Hodge promises check on red tape

April 18, 2003

Ministers have promised a "gatekeeper" to prevent additional bureaucratic burdens on universities following the white paper on the future of higher education.

Responding to a Cabinet Office report on university red tape, higher education minister Margaret Hodge said this week that an independent review group would set up a gatekeeper mechanism "to ensure that no new unnecessary burdens are placed on the sector".

She said the group would "drive through real reforms" to slash red tape and committed the government to publishing a bureaucracy "impact assessment" of new proposals. There will be a full evaluation of whether the Quality Assurance Agency has delivered a "light touch" inspection regime by 2005.

"We must slash burdensome and unnecessary bureaucracy in higher education," Ms Hodge said.

The Cabinet Office's Better Regulation Task Force found last June that universities were weighed down by bureaucracy because of a "lack of trust" at Whitehall. They faced multiple audits, excessive data requirements and funding systems with far too many strings attached.

David Arculus, chair of the BRTF, said: "We are pleased that the government has committed to ensuring that any new proposals likely to impose burdens on higher education institutions will be accompanied by assessments of their likely impact."

Key to the government's response is the creation of a new independent review group, headed by Warwick University vice-chancellor David VandeLinde.

The group, which will be made up of several vice-chancellors and representatives of funding, quality, statistics and research bodies, as well as the National Union of Students, will oversee implementation of the BRTF's recommendations and "go beyond" them.

The government is considering a proposal to make three regulatory bodies - Ofsted, the Adult Learning Inspectorate and the QAA - combine their activities into a single joint visit to each university to reduce bureaucracy.

The funding council was also moving to reduce the burden of financial audit on institutions, and was planning to streamline several funding sources.

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