Universities will be forced to sign up to the government's planned new teaching quality academy despite widespread opposition, writes Phil Baty.
The Higher Education Funding Council for England was accused of ignoring its own consultation results this week after it announced that universities would be obliged, as a condition of their annual grant, to pay a subscription to the Higher Education Academy. Hefce admitted that only 29 per cent of respondents to a consultation supported this.
Michael Driscoll, vice-chancellor of Middlesex University and chair of the Coalition of Modern Universities, said: "It is disappointing that Hefce has decided to disregard the feedback it received. It will only reinforce growing scepticism about the funding council's willingness to take on board fully the views of the institutions it's there to serve."
Peter Knight, vice-chancellor of the University of Central England, said the consultation was a farce. "Hefce only responds to consultation if you agree with them. It would have cost them nothing to have said 'Ok, we'll make it voluntary'. Instead, they have alienated the sector and got the academy off to the worst possible start. They've made a crisis out of a good idea," he said.
Universities UK confirmed that it had objected to the proposal and said it was "disappointed" that Hefce had not taken on board its concerns and those of individual vice-chancellors.
The plan to set up an academy was announced in the government's white paper on higher education in January. It will establish and police nationally recognised professional standards for teachers in higher education by 2004-05.
Hefce was worried that funding was too uncertain for the academy and so consulted over plans to make subscription from universities compulsory.
In a paper outlining responses to its consultation last week, Hefce says:
"Respondents felt it was wrong, in principle, to compel institutions to subscribe to an organisation that potentially will be in competition with providers of similar services in the public and private sectors."
Hefce received 59 responses to the consultation, with 55 from higher education institutions, representing 40 per cent of the sector. A Hefce spokesman said that fewer than half of respondents were negative about the academy plan.
The council proposes compulsory subscription for three years to enable the academy to establish itself, after which a further review would be undertaken.