In its response to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills technical consultation on regulatory reform, which closed on October, the Higher Education Funding Council for England points in particular to “significant challenges” in handling private providers.
One worry is over a plan to move responsibility for which private colleges access student loan funding from BIS to Hefce, which the latter says cannot be implemented until it has properly assessed the finances of independent institutions.
“Given that there are a large number of providers currently outside our remit but eligible for student support, this would take time to complete,” Hefce says, suggesting the transfer of some colleges on to Hefce’s books might have to be delayed by a year.
It also warns that it potentially faces a “peak” in its own funding needs as it develops its new role just as “other significant changes in higher education need monitoring and assessing under the current regulatory system”.
Elsewhere in the response, Hefce makes clear that it will respect university autonomy despite being “lead regulator” for the sector and calls for an explicit definition of its responsibilities to avoid overlap with other bodies.
It also appears to question whether competition in higher education is always of benefit to students and pledges to look more closely at the issue through a new “observatory for higher education” before taking on its new duty to monitor the sector for “anti-competitive behaviour”.
“We think that an important first step in developing this aspect of our new role will be to gain a better understanding of how competition affects student choice and the student experience in higher education,” Hefce says.
“We will need to be clear about the circumstances in which competitive pressures may benefit students and, conversely, where they may not.”