Light-touch rules could quickly become heavy

A risk-based approach to quality assurance could lead to more rather than less red tape for universities because the government's reforms are likely to put pressure on standards.

November 10, 2011

That is one of the findings of a report from the Higher Education Policy Institute, published on 10 November, that looks specifically at the recent White Paper proposals to cut bureaucratic oversight for institutions deemed to be low risk.

In the study, Roger King, a research associate at the London School of Economics' Centre for Analysis of Risk and Regulation, suggests that competition for student places is likely to encourage more risk-taking among universities.

"Some institutions may become particularly vulnerable to the continual loss of student numbers, and this may lead to riskier behaviour by those deemed originally as 'low risk'," he says in The Risks of Risk-based Regulation: The Regulatory Challenges of the Higher Education White Paper for England.

He adds that such universities might need to take action to counter a loss of income, which "could take the form of significant cost-cutting in budgets for the institutional assurance of standards".

Professor King argues that universities might also be tempted into "risky entrepreneurial behaviour" by chasing high tuition fees from unregulated markets such as international students, but without the safeguards to maintain quality.

Such developments would increase the danger of a major scandal with the potential to damage the reputation of English higher education, leading to doubts about the efficacy of a risk-based system among the very people proposing it - politicians.

"Scandal or failure can quickly turn such stakeholders away from risk-based regulation and back towards more uniform and standardised compliance models," he suggests.

Professor King adds that the government's mantra of "championing" students as consumers sits "uneasily" with a light-touch approach and warns that the proposals appear "out of kilter" with the wider agreements on quality assurance contained in the Bologna Process.

simon.baker@tsleducation.com.

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Most Commented

Monster behind man at desk

Despite all that’s been done to improve doctoral study, horror stories keep coming. Here three students relate PhD nightmares while two academics advise on how to ensure a successful supervision

opinion illustration

Eliminating cheating services, even if it were possible, would do nothing to address students’ and universities’ lack of interest in learning, says Stuart Macdonald

Sir Christopher Snowden, former Universities UK president, attacks ratings in wake of Southampton’s bronze award

Female professor

New data show proportion of professors who are women has declined at some institutions

Reflection of man in cracked mirror

To defend the values of reason from political attack we need to be more discriminating about the claims made in its name, says John Hendry