Green Paper at a glance

Some of the key points to take away from the government’s consultation on the future of universities

November 6, 2015
  • The Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) and the Office for Fair Access (Offa) would be no more under the proposals, instead merged to become a single regulator of universities called the Office for Students (OfS).
  • The teaching excellence framework (TEF) is set to allow most English universities to increase their tuition fees in line with inflation from 2017-18, with institutions being invited to apply the following year for higher awards that pave the way for variable fees.
  • Initial metrics proposed for the higher levels of the TEF include the National Student Survey (NSS) on teaching quality and the learning environment, graduate employment figures from sources such as the Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) surveys and information on student retention published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (Hesa).
  • Success at higher levels of the TEF would also be linked to meeting targets on helping students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
  • The Green Paper proposes “a power to set tuition fee caps” for the secretary of state for Business, Innovation and Skills, potentially changing the present arrangements under which the fee cap is raised through secondary legislation and a vote in Parliament. 
  • Without Hefce, remaining teaching grant will either be allocated by a formula determined by BIS officials or the OfS will take responsibility for the allocation formulas, with the Student Loans Company or “another funding body” to make the payments.
  • On research, the Green Paper commits to a continuation of quality-related (QR) funding for universities, currently distributed by Hefce on the basis of the research excellence framework (REF). However, it is less clear who would distribute the funding once Hefce becomes the OfS, with various options proposed.
  • On the REF, the paper proposes holding the next main exercise by 2021 but controversially calls for “making greater use of metrics and other measures to ‘refresh’ the REF results and capture emerging pockets of research excellence in between full peer review”. 
  • New providers of higher education would be given “quicker access to student funding” and “no cap on student numbers” under proposals that aim to make it much easier for new universities to set up. Most controversially, the proposals suggest scrapping the requirement for institutions to have a certain number of students before they can become universities, and make it quicker and simpler to get degree-awarding powers.
  • The Green Paper has a chapter on how to manage the “exit” of institutions from the higher education market, which makes it clear that the government can envisage a university failing as long as it’s in an orderly way, by providing a regime for student protection.
  • The prospect that universities could be allowed to become exempt from the Freedom of Information Act, to create a level playing field with private providers, which are not subject to FoI, is another proposal in the Green Paper.

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Reader's comments (1)

Well, this new agenda is actually not terribly controversial at all. In his influential 'Rethinking Higher Education: On the Future of Higher Education in Britain' [Institute of Economic Affairs], Thomas Lange called for variable tuition fees nearly 20 years ago. It was the right idea then, it is the right idea now. At the time, Prof Lange also made the case for 2-year degrees ... everybody and their kitchen sink wanted to pour scorn on his ideas, only to see Foundation Degrees introduced almost immediately. An income-contingent loan scheme for tuition fee payment was another recommendation by Lange ... again seen as massively controversial at the time; again, introduced soon thereafter. The short of it: apart from some structural changes and institutional mergers, the current Green Paper doesn't really provide terribly novel ideas or approaches. Some (e.g. flex fees) have been around for some time.