The Higher Education Academy is to double its subscription fees for most universities, and will require academics to pay a membership fee and complete continuing professional development in order to retain their fellowships.
The biggest shake-up of the sector’s teaching champion in its 13-year history has been triggered by the end this year of support from the UK’s funding councils, which was worth £13.5 million in 2013-14.
As of September, the largest universities, those with more than the equivalent of 30,000 full-time students, will have to pay an annual fee of £65,000 if they want to remain subscribers to the HEA, allowing them to accredit their CPD courses and to access fellowships – the equivalent of teaching certification – for qualifying staff.
For more than half of all current subscribers, the fee will double compared with present levels, but other institutions will see smaller increases and some will get a price cut as a new banding system based on student numbers is introduced.
The membership fee for a smaller university, with the equivalent of between 4,000 and 7,000 students, would be £20,000, for example.
Mark Jones, the HEA’s chief operating officer, said that the York-based organisation hoped to retain the support of institutions by focusing more closely on teaching quality and by investing more heavily in subject-level support.
In future, all members of staff at subscribing institutions will also be eligible to become “affiliate” fellows of the HEA, enabling them to access CPD and subject support, rather than only academics who are pursuing or have achieved fellowships.
Dr Jones said that the “hard message” for universities was that the HEA’s services had, in the past, been heavily subsidised by the funding councils.
“We have done our bit to reduce our costs and focus on the stuff that institutions see as being valuable but it is going to cost more than we were able to generate [from subscriptions] previously,” he said.
He accepted that “institutions have got a choice" about subscribing but he thought that the HEA's focus "on an agenda which is crucial to universities and their students means we should be in a very strong position to retain their support”.
At present, once academics achieve HEA fellowship, they keep it, but Dr Jones said that the time had come to introduce a requirement for fellows to demonstrate continuing professional development if they wished to remain in good standing.
Dr Jones said that this would “raise the bar” of professional standards in UK higher education, and the HEA will be seeking chartered status to become a professional membership body and increase the prestige of its qualifications.
The move would also see the introduction of "modest" membership fees for academics, from 2017-18 at the earliest, but these will be discounted for staff at subscribing institutions, which may choose to pay their employees’ costs.
The HEA’s latest accounts, which were published recently, show that the organisation made a loss of £94,000 in 2014-15, compared with a surplus of £1.57 million the previous year, mainly as a result of falling grant funding.
The organisation nearly halved its workforce, which now stands at 93, but missed its targets for increasing subscription and commercial income.