Higher education White Paper: key points at a glance

Everything that you need to know about Success as a Knowledge Economy

May 16, 2016
Office worker unrolling long sheet

The government’s higher education White Paper, Success as a Knowledge Economy, was published on 16 May. Key proposals in the document include:


  • Creating an Office for Students, merging the Office for Fair Access with the learning and teaching functions of the Higher Education Funding Council for England
  • Retaining the proposed link between the teaching excellence framework and tuition fees, but phasing the system in more slowly. Universities that meet basic standards in 2017-18 and 2018-19 will be allowed inflation increases in tuition fees, ahead of the introduction of differentiated caps in 2019-20
  • Providers taking part in the full TEF will be divided into three tiers after being assessed: meets expectations, excellent, and outstanding. From 2019-20, institutions that met expectations would be permitted to increase their fees at a rate equivalent to 50 per cent of inflation; while those in the top two categories would be eligible for a full inflationary rise. If a provider’s TEF level dropped, they would be required to lower the fees they charged, including for existing students
  • The government estimates that the value of  awards stemming from the TEF – via higher undergraduate fees for teaching excellent institutions – will be worth on average around £1 billion a year during the first ten years of its operation
  • Piloting of subject-level TEF assessments will begin in the third year of the scheme, ahead of full introduction in year four
  • Universities will be assessed according to their performance on student satisfaction, retention and graduate employment, as well as other metrics yet to be developed, while also drawing on qualitative institutional submissions and expert judgements
  • Students will eventually be able to access detailed information on graduate earnings by individual degree course. It will be provided using HMRC tax data, rather than information from the Destination for Higher Education Leavers survey run by universities
  • Headline results on graduate earnings will be published in summer 2016, followed by detailed breakdowns by subject and institutions in late autumn 2016. Spring 2017 will see publication of more authoritative graduate earnings data for use in the TEF


  • All seven research councils, Innovate UK and the research and innovation responsibilities of the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) are to be brought together in a new quango called UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). Hefce’s research functions will be taken on by a new body called “Research England” within UKRI
  • As recommended by a previous review led by Sir Paul Nurse, UKRI will control a “common research fund” and have responsibility for funds with “cross-disciplinary impact”, in order to promote interdisciplinary research
  • The government has emphasised its support for the current “dual support” system of research grants and quality-related funding. There have been fears that bringing all research funding under one organisation could muddy the waters between these two streams

New providers of higher education

  • Allowing new providers to offer their own degrees from the day that they open, on a probationary basis that requires them to be subject to ongoing monitoring and annual reviews
  • Allowing new providers to apply for full degree-awarding powers after three years, and to apply for university title three years after that. The process for awarding degree-awarding powers and university titles will be transferred by from the Privy Council to the new Office for Students
  • Allowing new providers who want access to state student loans to charge tuition fees of up to £9,000, rather than £6,000 as is currently the case, if they have an access agreement in place
  • Reducing the size threshold – currently 1,000 students – required for applications for university title
  • Requiring all providers to have protection plans in place setting out how students would be supported in the event of institutional closure

Other key points

  • Launching a call for evidence looking at whether students should be able to switch university course more easily
  • Universities will be required to publish the gender, ethnicity and social backgrounds of their student intake to “shine a light on their admissions processes”
  • Allowing the Office for Students to promote not only access but also “participation”, including retention and graduate employment
  • The Quality Assurance Agency looks in prime position to play leading role in the future quality system, with the White Paper referencing the “many voices who have spoken positively about the role of the QAA”
  • Plans to possibly establish a central register of students’ unions, strengthening the rights of redress for students, and reviewing how effectively the existing statutory provisions regarding students’ unions are being upheld

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