy unless many more adults gain part-time degrees, particularly where the skills gaps are greatest.” 

Tim Melville-Ross, chair of Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE)

“The higher education White Paper heralds a significant reshaping of the higher education landscape which has students at its heart. HEFCE welcomes the government’s commitment to a diverse and world-leading higher education system which offers students choice and value for their investment in education.

“We also welcome the government’s continuing commitment to dual support. UK higher education research is internationally recognised, and produces ground-breaking work for the benefit of the economy and society. HEFCE will continue to contribute our experience and expertise wherever it is needed. 

“Higher education changes lives, and makes a vital contribution to social mobility and economic growth. HEFCE will collaborate with government, students, the sector and others to ensure a smooth transition as the reforms are implemented, subject to Parliamentary approval.

“We welcome the government’s commission to HEFCE to deliver the 2017 TEF exercise, and we will work closely with providers and students during the period of the technical consultation to establish a robust and inclusive process. We also look forward to working with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills on the development of TEF beyond 2017.” 

More on the HE White Paper: degree powers from day one for new providers

Emran Mian, director of the Social Market Foundation

“Higher education is too much like a club where the rules are made for the benefit of universities. These reforms will begin to change that.

“Students will have access to more information when they’re making application choices; and universities will be under more pressure to improve the quality of teaching.  

"The White Paper gives more detail on how new providers will be regulated. There have been problems with quality among new providers in the past and government now recognises that a tougher approach is needed. At the same time though, the sector has risked seeming complacent about quality among incumbents. The measures to ensure ‘student protection’ in the White Paper begin to show a new direction. The right approach for the future is a level playing field for new and old. As participation in higher education rises, students should have the opportunity to choose from the widest range of courses; and feel confident that complaints will be taken just as seriously by the regulator wherever they are studying.

“The Government might have gone further in offering variability in fees for the future. Almost every university charges the same amount despite large differences in the quality and intensity of teaching. The proposals in the White Paper will largely leave that status quo in place. The test for these reforms will be whether the quality of teaching among universities at the bottom of the league tables improves. Through a combination of new entry and tougher regulation, the pressure on these universities will increase. Now the onus is on them to respond.”

Pam Tatlow, chief executive of MillionPlus

"The government's reforms will have UK-wide implications and we look forward to working constructively with ministers to ensure that these plans maintain and enhance a high quality university system which supports anyone who has the ambition, talent and desire to succeed."

Aldwyn Cooper, vice-chancellor of Regent's University London and chair of the Independent Universities Group

“The central objectives identified for implementation in the white paper are very positive.  The focus on quality to be the key determinant for acquisition of university title, student experience, graduate employment and innovation are of crucial importance to the UK's continuing gold standard position in world Higher Education.”

David Docherty, chief executive of the National Centre for Universities and Business

“The government is right to focus on employability and student outcomes and the importance to business of developing graduate talent. We especially welcome the focus on improving social mobility. Our programme on work experience seeks to address this through research and analysis, as well as a digital solution to help university students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds improve their employability through access to work experience."

Peter Lampl, Chairman of the Sutton Trust and of the Education Endowment Foundation 

“We welcome the White Paper’s focus on access, and its assertion of the independence of the Director of Fair Access within the new arrangements. However, we are disappointed that the government has apparently dropped encouraging proposals to give the director more powers to set targets where universities are not making progress. This softening of the original proposals is

Read more: fees could go down as well as up under TEF

Josh Hardie, CBI deputy director-general

“Our world-class universities are great British success story, so it’s good that the White Paper proposals have taken on board the business view – building on and expanding the diversity of our higher education provision, which already is a brilliant asset.

“Skills shortages across our economy show we need to take action. It’s right to focus on high-quality university teaching, as well as giving students and employers greater transparency.  Where new universities develop, it will be vital that students from all backgrounds know their degrees will be rigorous and help them build a great career – as with existing institutions. Piloting new approaches carefully, to ensure the right results, will be an important part of this.

“Businesses had raised concerns about the future of InnovateUK funding, which supports innovation partnerships. It’s good to see that the Government has taken steps to maintain this funding alongside, but separate from, the funding distributed by the Research Councils.”

Sir John Bell, Regius professor of medicine, University of Oxford

“This would appear to be a sensible implementation of the Nurse Review, and will provide opportunities for better collaborations between scientific disciplines in the context of the new Board. It will hopefully provide the leaders of research councils to be able to devote more time to strategy and less time to administrative functions.”

Gordon McKenzie, chief executive of Guild HE

“We welcome the HE White Paper’s focus on excellent teaching, student choice and fairness. Universities play a central role in delivering well-qualified graduates, producing cutting-edge research and translating this into practical uses and helping drive our knowledge-based economy.

“We particularly welcome that the government has listened to the sector in a number of key areas not least the Government’s decision to phase the implementation of the Teaching Excellence Framework and to slow down the introduction of differentiated fees – it really is essential to take the time to get this right. The proposal to designate bodies for quality assurance and data is an elegant solution, providing much needed stability for QAA and HESA and one that recognises the importance of co-regulation with the Higher Education sector.

“GuildHE has always welcomed high quality new providers of higher education and we support the Government’s intention – but in deciding to relax the requirements for Degree Awarding powers it is essential they set commensurately high expectations for entry to ensure high standards are maintained. We look forward to working with BIS to implement the details of these of these proposals and the changes expected in a Higher Education Bill.

“With funding for blue-skies research (QR Funding) going into the new UK Research and Innovation body it is essential that the new system continues to fund excellent research wherever found.”

Alun Evans, chief executive of the British Academy, said: 

"The Academy welcomes the White Paper’s commitment to ensure protection for the dual support system within the new framework it proposes to create.  Dual support has served the UK well and remains critical to the excellence of the UK’s higher education and research sector.  It is especially vital for humanities and social science research. 

“We are therefore pleased to see that the government has committed to the autonomy of Research England in delivering Quality Related funding within the new UK Research and Innovation council (UKRI), building on the proposals set out in the Nurse Review of the Research Councils. In the humanities and social sciences the UK's higher education sector delivers excellent teaching and research alongside each other that are internationally recognised for their world-leading quality.”

Roxanne Stockwell, principal of Pearson College London 

“It is clear that the dominance of the one-size-fits-all model of university education is over. Fee rises have transformed students into more critical consumers and the government is right to recognise this in their reform package. Students are calling out for pioneering institutions offering alternative education models and an increased focus on skills that will prepare them for the careers of the future - with the mind-set and agility to fulfill roles that may not even exist yet.

The government’s plans address this demand by making it easier for credible new organisations to enter to sector should be welcomed by all. Research has always, rightly, been valued but in the past teaching has sometimes been seen as the poor relation; the Government is right to now address this imbalance. Hopefully we will see teaching and learning take centre stage in UK universities from now on.”

Read more: TEF link to fees stays, but will be phased in, says White Paper

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