The government is to introduce a Higher Education and Research Bill in the coming Parliament, focusing on “making it easier for new, high quality universities to set up”.
The Queen’s Speech, setting out the government’s legislative plan for the year ahead, announced the move following this week’s higher education White Paper.
The Queen said in her speech: “To ensure that more people have the opportunity to further their education, legislation will be introduced to support the establishment of new universities and to promote choice and competition across the higher education sector.”
In a government briefing document published alongside the speech, the benefits of the bill (whose provisions would be limited to England, other than those on research which would be UK-wide) are described as: “More choice for students by levelling the playing field for new, high quality providers. The Bill would make it simpler, quicker and easier for high quality new innovative and specialist institutions to set up, award degrees and compete alongside existing institutions. This would promote innovation and competition and foster better quality provision.”
The bill is also defined as aiming to ensure that “everyone with the potential to succeed at university, irrespective of their background, would be able to choose from a wide range of high quality universities. Alongside the Bill, the Teaching Excellence Framework would put in place incentives that would drive up the standard of teaching in all universities, and give students clear information about where teaching is best and what benefits they can expect to gain from their course.”
The bill also aims to “make sure the UK research and innovation system is sufficiently strategic and agile to meet future challenges, and would deliver national capability that drives discovery and growth. For the first time we would provide legal protection for the dual support system in England.”
Under “main elements of the bill”, the document lists: “Making it easier and quicker for new high quality providers to start-up, achieve degree awarding powers and secure university status. The Bill would also ensure tough and rigorous tests for providers who want to enter the system and enable their students to receive funding. Poor quality or financially unsustainable providers would not be allowed to enter.”
It continues: “A new Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) will raise teaching standards so students and employers get the skills they need and will, for the first time, ensure that funding of teaching in higher education is linked to quality, not simply quantity – a principle that has long been established for research.”
And it adds: “Putting more information into the hands of students by requiring universities to publish detailed information about application, offer and progression rates, broken down by ethnicity, gender and socio-economic background. This would shine a spotlight on universities that need to go faster on widening participation and social mobility and will ensure that universities take further action to recruit from disadvantaged groups.”